By Gratia Serpento
Being dead is less than it’s conked up to be.
It’s like you’re in a screen, a simulation, there’s a divide between you and everything else. Everything is mild. Any food tastes bland, and I could eat a ribeye and a celery stick and not be able to taste the difference. There’s no smell, and when I run my fingers over objects, they all feel distractingly smooth. There’s no warmth, and there’s no cold either.
Even my feelings and thoughts are sluggish and quiet. My greatest sparks of anger feel like a living person’s brief irritation. My sadness is like that of an actor’s—nothing substantial. Time passes around me quickly, and it takes a living person’s week for me to cross a room.
I can’t do much but stand around and watch as the world moves along without me. I see my ex-boyfriend speed through his recovery of my death, the mourning stage loosening and straying until he’s got another girl in his room. She looks like how I used to, but I can’t conjure up pity for Michael. I can’t conjure up anything anymore.
It’s a bunch of nothingness.
I know when it’s autumn—not just from the fake spiderwebs that line the apartment’s buildings, but from the way the living world slows. The world dies, and the dead can finally close in on it. The world slows enough for me to catch up and feel. Or, rather, feel as much as I can, all things considered. I can see how Michael has changed, I can see how the world is at a proper pace.
I leave the apartment and check on my family, but I always come back to Micheal. How can I not? He is the one who killed me. I have an unsaid duty: when his next victim comes—because Michael could never stop at just one—died, I would help her adjust to the life of the unliving.
Teach her the things that no one taught me.
Perhaps these thoughts are born from selfishness. I believe, wholeheartedly, that I am the first one Michael killed. The way his eyes lit up, like he’d never felt anything so good…that had to be the first. Well, maybe that’s what every ghost must think. Her murderer’s first kill.
I hope I was his first kill—because otherwise that means there’s a girl out there that didn’t stick around to help me learn. Help me cope with the same battle she faced.
I know Michael is going to kill her tonight. He’s anxious, bouncing on his heels. He did the same thing when he killed me—I thought he was going to propose, which is why I put so much effort into my hair and makeup that night. Only to have it smeared all over my face when he decided to suffocate me in a trash bag.
He bought extra trash bags, too—these ones black. He always buys white trash bags. And he took his brother’s duct tape.
I suppose I feel sad that his girlfriend is going to die. But, not really. I can’t feel anything anymore. Her death is just a part of life to me, and life left me a long time ago.
I don’t know much about her, despite them being together for six autumns. If I didn’t know it from before my death, I don’t know it at all. I just know she looks like me—Michael always loved blondes. She moved like me. She’s an imitation of me.
Maybe Michael will get caught after this. Two of his girlfriends, similar enough in looks that they could be sisters, both die in mysterious instances. That’s bound to throw some light on our shallow graves.
I watch as Michael comes up and gives his girl a tight hug. “There’s some place I want to show you,” he says to her, his voice a little warped to my ears. “Would you like to go for a drive?”
It’s midnight, the garbage bags and duct tape stored nicely in his car. He’s committed. His girl doesn’t notice, immediately giving him a smile. It’s hard to see—everything in the living world is blurry to me.
“A drive, huh? Where are we going?”
“Someplace special, you’ll see,” Michael promises.
I follow them to the car, and float inside when the door is opened. Michael can feel me—he shudders and blinks his eyes shut, whispering a quick prayer to God. He thinks I’ll ruin this, he thinks I’ll stop him, but I don’t have the power he thinks I do. I’m here to help his girlfriend’s transition, not to stop him from killing her.
That sounds wrong, but what can I do?
They drive to the outdoor swim pool. The rusty lock on the equipment room pops off without any hassle.
“Michael, what’s here?” The girl is kind of creeped out, rubbing her hands over her arms.
“The place it all came together.” Michael’s voice sounds crazed, as he ducks inside the room, his bag tucked under his shoulder. The bag with duct tape and garbage bags. “This is the one place I truly feel alive at.”
My death site.
He takes your life, it revitalizes him.
You lose, he wins.
He breathes, you choke.
It’s the sad fact of life and death.
He turns and gives his girl a smoldering look. He asks her the million dollar question. “You trust me, don’t you?”
His girl replies the exact way I did, the exact way I suspected she would. We truly are the same. I open my mouth and whisper the words along with her.
“Of course I do. But I don’t like it here.”
“Of course I do. But I don’t like it here.”
He whispers her name, and strokes his hand along her collarbone. “I’ll be in and out, come with me, baby.” He presses a kiss on her cheek. “I’ll make it worth your while. I’ll make it extraordinary. I promise.”
The first time I was in this situation, I missed his careful wording. But I understand now, I understand what he was telling me without telling me.
His girl caves, but she’s not comfortable. She’s smarter than I was. But she still lets him lead her into the room, lets him close the door behind them.
I could float inside, and watch the scene before, but out of respect for the girl, I don’t. I know how it felt to die, I know how many breaths I could take and the fear that settled in. How your adrenaline kicks in but it’s not enough to save you.
You don’t look good when you’re dying. It’s the worst you’ll ever be—and, I suppose, the last. You’ll have to understand, you won’t feel the embarrassment once you’re dead. But regardless of what you can feel, there should still be respect given.
I hear the struggle, as they slam against the walls, her screams as she prays for help. The duct tape gets ripped, and the bag thrown over her head. I hear it all happen. And I begin to wonder, how many kills does it take for a man to be called a serial killer?
Their struggle lasts ten minutes, if my count is right. It’s probably not. Michael walks out of there, looking far too happy considering he killed his girlfriend. His eyes are sparkling brighter than I’ve ever seen, scratches covering his arms and face. He’s proud. He’s happy. He’s alive.
And his girl is dead.
He hops in his car and leaves before her ghost comes out. I suppose she is the ghost. She is clutching her neck, her face pale and stance sloppy. She can’t quite catch her step—the ground isn’t as solid as it used to be.
Her eyes widen the briefest fraction when she sees me. Her emotions are dull now, and she looks exhausted. That doesn’t stop her from trying to find answers.
“Who are you?” She asks me.
“I used to be known as Gemma, when I was Michael’s girlfriend,” I explain. “Now, I’m known as nothing. No one remembers me anymore.”
“Dead girlfriend…I’m dead, too, aren’t I?”
“You are.” There’s no need to cut niceties or dance around it. She’s dead. I’m dead. Michael killed us. We must keep moving. “What’s your name?” It’s about time I learn it.
“Cate,” she says. “Michael killed me. I don’t feel sad?”
“You’re dead; you don’t feel emotions like you used to. Everything will feel…strange, for a long time. You’ll get used to it.”
“I…don’t want revenge on him. He killed me, and I just feel…nothing.” She frowns, but it’s like she knows she’s supposed to be making that face. I used to do the same, but now, I keep my face blank. It’s too much effort and not enough reward to make faces.
“What am I supposed to do now?”
“Whatever you want,” I shrug. “There’s no right answer to that.”
“What do you do?”
“I knew I was Michael’s first kill, but I wasn’t going to be his last. I plan on spending the rest of his life helping his deceased dead girls—helping them adjust. You can ask me anything, I will do whatever I can to help you.”
Cate is silent for a moment, considering everything. “Why aren’t you in Heaven?”
“I suppose I have unfinished business somewhere.”
“I suppose I must have something similar,” Cate rubs her eyes. “Do you…?”
“Know how to find it? If I did, I wouldn’t be trapped on Earth. It’s the one thing I can’t help you with.”
“Well…I suppose I’ll stay with you then. Until I can get everything figured out.”
“I suppose you can.”
Bio: Gratia Serpento is an Oregonian poet/journalist/writer who spends who days researching criminals for fun. She’s had works published with Havik, The Graveyard Zine, Wild Greens Magazine, Blue Things Zine, The Yard: Crime Blog among others. Her works on The Yard, are as follows, “The Canary, The Shadow and The Knife”, “Loraine“, “The Hitman and His Wife” and “The Robinsons“
Check out her Instagram (@poet_serpento) for more.