a ghost story

This week’s Indie Ink Writing Challenge comes from Supermaren:

Tell me a ghost story.

Alrighty then.

And my challenge, inspired by I-have-a-Neko-Case-song-stuck-in-my-head-as-per-usual-itis, went to Dili, whose response is here. And now, to business:

I’m just going to get this out of the way first: yes, I accidentally killed myself, and I probably deserve a Darwin Award, but it’s not like I could collect one now that I’m dead. You want to know what happened? Diet Coke. I was drinking a can of Diet Coke and I got the hiccups while taking a sip and actually inhaled it. Not a lot. I didn’t drown or anything. I got pneumonia. And here’s the funny part, as if inhaling Diet Coke isn’t funny enough: I got pneumonia, but I didn’t really know. Everybody always said that cigarettes were going to kill me, and I guess they were right, in a way. I just thought it was one of those coughs I would get sometimes, but no. And by the time I figured I should probably see a doctor, it was too late. What are the odds? I don’t know. I’ve never been the gambling type. But I will say this — it’s a surprisingly stupid way to go. Out of all the ways I thought I might die, with being happy and healthy but just really really old (and asleep at the time) being my personal favorite, aspirating Diet Coke and getting pneumonia wasn’t really anywhere close to being on the list.

I don’t think it would be on anybody’s list, really.

When I was a kid, I did the compulsory Sunday School thing and so for the longest time, I believed that there was a Heaven and a Hell and that after I died, if I did things the way I was supposed to, I would wind up in Heaven, which is, you know, the cosmic and eternal equivalent of “If you behave, I’ll take you for ice cream.” But like many who did the compulsory Sunday School thing, I wound up believing, after I got older, that when I died, I would just be dead. My reward for making it to the finish line would be to do nothing, not even think, ever again. It seemed like a fair deal to me, but I was wrong about that too, as it happens. Because now here I am. A ghost. It’s not like you see on TV, where I’m hanging around in some kind of limbo waiting for somebody like Jennifer Love Hewitt to help me cross over to the other side, because there is no other side. This is it. I’m not really sure what this is, but as far as I can tell, I’m just sort of stuck hanging around.

I thought it was lame too, in the beginning, but it’s not so bad, really. I mean, at first, I did all that stuff I thought I would do if I wound up as a ghost (not that I ever seriously considered being a ghost): I saw the pyramids, I finally finished reading Anna Karenina. And then I thought I might try to haunt somebody. Obvious choice, right? Most would probably do the haunting bit before getting to the other stuff, but I’ve always wanted to travel.

So I had it all picked out. I decided I would haunt my first love. Not because I had a bone to pick with him or anything, but because it seemed like the thing to do. I mean, seriously. It wasn’t like I was going to go haunt my parents or anything, and this guy, he’d always been very cute, so it wasn’t really that difficult a decision. I always wondered what he was up to, and I couldn’t find out because he wasn’t on Facebook. Yeah, I know, there are like three people in the world who aren’t on Facebook, and he’s one of them. The odds of that are probably the same as the odds that I would die by drinking Diet Coke. Really good odds, is what I’m saying.

You know how it is with first loves. You graduate from high school and never talk again. Not that we ever talked much when we were in high school. It was more like I secretly loved him and he had no clue because I thought I’d rather die than tell him how I felt, but now I know that being dead isn’t really that great of an option. I already said it wasn’t too bad, but it’s not too good either. Unlimited free travel, what with nobody able to see you when you sneak onto an airplane (just because I’m a ghost, it doesn’t mean I can teleport), but there are things that are really nice about being alive inside a physical body, like sex. Or being able to eat Doritos.

God, I miss Doritos.

So I decided I would check in with this first love of mine, now that I’ve shuffled off this mortal coil and know what dreams may come, et cetera, and I found him, sitting alone one evening in a diner. I watched him eat breakfast for dinner — an omelet (Denver), hash browns and toast (whole wheat, strawberry jam). He was reading a book, kind of, not really paying much attention to it, because every time someone would walk past, or enter or exit, he would look up and watch them, sort of absently, as if only noting that somewhere nearby, someone had moved. The book, it was history, and judging from the cover, it was about World War II. It’s a book I’ll probably never be induced to read, even though now I have all the time in the world. It’s a total fucking cliché, probably, but if there ever was a cliché that I could possibly find more perfect, I have no idea what it might be.

When he wasn’t registering motion around him and focused on his book, he’d frown a little while he read, the tiniest line appearing between his eyebrows, so tiny it was nearly imperceptible. That line would inexplicably deepen into a crease when he’d turn a page. Is it hard to turn a page? Was he trying to hang onto the sense of a sentence when it split between two pages? I don’t know. Can’t read minds, either.

I sat for awhile and watched him, watched him read, watched him occasionally worry at the small hole in the shoulder seam of his t-shirt. I could tell why I used to think he was the most attractive boy in the entire world. And I remembered being asked that question — if you could fly or be invisible, which one would you pick? — and how I thought it would be so fun to be invisible, but now I know that was just another one of those things I was so very wrong about.


7 thoughts on “a ghost story

  1. Oooh! I loved it! So introspective yet flippant–

    Diet Coke and pneumonia, LMFAO! I’m not sure what ass you pulled that one out of, but it’s just awesome…


  2. I am not a fan of ghost stories but I loved yours, you took it in exactly the right direction! 🙂 Also, I totally agree with Jason, Diet Coke and pneumonia, stroke of genious!


  3. “Most would probably do the haunting bit before getting to the other stuff, but I’ve always wanted to travel.”

    Love this. The whole thing really, but this particular line struck me as quite brilliant.


  4. I totally dug the fact you didn’t go for the scary, spooky angle as many (including me) would have. And attacking it from the first person (ghost) perspective fit perfectly. Finally, while almost no one knows how they’re going to die, I dare say your choice of going to the great beyond via diet coke and pneumonia was, all things considered, pretty damn original and funny.


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