Authors: Jonathan DeCoteau
All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 by Jonathan DeCoteau.
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photographing, recording, or by any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the author. The characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, or to real events, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
Fay DeSoto (17)—
I was just your average high school loser trying to get a life.
I ran around on my boyfriend like the tramp I was. My friends texted endlessly about me, and I gained and lost weight so much guys became confused as to whether I was the hot chick or just what ate her.
I was smart, not really much of a tramp, but I was a tramp in training because I felt I needed to be to get any friends—boyfriends, that is.
I was also a drunk, not that I admitted it
That’s what my obituary should have read, though it didn’t. It went more like this:
Fay DeSoto (17),
only daughter of Bill and Helen DeSoto, died in a car crash after hitting a caravan late Saturday night. She was a member of the National Honors Society, active in student government, and on the local youth council at her church. Donations may be made to the Burgundy Hill Ambulance Association. Funeral arrangements are pending
You see, the only thing I really had to look forward to was a party, if you can even call a bunch of wasted kids puking and stumbling around a party. I guess it was the only place where feeling lost suddenly became socially acceptable, where you can stand surrounded by people and still make feeling lonely like something of an art.
It wasn’t much, but whatever it was, it was my life—at least until November 3, 2012.
That’s the day everyone in town learned my name.
It all started innocently enough—when doesn’t it?—for a girl out to get too drunk to remember her life.
Preggers, my girlfriend who always acted like she was terrified of getting pregnant, but never really got any anyway, told me about this party. I know how superficial and stupid that sounds, but this wasn’t just any party. Alex, my ex, was hosting, and rumor was he was going to name his new crush there when all the ladies were assembled. I knew I wasn’t going to be the one to get picked—I’d cheated on him months earlier, before he cheated right back on me—but at least I could spread rumors about whatever girl he chose, which would make the night something of a success.
I was the one driving. I know that for sure. I remember having a drinking spree on Heinekens—most of my boyfriends drank them—and didn’t think much of it. It took a lot to get a girl of my mass drunk. Not that I was a pig—just curvy. I remember that Preggers was freaking out and that Aliya, my other girlfriend, the cuter one, the one who didn’t have to try to hard to get boys to like her, was too busy applying last-minute makeup to take the wheel. So, even though it was Preggers’s car, the honor fell to me. Under most circumstances, I was the best driver of the three, and it would take more than just a few beers to get me too cocked to drive.
It just so happens that the old beige jeep started bucking, that another car, a green caravan with a mother and her daughter, came just my way at just the wrong time of night. It was pitch black. The latest song from anyone but Katy Perry was blaring, and there was a whole lotta blackness, the kind that swallows nights whole and leaves them for dead.
I wish I could say that I remember more details. But all I remember is singing along to a song I can’t remember, seeing Preggers making a funny face to mock my singing, of hearing Aliya bitch on and on about how she could never apply eyeliner if the jeep kept hitting potholes. I remember this sound that can only be described as pure cacophony. It was combination of a flash, of sweat, of all the senses rolled into one—that last second before you know the car’s about to strike—of blinding thunder, of metal tearing into metal, ingesting it into itself, tearing it apart—the sound of death by DUI.
It was so fast I never even saw the mother’s whole face—just the lines of worry, the fading mascara, the eyes so wide they reflected the light of the metal just before the crash. I never saw the daughter—at least, not when I was alive. Believe it or not, Preggers’ fat, mocking face was my last sight of life. After that the cars were too conjoined, like some mythical monster you read about in English class. Preggers was lying still, too still, and Aliya was covered with blood from a slash across her forehead and her back and legs were pinned. She was crying, unable to move. The daughter was okay—just a few abrasions. The mother—her head went through the windshield. Just after her head tilted just enough to look back, to see that her daughter had braced herself. In death, I recognized the daughter as a girl I went to high school with. I saw my body last of all, maybe because my head wasn’t with the rest of me. It was like some horror picture we hooked up over on a Friday night—only it was my severed head, my open blue eyes looking back at me.
I’ll never forget that night, out of all the nights I could have died.
And it’s not just because that’s the night I did die.
It’s because that’s the night I didn’t.
At least, not entirely.
Instead, I woke up, if you can call this waking up, and found that there was still some part of me, some spirit, some soul this atheist never believed in, only it couldn’t just float up into clouds or go down into fires. It was just there, looking in on the world, in on what was once my body, staring at what was once my life.
I heard the shrill cry of sirens, the vapid hum of spinning tires just before they screeched to the grinding halt that happens on cop shows. The reporters weren’t long after. The texts and Twitter posts were immediate.
It was official. I wanted the night I’d remember for the rest of my life. I got it.
* * *
I expected to see a world made of light, of endless horizons. I remembered my mother reading it to me once, when I was a little girl and asked her what heaven was like and if Daddy was there. She told me Daddy definitely wasn’t. Then I was told there were just balls of light that floated like dandelion seeds in the air, then fell, forming gorgeous white sands by a silt river bed. Somehow, that’s what I thought heaven would be like. As for the other place, I never gave it much thought. I was a good girl. An NHS kid. I’d never need to worry about going there.
But there were no dancing balls of light. No illusions that might please a child. Instead, I got the feeling of being rooted to the earth, as if I just couldn’t leave. It wasn’t the car. I could levitate above it, see the body that was me from all kinds of perspectives, the head at every angle, showing every displaced black hair. I could look myself in the eyes, see death staring back at me. No, it was something deeper, something more primal, something I couldn’t quite define. I was stuck. I could float, move anywhere, with the grace of a single thought, but I couldn’t just disappear into time. All I could do was take in the shrieking of sirens, the pounding of hearts, the spectacle that was about to become my legacy.
It was hardest seeing the mother. Her eyes were closed and blood trickled in her blond hair, making her look that much bloodier. She was so still, with pale skin, taut cheekbones, and a certain beauty in her silence. She looked young. I could almost feel the youth in her skin. Her kid, Steph, who I never knew that well, was pounding against glass, screaming out. Steph survived because of her mother’s presence of mind. At Steph’s angle, her mother wasn’t visible. That gave me a thought: I never prayed much. I never much believed in anything but what I saw with the eyes. But for a moment, a part of me prayed Steph would never see her mother as she was, curled, unable to answer her cries. I went over to touch her cheek, but it was cold, even to the touch of a ghost, which I guess I now was.
“You can’t save her,” a voice said.
I turned to follow the sound. It was unique, more like a whisper that floated through the voices, the chaos all around me. I watched as a cop called for the Jaws of Life, as Preggers and Aliya were lifted out, unconscious, waiting only for LifeStar to arrive. If they woke up, they’d remember this day forever, the day they lost their closest friend. If they didn’t, they’d soon be here, standing with me. But not yet. This voice wasn’t theirs.
I kept searching through the rushing cops and paramedics. Standing off to the side, with people rushing through him, was a pale teen with dark bangs, a spider tattoo, and a gothic trenchcoat that might’ve been cool fifteen years ago. Around his neck hung a noose. He looked up. His eyes were vacant, empty of light, just black sockets, black pits for eyes, matching his overall appearance.
“Who are you?” I asked him.
He just looked at me with what would’ve been eyes, but with what felt like only emptiness.
“You really need to ask?” he inquired.
I thought of whether I’d lost anyone in my family. I hadn’t, not since my grandmother, years ago. I half-wished to see her, to have her take my hand. Instead, I was a ghost about to be scared of another ghost.
“Crazy T?” I asked.
“The Butcher of Burgundy Hill,” he said.
He smirked a little. Most people looked better with a little smile. This kid looked morose. I could imagine why. News accounts had it that he’d shot two kids dead at school before taking his own life. He was said to be found in the woods by the high school at the end of a rope with two smoking holes in his skull. Rumors of homicide ran rampant. All I remember is hearing about it years ago when I was a tiny kid. He gave me nightmares. Looking at him now, I could see why.
“Are you the local haunt?” I asked him.
“I’m one of them,” he told me. “There’s more of us than you can imagine.”
I knew I wanted to ask him all the big questions of life, the universe, eternity, and if there was beer in the afterlife. All I could ask, however, was: “Am I stuck here forever?”
“You are in forever,” he told me. “You’re one of us.”
“But is forever here, this place?”
“It’s everything—this place and what comes after.”
“What does come after?”
“Hell,” he told me. “I’ll send you a text—if I get service in hell.”
“Why are you here then?” I asked.
“For your Death Day, of course,” he told me. “Who do you think led you here?”
“I don’t understand.”
“You don’t have to,” he said. “Not anymore. You should’ve, though, the time I made sure your friend’s beer was stocked, the time I told you where to hide out when you and that fat friend of yours were out drinking, the time, just before last period, when I made you feel a little thirsty.”
I remembered every one of those times; they each came with a tingle.
“I worked so hard on you, since you were a kid,” Crazy T said. “You were destined to be one of us. I guess some ghosts just need to learn the hard way.”
“Take me away from here,” I said.
“I can’t,” he told me.
“Because it’s your Death Day.”
“You keep saying that. Why?”
“You only get one—the day you’re welcomed to the afterlife. Soon, you’ll realize you were always there, anyway, but we still celebrate it. Tradition, I guess.”
“Then where’s my family? Where’s heaven?”
“Every Death Day is different. And yours, well, it isn’t going to be a happy one. That’s why you get me.”
“Because you’re one of us now. You’re a Taker,” he told me. “I knew someone would eventually take my place, but you seemed like such a sweet kid.”
In the silence, I felt the people around me moving faster as I grew more apprehensive, slower as I wanted to just step outside of things and take a look. The speeds kept clashing until it became apparent. I was listening to the Jaws of Life tearing the mangled caravan apart to get at the mother and her kid.
“Damn,” I said.
I stood watching with Crazy T, like some ghoul out of a Dickens’ Christmas story I was forced to read in English class.
“Are you the ghost of Christmas yet to come?” I asked him. “Is this what
“This is what is. You’re never going back to this life,” he told me. “But on your Death Day you have to face consequences. The consequences of what you did are just as bad as what I did.”
I didn’t say anything for a while, just watched as paramedics got at Steph, freed her, tried to shield her from the sight of her mother. The thought shot me across town to where my own mother was lying asleep, still under the pretense that I was sleeping over Aliya’s, that I’d wake up the next day, walk through that door. I wanted to wake her, to cry to her for help like I did when I was a kid, but instead I felt pulled back to the crash site, to Steph, to the mother.