Chapter 1.51: Richard Alone – QSaltLake Magazine
REMARK: This chapter is available as an audiobook at the TLHOC podcast.
Access previous chapters of the book on the Table of Contents page.
June 6, 7:00 p.m.
Following Keith home was easy. Not only did Richard have his “compass” to guide him, but he also knew that after such an emotionally draining afternoon, her husband should be home. Their home had always been a refuge and a comfort, for both of them.
Richard made his way slowly, taking care to avoid traffic and the possibility of being reset. Another “fatal” accident would be a shortcut home, sure, but it wasn’t an experience he ever wanted to relive.
When he arrived home, it was still early in the evening. Richard was grateful that Big Bird was nowhere to be found, which must have meant that Keith had sent Michelle and Pil home so he could be alone.
He entered the house easily now (having finally mastered the trick of getting through solid walls and doors) and found the downstairs empty. There was trash from a Wendy’s fast food meal on the kitchen table, but Keith was nowhere to be found and the house was quiet.
He found him upstairs, already in bed. The TV on the dresser gave a surreal, twinkling glow to her lover’s drawn features, as he absently fiddled with the remote control.
Richard sat with him as he watched television. He smiled when he realized Keith was watching the premiere of Heroes on DVD, which they had first watched together years ago. They hadn’t seen the show since that first time, but Richard wondered if the reason it had attracted Keith tonight was the memory of them watching it together.
At the time, he teased Keith that he looked like Hiro Nakamura’s character. Keith had replied that Richard looked like a bearded Matt Parkman. They had playfully argued about it, as Keith did indeed look like the Asian actor, while Richard was nowhere near as chubby (or as handsome) as the show’s cop. But the argument had been fun and flirtatious, filled with tickle fights and laughter. It had eventually turned into a longtime joke between them, and nothing could make Richard laugh faster than Keith throwing his arms in the air and saying, in an exaggerated Japanese accent, “I’m the master of time and from space!”
Richard sat in silence for two episodes, then Keith turned off the television and wrote in his diary. More than once, Richard leaned over and tried to peek at Keith’s doodle, but was actually relieved that, between Keith’s poor handwriting and the dim light, he couldn’t make out a single word. Somehow, even now, reading his lover’s diary felt like a violation of Keith’s privacy.
Finally, Keith closed the newspaper, put it back in the drawer and turned off the light.
As her husband slowly settled in to sleep, Richard curled up against him, ignoring as best he could the harsh angles and the pain the crumpled sheets were causing against his hips and ribs. And at first, despite the aches, it was comforting to be lying beside her lover again. If he closed his eyes, it was almost…normal.
It took a while for the young man’s breathing to slow down, but soon Richard was sure that Keith was sleeping soundly. And for that, too, Richard was grateful.
But it also meant that the dark, silent bedroom left him alone with his thoughts. Soon they were running in the dark. It was the first time his mind was truly calm enough to contemplate everything that had happened since he came back from the dead.
And he soon wished he had no such luxury.
Being dead is not at all what I expected, thought Richard. But then he sat up straight in bed.
So what do I have did expect?
It wasn’t that humans didn’t spend enough time thinking about what death meant, or concocting increasingly outrageous theories about what happened after the body cooled. Richard was a cultured man and he knew that the mystery of death had driven everything from religion to philosophy since time immemorial. Trying to untangle this impenetrable knot has been what has driven human thought and progress, throughout recorded history. The product of all this research had ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous, from transcendent visions of enlightenment to acute fears of demons lurking behind every bush, waiting to drag you down to hell.
As he stared into the dark, Richard realized that all those millennia of human effort and desperate aspiration had been but a vain attempt to understand what death really was. What he now knew was the ultimate reality of death.
Loss, he was thinking. Thisthat’s what death is. Unfathomable, complete and utter loss. It’s no mystery after all. It’s just… a tragedy.
All the white Halloween sheets and Ouija boards with messages on the other side, all the white tunnel visions where God and our lost parents waited, all the dreams of reincarnation and nirvana, all the longing for a paradise in clouds, harps, St. Peter’s and pearly gates – all of this was a way of rationalizing what everyone knew was inevitable. All of the religion, all of the philosophy, all of the transcendent desire – it was all nothing more than a desperate attempt to avoid facing a devastating truth. That in the end, the only thing that lasted was the loss.
We‘re like the band on the deck of the Titanic, Richard thought. we donwe dare not watch the water rise around our feet.
Had he been sheltered from these illusions? He had always dismissed all that religious and superstitious spiel as nonsense, and when asked he said he expected Nothing at all of death. But that was the standard atheist’s parade – that death was simply a switch that turned everything off. It was an answer as practical and unassailable as heaven or reincarnation, and it still did the job of hiding the darkest truth: this death was simply an unbearable loss.
He had allowed himself to believe that there would be no “self” left to experience this loss. For to face that possibility would have been beyond endurance.
So he too had his own version of the white sheet, the Ouija board, and the illusions of heaven and hell. Its distracting dancing lights were referred to as “oblivion” and “nothingness”. He had been as stupid as the rest of humanity. None of them knew. Already had really known…
But even if I had somehow looked death square in the face, I never would have expected…this.
Here he is, sitting in a dark room, four days after his death, watching his lover sleep. He never expected to be such a passive witness to the pain and chaos his death created for the people he loved. He could never have known that the agony of being that witness would be unbearable and would last forever. And above all, he could never have known that he would feel so… small. So insignificant. So irrelevant.
And now that the shock had passed, so strangely numb.
He closed his eyes and listened intently to the sounds of the night, hoping for a telltale sound that only the dead could hear. What does it look like ? A chain rattle or a disembodied moan? Whatever he hoped to hear, all he heard was the sound of Keith’s breathing and the distant ticking of the grandfather clock downstairs.
If death is a loss, then why am I still here? he wondered. Why did I lose it all except myself? Why am I I the only thing that lasts, when all else passes? If I come…come on…so doesn’t my whole life lose all meaning?
Everything he had known in life had a beginning, a middle and an end. Whether it’s the relationships or the architecture or the seasons, or the fucking planet itself. It had been a strangely comforting idea that everything had to end eventually. Even though we try desperately to avoid facing this truth, it’s the very impermanence of life that gave it meaning, because otherwise life was just a fucking record to skip with no one to pick it up. the needle. Still.
The room was warm, but a shiver ran down her spine. The prospect of still suddenly overwhelmed his mind to the point that it was in danger of shutting down. The very thought of still was terrifying, and he longed for a hint that at some point this would all be over. At least, his part in it.
Eternal rest, as they say.
Richard realized that he had been “awakened” since his return from the Void. Even though it had been well over twenty-four hours now, there was not the slightest trace of weariness, not an ounce of sleepiness.
So is that also what it means to be dead? Not only are you cursed to witness eternity, but you must do so without rest, without sleep, without even a moment to close your eyes and escape the march of time? What kind of Clockwork Orange bullshit is this, anyway?
So no sleep. No rest, and no end. But yes, tears. And yes, the pain.
It was such a cosmic joke that he actually laughed. And that fact that he was still laughing seemed like such an unexpected spark of hope that he was still laughing. With no one to witness his laughter or judge him for it, his laughter grew until he howled and rolled on the bed next to his sleeping lover – laughing with more abandon than he did. had felt it since his death.
Yes, tears. And yes, the pain. But also yes: laugh.
And realizing that…. The fact that he had found a moment of joy in death that he had wished for in life, and that it was a moment he could never share with Keith, caused the laughter to change. He buried his face against Keith’s stone neck.
No sleep. No rest. But yes: the tears.
The Last Fistful of Clubs is a supernatural thriller by Wess Mongo Jolley. Thanks for reading! If you like this story, please consider supporting the author on Patreon.
For more information (including story world maps and contact form) visit the author’s website.
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Copyright 2021, Wess Mongo Jolley. All rights reserved.