PG-13 due to Swearing, and some darker content. Life isn’t pretty always.
Impact was the perfect word to describe what he had just felt. If you say the word aloud, you get a sense of what had just happened to the back of his head. The word that starts with the low humming of the m, and then explodes outwards, complete with spittle to finish the second syllable. He had felt a sudden strong pressure at the back of his head (very brief) and then he had sensed the skin at the back of his head violently explode, releasing a pressure that he had felt there for twenty one years. A cold finger wormed its way through his skin, tunneling its way towards his brain. He found himself falling forward, the green translucent to-go box in his right hand, following suit, spilling a hamburger and poorly cooked fries onto the concrete sidewalk. Impact. It was a dull pressure, and then a forceful explosion. That was what being shot in the back of the head felt like.
He heard the gunshot several seconds, his senses scrambling to catch up, now that they had fully realized that he was, well, dead. A girl who had seconds prior been scrolling through instagram, cravenly liking every single selfie in the hopes that someone would soon return the favor, screamed. She dropped her phone, and ran back towards her dorm, so concentrated on living that she barely mustered the self-control to scream in a way which might be considered attractive.
He (that is, our unnamed character who lies dead on a sidewalk) felt the blood pour from the back of his head, trickling down his neck. He was reminded of a sort of trick his dad used to do, pretending to crack an egg on his head, and then spidering his fingers down to simulate the yolk. This was oddly more pleasant than that.
There were several more gunshots, so he attempted to twist his head around to look, but found that his brain had taken a temporary holiday, and was no longer communicating with the rest of his body.
Someone call the cops, yelled a voice.
Why, he asked himself. A steady dripping of blood began from his nose.
There were no more gunshots, and he assumed that the on-campus security had dealt with whoever had shot him. He felt a warm hand on his shoulder and found himself rolling over, his bleak, half-closed eyes staring dead ahead.
Oh my God.
Is he dead?
There’s a… a hole through his… brain stem.
Oh my God.
Oh my God.
Oh my god would they not shut up? He didn’t feel like he had a hole through his brain stem. One of the girls took two and a half steps away, and vomited, purging the remnants of a cafeteria salad from her gut, a practice that was typically self-induced and accompanied with shame in her own bathroom. Several more gawkers joined the circle, their mouths slack with horror, feeling a sick catharsis. He lay still, helpless to prevent attention.
The charger rolled up, parking several meters from his head, and crunching a fry underneath a front wheel. Two black shoes stepped out of the driver’s side, shaking.
Alright, step back
The man who wore the black shoes knelt down and put a hand on the victim’s neck.
Really, he asked to himself.
The two black shoes rose and walked back to the charger. They stayed there for a minute, complemented by a staticky radio squawk stereotypical of government vehicles. The shoes stepped back out of the car and padded over to him again, the victim.
There’s an ambulance on the way, said the shoes. Please move away from the body.
A scuffling of shoes broke the dreadful silence which had haunted the space around his body, and he would have breathed a sigh of relief.
So I’m dead, he thought. That wasn’t so bad.
The ambulance took longer than the officer had implied, and by the time it pulled into the tiny, handicap-only parking lot, the student could feel the blood congeal against his brain. It was unpleasant, like the cheese residue that remains after one bakes an omelette in a cast-iron skillet. He was gingerly placed onto a stretcher, the medical team worried about how humane they appeared in front of onlookers. One of his arms dropped off the bed, slamming into one of the metal legs, and scaring several onlookers. He chuckled to himself as the ambulance doors closed shut, leaving a slit of sunlight for him to ponder as the car rumbled to a start. The EMT sitting next to him unlocked his phone and audibly sighed, filling his mind with useless bits on who was dating who in the world of celebrities.
He wished he could turn his head and look around. Even his eyes were stuck in the same place, so he could only focus on what was directly in front of him. He lived (well, not so much) for the bumps in the road which would shift his vision, if only for a moment, and cause him to see something new. Every time the tire dipped into a pothole, he saw something new in the ambulance, causing the ride to be one of anticipation, not of sorrow.
The ambulance pulled into a parking lot, and his body was unloaded. The men carrying
the stretcher were considerably less careful than they had been prior, probably due to the lack of shell-shocked spectators. The sky was the exact same color as it had been before he’d been shot, a fact which he found strange, despite its obvious trueness.
Paperwork, said one of the men
So much paperwork, replied the other
They chuckled at each other, a fact which the student found oddly comforting. They knew what they were doing. The doors of the originally-white-now-just-a-shade-off-white building slid open in advance of the gentlemen, clearing a path into the air conditioning, which the student was grateful for, despite being dead. The stretcher bounced over the door frame, sending a shiver through the student’s still body. The false lights flittered through the speckled plastic covers, and the student wanted to rest his eyes.
How am I tired, he asked.
You can be tired of this without being physically exhausted, replied a voice.
The student gasped and tried to look to his right, where the voice had sprung from.
Don’t even try.
Who are you?
It doesn’t matter. Heart attack, and now I’m here.
I got shot.
Helluva way to go.
The student tried to nod.
Are you trying to nod?
The student said nothing.
I know you are. I did for three or four hours before I finally got used to it. Tried to give a thumbs up to a pretty nurse once too.
Must’ve been embarrassing.
If I would have been alive, maybe.
The student lay still for a minute, listening to the faint sounds of the building. A pen scratched, writing his name out, while a scent dispenser dispensed a scent, following its prescribed duty. He half-expected a telephone to sound off, but after two minutes, he gave up his half-expectation. The sounds of the corridor were repetitive, like the same sound on a noisemaker, looped endlessly into a white static.
I’m gonna save you the horror of the self-realization, said the other voice. You’re going to be buried like this.
Yeah, I figure it’s only two or three days until the funeral, then we get shut into a box for eternity.
The student swore and continued to stare at the support beam between the flimsy ceiling tiles, his stationary position allowing him to focus on nothing else.
So are we like this forever?
There was no response for a few seconds.
I would guess so.
The paperwork took longer than the student had expected, but afterwards he had been rolled down a long hallway into a service elevator. The man who pushed the gurney (he had been moved from the stretcher) pressed the bottom-most button on the side of the elevator, and the button glowed, not making a sound. The lack of elevator music made plain the merits of having elevator music in the first place. The elevator dropped, and the student’s eyes shifted to the nurse or whatever that was transporting him to wherever. The doors opened silently, and as the gurney jittered over the floor, the student felt the damp cold in the air, and knew where he was.
The bodies lined both sides of the room, records of a less than stellar day at the hospital. The student’s gurney was slid onto the end of the closest row. Although he could not actively breathe, the smell of functionless flesh was plain, and the screams were deafening.
Underground forever, moaned a body.
All the time to do nothing, said another.
The long wake, hissed a third.
The student kept quiet, his thoughts racing as he contemplated the future. All of eternity, trapped in a box, focused on the same small bit of coffin barring an earthquake. Hours, days, weeks, months, years, decades, centuries, and so on, looking at an expensive holding cell, at least until his eyes disintegrated.
I don’t deserve this, he said.
None of us do, came the booming, unanimous reply.
The funeral was nice, but it had been closed casket, closing him off from the world. He heard his family, his girlfriend, and various friends crying, singing or talking, but saw none of them.
He could hear faint murmurs around him, the cries of the other deceased, trapped in the ground. I’m here, he said, striving to move his body. He was reminded of the Poe book, The Fall of the House of Usher, but he could not scratch at the top of his coffin. It wouldn’t matter, he thought. Even if I could break through the coffin, the dirt would sift down on me, smothering me. What was he to do for eternity? Now he had all the time in the world to write, to read, and do everything he had ever wanted, but had no way to do it.
He found after two days that the dead did not sleep. It was no eternal rest.
He heard a melody, and immediately came out of the semi-catatonic state of meditation he had adapted to pass the time. The words grew clearer and louder, and he realized that the voice was coming from below him, and rising quickly.
Who is that?
I’m a student. Was a student.
What are you doing here?
I’ve got no clue. I died and went nowhere, it would seem.
But, why aren’t you bettering yourself?
What does that mean?
There was a silence from the voice.
I left and went to a mountain, said the new voice, and I bettered myself.
How did you leave? cried the student.
I was taken, and placed on the mountain.
Who took you?
Who took you?
I couldn’t look at him.
Well, where are you going now?
I’m not sure where. I don’t think it’s a place. I don’t think I can explain it to you.
You’re right, you can’t. You can’t explain something like that.
The new voice rose, and began to sing again.
It was something like fifty or sixty years before the student heard another sound, separate from the low moaning of the other recently deceased, and the occasional song sung by one of the rising voices. A dim crunching sound. The student would have thought it was heavy boots on gravel, but the sound came from right next to him.
The sound briefly paused but started soon after, a sort of glottal stop.
The student’s heart lept for joy, not having held a conversation in decades.
Who are you?
Like the… the bug?
What are you doing here?
A guilty silence plagued the air. A whisper filled the air where the crunching had been.
What are you doing here?
You know of the relationship between worms and dead bodies.
Look, you can’t do anything about it, and once I get through your nerves, you’ll be more comfortable. You know, for the long haul.
The long haul? How long?
You chose this. You didn’t make the pilgrimage to the mountain.
What are you talking about, he asked as the whispering grew. A sharp pain on his shoulder.
I mean, you and all those other ones out there. The weepers, I mean. They’re the weepers, and I’m the gnasher of teeth. It’s sorta clever, really.
Why me? What about those other people? I can hear them.
I’ve already finished with them.
Then how can I still hear them?
You don’t stop screaming. You never stop screaming.
A renewed pain at his shoulder.
Where am I?
He went unanswered. The pain in his right shoulder grew, and he felt the worm slither into his dry, rotting arm. The worm was moving quickly through ancient blood vessels, a barely visible bump under the student’s grey skin.
It was much later that the second voice rose through the earth towards the student. He was nothing but a presence now, lacking any skin, bone, or form, but he could still hear the beautiful melody. He elected to stay silent, but the voice stopped next to him.
Who are you?
Why are you here, though? Have you been to the mountain?
Fuck the mountain.
The voice stopped. Then it began to cry.
The sobbing trailed off. Why do you hate the mountain so much?
I wasn’t invited to the fu- the mountain.
Yes you were. You just chose not to go.
I don’t know.
How can I choose to not go to the mountain?
I don’t know. I just know it’s the case.
Neither of them said anything for several hours.
You can still go to the mountain.
Why would I want to go to the mountain, when I’m not welcome.
You are, you just-
I just didn’t choose. Right?
The voice nodded.
The worm didn’t choose either. He can go to the mountain whenever he wants.
The worm is one of us?
No, but he can still go to the mountain.
But he doesn’t.
He hates the idea of the mountain, that he isn’t in charge.
The student thought.
I’m not going either.
The voice began crying again.
Please, go to the mountain. You still can.
The student laughed.
I’m not going to the mountain.