Two Take It BlackSomeone was walking towards Allen's door. "I've been murdered!" Allen said aloud, although he wasn't sure if anyone could actually hear him now that he was dead. "I really can't afford this." He sat down on the beanbag chair in front of his TV. "I've used up all my sick leave and I just don't think I can use vacation time for something like this". The coffee had just finished brewing but Allen didn't remember having put the pot on. He didn't remember being murdered for that matter. There was a wet spot on the rug where someone had tried to clean up the blood stain. His bookshelf had been ransacked and his high school yearbook was sprawled on the floor like a dried fish. Cindy had been the only one to sign it on the day of their high school graduation. This fact alone had caused Allen to pursue Cindy for most of his adult life. He would have been 30 on his next birthday and, sadly, this yearbook was his most prized possession.
Allen had spent most of his adult life putting a positive spin on everything, which he tried to do with the facts surrounding his own murder. "It was nice of whoever it was to at least try and clean the rug," Allen thought. Then he buried his face in his hands. "Listen to me," he said. "I'm dead. I've got to deal with this. I'm never going to get my cleaning deposit back. That kind of thing just doesn't matter anymore."
He turned and tried to reach for a cup hanging from a brass hook under his cupboard. His hand passed through the cup, like two clouds commingling. He tried again, but he had no physical presence despite somehow still being in the physical world.
"This is a drag, " Allen mumbled. "I could really use a cup of coffee right about now."
Just then he heard footsteps on the landing outside his door and the rattle of keys on a chain.
Wake Up and Smell the DetectivesA detective and a patrolman pushed their way into his room as if they were from housekeeping. Being dead, Allen didn't know if he should hide himself or not, for as the street cop lumbered into the room Allen felt guilty. Would they try and arrest him? Did he need a lawyer? Had the Ketchikan police department figured out how to handcuff an insubstantial spirit?
He was sorting these things out as the cop walked through him, followed quickly by the woman detective. He vaguely felt the bite of the metal gun and the flashlight as they passed through, but the detective's body, her humanness was more a warm sensation running through Allen's being. Having her inside him felt like drinking cheap whiskey.
The detective looked around the apartment like a prospective renter. "All right. The landlady says he hasn't been out of his room for days, and his friend is worried."
"That's nice." Allen thought.
"Oh my God!" the detective drawled as she looked at his beanbag chair and the Hootie and the Blowfish poster near the bookshelf. "No wonder the landlady said he was a loner type. High suicide risk if you ask me." She was standing on the bloody patch of carpet reading the fine print on the poster. "Criminy. I mean, Blowfish. I'd be tempted to check myself out too."
The patrolman called from the bathroom. "We got him," he said in a voice full of pride at being able to track down a rotting corpse in a studio apartment, "Looks like a slip and fall to me."
"Yeah, that makes sense," the detective said absently, turning herself toward the kitchen. "Say, is that coffee on? It smells great. You wanna cup?"
"No thanks, Lieutenant. My mom has me drinking herbal tea. But it does smell great. Uh-oh..." The patrolman had been writing in his pocket notebook but he stopped. Looking at the bloody tire iron under the detective's feet, he pointed with the eraser end of his mechanical pencil. "What do you think, Lieutenant?"
The detective looked down and considered the implement resting like a dead snake on the shag carpet. Neither of them said a thing, and the silence seeped into the room like a winter chill.
"I think it's typical for a depressed person not to put their tools away." She poured herself a cup of the wonderfully strong coffee. "It's pretty clear. He's a loser. His girlfriend is trying to dump him. He's depressed. When he tries change his own tire, he can't even get that done. He scrapes his knuckles on the lug nuts. He brings the tire iron upstairs. Then, seeing how pathetic his life has become, he decides to slip and fall in the shower."
The patrolman eyed his superior officer for a long heartbeat. "Yeah, that about wraps it up then," he said, unable to hear Allen's baleful screaming from the other side of the grave, or to feel death's cold fingers around his own throat.
Good, Strong And A Little BitterAllen was depressed. He had good reason to be. He was dead. He would probably lose his job, and his girlfriend who wanted to dump him. To top it all off, the Ketchikan police were drinking his coffee when they should be tracking his murderer. Allen decided to go for a walk and clear his head. He didn't even take his raincoat, that's how depressed he was.
Outside his door he turned south and saw hundreds of millions of salmon flying above the river. They slithered silver and red in the slick, gray sky. The Irish elk walked up the boardwalk with a labored percussive footfall. Tourists walked by unaware. The people seemed out of focus, like ghost images next to the vivid animals. A huge black bear with long saber-like teeth snuffled in a garbage can next to a tour group from the midwest. A man was trying to take a group shot of his companions wearing ball caps with felt antlers.
"No. Squeeze together and leave some place for me on the end," the tourist man yelled.
Allen didn't care. He was depressed. "Yeah, save a place for me, " he repeated gloomily to himself.
Suddenly Allen saw a vivid man. He was very old and was carrying a long staff. He had a black-footed ferret on his shoulder. The old man wore a leather vest and a head band. Allen ran to him and the old man smiled a heavy-lidded grin—sleepy and mysterious. A school of arctic char swarmed in the air above them both, and Allen thought he could feel the air eddy being the flash of their tails. The old man was a ghost, and Allen was certain he would be able to explain everything that was going on this really nutty morning.
The old man was staring out over the channel. The ferret curled around his neck. Finally the old man spoke. "Do they have public restrooms around here?" he asked.
Allen was flummoxed. "What? Restrooms? Are you crazy? Don't you know?" The old man smiled and his smile betrayed a life long patience. "I'm a visitor here. Just like you." Allen was about to start crying. Then he looked on the old man's leather vest. He wore a button that had the word IRONY with a red circle and a slash through it.
"What does that mean? 'No Irony'?" Allen asked in desperation.
"Oh, like you don't know!" the old man said, then turned and walked away.
Allen held his hand up as if in supplication. "Oh, please! Please don't go," he said plaintively, and the fish darted as if someone had thrown a rock into the air. "I'm really not myself today," Allen said weakly.
"Not many of us are," the No Irony ghost said, and pointed down the hill.
Allen looked where the ghost pointed and saw his girlfriend Cindy get out of a police car with her head buried in her hands. She was sobbing as she ran into the art gallery and coffee shop.
"I suppose you think the answer to your death is down in that coffee shop, don't you?" The No Irony ghost was grinning. "Oh, no. Don't go down there. That would be too obvious." The ghost rolled his eyes. Allen turned and ran.
Art © Ray Troll
Deadman's Reach Novelette © John Straley
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