The Newly Dead
from Part 1
by Jesse S. Mitchell
None of the heads in Steele County are ever empty. No one walks around blank, nothing hollow to these minds. All throughout the entirety of the area a thousand, a million different theories, opinions, rumors spin in and out of control, undulating, passing back and forth from head to head…sometimes by means of verbal communication. Not that verbal communication, in its purest form, is even necessary…these people can read a bent up brow and a tan-lined finger like a book. Better than a book. Better than scholars. Or so you would think. You would be wrong. One hundred thousand different thoughts running loose in the cavernous singularity that is the region and not one thing is ever done or changed or taught. Changed…to have changed…to change…none of that happens…always thinking and spying and talking and spying but never ever changing…not their minds, not their attitudes, not their behaviors. While the inhabitants of Steele County are by nature inquisitive, curious, even playful people, they somehow remain stubbornly conservative.
Mainly just a college town, surrounded by fields of soybeans, corn and hidden marijuana, with 50,000 erstwhile and dedicated souls and an annual increase of population when the 20,000 to 30,000 students return and give the appearance of a larger, more urban area. The whole place is crumbling apart. Everyone knows it is falling down. Everyone has been hit and injured by the tumbling debris…no way to ignore it. The shape everything is in can clearly be seen. Earthy, rough cultured, but ain’t nobody blind, ain’t nobody vacuous. No one’s oblivious.
A highway runs up and over an empty lot and slides over an abandoned house…like the roof of the house was built specially to ram the interstate highway up and quickly away. A fence runs around the lot and connects up to itself on the left side of the front yard, containing the whole backyard and much of the front yard with the derelict lot. Walking up the sidewalk in a long black coat, my hands buried deep in the pockets and my collar popped up, I see a small boy standing in the far corner of lot. The corner is lower in elevation than the rest of the yard and house and is flooded with brackish brown water. The little boy is striking the surface of the water with a stick, waits a minute and then strokes the ripples with his finger. He repeats this several times and doesn’t even notice me as I walk up behind but still across from him on the other side of the fence. His dark brown hair is clipped tight, close to his head. His clothes are spotless except for a few tiny mud dots. He looks like a child much loved. This is no place for him.
“What is your name?”
“Go home Andre.”
He squints up at me and looks back down at the pool of water.
“Go on home.”
“No place for you. Go on now.”
“You ain’t my momma.”
I twist up my face in a lightly grim and possibly grotesque vestige of half-hearted evil and proceed to walk through the fence like a breeze would blow and I do it all without breaking eye contact with Andre and without taking my hands out of my pockets. I hope it is the worst thing he will ever have to see. He looks at me, scared to death; he backs away and starts toward home. As he runs, I yell at him.
“You shouldn’t talk to strangers, Andre.”
I walk through the pockmarked yard and towards the backdoor of the house. It was my house when I was alive…but that has not been since 1978. I think everything has held up pretty well. Why, the old the doorbell even still works. Good mid-century craftsmanship.
I find it interesting that with all the talk and philosophizing done in this hamlet, all opining and figuring…the one thing no one seems to have any theory about is the existence of life after death. Everyone around here just accepts it as perfectly real and rational and, to go a step further, they accept the existence of heaven and hell and sin and reward…the whole lot. The one thing I happen to be able to speak with authority on and there is no real discussion. Unfair. I certainly know that there is life after death. The rest of it…apparently not…but then again, I am unsure. You see, the whole time I have been…dead…I have yet to meet another…well, dead person, ghost, spirit, angel, god, anything, nothing. And oddly enough I can still see and hear and speak to the living. I don’t know if I can touch them. I have been too afraid to try. I can touch solid physical objects, so it stands to reason that a living human would be no different, but every time I almost find out, empirically (that is the way I was raised), every time I reach a trembling finger out to touch, my head spins…what if the mere touch of my flesh would drop another person dead? Therefore, I just try to keep my hands to myself in the pockets of my coat.