Memento Mori: One – Psychopomp and Circumstances
Alone With the Dead:
by Andrea Speed
One – Psychopomp and Circumstances
The first night into his trip, Gryphon realized it was hurricane season in Florida.He was in a bar where they inexplicably had the Weather Channel on the t.v. over the bar, even though the weather outside was pretty typical. But some guy with bad hair and an unfortunate jacket was talking about how Florida hadn’t finished cleaning up from the last hurricane, yet there was another one coming in.
It was mutually decided that they would wait until hurricane season was over before going to Florida. Mr. Aronofsky had spent most of his life in Philadelphia, and had no desire to experience a hurricane, and Gryph wasn’t thrilled with the prospect either. He could just imagine getting possessed by a someone who had been killed by a falling tree or a flying toilet, and it seemed like a joy he should save. Good things came to those who waited, right?
He was in Portland, Oregon by this time, and thought he might hang around another day or two. It was another good, artsy fartsy liberal city that tried to add a touch of the bohemian to its otherwise anonymous cityscape. It was like Seattle, but farther from the Canadian border. Besides, he felt better wherever there was a boho touch, as that was the atmosphere he grew up in.
He thought about going back to Seattle, back to Naheed but he just told her he was going, and it might seem stalkerish. He couldn’t afford to get his hopes up anyways; relationships were for normal people, not people full of dead people gifted with erratic telekinesis.
Gosh, that sounded sane.
As it turned out, Portland had its own ugly weather system to deal with. A big storm blew in while he decided to loiter, not a hurricane but something with strong winds and buckets of rain – an American version of a mild typhoon – and he found it difficult to sleep in his car while it was being buffeted by the angry winds, and pelted with fat drops of rain that struck with the force of pebbles. Also, there was apparently a minor leak in one of the back windows, getting him splashed a bit. The others convinced him to use some of his cash to get a cheap motel room, at least for the night.
So that’s why he was in a Motel 6, eating microwave popcorn and drinking diet Pepsi, and watching a repeat of Buffy The Vampire Slayer as rain lashed the window like hail, and branches slapped against the siding like a drunken man punching at shadows. Gryphon had to admit it was kind of a novelty to have his own room, and watch a t.v. that wasn’t in a bar.
And strip down to your shorts while doing it, Ruby noted. Do that in a bar, and they’d kick you out. Or, some skeevy guy would shove a five down your jockeys .
“Thanks for the mental imagery,” he said, taking a gulp of his pop. “Although, it would be more action than I’ve had … well, ever.”
And there goes the shirt, Hugh said, as the actor playing Angel showed up shirtless. If this were a drinking game, he could take a shot now.
He could bite me anytime, Ruby said. For free even.
Me too, Hugh agreed.
I get nervous when they agree on anything, Mr. Aronofsky said.
“Me too,” Gryphon said, shoving a handful of popcorn in his mouth. It was too salty, and had some of that weird butter flavored stuff on it, but the more he ate, the hungrier he realized he was.
Cause you haven’t eaten in what, two days, you stupid cracker, Taneesha said helpfully. You’ve spent all your food money on booze. You’re a punk ass drunk.
“I am not! And stop calling me cracker.”
Why can’t you look like that? Ruby complained.
“He’s an actor who can work out for weeks in advance of his shirtless scene. You can’t compare me to him.”
Yeah, I guess you’re right, she agreed, far too readily. I mean, you’re a busy guy … busy being homeless, drunk, and self-pitying …
“Okay, now it’s quiet time. Everybody shut up.”
Why? Taneesha asked, clearly combative. When was she not combative?
“’Cause I’m watching this, okay?”
You’ve seen this one, Ruby pointed out. We’ve all seen this one.
“I don’t care.” But quiet time, it seemed, came just in time for the commercial break, and there was an ad for what must have been a local talk show, as he’d never heard of it before. This woman with a frighteningly botox’ed face (it looked like you could bounce a quarter off her skin and send it straight over the roof) and hair that looked like a well groomed badger crouched on her scalp, talked about their guest on the next show, Madam Paula, a “spiritualist” who claimed to talk to the dead. “Bullshit,” Gryphon snapped irritably, lobbing an unpopped kernel at the screen. It hit it square and bounced off, getting lost in the carpet.
These people just crawl out of the woodwork, don’t they? Mr. Aronofsky mused.
Why don’t you do that? Hugh suddenly asked. You actually know dead people. Go make some money off it already.
“I don’t think so,” he scoffed. “Besides, I don’t talk to dead people. I just get possessed by poltergeists, who never know when to shut up, and occasionally use me to kill the people who killed them. I really don’t want to carry a business card to that effect.”
You can do more than that, Mr. Aronofsky insisted. Remember at that show? You knew that woman’s son was dead.
“Everyone in that audience had a dead someone. That’s why they were there, and that’s how that fuck makes his money, by exploiting their grief. I’m not gonna do that; I don’t care how broke I am. That’s just fucking sick.”
You knew things you couldn’t have known, Mr. Aronofsky continued. You knew his name, you knew how he died, you knew that putz was lying to that woman about him. You sense the dead, you sense where the bodies are buried – isn’t it possible you’re picking up much more than you ever realized?
He shrugged and searched the popcorn bag for another edible piece, but there was nothing left but the unpopped remnants. Not only did he not want to talk about it, he didn’t want to think about it. The lamp on the bedside table flickered, and he said, “Knock it off.”
I don’t think we did that, Hugh replied.
The rain was pounding against the window like it was desperate to get in, and the wind was a dull and angry roar, making the siding creak like it was scared. There was another flicker in the bedside lamp, and then the power died all at once, the lamp and t.v. shutting themselves off, leaving him sitting on the bed in the dark, listening to the storm rage outside. “Fuck.”
The good thing about living in a car is you don’t have to worry about power outages, Ruby said. He supposed that was sarcastic.
He sat there for a few minutes, finishing his soda and waiting for the storm to abate or the power to come back on, but neither appeared to be a possibility. He sighed heavily, then slid off the bed, aware of where he’d left his clothes. He hardly had to feel around much at all.
What do you think you’re doing? Ruby asked suspiciously.
“There’s a bar up the street. It looks like a real dive, but if I’m going to be waiting in the dark, I’d rather do it with beer.”
See, what did I tell you? Taneesha snapped. Punk ass drunk.
Well, at least he’s clean, Ruby replied.
And he was too. The first thing he did, after getting over having a bathroom all his own, was take a very long shower. His fingers were still a bit pruney.
The sun had only recently set – it wasn’t quite seven yet – but it seemed dead (no pun intended) outside, the violent storm having chased everyone sensible inside. It was dark too, as all the blocks he could see had no lights whatsoever, and he thought this was what a nighttime world would be like; it would be this contained, this quiet, and only the dead or their rides would be walking the street.
You sound drunk already, Ruby interjected. Sure you feel well?
“Honestly? I’m a little dizzy.” And he was, he had been for a while, but he assumed it was a general giddiness in not sleeping in the Buick for once, or the sickly sweet floral room freshener they used at the motel. That stuff could strip paint off the walls.
Maybe you should eat dinner instead of drinking it, Mr. Aronofsky suggested.
The wind was strong enough that he could lean into it and have it hold him up, but the rain was hitting him like gravel, and it really wasn’t that pleasant. As he reached the corner, he saw a fluorescent green flyer hanging on to a crosswalk pole for dear life, a ragged corner flapping violently in the breeze. He caught the letters “P-S-Y” in big letters, and just had to look.
It was an ad for a “psychic fair” (fourth annual), taking place at something called the Brenmer Pavilion. The name and address meant nothing to him, as he didn’t know Portland at all, but the “fair” started today, and went until Sunday. There was a truly goofy illustration of a floating pyramid and a meditating guy with his two eyes closed and his third eye open, and he ripped it off the pole.
Hey, there’s a place to start, Ruby said. Go there and say you talk to dead people. People will probably line up to talk to you.
“I was hoping people who claimed to speak to the dead were already there,” he admitted, shoving the wet piece of paper into his pocket. “I wanted to go chew them a new one.”
Oh good, you have a crusade now, Hugh said acidly.
“I need a hobby.”
The bar was indeed a tiny little dive, a small wooden frame place that looked like it may have once been a convenience store, and inside it was almost comically dark, much darker than outside. But there were several people inside, all men, and there were many lit candles – mostly those citronella types in glass jars – scattered about, tiny puddles of illumination that hardly cut the gloom. Still, a couple of guys were playing pool by candlelight.
The bartender was a bald mixed race man, with dark skin and Asian eyes, who also had a nose ring that was connected to his earring by a slender golden chain, and seemed to have a tattoo on the top of his head, but in the darkness it was almost impossible to tell what it was.
He had a couple of beers that tasted little better than piss, but it gave him a small but pleasant feeling that wasn’t quite a buzz, but was close enough. He also ate all the peanuts in the basket on the bar, but there weren’t that many left, so he didn’t feel like a pig. He ordered a vodka, just to mix things up, and then, because this place was so quiet and depressing, he asked the bartender how to get to the Brenmer Pavilion.
The guy, fearsome appearance aside, was actually very nice, and drew him a little map on a cocktail napkin. It was a couple of miles from here, and the guy at the end of the bar suddenly said, “They might have power in that quadrant.”
The bartender looked down at him, chain shaking and shimmering. “Why’s that?”
The guy, who was just a lumpy shadow, sighed wearily. “From Brook Street to Madison Court, this is Portland Pacific Power territory. From Rose Avenue to 28th Street, it’s Columbia Power & Water territory. Just ‘cause Portland Pacific’s had an outage doesn’t mean Columbia’s had one too.”
“Huh,” the bartender said, an acknowledgement that what the guy said was kind of interesting, but only if you were absolutely starved for company. Gryphon assumed the guy was some sort of Cliff Claven wannabe, or he actually worked for one of those power companies. Which begged the question why he wasn’t out there helping restore power.
Would you want to be out there working? Hugh said.
A damn good point.
He thanked the bartender, gulped down his vodka, and ventured out into the storm again, returning to the motel to get his car. Hitting the vodka had improved his mood measurably; he almost felt like he was floating as he walked down the empty, rain lashed streets to the motel parking lot.
You really shouldn’t drive in this condition, Mr. Aronfosky said. Let me do it.
Says the guy who died in a car crash, Taneesha commented.
That wasn’t my fault, he replied archly. I was hit by some schmuck who didn’t know red meant stop.
“I’m fine, guys, don’t worry about it.” He didn’t know if that was true or not, but he felt so good he didn’t care. After having died – well, at least in memories – about a dozen times, it was hard to be afraid of anything.
He managed to get there just fine, in spite of all the nagging going on in his head, and the Brenmer Pavilion turned out to be not so much a concert hall as a place where you had boat shows – tiny boat shows. And the guy at the bar had been right, this “quadrant” still had electricity, as the streetlights were still functioning, as were the traffic lights at the main intersection. But by the way the lights swung in the breeze, it would be a lucky thing if they kept the power for much longer.
In spite of that – or perhaps because of it – the parking lot was surprisingly full, and he had to park far away from the Pavilion and walk in. But by that point he felt like he was drifting, being blown along like a dried leaf. Are you sure you haven’t been smoking pot behind our backs? Ruby asked. That made Gryphon laugh.
You had to pay eight bucks to get in, which seemed unfair, but as soon as he was inside the slightly drafty pavilion, he was approached by a heavy set woman in a floral patterned dress. She had wavy, dyed blonde hair and an open face, and wore what looked like a crown of knotty twigs. If she had been fifteen years older, brunette, and a bit thinner, she could have been his mother. “Welcome, truth seeker,” she said, then held out a fan towards him. “Pick a card.”
Oh boy, did every entrant get a complimentary magic trick? He chose a card at random and looked at it, a little surprised at what was on the face. It was roughly the size and shape of a regular playing card, but instead of the three of clubs or something else expected and mundane, it had on it that dog headed Egyptian god. “Uh, what’s this?” He asked, giving her back the card.
She took it, guileless blue eyes wide with wonder. “Oh, you got Anubis, the psychopomp.”
“The what now?”
“Psychopomp, it means conductor of souls,” she explained. “Not many people choose this one.”
Conductor of souls? Ruby piped up. Hey, we have a new name for you.
“Is that bad or good?”
The way she paused made him suspect she was lying, or simply forgot. “Oh, it’s good. It means you’re a generous and old soul, very protective of others.”
He gave her a weak smile. “Not by choice, honey. Trust me.” He then walked away, before her puzzled look could morph into a question.
The “psychic fair” was a sea of tables and booths, loosely arranged in a grid work pattern for maximum occupancy and density, and ran the gamut of people selling odd products and services, to your more traditional astrological forecasting, Tarot card and palm reading tables. It was really hard to know where to start.
You’re not going to cause a scene, are you? Mr. Aronofsky asked.
“Me? No,” he whispered under his breath. But not nearly quietly enough, as a couple passing by turned and gave him a funny look. He smiled at them, and said, “Conversing with the spirits.”
You stop this now, Mr. Aronofsky scolded. If I have to take you over and walk you out of here, I will.
“Lighten up. I don’t have a lot of fun.” He scanned the crowd, looking for … well, hell, he wasn’t sure exactly … but his eyes settled on a fairly large sign that read : “Spirit Guides”. “And that looks like a good place to start.”
Mr. Aronofsky groaned. There are times when I’m glad I’m dead.
Gryphon could sympathize. But it wasn’t about to keep him from biting those bastard’s heads off.
He wended his way through the tables, through the people having their runes cast and chakras read, and made his way towards the Spirit Guides booth, his mild buzz building up to a small yet palpable belligerence. About ten feet from the table, he saw a guy in jeans and a plaid shirt holding some kind of electronic device in his hands. Gryphon wasn’t sure what it was, especially since it was too big to be a cell phone. “Hey Shane,” the guy said, looking over at his shoulder at whoever was manning the table. “I think we got a ghost in here.”
He moved the machine around, and then looked up and stared Gryphon straight in the eyes