We offer this week’s edition of ‘Very short stories r us’ in honor of Halloween. Warning: ghoulish.
After Charlie died he was more at ease. Once you’ve reconstituted yourself from your own ashes, you tend to have a positive attitude about things. It was three a.m. and he was naked, walking down the street, feeling great. “Get some clothes!” yelled a young man smoking a cigarette on his fire escape. “I will!” Charlie yelled back, smiling and waving under the streetlamp. He walked into the park, known to be dangerous during the dark hours. He strolled along a wooded path, enjoying the cool night air on his skin, the soft dirt on the soles of his feet, and the sweet fragrance of the flowers and trees. A man who was a murderer and a thief approached him and pressed a bloody knife to his neck. “Hi,” Charlie said. “I’m going to kill you,” said the man. “Why?” Charlie asked, gesturing at his own naked, possessionless self. “I just killed a guy over there and you saw me do it.” “I didn’t.” “Well but now I’ve told you.” “True, but I’m already dead so you can’t kill me.” The man looked Charlie up and down and said, “I wish I was dead.” “I know the feeling. In life I was mean and alone and hated and miserable and poor. I did a lot of harm to myself and others. I, too, wanted to die, but I didn’t kill myself, I was run over by a garbage truck. I see now that it’s not a good idea to harm yourself or others.” “Yeah, I guess you’re right. Listen, you need breakfast or something?” “Okay.” The murderer threw his bloody knife into the woods and they walked to his apartment, which was spacious and clean and tastefully furnished. “All this stuff is stolen. Have a seat at the kitchen table and I’ll make us some eggs, but first put on these sweatpants, I’d rather not have your naked dead buttocks on one of my kitchen chairs, I just had them re-upholstered.” The murderer was a good cook and Charlie enjoyed his first post-life meal. “I’m exhausted,” his host said, “I need to sleep.” “Okay, well, thanks so much for the meal.” Charlie got up to go and the man said, “Uh, I hope this doesn’t sound weird, but would you mind lying down with me?” Charlie thought about it. “No, I wouldn’t mind.” They went to the bedroom, where the murderer stripped down to his underwear and climbed under the fluffy comforter of his king-size bed. Charlie climbed in from the other side and lay on his back. The man scooted over, draped his arm gently across Charlie’s chest, and pressed the front of his body against Charlie’s side. As the sun came up over the river out the window, the men fell asleep. Being dead, Charlie experienced himself and this man as two tiny animate objects in a light-filled corner of the vast universe. And then they were not two objects but two aspects of the same larger thing. Charlie knew all the man’s memories, feelings, and thoughts, a catalogue of ugliness, squalor, hatred, and abuse. Waves of fear and anger and sadness and, above all, tenderness coursed through him. At midday he and the man woke up and looked at each other. “How do you feel?” the man said. “I feel good,” Charlie replied. “You?” “Lousy as ever. Are you going to leave now?” “Yes.” “Here, take this suit.” The man went to his closet and pulled out a beautiful blue linen suit and a white dress shirt. He gave Charlie underwear, socks, and shoes, too. They parted company with a handshake. Charlie looked deep into the man’s eyes and the man had to look away. Strolling down the street that warm sunny afternoon, Charlie realized that in addition to clothes he would need some money. He came up with an idea for a new business, a sure-fire winner. He walked into a bank and was ushered into a pleasant glass-walled office by a loan officer named Cheryl. He smiled at her and she smiled back. They chatted about her children, of whom there was a photograph on her desk. He described his idea, Cheryl said, “Wow, that sounds amazing, Charlie,” and gave him the loan application form. On the form, Charlie gave the murderer’s address as his own, he didn’t think the murderer would mind. He wrote in a few other plausible and harmless lies where necessary, since, for example, being dead, he had no credit history, but he told the truth wherever possible. “I don’t usually do this, but let me go expedite your approval. I’ll be back soon.” Cheryl walked out with Charlie’s papers and returned a while later smiling. “You’re approved!” “Terrific, Cheryl, thanks so much.” “Take these papers to the teller at the front and you’re all set.” They chatted and joked a bit more, shook hands, and Charlie walked out of Cheryl’s office. She sat down at her desk and sighed with pleasure. In her enjoyment of Charlie’s company, she had forgotten for a moment that her husband had not returned home last night and that she had not heard from him. She did not yet know, of course, that he was lying stabbed to death in the park ten blocks away.