top of page
  • Writer's pictureLannie Neely III

No Last Stop

I’m kind of a celebrity. I’ve made a living on death, and now my dying is all about it too.

That sounds stupid, I know. I’ve never been much of a writer. But I like the vocabularic punnery. It’s all I have. You see, there aren’t yet words for what I’ve seen and what I know, and it’s particularly hard to coin those new words when you’ve been murdered.

But I’ll try.

My name is Ferline Perryglen. My colleagues and I worked at Ghostop, a little enterprise we put together in college on Kickstarter funds. At first it was half gag, half scam: we wanted to put on a ridiculous performance piece about needing funds to catch ghosts, and if that happened to pay college tuition, what harm could it do? It was purely theatrical. A video of us talking plainly—straight-faced, suits and ties—about our interest in the afterlife. Zero giggling (outwardly). But, to my surprise, one of the first things we did with the funds was hire some legit smarties. Hobbyists in the paranormal, sure, but also professional science types in some way or another. 

In particular, we hired Mary Wennstaff. She had devised a prototype for an electromagnetic lens that could see the spirits of the dead. 

Well actually, we didn’t use the word “spirits” often. We tried to veer away from any religion-strength terminology (and/or overt Latin). Frankly, we had no idea what these spirit-y things really were, and why they looked and acted exclusively like dead people. So, instead we called them Imprints. Marketable, right?

Mary invented the electromagnetic lens by herself. She scribbled her designs on book margins between working fulltime as an organic chemist at some cleaning supply manufacturer and being a high-tier amateur cyclist. Impressive, I hate to admit. It was just a hobby until, during a cross-country trek, she saw her first Imprint. 

Mary was cycling in the mountains. She got a SmartWatch notification from her godmother, English-French actress Charlotte Gainsbourg (a fact Mary will not let anyone forget). She would have to call her back later. Mary was deep in curvy mountain roads, soaked in unseasonal rain, and had been cycling for 16 hours straight, so it was better to settle somewhere safe than get nicked in the elbow by a passing car and launched into a copse of industry timber. She rode and rode, until finally a safe place to pull over came into view. She was almost there. Lightning flashed, and there it was. An Imprint. It was another woman, slim, but with muscular thighs like a fellow cyclist—super dead and super angry about it. 

Mary saw this Imprint in the brief moments before her own life-altering accident. As you probably guessed... a car slammed into her elbow and launched her into a copse of industry timber.

She survived, but she had to give up cycling. And walking. So, with all this new free time, she doubled down on her research into the Imprint-viewing electromagnetic lens.

The lens is like a giant monocle, or, better yet, a bubble blower. The hole is the size of a basketball. There’s nothing inside the hole until it gets turned on, and then it still looks like nothing is inside the hole, except now it’s vibrating and the cords are spitting lightning and everything looks a little unsafe, as if it was made by a) 25-year-old college drop-outs and b) a woman with no legs who had to build it from dwindling crowdfunding money. Which it was.

The first time I peeped through that invisible membrane was crazy. I saw a couple. A man and a woman, maybe 30 or 35 years old, but less here and less now and very much less alive-ish. I’m still not exactly sure how the word Life applies anymore, or how I knew they were dead just by looking at them. But there they were, visible only through this mad, humming circle.

This all happened at my mother’s house. She had inherited the place from her brother, Martin, and his wife, Leera, after their shed burned down with them in it. It was a horrible electrical fire. They couldn’t have died peacefully.

Those startled Imprints I saw through the electromagnetic lens were 100% my dead Uncle Martin and my dead Aunt Leera.

One question that had always weighed on my mind concerning the afterlife was answered in a flash: ghosts were naked. Pure naked.

Uncle Martin, surprised by all the commotion, rushed at me. He tumbled forward like a drunken pitbull. Every loose flap of skin and hair waddled in rhythm like a flock of ducks marching across the street. But what happened after that, I didn’t know. If he reached me and tried giving me a noogie like he did when I was five, I couldn’t feel it. Mary couldn’t see him anywhere. She was spinning in circles in her wheelchair, the cord wrapping her up like a candy cane stripe, scanning through the hefty lens like a desperate Sherlock Holmes.

The lens shorted out, sparked, and, to my surprise, only caught a couple things on fire. It was a good day.

I apologized to my mother, promised to buy her a new rug, and we prepared to make a full report at the lab (which we’d codenamed Mary’s Apartment on account of her living there).

I should add a few details about me right here, just before you get the wrong idea. I’m not a very sober person. I don’t mean that in the sense that I’m not “present” enough, I mean it in the way that I had been drinking during the successful lens test, and when it came time to file that report I did so using a bottle of Heineken as my ink and the hotel bar on 9th Street as my work desk.

My college friends, Zeke, Claudia, and Poker (that was a nickname earned with lots of hard work, and it didn’t come from the card game), had been there from the get-go. Ghostop was, of course, a drunken conversation that magically transformed into seven digits of cash, but that money filled them with purpose and drive. They had been as clueless as I was about Imprints and life after death and “spiritual” stuff, yet the money changed them. They dug in. They became professionals. They made solid investments, researched every book they could find, interviewed anyone willing to listen. In contrast, I still considered it a lark. I was play-acting my role day in and day out to an increasingly frustrated audience.

This is why I wasn’t too surprised when one of them friggin’ killed me that night.


************


So the first thing I noticed as a dead guy was how blue everything was. It was like a sadness filter in a cheap movie. The saturation was lowered a tad, and the blue was cranked to eleven.

I didn’t “wake up,” if that’s what you want to call it, until a few days after I had died. I’d later discover this was pretty abnormal, and I assume that most of the Imprints aren’t as sloppy drunk when they get offed as I was. Maybe that had something to do with it.

The second thing that struck me—and this is going to sound a little odd from everything I’ve told you so far—is how upset I felt that I was going to miss work.

You see, I had just become an Imprint. And having been soaked in Imprint talk for the last five-or-more years left me with very little doubt about my current situation. (I was incorporeal, for one. I floated a little after a jump. Also, there was the blue I mentioned. How else do you explain all the blue!?) So here were my sad-brain thoughts: we had just proven our ghost lens works, and the evidence of Imprints was even more undeniable now that I had first-hand experience being semi-transparent... but I wouldn’t be able to benefit from any of that!

Years dorking around with these guys, sometimes even doing some serious research myself just to play along, and for what? This was the moment! Things were supposed to get good! I was supposed to showcase the lens to our backers—to the world even—and become a super famous rich guy! Not a super dead one! I needed a drink.

“There’s my ungrateful nephew.”

I turned. It was my aunt, the one we had seen in the lens. She was just as naked as last time, but... so was I. So I figured, no biggy. I guess we’re just naked people now.

“Whoa, hey, Aunt Leera. Been a minute.”

She squinted. “Looks like karma caught up with you, after what you did to your uncle.”

I held up my hands. “Excuse me? It’s not my fault you two got caught in that fire!”

“Not that!” She slapped me across the face. It hadn’t occurred to any of us at Ghostop to question whether Imprints could touch each other. They could. And hitting was quite normal, I soon learned—probably because we had no nervous system for pain. I pouted anyway. She slapped me again.

“Ow, Aunty! Cut it out!”

We were in a dark alley. This was where I had been killed, although any evidence of that had likely been washed away by the passing days of garbage collection and stray dogs. Aunty Leera explained that she had followed me from the house, intent on haunting the hell out of me for what I had done to Uncle Martin.

“When he touched that stupid spark machine of yours he just poofed into a million pieces! I haven’t seen him since!”

“Does that happen a lot here?”

“Of course not!” She slapped me again, enough to move me a couple of feet. It still didn’t hurt, but I rubbed my cheek like it did. 

I could see some weird wisps curling from the spot where I had stood, motes of dust curling toward me like cigarette smoke played in reverse.

“That stuff is you,” she said, flicking at a mote. “Sometimes you get hit—by a truck or something, or someone slamming a door—and you explode. You explode too much and you can lose consciousness, or at least get a little dizzy. So be careful. But you cling back together eventually.” She looked up through the buildings at the murky sky like she was expecting rain. Maybe she was. “I thought you’d cling back together, at least. That’s how it’s worked all these years. But... but Martin—your uncle—hasn’t...”

I gave her a hug. It was the least I could do, and, if I’m honest, I really did miss her. She had always filled the house with energy, whether she was singing show tunes at the stove over stir-fry or yelling at Uncle Martin and my mother for leaving their shoes on in the house (even though she was wearing shoes too!).

Aunt Leera took me on a tour of the Imprint version of my neighborhood. Turns out it’s exactly like the normal version except you can’t do jack shite. Because of being dead. To my surprise, I couldn’t even “ghost” through walls. Objects were just as tangible as they were in life, except now if you made a large enough impact with one you’d bust open like a pinata of talcum powder. The dead couldn’t affect real objects. Coffee cups and pencil holders and even envelopes all seemed to have been carved from the planet itself, immovable protrusions of a massive sculpture. Living people were no different. If a person decided to stand in the middle of the room, they may as well have transformed into a granite ceiling column, forcing you to walk around them.

“That’s why so many houses get haunted by the same ghost for centuries on end,” Leera said, tapping her forehead with a long fingernail. “They can’t get out the dang front door!”

We floated down busy streets and across the river several times (skipping traffic was nice), trying hard not to be bumped around by oblivious pedestrians and cyclists and cars. I tripped on a styrofoam cup and got mangled into powder under the hooves of children on their way home from school. When I managed to reconstitute into one piece, I asked Aunt Leera what else there was to do.

“We’re doing it,” she said.

“Can’t we, like... interact with anything at least? Go all poltergeist on a piano and have it play spooky tunes?”

“If we can, I’ve never figured out how. Floating is pretty fun though, right?” She lifted several feet into the air and twirled, then slowly fell into place on the sidewalk. “It’s like we’re on the moon. That’s what Martin always said.”

“What about all the other Imprints?”

“The what?”

“The Im—the ghosts! The spirits? Dead people? Where are they? People have been dying for a bazillion years, the death count must be astronomical. This should be an ocean of invisible people, but I haven’t seen any.”

“Well, you probably won’t see many on the streets of the city. Not fun getting kicked around, as you know. Most of us either hang out in our old house where it’s more familiar—that’s what Martin and I usually did—or go travel. Some explore the world, others just relax in the countryside.”

“Why would they live out in the countryside?”

“If your body doesn’t need the comforts of the city, and you can’t even socialize properly... the city’s a pretty ugly place. Messy and noisy. Gray. Better to enjoy nature without worry. Wander through the woods. Hike a mountain. Lay by some sheep and look at the stars.”

“Oh yeah... sheep!”

“What about them?”

“Like, do they become... like us? Or how about other animals?” I clenched her arm. “Oh my lord, Aunt Leera... is the countryside filled with a fuck-ton of ghost dinosaurs!?”

She just laughed. “I don’t think so, hun. I haven’t seen anything but humans. Who knows, though? Maybe there are different pockets of death for every creature. One thing I learned from death is that we don’t know jack, and never will.”

I felt another pang of work-related regret at that moment. I had the sudden urge to write this information down. In all our years trying to study Imprints, it had never occurred to us that their rarity might have something to do with tourism or post-life convenience. It had never occurred to us that normal objects would be unmovable. It had never occurred to us that there might be ghost dinosaurs. My colleagues would certainly have laughed at these ideas if I had brought them up before now: how many Imprints are sailing across the Atlantic, Ferline?

“If you want, we can try to squeeze into a movie theater.” Aunt Leera grabbed my arm and started pulling me along. “If it’s a new movie it might be crowded, though. We’ll have to sit on some heads.”

I jerked my arm away. I immediately felt rude, but Aunt Leera wasn’t offended. The rules of personal space and touching were much different among the non-corporeal.

“Sorry, but I was murdered, remember? Doesn’t that mean I should be trying to find out who killed me?”

She shrugged. “If you want.”

“Isn’t it, like, my responsibility? The only way to move on or whatever?”

“Move on to where?”

“Move on to... whatever if after this!”

“Oh, hun.” She looked sympathetic for the first time since I had died. “I’ll help you solve who killed you. I got nothing else to do until Martin shows up again. But don’t get too excited. This is the last stop.”


************


Not to throw the mystery under the bus too hard, but it was pretty easy to figure out who killed me. It was Mary Wennstaff.

After a couple of days following Zeke around, Aunt Leera heard him spill the details of my death to a curious cousin over the phone. Apparently, I had drank too much, wandered into an alley (the one I woke up in), and then drank some really nasty cocktail of cleaning supplies. The kind that just straight blends your insides up like a juicer. I blasted my interior out of every exterior, then died. Police found the empty cleaner bottle by a dumpster and concluded that I must have thought it was more alcohol and chugged it.

It was ruled an accidental suicide.

But look, I know what happened. The only way I’d be stupid enough to drink a bunch of deadly chemicals is if I was piss drunk, desperate for some medicine, and a close friend gave it to me pretending it’d kill a hangover. Maybe someone who was an organic chemist? Perchance!? MARY!?

Aunt Leera and I revisited the scene of the crime, and even though things had shifted quite a bit, there were clear wheelchair marks. We both agree they matched Mary’s. That was our first clue: the wheel prints.

Listening to Poker and Claudia chat, we heard more details. Zeke, Claudia, Poker, and Mary all got questioned and searched the night of my death. The police found nothing suspicious... or so they thought! There was a beer bottle in Mary’s backpack that was hard to explain. You see, alcohol would mess up Mary’s meds, so she didn’t drink. Hard to explain, eh Mary? Second clue, found: the beer in Mary's backpack. 

Even more damning was when we overheard Mary bragging about killing me to her audio journal. That was probably the biggest clue.

She had known where I was, knew I was getting drunk after our big day. So she came out and waited in the alley nearby. 2AM, I got kicked out, started walking. She pretended to be picking me up, offered me another beer that was actually cleaner, then removed the beer bottle (and its fingerprints) from the scene of the crime. Then she left an empty cleaner bottle behind to make it seem self-inflicted. Devious.

The only real question was... what were we going to do about it?

Sneaking into Mary’s room had already taken several days of concentrated effort. We had to wait at each door: the exterior door to the building, the secondary security door, the elevator door (twice), the lab itself (Mary’s Apartment), and then the door to Mary’s room. The trick was following normal people (doormen, as we started calling them) as they moved through spaces, opening and closing these impenetrable doors. When someone opened a door, we’d race through, squishing beside and past the doorman as much as possible. You had to be quick, or the door would shut the door before you got all the way through! Rude! Aunt Leera tried to flaunt her years of experience by pressing her chest against the back of a doorman as he walked, only for him to yank the door shut behind him, blasting her into two clouds of chalk dust trapped on either side. Little motes of her being smoked through the cracks all afternoon. After a full twelve hours, Aunt Leera fully reconstituted... on the wrong side of the door.

Worse was Mary’s room. It was a mess. And even though I couldn’t smell, I’m sure it smelled. Food containers and scrap papers and dirty clothing everywhere. I forgave this mess when I was alive because even the pizza boxes would have scribbles of what would eventually become the all-powerful electromagnetic lens. But now that she had poisoned me to death, my view on Mary’s idiosyncrasies had soured a little.

“Look at this!” I was pointing at a cease and desist letter from the legal representatives of Charlotte Gainsbourg. For some twisted reason it had been framed and nestled into a somewhat organized cove of treasured nicknacks. Mary had always bragged about her relationship to Charlotte Gainsbourg, to the point of being obnoxious. Had she been a star-obsessed liar this whole time? 

“If you can lie to people about having a famous godmother, you’re capable of anything!” I said.

“Like murder,” Aunt Leera agreed.

“Exactly! If only I’d known before.”

“At least now we know whodunnit.” Aunt Leera sighed. She was eager to escape into more open space. “Now what? Wanna catch a movie?”

I stroked my blue face, evoking a figure of wisdom and thought. “We need to learn sign language.”

My aunt stared.

“There is a convention next month. AstraCon. We planned to go and do a talk on our mission statement and team capabilities, but if they’ve managed to get repeatable results from the lens, it’s very likely they’ll do a surprise demonstration instead.”

“You think we can communicate through the lens?”

“Not audibly. But visibly, yes.”

Aunt Leera’s eyebrows lifted and she poked her bottom lip out just slightly. “I didn’t realize my nephew was so clever.”

“The Ghostop scam was mostly my idea, I’ll have you know.”

She shook her head. “Okay, the respect is gone now.”


************


The next few weeks of our deaths were spent at a children’s American Sign Language school, learning the basics of hand-to-hand convo. We realized quickly that “I am Leera” and “she likes dogs” weren’t going to be good enough to express what we wanted. (Shockingly, none of the teachers were teaching any relevant murder- and ghost-based vocabulary!) So we memorized a few simple ideas and mostly focused on spelling words letter by letter. Luckily, when you have literally nothing else to do, no need to sleep or eat or pee, and you’re semi-trapped in a colorful (yet blue) classroom for deaf and mute adolescents, learning to sign the alphabet gets really easy.

We both were able to convey elementary ideas rather quickly. Our plan was to appear in the lens and spell out Mary Wenstaff’s devious deeds. We prepared a few simple phrases to get the message across as quickly as possible: 

  • “Mary murdered me” 

  • “Mary evil” 

  • “don't trust”

  •  “leave door open on way out please”

Then, the time came for us to move onward.

We hitched a ride on the back of a bus, holding on with no worry of accidentally letting go. (It’s nice to support public transportation if you can.) It was fun. We laughed at terrible drivers, pointed out cringeworthy bumper stickers, played word games, and almost lost our grip when we saw a man in the back of the bus picking his nose with a golf pencil as the bus hit a bump. “He almost became one of us!” my aunt squealed.

We made it to the convention center overnight. It was in a large hotel, way fancier than anywhere I had been while alive. We passed by the fully stocked, glistening paradise of a bar and I realized that this is the longest I had been sober since I turned seventeen. The entrance to the lecture hall had security, but otherwise the double doors were easy access—Aunt Leera and I pranced through those wide-open doors with our arms hooked together like idiots. We didn’t know what was going to happen after today, if anything, but having a goal had brought new life to my aunt. It was a pleasure to see her so happy.

“If they record this, we might end up on TV,” she laughed. “This must be what they mean when they say you only get famous after you die.”

The lecture hall was packed. Or was it a theater room? In any case, it had a large, well-lit stage with forty rows of red-brown fold-out seats all aligned perfectly in three clumps on the tile floor. Someone was already speaking about electro-whatevers and spectral-who-cares, followed by two others. Ghostop’s crew was preparing behind the stage area. They had indeed brought the powerful electrical equipment—likely the electromagnetic lens— and were already connecting thick cables to a backup generator in case the voltage was too much for the hotel.

“They should really get a fire extinguisher over here,” my aunt murmured to herself. “Fire’s no joke.”

Finally, the moment arrived, and Ghostop was announced on the stage. There was a huge applause. No doubt many, if not all, of these paranormal enthusiasts had helped fund Ghostop’s vision. Mary wheeled up to the mic while the rest of the crew stood against the back wall with the equipment, myself and my aunt included, as if we were part of the performance. We were waiting for our cue to sing.

“As you know,” said Mary, her voice a little raspy. She coughed. “As you know, we have been making great leaps and bounds in the field of paranormal science.”

The crowd let out a light cheer again. Mary raised her palm to calm them, as if she had done this a hundred times before. I personally think she wasn’t much of a public speaker. Maybe I’m biased.

“As you also know, we lost a dear friend recently: Ferline Perryglen.” The crowd hummed. On the projector to the left I saw her swallow, and a small (fake!) tear fell down her cheek.

My aunt whispered in my ear: “She’s doing a good job pretending to be sad.” I wondered for the first time if it was possible for me to vomit in my ghost mouth. (Also, why did Aunt Leera whisper? No one could hear us? Aunt Leera, you’re such a dork.)

“Indeed, Ferline was a founding member of Ghostop, and a close, close friend. You all knew that, of course, having followed us these last few years. But what you may not know... is that I killed him.”

The room went still. She had just admitted to my murder.

Mary cleared her throat again, this time affecting a body language of pure business. “We have done the impossible here. We have created a lens that can see into that sacred otherworld—the world of the Imprinted. And we have brought it here today, to show you all that your money has guided one of the most impactful inventions in human history. However, as we all know, there are likely no ghosts to see in this conference hall. Most of the Imprints will have ventured into the beautiful countryside.”

The crowd hummed in agreement. That annoyed me, honestly. It turns out my personal experience wasn’t much use to these know-it-alls. Somehow they had already deduced the whole “countryside” revelation that Aunt Leera told me about when I was freshly deceased. What else did they know about? What else had I been too drunk and lazy to keep up to date on? Were there ghost dinosaurs!?

“But Ferline was an avid believer in our project,” she lied, “which is why I helped him take that leap into the spirit world! He has made the ultimate sacrifice in order to guide our demonstration!”

At this, Zeke and Claudia unclasped a large black container and, with cult-like ceremony, revealed the electromagnetic lens. It was not the same lens as before, though. This one was much more refined. Instead of one “wand” with a small hoop on the end, it consisted of two long batons, almost like katanas. Each baton had a thick cord at its “hilt” that snaked into black volcanos near the edges of the wood-paneled stage. Zeke took one baton to the left and Claudia took the other to the right, then they held the batons aloft in perfect synchronicity, framing the scene like techno samurai.

“These two rods create an invisible film that can unveil the veiled. When I give the signal, Poker will perform the activation. Visibly, not much will change...” She paused, held her breath, then swept her gaze fully around the room—not just at the audience, but a full 360 degrees, scanning the equipment and the wooden back wall and all the people along the way. She looked at or through each audience member, each teammate, each video camera, and briefly seemed to see through me and Aunt Leera as well. I shivered.

“... no, visibly, not much will change. Yet, also, everything will change. Because you will see the Imprint of our dear comrade... Ferline!”

She snapped her fingers.

The whole building jerked once, then settled into vibrations. The lights flickered. The rods sparked and flashed, but neither Zeke nor Claudia flinched. The audience gasped twice: first at the shock of the sudden invasive sound of the lens, and then at the two blue figures at the back of the stage, both looking equally confused. And equally naked.

I saw myself on the big screen. The video cameras could see us through the lens, which was nuts... but also kind of neat! I waved to the crowd like an idiot. I realized that my jaw was hanging open like an empty mailbox, so I clamped up, straightened out, and brushed non-existent crumbs off my ghostly pot-belly. I’d be on TV. I’d be all over the internet. I should look presentable. This was what I had wanted. A little spotlight, yeah? A little “hey, that’s Ferline, the friendly ghost.” And, even though I hadn’t been a willing part of Mary’s master plan, I was still worthy of hero treatment, wasn’t I? I could be seen as a... pioneer! And all it cost me was my life.

Aunt Leera looked at me helplessly. What little plan we had was gone and she knew it. There really wasn’t much else for us to do but be part of the presentation or, if we felt particularly stubborn, just leave. But she clearly had some things on her mind. She started spelling things out in ASL.

“It looks like they’re communicating,” said a man in the crowd.

“It’s sign language,” a couple others said almost in unison.

A large woman in a bright green AstraCon t-shirt burst into the aisle. “I know sign language! I’ve been studying for just this moment! My specialty is in the spirit of Helen Keller!” The crowd oohed at the proclamation. Specializing in celebrity astral communication was seen as a sort of sacred calling. “She’s saying, ‘U-R-D-E-R-E-R-M-U... oh, she’s spelling ‘murderer’ over and over! She’s... calling Mary a murderer!”

The crowd was shifting and yipping.

Mary calmed the feisty crowd with another palm. “As I communicated earlier, I killed Ferline. It was part of our plan, which, as you can see, is going along... swimmingly. It is hard to feel remorse when he is standing before us, don’t you agree? You all see him! You could consider this a posthumous appointment. But, alas, even though we conspired together—and he was my willing partner in this grand design, let’s not forget!—I cannot, unfortunately, shed the mantle of this naive word: murderer. That is the burden I bear for science.”

There was an ahhhh of sympathy. She was sweet-talking them into believing her version of the facts.

By that point I had made up my mind. I wasn’t going to beam into heaven or hell or whatever after solving my murder, so clearly I could let go of any notions of an after-afterlife. But it irked me that Mary could be so damned smug and empowered and, like, just completely own my murder without consequence! She was confessing to murder, and people loved it! Even if the police arrested her right now, she could deny it all, calling it theatrics. Maybe the authorities could use the lens to communicate with me and Aunt Leera further, but who would take that seriously in court? There is no legal precedent for Imprints. For all anyone could tell, this was just fancy hologram tech, not a window into the lives of the un-living.

I jumped into the middle of the stage and began signing as fast as I could. By this point, the translator and two other people were up front, scribbling madly into their notebooks.

“We can ignore their signing for now,” Mary said. “This is just a proof of concept. We should do actual interlocution in a more stable setting.” She wheeled over to Claudia and took her rod, angling the lens in such a way that half of my head was cut from view.

I kept signing. Then, I nodded at the woman with the pad as if to ask, “did you get all that?”

The woman was vibrating and sweating. She made a few more marks and said, “yes, oh saint from another realm. I understand you loud and clear.”

Aunt Leera was next to me now, covering her face in embarrassment. “These are the people you scammed, right? The funders of your fraud? Not exactly a difficult catch, hun.”

Mary looked me in the eyes for the first time. She was snarling. She had been hiding hate in her witch heart for years and it was all coming out at once. “What did you tell them?”

The crowd was at the stage now, chairs fallen and backpacks kicked about. They were looking through the lens, below it, from the sides, inspecting every angle to see if it was a trick and how it worked. One tall enthusiast reached on stage and nearly pulled the rod from Mary’s grasp. 

The translator lifted her notepad into the air. “He says, ‘Mary lied. Her godmother... is not Charlotte Gainsbourg.’”

The audience was silent. There was a tilted lull.

I’m borrowing “tilted lull” from my Uncle Martin’s vocabulary. He once said to me, “There’s a tilted lull in nature that only happens when chaos collides with indifference.” These AstraCon attendees were hungry for spirits—hungry for messages from the afterlife—clawing at each other and themselves in the hopes of divine mythologies coming true. They wanted the veil between the knowable and the unknown to rip apart. It was chaos. And the indifference? They couldn’t care less about Mary’s godmother.

But Mary cared.

Mary. Cared.

She screamed. “Charlotte loves me!” She spun the lens-rod and gripped it like an Olympian holding a javelin. “Charlotte loves me, you lying... liar!” The visible area of the lens twisted like a ribbon, refracting images of me and my aunt all over the room. The conference hall became a kaleidoscope of naked us. Mary locked her wheels, steadied her gaze, and thrust the rod—with all her might—directly at my face. 

The rod sailed right through me. And, even though I can’t tell you what actually happened in that moment, I can say one thing for certain; When that electromagnetic rod flew through me, I died. 

Again.


************


Upon waking, I couldn’t help but notice how black and white everything was. Not a drop of color. Where... was the blueness? I missed the blueness already.

I was still in the conference hall, but it was emptier. Most of the people had left, and the ones who had stayed were absorbed in their phones, typing madly. All the equipment had been removed. The Ghostop crew was nowhere to be seen. 

Aunt Leera was still there, though. She was crying. I reached out to touch her, and my hand went right through, as if I didn’t exist. She couldn’t see me. She couldn’t feel me.

“I’m glad I followed you out here,” a familiar voice said from behind. “This was quite the show!”

I turned. It was my Uncle Martin, laughing like mad.

“Uncle Martin?” I couldn’t believe it. He was a shimmering lamp of color in an otherwise black-and-white world. He sparkled.

“You wound up here just like I did! You hit that weird lens, and it killed you! Hehehe!”

“I don’t like this,” I said. “Aunt Leera said that... she said it was the last stop. I’ve died already!”

“Sorry, kid!” His laughter echoed. “But I have a feeling this isn’t even the beginning of death! Take a look!” 

He grabbed me by the wrist and we flew like Peter Pan into the air, through the ceiling, above the skyline. The hotel, the city, and all the countryside stretched out before us.

There were thousands of other semi-transparent people—no, millions—floating like dandelion puffs, shimmering like prisms, whipping through the sky—people long dead, from many nations and many eras. 

Animals, too! Dogs, cats, birds, bugs... rats! Bugs! Fish! More rats! All of these beings boomed and sparked, sending themselves up into space or through structures or deep, deep underground. A thriving ecosystem of second-dead creatures swimming, humming, shimmering in neon red and blue and topaz like rainbows. There was a whole new reality of existence, even farther removed than I had ever imagined. Layers and layers of death were possible! Infinitely! There was no end. There was no “last stop.”

There was, however, a fuck-ton of ghost dinosaurs.



------------

Recent Posts

See All

Comments


bottom of page