Copyright © 2013 by Brian Bixby.
I can tell it’s going to be a bad day when I see my own grave. “Kristen Davies, 1990-2012, May She Rest in Peace” says the stone on my grave. There’s even a picture of me on it. The turf in front of the stone looks like it was planted with grass some time ago. If I can judge from appearances, I’ve been dead a while.
I give myself a look over. Yep, still all here. Well, except for the clothes, I’m not wearing any. That’s kind of embarrassing. Sort of like one of those dreams you have. I suppose I am going to be late for an exam I haven’t studied for, too.
Hmm, joke’s on me. I am wearing clothes: jeans, walking shoes, heavy shirt, jacket. This is one of my fall outfits. Which, now that I look around, makes a lot of sense. The leaves have turned and a lot have fallen off the trees. The sky is cloudy and gray, and there’s a chill in the air.
I turn and look around. It’s the local cemetery, all right. I’ve been here many times before, at least once on a late night necking session. It doesn’t look much changed, except for my own grave. No one else is in the cemetery. So exactly what am I doing here? Rising from the grave, apparently. I don’t remember dying, but I suppose one wouldn’t. I pull my wallet out of my jeans, flip through it. $120 in cash here, damn, those undertakers must be generous. I rarely carry more than $20. I guess I wasn’t mugged and killed, like that would happen in this town.
It’s the wallet that convinces me I’m not dead. It’s too prosaic a detail, and no one gets buried with their wallet. Besides, everyone in my family’s been cremated when they’ve died. “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” you know. So if I were going to rise from the grave, I’d come up as a something that looks like a sandstorm. The idea brings forth a laugh. I suspect sense of humor also dies when you’re dead. More proof I’m alive.
I don’t remember why I’m here, but there’s no point in staying in the cemetery. I take my bearings, and head toward the front entrance. The first step I take past the gates and out of the cemetery, the sky just goes dark. It’s night. I look back. The cemetery’s in night, too. Creepy.
Cars pass by with their headlights on. I try to thumb a ride while walking back to town. No one stops. Am I invisible, or what? I suppose if I’m a ghost they might not be able to see me. But I’m casting a shadow from the headlights. I don’t know how that could be if I’m a ghost. And it’s not like there are many cars coming along this road. It goes up into the hills and dead-ends. I walk along, hear my feet swish through the leaves, feel the cool air in my lungs. I like walking. I just wish I remembered why I’d been in the cemetery, and why there’s a grave with my name.
I finally get out to the highway. It’s the state highway, two lanes, carries most of the traffic in and out of town. I can see Charlie’s, the local hot spot, is lit up just down the road. There are about the usual number of cars in the parking lot. I decide to go there. I could use a drink, and I’m sure to find some familiar faces.
And then I remember that I’m usually carrying my cell phone, a cell phone with phone numbers for scores of people. What an idiot! I fish my cell phone out of my pocket, turn it on. A text message pops up:
U r ded Kris ☺
Someone’s got a lousy sense of humor. Who’s it from? I don’t recognize the phone number. No bars for reception. No bars? That doesn’t make much sense. Charlie’s is just down the road. I get four bars there, usually.
So take a hike to Charlie’s, Kris. You just were saying to yourself how much you like walking. I turn off the cell phone, stick it away, and head down the road. Halfway to the bar, my phone beeps to let me know I have another text. I yank it out, turn it on.
Stil ded ☺
Shit! I almost drop it. Weird, there are still no bars for reception. How did this message make it to my phone? I’ve heard that sometimes the only thing that will get through is a text message, like when the cell towers are overloaded. Maybe that’s it. Still, no bars. I text back, “U wil B ded ahole” and try to send it. With no bars, it doesn’t go through. Great. So I put the phone away. Time to hit Charlie’s and forget this nonsense.
I can open doors, at least. I walk in, don’t see anyone familiar, so I grab a stool at the bar. The bartender comes over, someone I don’t recognize. I order a margarita, because I need something like that on a night like this. The bartender serves me without any trouble. See, I’m not dead, whoever you are, a-hole. The margarita tastes damn good, too.
I look around some more for someone familiar. I expect to see someone. After all, the town’s not that big, and a lot of people I know hang out here. I catch sight of Jill and Karen at a booth. They’re there with two guys I don’t recognize, probably guys from Springfield. I pick up my drink, walk over, and say, “Hey, gal pals, going to introduce me to the new guys?”
All four of them look my way at once. The guys are checking me out. Jill and Karen are just looking puzzled. After about fifteen seconds, Jill says “Who the hell are you?”
I go cold inside. I’m so surprised, I don’t know what to say at first. What am I, a ghost? A ghost that drinks margaritas? And then it comes to me. They must know who I am. I must have done something wrong, something I don’t remember, and Jill for sure isn’t speaking to me anymore. Karen’s not the type to buck Jill. I’m tempted to argue, but I feel really cold and a bit frightened. So instead I turn around. I go back to the bar, take back my stool. As I sit down, I realize I’m not just cold, I’m also a bit shaky. I didn’t expect anything like that to happen to me. And on top of finding myself in the cemetery.
I need to think. What’s going on? Well, what’s the last thing I remember? I graduated from college, ’cause I remember marching at graduation. What did I do during the summer? I had a job, something I got because I needed some money, but it was only a temporary thing, I think. Yeah, temporary until I could . . . something. My memory must be seriously fucked up, because that’s all I can remember.
I look up, and see Tom Markowitz behind the bar. Tom’s tended bar here for years. And he’s a neighbor just down the street. And he’s always kidding with me. I feel a big surge of relief. Tom won’t play some stupid game on me. “Hey, Tom!” I call out.
Tom comes over. “What will you have?” he says in a routine voice.
I’m learning. I realize just from his tone of voice that Tom doesn’t recognize me. Why the hell not? Well, stupid, ask. “You don’t recognize me, do you, Tom?” I’m horrified to hear how weak my voice sounds. But that’s how I feel. This is too much.
Tom gives me a careful once over. “Nope. You someone who left town in elementary school or something? If so, I’m sorry, I’m not that great at recognizing people after a few years.”
A few years? No, irrelevant. I plead, “Tom, don’t you recognize me? I’m Kristen, Kristen Davies, like just down the street. Y’know?”
I’ve said something wrong. Tom gets this disgusted look on his face. In an angry voice, he says, “Bad joke, lady. Bother me like that one more time and I’ll have you thrown out of here.” He glares at me, turns his back, and walks down the bar. I can see him saying something to the other bartender.
Now I’m really cold. I pick up my drink and I can’t keep it steady. I put it down, spilling some of it. Get hold of yourself, Kristen. Whatever the hell is going on, I’m me. But I need to take a look at myself. What if I’ve had plastic surgery and don’t remember it?
I gulp down the rest of my drink in a hurry. I don’t know what’s going on, but I’m going to figure this out. And my first stop is going to be the rest room. I get up, go to the rest room. I need to prove I’m who I am, that I look like me. But when I walk into the rest room, I can’t bear to look at the mirror at first. I go use the john. I delay as long as I can. And then I get up, pull up my pants, open the door, and walk straight to the mirror over the sink. I look in the mirror.
It’s me. It’s really me. I don’t look radically different or anything. I feel relieved for a moment. And then I have to wonder, why then didn’t Tom recognize me? Why the hell did telling him who I am get me in trouble, when I look fine?
I think to check my cell phone. It’s always worked in here before. I turn it on. There’s a message:
Ded ded ded ded ☺
Shit. And there’s still no bars. This is well and truly screwed up.
Someone comes in. It’s Ms. Delacroix, one of my high school English teachers. She’s like only a decade older. She’s cool. She wears great clothes, even when she teaches. And tonight she looks great, as usual. I greet her. “Hey, Ms. Delacroix, it’s me, Kristen Davies. How ya doin’?”
Ms. Delacroix turns to me. I see that she doesn’t recognize me, either, and my stomach ties up in knots. In dismissive tones, she says, “I don’t know who you are, but you must be drunk.” She tries to walk past me to enter a stall. But I don’t let her. I grab her, spin her about so she’s facing me. “C’mon, Ms. Delacroix, you remember me. I did the junior year project on Wuthering Heights, the one we did as a play.”
Ms. Delacroix remembers, that I can see. But then that look is followed by anger. “This joke is in very poor taste. Let go of me now or I’ll have you thrown out of here.”
I have to persuade someone! I mean, if I can’t even persuade Ms. Delacroix, I’m doomed. I tell her, “I’m not joking. I’m Kristen Davies. You wrote one of my college recommendations.”
Ms. Delacroix suddenly looks like she remembers. “Oh, Kristen, yes, I’m sorry, I’ve just had a lot on my mind, why just . . .” And then she pulls something out of her purse and points it at me. And the next second, my face is in flames with pepper spray. I can’t see a thing. I step back, trip, and fall on my ass. It hurts. Between that and the pepper spray and people not knowing me and the cemetery, I just start crying. And then I hear voices. I call for help and some people come in. They help me up, walk me out of there, and then start hustling me through the bar. What the hell is going on? I try to ask them to stop, but I’m so confused and congested and crying that it comes out as just so much noise. And then I feel the outdoor air. There’s a person on either side of me. They let go of me and give me a push. I stagger and fall, land on the gravel with my hands and knees.
“And don’t come back!” someone yells.
I just lie there, crying. At one point, some woman sees me, offers to help, and brings out someone, who tells her I’m a stupid drunk and to leave me alone.
I don’t know how long I’m there. But finally I sit up, wipe my nose with my jacket sleeve. My hands are cut. My jeans are torn. One knee is bleeding from a cut. I stand up. I can walk.
There’s no point in staying here. I can’t go back in. There’s really only one place for me to go. There’s one place where I can find out just what the hell is happening. I’m going home.
It’s a half hour walk across town, normally. But my interest in walking is gone. The right knee is cut, the left hurts when I use it. And I must look like a mess. I pick my course to stay off the highway, go down the side streets. I don’t want people to see me. And I don’t know if that’s because I’m a mess, or because I’m afraid I’ll run into more people who refuse to know me.
It takes me an hour to get home. I stand in front of the house, thinking this business will finally be over. Or at the very least I can get off this bad knee. It really hurts now, even when I’m not moving.
I reach into my pocket for the house keys, and find they aren’t there. Well, who buries a corpse with house keys? Shut up, Kristen. You’re not dead, I don’t care what the prankster on the phone says. I think to take out the phone.
Hurt much ded gurl? ☺
I’ll hurt the living daylights out of you, whoever you are, when I find you.
I’d go in the side door, but I don’t want to walk any farther. So I go up the steps onto the porch, step to the front door, find it’s locked (as I expected), and ring the doorbell. It’s a familiar sound, and I relax. I’ll get to bed, and tomorrow I’ll find out just what the hell is going on.
My mother opens the door, looks at me. “Yes?”
No. Not my mother, no. I don’t need this. I just say to her, “I’m tired, Mom. Just let me in and save the questions for tomorrow.”
She cries out, and slams the door in my face.
I get flaming mad for a second, and then just start crying. I lean against the screen door and cry. My own mother! What’s happening? Why why why why why?
I’m crying there for maybe like five minutes when the door opens. I look, and it’s my father. I can barely cry out, “Dad!”
He doesn’t recognize me, either. In stern tones, he says, “We’ve summoned the police. They’ll be here in a few minutes.” And he steps back to close the door.
I can’t take it. “Dad, please!” I yank open the screen door and grab for him. He spins around, enraged, and smashes his fist in my face. I stagger back, trip on my own feet, and fall. My head whacks into the porch floor.
I don’t really remember much about what happens next. My head is ringing. My face hurts. My left knee is in agony. Some people come. It must be cops, because they turn me over and handcuff me. All I can do is cry for my parents. And they aren’t going to answer. No one is.
The cops try to get me to stand, but I can’t. Somehow they get me into their cruiser and to the station. I don’t notice. I don’t care. My parents didn’t recognize me. Mom didn’t recognize me. My own mother. It’s all I can think about.
My head finally stops ringing when the cruiser stops at the station. The cops come to get me out. I can’t walk. They carry me into the station.
I don’t bother following what happens next. Any time they ask me anything, I tell them, “My name is Kristen Davies.” That doesn’t satisfy them. After a few times like that I finally tell them to check my wallet. As I might have figured, it’s not in my pocket anymore. Neither is the cell phone. There’s nothing in my pockets. I might as well not exist.
I get registered as “Jane Doe 3, alias Kristen Davies.” They turn me over to a police woman who helps me strip down to my panties and sticks me into some sort of prisoner’s uniform. No belts, nothing I can hurt myself with. And I get dumped into a cell, all by myself.
I hurt. I’m alone. No one knows me. Christ, even my parents don’t know me. Even my mother doesn’t know me. Or something. If they don’t know me, why are so many of them angry when I mention my name? Maybe I’m not Kristen Davies. Maybe there never was such a person. Maybe I’m delusional. My wallet disappeared. My cell phone disappeared. I don’t have my keys.
Hey, wait! I paid for the margarita with cash out of my wallet. That proves I’m not delusional. Right? You can’t pay for something with money from a wallet if you didn’t have a wallet.
So what did I do, lose the wallet? Maybe it fell out in the parking lot. Maybe on the porch. Unless I never paid for it. Unless I just had cash in my pocket. Unless I just made up the whole memory. I don’t know.
Maybe I’d be better off dead, resting in that grave, underneath that headstone. Maybe I should never have left the cemetery. Ghosts shouldn’t walk among the living, should they?
I don’t know what to do, so I do nothing. I lie there on the hard mattress. And then I hear a noise. It’s my cell phone, the cell phone I didn’t have that was in the pocket of the jeans I’m not wearing. I pull it out of the crummy pants I’ve got on. It’s my cell phone all right. I open it up.
Wish U wer ded? ☺
I fling the cell phone away in a rage, scream, and start crying again. The policewoman who stripped me comes by, looks in, shrugs and leaves.
After I stop crying, I just sit there on the mattress.
And then I remember the cell phone. I’ve got over a hundred phone numbers in that phone. They can’t all be mad at me! I go to get the phone from where I threw it. It’s not there. I threw it in a corner, and it’s not there. It’s not anywhere in the cell. You’d think I’d have a cell phone in a cell. Cell, cell phone. Get it? It’s funny. It has to be funny. The cell phone has to be here. But I know it isn’t. I look for it again, all over the cell. That takes two minutes. And then I go sit on the mattress, because there’s nothing else to do.
I’m no one. Nobody. Nothing to do. No one wants me. No one knows me.
“Well, don’t you look pretty!”
The voice startles me. At first I figure I’m delusional, that I’m hearing myself. Then I look up.
Standing just outside the cell door is Patty Shoemaker. She’s one of the last people I’d ever want to see. We loathed each other in high school. And it’s not like we’ve been on friendly terms since. Patty’s hated me ever since John Fraines dumped her for me. But she knows who I am right now, and that makes her numero uno in my books for the moment. I stagger up, limp to the door, grab onto the bars. “Patty, you know who I am!” I practically cry on her, I’m so happy someone knows me.
She laughs, reaches out, pinches my chin. “Of course I do. I put you here, bitch.” And then she slaps me.
I’m off balance and my knee still hurts, so I clutch at the bars on the door to keep from falling. The moment I recover, I lunge for Patty. But she steps back, just out of reach. And she reaches into her purse and pulls out a mirror, turns it to me. In a voice happy to be putting it to me, she says, “Oh, and see what a mess you are?”
I look in the mirror. One side of my face is a huge bruise. My eye makeup looks like it ran down my face but got partly cleaned away. My eyes are red from crying. But I’m me.
Patty puts away the mirror. “You’re a pathetic mess, Kris. No one wants you. No one knows you. And that’s the way it’s always going to be, from now on.” She’s grinning from ear to ear.
I don’t hate Patty, I just despise her. But right now that’s veering pretty damn closely to eternal never-to-be-ended hatred. She’s not here to help. Somehow, she’s here to taunt me, to hurt me. How? I want to strike back at her, so I dredge up an old high school story and say to her, “And what are you here for, Patty? They book you for being a whore?”
Patty gets angry for a moment, then looks amused. “Still high and mighty, aren’t you, Kris? Nope, I’m just a visitor here. I can leave any time I want. I just came here to see what a loser you are. You’re the one who’s behind bars. You’re the one booked as a drunken homeless person who harasses people, probably a psycho. Ah, they’re so close to the truth. And you know, bitch, it’s never going to end. And every time, I’ll be sending you little messages on your cell phone. So la-de-da, bitch.”
I try again to reach through the bars of the cell door to grab her, but she’s too fast and I’m too clumsy. Patty backs away, laughing. I shout at her, “What the hell do you know about this, you . . .” I search for a word.
Patty gives me a knowing smile. “Winner, I think is the word. And I know all about it. I’m the one who did it to you, Kris. And you’re never going to escape.”
“Did what to me? Did what?” I practically scream at her.
Patty shrugs. “Oh, I don’t know.” She laughs. “Oh, yes, I do. You see, Kris, you’re really dead. Really.”
“Bullshit, Patty, I’m alive, which is more that they’ll say about you once I get my hands on you.”
Patty clucks with her tongue. “Now, Kris, musn’t give people more reason to think you’re a psycho. But I really did kill you. It was in October of 2012. I got some friends to bash you in the head, and then we took you out in the woods and sacrificed you. It was really, really fun to hear you scream.” She paused, apparently enjoying the memory. “And ever since, every year, you rise from the grave without a clue as to what happened. You try to get your pathetic life back. But people don’t see you as Kris Davies, no, they see you as a stranger.” She wags her finger at me. “A stranger who tries to tell them she’s a girl who was murdered years ago. Every year you go back and see your parents, and they think you’re some drunk who’s harassing them over their murdered daughter. You are just the lowest of the low, as far as they’re concerned. Your parents hate you now. So does everyone else you meet. And when dawn comes, you’ll go back to your grave and forget, and do it all over again next year.” Patty looks positively gleeful.
All I can think to say is, “You’re lying!”
She gives me a mock sorrowful face. “Oh, no, Kris. I’m not. That’s the way you’re going to be, for the rest of eternity. You’ll do nothing but hurt the people who knew you. And then as the years pass by, things will change, and you won’t recognize things, and you’ll become even more pathetic. I’ll have to come back here in twenty or thirty years, and watch it happen.”
This can’t be happening. She’s making it all up. But it’s all true. No, it isn’t. “You’re lying,” I say again, “lying, lying lying, lying, lying.” She has to be.
Patty shakes her head. “But how could you tell anyhow, Kris? I almost wish you did remember from year to year. But seeing you so clueless is part of the fun.” Patty turns, starts to walk away, and then comes back. “Oh, by the way, after you died, your brother Jim was so broken up that he let me take him home one night. He’s never been quite the same ever since. I’ll let you imagine how he’s changed. Ta-ta!”
Patty turns and does walk away for good this time. I scream after her, which brings the policewoman running. “What are you making all this racket for?” she yells at me.
“Who let that bitch Patty Shoemaker in here?” I scream at her.
“Ain’t no one been in here but you, Miss Whatever-Your-Name-Is. Now stop screaming, or I’ll have them put restraints on you.”
I stop. That would be the end of me. That would prove I’m a mental case. So instead, in a squeaky voice, I ask, “There was no one who came in to visit? No one about my age?”
The policewoman shakes her head. “No one.”
And that’s that. There’s nothing more to say. Patty Shoemaker can creep into this jail and out again without people seeing her. She’s some sort of witch, and she’s cursed me. I give up. I go back, sit down on the mattress, and stare at the wall. The policewoman watches me for a bit, and then goes away.
I lose track of time. Why should I care? I’m doomed. But that can’t be right. Sacrifices, curses, they’re not real. I just must be crazy. I see people who aren’t there. I think I’m someone who’s dead and buried. Come morning they will take me to an institution and I will have drugs to keep me quiet while I wile away the years before I die. Somehow that seems preferable to what Patty said she did to me. So she can’t be real, either.
But I’m real. I feel my face with my fingers. I’m me. Even the mirrors say so. But people don’t recognize me. People get mad at me. And that fits with what Patty said. So what if she was telling the truth? She can’t be, but it all fits. How would she know what’s been happening to me, unless she did it? In which case, I really am dead somehow, even though I’m walking about on one bum knee. I’m a ghost that no one wants. And Patty did something to my brother Jim, too, because killing me and doing this to me isn’t enough.
It will keep repeating itself, year after year. People will get older, and I won’t understand why. My family and friends will move away. Someday I’ll go to my home and my parents won’t be there and I’ll bother some total strangers. And then Charlie’s will burn down or get converted into a strip club or something, and I’ll look like a total fool going in there.
It’ll get worse. In a hundred years, I’ll rise from the grave, and nothing will be the same at all. I’ll be dressed so out of style people will think I’m a homeless person. I’ll go to see my home, and other people will be living there. And they’ll be so used to me showing up, they won’t even bother to jail me. The moment anyone sees me, they’ll take me to whatever sort of institution they have in the future for crazy people. And they’ll use all of their science to cure me. And none of it will work. And they’ll turn me into a vegetable trying. And then dawn will come, I will go out like a candle, and then it will repeat next year, death everlasting.
Heh. Maybe when day comes I have to walk back to the cemetery, and kill anyone who stops me. Maybe I go up in flames with the dawn, like the vampire in that Scandinavian film.
I just sit there sobbing for a while. I don’t really care enough to cry. And then I get angry. This can’t be happening. Patty has to be lying. What she’s described is like a curse. It’s magic. It’s not real. Get hold of yourself, Kristen McAllister Davies. Patty’s always hated you, but she can’t do magic. She can’t change the laws of physics and all that. She’s playing with your head. But how did she know I’d be here? How did she know what’s happened?
My cell phone beeps. It’s in my pocket again. Oh, God, no. I let it beep. I won’t look at it. It beeps over and over. I can’t look at it. It can’t be there. ’Cause if it is, then what Patty’s said is real, and I’m doomed.
I take the cell phone out of my pocket. I try not to look at the screen. If I don’t look, there’s nothing there. I look.
Ded til dawn, bitch ☺
And then it flashes the time, “7:10 AM.” Just once, and the battery dies. I look out the cell window, and see the dawn is coming.
There’s no hope for me. I really am dead. What did Patty say, it’s already been several years? And I’ve probably done about the same thing every time. And I’ll always go home. And my parents will hate me. And then they’ll be gone. And then everyone who knows me will be gone.
But I’ll still be here. Why? I don’t remember. And just where am I? I’ve never seen this place before. I remember standing in front of my grave, I think . . .