We All Are; Act Accordingly

So much time is spent preparing for some theoretical tomorrow. We spend our formative years in school preparing for college. We spend our college years preparing for the workplace. We spend our working years preparing for retirement. We spend our single days preparing for that perfect someone. We spend our coupled years preparing for children. We raise our children in preparation for them to move out, and when they do, we await what their lives hold.

I have spent a quarter of a century preparing for things that may never come. I never graduated college, and the things I learned there prepared me for very little. I suppose looking ahead is better than looking behind all the time, but the same fatal error is made in either case. The present is the only thing that will ever belong to you. Tomorrow is a myth, and what has come before cannot be rewritten.

There are benefits to looking back and learning from the past. It is wise to look forward and plan your next meal, or have an idea of how your bills are getting paid next month. However, spending your life fixated on an imaginary point in time is ludicrous. The future is fluid, and quite frankly, if you don’t take care of the here and now, there won’t be a future for you. You’ll waste every living second you have striving for some invisible finish line.

If you’re waking up every day fixated on reaching some point of perfection, some day where you can sit back in utter bliss and be content in where you are, you’ll never reach it. It will elude you forever; you can chase shadows all day, but you’ll never hold one in your hand.

It’s not about the destination that matters, it’s the journey and the paths you take to get there. People recite various versions of that old proverb as if were a mantra sometimes, but very few people really stop to think about the truth of it. The destination is pretty obvious; there’s only one, and we all get there someday. We are on a one-way ride to the grave. The destination isn’t necessarily the prize (but that brings religion into things, and I’d rather not discuss that right now; I only have so much time today.) The journey you take is important. The scars you got from skinning your knees as a kid, those are important. That moment of bliss you have when you get that first wiff of your morning coffee on a brisk day, that’s important. The seemingly mundane thoughts and interactions you have on your way to work, while you’re at lunch, or when you’re out and about, every one of those things matters.

Every moment is crucial, because you are never exactly the same person from one thought to the next, because every firing synapse changes you, refines you, just a little. The journey is worth experiencing in full detail. Watching the world and your understanding of it evolve over time is a fulfilling experience. Or at least it can be.

It is important to take time to live in the now. You will never be here again. Sure, you might be sitting in that chair, at this time of day, wearing that shirt a thousand more times, but you, as you are, will never be exactly right here ever again. So why not take a look around. Maybe it’s not a memorable moment. Maybe it’s one you’d rather forget. It doesn’t matter. The full spectrum should be experienced. How will you ever be able to say that you lived a full life if you refused to experience even one day in its fullness, whatever that might have been?

Be afraid, and learn to be brave. Be happy, and learn to be rational at the same time. Be sad, and learn to appreciate every breath that carries you through it. Be bored, and learn to not be so boring. Be ordinary, and learn to find the glory in the everyday things.

Be, and learn to be more.

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Reaper, Chapter One

To be honest, it’s unclear whether any of this actually happened. The stories that go along with our heroes fall into the gray space between history and legend, and rightfully so. It would appear that most legends have at least an ounce of truth to them, but no one is ever quite sure where the truth ends and the myth begins. Regardless, it makes for an interesting saga; a modern myth, as it were. We begin our tale with a young man named Aaron Argent. Aaron was dark-haired, tall, and generally well built (he had joined the swim team in high school after being cut from football tryouts for not being quite husky enough to play the line), but he wasn’t really one to stand out in a crowd. He seemed to have a constant far-off look in his eyes, giving him an air of mystery; this was what his friend Alicia believed to be his best trait. When he graduated high school, he decided to take that far-off look to far-off places as a journalist. He had dreams of travelling the world, collecting and telling stories of distant lands and incredible adventures. His parents, while somewhat disappointed in their son’s choice of major, supported his decision to go to college. He applied all over the United States, and when the acceptance letters came in, he settled on a little school in North Carolina.

Upon arrival at Dellamorte College, Aaron realized very quickly that he was going to need some sort of income in order to survive; he had always known college life was a meager existence, but hadn’t realized just how meager until he arrived. He set out in search of employment that would work with his class schedule. As fate would have it, he saw a “help wanted” ad on a bulletin board for an overnight security job at a local funeral home. Admittedly a strange occupation, but he was in no position to be picky; he dropped off his application in person, and since there were absolutely no other applicants, he was hired on the spot.

When he arrived for work on the first night, the funeral director, Mr. Clive Lugosi, gave him a quick tour of the mortuary and a brief overview of his responsibilities. The funeral home itself was a rather ornate place; it was a single-story building, with the three funeral parlors lined up just past the open lobby. The morticians’ offices were down a side hall that led to the back of the building, behind the parlors. Downstairs, the basement was a labyrinth of hallways, with rooms jutting off to the side at seemingly random junctures. Throughout this maze were scattered the more important rooms of interest; the morgue (where the coolers with the bodies were stored), the break room, the necessary facilities (the “business essentials,” and Mr. Lugosi called them), and so on.

As the two of them walked along, Mr. Lugosi spoke.

“You see, Aaron, we are not really too concerned about people robbing us or breaking in. We are more focused on making sure the coolers stay at the correct temperature. That will be your main focus; your rounds should bring you through the cooler room quite frequently. Now, occasionally we will have vandalism, with the local riff-raff spray painting the dumpsters and the side of the building…I believe they call it ‘tagging’ these days. Simply having you here overnight should, however, help deter the hoodlums from sullying the appearance of this otherwise beautiful establishment.”

Aaron rubbed the back of his neck, and the thought that ran through his mind accidentally slipped out into the open air before he even realized he was speaking. “I’m not sure I would call it beautiful…

Aaron realized his mistake and clapped a hand over his mouth.

Mr. Lugosi smirked and tapped his lips. “How would you describe it, then?”

Aaron, feeling more awkward and uncomfortable than ever before (except for maybe that time he played Tinkerbell in the 3rd grade theater production), stammered and stuttered.  Mr. Lugosi laughed.

“There’s no need to be so nervous, my boy. I hired you to do a job. Your opinion of this establishment won’t affect your paycheck. I would suggest, however, holding off on making any judgments about it until you get to know it a little better. She may surprise you.”

“She?”

“This building; I have always viewed it as a sophisticated woman. Something about it has always exuded stylish elegance and grace.”

Mr. Lugosi glanced at his watch.

“Well, I must be off. Here is your flashlight and the keys; I will be back around sunrise. Please make yourself at home; poke your head into any little nook you find curious. The more familiar you are with these halls, the better.”

With that, Mr. Lugosi turned and left, and Aaron was on his own. As he proceeded to make his way through his rounds, he found himself downstairs in the morgue, where the bodies were stored before they were buried. The lights in the room were on, revealing a long row of coolers, some marked with the names of the deceased who rested within. Aaron checked the thermostats on the face of every cooler door, pausing to read the names of the deceased who rested inside. He imagined what their lives might have been like; he wondered about the places they had travelled to, and what kind of stories they might have told him. Making his way to the end of the line, he found one of the cooler doors was open. Since none of the others were open, Aaron assumed that the door had been left open by accident, he reached down and closed it.

When he turned back around, his heart jumped right into his throat. Standing before him was a man, seemingly in his early twenties, who was very clearly dead. The zombie smiled really wide and waved emphatically.

“Hi! I’m Kyle.”

Aaron, being the badass that he was, fainted dead away. When he awoke, he was in the break room in the basement, lying on a couch. He checked himself first for bite marks, and then for a bump somewhere on his head.

“Man, what a crazy dream,” he thought. “I need to find a way to stay awake while I’m working these overnight shifts. Funny…I don’t remember coming in here at all; how did I get into the break room?”

Aaron sat up and looked around the room, searching for a clock, wondering how long he had been asleep. Not far from where he sat was the zombie from earlier, sitting at the table next to the vending machines, reading the newspaper. Noticing that Aaron was now awake, he gently set the paper down and introduced himself again, slowly enunciating every word.

“Okay, let’s try this one more time: hello, my name is Kyle. It is very nice to meet you; what is your name? Gosh, I feel like I’m in kindergarten, saying it like that…”

Aaron went pale and almost fainted once more, but managed to just barely maintain consciousness this time. He jumped up and rushed out of the break room. Kyle watched him race out of the room and then picked up the newspaper.

“Oookay…that was a little rude.”

As Aaron ran down the hall, he could hear the zombie whistling to himself. It was somewhat confusing how calm the dead guy was, considering in all the movies he had seen on the topic, zombies tended to be angry and rather obsessed with consuming massive amounts of brain matter. Aaron didn’t let his confusion linger for very long, and soon found a janitor’s closet to hide in. He stayed there until the sun started to come up, at which point he cautiously poked his head out into the hallway.

He didn’t see anything unusual, so he decided to finish his rounds. Finding nothing out of place and, more importantly, no dead people walking around, Aaron began to relax. He chalked it up to either sleep deprivation or a prank on the new guy, and finished up his shift with no further incidents. Mr. Lugosi arrived shortly after Aaron finished his final lap around the mortuary. He greeted the young man with a firm handshake.

“Good morning, Mr. Argent; I trust all was quiet on the western front last night?”

Thoughts of the night’s events raced through Aaron’s mind, but he pushed them to the side and smiled. “All good here, sir; no trouble at all.”

Mr. Lugosi nodded. “Good, good; now, I am sure you are tired and need to grab a few winks of sleep before coming back tonight. You are coming back tonight, correct?”

Lugosi looked at him with a strange look in his eye, almost as if he knew Aaron had seen more than he was letting on.

“You’re just being paranoid now,” Aaron thought to himself. “Your mind plays a few tricks on you in the dark, and suddenly you’re a conspiracy theorist.”

“Yes, sir,” Aaron replied, “I’ll be here. This is a pretty sweet gig; I’d have to be pretty dense to walk out on this after just one night on the job.”

Mr. Lugosi grinned. “I told you that this place had a certain charm to it. Once you walk through those doors, you’re hooked; there’s no getting away from her.”

Mr. Lugosi and Aaron shook hands once more, and Aaron returned to his apartment for some much-needed rest.

The next night, Aaron showed up to work, having completely shoved aside the thoughts of what had occurred during his first shift. Some of the staff were still on their way out when he arrived, and he spent a few minutes shooting the breeze with a few of them as they gathered their things and made their way home for the night. When they were all gone, he locked the heavy front door and began his patrols. Even though he had convinced himself that what he had seen the night before was nothing more than his imagination running wild, he couldn’t help but feel a little anxious as he went about his duties. With every empty room he passed, he felt more and more at ease, and the fear that nibbled at the corners of his mind faded away. When he came to the cooler room, all the coolers were closed and everything was the way it should be; nothing was out of place, no cooler doors sat open, and none of the dead appeared to be wandering around. He lingered there for a few minutes, entirely relieved that the events of the night before were not repeating themselves. Looking around one last time, he left the room and continued his rounds.

Halfway through the night, Aaron walked down to the break room to take his lunch. Rounding the corner and stepping through the doorway, the image he saw froze him in place. Kneeling down in front of one of the vending machines was the dead guy from the night before, trying to fish out a candy bar that had gotten stuck as it fell.

Snapping out of his stupor, Aaron pulled out his flashlight and charged forward at Kyle.

“Aaaaarrggghhh!” Aaron yelled as he rushed towards the dead man and began clubbing him with the flashlight. In between hits, Kyle frantically tried to dislodge his hand from the snack machine.

“OW! Stop! Stop that! I’M ALREADY DEAD. YOU DON’T HAVE TO KILL ME. Cut it out!”

Finally pulling his arm free, Kyle snatched the makeshift baton from Aaron’s hand. He squinted at the night guard and wagged his finger at him.

“No. We don’t hit.”

Aaron blinked several times, a realization dawning on his momentarily hazy mind. “You…you can talk?”

Still squinting, Kyle reached over and pulled out a chair, pushing it towards Aaron. “Sit.”

Aaron nervously did as he was told. “So…so are you going to eat me?”

Kyle snorted. “I probably should; I’m gonna be feeling those welts for a couple of days. But no, I’m not going to eat you. I’m gonna eat my candy bar.”

Kyle walked over to the vending machine and grabbed the candy bar from the tray, where it had fallen during the altercation. He took a moment, slowly opening the wrapper and taking a bite as he sat down across the table from Aaron.

“Mmmmm…so good. Anyway,” he paused as he chewed and swallowed, then continued, “look, I’m not trying to kill you, scare you, or cause any kind of trouble. I really just want someone to talk to. Most people, like you, flip their lids when I try to talk to them. Well, those who I CAN talk to. Not everyone can understand us dead folks; the majority of people see us as mindless monsters who can only communicate in grunts and groans.”

“Really?”

“Oh, yeah; where do you think the idea of slow, stupid zombies came from?”

“So you ARE a zombie, then?”

Kyle shook his head. “No…the term ‘zombie’ carries such a dark, creepy connotation. Let’s call it what it is: I’m dead. Also, before we go any further, let’s have a formal introduction. As I said yesterday, my name is Kyle.”

Kyle reached across the table for a handshake.

“I’m…I’m Aaron,” the night guard replied as he returned the handshake.

“Nice to meet you, Aaron.”

“Yeah, same. Sorry about the beat down, dude.”

Kyle rubbed the top of his head. “Don’t worry about it. Let’s just not make it a habit.”

Aaron smiled, and then furrowed his brow as a flurry of thoughts assaulted his brain. “Okay, so…I’m really confused as to what is going on here exactly.”

Kyle finished his candy bar and shrugged. “Fair enough; I’m sure you’ve got a lot of questions, so I’ll try to answer as many of them as I can. What’s the first one that comes to mind?”

Aaron shook his head slowly. “I’m talking to a dead person…I feel like I’m losing my mind. Well, I guess I’m going to assume that this is really happening, and get down to the details. You said not everyone can understand you…how is it that I can?”

Kyle shrugged again. “I don’t know; I guess some people can still see us for who we were before we died. I really don’t know why. And if you’re wondering, no, I don’t just walk up to every living being that comes along and strike up a conversation. We can sense when someone can understand us; most of the time, at least.”

“What do you mean?”

“I can’t explain it…it’s just…an instinct. We just KNOW. It’s kind of like when you’re sleeping and you can feel someone staring at you.”

“Huh…that’s cool, I guess…wait…you keep saying ‘we.’ Are ALL the dead people here like you?”

“Not all of them; a few here and there. More than you might expect.”

“Wow, really? That’s kind of creepy.”

Kyle laughed. “If I were in your shoes, I’d probably be a little creeped out too.”

“So, what do you guys do in there?”

“In where?”

“In the coolers. Do you sleep?”

“Eh, some of us. Most of the others play dead; since none of us knows why we’re still here, things are less scary if you just stay in your cooler. Some of us get up and walk around, though, as you can see.”

“Hmm.” Aaron sat and soaked in all the information for a few minutes, while Kyle got himself another candy bar. Aaron eyed Kyle as he ate.

“Do you have to eat? Like, what happens to you if you don’t eat?”

“I don’t have to eat to stay the way I am, but if I don’t eat, I get mighty hungry. I went three months without eating one time, and MAN was I getting a case of the grumblies. I mean, I was seriously craving anything I could put in my mouth at that point.”

“So you’re basically alive and can’t die?”

Kyle placed his hands behind his head and leaned back. “See, I don’t know. I don’t know what could ‘kill’ me, as it were. I don’t have to eat, I don’t need to breathe, and I don’t need to sleep…I don’t really need anything. As for what could kill me, or at least make me ‘more dead’, I have no idea. I sure don’t want to find out.”

“That’s fair,” laughed Aaron. “Hey, I need to finish my rounds; would you care to join me?”

Kyle raised his eyebrows in surprise. “Seriously?”

“Yeah, why not? I mean, you seem cool, and I’m pretty sure you’re not going to gnaw my arm off, so we’re good.”

“Awesome. And I would like to point out that fact that in our short period of interaction, you have done all the attacking.”

“Again, I’m really sorry about that…”

“Water under the bridge, dude; just keep that flashlight away from me. I’m worried I might have a flashback and freak out. Maybe go hide in a janitor’s closet.”

Aaron turned beet red, clearly embarrassed.

“You knew where I was last night?”

Kyle rolled his eyes. “Dude, you could not have made more noise. You sounded like a herd of elephants running around this place. I simply followed the noise for a while to make sure you didn’t hurt yourself during your little episode.”

The two of them exited the break room, and the rest of the night went by violence-free, as Kyle followed Aaron around as they weaved their way through the hallways beneath the funeral home. They chatted about trivial things like sports and the weather; Aaron had a lot more questions for Kyle, but he needed some time to digest what he had already learned, so they kept the conversation light until they parted ways. When dawn began to break, Kyle returned to his cooler.

“Ah, the sun’s coming up; I’d better get back to my little ice box,” Kyle remarked, clearly disappointed that the night had gone by so quickly.

Aaron checked his watch. “Why? Can you not be in the sunlight?”

Kyle looked at Aaron with a bewildered expression. “Dude, I’m dead, not a vampire; the sunlight won’t kill me. I damn sure can’t just be up-and-at-em when everyone gets here, though. Can you imagine the pandemonium that would break out if other people saw me walking around this place? Not everybody can understand me. They’d flip out; it would be like that scene in Frankenstein where the people from the neighboring village storm the castle with their torches and pitchforks.”

Aaron nodded slowly. “Oh…I guess I can see how that would be bad.”

“Yeah, people don’t take too kindly to a dead person walking around on his own. So, I’m gonna head back to the cooler. Are you coming back tonight?”

“You bet; my shift starts at 8, so I’ll come find you as soon as the coast is clear.”

“Right on, bro-ham. I’ll see you then.”

With that, the two bumped fists and parted ways, with Kyle going off to his refrigerated hole in the wall, and Aaron to sleep for a while before his first class of the day. That night, when Aaron returned for his third shift, Mr. Lugosi called him into his office. The man quickly finished what he was working on, grabbed his coat and, as he prepared to leave, he had a short conversation with Aaron.

“How are you liking the job so far?” he asked.

“It’s quite nice, sir; it fits with my class schedule, and the work is actually kind of fun,” Aaron replied.

“I told you, this place has a lot to offer; if you treat her right, she will reveal treasures and secrets you never thought possible.”

“I’m sure, sir. This is truly a remarkable place.”

“Yes, well, the reason I called you in here was to give you a bit of a warning; don’t worry, you’re not in any trouble. It’s about the job itself, not your performance. Our business here is death, and I’m sure that fact is never far from the front of your mind. Sometimes there are things that cannot be explained; the eyes can play tricks on the mind in a place like this. So what I suppose I really want to say is that there is nothing to fear, and if there is anything unusual or if you run into any trouble, take note of it and feel free to contact me.”

“What kind of trouble, sir? Are you expecting any trouble?”

“No, not at all. It’s just that my last few night guards have quit due to getting spooked a few too many times, and I wouldn’t want you to feel like you have to walk into any suspicious situations alone.”

“Oh; well, I appreciate that, Mr. Lugosi,” Aaron said, somewhat confused.

“Please, simply calling me Lugosi is fine; I prefer it, actually. I’m not really a fan of the ‘Mr.’ title. But, I must away, as it were; I must get home and tend to things there. And Aaron, I am serious about calling me if things get hairy. I don’t expect them to, but don’t worry about waking or bothering me. I am more than willing to help out when I am needed.”

Aaron nodded sharply. “Thank you, sir. Have a good night.”

Lugosi sang out a “You too!” as he walked out the front door.

Aaron stood there a moment, quite puzzled by his exchange with Lugosi. He wasn’t sure if the mortician was trying to tell him that he knew about Kyle walking around the place at night, or if he was simply being accommodating. Shaking his head and walking away, he decided to ask Kyle about Lugosi when he went downstairs. Aaron quickly worked his way through the various funeral parlors on the main floor, and then went downstairs in search of Kyle.

As expected, he found his dead friend in the breakroom; he was watching a late-night talk show with another dead person.

“Hey, Kyle, what’s up?”

Kyle turned around, and gave Aaron a nod. “’Sup, dude? Aaron, this is Derek. Derek, meet Aaron.”

Derek turned and waved, obviously very shy, so Kyle continued his introduction.

“He’s shipping off to his pine box tomorrow. We were thinking we’d sneak upstairs and take a look at his casket before the big day.”

Aaron waved his hand nonchalantly. “Oh, yeah; that won’t be a problem. There’s a casket set up in Parlor 3. I’m assuming that’s his?”

“Yeah, probably,” Kyle responded.

Derek stood awkwardly and began to shuffle off.

“I, uh…I’m going to go look at it myself. I’ll see you, um, later, Kyle,” Derek mumbled.

“Sure thing, bro. You sure you don’t want company?”

“Yeah, I’m good. Thanks.”

“Okay…” Turning back to Aaron, Kyle continued, “What’s new, bro-ski?”

Aaron shrugged. “Not much. Had a weird conversation with the funeral director before he left.”

“Mr. Lugosi? What did he have to say?”

“Nothing crazy, I just got the feeling that he had more to say, but wasn’t able to talk about it for some reason. Almost like he knows that some of you guys get up and walk around when he’s not here. I don’t know, maybe I’m just reading too much into it. What do you know about the guy?”

Kyle squinted and stretched. “Uh, not much, honestly. I’ve never met him, so what I know about him came from his assistant, who died a few years back. She said he was a mortician somewhere else for a while before he came here. She said he’d been here for about twenty years. Other than that, I don’t really know anything about him; I don’t even know what the guy looks like.”

Aaron was flabbergasted.

“Twenty years? No way…he doesn’t look that old. I mean, I guess he could be in his fifties or something. He looks really young to have that long of a history here, AND to have been a mortician somewhere else.”

Kyle shrugged. “Some people figure out what they want to do early on in life. More power to ‘em. Hey, shifting gears here, do you want to head upstairs and take a look at Derek’s casket?”

“Sure; it’s not like I have any real work to do anyway.”

The two men laughed and as they walked upstairs, Aaron asked Kyle if there were any others.

“What do you mean?” Kyle asked.

Aaron shrugged his shoulders uncomfortably. “You know, are there any other dead people like you and the guy you were hanging out with earlier?”

“Oh, no; it’s just me and Derek at the moment,” Kyle replied.

“Gotcha…”

The two of them made their way up to Parlor 3, which was empty except for the casket and an easel with a picture of Derek propped up on it. The two of them walked to the front, admired the portrait, and then took a quick look at the casket. Looking back at the picture, Aaron broke the silence.

“Hey, Kyle?”

“Wassup?”

“What happens after a person is buried? I mean, if you guys are walking around and conscious NOW, what happens when they put him in that casket tomorrow?”

“You know, man, I’m not sure. I’m a big believer in the afterlife; I kind of have to be, considering I got hit by a bus six years ago, and here I am. But when it comes to heaven and hell type stuff, I really have no idea. I certainly hope we don’t just sit in that box until we rot away. If that’s the case, I may have gotten the better end of the deal by getting stuck here.”

“Six years? Wow…speaking of which, what’s your story? What happened?”

Kyle smirked. “It’s okay, you can say it: how did I die? Well, that’s a long-ish story. Maybe tomorrow night, muchacho. I have to hunt down Derek and make sure he’s doing alright, and then get the both of us back to our coolers. I’ll catch up with you tomorrow.”

“Alright, sounds good to me, dude.”

Kyle hopped up and clapped Aaron on the shoulder as he left. Aaron sat there quietly for a few minutes before leaving the parlor. He finished out his shift quietly, and when Lugosi arrived, he clocked out and went back to his apartment for a few hours of sleep. He didn’t have any classes until the afternoon, but he did have plans to grab lunch with Alicia. Alicia had been his best friend for as long as he could remember. When they had graduated high school, they decided that they wanted to go to the same college, and as luck would have it, they were both accepted at Dellamorte.

Alicia was an interesting character, to say the least. Blonde hair and green eyes with a thin physique and perpetual sly smile, she was a very beautiful person. She was spunky and quirky, and had met Aaron when they were in first grade. She had stood up for him when he was getting bullied on the playground, and they had been friends ever since.

Aaron had been her escape from the stresses of life for as long as they had known each other. She had been in and out of psychiatric care since she was eight. She claimed at the time that she had travelled to a far-away, colorful land full of talking animals, riddles, and a life-or-death poker game. Originally thinking that maybe she was having trouble differentiating between dreams and reality, her parents dismissed her. Over time, they grew concerned for her mental well-being, and had her assessed by a professional. The psychiatrists believed she was delusional schizophrenic, and that live-in treatment would best help someone with her advanced condition. She was subsequently committed and “re-immersed” into society several times over the years, and by the time she was in high school, she learned to keep her memories to herself. She was convinced that they were indeed memories and not dreams or imaginings. Most of her family and friends either avoided her or simply tolerated her, except for Aaron. Aaron always accepted her for who she was and didn’t care whether what she believed was real or fake; he simply cared about Alicia.

Considering his history with Alicia, Aaron decided to tell her about what had been happening at work while they ate. When they met up, they had a quick hug hello, and then they sat down for lunch. As they ate, Aaron told her everything; he told her about freaking out the first night, about sitting down and talking to Kyle the second night, and about their most recent conversation.

“So there it is,” he sighed as he finished the tale. “You don’t think I’m going crazy, do you?”

Alicia shook her head and popped a strawberry in her mouth. “No, I think it’s entirely possible. There are plenty of things we simply don’t know, don’t understand, or flat out refuse to believe to be true. It’s kind of arrogant to say that just because something has not happened to me that it is impossible for it to have happened to someone else.”

Aaron nodded. “Okay, so if I’m not losing my mind, what is going on? How is this happening?”

Alicia shrugged. “I don’t know; if you want, I can do some research on the undead. This can’t be the first time someone has talked to a dead person; maybe I can find something written on the topic.”

“If you wouldn’t mind, that would be great. I don’t know where you would LOOK for first-hand accounts of stuff like this, but your help would definitely be appreciated. It all still feels very surreal; it’s so absurd. I can’t think of any way that this is actually happening.”

Alicia smiled and replied, “I know what you mean. When people tell you something isn’t real for so long, and something happens to you that doesn’t fit inside that clean, little box, it can be jarring and uncomfortable. You know what you saw, but you don’t know who you can trust with that information.”

She winked and ate another strawberry before continuing. “You can always trust me, Ary. I’m always in your corner.”

Aaron smiled. He knew this was true; she had followed him half way across the country just so they could still hang out together. He knew she would always have his back, and he would have hers.

“Thanks; I hope you know that road goes both ways.”

“I know,” she said cheerily. “In fact, there is very little I don’t know about you. But it’s getting to be about that time, so I should head off. I’ll let you know when I dig something up.”

She stood quickly and mussed up his hair as she walked away. Aaron playfully pretended to be upset by this and quickly fixed his hair before heading off to class. Later that evening, Aaron picked up some ice cream and returned to the funeral home for his final night of work that week. When Lugosi and the last of the lingering staff left for the night, Aaron went downstairs and pulled Kyle from his cooler.

“Hey, buddy, I brought us some ice cream tonight; I figured you might be tired of vending machine treats,” Aaron said, handing a pint of vanilla bean ice cream and a spoon to Kyle.

“Sweet! It’s been years since I had anything other than what people leave in the fridge and what I can snake out of the snack machine.”

As they ate, Aaron tried to find the right words to ask what he wanted to know.

“So…I’m kinda curious, since you mentioned it last night. How did you wind up here? And why have you been here for so long?”

Kyle nodded and took another spoonful of his ice cream. “Let’s head upstairs to one of the parlors; I’ve spent a lot of time in this room, and I wanna get out of here for a while.”

They walked upstairs to one of the parlors and sat down, facing a casket that was prepared for the next day. When they were situated, Kyle began his tale.

“Well, about six years ago, I was a junior in college. I was having a really crappy year, as my girl had just dumped me, and my family and I weren’t on speaking terms. I hadn’t really talked to anyone I wasn’t in class with for quite a while. I had dived into my music to cope with everything that was going on, cuz I couldn’t just stop going to classes in order to deal with my mess. I had to make something of myself, or I would be a bum and a dropout for the rest of my life. I had bought these really awesome headphones, and I was trying them out. They were noise-cancelling, so I didn’t have to listen to anything that was going on around me; all I heard was my music. I would throw them on, turn the music up loud, and just tune out the world around me; it was my escape…from everything.

“While I was jamming out one day, I went to cross a street. A bus must have whipped around the corner, because I didn’t see it when I stepped off the curb. I didn’t hear it because of the music, and it barreled right over me. I’m assuming it killed me on impact, because I don’t remember being in any pain. I woke up here, feeling rather cold and hungry, but not uncomfortably so. I looked around, and I found I was in my cooler. I’ll be honest with you, I freaked out a little bit until I figured out I could open the cooler door from the inside. I climbed out, and on the counter I found my medical sheet. I noticed it because my name was on it in big black letters: Kyle Dieselberg, deceased.

“I couldn’t believe it, because I was obviously still walking around and stuff. I thought it must have been a big mistake, and they simply thought I was dead. I flipped through the file, and what I saw was horrible. The bus had hit me crazy hard; I had bled out on the street, broken a whole bunch of bones, and had a lot of intense internal damage. There was no mistaking the fact that I had died right there.

“I was really confused, because it didn’t feel like I had broken any bones, and I felt like I was alive. I briefly wondered if I was a ghost, but then I remembered that I had climbed out of the cooler. I was still here, still somehow alive, but also dead. That said, I spent the next few days very confused. Days passed, then weeks, and with each passing day, I began to slowly figure this whole being dead thing out.

“I finally summoned the courage to explore this place. At first, it was just this room, looking at all the names and looking through files. Then I ventured out further and further, until I found Lugosi’s office. I walked inside and found a stack of death certificates right there in the open. I looked through them, and found mine with a sticky-note attached. ‘Unable to contact family.’

“That was probably the biggest blow of being dead. The funeral home had tried to contact my family, and my folks hadn’t even bothered to call them back. No one came to I.D. my body, no one came to sign my death certificate…they simply didn’t care that I had died. Over time, I think the funeral home forgot I was here, and I’ve been in that cooler ever since.

“Most people only stay here a week at the most, so the dead people like me, who could walk and talk and stuff, they were never here for very long. They always moved on. I tried to talk to another security guard once; I could tell he understood me. My instincts were buzzing like crazy. When I walked up to him, he responded worse than you did; he had a heart attack right in front of me. I accidentally scared the man to death. When they put him in a cooler, he pretended he was full-on dead. I knew he was faking it because when I pulled him out, every once in a while he would peek one of his eyes open to see if I was still around.

“Anyway, after a while, I figured out that I couldn’t leave this place or my body would start to rot. As long as I stayed here, I would be fine, more or less as fresh as a rose. I’ll be here until this place burns to the ground, I guess.”

Aaron felt incredibly bad for Kyle; the man’s own family rejected him, even after he died. He thought it was an unwritten rule that no matter how you felt about someone, you were supposed to care about them after they died.

“Man…that sucks, dude. I’m so sorry.”

“Meh; it is what it is, you know?”

“Still, I’m sorry you had to be alone. This place would drive me nuts if I was here alone. I’ll make sure to come find you whenever I’m working. I think it’s safe to say we’re buddies now; I never leave a friend behind.”

Kyle smiled a sad smile. “Thanks; I really appreciate that. It’s been a lonely six years, to be honest. Kinda rough; it’s nice to have someone here to talk to, even if it’s only when you’re working.”

Sensing that the conversation needed a slight change, Aaron asked the first question that came to his mind.

“Uh, what do you think about life and death? Like, is there a soul? What happens to it if there is?”

Kyle laughed dryly. “Is that your way of taking the conversation to a lighter place? You talk about an equally heavy topic?”

“Sorry…we can talk about something else…”

“No, no; it’s fine. Like I told you yesterday, I don’t really know what happens. I mean, I’m assuming it’s my soul that is keeping my body alive right now. I don’t know what happens to it after this stage though. I don’t know if there is a heaven or a hell or what; I have no clue what comes next. It’s all still just as much a mystery to me as it is to you.”

“Huh. I guess we don’t really know that much about death; I wonder how much we actually know about life,” Aaron mused.

“I don’t know, man. I do know this for sure: this ice cream is the BOMB. I didn’t realize how much I missed it. Side note: are people still calling stuff ‘the bomb?’”

Aaron chuckled. “I’m pretty sure they that phrase was retired long before your untimely demise. Anyway, just make me a list of your favorite foods; I’ll start bringing some when I work. We’ll have lunch together. It’s a win-win; I don’t have to hang out in this creepy place by myself all night, and you get to eat all your favorite foods.”

“Alright! We’ve got a deal!”

For the rest of the night, they compiled a list of foods and local haunts that Kyle wanted to taste again.  This took a surprising amount of time, as Aaron soon found out that Kyle was a fan of just about every restaurant in the surrounding area. As Kyle was climbing into his cooler, Aaron called out to him.

“Oh! I almost forgot! My friend Alicia is doing some research on zombie lore and such; I told her about you, and she was interested in helping us figure out what is going on.”

“Really? Stellar. Hopefully she can find a way to keep me alive outside of this place.”

And with that, Kyle slipped back into the cooler and Aaron said hello to his weekend.

The Prodigal

The Prodigal walked across the street towards the club. A giant neon sign bathed the sidewalk in purple hues. DHARK was all it said. He chuckled to himself as he approached the door. Appropriately named, this place was by far the darkest place in town. The story went that it used to be an insane asylum back in the day, and the guy who bought it revamped it into the pit of debauchery that it was today. Why The Prodigal had ever walked inside that first night was beyond him, but ever since then, he had been hooked.

He nodded to the well-dressed doorman, who smiled in return.

“Back again, I see,” the large man remarked.

The Prodigal laughed and shrugged. “Eh, you know how it is; I just can’t stay away.”

The doorman arched an eyebrow. “Well, here’s to another night of drinking the demons away.”

The two of them shook hands as The Prodigal entered the club, and the doorman slipped two pills into his hand. Once inside, he popped them into his mouth and he swallowed. Maybe this time he would catch the hallucinations. Maybe this time the trip wouldn’t be so rough. Not that he minded too much; in a strange way, he liked the misery the drug brought to mind.

The main dance floor was packed, with couples dancing feverishly to the thumping bass and zipping synth sounds. On several platforms, scantily-clad women danced erotically, surrounded by men throwing money at their feet. Muliti-colored strobe lights flashed all around, seeming to dance with the crowd.

The Prodigal made his way to the right, towards the bar. He needed to have a drink in his hand before the drug kicked in. The drug in particular was called R-Squared. It was something they made and distributed at Dhark exclusively. He didn’t know what the intended effect was, but he had suspicions that it intentionally made you think of all the things that made you want to drink. Not a bad business plan for a bar.

About ten minutes after taking it, you felt euphoric. On top of the world. But that feeling didn’t last. And it was at this tipping point that The Prodigal now found himself. He took a deep breath. Let the games begin.

He walked around the outskirts of the dance floor towards the stairs that led up to the second floor bar. His vision clouded for a moment, and sitting on the stairs in front of him sat a girl. She was in her mid twenties, her head down, and her jet-black hair covering her face. For a moment, he felt frozen; his heart seemed to stop beating, and he couldn’t breathe. He knew this was just the beginning; the girl in front of him could not be real, for several years ago, she had died in his arms. This was the drug; it wasn’t the high that he was addicted to, it was the ability to interact with those he had lost, with his failures, shortcomings, and his regrets.

The girl looked up, her hazel eyes glinting and shining in the shifting lights. She stared almost right through him, no emotion showing on her face. They looked at each other silently for a moment before she spoke.

“August.”

His name. A name he had long since forsaken. A name that brought to the forefront of his mind all the ways he had failed in his former life. Named after a king, and he had never lived up to it. He shook the thought from his head.

“Hello, Erin.”

She leaned back on the stairs and ran her hand through her hair. August’s heart fluttered as it always had whenever she did that. It was such a simple, ordinary thing, but to him, it was everything he had loved about her; she was such a glorious, beautiful, strong woman, and she was completely unaware of it.

She sighed. “You never came. They took me, and you never came.”

The guilt was crashing in heavy tonight.

“I did come, though. I found you as fast as I could. I searched everywhere for you.”

Erin snorted. “Everywhere except where I was, apparently.”

The Prodigal knew she would never have really said these things to him. This was nothing more than his mind torturing him once more. Maybe this time he could direct the visions. Maybe tonight he could find peace, if he could just find the right words…

“Erin…I’m sorry. If I could go back and keep them from getting to you, I would. If I could take your place, I would. I wish I had been there sooner.”

The girl inspected her fingernails. “Well, you were too late. And you let me die. You let them kill me. And then, you didn’t even avenge me. You could have hunted them, you could have obliterated the lot of them, and what did you do instead?”

August felt tears welling up in his eyes. “I…I…I walked away. I left the Order and came here. I ran away.”

She looked at him once more. “Maybe you never deserved me at all; I thought you were better than this.”

The Prodigal stepped forward and outstretched his arms to touch her, and the vision faded in a sudden puff of smoke. In a moment, he had forgotten that none of this was real. He wiped his eyes and looked around, making sure no one had seen his display of weakness. He sniffed and ascended the stairs, ready to face the next vision.

Upstairs, the music continued to pound, drumming its repetitive patterns into his ears. On the floor, he noticed a figure, mostly hidden by the dancing crowd. For brief seconds, he would catch a glimpse of a middle-aged man watching him, beckoning to him. He knew better than to obey the hallucinations, but he couldn’t help himself. How was he supposed to ignore his own father?

He followed the man across the floor, winding around the second floor, finally stopping by a false window. It was a wall-sized screen, displaying a digital image of some big city from decades ago. Lights flickered on and off, cars whizzed around on the streets, and if you looked closely enough, people milled around on the sidewalks. But it wasn’t real. Then again, neither was the man who had led August to it in the first place.

The man placed his hands behind his back and looked at the screen.

“Auggie, you disappoint me.”

“Well, we’re not pulling any punches today, are we?”

Seeming to not have heard his son, the man continued. “You are a disgrace. You were a Knight of the Order, the pride of this family, at one point. You showed such potential, such promise. Now, you sicken me. You are a waste, less than a shadow of your former glory. I am ashamed to call you my son; even saying the words puts a sour taste on my tongue.”

August hung his head. He had this conversation every night. And every night it went the same way. It was a masochistic satisfaction for him, hearing, or at least thinking he was hearing, his father belittle and destroy him gave him some sick pleasure, like a good kind of pain. It stung, and it made him feel like less than human, but perhaps this was his perdition. This was the hell he must endure for the man he had become.

He looked up at his father. “What if I were to go back?”

The man laughed dryly. “Do you honestly think that they would have you back? You, a drug-addicted, alcoholic, waste of life? You, who begs on the street in the day for enough to eat and get high? You, who has stooped so low as to lie and steal for your daily fix? If they had any sense, they would shoot you on sight. You don’t let a sick dog back in the house, you put him out of his misery.”

“And that is what I deserve.”

The man’s eyes flared with a hidden fire, his fury visible. “And then some, boy. If it were up to me, you would suffer like in the tales of old. You would be eaten alive every day, renewed every day only to suffer again.”

“That sounds a lot like what I already do, old man,” August thought to himself.

The two of them stood silent for a moment, and just like the girl, the man disappeared in a swirling puff of smoke. The Prodigal looked once more at the screen, wondering what life would have been like in that time. Did those people have lives like his? Or were they free from these deep-seated demons? The world was so different back then; he liked to think that it was a better, more hopeful place.

He stumbled back to the bar and ordered another drink. He was definitely not himself. He had ceased to be August of Fyte a long time ago; the vision of his father was right, he didn’t deserve even the air in his lungs. As he sipped his drink, he looked into a mirror across the bar. The sight disgusted him.

Suddenly, his reflection shifted. It looked away from him, glancing around the room, and then stepped out of the glass.

“Shit,” August muttered to himself, “this is a new one.”

His reflection walked towards him, hopped over the bar, and sat down next to him.

“How ya doin’, old chum?” it asked.

The Prodigal didn’t respond, simply waiting for his reflection to continue.

“Well, not feeling up for conversation, I see. That’s fine. I think it’s just time to say some of these things out loud. All this stuff that you’re carrying around, all this weight that sits on your mind all the time, there’s a way to get rid of it. And I think you know what that is.”

August looked away and lazily stirred the ice cubes in his drink. His reflection went on.

“When you left, you took very few things with you. Two things, actually. Now, why on earth would you bring your guns if you planned on never shooting another person ever again?”

The reflection grinned wickedly, and kept speaking.

“You never planned on shooting ANOTHER person. You are not another person. You aren’t even really a person anymore. You know how to end this. You know how to make all of this…” The reflection spun in his chair and motioned to the rest of the club, “stop. You know there’s a way to make all of this disappear. Peace is nothing more than a deep breath and a short squeeze away.”

August snapped, and threw a punch at his reflection, which promptly disappeared. The motion threw him off balance, and he fell out of his chair, hitting his head hard on the floor. As he drifted out of consciousness, he heard his reflection laugh, and whisper, “Think about it…”

Some time later, a girl dressed in leather skins walked up to him and nudged him with her toe. She sighed. “Auggie, what have you done?”

The Mystic knelt down and hefted him over her shoulder. “C’mon, let’s go home. It’s time you end this crazy little vacation and get back to work.”

She carried him down the stairs and out the front door. She knew it would be a hard road to recovery, but in the long run, it was better than the hell he had been living in. The Order had been looking for him for years. The world needed them now. All of them. Including Auggie. It was time for The Prodigal to return to his tribe. The demons that plagued him were nothing compared to the ones that plagued the rest of humanity since his disappearance.

El Chupacabra

The next day, the guys went out and tracked down a chupacabra. Now, chupacabras aren’t technically real beings; what had happened was there was an imp had gotten loose in the living realm. When Aaron and Kyle had found him, he had taken off running, but not before releasing several mythical beasts to throw them off his trail. With the imp and all the other beasts having been captured (and disposed of, in several cases), the only loose end that remained was this chupacabra.

They had tracked it to the woods not far from town, and after a good, hearty breakfast, they set off to catch themselves an imaginary being. Aaron parked the hearse, and they sat there for a moment.

“I’m telling you, dude, we need to get a cooler car than this stupid thing,” Kyle said.

“This is what we have, and this is what we can afford for now.”

“Oh, come on, we’re not gonna turn any heads in the dead-mobile.”

“That’s not exactly the point of the vehicle, Kyle. The reason we have a car at all is to get to the places that are too far to walk.”

“All I’m asking is why can’t we do that with some style, though?”

“This is strictly about the job; style has nothing to do with it.”

“Seriously, Aaron? You can’t tell me that you wouldn’t feel like a total boss if we rolled up in a black, four-door muscle car, like on that one TV show. Oh! Or a monster truck!”

Aaron stared at Kyle. “A monster truck? Really?”

“Yeah, get it? Cuz people see me as a monster.

“Yeah, buddy, I got it. However, not only are those things not street legal, it pretty much defeats the purpose of working in secret. We might as well advertise what we do for a living.”

“Why don’t we? Maybe that’s something we should bring up with Lugosi.”

Aaron sighed. “I’ll look into getting a new vehicle if you promise to drop this whole monster truck idea. And we are NOT advertising. That’s just bad news, man; people would flip out, and we’d probably get arrested for the various crimes we have to commit in order to do our jobs.”

Kyle squinted at Aaron for a minute, then smiled. “Alright, we’ve got a deal.”

The two of them hopped out of the car, with Kyle grabbing the hex bag from the back. The hex bag was a burlap sack that had been steeped in incantations in order to make it strong enough to hold most magical creatures. It came in very handy when they were apprehending some of the less-civilized beings that made their way into the human realm. Or, as in this case, creatures that only exist because some mischievous being conjured them as a distractionary technique.

The guys walked into the woods, and Aaron pointed his cane into the trees. “Alright, find me my chupacabra,” he said. The crystal ball at the tip began to glow blue, and suddenly a small ball of blue light appeared in front of them. It hovered in the air for a second, before taking off further into the forest.

“Let’s get this over with,” Aaron said as the two of them ran after the light. It zigged and zagged through the trees, with the boys following close behind. After several minutes, the light slowed down, and then stopped. When they caught up to it, they found themselves standing on the edge of a small clearing. In the middle of the clearing sat a small bear-like creature, which was picking through the remains of a dead deer.

Kyle whistled sharply, and flapped the hex bag. The chupacabra looked up from its meal and began searching for the source of the sound. Kyle whistled again, for a second longer this time. The chupacabra turned their direction, and began sniffing the air. It slowly meandered towards them, stopping ten feet from them. It stood there, sniffing cautiously, looking through the trees for them.

“It knows something’s wrong,” Aaron whispered.

“Should I stun it?” Kyle asked.

“Not yet; if we can get it into the bag without shooting it, that would be ideal. It may not be a real being, but it’s real enough. I don’t want to be rough with it if we don’t have to be.”

Kyle whistled once more, pulling some beef jerky from his pocket. He stepped forward slowly, holding the jerky out in front of him. The chupacabra saw him then, and slowly started walking towards him as well, pausing every few seconds to sniff the air again and look around. Eventually, it walked up close enough to snag the jerky from Kyle’s hand. Kyle reached out and petted its head.

“There you go, buddy…now, you’re not going to like this next bit, but hang in there. It will all be over soon.”

Like a flash, Kyle jumped forward, shoving the entire beast inside the hex bag and diving on top of it as it began to thrash and buck. Aaron was already dialing Violet on his cell phone.

“Come on, come on…pick up…” Aaron muttered.

Kyle, wrestling with the bagged creature, yelled out to Aaron. “Hey, dude, I don’t mean to rush you, but if you could say that incantation sooner rather than later, that would be fantastic.”

“I’m working on it; I forgot to write it down, so I’m calling Violet. She’s got the book on her table, ready to go.”

“Hellooo?” sang Violet as she answered the phone.

“Hey, it’s Aaron; can you read off that incantation for getting rid of an imp’s creations for me again? I forgot to write it down, and I need it right away.”

Kyle continued to wrestle with the hex bag. “Any day now, Aaron!”

“Yes, dear; just give me a moment to run down to the front room.” Aaron could hear Violet rushing on the other end of the phone. When she spoke again, she was slightly out of breath.

“Okay, it’s “Remicus ansurian deseparo.”

“Thanks; you’re a real peach. I’ve gotta go…bye!”

Aaron hung up the phone, pointed his cane at Kyle and the chupacabra, and yelled “Remicus ansurian deseparo!”

A bolt of lightning shot from the crystal ball and hit the bag with tremendous force.

“OW!” Kyle yelled, and Aaron ran over to where he lay.

“You need to work on your aim. That’s the third time this week you’ve hit me with the same spell.”

Aaron rolled his eyes. “I’m sorry; next time, you can say the incantation. Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine; I just felt like giving you grief for hitting me again. What you should be asking is ‘did we hit the chupacabra?’”

Kyle stood up and shook out the hex bag. “Looks like it’s been taken care of. Yet another one bites the dust, my friend.”

Aaron grinned. “We’re getting pretty good at this. We should do this for a living.”

Kyle laughed. “Yeah, no kidding. I mean, we still have to call for help more than I’d like to admit, but we always get the job done.”

Kyle shook the hex bag once more, and then folded it back up. “Let’s get out of here; we have a road trip to begin.”

“Indeed we do. I’ll call Lugosi and let him know we’re on our way.”

121 People A Day

No. Shut up and listen for a change. Listen to all the things you were too dense to pick up on, all the things you were too high and mighty to accept, and all the things you were too smart to pay attention to. Because it’s not about being sad. It’s about being fucking broken.

It’s about knowing that if you disappeared from the face of the planet, the only people who would notice are your bosses, because everyone else is too self absorbed to see what’s really going on.

It’s about knowing that you are expendable. That no one ever has and never will really need you around. If you were to die right this instant, you would simply be replaced by a better, much more stable person, and they would never even miss you.

It’s about knowing that you can never say a god damned word to anyone else about what goes on inside your head because the people you trust are soooo much better than you, that they don’t care about your “existential problems.” That if you aren’t hungry, out of money, or in physical agony, they don’t really care. And the only reason they care when you are any of those things is because it makes them feel better about themselves to think that they were there for you in your “darkest times.”

Like they have any idea what your dark times look like. Bitch, I wish I were just hungry. I wish my problems were tangible. You couldn’t handle a tenth of the turmoil I experience on a daily basis, so sit your self-righteous ass down.

You have no idea what I’ve been through. Do you know what it’s like to attend your mother’s funeral? Or your father’s funeral? Or to be beaten to a pulp on a daily basis and made to believe that you deserved it, because you were worthless, and didn’t deserve to live? Or to watch your best friend get squashed like a bug by a garbage truck? Or to be abandoned by everyone you cared about because those things messed you up so bad that you woke up screaming from the nightmares and the flashbacks?

Do you know what it’s like for a doctor to tell you to say your last goodbyes to those you love, and for no one to give a shit when you tell them the surgeon thinks you have less than a fifty percent chance of surviving the operation?

Do you have any idea what it’s like to be locked away inside the depths of your own depravity, convinced you should never have been born? Told by numerous people that you were a mistake, an abomination, and deserved to die before you even hit puberty?

Yeah, I thought so.

I don’t need your pity. It is worthless to me. I don’t even need your understanding. It does nothing for me. What I need is a moment to simply reveal the demons that reside within my soul. For I ceased to be human long ago, and all this darkness that was poured into me has nowhere left to go but outward. I am nothing. Whatever value may have existed has long since been destroyed.

I am not a person in the eyes of others. I am a project, some object to be “fixed.” Or I am a lesson, one to be pitied and studied. Or I am a toy, one to be yanked around, because, after all, if I am not a person, why treat me as if I am human? I have become Frankenstein’s monster, an abhorrent beast, incapable of feeling and undeserving of any decency or respect.

I didn’t always think this way. There was a time I considered myself almost human. But my own humanity was snuffed out, beaten down, and crushed, until the only thing left was this shell. This body. There is nothing left inside. So perhaps you are correct; perhaps I am not worth anything.

Perhaps I should just disappear, and stop belaboring those around me with my presence. Perhaps I should cut short my encumbering existence, releasing those bound to me. I am unnecessary, unwanted, and un-fucking-believably messed up.

And yet…

And yet, there is a small part of me that refuses to give up. Despite your repeated rejections, despite the unending barrage of evidence that I do not belong, despite waking up every day to a world that wants nothing more than to see my flaming corpse in the street…

If I have lost everything else, I have not lost my sense of spite. I may have lost my will to live, but I will never lose my desire to stick it to the man. To prove that, regardless of the shit hand I have been dealt, I am still here, and I am a force to be reckoned with.

I will never change the world. I will likely drift away, to some other town, state, or country where I am unknown. I will stay there until I come to this point again. And then, I will move on. I have no home, other than the very skin and bones I wear every day. And even then, I do not feel at home within myself. So I wander the globe, looking for some place I can call my own, some place I belong, knowing in my heart of hearts that no such place exists. I am a gypsy, destined to move as the wind, never in one place for very long.

Even my thoughts meander with no real purpose, jumping from place to place, unable to settle. Not that this matters to you. In six months, I will have faded far from even the deepest corners of your memory, having been replaced by some new fad or face.

THAT’S what it’s about. At its core, this darkness you call depression is the numbing to all things human. It is the crushing understanding that everything about you is pointless, meaningless, and more than replaceable.

I am not sad. I am not feeling “humdrum.” I am destroyed. I am worthless. There is no reason to continue. There is no way out. There are no options. Nothing, in the long run, will ever change.

And every day, 121 people feel the very same way.

And most suicides can be prevented. Most people who are talked down from the ledge say that all they needed was for one person just to FUCKING SMILE AT THEM.

No, their mental state is not your fault. No, their circumstances are not under your control. But maybe have a heart. Maybe don’t be such an asshole all the time. Maybe remember that the world does not revolve around your pompous ass. Maybe remember that the sack of meat that you treat with such utter contempt is a human being. Maybe remember that all it takes is a smile, a greeting, a simple gesture, to make all the difference to someone else.

There were studies done a long time ago about the effects of overcrowding on rats. The rats became hostile, depressed, and suicidal. But we are not rats. There may be 7 billion of us, but each of us can do something. Each of us has the potential to save a life, whether we know it or not. So stop being such a dick and just smile at someone. That may be all it takes.

Because it’s not about feeling sad. It is about feeling human again.

https://afsp.org/

 

 

All That Is Necessary

Hindsight is twenty-twenty, or so I’m told. Looking back on the great tragedies in history, the most destructive wars, and the widespread pain and suffering, it is easy to say “Someone should have acted,” or “If they had only done this or that, things might have been different.” If it is so easy to identify where our forefathers made their mistakes, why is it that the water seems so murky in our own lifetime? Why is it that when we see starving humans, or senseless killings, or mass hatred, that we are mysteriously silent? Why are we so concerned with the laziness and stupidity of those who came before, but we give little to no thought to our own?

Being human is diametrically opposed to being apathetic to the plight of our fellow homo sapiens. If we flip through those same history books that contain the travesties from earlier, we will find great and inspiring things; tales of kindness, of brotherhood, and of incredible feats accomplished when men and women came together, put aside their differences, and set their minds to truly monumental tasks. These are true phenomena; things we can watch, study, and admire. These are things we can learn from.

When people come together in the spirit of humanity, when they gather under the banner of improving the lives of others, wonderful things happen. The potential of mankind is unlocked, and there is no limit to the greatness we can achieve. However, for as long as people have been documenting their lives, there has been one massive roadblock, and that is apathy. People simply don’t care about those around them. Oh, sure, there is a select group of people that they care about, the “special” ones that they choose to invest in, but for the most part, our thoughts on everyone else can be summed up in two words: fuck ’em.

Where is the compassion? Oh, someone else will care. It’s not my problem. It’s not my responsibility. I’m just one person, there’s no way I can change things. That’s both true and complete bullshit at the same time. You know why? Because when one person thinks that way, it’s a shame. When millions upon millions of people think that way, it’s downright embarrassing as a species.

True, most of the time, one person cannot make a marked difference in the grand scheme of things. But, and this might shock some of you, there’s a whole world out there, and you have seen practically none of it. There are billions of people on this stupid rock we call Earth, and they all breathe the same air. I bet if you were in some sort of danger, you’d want someone to come to your aid. Would you care if one person came to help you, or if it was just one? Probably not. As long as the job was taken care of, your savior could be anyone at all.

Okay, I’m getting slightly off topic here. Time to focus. Back to you, back to what we can do. One person may not be able to make a big difference, but we never do our best work as individuals anyway. Our greatest accomplishments are group efforts. One ant can gather a few crumbs of bread, but an army of ants can gather enough food to feed the entire colony. One grain of sand is insignificant, but no beach is made up of one grain of sand. And at the risk of causing some sort of analogy-diabetes, every machine is greater than the sum of its parts.

If everyone thought about the good of others, this world would be a much better place. Now, I know that such a utopia is a statistical impossibility, but utopian ideals are meant to inspire us to be our best, to teach us to strive for excellence. If enough people aim for their best, the downfalls of the many can be overcome by the efforts of the few. Every revolution begins with a brave few facing down the strength of the reigning power.

It is easy to bemoan the evils of the tyrant, but it is the responsibility of all free men to stand for what is right and just. It is easy to say that something must be done, but it falls on those who see the need for change to cause it. What good is it to know what is right, if those who know what is right and good do nothing. Perhaps the greatest evil is not performing horrible acts, but seeing them, having the ability to act out against them, and to do nothing.

I turn my gaze inward.

My voice will not be heard by many, if any at all. My abilities fall short of world-changing. However, to remain silent and do nothing is quite possibly the worst thing I could do. To live my life as if it does not affect any others is to adopt an incredibly arrogant and apathetic worldview. If I see someone in need, and I walk by without a second thought, I am potentially the most evil man to ever live. If I see injustice and do not raise my voice, I become an active part in the growth of said injustice. If I treat my own countrymen as if they do not exist when I walk by them, I am involved in the dehumanization of society.

Understandably, not every person can be helped, and I would look like a maniac if I stopped and shook the hands of every person I passed on the street. Or would I? What would happen if I greeted every person I met as if they were an old friend? What if I interacted with every human being I came across as if they were, you know, human? I suppose the world will never know, because I am a selfish, narcissistic prick. But what if…?

The greatest accomplishments in history are built on that question. What if a country were born under the assumption that all men are created equal? What if one woman in Calcutta took care of the poor and sick as if they were her own children? What if a nihilistic kid with a blog pulled his head out of his ass and truly believed he could make a difference? Well, no one can say unless those things happen. The potential for positive change is infinite.

If we set aside our jaded view of this world and had a little faith in one another, perhaps things could be better. The potential for disappointment is grand, admittedly, but what if? What if history is simply waiting on one pebble to strike the water? What if the ripples from one life investing in humanity could ultimately change our species forever? The likelihood is slim, but the good guy is always the underdog; and everybody loves a good underdog story.

It’s Like Cheers, But…Not

Walking in, the first person you see is the beer delivery guy. He’s cool, but there’s just something about him that gives you the feeling that if he’s not a serial killer, he’d probably make a pretty good one. He’s not aggressive or anything, just a little…off. Whatever. Time to set up the bar.

There’s a new kid who just started training, so, naturally, you’ve gotta mess with him. There’s a coffee machine in the kitchen that’s hooked up to a water line. You can run the water all day long, but it won’t ever empty completely. You can convince him that he needs to empty all the water out of it to start his shift. You watch him drain eight gallons of water from the damn thing before he figures out that you’re just screwing with him. It’s a good thing he’s a good sport about it; now you don’t feel bad for laughing at his inexperience. Eh, everybody goes through it, you tell him.

Halfway through the dinner rush, you’ve got a few tables. Everything’s going fine…wait…you need a fork? For your bread? What planet are you from? Alright then…

You head back to the kitchen, the place where you and your coworkers gather to air their grievances. You know they’ll get a good laugh out of this one. While you’re all there, you look around the circle of degenerates that you call your friends, and you smile. There’s a tremendous amount of camaraderie here. there is a certain amount of solace in knowing that you’re all a little touched in the head. Granted, some more than others, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It definitely makes things interesting. Never a dull moment.

There’s a guy that comes in fairly often and always asks for the same server. You’re grateful you don’t ever have to take care of him. He’s a really cool dude, but he looks like the villain from a Robin Hood movie, and that’s something you just can’t get passed.

You have a long conversation with a guy at the bar about matters of the universe. It’s not unusual for people to talk to you about heavier topics. When alcohol is involved, they tend to feel much more comfortable. You think you’ve gotten pretty good at giving advice. You consider yourself an unofficial psychiatrist, but in the back of your mind you know better. You’re just some asshole who serves drinks and spouts existential nonsense. Eh. At least you’re a good listener, right?

Time for a smoke break. You go out back to the alley, and find one of the local homeless guys trying to sell leather coats to his fellow alleycats. While amusing and slightly sad, this odd event is nothing new. You’ve come to expect this kind of thing.

Back inside, the regulars have started to find their assigned seats for the night. You’ve gotten to know these folks pretty well. You’d consider a few of them friends. Granted, they happen to be friends that kind of pay your bills, but there is an unspoken agreement that you won’t discuss this aspect of your relationship. This bar has brought you all together, and you’ve been with each other through some big ups and downs, regardless of money changing hands. The alcohol was a catalyst, with some solid relationships being the result.

Now that everyone is starting to feel their booze, they ask you to turn on “The Ocho” so they can watch curling. You know, for such a boring sport, it sure can spark some rather intense emotions. Dear god, they’re actually cheering. C’mon, Ben, get down from the bar; have some class, man…SHIT! The Russians just bumped the U.S. stone out of the center mark! This one’s gonna come down to the wire!

And finally, last call has come. Damn, you’re tired. You start having semi-romantic thoughts about your bed. You can’t wait to crawl between the sheets and drift off for a few hours. Tomorrow’s a busy day for you. A some of your coworkers are going down the street to another bar for a couple drinks, they want you to come along. You really shouldn’t.

Ahh, fuck it. One drink can’t hurt.