Wednesday, August 31, 2011

When The Bones Speak

I could tell that the interviewer was disturbed by my appearance. I can't say that I didn't like it. His name was Jared Slader, a man from the Varsavian Times. I was still unclear on how he had found me, but I was willing to humor him to see where his line of questioning would take us. I don't get very many visitors out here, after all, and a solitary existence can get stale from time to time.
Mr. Slader sat himself on the cushioned chair across from me, doffing his gentleman's hat and placing it on the short stand next to his chair. His nervous eyes scanned the shelves of many books--which lined the walls of my study--as he adjusted his dark petticoat and went about making himself otherwise comfortable. I simply sat and waited for him to settle in. He pulled out a pen and a pad of paper from a hidden pocket within his petticoat. I had refused his initial request to be recorded. My voice, such as it is, is far from flattering and I didn't care for the idea of it being broadcast for all to hear. “Shall we begin?” Mr. Slader asked. “By all means,” I answered.
He cleared his throat before speaking. “Of all the things you could have chosen to be,” he began, “Why would you choose to come back as a skeleton?” “I've been asked this question before,” I said. “It surprises me that no one can figure it out, but then again, maybe it shouldn't.” “I don't follow you,” Mr. Slader said, crossing his legs. I didn't like his demeanor, and the savage glare of the lamp light--which bounced off the lenses of his eyeglasses--was already beginning to irritate me. “To me, the answer is quite obvious,” I said. “Look at me. What do you see?” “I see a skeleton.” I noticed, with a ripple of pleasure, that he would not look into the hollow sockets of my eyes. “You see a skeleton,” I said. “Instantly recognizable. Uniform in appearance.” “Yes,” he said. “That's right.” I could tell by his cocked eyebrow that he had no idea where I was going with the point. “What do all skeletons have in common?” I asked the man.
He sat there, on my cushioned chair, brows now lowered in deep thought, thinking long and hard for an answer a five year old would have shouted out in a second. “They are all white,” Mr. Slader said at last. I kept my aggravation in check. “No, sir. They all look the same. No matter how different people look on the outside, whether they are black, white, yellow, scarred, or otherwise deformed, they all look the same under all that flesh and sinew. No rich or poor. Just hard, cold, bones.”
“What about animals?” Mr. Slader asked, tapping the tip of his pen on the stand next to him. “They look remarkably different from humans.” “I was speaking exclusively of humans,” I said. “There are no racial divides, no petty discriminations among animals.” “So, if everyone were a skeleton, it would end racism and all the other prejudices humankind has produced?” “No,” I said. “We as humans will always find something to attack--to kill--amongst ourselves. Even if we were all the same, without differences.
It is our nature. But if we were to take away all our unique features, the images that contribute to our varied personalities and sense of individuality, to take on forms of sameness, it would certainly go towards helping the cause.” “Do you still consider yourself human?” I leaned over to get closer to the man doing the interview. He shrank back, afraid. “Do you consider yourself intelligent?” I asked.
The study was becoming darker by the moment as Mr. Slader continued down his list of questions. Some of the interrogatives were amusing, some seemingly pointless, and others were just plain rude. Eventually, the young interviewer had to lean over and twist the knob on the lamp, making the flame dance tall in its glass confines. The study became much brighter, giving poor Mr. Slader a much better look at me.
His thick mustaches almost successfully hid the twist of revulsion his lips produced. However, as my eyes never close, I seldom miss a detail. Rain began to splatter against the high, closed windows of the study, gaining intensity until a constant deluge assaulted the glass placements, making them shiver violently in their panes. “What about death?” was Mr. Slader's next question. “What about it?” “What was it like?” “There are things I cannot tell you about,” I said. “But I can tell you that it is cold and that the journey from Life to the Beyond is not an easy one.” “So there is no light at the end of the tunnel? Is there a tunnel?” He spoke the questions in rapid order.
He seemed to hit on the topic he personally most wanted to know about. His anxiety forgotten in the moment. I decided to remind him of it. “There is a tunnel,” I said. “And there is light, but it gives no warmth and your loved ones aren't there to welcome you. Beyond the light is nothing but darkness.” “Is there any comfort in death?” “If there were, then why do humans or even the most insignificant of living creature not welcome death when it comes? Why do all living things fight to stay alive?” “Some do welcome death,” Mr. Slader said, but he was thinking heavily on my previous words. “False bravado,” I spat, sitting forward once again.
Mr. Slander seemed to become a part of the chair, so far back did he push himself into it. It reminded me of a snail retreating into its shell upon being spooked. “When the air refuses to fill your lungs and your body becomes so heavy that you cannot even lift your small finger an inch from the ground, the one thing you wish for is relief--not death, but air! Life giving air!” I leaned back, resting my rigid elbows on the arms of the chair. I re-composed myself and lowered my voice, for Mr. Slader's face was almost as pale as my own, and I feared he might have a heart attack right where he sat. “I've been there as one who wished for death,” I said. “The world of the dead is no safe haven, no paradise, no fluffy clouds with angels playing harps.
It's just you, alone. Dead. Death is lonely. Death is ugly.”
“You're saying there is just a blackness we fall into when we die?” Mr. Slader asked. He seemed mostly recovered from my earlier rant, but I think that, perhaps, he was second-guessing his choice to come to my place of dwelling, especially now that it was so late in the night. Surly the drive home will be a long one for the man. “I didn't say blackness. I said darkness, and I was not speaking of shade or gloom; I was referring to things and environments that emit darkness, their very cores and structures seething with dark energies, things that oppose all that exist in light. That is what I meant by darkness, and there was plenty of it in the Beyond.
That, and one other thing…” It was my turn to feel uncomfortable. My bare spine shook with a vibration that made the earlier shaking of the windows seem a lazy sway. “What was that other thing?” Mr. Slader prodded. “The Reaper,” I said. “A being made up entirely of darkness. It led me to a boat that floated upon a sea of swirling fog. I could not look away, nor could I not follow the being. In its eyes I saw a lust for death that froze my soul.” “Where did it bring you after? And you mentioned a soul?” “One question at a time,” I said. I hadn't thought about my Crossing in quite awhile. I was a bit surprised that I was still uncomfortable with the subject, but I chose to plod on. Fear is not something I have easily given in to since my death, and my sudden apparent weakness forced my resolve to harden all the more. “The Reaper took me across the sea of fog to a distant, alien shore where I was then made to stand before a horned being that called itself the Deathman.
I remember almost nothing of the demon except that my name couldn't be found on the Rolls of the Dead that he had scrolled out before him. He had then ordered The Reaper to bring me back across the sea of fog. The Reaper had done so with an audible grunt of anger. “I was brought back to the cold tunnel of light. A bodiless voice had asked me what I would like to return as--perhaps a bird? Or a woman?--I was given time to think. I thought long and hard about my life, the world, and society. I had finally answered the voice. I wished to come back as a skeleton. I was not questioned about my decision and I awoke in the hospital as you see me now.” “Interesting.” Mr. Slader was frantically jotting down notes into his notepad. “And your soul?” “Yes, I have a soul. As do we all.
It's the energy that operates our bodies, our memories, and our dreams.” “Our nightmares too?” “Yes, even those,” I said.
The rain had subsided somewhat. Fat drops still smacked against the glass of the windows, but it wasn't the downpour it had been. “If one were to make it past this Deathman,” Mr. Slader was saying, “do you think there is a “heaven” beyond him?” “I really can't say?” I said. “Now that you have been brought back to life, when do you think you will die again?” “I didn't know when I was to come into this world,” I said. “And likewise, I don't know when I will leave it again.” “In closing, as one who has died before, what advice would you give to people who haven't?” I thought about the question. I thought back on the entirety of my life, of people I had lost to both death and petty circumstance.
I thought about every regret I had ever spawned from my own stupid actions. I saw faces wet with tears and twisted in pain. The answer was slow to come to my hollow skull, but it was the most obvious. The only one, in fact. “Love,” I said at last. “Love those who are close to you, and share this life with them. Don't waste a single second on anger or spite. Live each day like it was your last and cherish every waking second you have, because there is nothing more precious than the breath of a life.” “Thank you for your time,” Mr. Slader said with a gulp. He stuffed his pen and paper into the pocket of his petticoat and placed his hat back on his head. He arose from the chair and waited patiently for me to see him out. I walked him to the front door where we made our goodbyes. He shook my thin hand in farewell, looking all the while as if he were touching a poisonous snake. He then made his way out into the dark, rainy night. As he slouched his way down the driveway towards his expensive car, I called to him. “One more thing, Mr. Slader!” The man turned to me. “Drive carefully,” I said, making sure he glimpsed my eternal smile. He turned back, with a shiver and a nod, and I closed the door.
The End

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