Surviving Death

ii

There was a small hut over a sort of rushing brook, with a few pines nearby, and some rocks. I woke once, rose, and drank water. I don't know how long I slept. When I was no longer tired, I rose and drank water again. I was very hungry. There were some sort of dried nuts on the ground, with a faintly sweetish taste; I ate these. Then I slept some more, for I was very tired from dying.

These nuts were semicolons; I ground them to a paste which was brown in color. I dried that paste and used it like chalk to decorate the hut. I gathered many more, laying them thickly in a circle, with the point up, to injure intruders, if they were barefoot. It was no longer difficult to move.

They speak of being more dead than alive. I sometimes wondered if I was more alive than dead, now. I didn't know what to make of it.

I seemed to have a body.

I doubted this.

Still, I tried to keep an open mind. And it was hard to argue with the evidence of my senses.

I thought I might just be in denial, and I really should start a search for Larry, especially now that it seemed possible--you might think having no body made it easier to get around; it didn't; it was impossible to get anywhere without one.

But there were other issues. Before, when I had no body, seeing Larry was an academic question; I had no body, so even if I did see Larry, he couldn't see me. I could run right into him; he wouldn't know the difference.

But now, if we did manage to have a conversation, given what our relationship had been, denial was an almost inevitable topic, and I wasn't sure how I felt about that. Denial was all I had. Without denial, I was dead.

Still, what did I really have to lose? We probably wouldn't recognize each other anyhow.

I was starving, too. A larger and larger portion of each day went into scouring the countryside, which was rocky and dry.

I found rabbit snares near a small pond, which was covered with scum and larvae. I liked this rather less than the hut; but I was hungry.

At the end of one long walk, I saw Imelda, and she was dead. I felt I ought to do something but it seemed so silly. Bury her? I was dead myself.

One day I climbed a rock pile, finding several crossed lines on rocks. I climbed rock piles under the purple clouds. There was a chalky residue. I stumbled on rocks in my haste. There was a great deal of purple here, as I had expected; blurred and sombre, like great wings mingling with cloud formations. There was a mound of rusted cans, and chalk.

On the other side of the mound I found Larry, in a heap, becoming stone. I didn't really know what to say.

I told Larry, "I have something to say." It was an unpleasant spot, and I wished to leave. Larry wouldn't have stopped me either. I was doing this for myself. Larry was stone. That didn't bother me so much, though. I didn't even want to know if it would happen to me. I rather guessed it wouldn't. I got the feeling Larry becoming stone was his current occupation rather than an affliction. It was something he wanted to do. Perhaps there weren't that many alternatives for him. "I'm dead," I said. It didn't get over.

I was starting to think this wasn't such a good idea. I'd come all this way to see him. Now I'd seen him. I was in denial; it worked for me; what else was there? I was dead; why rub it in? Still, I might never see him again.

I decided I would stay here for awhile and slept at Larry's feet; his proportions were different from mine; larger. I slept without eating; I had no wish to build a fire. I didn't really sleep, though, and there was no night. Purple. I had no urge to leave. I thought it possible if I left I would never find Larry again. I felt I would recognize him if I did, but our paths simply might not cross.

When I seemed to wake, Larry seemed to be standing in the distance. He had changed. He was dressed like Robin Hood. "I'm sorry," Larry said.

I rubbed my eyes. If you can call them eyes. After a while, I asked Larry, "Why are you sorry?"

"That you're dead."

"It's not that bad," I said.

"No." After a while, he said, "What exactly do you like about it?"

"I like camping out."

"Well, I don't like it." He seemed very bitter. "I was younger than you."

I nodded. I wondered how long he had been up. I felt I had slept for years. Centuries. I felt I could have slept a few centuries more. I must really have slept quite a long time. "What happens next?" I asked after a while.

"Nothing. Well, as you know, there are many theories."

"Which do you believe?"

"The Oversoul. And you?"

"This isn't happening."

He gave me a long, thoughtful look. "I suppose it's possible," Larry said. This was the sort of thing I'd loved him for when we were living. He had an open mind.

Night fell.

One theory I was considering was that this was a predeath reverie. For instance, there are six minutes between cardiac death and brain death. I had no idea at all how much time had passed, which seemed to take forever. I could be truly dead at any moment.

It had grown quite chilly. I joined Larry at the fire, which seemed to be dying. I poked at it with a stick and asked, "Where are the others?" really just to say something.

"They haven't decided what to do with them."

"Are they in purgatory?"

"Well, in a way. We don't do penance; we weren't that bad. But they're keeping us here while they decide what to do with us. They can't believe we're dead."

"It's not a homophobic thing?"

"No, no. Nothing like that. It's just a convenience."

"Is this a quarantine?"

"No, no. It's just an idea." He seemed amused. "Nothing can hurt you now."

It was fairly late, I suppose. I shivered.

Sometime during the night I said, "Larry? About the Oversoul?" A few birds were swooping around. I didn't like to think too hard about what kind of birds they were. "When I love someone, I like to know them, and if we merged, I couldn't."

"They don't really merge," Larry explained. "It's more like a project." He seemed very interested in the fire.

"I notice you haven't merged yet yourself," I mentioned. "And you believe in it."

"I'm not myself," he explained. That had to be the understatement of the year. Depending what year it was. I wouldn't know; I'm dead.

Still, it was nice to see him again. If it was really him. Perhaps he really wasn't himself, though; perhaps he was a hologram; that would have accounted for how abstract our conversation seemed to be.

When you think about it, conversation was the entirety of our relationship, when we were alive. We had a conversation, and then I paid him. Sometimes I got less than my money's worth, usually more. After he died, I continued to have conversations with him, without paying, but in many other ways they weren't that different from the ones when I did pay, when he was living; I had always done most of the talking. It was basically an imaginary relationship to begin with. You weren't supposed to love someone you had this sort of conversation with; but you often imagined that you did.

Larry was bustling around, splashing water, when I woke. It was an interesting morning, dry, but with a slight scent, perhaps of burning. I had never even seen him in the morning before. We both went off together, he, leading, in a sort of loincloth such as Apaches wore, and I behind, seeing the other side of him. We had never walked out in the country before; if you can call it country. There was not a single living plant. There was a lot of air. We were heading for a mountaintop, and the view was largely uninterrupted. It took no time to get there. But when we reached the top, Larry made gestures indicating we should go separate ways.

Go separate ways? Go separate ways?

I was furious. So I had gone all this way for nothing. So what was the point?

I got very childish; Larry, too; he became angry and menacing, like a beast. I hated it. He became a sort of sheet. It was an improvement.

He walked off. I followed him, and he made a few gestures toward the other direction, but I refused to obey, and I followed him further, shouting, "I don't believe you're dead!" until he disappeared, and I saw the other side of him. It was another rock pile. I was very angry.

I was back where I had started, which as I understand is a common problem when you're dead.

It was very frustrating.

I wept.