Relinquishment [Flash Fiction]

I abandoned my baby on the coast, the day the skies rained with fire and brimstone and God called the mighty wrath of hell upon me. I had the puling thing alone in the woods where only the birds and beasts could hear my screams of rage. I lose track of the hours that I lay there on rocks that I had coated with leaves. The leaves disintegrated beneath me because of my sweating and shivering. When it came out I didn’t clean it much, just gave it a rap or two on the back until it started crying and waiting for the next part that I’d been warned about. I didn’t feed it. It was my baby, but it wasn’t. It wasn’t. It did not belong to me and I had to give it back.
I left my baby on the beach where I had stolen the things to make it with. Back when I thought that it was the answer. But I learned differently. I learned with every rust specked nail that scaled me and turned me fish skinned. I made the baby out of curse words and spittle and the dust of murdered friends. I did all that. I did.
It is too late to repent. Either way I will die now and I long for the release with every bone that abandons my body in fatigue. But the baby which is not mine was to live a life. I despise it for what it has done to me. It disgusted me from the moment it stirred within me. I could not look upon its weak face and I will never know it if it ends up in Hell with me. But I know this – it was my responsibility and my mistake and I relinquish its life to another. I have done it enough harm. Let someone else choose to be cruel or kind.

Oh, Please Believe [Flash Fiction]

When Mother forbade me from going into her office, I was, of course, determined to go in there. I should have respected her privacy. I didn’t have the excuse of being a curious, nosy seven year-old anymore. I was married, thirty-two, and had a child of my own. But I was going through a bad divorce and I was living with her for the first time in over a decade, and I didn’t like the idea of not being allowed to go somewhere in the place that I once called home so naturally.

Mother and Father had moved into the house in the 60s, before I was born, and they never left. After I was five or so, Father stopped leaving for good. He was too heavy to go out much past the garden when I was a toddler, and by the time I was skipped up into first grade, he was only able to stand for a few minutes at a time and poke his head out the kitchen window to wave at me. I loved him for it, at the time. It took me a few years before I really understood how shameful it was to have a father who stayed inside all the time. I was proud of him, then, because I could boast of how often he played with me.

Our games were simple ones. I hid, and shouted out for me, moving from one easy chair to another, heaving and puffing. His sweat smelled of talcum powder. He was fastidiously clean. He was shy of his big underarm stains, even though I knew them so well that I used to put my forehead under them in the summer, when I was hot, and cool myself off. I would giggle and he would blush. He loved me, I think, even though he died before he ever really told me so. He didn’t talk very much. Most of his communication was accomplished through his eyes, which crinkled at the sides like his his favorite potato chip brand.

Mother talked too much, and when he died, she let him out of the house only long enough to be cremated. Then he was back, and she carried him around in a jar with her. She talked to him, and to me, sometimes getting us confused. It made me angry at him. I didn’t like being confused with a pewter jar full of dust. I peeked inside once, even though she told me not to, so I knew that he wasn’t in there really, despite what she always said.

Now, at thirty-two, I knew better. She hadn’t lied to me. I just hadn’t understood that my father wasn’t sitting in that jar like a genie in a bottle. A comforting thought, especially because the environment would have suited him – he wouldn’t have to move very much at all – but one that at my age I knew was stupid. I should have trusted her this time when she told me not to go into the study. I should have learned from past mistakes. I should have realized that I’d only be disappointed.

I waited until she went to her quilting class. She never carried Father around with her anymore. She’d bought a lot of new clothes and gone back to work when I started high school. She was better. That’s what she always said. Better. Like Father had made her sick. Maybe he did.

I made sure that Jonah was sleeping. Ever since leaving his father, he’d been sleeping badly, prone to nightmares. I wasn’t sure that I’d be able to get as much custody over him as I wanted, because I knew that he loved his dad and that it would be cruel to him – not to his dad – to separate them completely. I couldn’t hurt Jonah, even though I wanted to knife his father with a set of scalpels.

Opening the door to the study, I already knew that I was making a mistake. It wasn’t dramatic. It was anticlimactic. I really should have expected it when Mother had “thrown” Father’s favorite chair away, the last of the old possessions in the house, a few years ago. Of course, there it was, right there. I leaned on the door frame and sighed, disappointed. I was expecting a family of bears, or maybe some secret lover hidden away there. But a chair? An old chair.

The worst bit of it all was trying to figure out why Mother needed to hide from me that she’d ever loved Father. I didn’t understand it. I closed the door, decided never to ask, and ran to Jonah who had started crying, waking up out of a nightmare.

Talking to a Chair

“Mommy-Mommy-Mommy-Mommy-Mommy!” The shouts got steadily louder, accompanied by what seemed like an elephant pounding along the second floor hallway and down the stairs. It was amazing that a six-year-old could make quite so much noise.

Greer took a deep breath, trying to keep her temper. The kitchen table was littered with receipts and she felt as if they were all ganging up on her, trying deliberately to bamboozle her into making another calculation mistake and needing to start all over again.

“Mommy!” Rebecca stood in the doorway, hands on her hips. “Didn’t you hear me?”

“I think they heard you in China.” Greer sighed and took off her reading glasses. They made her head ache. “What is it?”

“If you heard me, why didn’t you answer?” Becca shifted her weight to one leg and tapped the other foot. Greer fought down a laugh; it was a gesture her daughter must have picked up from her, and it looked precociously adorable. But Becca hated being laughed at and saw herself as a very grown-up little girl. Greer remembered, vaguely, that she too hadn’t liked the feeling of being just a kid and therefore unworthy of being taken seriously.

“Because I’m working on taxes and I need to concentrate. If you needed me, I knew you’d come down here and talk to me like a civilized person instead of shouting all over the house. And I was right, wasn’t I?”

Rebecca dropped the pose and took the chair opposite her mother. “I dreamed about Daddy.”

“Oh, Becca… Was it a nice dream?”

“No. But Daddy was in it. So it wasn’t only bad.”

“Was Daddy nice?”

“Yes. He hugged me.”

Greer played with a pen, needing something in her hands to stop her from reaching out to Becca, because she didn’t like being touched unless she initiated it. The therapist said that children could develop these kinds of aversions, and Greer knew she needed to respect her daughter’s boundaries, but it was so hard, sometimes, not to be able to hug her whenever she wanted and smell her usually messy hair and remember how once there had been another smell beside it that belonged to the body hugging the girl from the other side and making a Becca-sandwich.

“Can I help?” Becca asked, picking up a long, half rolled grocery receipt and pulling it tightly around her finger.

“Thanks, but no. Why don’t you bring your spelling book in here, though?”

“Okay.”

Greer didn’t believe in heaven, so she looked at the chair that he’d sat in during dinner every night and spoke to it instead of looking up. “I hope you can see her. She’s only six and she wants to help me do my taxes. I really hope you can see her right now. You’d love her more than ever.”

Nothing’s Wrong [Short Story]

The fragrance of fresh bread woke Thomas up one morning. He leaped out of bed excitedly, knowing what the smell signified. It meant that Uncle had come for a visit.

Thomas was six years old, and he could tell, with the instinct that all young children share, that his father liked Uncle a lot, but that his mother didn’t, even though Uncle was her brother. Thomas didn’t know why his mother didn’t like Uncle, but he sensed that it had to do with Uncle being a baker. He thought that maybe bakers weren’t as good as bankers, which is what his mother was. Thomas thought that being a baker was much nicer; Uncle wore comfy clothes and always smelled good, whereas Thomas’s mother always complained about her pantyhose and put too much perfume on.

Uncle was tall and skinny, but this morning, when Thomas went downstairs, he thought that Uncle had become like Flat Stanley, the flat boy that they were reading about in school. The illusion passed, and Thomas realized that it was only that Uncle looked even thinner than usual. He looked gaunt, although Thomas didn’t know that word, and he looked worn out and weary, more words that Thomas didn’t really understand.

“Morning, Tom-Tom.”

“Hi! What’s wrong, Uncle?”

“Drink your milk. Eat. We don’t want you to be late for school.” Thomas’s mother pushed a plate of eggs and a glass of milk at him without looking at Uncle at all. Then she swept right out of the room again, and Thomas and Uncle looked at each other as they hear Thomas’s parents yelling at each other upstairs. Uncle got up and checked on the bread in the oven. Whenever he came to visit, he’d let himself in very early and would bake fresh bread that would be ready for the family’s breakfast when they awoke.

“Here you go,” Uncle said, pulling the bread-pan out of the oven. He cut a thick, still steaming slice, and put it on Thomas’s plate. “Eat up.”

Thomas wasn’t going to give up on his question, though. “What’s wrong, Uncle?”

“Nothing. Nothing at all.” Uncle smiled.

In the car on the way to school, Thomas asked his mother the same question. “Nothing,” she said. “Why? Has Uncle said anything?”

That evening, Thomas tried again. He went into the bathroom where his father was drying off after a shower and began to swing from side to side while holding the doorknob.

“Stop that, you’ll break it,” his father said, without much conviction. Thomas kept swinging.

“Daddy, what’s wrong?”

“Well. What did Mommy tell you?”

“Nothing.”

“And Uncle?”

“Nothing.”

“Oh dear. That must mean that whatever’s wrong, it’s a big deal. Listen, bub, you and I – we shouldn’t get involved, okay?”

“Okay,” Thomas said. But when he went to bed that night, he couldn’t help feeling scared by what his father had said. It sounded like his father didn’t know what was wrong either. If nobody knew what was wrong, then what would happen now? For the first time in months, Thomas had nightmares and wet the bed.

A Pleasant Surprise – A Writer’s Tale

I tell people that I write. Because I do. But I have a hard time calling myself a writer. I wouldn’t dream of telling anyone I was an author, either, even though I’m working on my third novel right now.

However, I just had one of the coolest writing experiences I’ve ever had, and one which I’m eager to remember in years to come. Which is why I’m writing a second blog post today, something I rarely, if ever, do. Ready? My tale might not be exciting to anyone who isn’t me, but here goes.

My current work in progress includes some six main characters. I wrote the first ten pages of it about a year ago, in this blog in fact [if you’re interested, search for “Mr. and Mrs. Adams,” “Amanda,” and “Heather.”] During my semester at Sarah Lawrence this year, I took a writing class, and began to write this novel in earnest.

About five months ago, I wrote a scene in which Amanda, one of my characters, is drunk and having a breakdown of sorts. She has never been drunk before, is introverted, is scared of her own passions and hides behind her instincts as a caregiver much of the time. As the listener, she can remain safe and closed off while still maintaining meaningful relationships with people she cares about.

Now, this scene I wrote so many months ago was, I knew, going to fit in only towards the very end of the novel. I haven’t looked at the scene in months, waiting for the right time to go back to it and insert it where I wanted it to go. The day before yesterday, I was writing the scene that I knew would directly precede it, in which Amanda’s friend makes her a drink, and Amanda, for the first time ever, decides to be reckless and takes it.

In the scene I wrote the other day, I had her friend making her a White Russian. The next scene I wrote was about other characters. Today, I wanted to put in the scene I’d written all those months ago, and so I scrolled to the very bottom of my file to reread it and see what I was going to have to change. And here’s the kicker. I’d written there that Amanda was drunk on “milky White Russians.”

!!!

I had NO IDEA that I’d specified in that scene what she’d been drinking! I didn’t remember AT ALL that I’d already had the idea of what I wanted her to be drunk on! When I’d written the scene a couple days ago, I’d decided to go for White Russians because I thought it was the kind of yummy alcoholic drink that her friend would mix in order to lure Amanda into drinking!

But it seems that Amanda told me ages ago that she wanted her first experience with alcohol to be with this particular drink. It seems that even her friend, a relatively minor side-character, knew in February already that she was going to make Amanda a White Russian for her first alcoholic beverage. It seems that I know my characters even better than I thought, or else that they’ve been driving me to write what they feel is the truth for them.

So. Maybe not the most exciting tale for anyone who hasn’t had the experience of their writing taking on a life of its own. But let me tell you, I’m going to be grinning about this revelation all day long.

EDIT: Another thing – in this same scene, written months ago, I’d mentioned homesickness for her mother. In a scene I wrote about a week ago, Amanda was missing her father and feeling homesick. So yeah, I think Amanda is really quite alive in my mind. Which is exciting.

Lily and Jasper [Flash Fiction]

Lily pushed her sunglasses down over her eyes and stretched. The summer sun was beginning to set, and the tree she’d been lying under would soon be at the wrong angle to give her shade. That was alright, though. Her skin was hardy enough to withstand the evening sun’s rays.
A hiccough made her look down. Jasper’s eyes, almost impossibly big in his small, chubby face, were inquiring. Lily was fascinated by the way he always seemed surprised. Every burp, every laugh, every awakening seemed entirely new to him and full of excitement.
“Is that enough tummy time?” Lily asked. “Hmm? What do you say, big guy?” Jasper hiccoughed again in answer. Lily smiled and lifted him up into her arms. She leaned sideways and dug around the big bag her mom had helped her organize, trying to find the bottle. She discovered it tucked sensibly in an outside flap where it couldn’t spill over into all the bibs, diapers and wet-wipes that weighed the bag down.
Fussing a little, Jasper eventually latched onto the rubber nipple and – of course – looked surprised at the liquid that he was sucking from it. Surprise turned to pleasure and he half-closed his eyes.
“You look just like me when you do that, you know? Just like me. We both love good food.” Lily had decided before he was born that she would talk to Jasper just like she talked to anyone else. She wouldn’t raise her voice even one note into the high-pitched tones that her mother and sister used. Her mother thought she was being pretentious, but Lily didn’t care. She was going to give Jasper what she’d given up when she’d discovered, six months in, that she was pregnant. She was going to give him the scholarship she couldn’t use yet, the love that her parents had only sporadically given her, and the respect he deserved from the moment he was born.
The only thing she couldn’t give him was a father, and she hoped that one day she’d manage to fix that.

Foundling

A baby lay on the wide rim of the fountain in the middle of the town square. It was sleeping quite peacefully, wrapped in tattered green blankets. It was impossible to tell its sex by looking at it, since the only visible part was its face, which was still a little scrunched and red. The baby couldn’t have been more then a day or two old, and Maude Leary was astonished that it was sleeping in such a precarious position, on such a cool evening.

Maude was a sweeper. She walked around town with an old-fashioned broom made with nice long bristles tied well with a metal wire, and swept the leaves from the middle of the sidewalk to the edges. She did this all day, every day, from five in the morning until five in the afternoon. She’d gotten the job when she was seventeen, and even with all the changes that had been made in town hall over the last few years, no one had had the heart to fire her, even though she was the only employee of her kind. Maude was sixty-three now, but she looked quite the same as she had when she’d boldly walked into the now defunct old town hall and requested a job. She was, perhaps, more lined than she’d been at seventeen, but she still had the same sandy hair, the same spattering of freckles over her nose and cheeks, and the same wiry figure. She still wore overalls day in and day out, with a different colored t-shirt for every day of the week.

Today was a Tuesday, so she was wearing her purple t-shirt. Because of the cool weather, she had a scarf wrapped around her neck, too. Her hip was cocked to one side as she leaned on the familiar broom and watched the baby sleep on. “Well, I’ll be,” she murmured to herself. The town square was empty in the quiet before everyone got out of work and rushed on home, and a bird was cheeping absentmindedly in the nearby tree, doing its duty to the setting sun.

Quite suddenly, the baby opened its eyes. Its eyes roved this way and that until it found Maude’s kind, slightly mischievous, face. Her wide eyes met the baby’s and in a moment they seemed to understand each other perfectly. Maude took three steps and closed the gap between them. She saw now that there was a note pinned to the green cloth the silent baby was wrapped in. In big, slightly shaky, letters, it said: I NEED A HOME. Maude clucked her tongue, a habit she’d copied from her mother years ago. “Whoever left you here is a beast,” she informed the baby. A little hiccup came out of the tiny, pink lips. “You can chastise me all you want for it, but I still say they’re a beast,” Maude answered.

The big bell in the church began to toll the hour. Maude picked the baby up. “Our shift is over, little one,” she told the baby firmly. “Let’s go and have some milk, hm?” As the office building spewed out men and women in suits and the church bell continued to ring, Maude stumped off home.

Flash Fiction – Mark

“Is it possible you just don’t know anything?” Mark barked, his voice pulled tight as a guitar string on the point of snapping. Beneath him, cowering, sat a twelve-year old girl. Her flaming red hair was fanned loose about her face and there was brilliant color in both of her cheeks.

“Daddy,” she whimpered. “Stop it. Please,” she begged.

“No! Not until you admit that I’m right! Gloria, look at me!” he demanded. His fists clenched at his sides, and the girl eyed them warily, her mind going to the bruise on her shoulder that had only just begun to turn yellow.

“Daddy, I-”

“Stop calling me that!” he roared.

“But-”

“I’M NOT YOUR DADDY!”

The girl’s face crumpled. She’d been doing this for months now, and it was getting to be too much for her to take. She remembered her mother telling her once that she needed to promise that she’d be good to Mark, that she’d help him get through the tough times. But it was hard, so hard, and she felt like a little girl. She wanted to curl up into her mother’s embrace and cry. She wanted to hear her favorite lullaby and then fall asleep, feeling safe and whole again.

“What?” Mark’s fists unclenched and his daughter risked peeking up at him. “What’s going on?” he asked. “Honey?” That whine, that fearful, childish note in his voice made the girl wince, but she got up slowly, leaning on the wall to help stable her shaking legs.

“Daddy?” she asked quietly.

“Oh, honey,” he said, reaching out a hand, his beautiful and familiar hand, to caress her cheek. “Did I do it again?”

“Daddy!” she cried and flung her arms around him. It was like this every time. She felt as if she were emerging from a bad dream. Mark hugged her back, but it wasn’t the embrace she remembered. It was weaker, frailer.

Dawn led him over to the couch and sat him down. She used to always sit on his knees, but now she settled beside him. He couldn’t take her weight easily anymore, and she knew it made him feel bad to try and fail to do so. “Do you want something to drink?” she asked quietly.

“Some water, please. Thanks, sweetie,” he smiled shakily, his head bobbing a little with the tremors that always took him when he was lucid. Dawn filled a glass in the kitchen with water, but changed her mind and poured it into a plastic cup. He’d broken a glass once before, and it was so hard to clean it up from the carpet. He didn’t seem to notice that she brought him one of the old green cups she used to drink in when she was a toddler, but drank greedily, reaching into his pockets for some pills.

“More?” she asked, reaching for the empty cup. He shook his head.

“Did I-” he paused and winced as he swallowed the pills. “What did I do?”

“You thought I was Mom again. And you were going to hit me…”

Mark’s eyes filled with tears. “I’m so sorry,” he murmured.

“Did you ever hit her?” Dawn asked. She kept her face icy cold, determined, once and for all.

“No, no, oh – darling, no!”

“Good.”

There was an uncomfortable silence. Dawn never knew what she should do. She knew that her father’s violence came from his confusion, from the utter displacement he felt when he got an attack. The doctor had said it was early onset Alzheimer’s Disease, but it looked to her as though her father was simply going mad. It was getting harder and harder to forgive him, to remember he was her father. It was a nightmare that never ended.

Mark watched his daughter. I’m losing her, he thought. She’ll be gone before I know it, and I won’t remember her anymore. The thought was more than he could bear. He burst into tears.

 

The Faeries Are Back

The faeries are back again. They say they’ve never been gone, but I’m sure that I haven’t seen them for more than five years. On my tenth birthday, I wished that they’d stop pestering me. I closed my eyes as hard as I could and blew out the candles in one go, thinking as hard as I could about my wish. It came true – the first and last of my birthday wishes to come true.

But I guess birthday wishes don’t hold forever. The faeries say I wasn’t specific enough. I didn’t say how long I wanted them to go away for. So they decided amongst themselves that five years is a good amount of time, and the went to bother someone else for a while. Well, like I said, they claim to have been here, but they just didn’t let me see them. They watched me while I slept, they say. How creepy is that?

Anyway, they’re back now, and they’re making my life even more complicated than it used to be. When I was really little, it was okay – everyone assumed that I was playing with my imaginary friends when I ran across the yard shrieking and batting my hands in the air. But when I grew up a little bit my mum started telling me to stop pretending. She’d tell me to stop pretending that I couldn’t get dressed because there were faeries in my shoes. She’d tell me to stop pretending that I couldn’t take a bath because the faeries were playing in it. She thought I was making it all up. My dad didn’t believe me either, I could tell, but he didn’t get mad at me. He just got this tired look on his face and sighed a lot when I talked about the faeries.

When I was nine, my mum sent me to a psychologist. He was a really tall man, and I can’t remember his face well. I can remember his office though – it was full of plushies and board-games. More like bored-games, if you ask me. We always played Shoots and Ladders or Monopoly or something, and he would ask me about the faeries. I remember that I got really impatient with him, because he talked in this sort of slow babyish voice. I don’t think he was a really good psychologist, because my friend, Natalie, goes to one now since she’s bi-polar, and she says that she likes hers. I guess it depends, just like with teachers.

So on my tenth birthday I wished the faeries away. But now they’re back.

They don’t call themselves “faeries.” That’s just what I call them. I don’t know what they call themselves, but I don’t think it’s a name I can pronounce. They don’t speak in English amongst themselves, and when they talk to me they have funny accents. They don’t look like storybook faeries at all, but I guess when I was little I just thought that anything that could fly and talk was a faerie. They’re very small, each one about the length of my finger now, but they don’t look like little humans at all. They’re really skinny, almost like twigs really, and their bodies are furry, like animals. They’re all different colors, browns and whites and grays with patterns and stuff on them. When I was in an art class for a while when I was seven, I made a sculpture of them out of pipe-cleaners. They roared with laughter when I showed it to them. I chucked it in the bin.

That’s the other thing about my faeries. They’re not very nice. They laughed at me all the time, and they got me into terrible trouble. Once, when my mum and dad were out, they started playing with a bowl that my gran made for my mum and they ended up breaking it. My gran was a potter, quite famous really. My mum says I get my artistic talents from her. That was before she died in a mental hospital, screaming about wicked things coming to get her. My mum never let me see her, I was too little I guess. My big sister, Diane, got to see her though, and so that’s how I know about gran being in the loony bin. Mum always lied to me and told me that gran died of a heart attack. I had nightmares for weeks after gran died about her having a heart attack while she was in the loony bin in a straight-jacket. It was awful.

So yeah, the faeries aren’t nice. When gran died, they didn’t even try to cheer me up. They just told me to… what was it they said? Oh, yes, they told me to “keep my chinny up-up and get better grades, ya ninny!” They’re full of weird advice like that. On the one hand, they yell at me to do better at school, and on the other hand they always bothered me during exams, so I got bottom marks.

After they went away, things got loads better. But, like I said, now they’re back.

Prettier Than You’d Think

Death sat in the shadows, and waited. She felt very stereotypical, as if she were playing by the rules. She hated conforming. But it was a hot day, and underneath the trees on the damp earth was the coolest place she could sit. As much as she didn’t like being as expected, she also didn’t think it was very attractive to see Death sweating profusely from her upper lip. So she waited, and watched.

A mother and child walked on the sidewalk in front of her. The mother didn’t look at her, because while one hand was holding onto the child tightly, the other was holding a cellphone almost as tightly and she was talking into it earnestly. It sounded like the producer was willing to change the shoot to February, but only if they could make sure that there would be a minimum of rainy days. Death snorted. So this woman thought she could control the weather? Ridiculous. The child, now, the child looked brighter than its mother. Death wasn’t sure if the little puffy thing with curly black hair was a boy or a girl, but either way, the child was looking straight at her with curiosity. Death considered anyone who was smart enough to look her in the eyes to be intelligent.

Death was a little bit of a snob. She couldn’t, of course, discriminate, not really, but she much preferred needing to deal with smart people who didn’t grovel, beg, whine or bribe her. Not that any of it would work, of course,  but that didn’t matter – so many people tried it anyway. Death had relented buy once in her time, and it had ended horribly. She’d received an official warning for it and everything, and she could’ve been sacked, but she managed to explain the circumstances (the bosses were such suckers for true love stories) and got pardoned. She couldn’t afford another mistake, though, which was why she was waiting in this spot well ahead of time.

Technically, her name was Death, Agent #900,345. But nobody needed to know that there were so many of them around – each person received the true and only Death, as far as they were concerned. So Death waited for her man, wondering what he would look like and whether he would be one she’d like.

A man walked in front of her now. He carried a briefcase, and his glasses were just geeky enough to be considered fashionable. He was in his late twenties, with light brown hair that was streaked back with some sort of hair product. He had a roundish face, stubble-free and still boyish, and his lanky frame made his for-the-office clothing seem just a little big on him. Death sniffed, once, and could tell he was the one. As he fell onto the sidewalk, suddenly, without ceremony, grace or aplomb, Death rose to meet him.

He stood there, looking down at himself. “What happened?” he asked as she neared him. And then, “You’re prettier than I thought you’d be.”

“You’ve been thinking about me? I’m flattered,” Death smiled at him and took his arm. She led him a little way away, and together they watched as people rushed towards his body, tried to revive him, pinched and moved and pushed him this way and that, screamed and called 911. Time seemed to speed forwards, and he was pronounced dead, his cellphone and ID found, and the medics called the first numbers there.

“They won’t find anyone real there, you know,” the dead man said.

“Oh?” Death asked.

“Yeah, I was kind of a corporate spy. My work cellphone had lots of fake people on it, in case the bosses got suspicious of me. My real phone’s at home.”

“Cool. Never had a corporate spy before,” Death said. She turned him so he faced her. “So.”

“So… what now?” the dead man asked.

“I don’t know. Why don’t you find out?” she answered. She gave him a slight shove in the chest. He looked at her, smiled, and laughed.

“You’re really much prettier than I thought you’d be,” the dead man said, before his image, still shadowing his body, disappeared.

Death spoke to the empty air where he’d been. “You’re not so bad looking yourself,” she said, and then looked at her schedule. Time to move on to the next one.