Actions

Work Header

Hurry up and wait

Chapter Text


    Air embolisms are a very ineffective way to kill someone. You have to inject it into just the right spot and even then it's not one hundred percent. That's why my murder went for an exotic poison that would have made my death a certainty and been nearly untraceable. Being exotic, it was an easy matter to keep track of their spending and know exactly what was coming (what else could they be doing with so much fugu, and don't try and tell me it was just for sushi). I had the antidote prepared long before they even thought of how to deliver it. When the attack finally came, sloppy really, a 'surprise' attack after I'd been called to work late one night at the office, I was ready. Before my would-be assassin could even fully depress the plunger on the syringe of poison, I had his neck snapped between my hands. In the next minute I had the antitoxin coursing safely through my veins. I was just getting back down to the last of my paperwork when the heart attack hit. That idiot had been none too careful with the needle and injected me with a sizable air bubble along with his poison of choice. There wasn't much I could do at that point save die.

    So I died.

    That's really all there is to tell. Some asshole tried to kill me, failed so miserably it swung right back round to success.  Life can suck that way.

    That's how I got here, hanging out in a god damn grave yard waiting for what? A bright light? Pearly gates? A fiery pit to open up at my feet? I don't know just something, anything.

    Death is boring. Very, very boring. I'm still here, on earth, watching people go about their dull everyday lives, only now I can't even talk to them. Not that I was much of a talker in life, but it's the principle of the thing. Even if I wasn't doing much with it while alive, at least I was still able to participate. Now I'm just an outside observer. I can't even rustle leaves or make ghostly rappings, so haunting my murderer is out. Not that I really wanted to spend my afterlife as some parlor trick spirit, but at least it would have been something.

    Right now, I have nothing. I can watch the people or watch the clouds. The clouds are generally more interesting.

    I've checked, it's not like I'm bound to the cemetery. I can go anywhere I want. I can even walk through walls. I tried visiting a few of my old haunts, if you will, the office, the club, the stock exchange. It's just not the same. I have no loved ones worth mentioning. No friends, no family, no one to mourn. Not that I would really want to spy on their mourning, but at least it would have occupied my time. I even considered trying to find a small child to communicate with, like in that one movie, but what would I do then? Give him legal advice and stock tips? No.

    I've spent the last two days laying on top of my grave and looking at clouds. I never had the time to look at clouds while I was alive. I was too busy making money. I was a corporate lawyer, the best in the city. I always wanted to find my own enterprise and make it a financial powerhouse, but I never quite found the one.

    And they say no one ever dies wishing they'd spent more time at the office.

    I'm sorry to say I don't see prosaic fluffy white things in the clouds. Those clouds over there look like someone getting their face impaled on a phallic spike. And that one looks like an imposing cat sarcophagus. Those irregular ones over their look a lot like a skull with spikes sticking out. I make this last observation out loud, mostly just to hear the sound of my own voice. It's all the company I have these days.

    "Hey- it kinda does. Brutal."

    I sit up from my reclining position over my grave. There is this strange man, younger than me, grubby black t-shirt, long black hair. He must be here for a funeral.

    I stare at him. He is still looking up at the sky. He can't possibly have heard me.

    "It's like a boney, spiky sort of face," he continues. "Spikebones... boneface..."

    What the hell is he talking about? Who on earth is he talking to? It can't be me. No one has been able to hear me in weeks, not since I died.

    "Hmm, Facebones... It defiantly looks like a Facebones."

    And then he looks right at me. Not through me, but at me. And smiles.

    "Ah, can you see me?" Not my most eloquent moment, but I'm dead so shove it.

    Now he looks concerned too.

    "Wait, can you see me?"

    There is mutual disbelief on both our faces. We speak at roughly the same time.

    "Are you, dead?"
   
    He nods. I nod.

    Well then. I stand up and hold out my hand.

    "Charles F. Offdensen. Pleasure to meet you." He looks at me like an escapee from the loony bin. Just because we are both dead, it's no reason to ignore societal convention.

    After another awkward moment, he shakes my offered hand. "Nathan something Explosion."

    I quirk an eyebrow as I drop his hand. "Something? I question.

    He looks embarrassed. "I don't know, middle names are stupid. You don't use them, it's not my fault I don't know it. Middle names are for dildos."

    Well then.

    "So, you're ah, dead?" I know we have already established this but I can't help belaboring the point. It seems terribly important somehow.

    "Yup." he agrees. "A couple of weeks now. You?"

    "The same."

    "I've seen you around, but I thought you were some kind of morbid hipster."

    I look down at the tailored three piece suit I died in and am still wearing. "You thought I was a hipster? In this suit?"

    "Aren't hipsters the ones that dress funny?"

    I give him, Nathan, a more scrutinizing look.

    "Well, you look like a reject from some kind of lame metal band."

    He looks genuinely hurt.

    "Dethklok's not lame! We're totally cool!"
   
    More awkward silence.

    "So," Nathan begins. "You ah, want to go grab a beer?"

    I was never much of a beer drinker while living. More of a scotch man, I liked my spirits finely aged in oak caskets. But right about now I would sell my soul for a drink of any kind. You hear that Satan? All you have to do is show up here with a bottle of abc liquor and I'm yours forever.

--

    We float into a pub, one of those fake Irish pubs Americans drink at to feel classy. Because association with a country most noted for its alcoholism will make you seem like less of a lush. In any case, it is near the cemetery. At mid day it is mostly empty so we have no trouble sliding into seats at the bar. It mystifies me that we can walk through walls but still manage to sit on bar stools. Shouldn't we fall straight to the floor? I don't know, ghost physics was not among the course offerings while at university.  

    Nathan tries to signal the bartender. As expected, there is no response. We are still dead after all. I'm starting to get the distinct impression that Nathan is not brightest bulb on the tree, crayon in the box, ant at the picnic.

    "DUDE, BEER ME!" my companion is shouting now.

    I let him make a fool of himself for a moment longer.

    "You do remember that we're ah, dead, Nathan?"

    He gives me the most comic look of bewilderment. Like a particularly dimwitted dog.

    "Oh. Duh."

    He moves on from trying to get the bartender's attention and tries to swipe a nearby pint. His hand goes right through the glass. Dear god, am I doomed to spend my afterlife with only a complete moron for company? I know I wasn't a good man in life, but I don't think I was sinful enough to warrant this sort of punishment.

    "Dead, remember?" I pass my hand through an empty up turned glass to illustrate the point.

    We sit there, morosely, in a darkened pub with fake authentic decor, stone cold sober. Being dead sucks.

    We watch one of the grungy midday alcoholics down a pint in a single breath.

    "So, how did you...?" I wave my hand in what I hope is an illustrative manner.

    "Hmm?" he rips his eyes away from the now empty glass, a drop of dark amber liquid running enticingly down the side. "What? Oh. See there were these ninjas, about a hundred of them and a couple of pirates too, and they ganged up on me and this robot..."

    I give him a cold, hard stare. He looks guiltily back at me.

    "I uh, got drunk and choked on *mumble mumble*"

    "You what?"

    "I uh, choked on my own vomit."

    It takes every last bit of self control not to burst out laughing. It's not even really that funny, but I might be becoming just the tiniest bit hysterical. I am talking to a dead man in a pub, I think it's understandable.

    "Right," I fight back the hysteria with logic. "There wasn't anyone around to turn you on your side or call an ambulance?" That’s alcoholism 101, never drink alone, never let your friends pass out on their backs.

    "No, the guys were there, they were just drunk too."

    There is another awkward moment before he turns to ask me the same question.

    "Ah, an air embolism."

    "AIR? You were killed by the air?" He starts to chuckle. I refrained from laughing at his stupid death, he could show me the same courtesy. "How do you die from air? It's like every everywhere, what, did you just not breathe until that moment?" He's mocking me. Jerk.

    "Air embolism, you dolt. My assassin was trying to inject me with a toxin but screwed up and injected me with an air bubble instead."

    He stops laughing and starts looking interested.
   
    "You were murdered? Cool. What did you do?"

    "I snapped his bloody neck."

    "Brutal." Nathan looks contemplative. I have to swallow my snort of laughter. Wouldn't want him to strain his last remaining brain cell.

    "Have you seen him again?"

    "Who?"

    "That guy you killed."

    Now that is a genuinely good point. We died within minutes of each other at the same location.

    "No I haven't."

    He stares longingly at our friendly neighborhood alcoholic's fresh pint of beer.

    "I've been thinking." I give him the benefit of the doubt and reserve judgment. "Before I met you it was just me but now there is you and ...where are all the other dead people?"

    This is an excellent point.

    "It's a big city," he continues. "People die all the time. So, where are they?"

    I don't know. I shrug.

    We both go back to starring longingly at other people's drinks.

--
    We decide to stick together. He may have the IQ of a boiled turnip, but he's better than nothing. Our first order of business is to locate any other dead people.

    Maybe it's the Stockholm syndrome talking but I'm starting to warm up to him. He's still an idiot, but he is slowly becoming my idiot. We've had a lot of time to talk while we look for other spirits. Mostly he tells me stories about his bandmates, people with improbable names like Pickles and Murderface. I particularly liked hearing about the time they tried to raise a wolf cub in the middle of the city and it mauled a cat burglar.

    I haven't told him a thing about myself. I could tell him about the time I cleared the legal red tape to make room for a hostile corporate takeover and four hundred people lost their jobs and pensions, but as Nathan is the only halfway decent part about being dead, I'd rather not have him disgusted with me.

    Mostly we talk about stupid stuff. Nathan seems to lack an internal flitter and he will just talk about anything that crosses his mind. He tells me that’s how he used to write songs. I've never been a fan of metal but I wish I could have heard Dethklok play. They are(or were I guess, now that the lead singer is dead) not a very big band but the small fan base is fiercely loyal. I feel like I could have done great things with them, if only I'd known them while still alive.

--

    "Maybe we're angels?"

    It has been a week. We haven't found any other spirits. We wondered through all the cemeteries, checked the morgues and the funeral homes and came up with nothing. We even tried to catch someone in the act of dying. We hung around hospitals and nursing homes. This city has the largest cancer ward in the state, someone has to be terminal but everyone seems to be in remission. Clearly I shouldn't have been so generous with the cancer charities while alive. No good deed goes unpunished.

    "Angels?" I question, staring out over the sleeping city. It's 3am and we are perched on top of a building looking out over the city, hoping someone will be stabbed in an alleyway beneath us. It's like the reverse lottery. The odds of it happening are very low and if you win instead of a million dollars, someone gets killed. We are hoping to get lucky tonight. We are such good people, clearly angel material.

    "I don't know about you, but for the record, in life I was no angel."

    He turns to look at me. Stutters and stops, starts again. "R-really? But you're uh, wearing a suit. I thought guys in suits didn't know how to have fun."

    "It's not a question of fun, it's a question of ruthlessness. I did what it took to get the job done, and damn whoever stood in my way. I was the richest lawyer in the city and you don't get that way without breaking a few necks." Not that the money really mattered. Being dead, I could see that now.

    Nathan seems to sense my foul mood. "Hey, I wasn't much of an angel either. I uh, drank too much and bad shit always found me. A truck crashed into my class room killing people 'cause I didn't want to give a speech."

    "It was an accident. I'm sure you didn't mean for it to happen." I try to argue reasonably.

    "When it uh, keeps happening it's no accident. Every time my band plays someone gets hurt. But we play anyway."

    "We wouldn't have liked being angels anyway. All that helping people."

    "Yeah, people suck. Screw them."

    And we go back to waiting for someone to die.

---

    Another week has gone by with no other deaths. People are still dying in the city, every now and then I manage to check the obits, but none of them near us. If someone is dying at Shadygrove retirement home we are staked out at Sunnydale. But, and now this is a secret, I really don't mind. While we are waiting for someone to get lucky, or unlucky as the case maybe, we've started to talk. He tells me more about his band and his quest to make everything 'metal'. Sometimes he sings some of his band's songs. He hums the musical bits and doodly-dos where the drums should go.
    
    Right now, we are in an emergency room waiting area. According to the news, people die all the time waiting for emergency care. So far we have found the staff to be polite and efficient, if somewhat overworked. No one is dying on their watch. Really, we should have moved on but, Nathan is explaining to me about that one time they had to visit a doctor and Pickles convinced them all to drink bleach. In life I would have been horrified that anyone could be so stupid, but death has given me a sense of humor.

    After the story we laps into comfortable silence and suddenly I realize, "I'm glad that I died."

    "What?"

    Oh, apparently I said that out loud. "I mean it. I'm glad I'm dead. I hated my life. It was one long and boring executive meeting with people I couldn’t stand and none of it mattered. No one missed me, no one mourned me but now-" and I manage, just barely, to stop myself from saying something incurably stupid. "but now it's better." I finish lamely.

    It probably doesn't matter that I stopped myself in time. He gives me a look, like he knows what I was going to say anyway. "Let's uh, check out the high school. Maybe one of the nerds will be fed up and start shooting people." He changes the subject.  I appreciate his reluctance to talk about feelings. They are soft and swishy and totally not metal.

    This thought makes me laugh and off we go, together, through the emergency room wall.

---

    Statistically speaking, someone around us should have randomly dropped dead from a heart attack by now. We are sitting on the ledge of another tall building, looking down at the crowded street below. One of the advantages, amongst the many, many disadvantages, in being dead is unrestricted access to any place in the city. Between looking for the recently deceased we been exploring any restricted areas we can find. We've been through bank vaults and back rooms and even visited the teachers' lounge at that high school a few days ago. Nathan recently spent a full hour in the girl's locker room. I was understandably less than interested.

    The tops of buildings are our favorite places. We can see the whole world from up here without having to worry about people walking through us. It seems like we spend all our time up here lately. We've both mastered the art of moving through walks and walking on air. It became an easy matter to just pick a building and float. We've since figured out that we can sit on the ledge because we believe we can sit on the ledge, not because it has any real substance to us. If we stop believing that the ledge will support us we can fall right through. It's weird not really being able to touch, or interact with things. When I feel anything at all it's more like the memory of that thing.
 
    Nathan interrupts my thoughts. "I'm glad too." The last thing we'd talked about was some ugly old lady down below and her poor taste in shoes. I refuse to believe that Nathan is glad that she had such poor taste in foot wear, even if we did get a good laugh out of it. I turn to look at him but he continues without prompting. "I'm glad that you're uh, dead too. The afterlife would be fucking dull without you."

    I know what he means. This would have been hell if I hadn't found him. I reach out to him and place my hand over his. Only, that's not a memory of what skin should feel like. It is skin. I can feel his hand and it's rough and callused and even a little bit warm. I can't push through it or force it incorporeal. It's a real, live hand.

    He's shocked too and for a moment we just sit there, hands pressing together, not even really moving. Then he reaches a hand out to me and touches my face. That is no memory of sensation, if for no other reason than it's not a sensation I've ever felt before. He pulls my face close and I lean up to meet him. Our lips meet and I'm falling. The world is whipping by and the only thing that feels real is him. His lips, his hands, the sensation of his skin.

    It occurs to me that this feeling of falling is not merely a literary device. In our distraction we've forgotten to believe that the floor will hold us. We've been falling through the layers of the apartment building. I concentrate on making the next floor real and we land, with a thump, in the middle of someone's living room. We are jumbled together in a heap on an ugly braided rug. There are doilies on the nearby arm chair. No people that we can see but the lights are on. Right now it wouldn't matter if there was a bible study going on in this room. They wouldn't be able to see us and we wouldn't be able to stop ourselves.

    After weeks of not really touching anything I revel in the fabric of his shirt. Cotton, could do with a wash but still soft. I fist my hands in his shirt and rub my face on his sleeve. We must look like crazy people, but it feels incredible. Why did it take me so long to try this? He sits up and pushes me gently away to remove his shirt. I work on removing my own shirt but god damn, stupid buttons, I should have died in the nude. Once his shirt is off, stupid easy to remove t-shirt, he helps me with mine. I've done all but the last two buttons and he rips it off. Buttons go flying. Damn it, as far as I know that shirt will have to last me for the rest of eternity. But I can worry about that later.

    For now he runs his hands through my chest hair and tries to touch all of me at once. It doesn't exactly work, but I'm not complaining. It's stupid and wonderful and almost makes dying worthwhile.

    I whimper into the crook of his neck as he pulls my body down to cover his. Our chests touch and move against each other. It is burning hot and electric like lighting. I feel chills and heat and skin and a million other conflicting sensations I've forgotten I could feel. His big, strong hands slip under my pants to knead my ass and it's like nothing I've ever felt before.

    There is a thump and a clatter and a gasp. We both stop dead in our tracks. That wasn't me and that wasn't him. Our heads turn at much the same time to other end of the living room. Nathan's hands are still down my pants, still tightly gripping my ass and it still feels fantastic. Across the room a little old lady has fallen to the floor. Her walker toppled on its side and her hand gripping her heart. As we watch her eyes glaze over and before we can even move apart, try to make ourselves presentable for the first spirit we will met, a shadow descends on the corpse. It has no form, no features and it touches the body the same way we would. With an illusory grip that doesn't actually affect the physical form.

    It sucks her soul out, which is funny because I don't know what a soul looks like but I can tell it sucked it out. Then it looks up at us with a face we can't so much see as sense. We are still naked from the waist up, Nathan with his hands down my pants but no longer gripping like before.  This thing, this faceless, formless, incorporeal thing, it smirks at us. And then it disappears.

Chapter Text


     We have moved to haunting a bar. Nathan always seems to be more calm and relaxed when alcohol is around. He must have been a heavy drinker in life. The bar must seem familiar and safe, even though he can't drink. After our most recent experience we could both do with a bit of safety. I feel it prudent to refrain from mentioning the source of my security.

      My mind drifts back to what we have been avoiding. At least we now we know where all the dead people go.

     My god, I could use a drink, too.


     He walks up to the bartender and asks for a hundred beers. Exactly one hundred. The bartender doesn't react, of course, but I appreciate the effort. It makes me smile despite my fears.


     We find ourselves in a dark corner where someone has kindly left two half empty bottles of beer on the table. With the props in place, it's almost like this is a normal evening at a bar. Nathan tells me stories like the time he found his friend Murderface in a closet eating a hot dog and tries to explain exactly why this is so funny. We've been moving from topic to topic, anything but that thing we just saw.


     "We laughed for a week, but I guess you gotta to know him." Nathan concludes.


     "I wish I could have known him," I remark, occupying my mind with the more mundane. "I never really had any friends. There were coworkers I would eat lunch with, but never anyone I could share an inside joke with."


     I guess I must have looked a little down because Nathan stopped talking all of a sudden to look at me.


     "Right, let's go." Nathan says.


     "Let's go where?" I ask. We haven't left this bar in a day and a half. There are terrifying things out there. Things that suck your soul.


     "Let's go meet my band."


     "You may have forgotten," I remind him. "But we are both dead. It's ah, a bit late to be meeting new people."


     "I know. They can't meet you, but you could meet them. Then it would be kind of like they were your friends too."


      It's stupid, but it's also why he's been growing on me. I agree. We walk through the closed door of the bar and I follow Nathan home.

--

     Home is the end unit of a row house in the shabby part of town. The little fenced in yard is a mess of broken beer bottles and spent fire crackers. The lights are on and there is… music? Let's call it music for the sake of argument.


     "Dude, they're playing our cd!" Nathan says as he drags me inside through an open window. The feel of his hand is just as startlingly solid as it was the first time, but he is too distracted by the familiar music to do anything about it. Pity.


     The living room is full of the weirdest array of people I have ever seen. There is a fat man, with ugly hair, urinating out a window.


     "That's Murderface, he plays bass." Nathan supplies. Ah yes, the one with the closet fetish for sausage.


     There is a red head with dreads sitting upside down in his underwear staring blankly at the ceiling.


     "That's Pickles, the drummer."


     Two long haired pretty boys, a blond and a brunet are arguing on the sofa in a foreign language.


     "Skwisgaar and Toki, guitar and rhythm guitar."


     The last person in the room is most notable for his strange robot glasses and exceptionally out dated sense of fashion.


     "That's Knubbler. He's not really part of the band. He was a music dude till he killed somebody or something. They say his eyes exploded when he mixed pop rocks and coke."


     I pinch the bridge of my nose. For all my new found appreciation for Nathan, he is still dumb as a brick sometimes.


     "Nathan," I explain, patiently. "Mixing pop rocks and coke doesn't make your eyes explode. At worst it gives you gas."


     From the sofa, Toki, the brunet says out of the blue, "No, it ams totkallys true. Knubbler said so."


     That was weird. Nathan and I both stare at the sofa. Toki stares back at us. Not through us, but at us.


     "Nathan..." I start slowly. "Is your little friend...?"


     Toki lights up at the word friend. "You says I what ams your friend now?" he looks hopefully at Nathan. Again that is at, not through.


     "Shhh! Don't use the F word, dude." Nathan whispers to me. "They're bandmates not friends. Friends are not brutal."


     Pickles looks up from his drug induced stupor. "Toki, who are you... talking to?"


     Toki looks between us and Pickles. "Ams Nathans." He points at us. Not in our general direction, but directly at us.


     Did we get not dead in that last few minutes?


     The living people in the room gather around Toki.


     "Dood," Pickles begins. "Nath'n ya know, hamburger time'd."


     "Hamburger time." Murderface agrees sagely.


     I look to Nathan for an explanation, eye brow raised. "Hamburger time?"


     Nathan looks chagrined.


     "It ams what's means dead." Toki explains. To me. I think.


     Even the arrogant blond looks concerned.


     "Whose ams you talkings to?"


     "Nathan's…" Toki trails off like this is a normal societal interaction and he's waiting to be introduced.


     "My uh, friend, Charles." clarifies Nathan.

     After a single sensory deprivation fueled grope that ended in disaster, I don't really expect to be introduced as his gay life partner, but there is something troubling about being introduced as his friend. We're not really friends after all, and since the last interruption I guess we won't be more than that, either.


   "Nathan am says his friends, Charles."


     Dead silence as they stare at our corner of the room. Their eyes pass right over us. So, still dead.


     "Toki…" Knubbler begins reasonably.


     "-No it ams Nathans!"


     "We don't see anything." Pickles tries to say reasonably.


     Toki points again, right at us. "Rights there." He says forcefully.


     "Toki, you need ta lay off the booze."


     They check Toki's pupils for crazy (because Murderface insists that’s how you can tell.) and take away his red beer pong cup of booze. Toki looks sad and helpless as they try and convince him he is sick or drunk. I remember all the stories Nathan has told me about him. The time a stray cat died and he insisted on giving it full Egyptian burial rights. The way neighbor kids follow him and how he once tried to get rid of them with pig's blood and stories of demon possession, but he still shares his candy with them when they ask. I have to at least try and prove he's not crazy.


     "Nathan, say something only you would know."


     He thinks for a minute and then he's got it. "Murderface jacked off in a doctor's face once!"


     Toki looks appropriately shocked. "Reallys?!"


     "Yes, really, tell them."


     Toki clears his throat and looks to the living. "Nathan says," he begins superiorly, knowing they will have to believe him now. "Whats once timeks Murderface whats you know whats in doc-" before he can finish speaking Murderface starts shouting nonsense at the top of his lungs to halt the confession. He picks up a dirty throw pillow and tries to smother Toki. Knubbler pulls him off and Skwisgaar places himself protectively in front of Toki.


     "Lies!" Murderface shouts, still being held back by Knubbler. "Nathan must have told you lies about me before he died!"


     I look to Nathan. "Anything else?" I ask.


     Nathan is way ahead of me just this once and has come up with something all on his own.


     "The first time I met Seth, he tried to hit on me because he thought I was Pickles' boyfriend."


     Toki relays this little factoid in fractured English and there is dead silence.


     Pickles goes white and grips the back of a chair to keep from falling over. "Holy mother-douchbag." He stares at a point approximately to the left of Nathan's shoulder. "Nathan?" he asks.


     "Hey Pickles."


     Pickles still can't see us, but I guess that's not the point.


     "Doods, I think Toki can talk ta dead people."


     "Oh yeah," goes Toki. "I forge-gettkings."


     How do you forget something like that?


     "In Norway," he continues. "Whole village ams deads people."


     This seems to make a certain amount of sense to everybody else.


     "If Nathan's a spirit," Murderface slurs spittle with the word spirit. "Then what does he want? Has he come to haunt me for stealing his cd player? What, he was dead, it's not like he was gonna use it."


     They turn expectantly towards our corner. I am at a loss for words but Nathan knows exactly what he wants.


     "I want… BOOZE!" he howls.


     Toki offers us the red plastic cup he was just drinking out of. As always Nathan's hand goes right through it. You would think he would have learned by now.


     Toki sees the problem. "Oh, sorrys" he mumbles. He dumps everything off a grungy little coffee table and grabs a sharpie. He draws out a strange circular symbol and places a half empty gallon bottle of abc vodka and a few unopened beer bottles in the center of the circle.


     "There, trys again."


     Nathan, never one to learn from his mistakes, tries again. This time he is able to grasp the bottle. As he picks up the bottle it splits into two perfect copies. One stays on the table and one moves with Nathan's hand. He takes a long, deep pull on the vodka and the liquid levels in the one on the table decrease noticeably. He offers the bottle to me, but I decline. I have never heard of an instance where taking food or drink in the afterlife ended well.


     They all go back to drinking and talking and for Nathan at least it has to be a bit like being alive again. He can't speak to his friends directly but Toki acts as an interpreter. The kid seems to enjoy being the center of attention.


     For me it is deadly boring. The drunker they get, the dumber they get and they were none too bright to begin with. Eventually I get Toki to put a passed out Knubbler's smart phone in the circle so I can commune with the web. I seriously contemplate updating my Facebook status from the grave. The phone feels more solid than the half remembered sensations I've grown used to, but it is nothing like the solid, electric, real feeling I get from Nathan.


     Come dawn, everyone else is passed out except for Nathan. I'm pretty sure ghosts can't pass out but if they can, he is well on his way to finding out. He crawls over to my corner where I am googling the afterlife.


     "Dude." he says, like that explains everything.


     "Dude." he repeats when the first one elicits no response. Then he jabs me in the fleshy part of the arm.


     I use all of my will power to ignore the sensation and keep googling. Not that the Internet has anything terribly relevant to say on being dead, unable to move on and stuck with only a complete and utter moron you can't keep your hands off of for company.


     "Duuuude" he says again, stretching out the syllables. This time he flops down in my lap, between me and the smart phone so I can't possibly ignore him. It's a very 'play with me' move, like the sort of thing a dog or a bored child would do. He is really far too large and far too drunk to pull the move off successfully. He is squishing my arm and is lying half on the floor.


     "You're drunk," I point out, for lack of anything better to say.


     "Woohoo!" he cheers. Clearly he had already noticed.


     I shift a little from my spot on the floor so that my back is now against the wall. I stretch out my legs so that his head is no longer half on the floor and my knee is no longer jabbing him in the back. That had to be painful and when he got undrunk enough to realize it, he was bound to complain.


     "So...?" I start, unsure of where I am going. His head is pillowed on my legs and his hair has fallen in inciting waves. Unconsciously I reach out to smooth a few wayward strands. It feels soft and silky and incredibly touchable. Like I could run my fingers through it for eternity and no longer worry about finding a better afterlife. Damn, I need to stop this.


     "So I guess you'll be staying here with your friends?"


     He looks at me blearily and a stray hand finds its way to the ends of my tie.


     "Whaaaa?" he says, after a long pause spent fiddling with my tie.


     "Well, I ah, just figured..." I trail off. On second thought I don’t know what I figured.


     He looks up at me and tries to raise himself up on his elbows. Drunk as he is he must have forgotten about my legs. His arm bones dig painfully into my leg bones.


     "We're dead." He says seriously. "We can't just pretend we're still alive. That's weak and weak is for dildos." He lies back down and for a moment he looks to be completely absorbed by the tip of my tie. "Any way, we've got uh, you know, a mission."


     When I still look confused he elaborates.


     "You know, our mission."


     Nope, still don't know.


     "Find other dead people, figure out what the fuck that was."


     Oh, that mission.


     "I thought since ah," I'm not one hundred percent what I thought, but it wasn't this. "With your friends back you wouldn't..."


     Nathan, head still pillowed in my lap, looks serious, or as serious as one can look while drunk off their ass. He looks like he is contemplating saying something deep, important, but he just has to find the right words. I stay silent, breathless, waiting for what he has to say. I wait in vain. Before he can find whatever magic words he is looking for his eyes slide shut and stay that way. It turns out the dead can pass out drunk after all. Or he's found some way to nap. I try to get a bit more comfortable, leaning against the wall with a drunken oaf asleep on my legs. I turn off my purloined smart phone, close my eyes and try to steal a few z's.


--

     I never quite manage sleep and he wakes up in less than two hours. The rest of the gang is still passed out drunk, sprawled over various pieces of furniture. I'm beginning to see how he could have aspirated on his own vomit without anyone noticing. It's a miracle they aren't all dead from alcohol poisoning or related stupidity. I reluctantly return the spirit smart phone to the table. I suppose I wasn't likely to make any calls, but I liked having it around. I guess technology is my comfort zone. We leave the house together, on a mission to find the dead.

--

    Nathan and I figure that if the soul sucking monster left us, it has probably left other people too. Maybe if we can find them we can, you know, ask them about it.

     We pick a spot on the awning of a deli across from the first national bank, a huge building that takes up one full block and is covered with mirrored glass. We, by which I mean I, have figured out that ghosts have no reflections. Using the building we are matching people to their reflections, looking for the one without. Not that I actually expect this to work but the only other alternative is standing in a crowded room and shouting 'If there are any other ghost here, please raise your hand.'

     Or really, I've been matching people to reflections, Nathan has been keeping a running commentary on just how unmetal everyone is.


     "Dude, check out that dude sipping the frozen sissy coffee drink from a McDonald's cup. That's so not brutal. It's like the polar opposite of brutal. HEY DUDE, QUIT BEEING A FUCKING DILDO AND DRINK YOUR COFFEE BLACK FROM THE SKULLS OF YOUR ENEMIES LIKE A MAN!!!" Nathan shouts this last bit at the unsuspecting livey.


     I find myself suppressing a smirk, which is strange. I never used to enjoy the sort of humor that came from shouting at people. At least, I don't think I did.


     "Now that dude, he knows how to dress metal."


     I look where Nathan is pointing. Sure enough I find a man dressed all in black and shades of gray. It's like all the color has just been drained out of him. He is turned away from us, so I glance at the mirrored window to see his face. Only, he's not there. Holy shit he's not there.


     I must have said that last bit out loud, because Nathan responds with an awe inspired 'dude' and before I know it we've both jumped down off the awning and Nathan is pulling me towards the guy.
This feels like a bad idea. I was expecting any spirit we met to be like us, but this guy, he looks sick. There is something wrong and off and I can only see the back of his head. Part of me wants to grab Nathan and turn around. We can go back to his house and he can get drunk and I can complain and we can forget about our quest for answers. Before I can do anything, he turns to face us. Well, face is probably the wrong word. He is faceless. Completely faceless. There is a raised bump where the nose should be. The eyes are darkened indentations, smooth no eyeballs or eyelids. The bottom of the face is empty. No mouth, just smooth, pale skin where one should be. It's like a sculptor was making a scale human but lost interest before carving in the details of the face.

     Nathan and I don't scream, because we are manly and brutal men. But Nathan makes an undignified yelp and I squeeze his hand tighter. We turn to run, weaving in and out of the crowd. The monster doesn't move like we do. It floats in a straight line towards us, passing through the living as if they weren't even there.

     We try to turn a corner to shake it but there, on the other side of the street are two more, waiting for us. They move toward us, with a single minded determination. Without eyes I don't even know how the blasted things can spot us.

     Running out of options we try to float upward, but we are only recently deceased and our floating is slow and unpracticed.

     More of them come from every direction. The monsters are moaning as they surround us. It's this awful raspy noise that comes from nowhere but seems to permeate to our very core. They gather around us, reaching out, groping at us with their clawed hands. It's an awful sort of sensation, slimy and crawly, like oozing spiders. I wish I could feel this sensation in the same detached manner I've felt everything else but it's sharp and too real. The creatures are so tightly packed around us they block out the light and the last thing I'm aware of is squeezing Nathan's hand and Nathan squeezing back.

---

     We come to in a graveyard. It is night and the moon has risen. Nathan is lying next to me, our hands still clasped together. Surrounding us are dozens more of the faceless creatures. Each one subtly different from the next. Different hair, different shapes, different styles of clothing, but they are all faded to gray with featureless faces. They are forming a tight knit circle around us. No longer touching us, but still too close for comfort. If these things were on Pluto, it would still be too close for comfort. Seated, on top of a tombstone, is another man, not featureless and gray, but mostly human. He has wavy white hair and an old face and he is wearing a business suit similar to my own. He seems perfectly calm surrounded by faceless monsters and the monsters seem almost reverent of him. They are still making a low moaning noise but as the man stands to speak they go silent.

     "Ah, how good of you to join us." The old man says. I like him more than the faceless creatures, but to be fair I would like a horde of rampaging zombies more than the creatures. At least I could look the zombies in the eye.

     "Right, well, ah, thank you for having us." If he was going to pretend to be polite, I could fake civility with the best of them. I let go of Nathan's hand, stand up and try to brush the dust off myself. The popped buttons from before stayed missing but they were from the bottom of the shirt and it was hardly noticeable.

     Nathan was still sitting, ass firmly on the ground, watching the creatures. The creatures are all stone still, faces inclined slightly to the man. They would have looked almost mundane if it weren't for, you know, that whole faceless horror thing.

     The old man, who I am beginning to suspect of being deeply evil, smirks cruelly, familiarly, at me. "I'm just, so sorry for any inconvenience my servants may have caused you. They can be, so indelicate." The old man runs his fingers over a tombstone, as if this conversation is of only passing interest to him and he is wondering if it isn't time for a little spring cleaning. "They tend more towards brute force instead of, subtle persuasion."

     I can tell that the man, who is probably more of a monster than the obvious ones surrounding us, is trying to intimidate me. It's a tactic I recognizes from my life as a lawyer. I've seen it plenty of times, right? I refuse to let him get to me. I lift my hand to leisurely examine my finger nails. If his grave yard could use a spring cleaning, maybe I could use a manicure. There is nothing shameful in looking your best.

     "Good help can be so hard to find. If you'll just tell us what you want, we can ah, get out of your hair. Let you get back to ah, disciplining the help." I deliver the last bit like it's the punch line to some kind of fucking joke. We both smile our wide fake smiles but it's not funny. It is so not funny that if I think about it I might fucking scream.

     Nathan has gotten to his feet while we were trading double-edged banter but he seems content to stand there and let me speak. I am the lawyer and I am the one with the most experience dealing with slime balls like him.

     He stops examining the dirt on his tombstone and gets down to business. "It's entirely my fault, I'm afraid, but you'll understand my delay in dealing with you. So many people dying these days, it's hard to keep track of them all."

     I don't understand. Except maybe I do. I don't want to understand.

     "You're uh, that thing." Nathan finally speaks up. "You ate that old lady."

     The old man turns to look at Nathan for the first time. The smile is still in place on his face but it looks a shade more pained. "Yes," he says, he draws the word out like a layer of slime from between his lips. "You can't imagine my surprise when I saw you two standing there." He turns back to me but the pained look is gone, replaced by hunger. "I'm so sorry to have kept you waiting for so long." He advances on me. One step. Two steps.

     Nathan moves to protect me.

     The thing draws back and makes a strange noise that turns into a chuckle. "Protecting him, now are we? You know, he's been lying to you."

     Nathan, still standing protectively in front, looks back at me questioningly.

     I don't know what to say. "No," I deny it. "I haven’t been lying."

 

    "Oh, but you have, you've been lying about who you really are." There is a particular light in his eyes, like the stars reflecting off of limpid pools of puss.

 

     "No, I'm Charles F. Offdensen, an ex-lawyer and I died from an air embolism after a failed assassination attempt." The protest sounds weak, even to my own ears.

     The monster smirks, that horrible smirk from when it was a formless shadow. It is somehow more frightening attached to his face. "Is that the lie you told him?"

     "It's the truth." I insist. Why does my voice sound so weak? It's never sounded like this before, right?

     Right?

     "Didn't you wonder why no one mourned you? Why, when you went back to visit your office there was no sign you'd been there? Why you have no memories of friends or family or loved ones? You're a fraud."

     No, that can't be true.

     The monster continues, taking another step forward. "You are just some pathetic looser who committed suicide to escape your depressing life. You had to die in what you wanted to be buried in because you didn't think anyone would care enough to change you after you were gone. Your life was so pathetic, in death you imagined yourself as someone else."

     I don't know how it happened but Nathan's arms are the only thing keeping me from falling to the dirt. I can't even argue with him anymore. I feel awful and tired. My head is pounding and my heart feel like it will burst.

     The monster takes another step forward and goes on to strike the final blow. "Come now, my little lost shade, and I can make it better."

     It sounds so good, so easy. I don't want to feel like this any longer. He is so close, it would only take a few steps and this could all be over. No more pain, no more fear, no more searching. I try to move toward him but something is holding me back.

     "NOOOOOO!" someone is screaming.

     The man who could be my salvation takes a step back, a step further from me. I try to reach out to him but my arms won't move.

     "He lied to you, and still you want to protect him?"

     Whatever was holding me up is gone. I fall to my knees. Now I will never reach the man on my own. Maybe if the shouting stops he will come back and take me, make me better.

     "Whatever you've done to Charles you need to undo it. NOW."

     I am so tired I can no longer keep my eyes open. There is a scuffle and a crash and the world turns to black.

 

Chapter Text

 

I awaken in a grungy bedroom. It is gross. There are half empty beer bottles and bits of moldy uneaten food. Nathan is leaning over me looking concerned. I'm lying on a bed that may never have been cleaned in its entire existence.

 

"Dude, are you okay?"

 

I don't know how I got here. I don't think I'm okay. I groan and try to cover my head with a pillow. My hand goes right through the pillow. Right, still dead. That sucks.

 

I roll over so that my face is now hidden in the center of the pillow. It's not quite as effective, but Nathan gets the point. Now is not the time to talk. He backs off and I continue to wallow in existential misery.

 

---

 

He returns after some time. I have no way to judge time, does it even really matter? The time that passes isn't passing for Charles F. Ofdensen, it passes for a fraud who stole his name.

 

"Uh, here." Nathan shoves a mostly full bottle of whiskey at me. Whiskey is a good liquor for drowning your sorrows. It burns when it goes down and you can almost imagine that the answer to your problems lies somewhere in its murky depths. Not like vodka or gin, crystal clear liquors you can see straight to the bottom of. There are no answers at the bottom of a vodka bottle, but with whiskey, you never know.

 

I reach out to accept the bottle and turn over on to my back to drink. I cover as much of my face as possible with an out flung arm. Whoever I am, I am just not ready to face the world.

 

I down the bottle in the fewest number of gulps possible. Nathan, the hard drinker, has no comment on my sudden taste for liquor.

 

We sit in silence. Nathan tries to start a conversation but never gets farther than 'umm'. Finally, when the silence becomes too much to bear, I ask.

 

"What happened?"

 

You know it's bad when you have to ask Nathan Explosion for an explanation.

 

"Uh..." he starts, " you passed out." His voice is gruff and unsure.

 

"Yes, I remember that part."

 

"That dude was doing something to you." I'd pretty much figured that part out for myself. "So I, uh, punched him. Or tried to. He disappeared."

 

Hmm. That was interesting. I close my eyes and lay back down, empty whisky bottle laying somewhere on the floor.

 

"So I guess he's what happens to all the other dead people." I state conversationally.

 

Something in Nathan unclenches and he sits down on the bed next to me. He speaks, but the first part is lost in a self conscious mumble.

 

"-you’re okay."

 

"what?"

 

He looks chagrined but continues anyway. "I'm uh, glad you're okay."

 

"I'm not okay." His hand had been wandering in my direction, but it draws back suddenly.

 

"No, he was mind whamming you, you're okay now."

 

Is he really arguing with me? I may not know who I am but I definitely know if I'm okay or not.

 

"I'm dead, I don't know who I am and some crazy old man with an army of faceless zombies is after us. I'm not okay."

 

Nathan stares longingly at the empty whiskey bottle.

 

"Well, uh, at least we have booze?"

 

This is an excellent point. I send him back down for more liquor. "And definitely no vodka!" I shout after him.

 

--

 

Time has passed. Time is a meaningless societal construct used to demark change. We are dead, a state which makes us beyond the reach of change. Time is meaningless.

 

--

 

Sometime later. Again I would like to reiterate that time is a meaningless concept to the deceased. We are both drunk. Off our fucking asses. He is sitting on the floor, leaning back against the bed. I am lying down on the bed with my head dangling upside down off the edge next to him. If I were still alive I'm sure I would be pukeing right now. As it is, I'm pretty sure ghosts don’t vomit.

 

"Heh heh. Ghost vomit."

 

"Dude, that would make an awesome song title."

 

I roll over on to my stomach, laughing. "God, I know. Like, totally." My goodness, I sound like a stoner.

 

"Do you think I was stoner?" I ask Nathan. We've been playing the ‘who was I?’ game forever now.

 

He turns to stare at me.

 

"Nah," he says after a moment of contemplation. "I still say you were a ninja."

 

"No way, ninjas don't wear suits." I point out for like the millionth time tonight.

 

"That's the point. Ninjas are all stealthy and shit and no one expects a ninja in a business suit."

 

I find myself repressing the irrational urge to shout 'No one expects the Spanish inquisition!'

 

"Huh, I think I used to watch Monty Python." I comment. Neat, I guess I do know something about myself.

 

Nathan turns to look at me like he's just had the best idea ever, but he's drunk so that could mean anything. Then again, I'm pretty drunk myself.

 

"Dude, you know stuff."

 

"Right?" I don't see where this is going.

 

"No," he says like I'm not taking his drunken ramblings seriously enough. "You might not know stuff, but you know that you know stuff."

 

We are definitely drunk, that almost made sense. I take another swig from the bottle in my hand. It burns as it goes down. Ah, cheap tequila, it still burns even when you're dead.

 

Nathan continuous, "I could, you know, ask you stuff to see what you know and then we could figure out who you were."

 

I turn so that I can stare at him in awe. I don't know if it's just the cheap tequila burning a hole through my stomach or what, but this man is a god damn genius. I reach out with both hands to hold his face and tell him so. As always, it is a magnetic, electrical thrill to touch him and have something feel real. I can't imagine why we haven't touched more. I kiss him, which is awkward and sloppy from this angle, and not what I set out to do. But fuck, it is good. I find myself going incorporeal and slipping through the mattress at my distraction. His hands are all over me, gripping me just as tightly as I am gripping him. I bet he's wondering why we haven't done this more too. The rest of the world loses all substance for me. There is only him and his stupid nose and his broad shoulders and his long, shiny hair. He pulls me on top of him so that I am no longer hovering inside a mattress. He's real and solid and it's like he's the only thing anchoring me to this plane. Without him I would just fade off into the ether. His hands are back where they were the last time, slipping under my pants. Hopefully this time we will not be interrupted by an old lady dying.

 

His hands are kneading my ass, pulling me closer. Mine slip under his shirt, trying to touch everywhere all at once. He is warm when everything else in death is cold. He stops kissing my lips to move to my neck.

 

It feels like falling and again, that isn't a metaphor. We land with a thunk, audible only to us in the living room, narrowly missing the coffee table. Not that hitting it would have hurt.

 

There is a loud gasp and I drag my attention away from Nathan to glance over at the sound. Apparently we have interrupted Toki in the middle of some very important business with, model airplane parts? Whatever. The kid got us booze, I probably owe him one.

 

I grab Nathan and roll him on top of me. Our hips buck at the sudden contact. Before we can go any further I pull him through the living room floor. I'm counting on this place having a basement.

 

It does and we land in the middle of a sea of boxes. There isn't really enough space for this and our limbs keep passing through things. Whatever, it works.

 

Nathan's got my pants unbuttoned and I'm working on his.

 

It's hard and fast and frantic. Mostly just a lot of hands and rubbing and rutting against each other, trying to feel alive. It's stupid, but he calls out my name when he comes and suddenly it feels like the right name again.

 

It's over way too fast and I’m lying next to him trying to catch my breath. There is a broken microphone stand poking out his chest. As soon as my breath is caught I start to laugh. He looks ridiculous. His hair is disheveled. His pants are undone. There is ghost cum dripping from his palms on to his black t-shirt.

 

After a moment he joins me in laughing. We're sprawled on the floor of a dark, dank basement and bits of old crap poking through us. We are both dripping with phantom jizz from the best orgasm of our lives and oh, yeah, we're dead.

 

Once we've gotten it out of our system I curl up next to him. The broken mic stand now impaling us both.

 

"So," I ask. "What do we do now?"

 

--

 

It's later and I almost feel like myself again. Or at least I’ve stopped wondering if I feel like myself. We are in the living room talking to Toki because between the two of us we have come up with absolutely nothing. He isn't really much of a help but at least we get to hear "I don't know" in a different accent.

 

For someone who talks to ghosts, he doesn't really know very much. His dad could see ghosts too and everyone in his home town was dead, but they are a special case. Some sort of crazy town wide black magic gone wrong. He hasn't seen too many ghosts since leaving Norway. He's pretty sure in the normal progression of things the dead move on after a few days. I've pretty much come to the conclusion that graveyard man is what is keeping us from moving on.

 

"But he's not like all powerful and shit, he had to dodge when I punched him." Nathan is explaining. I would have really liked to have seen that. Too bad I was passed out at the time.

 

We all think about this for a minute.

 

"Maybes you ams should punch hims again?"

 

It's not much of a plan but it is certainly an idea.

 

I agree but Nathan looks hesitant.

 

"Uh, maybe I should go alone."

 

I'm outraged. "What ever happened to we're in this together?!  I'm not letting you go without me!" I shout.

 

He looks shocked at my sudden outburst. "Uh, last time," he explains hesitantly. “Last time he kinda mind wammied you. You should stay here, you know for safety."

 

"Charles F. Offdensen does not run from danger!" I inform him.

 

He looks confused then he grins.

 

"Hey, you’re better now!" he pulls me into a hug and Toki looks confused.

 

"Charles forgot who he was for a little while." Nathan explains.

 

Toki looks thoughtful. "Oh. Ghost ams somes times forgettkings themself."

 

"What?" oh, that would explain the weird memory loss. "But Nathan's been dead at least as long as I have, and he's fine."

 

"Yeah, but Nathans am different."

 

Nathan looks openly mystified.

 

"Different how?" he asks.

 

"We ams all different. Shiny." Toki picks up the model air plane he was playing with before we came up to talk to him, like this in an obvious detail instead of a major revelation.

 

Nathan and I stare at each other over Toki's head. I decided to ask the question we are both thinking.

 

"Shiny.... How?"

 

"Shiny, when Dethklok ams playing."

 

I stare at Nathan for conformation.

 

He shrugs. "I just thought we were in the zone because we were so unbearably metal."

 

There is silence as I try hard not to picture Nathan, sparkly.

 

This is so frustrating. "Isn’t there like a, ah, wall of prophecy we could consult?" In books and movies there is always a prophecy or a psychic or someone who has all the answers.

 

"Maybe we could google it?" Nathan suggests.

 

Toki nods his head in agreement but I am forced to shake my head no.

 

"I already tried that." That night with the smartphone. Hey look, I can remember stuff again. "There really isn't a lot of useful information about the afterlife, for obvious reasons." Everyone with useful information is of necessity already dead and beyond the point of blogging.

Chapter Text

We go out and find him. It isn't too hard, just hang around cemeteries until you find the one with all the faceless zombies.

 

Nathan did everything he could to keep me from coming. He even tried to lock me in the bathroom, until he realized I could just walk straight through the door. I know he wants to keep me safe, but whatever this is, I'm part of it too. There has to be a reason we found each other, a reason we're still hanging around.

 

When we get to the right cemetery, you can tell by all the faceless shambling hoards, it’s midnight. I do wish we could have arrived at a less dramatic hour, but oh well. Nathan holds on tight to my hand. Toki seems to think it will keep me grounded.

 

He still looks like a kindly white haired old gentleman. It would be easier if monsters could all look like monsters.

 

"Ah, I see you're still with us." he says to me.

 

I don't respond. I don't even want to look at him. Even grounded by Nathan's hand, I can feel how easy it would be to lose myself in him. To slip away and give up control.

 

He is temptation, personified. The charisma radiates off of him. Something in his eyes makes me want to trust him, even when I know I shouldn’t. His power is a physical presence. Suddenly, something in me remembers Nathan. The same sense of power from when he pulled my hips close and thrust against me.

 

Right. We are going to get through this and go do that again. Only with less clothing next time. I turn to look at his face. He looks determined. I squeeze his hand and his lips twitch up in a smile.

 

"Look, dude," Nathan says to the monster. "You have to stop eating souls, or whatever. It’s not cool."

 

He just laughs his stupid enticing laugh.

 

"Really?" he says. "And who, pray tell, is going to stop me?"

 

The faceless zombies are gathering behind him. He's just standing there but somehow he seems to grow bigger. Or maybe I'm just growing smaller. I feel smaller.

 

"Uh, I am." Nathan says, but his voice catches. He doesn't sound very confidant. I tear my eyes away from the monster to look back at Nathan. Looking at him brings me back to myself. I squeeze his hand again. He is stronger than the monster, I know it.

 

"I am!" he says again with more confidence. Like Toki said, I can start to see him shine around the edges.

 

The monster laughs, but it sounds less sure this time. "What makes you think you can take me?" he asks.

 

Nathan doesn’t know what to say, but he growls low in his throat. The faceless zombies seem to shrink back, even if the man is still standing tall.

 

"You’re afraid of him." I state, suddenly realizing it's true. "And if you are afraid of him, it is because there is something to fear."

 

Nathan, never letting go of my hand, turns to smile at me like he is proud. I'm rather proud myself. It's hard fighting back against an irresistible force.

 

The monster’s laugh turns into a hiss. "It hardly matters. After I take your soul, he'll no longer be a threat."

 

Nathan looks concerned but my lawyer mind is working. "You have to take my soul, because you can't take Nathan's." I guess. He looks pissed. I continue. "Well, you can't have mine, anyway. It belongs to Nathan. You can try to rip it from me, but it will never be yours."

 

He laughs but the kindly old man demeanor is melting away to something horribly savage.

 

"You think your Nathan is some kind of savior? He will be the same kind of monster as me someday. That kind of power can only corrupt."

 

The zombies have all abandoned the old man's side. They are surrounding us. The power coming from Nathan is palpable. The old man grows uglier and begins to glow too. The zombies don’t seem to know what to make of the sudden shift in their master.

 

"We are the same, you and I," he says addressing Nathan for the first time. "We both have the power to draw souls to us and feed off their power to remain in this world."

 

Nathan clearly doesn't like the direction the man is going in. I can see his fist itch, but the man just keeps talking.

 

"There is nothing else out there after this. Just the emptiness of the great unknown. But you and I have been given a gift. We alone can stay and save the others from having to venture into that unknown. We can-"

 

There might have been more to this speech, but the world will never know. Nathan draws back his hand, lets go of mine, and sucker punches the old man. The vague shininess from both of them solidifies into a solid light so bright it blinds. By the time I can see again the grave yard is empty, save for Nathan. The man and his faceless gray zombies are gone.

 

Nathan's shoulders are hunched and he looks troubled. I try to put a hand on his shoulder to comfort him, but he shrugs it off.

 

"He was right." Nathan says. "When I died, I didn’t want to move on. I was scared, so I fought to stay here, in this world. There was so much I hadn't done and I was lonely and I guess I kinda wished for you. I think I kept you from moving on." he confesses.

 

I move my hands to cup his face and force him to look at me.

 

"It's okay, if I'd known what to wish for, I would have wished for you too."

 

I kiss him and it's warm and alive and everything I never had while living.

 

When I pull back he still looks frightened.

 

"Charles, I'm scared. I don't know what happens next, but I can't stay here and turn into him."

 

"I know, Nathan." I try to reassure him. I have to stand on tippy toes to reach, but I manage to press our foreheads together. "I know, but at least we had a chance to find each other. And, We'll go together. It can't be that bad."

 

I kiss him one last time, for all I'm worth. Every last inch of my being goes into the kiss and I feel him respond. The shininess around him grows but I shut my eyes. I concentrate on burning the feel of his lips into my very soul. Whatever the afterlife holds, I know I’ll find him again, and I want to be able to remember this moment when I do.

 

 

The end