Because nobody ever looks at it from the poor zombie’s point of view…
It’s the boredom that kills you, when you’re dead. At first, it’s the claustrophobia of being hermetically sealed in a casket and buried, but that feeling eventually gives way to the illusion of infinite space, which is actually rather pleasant.
Then it’s the soreness of your body’s pressure points against the velvet, until you realize physical sensations are all in your head—a matter of mental habit, as it were, not a response to any external stimuli. Gravity loses all meaning when you have no immediate plans of shifting your weight.
Without fear or discomfort to entertain you, you start thinking about the dirt outside your cushioned time capsule: black, yet honeycombed by trillions of minuscule gaps between granules, the organic matter of grassroots tilled under by the living when they saw fit to keep you in silk, metal, and lacquered wood, and of course worms. You recall the old children’s bonfire poem with the creaking seesaw rhythm:
The worms crawl in, the worms crawl out,
The worms play pinochle on your snout…
You wish they would. The living are fanatically devoted to organizing their dead things and their living things such that never the twain shall meet. Corpse goes here, worms go there. This ensures you’re completely separated from the outside world, preserved by a rubber gasket from the corrupting, unnatural influence of oxygen, soil-borne microbes, and those card-loving worms—worms which would otherwise be your only familiar company.
Even decomposition is too ponderous to be of much amusement. The chemical breakdown of your formerly vital organs have to make do with whatever air was in the box when they closed it, along with anything that subsequently manages to squeeze inside through structural microfissures and the principle of osmosis.
All of these roadblocks on the way from intact to rotted beyond all recognition buys you plenty of extra time to think up creative new ways of passing the time without sound or motion.
* * * * *
You wonder how long before you are bone soup in a subterranean mason jar. You wonder if you’ll still be able to think, then.
It already smells like every day of high school chemistry class crammed into one beaker, unstopped and billowing a cumulonimbus cloud of caustic acid gas. You try to mentally separate out the different scents, and discern which parts of your slowly sizzling soft tissues are the source of each. The phrase “methane gas” briefly crosses your mind, but you never paid much attention in chemistry class. You’re certain, however, that this odor is the sort of thing that would inspire a school-wide evacuation, if not a state of emergency for the entire suburb of Mounds View.
Mounds View. A pretty name for a childhood suburb. I believe I lived there, once. You vaguely recall tree-lined streets—the maples, the gracious shade elms. Bicycles in sunlight, sticky forehead sweat, a breeze through the arm holes in your tank top. There is a friend somewhere nearby. You have plans with him—important plans involving hacky sacks or music. His name doesn’t occur to you.
It is a warm sensation, to think of What Was. You continue in this pastime, even as the memories slip away like sand falling off drying swim trunks.
There is a crush. A young lady. Amanda. I still remember that one. You hang on to the scent of her perfume. You can see her face. You notice her eyebrows don’t match her hair color. The old truism about smells being a strong anchor of memory applies even in death.
But that’s enough for now. You’re exhausted by such remembering. Your mental stamina isn’t what it once was. Holding a thought is like holding your breath—which, incidentally, is something you’d like to try doing again, just to see what it feels like. It’s not that you feel suffocated—that feeling has long passed and you’ve grown accustomed to this still, cool airlessness—but you’re curious: would you still know how to breathe? It’s in, out, and repeat—that much you know, any fool knows that—but is there a trick to knowing how deep to go? What if you exhale too much? Would your breath run away then, and would you, if you could, have to go and catch it? It’s been so long, something so simple as breathing seems a calculus.
So exhausting. Stillness is a punishing assault. The black dirt outside has lost its texture, as far as you can recall. You fancy it’s just black, now, or blackness itself, so uniform as to become meaningless—now a negligible topic to think about, at any rate.
Your world is shrinking. Even your thoughts have become too heavy to lift. You drift in and out of sleep—and in sleep, no dreams, just blackness.
And more blackness.
* * * * *
You awaken to a lightning bolt in front of your eyes. The streak is of a silver so gleaming that it is all you are conscious of. You stare at it without context.
Crack. The lightning bolt grows in length and thickness. It is stationary, not momentary like a flash in a storm, but you are not aware of this incongruity, as you do not remember storms, or weather, or the difference between inside and outside. You are merely transfixed.
Crack. The hole of light in your world-less world rips wide open. Something is jammed inside the hole, something originating inside your own dusty casket and thrusting up into the blinding gash of light above.
It is a sleeve, you realize. Sleeves come with jackets. You follow the sleeve in your mind’s eye to its owner.
It is your sleeve. It’s your jacket. Yours is the sleeve—perhaps with an arm inside?—reaching through to the light above. You peer deeper into the great streak of Whiteness before you. Is there a hand up there, in the Light, attached to the far end of the arm in the sleeve that evidently belongs to you? It’s too bright up there to see whether.
Just as you decide you would like to take a closer look, the entire world goes White.
* * * * *
The next thing you’re aware of is the existence of form in the Light. Forms circle you, morph slowly. They are Rorschach ink blots, have no names or precedent, are like Darkness in hue but not tone.
A music box begins to play in your memory, and your memory is inside your body. I have a whole body, you recall. You do not think about what shape it’s in, or that it has been buried for who knows how long, but you realize you can control it with a mere thought. The realization is exhilarating.
You test your certainty: Bend, you silently command, to no body part in particular. A knee bends and bangs against the oaken cover of your casket.
Bend louder, you command, still not clear how this works, but eager for more. An arm crashes upon the surface of the casket, snapping it in two. The oaken pieces fall about your lap. You look down at your legs. You realize you have been sitting up. Did I emerge from somewhere?
“Rise.” This time a sound accompanies the command: your very voice, fallen to disuse and in need of a tune-up, rising up from your rib cage and into your skull and, presumably, into the Whiteness out there and all around you. You clatter up to what you approximate to be a standing position, and as you do so the Whiteness begins to fade and contrast with itself. Curving forms become vague flora, like giant broccoli, and straight lines emerge as imposing three-dimensional structures.
I know this place, you realize. This is What Was.
To be continued?