a short story
Gary Baker, October 2012
"No!" She swatted his hand away with physical ease and turned her back to him before realizing what had just happened. Her eyes then welled up with tears as she looked back over to him.
No one else seemed to even deign to notice as they passed with their daily haste and need to be on time or something similar. When at last the current of bodies lulled again, Lindsay spoke again in a mere whisper of horror. "Why me?" She trembled on the ledge overlooking a small copse of trees beside a duck pond just meters off, appearing cold despite the warming weather.
But answer her, Nym could not. If these really were actual events--anything other than visions of an insanely vivid, lucid dream--then she had a valid point. As their mutual supervisor, Mana, had mentioned back at work moments ago, Nym had had a close relationship of over seven years. He and his girlfriend hadn't even finished their lives together, the drunken driver having stolen his life away far too soon to even let him say goodbye. She was amazing, his best friend--beautiful, elegant, smart, and wise beyond her years--so why was it that he would find himself visiting another postmortem? Loose ends had nothing on this. More existed between his near-fiance than with this female co-worker with whom he had barely spoken so much as a short conversation before.
"It's Lindsay, Nym."
"Right." Nym stepped back, dejectedly. He let his hand fall to his side and hang there, useless.
More people going about their daily rounds passed. Women walked by in suits as well as men, joggers went by making laps of whole city blocks, cafe employees carried bags of trash into the alley dumpsters at the corner, and tourists photographed the world one click at a time. None of them seemed to notice him, and so Nym moved to sit on the ledge behind Lindsay to avoid the eerie contact of living flesh with ethereal with a loud sigh. It wasn't a feeling he enjoyed particularly well.
When Nym began to wonder where the end of the crowd was, he sighed again and nudged the girl's shoulder lightly. "Look, this sounds odd since--well, you know--but the silence is killing me here." He watched her lips quirk into a small smile, "so I have an idea: when you want to say something to me, act like you are on the phone!"
Lindsay shifted her long, bi-chromatic hair with one hand as if accepting a call on a hidden Bluetooth headset and grinned abstractly towards him. "You always were one to talk forever. Well I guess now we both know how true that is."
Finally, Nym thought, a smile!
With a smile of his own, Nym shrugged. "You expected something different from me?"
Her smile faded and she stared at her feet. "Actually I don't really know what I expected from you."
"Well, to be fair, neither did I." He blinked, watching the famous flock of green and blue parrots pass by up above between skyscrapers and low hanging clouds. "I still don't. Not really, at least."
She gave him a quizzical look with her head tilted to one side. "How do you mean?"
The clouds moved lazily by, dragging their shadows like chained men dragging the iron ball through desert plains, and the parrots swung by once more with chittery voices before arching high above a somewhat shorter business building. The glass windows reflected the somber faces of evaporated water and air, glistening with condensation as the parade floated on by. Nym pinched his lips into an awkward frown of thought. "Just that," he breathed suddenly. "I never knew what I wanted from life, never planned for anything. I always told myself that I was destined for something great, whether it was fanatically saving some nation from nuclear war and the destruction of humanity or stopping a child from running out into a busy street. I never expected this, you see."
He looked to her with a portion of trembling fear all his own. Who knew that a person could feel fear in the afterlife, of all places? "I was never content with what I had, always seeing something greater just ahead. I settled for some, I'll admit, but mostly I longed for a perfect life."
Nym shook his head as if to clear his thoughts. "I expected things to be easy. So when they got hard I couldn't cope."
Lindsay shivered, blue eyes opened wide with shock. "You don't mean...?"
He glanced at her, a quick shake of his head, and back to the glistening glass towers. "No," the blue and gray buildings held themselves so perfectly still that it was hard to believe the world was even moving at all. "No I could never do that, El."
She didn't refute his pet name for her, so he smiled slightly and went on. "It isn't my place to do that to anyone. The grief, the loathing, the hate... they aren't something I would be willing to leave behind."
"It wouldn't be negative," Lindsay cooed. "Sure, the pain wouldn't be a good thing either, but no one would hate you for doing something that you felt was right."
Nym was silent. Worlds away, life would be sprouting from nothingness, understandable and visible only to the deceased of the human species, capable of finally leaving their physical bodies to move into stellar exploration. Somewhere else out there sentient forms would be sending signals to seek out others like themselves, the relay taking millennia to reach the next closest star, let alone the next thoughtful species. Again, only the deceased might reach such a region of space to see them as they were when the signal was sent, and yet the desire that might have driven him had he been alive was nowhere to be found.
He knew they were there, now. If he reached out far enough, Nym knew that his mind could feel out the places where his greatest desires might be fulfilled, finding a race of humans with wings for example, or even Foraminifera with voices as great as the booming of dynamite. Each existed out there somewhere, respectively developing things capable of even reaching other realms of reality, and yet Nym couldn't speak of any of it purely due to a lack of will.
What would Nietzsche think of this? Nym wondered, emphatically.
Yet, through it all, Lindsay had another valid point. But didn't Nietzsche also have a correct version of reality? "El," Nym turned to give her his full attention, "man only laughs to stave off the suffering that he feels. Life is nothing if not a series of suffered events from which we must find meaning before death makes itself known. We humans, we laugh because of this. We laugh because we know that without laughter, living on with this would be pointless."
Lindsay cringed, holing up into herself. "Do you really feel that way?"
"Is there any other way to feel?"
"Of course there is!" She panted, staring directly into his eyes from the realm of the living and well into the realm of the dead. "You claim so much suffering, so much left unfulfilled and left to rot away in the back alleys of life, yet you yourself know something even greater than any of that!"
Nym frowned, watching her with intrepid distaste for his undeniable curiosity. He could feel new lives being brought into reality whole galaxies away, and yet being able to tell what was on her mind was something beyond his grim capabilities. "Oh? And what might that be?"
Her soft blue eyes seemed to search him, seemed to try to understand what made him so cynical and unruly. "Can you really be this dense?" She sighed heavily and turned to lean on her knees while putting one hand to her ear as if shifting a headset to keep up the visage. Lindsay spoke to the ground at her feet, but Nym knew it was to him that she referred her words. "You had it all, Nym. You had everything a person could want. You had a way with words, seeing reality with something people would kill for when you spoke with customers. You were liked--loved, even--by those who grew close to you, each one always wondering what made you understate yourself all the time.
"Some of us," she exhaled, "wondered what was holding you back from reaching higher into life and leaving us all behind. A few even wished that you would ask us to dance, in a sense, a wish that can never be filled nowadays." Lindsay looked back up to him, then, with a fierce wonder in her teary eyes. "No amount of wishing can ever make that come true anymore, Nym."
She shook with a cornucopia of emotions, each one reaching the surface just slightly before being pulled down and replaced by the next like a lake holding souls of the unjustly killed from ever passing on. "You want a reason for what made your life so much better than ours? It was love, Nym. You were loved, and not just by your fiance-to-be, either, but by damned near everyone that met you.
"There was just something about you, Nym," she went on, "something that people couldn't help but admire. You lived a good life, fighting to soar despite the harsh winds that tore at your wings, and not once did you ever give in to anything more than a depressing thought or two, so far as I know."
Suddenly she straightened her back and stared defiantly resolutely into his eyes, her tears holding back at the floodgates of her painted eyes. "And I realize now, why you are here, Nym." He leaned toward her with interest. "You haunt me not because you loved me back, like I wished so badly that you would, but because I couldn't feel free to let you go."
"Nym, you can go now," Lindsay affirmed officially, though honestly felt it was anything but. "I won't stop you from moving on anymore."
Nym sighed. How could he tell her? How could he give her so much to think about for eternity and again? "El..." he faltered, hesitated, would fail in one more thing if he held back just this one thing, and yet he knew her life would be better off without knowing. Something pulled at him, drew him away into a place yet unseen. His time was running short. He needed to do this, he now remembered asking for this, asking for just a moment with her to do this one thing and be done with it.
Once he told her, there would be no going back. Once it was said, it could never be unsaid by any powers of heavenly grace or otherwise. But he was out of time. A hand unseen fell upon his shoulder from behind and began to motion him away.
"Lindsay listen to me," he began to quiver with rage at himself for stalling, at his inability to complete one last thing that he had put his mind to; but it needed to be done. How else could he live with himself in the next life?
She looked back to him from her lap, and found him fading from view. His once-real form ceased to be and when he placed a hand on hers it passed right through to the cement ledge with nothing more than a tingle of static. "Nym!" She cried. "Nym, don't go! I was kidding! I didn't mean it!" She stumbled to her feet to catch up with him as he floated backwards as if standing on an unseen treadmill. "Don't leave me! Please, Nym! You can't leave me like this! I won't rest until I find the person who did this to you! Not now, not ever."
"Lindsay," Nym shuddered, shrugged out of his reaper's hold and grabbed her with a lasting bodily embrace of static and cold. It was a feeling that he loathed, and yet this lone moment would suit him if it lasted forever. "Lindsay you were the one who did this to me!"
She stopped, dead in her tracks as he began to be drug away again. "Er, what?"
He reached for her hand and put his all into making her feel his fingers lace with hers. "Lindsay you have to come to terms with this! You hit me on your way home from the your friend's house--but I forgive you! You have to believe me!"
"NYM, IT IS TIME." His reaper's echoing voice trailed to his ears and he turned to face a beautiful woman incapable of receiving any description.
Suddenly he faced Lindsay again and everything began to shimmer with a searingly bright light. "Lindsay, please, remember this if nothing else! Know that I forgive you--I would have even if you had stabbed me to death--and that I cannot have you hating yourself over this."
"Alright," she whispered over mascara-stains spreading across her cheeks.
"You do," he lifted a hand to point at her threatening with a comical tone, "and I will come back to haunt you forever just to make sure you hate me more than yourself. Are we clear?"
She nodded to his glistening form in the mist, appearing much like the fog on the windows. "Crystal." As he smiled one last time she found herself smiling as well, despite what had happened, and she suddenly fell back onto the ledge with a loud, mournful sigh.