I was in the mood to write tonight. I have a lot of ideas about things I’d want to write about and I’ve always wanted to write a book. I’m usually pretty good at beginning something and then … and then…. I’m reading (listening to) “American Gods” by Neil Gaiman. I’m stealing the concept below from a character in that book. It’s just an idea. Something to play with. So I’m playing with it. Like when you hear a song and then pick up or sit down at your instrument, pick out the changes or a riff and mess around with it, maybe eventually incorporating it into something new. Now the only question is, what to listen to while I’m doing this. Something old, something new, something borrowed, or something blue?
“It’s different when you’re dead. Everything seems … flat. That’s the best I can describe it. Flat. Gray. Nothing excites you. Nothing depresses you. Once you cross that line. I mean, c’mon. There’s not much more depressing than dying. What tops that? Rhetorical question. Don’t answer. It’s been — how long. Five days? Six? I don’t even know anymore. Like I said, it’s different when you’re dead. What’s time when you’re not counting down like ‘T-minus forty years and counting’. A countdown where you don’t know how fast the clock is ticking. That’s what life is. Then before you know it. Lift off.”
Ray Johns sat uncomfortably, listening to the monologue. He realized he was half way between reclining in his chair and upright in his chair. The unconscious nervous flex in his mid-section started to burn but his body still couldn’t decide whether to relax or burst into some kind of action. He sat up, a little quicker than he had intended.
“Relax, Johns. You asked what I’m doing here. I’m telling you what I’m doing here. Got a few questions for you.”
Johns did not own a gun. He did carry a pocket knife with him clipped to his belt. And there was a box cutter in one of the drawers of the desk in front of him. One of them. A letter opener in a revolving office supplies holder sitting on the desk.
“Oh, come on, Johns. It’s not like I can’t tell what you’re thinking. I’m dead, not blind.”
“What do you want?” Johns finally said and realized how dry his throat was. His voice cracked almost pubescently.
“I’m trying to tell you. In a hurry to get somewhere? I’m not. But to answer your question, I don’t know why I’m here. That’s not right. No. Wait. I know why I’m here. You know why I’m here. I just don’t know how. Don’t know the rules yet.”
Reaching that point of fear where one finds courage, Johns said “What are you, some kind of ghost?”
He said it with defiance, which emboldened him further. “Where’s your sheet at with the eyeholes cut out? Should I get the bowl of candy, Casper? Trick or treat?”
“You know what, Johns? You know what I think is strange? I come here claiming to be dead and you don’t question that. You don’t ask if it’s an elaborate practical joke. A you-got-punked reality TV show scam. No. You believe me, don’t you. Who, in their right mind, would believe that unless they knew for sure. Knew for sure that there was no other explanation. I think there’s only one way someone could be that sure of anything.”
“F— you, Casper,” Johns spat.
“I can respect that. Normally, that’d piss me off, Johns. Maybe you’re just trying to move things along here. But like I said, it’s different when you’re dead. I guess I could be angry if I wanted to but it doesn’t really matter. Not much does.”
“F— you,” Johns said again. “Maybe it don’t matter to you ’cause you’re rottin’ in a grave somewhere. Come into my house, huh. You still got family around, don’t you? How’d you like it if they joined you, Casper?”
“First off, Johns, I’m not in a grave. Rotting a little, sure, but I’m standing here right in front of you. And second, Casper was friendly.”
I tried to tell him that it’s different. What’s taking a life mean to you when you’re dead. It’s all kind of ambiguous. What’s a moral taboo to a walking abomination? When you’re dead and you lie your heart doesn’t beat any faster. When you’re dead and you’re killing someone and you hear the screams, whatever passed for pity or guilt or empathy — well, it’s not there anymore. Emotions are more like shadows of themselves flitting across your consciousness. If you have a consciousness. You recognize them but you can take them or leave them.
I don’t know how I’m alive. Not alive. Not quite dead but still dead enough. I don’t know how that happened. I don’t know how long I have. Forever? Until I stop thinking I exist? Until I do what it is that I have to do? Revenge? What kind of god would let you walk around his green earth half-dead for the sake of revenge? Besides a fallen one.
I was a good man when I was living. Does that make me a good man now? I just killed someone with my bare hands. A piece of s—, sure. He deserved killing. No, maybe he didn’t deserve it but he sure earned it. He earned it when he murdered me. Just like the rest. One down. Besides, I’ve got nothing else to do while I’m here. I can’t go to my family. Not after the funeral. That would … that just wouldn’t work. Got nothing to do but kill time. Ha, yeh. A dead man is going to kill time. That’s good. Oh grave, where’s your victory. Oh death where’s your sting.
That’s how I’d start. One of the next scenes — do you call it a scene when you’re writing? — would be, like, either the undead guy’s kid is watching TV and the news comes on. There’s a report a murder with that grainy video camera surveillance that looks a lot like the kid’s father. Then there’s a knock at the door, the kid answers and calls his/her mother to tell them there’s two police officers at the door. They show the mother a photo, a grainy still from the video, and she says, “Yes, that’s my husband but he passed away. A year ago.”
Something like that. But there’d have to be something more to the story. It can’t just be … it can’t be “The Crow”. But still, it’s an idea to explore. I don’t know even know where I’d go with it. Maybe have this be one character in an ensemble of characters in a black dromedy, if that makes any sense.
I had another idea about a man — this is kind of like Octavia Butler’s “Kindred” but reversed — who somehow travels back in time and murders slave traders thinking of himself as dispensing historical justice. And of course, this screws up reality as we know it. And the wackiness ensues. Do I have too much time on my hands or what?
Anyway, I’m sleepy. I’m gonna do something else and then go to bed.
Goodnight room. Goodnight moon. Goodnight cow jumping over the moon. Goodnight light, and the red balloon…