Like other days at this hour, I am sitting on the living room sofa at Alazne’s apartment and checking out the time remaining until my girl returns home from work. I daydream that I stand up and approach her, and that she, wearily, takes her street clothes off and finds comfort in my loving arms. Of course, in my daydreams Alazne can see me and talk to me, and in them I’m also not dead.
I finally hear Alazne’s steps as she approaches the door of her apartment, and her key enters the lock. However, she unlocks the door with frantic, urgent movements, which puts me on edge, but even worse, Alazne steps in, closes the door behind her and slides down the wooden frame until her ass hits the floor. She must have been containing her tears, because she cries silently in constant streams while her vacant eyes look straight ahead.
“What can I do now…?” she murmurs to herself. “I can’t do anything. I don’t know how to do anything else.”
I must have remained paralyzed for half a minute. I run up to Alazne, crouch in front of her and put my ghostly hands on her shoulders.
“What’s wrong? What has happened?” I ask, distraught, as if she could hear me.
Alazne continues crying quietly for about five minutes, then she speaks again. She says ‘please’ as if begging to an invisible presence different than myself, and then repeats it a few more times in silence, merely moving her lips. Suddenly she stands up, passing through me, and walks up to the living room sofa. She lets herself fall forward and buries her face in a pillow. For the next half an hour her shoulders tremble as she cries in silence, except for the few times she whimpers like a child.
I have been kneeling next to her head. I can’t even see her face, as her hair is hiding the facial features that she isn’t pressing against the pillow.
Something must have happened at work. The most reasonable conclusion is that she has lost it. She has been fired because she isn’t easy to get along with, likely brings down the mood of everyone around her, and maybe she’s a shitty worker as well. I don’t care whether or not she deserved to lose her job, though, because I don’t want to see my Alazne like this. I fear that she has hit her limit, and she has nobody to calm her down.
Suddenly, Alazne stops crying. Her eyes are still red and puffy, but they have dried up. She sits straight up on the sofa and stares at the opposite wall as if she has just figured out a solution. She takes out her laptop. A couple of minutes later she changes her status on the local employment services as available. She attempts to search for administrative jobs in the area, but she gives up, and her Google searches turn creative: ‘what is the most painless way to kill oneself’, ‘I hate my life’, ‘how to commit suicide without pain’, ‘I need to die’.
Sitting next to Alazne, I witness her falling down the rabbit hole through several websites and forums. She considers pills and alcohol, as well as which of the varieties of pills would do the trick, but she doesn’t like the possibility of her body betraying her by vomiting the deadly mix. Then she gets fascinated by the idea of hanging herself. She browses through a variety of noose pictures as if she were stalking online models. Along the way I feel as if I’m losing my mind out of worry, fear and impotence. Eventually Alazne closes her laptop, curls up on the sofa in a fetal position and falls asleep.
What should have been a nap turns into seven hours. Alazne wakes up in the middle of the night confused and groggy. Her stomach gurgles, and she shambles to the kitchen to prepare herself some food. When she looks into the refrigerator, she grimaces. It’s full of rotten food that should have been thrown out a couple of days ago. Alazne can’t stand the stench of it and decides to order a pizza instead. However, it’s midnight.
To be honest, I was surprised that she could keep a job to begin with. I love Alazne, but she’s the kind of plain-looking woman that men wouldn’t bother with, she’s very withdrawn and doesn’t have a natural instinct to interact with others. She doesn’t have the faintest hobby that would cause random men on the streets or public places to approach her even because they mistook her for someone else. She’s sliding down quicker and quicker towards dying alone. It would be fine if she had accepted it, but it clearly hurts her down to her bones.
It seems Alazne has saved up enough money to avoid searching for a job immediately. Or maybe she just doesn’t care any longer. For the next couple of days she barely did anything but masturbate. On the third she made a rope out of her sheet, then tied one end around a doorknob. She lied face down some distance away from the door, she wrapped the other end of the sheet-rope around her throat and then she twisted her body in a new form of yoga, testing which positions would allow her to choke to death even if she fell unconscious.
The fourth day she went to her parents’ graves, and cried.
Throughout all this I felt as if I would have vomited several times a day, if I still had a working digestive system. But at one point, as I was staring at Alazne’s purpling face while her DIY suicide device strangled her, I though, well, if this is what you truly want, Alazne, then come over here. Abandon that painful body and join me in the wasteland of the afterlife. But I picture her soul being squished out of her recently deceased body only to immediately dissolve into light. And I know that Alazne wouldn’t have a better time in the afterlife. Maybe she would travel for a couple of years without having to worry about money, and lacking a brain that clinical depression had hijacked would help a bit, but decades tolerating the afterlife brought all new varieties of despair. I keep watching her from the afterlife, daydreaming about being alive and saving my beloved, while she attempts half-heartedly to die. Still, I wasn’t particularly worried, because Alazne’s track record suggested that she would fail at killing herself the same way she failed at everything else.
Through some of the documents Alazne brought home I learned that she intended to ride her unemployment benefits until she couldn’t justify remaining at home any longer. She grew addicted to new series, and even started reading novels again, which I had only seen her do twice since the day I heard her playing guitar and I chose to haunt her apartment. She seemed to relax a bit, and my daydreams changed into me being alive, having a very well-paying job and allowing my Alazne to remain a housewife. What a life that would be, saved from the nightmarish stress of pointless jobs, bastardly bosses, shitty coworkers, as well as having to worry constantly about making enough money to pay the bills. The more I replayed that daydream the more excited I became, and I would have masturbated if I could. It felt like the best gift to give your girlfriend, one for which my imagined version of Alazne loved me forever and ever. The daydreams became so vivid that I almost believed it was real, which didn’t seem to be too much of a stretch since I spent most of my time in a trance anyway.
Once it became clear that Alazne had climbed out of her hole and now she was merely depressed, I got bored of lying on her sofa and watching stupid television shows. I wanted to get out for a bit. I considered myself something of a guardian angel, although I couldn’t protect Alazne in any way, but I needed a break.
Early in the morning, a couple of hours before Alazne wakes up these days, I leave her apartment to wander aimlessly through the city. However, when I spot a bunch of people getting on a bus to Donostia, I figure that I might as well get in too. Once I find a seat, I close my eyes and listen to the conversations around me while I let my mind drift.
After we pass Rentería, the bus get gradually more crowded. At one point a wave of nausea shakes me from head to toe only to realize that some teenager had the gall to sit on my seat. After I jump out to the cramped space between the seats, the teenager complains about having been overwhelmed by a sudden cold. These people have no manners.
Speaking of lacking manners, around five minutes later our bus nearly crashes with a car that swerved into our lane. In the confusion, around five vehicles end up hitting each other. Our bus stops, as it couldn’t maneuver out of the way, and only a narrow corridor of free space allows the cars behind us to continue in the direction of Donostia. Plenty of the passengers gather to look out of the windows of one side of the bus towards the car that had invaded our lane. It had crashed bad against the highway divider, and some of the occupants of the cars involved in the accident have left their vehicles and are walking around with their phones glued to their faces, likely calling 112. An ambulance will arrive in a few minutes.
“That guy drove into our lane deliberately, didn’t he?” a middle-aged woman next to me says.
“One of those kamikaze drivers,” a younger man says.
“Stupid bastard,” a third person says.
“Should we do something?” the middle-aged woman asks, looking around for possible fire extinguishers or first-aid kits that could be used to help.
“What’s there to do?” an old man who had been dozing off says. “Let the professionals handle it.”
Fancying myself something of a professional, I jump through the bus’ body onto the tarmac and approach the car that had gotten squished against the divider. Smoke is rising from its crumpled front. The car is a fresh-looking, dark green Škoda. As I walk around the car to the driver’s door, I see that a couple of guys are tending to whoever was stupid enough to drive into our lane.
The driver is a man in maybe his late thirties, with a thick head of dark brown hair and some greys. His face is covered in blood from an injury on his forehead. He’s sitting in his seat, immobilized by the belt. His eyes are glazed over and he looks as if he might have passed out. Given how crushed the front of the car has gotten, I wouldn’t be surprised if his legs were fucked.
“We shouldn’t move him, right?” one of the men that had approached the car to help says.
“We should get his seat belt off him first,” the other guy says, “and then we can decide what to do.”
The first guy struggles with the seat belt until it retracts with a snap, and the injured man slumps forward.
“Shit,” the guy who was struggling with the seat belt says.
He leans into the car to feel for a pulse.
“I can’t find it… Yeah, it’s very faint.”
I move around to the side window to have a look at the driver’s face.
He has a strong facial structure, with a broad forehead and an angular jaw. His hairline is starting to recede, but the gray hairs strike me as stress related. His eyebrows are thick, framed by long eyelashes that seem out of place on a man his age. I suppose that he’s handsome enough if you are into dudes.
One of the concerned men gets busy speaking with his insurance company. As I hang out with them, I casually turn towards the noise of a big vehicle driving off past the accident, and I realize that my bus is leaving without me. I take a couple of steps forward and raise my hand, but then I drop my arm and feel stupid. Oh well. I can leave in any of the cars currently stuck, or in the ambulance that will end up arriving. It will probably carry the wounded to the hospital in Donostia, and from there it’s a relatively short walk downhill to the train station.
The ambulance comes a surprisingly short time later. A couple of paramedics, wearing their bright yellow and navy blue vests, come out carrying a stretcher. The kamikaze driver hasn’t regained consciousness, and he has pissed himself. Maybe even shat himself, considering the stench.
It seems that the driver wasn’t trapped in his crumpled vehicle, because the paramedics drag him out and flop him down onto the stretcher. They quickly realize that things ain’t looking good for the injured fella, and they would be even more worried if they had my perspective, because as the paramedics begin to perform CPR, I witness the guy’s spirit slowly and awkwardly leaving the body like a butterfly coming out of its cocoon. He remains tethered to his body by thin threads of soul.
The driver’s ghost stands up and realizes he’s staring at his passed out self. Once he starts looking around he’s shocked to find me standing next to him, and in turn I’m shocked that someone can see me, as I had grown comfortable in my invisibility during the trip. The guy gets scared for a moment; likely the first ghost he’s seen. But then he examines his hands only to realize that they’ve become as shadowy as my whole being.
“What’s up?” I ask cordially.
“I… I’m dead?” he laments, coming to grips with his predicament.
“Sort of, yeah. Isn’t that what you wanted by driving into our lane?”
He holds his head in his hands and shakes it slowly.
“No, I… I was distracted, I think. I’ve had a lot to worry about. I shouldn’t have taken the car. Or maybe… Maybe I did it deliberately.”
“Life is complicated like that, I suppose.”
We stare at each other.
“Have you come to guide me through the afterlife?” he asks in a thin voice. “Are you an angel?”
I burst out laughing, a guttural laugh that shakes my whole frame. I step closer to the guy and tap his shoulder animatedly.
“An angel!” I repeat in a high-pitched voice. “Ah, that’s so good! You know, I’ve been having a shitty week, worried out of my mind, but you just made my day. Me, an angel. What a nice guy. What’s your name?”
“A-Asier,” the guy answers, and his face suggests he doesn’t find this whole interaction humorous. “So why are you here?”
“I can’t be here, or what? Why are you here?” his question had annoyed me, but I give the guy a break. “I had taken the bus to Donostia, and you almost crashed into us. You could have killed me, you know? Sorry, a bad ghost joke. I should go easier on the newbies.”
“My point is that your accident stopped traffic, so I got out because I was curious. You don’t stop being curious because you are dead, you know? Well, you grow tired of everything after the first few years, I guess… But you can always get interested in other stuff, particularly if it distracts you from your worries. I’m sure you had stuff like that when you were fully alive.”
“I’m sorry, fully alive…?”
I point at the threads coming out of his ghostly frame and that remain connected to the body.
“You don’t know this, of course, but those threads mean that you can still return to your fleshy vessel. I’m sure the wounds are going to hurt like a motherfucker, but that kind of pain is something reserved for the living. A badge of honor, you could say.”
Asier looks around, even up, as if he was expecting someone else to show up.
“What’s wrong?” I ask.
“I mean, who is in charge of this?” he asks nervously. “Who is running this… underworld?”
“Why the hell would there be anyone running it? What a stupid question. Did you expect a king of the afterlife or something like that? When the spacecrafts get out there, do they need to go meet the space king? Wait, I’m not entirely sure that makes sense, but you are making huge assumptions here.”
“I’m making assumptions? You are the one making all these things out to be simple. This is the afterlife.”
“Hey, this plane is more of the same, I guess. Just much lonelier.”
Asier covers his face with his hands.
“So… Now what do I do?”
“I told you, you can return back to your body. See those threads? It’s not entirely over yet. Those paramedics are frantically crushing your ribcage with their CPR thing, but at least you won’t die ahead of time. You can reclaim your previous life, see your friends, your wife or whatever. Because you won’t get to interact with them properly once you are dead, as you can imagine! You have to consider it. There’s a whole–“
“Fuck that,” Asier says.
“What happens if I don’t reclaim my body and I just move on to the afterlife, or whatever you call it?”
“Are you serious? As a ghost, this is like spitting in my face, you know? You can just return. You have no idea how dreary this afterlife can get.”
Asier looks down towards his body and the couple of paramedics compressing his chest rhythmically. A grimace twists his shadowy face, as if he had become overwhelmed by a bad memory. He steps back slowly, and then turns and begins running down the highway.
“No! I don’t want more of that!”
The threads that kept him connected to his body snap, and immediately Asier’s ghost brightens up as if a potent flashlight had focused on him. Before I know it, he’s gone.
“We are losing him,” one of the paramedics, a young woman, says.
I haven’t closed my mouth when I turn towards the corpse. The paramedics are now possibly breaking the ribs of an empty vessel.
I go cold, and for a very long second I can’t hear anything at all. This body isn’t entirely dead, and nobody is occupying it. It remains in a sweet spot like no body that I have ever come across. When I possess someone, that feeling of getting licked all over, and how I get pushed out of the body eventually, happens because the body’s inhabitant resists the intruder. But in the corpse lying in front of me there’s nobody home. An empty house with all the furniture in place.
Something akin to hope shakes me. Can I truly return to that world for much longer than your average ouija session? I should be able to, right? I feel that I’m missing many of the ramifications of what I’m steeling myself to try, but Alazne’s crying face flashes on my mind. If I have a body, I can wipe your tears. That’s it. I’m coming, baby.
I turn around and I fall backwards into the body. As soon as I feel myself inside of it, I trigger my ghostly power, and then an insane burst of pain squeezes a scream out of my throat. My chest feels as if a bull charged into it. A tremendous pulsating headache makes me want to tear my brain apart. My guts feel all wrong, and beneath, my crotch is all wet and there’s something muddy filling the space between my ass cheeks.
I open my eyes to find two people’s faces staring down at me. One is a fit woman in her mid twenties, and the other a big guy with a goatee. Both are paramedics. The guy puts a hand on my cheek and shines a bright light into my eyes, worsening my headache.
“Alright, he’s back. Let’s lift him.”
Next thing I know I’m lying on the stretcher inside of the ambulance, which is tearing through the highway towards Donostia as its siren blares.
I reach with my manly hand towards the young female paramedic’s vest, and grab it. She’s confused for a moment, but then she pats my forearm.
“It fucking hurts!” I shout while tears jump from my eyes. “Ah, it hurts so bad!”
For the remainder of our trip, I keep laughing hysterically.