Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Good Die Young: Ashes

It has come to my attention that I have a series of short stories that I have failed to upload. These are a bit dark, and were meant to be openers for a book idea that has been abandoned and scrapped for pieces. It was based on ideas I no longer believe in, and now exists in no other place than my memories, as I told no one of its existence. But, I kept these for some reason, and here's the first one, called Ashes. Hope you enjoy!

It’s weird to be at your own funeral. To hear the people who cared about you the most speak of the best memories they had of me. To see the sadness in their eyes as my body is slowly lowered into a hole. To see my own body, cleaned up and dressed very sharply. It doesn’t look like me, honestly. I never keep my hair that straight, never looked that pale, and have never worn a suit while I was alive.
It’s a cold and rainy day, and a light mist covers the cemetery like a white blanket. A few loners kneel or stand in front of gone loved ones all around the group here to bid me goodbye. Not a bad group; about twenty people. Mostly family and a few people I recognize from my mom’s church. They mourn for me, some of them pray silently to themselves; others listen to the pastor with tears in their eyes.
As for me, the man of the hour, I’m not sad. Maybe I should be, because I’m dead and was only fourteen, but I’m not. It was a stupid accident that killed me; I was drawing in my sketch book on the roof of our apartment building in Chicago when this huge gust of wind knocked me off balance and I fell. Thirty stories. Everyone thinks I jumped, but I didn’t. None of them understood me. I would never kill myself. But they all cry like I did, and I want to scream at them. I’ve tried, but they can’t hear me, not that they ever listened while I was alive.
I’m glad is what I am. This is such a relief. There are some things I’ve wanted to do for some time now, and I finally have the time to do them. There are three people who are not at this funeral that I plan to visit. I’m not surprised they’re not here; I wouldn’t have wanted them to come anyway. These three people hurt me, made me the way I was. They may not have ended my life, but they did their part to ruin it, and now it’s time to return the favor.

First is my former best friend, Isaac. We’ve known each other since the second grade. He lives outside of Chicago in a beautiful house, three stories, porch that wraps around the entire place, picturesque and pristine in every way. I remember sleepovers here and working on projects together and afternoons spent pranking his three older sisters.
All of that ended two years ago. He was always a great singer, but self-conscious, so he never actually got the nerve to try out for choir. I helped him practice singing in front of people, and I was there when he auditioned and a week later when he got the good news. I was proud, but then choir started coming before me. We stopped hanging out as much, and when we did, he’d make excuses to get away from me as soon as he could. The friendship ended when he started to join in the choir’s fun of ganging up on me after school. I built him up, and he replied by letting me down.
I step through the house and find my way to his room. He’s lying on his bed, reading a book with his headphones on. Does he even know I’m dead? I think he was on a choir trip while it happened, but I wonder if he was told? Either way, he could care less about my life, and so his means nothing to me. I sit on the bed not far from.
His IPod is close to me, so I reach out for it. My hand goes right through it, but the thing just goes crazy. The volume randomly goes up and down rapidly and the song playing randomly changes over and over again. He yelps and rips the headphones off his ears.
“What?” he asks in confusion. He snatches up the IPod, his hand passing right through mine as he does. He twists it in his hand and checks every inch of it. “What is wrong with you?” he asks it as if it could answer. He tests it for a few more seconds before shrugging and continuing his book without his music.
“You’re not getting off that easily,” I say out loud. He can’t hear me, but still. I look around his room for other things to do. I walk over to his closet and open the door. That gets his attention. Grimacing, I start ripping his shirts out and throwing them across the room. Oh, the terror on his face. It loses all color as he watches his clothes fly across the room. There’s a singing trophy on the shelf in his closet, so I pick that up and throw that directly at him. He still had the sense to dodge it, and he runs to the door. “You’re not going anywhere,” I growl, beating him to the door and holding it closed. He tries to jerk the knob, yelling, “Let me out! What’s going on?!” After a minute of this, I let him go. He shoots out of the room, but I decide to stay in.
About an hour later, he returns. I had actually started reading the book he was reading while he was gone. “Nice to see you again,” I joke to myself. He cautiously walks into the room as if he had never been in it before.
I laugh. “You looked like that when you first moved here. Remember that?” I stand up, getting mad. “Remember when you decided to sit by me that first day you were here? How I was the first one to say hi? Remember that I had your back from that day on!?” I’m in his face and he doesn’t even know it. I shove at him, but I go right through him. He reacts as if he just walked under a waterfall. He jumps around me, moving further into the room, looking around as if someone is hiding. “Is someone there?” he asks.
“GUESS!” I sweep my arm across his dresser, knocking everything on it to the floor. He jumps back again. Everything is still. “Hello?” he asks quietly. I don’t respond. I think about what his last punishment should be. Then it comes to me.
I follow him for the next few hours in silence. I don’t throw anything, I don’t mess with anything. He starts to get comfortable. He must think I left, because his sisters and parents come home and he acts as if nothing was ever wrong.
It’s not long before the family finishes dinner and he returns to his room. Isaac starts to practice singing a song, and eventually takes a swig from the water he keeps by his bed. He manages to set the bottle down before he starts coughing and hacking. He croaks “HELP” as loud as he can as he falls to the floor clutching his throat.
As for me, I’m standing next to his dresser, fingering the lid of a bottle of sulfuric acid I found in his basement.
“Your singing destroyed our friendship,” I tell him as I feel a burning sensation in my chest. “You would’ve never tried out for choir if it wasn’t for me, coward. And then you betrayed me. Now live with that.”
And on that note, I left him. There are still two more people I need to visit.

Next on my list is my biological father. I barely remember where he lives, but honestly I could not care less about him. The feeling is mutual. I could count the number of conversations we’ve had on one hand. The only thing he ever gave me was the cold shoulder. I wasn’t exactly a “planned” child, and for that, I didn’t get his love or his approval. He never wanted anything to do with me. So while my mom dropped out of college to have me, he stayed in college, even got a master’s degree, a family of his own, and everything else he ever wanted.
His place in upstate New York is very nice. I’m standing in his living room, watching his daughters, my step-sisters, play together. This is the first time I’ve ever seen them. They’re young, maybe ten and seven, and look almost nothing like him. But I’m not here for them.
I go into the next room and there he is. He’s sitting at a table with his back to me, papers spread out around him. He’s hunched over and filling out something. I walk over to stand beside him and slide a form off of the table. He doesn’t notice, which only serves to piss me off more. He ignored me all of my life, and he will not ignore me now. This time I slide three papers off at once. That gets his attention, but he only appears annoyed as if the wind knocked them down. As he bends over to pick those papers up, I go over to the other side of him and start flipping papers off the table in every direction. He turns, now looking confused.
“Girls?!” he calls out.
“Guess again,” I answer, knocking a vase off a counter.
The crash pulled everyone else in the room, his daughters from the living room and his wife from upstairs. The adults argue while the girls are sent back to play. He insists that it just fell, but I can tell she doesn’t believe him. They fight as they clean the mess up, and after cleaning both go back to their previous activities still fuming. I just stand back and smile. This was a good beginning, but my father’s punishment is just begun.
For the next few hours, I just follow him around, messing with him. I knock random things out of his hand, I try to trip him with various objects, I let him walk through me, which causes him to shiver, and I once again knock a vase to the floor around him. After another mess to clean up, he’s perfectly steamed and paranoid of his surroundings. All this time I’ve been coming up with an appropriate punishment to finish with, and I think I’ve got it.
Later, all four of them are sitting down for dinner. It’s dead silent, no conversations at all, no one is even looking at one another. I can tell my father is at the breaking point.
“This dinner could use something,” I say to myself. I leave the dining room and turn the television on and the volume way up. That causes a commotion. The adults yell at each other and at the girls, who in turn scream back, all trying to be heard over the din. Finally one of them has the sense to go and turn the television off.
The aftermath of that is only more tension around the dinner table. The only thing else I do during dinner was knock the man’s cup off of the table, making another mess that the adults fight over.
After dinner is over, I find myself alone with my father in his office upstairs. He’s working on something on his computer while I just sit across from his desk, just staring at him, hating him. “Do you even know I’m dead?” I ask. I yank a cord out of the back of his computer, which causes him to look around and inspect his computer in confusion.
“This is just not my day,” he whispers to himself, rubbing his eyes.
“Not your day?!” I repeat in disbelief. “Do you need another hint!?!” At that, I knock off the three pictures he has off the side of the desk. That causes him to yelp and jump out of his chair.
“What is going on?” he asks himself.
“Retribution is going on,” I answer, pulling his computer off of the desk, too. “How dare you act like nothing is wrong! How dare you act like I. Never! EXISTED!”
The only thing left on his desk is an ornate letter opener. I pull it out of its stand and point it at him. He stares at the knife, which to him I know is just floating by itself, terrified beyond anything I’m sure. Good. “You abandoned me before I was even born. You did your best to avoid me while I was alive. And now that I am dead,” I growl, “you’ll pay.”
He moves to get out from behind the desk, keeping his eyes on the knife I kept pointed at him. He rushes to the door, but I’m right behind him. Just as he gets the door open, I bury the knife in the small of his back. He screams out as I twist the knife around in his body. I keep him pinned to the door for almost a minute, twisting and turning the knife around. The back of his shirt and pants become damp with blood. I finally pull the knife out, letting him fall to the floor, breathing fast and shallow. He keeps his eyes on the bloody knife in my hands.
I just stare down at him. I’m shaking with anger. I feel like I’m burning. I want to stab him again, but I remember there is still one more person who needs my attention. I drop the knife next to him, turn around, and leave without a second thought.

I’ve saved the worst for last. My ex-girlfriend, Natalie. At first, she was the best thing that happened to me. We only started going out little more than a year ago. I was the happiest I had ever been. Until one night, at this party, I’ll admit we got a little drunk, and did something I immediately regretted. I regretted it because she betrayed me and told people what happened. Words can hardly describe how I felt about her in my last few months. I gave her everything, and she just gave it around like it was head lice.
I go to her apartment and I don’t find her. She wasn’t at her parent’s store, either. I search and search but can’t find her. I about give up when I finally see her. Sitting in front of my grave. It’s the last place I would’ve expected, and I only looked here as an afterthought, but sure enough, there she is. It’s a cold day, and despite her thick coat and scarf, she’s shaking. She’s crying.
“Joseph,” she begins with a sniffle, “I’m so sorry. I never meant to hurt you. I wanted to say this a long time ago, but I never started those rumors about you. I should have never told my friend what happened; I knew she couldn’t keep a secret, and I told her anyway. I really did care about you, Joseph, and I’m so sorry you had to die before I told you this. I pray that you forgive me.”
An apology. She says she’s sorry now, after it is too late to change anything. What’s done is done, and if she didn’t want to hurt me, she should’ve started this a long time ago. She betrayed my trust to her blabber-mouth friend, who in turn told the entire school, making me that much more of the social outcast, and all she says is sorry. “Too little too late,” I say out loud.
After a few minutes, she stands up and walks away. I walk with her, determined not to lose sight of her. After a while, we walk past an open grave, and out of nowhere, I just shove her in. She screams in surprise and lands hard in the deep hole. She cries out louder from the bottom of the hole, and looking down at her, I see that her leg is bent at an odd angle. She holds it, crying and rocking back and forth. “HELP ME!” she screams, but there’s no one in sight. Just me.
I walk around the edge of the open pit, looking down on her. She continues to cry and call for help. I stop walking beside the large pile of cold earth that originally occupied the hole.
“Joseph,” she cries, “I’m so sorry. Please forgive me!” I see the panic in her eyes, as if she knows what’s coming.
“You’re sorry?” I spit back at her. “My life was one bad hand after another until you came along. My father abandoned me before I was born, my mother worked her ass off in one crappy job after another to support me, and my friends abandoned me after I gave them everything. I was in a tailspin, then you came along, and I dared to hope that things would get better. Then in one night, you took that last hope away.” Now I’m crying, hot tears fall to the ground. “I did everything I could. Sure, I made mistakes, but who doesn’t? I did my best, and was rewarded with absolutely the worst.” I’m not even talking to Natalie anymore. “What did I do wrong to deserve the life I got?! TELL ME WHAT I DID WRONG!!!!!!!!
Nothing. The only things I hear are Natalie’s soft crying and the whisper of a breeze. I don’t know what I was expecting. A booming voice telling me I was wrong, or a soft “everything will be alright.” I’m cold. I’ve never felt this utterly spent. I feel emptier than words can describe. There’s only one thing left in me.
Hatred. “Because of you, Natalie, the last months of my life were hell, and I do not forgive you,” I say in a voice completely devoid of emotion.
I stand behind the great pile of dirt and with a giant shove the whole thing moves over and into the hole. Natalie’s final screams are muffled to silence.
And with that, I am done in this world. That burning sensation is back. I look at my hands, which are turning into ash, disappearing into the wind.  I get the feeling of what is coming to me as they blow away. I know I deserve whatever punishment conceivable, but I don’t care. There’s no pain left for me to feel. I’ve felt it all, and I welcome my leave of this world as what’s left of me blows away like ashes in the wind.

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