Michelle Schad's Short Story
Death is sort of a strange thing. When it happens, there is a flurry of activity: emotion, thought, sensation. It all just wooshes by like wind being pushed out of an inflatable raft. What’s left is just the shell, a flat, sad, pathetic little reminder of what used to be.
Unlife was totally, totally worse.
There’s no ‘woosh’ in unlife. There’s no flurry of activity, no lights to guide you to the next state of existence; nothing. Which is where my story begins - at nothing. No, for real, I had nothing. Ok, maybe not ‘nothing’ - I had a duffle bag of useless shit and three outfits to my name.
Yeah, I ran away. Rebel teen with terrible angst issues… blah, blah, blah. Same story, different setting, but still. Mom and I just had a really large difference of opinion and dad never wanted to mediate. It wasn’t his battle, he would always say and just plop down on the sofa with my little brother and sister while mom and I dueled it out in a verbal battle of wits and opinions. I finally threw in the white flag, brandished my duffle bag of really useless shit and walked out the door. I never even looked back or said goodbye. Sometimes I wish I had. Maybe they’d have remembered me if I had. Instead, I end up as the ‘nothing’ I referred to earlier.
Two years isn’t terrible, not really. I wasn’t doing drugs or turning tricks or anything like that. I actually found a nice little job near the shelter and was saving to pay for tuition at beauty school. I had plans. I wasn’t trying to be some weird street hobo or nothing. I even spent time at the local library, joined a few of their social groups and stuff; chatted it up with some of the college kids that rolled in and out of there. And I was doing fine up until I wasn’t.
Two years, everything was fine. Then, just like that, I was ‘nothing’. I was worse than ‘nothing’, actually. I was a disembodied spirit staring at a nameless body hooked up to life support in the ICU at a hospital two blocks from the college campus. I mean, really? How’s a girl even supposed to respond to that? Talk about freaky.
People will say it was unfinished business, not ready to give up, or some other hokey crap. It was legit wtf confusion, is what it was. I didn’t know where to go. There was no light. There was no harp-strumming angel or pitch-fork wielding devil telling me that my time was coming to an end. There was me, lots of tubes, and absolutely no effing clue how I got there. One minute, tofu ramen, the next, hospital tubes.
Oddly enough, I still had my clothes on that I was wearing while eating tofu ramen. I even had the stain on my jeans where I’d dropped a piece of narutomaki. Like I said before: weird. Worst. Horror Movie. Ever.
Eventually, I made my way back to the place where I’d been eating ramen. The hospital was clear on the opposite side of the city. There was no sign of my death, however. No yellow tape, no flashing lights, just a ‘CLOSED’ sign hung up on the glass door. I couldn’t even go inside! Leave it to the Japanese to be paranoid enough to ward their places of business from wandering spirits. I mean kudos to them but, seriously? What if I’d been hungry?
So, what happened? There I was, loitering in limbo somewhere, shuffle-floating along in a pair of stained jeans and worn Chucks. Anytime I passed beneath a light, part of me vanished. Let me tell you, that took some getting used to.
I floated around, tried to find something familiar and still ended up back at the ramen place. By then, it was open. A few people moved in and out and there were two occupied tables inside. I didn’t know anyone in there, not even the really cute guy I’d been having lunch with before I died. Had he died too? Would be a shame, he was a nice guy and had a new apartment lined up for me so I could stop staying in the shelter.
No, he wasn’t there, but someone else was. The guy walked by the ramen place and looked in almost longingly, like he wanted to go in to buy a bowl but didn’t have enough money to pay for it. Or, maybe he didn’t want to sit alone. Who knows. Anyway, he seemed like decent folk, sort of familiar, so I followed him. He wore a long gray hooded coat that was not thick enough for the cold temperature. Then again, he probably wasn’t all that cold and it was just me. His jeans bunched at the bottom, stuffing themselves into untied combat boots and he wore a slouchy green beanie that looked like it could use a good washing. He was my kind of people. Except I washed; or, I used to wash. Whatever.
Turns out, the guy went to the local university. He was a social science major - psychology or something like that - and played the guitar. He was ok at it, not like rock star or anything but it seemed to soothe him when he was in distress and I liked hearing the acoustic versions of all the songs he played. I don’t really know why I followed him around, I just did. He… comforted me. It wasn’t until a week or so had passed that I saw a picture on his side table of the really cute guy I’d been eating ramen with. It only made me follow him more, loitering in class with him or in the cafeteria or the commons. His name was Mike, and he had a pet rat named Bones that he hid in his dorm closet.
“Why have you been following me?” Mike asked one night with his guitar in his lap. He had the privilege of being one of the few to have a dorm room to himself or else this would have been totally weird. Not that it wasn’t totally weird anyway. My mouth dropped to the floor and I'm sure my eyes bugged out all cartoon style. Mike could see me.