You're welcome. I just spared you the tiring intrigue of that old cliche. Oh my god, she was dead the whole time? Yes. The Sixth Sense was a great twist ending back in 1999, don't get me wrong, but this has been done too many times. You and I are far better off cutting out the bullshit from step one. We're walking through this story together, might as well start on the right foot, huh? I'll be honest with you, and you… well, you'll sit there and take it all in, but that's just how it works.
Anyway. Now that's out of the way. I'm sure you're asking yourself, How did she die? I'll tell you.
There's nothing peaceful about a speeding bus. It's a raging machine, blowing through traffic to reach the next stop and finish the route. I knew that as well as anyone. I knew also that a red light means that vehicles should stop at a traffic light, and that a "WALK" sign meant that pedestrians were supposed to cross the street. Forgive me for believing a driver would be following the law. Forgive me further for being plugged into my iPhone and having the music blaring so loud I never heard anything happening before it was too late. Forgive me, last but certainly not least, for rummaging my backpack in pursuit of a granola bar.
I'm sure somebody called out to grab my attention. Maybe I should have even heard the bus coming in the first place, or seen it out of the corner of my eye. But I was on cruise control, and a million different things were flashing across my mind. I wasn't expecting to be in an accident that morning. I was going to be late to homeroom, after all.
My parents used to say I lived in my own little world. I would draw myself into it and avoid everything else around me, oblivious to reality. Maybe that was it. I was caught up in myself all over again, except instead of daydreaming through algebra I ended up becoming roadkill.
Que será, será, I guess.
I mean, once you're already dead, it's kind of a moot point, you know? Death's a one-way street and almost nobody gets to walk back to the other side.
Fuck, even if I'd somehow survived being run over, there was no way I could've walked period. Wanna know what getting hit by a bus feels like?
It feels like shit.
Doesn't look too pretty, either.
My transition from life to death began with an explosion of agonizing pain and was punctuated by a sudden lack of sensation. One second, I was being crushed; the next, I was watching myself from the street corner as my ragdoll body tumbled and flopped underneath the bus.
It was gruesome, certainly, but I couldn't help being intrigued. How often do you get to watch yourself being destroyed, after all?
Everything went still for a few golden moments. It was like everyone in the immediate vicinity was dumbfounded and processing what had just happened at the same time. Then the bus screeched to shrieking halt, and that was when the spell broke. Somebody started screaming immediately. The wail of a banshee. Technically speaking I knew I didn't have eardrums anymore, but Christ, it was piercing. A mob of bystanders came to encircle my ravaged corpse. Several them held phones in their hands. A few were calling 911. The others were taking pictures.
I found my dead body to be strangely evocative, as I'm sure my morbid spectators would have agreed. Part of my mangled appearance also lent itself to a sort of tarnished beauty, even though I didn't even really find myself that attractive. My white dress shirt was ruined. My plaid blue skirt was soaked in blood. One of my shoes was missing. All the shit in my backpack had flown out into the road; I watched listlessly as a homework packet tumbled by, caught by a breeze.
That was for social studies. Ms. Kroll would never get me to hand in her assignment. This would probably be the only time I could get away with that.
A small victory, but an important one.
Here's an insider secret about death that you should write down to remember later: everything around you starts to look desaturated and you might not really notice it at first. I guess once you've moved on per se, the luster of life is gone and you can't really see it anymore. The colors are still there, but they're muted. I stared on in fascination at the greyish mass swarming around my corpse. It was like watching old film footage.
You can understand, then, why I was so fixated on the pulsing light that came sprinting through the crowd.
Through the blinding light I could see the shape of a man. He was thin, and reasonably tall, but I had to draw in closer to discern any distinct features. I mean he was radiant, like literally radiant. What in hell did that even mean?
The man knelt down beside my final resting place. He dressed sharp, a three-piece suit that looked like it was personally tailored. His combed-back hair was flaxen and shiny. He looked far too well-to-do. Like a Wall Street yuppie.
It was awkward enough to watch him scoop my body into his arms. It was even worse when he brushed back my choppy black hair and felt for a pulse in my neck. I mean, shit, I looked like a prop from the latest Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake; there was no way Yuppie could actually think that I was still alive.
The worst was when he started to cry.
It was a plaintive sob. He started to rock my body back and forth, cradled in his arms. That was weirder to me than actually dying. I mean, who the hell was I to him? Seriously. Just some random dead bitch squished on the pavement. Yeah, okay, it's very traumatizing to see a dead body, I get that, but why not wait for the clean-up crew to come around and cart off my remains like the rest of the voyeurs? It was kinda sweet in a sad way, but really, all he was doing was getting his suit dirty with my gushing blood. I mean, it just wasn't practical.
It might occur to you that I handled dying very well, and you're totally right. Death never scared me in life. Death's the final and logical conclusion to life, not its antithesis. Why should I be frightened of the inevitable?
And yet, disregarding my own opinions on the matter, I did feel for Yuppie. There were no theatrics involved. This luminescent stranger, as weird as I found him, seemed to really be grieving for me. Isn't that your most morbid wish? To see people crying over you at your funeral and confessing how much they'll miss you?
Of course, maybe he was crying so hard because he didn't know me. Shit, I wasn't crying over my death, and I didn't expect many other people to.
Still. It was kinda nice, I guess.
I didn't know how being a ghost worked quite yet, but maybe I could chill Yuppie out or something. I felt like I had to at least try to calm him down. And it wasn't like a real touch, after all. Maybe it wouldn't burn like it did when I was alive. Tentatively, I put out my hand to rest on his shoulder.
"Don't do that."
The voice was soft-spoken, pleasant even, but the command was so compelling that I drew back immediately from Yuppie and turned around.
Here's another insider secret about death: I think, deep down, you will always know the Grim Reaper when you see him. We've created this image in Western culture of the robed skeleton touting his scythe and bearing down on merciless souls with the threat of mortality, and maybe to some people that's what he looks like. I'm sure Hitler probably saw, like, a five-headed demon that immediately ripped his dick off and dragged him down to Hell for an eternal concentration camp. And for what it's worth, I didn't immediately think the white-haired boy with the Misfits sweatshirt and combat boots was coming to collect my soul, but when he spoke to me again, I could hear the eons of experience in his words.
"You understand what has come to pass?"
"Do you know who I am?"
I nodded once again. He smiled slightly and shoved his hands into his pockets.
"Such violence without, and yet such peace within. You are curious."
Insider secret about death: I don't think it's very often you hear the Grim Reaper deem you noteworthy of anything.
I had to struggle a little bit to find my voice, so when I first began to respond, I sounded a bit hoarse. "Are you here to take me to… to whatever's next?"
What was next? I'd never been too sure. And here I was, about to find out the answer to the eternal question.
"I could be," the Grim Reaper agreed. "Soon enough. But not now."
My eyebrows rose. "Oh?"
"What is it they call it… unfinished business? You have some. Not quite my job."
"Oh," I replied. I would've said Fuck, but it felt improper to curse in front of Death.
The Grim Reaper smiled once more. It was so calm, so amicable. "No worries. I'm just the welcoming party."
"Oh, okay. I understand." I didn't, naturally, but I figured badgering the personification of Death for an explanation wouldn't turn out too well.
I didn't know how to react to the Grim Reaper when he put his hand out. It was an inviting gesture, and the urge to put my hand in his was real, but I was reluctant to feel the scorch of contact so soon after leaving it behind. And yet, I couldn't resist. It was pleasantly surprising to find that his palm was smooth and cool, almost like touching bone.
"Another will come for you soon. Commit to the path set before you."
"Got it," I said. What I meant was What the fuck did that even mean?, but I held my tongue.
He squeezed my hand and smiled fully, revealing the deep dimples in his dark cheeks. "You are not alone. I will come back for you. Remember this."
"Sounds like a plan." It sounded stupid the second it came out of my mouth, but before I could salvage anything he was already gone. Vanished into thin air, probably to collect someone else's soul.
A neat trick.
I turned back and found that the Yuppie was still reenacting the Pietà with my corpse. I wasn't supposed to touch him? If Death said so, then it might as well be law. Maybe getting touched by ghosts would freak people out. I had little to no reference pool on what it actually meant to be a spirit freed from its body.
It was something Mel would probably know.
What a crazy girl. She'd probably hold a seance once she figured out I'd been killed to try and communicate beyond the grave. We'd made a pact in seventh grade to do that for each other, after all.
Shit, maybe Yuppie had an aura like the ones Mel pretended she could see. Maybe she wasn't even bullshitting.
I had a lot of things to figure out. Considering I was dead, I had pretty much all the time I needed to sort through the finer details. And the Grim Reaper had said something about someone else coming to collect me, after all.
But at the moment, all I wanted to do was to see my best friend.
Sirens came blasting from down the street. The ambulances were finally arriving. I wondered if a mortician would be in tow as well. Who would identify me? I had a learner's permit but I'd forgotten my wallet in my bedroom, and all of my school supplies were scattered over the roads. I might be a Jane Doe for a day.
All the better if my parents didn't find out I was dead while they were working.
I didn't want to see them yet. My death didn't matter much personally, but even though they would be blissfully ignorant…
If I was going to haunt anybody, it would be Mel. She'd be offended otherwise.
The mob of spectators were drifting away from my body as the EMTs rolled onto the scene, but Yuppie was rooted to his spot. Still crying. Still holding what was left of me.
It was too melancholy for my taste. I shut my eyes and tried to drown out the ocean of noise. I wanted to be somewhere calm, somewhere I felt comfortable and safe.
You can imagine my shock when I found myself suddenly situated in a dark basement. The cityscape had been replaced by faded floral wallpaper. I couldn't smell too well anymore, but incense is strong and smoky, and I recognized it with fondness. I knew these bookshelves, for they were filled with books on witchcraft and potions and hexes. The TV was a dinosaur from the late 90s and still had a built-in VHS. The armchair was covered in cat fur.
This was Mel's basement.
I'd transported myself there with a blink.
A neat trick.
I closed my eyes again and thought of my front lawn. When I opened them, I was staring at the front door of my house.
Blinking back to Mel's basement, I approached her occult library and scoured the book titles. I knew I was intangible, but if I could master transportation, maybe I could learn to concentrate and levitate objects? I mean, poltergeists are notorious for throwing shit around; I could probably do the same thing, right? And it wasn't like I could go up to Mel and ask her to look through them for me.
A creak came from the staircase. I knew I couldn't be seen, but I looked over my shoulder to check who it was anyway.
Mel's hair was very long and she usually wore it down, so the frizzy waves would cover most of her back and both of her shoulders, but today she had managed to wrangle most of her mophead into a ponytail. Shit, I'd bought her that pair of sweatpants with the pentagram designs for her birthday last year. I could see from as far away as I was that she needed to clean off her glasses. And yet, she looked like she was staring right at me through the haze.
"What the fuck are you doing down here?" she said finally.
Insider secret on death: you don't have the same bodily functions and needs as you once did while you were alive, but you can still have the metaphorical shit scared out of you.