Memento Mori: Thirteen – Gravity Gets Things Done
Alone With the Dead:
by Andrea Speed
Thirteen – Gravity Gets Things Done
The ocean was blue-gray, a darker color than the azure sky, which seemed to go on for forever, barely broken up by a smattering of high clouds that looked like a torn layer of cotton gauze. The water lapped gently at the golden shore, splashing down and retreating once more, only to do it again. Gryphon supposed it was pretty, but then again, he supposed it was also the epitome of futility, nature’s version of Sisyphus. In that case, it was a perfect representation of him, wasn’t it? What the hell had he been doing with his life since the dead pulled him back from the brink? He’d been their taxi service, their conduit for revenge, and nothing more. Shouldn’t he have been something more, or should he be content obeying their wishes?
He should have passed on this whole business to someone like Louis. Too bad he was a crazy psychotic prick.
Gryph looked around, but found himself sitting alone on the empty beach, the sand so smooth it looked like a painting. But he touched it, felt the grains in the hollow of his palm, and knew this internal reality hadn’t abandoned him. “Okay, where are you?” he asked, shaking the sand off his hand. “Come on, there’s no need to be ashamed of your mindscape. As happy places go, this is very … nice.” Saying typical or by the book would probably be seen as discouraging or some shit. Still, when was the last time he’d been at a beach? Most people’s happy places had been unusual lately, odd places that never would have struck him as anyone’s idea of a restful sanctuary, but that just reinforced the truth that people were fucking strange.
No one answered, no one appeared, so he pressed his hand into the wet sand, killing time. His print remained, and he watched water ooze up into it slowly, before the tide lapped the shore and filled it more directly with white foamy water. It was like him, wasn’t it? He was empty, and the dead filled him up.
“Oh please,” a familiar voice said. “Would you please stop with this self-pity shit?”
He looked up sharply, snide remark locked and loaded, but it died in his throat when he saw who was talking to him. It was a scrawny young man, barefoot, in loose black sweatpants and a long white shirt that hung off him like he was a child wearing his dad’s clothes. He had five o’clock shadow that was starkly black against his pale skin, matching his messy raven hair, which was neither short or long, just somewhere in the middle and none too neat. His face was young and unremarkable, except when you got to his eyes; they were green, and old – astonishingly old. They were the eyes of an octogenarian staring out of a twenty year old face, and it was shocking in its contrast.
And familiarity. He was looking at the person he saw in the mirror every other morning.
After the shock of seeing himself, he realized he was being fucked with. “Ruby, is that you? Hugh? What is this shit?”
The scruffy him scoffed and shook his head. “You’re very selective about the strange phenomena you choose to believe in. I’m not them. I really think I’m you. Or you’re me. However that works.”
“Guys, stop it. I’m in no mood to be fucked with right now.”
“You’re never in any mood to be fucked with. You’re no fun anymore.”
“Go away.” He looked off at the ocean, determined to ignore whoever it was that thought this was funny, and that’s when he saw that the tide had washed something up. It ended up near his foot, just separate from a clump of seaweed, It was two Tarot cards stuck together, sodden and torn, One was the Death card, which he had long grown bored with, and the other was that funky one, the “psychopomp” card he pulled at the psychic fair, with that dog faced Egyptian god on it. What was his name again?
“Anubis,” his other self supplied helpfully. “Do you know what he was the god of?”
“The dead. He was a death god, hence psychopomp, conductor of souls. Unlike many death gods, he was considered rather benevolent; he weighed your soul fairly, and adjudicated your afterlife standing reasonably. He put the dead on their correct path in the underworld. Be fair to him, and he was fair to you.”
“Okay, so now I know you’re Sylvio.”
“Aren’t you getting the theme here?”
“What theme? Death? Hate to break this to you, but that’s not a news flash.”
His other self – possibly Sylvio – huffed a sigh through his nose, and then stuck his hands in his pockets, as if trying to keep from jumping on him and pounding his face into pulp. (Well, in that case, it could honestly be himself …) “What was it that Stanhope could do that you couldn’t?”
He looked up at his doppelganger suspiciously, feeling like he was getting roped into something, although he wasn’t sure what yet. “Go psycho, kill his family, and proclaim himself god?”
He had to think about that, because honestly he thought that encapsulated things nicely. “He could do that … that ripping thing, where he could kill the dead with nothing more than the stink eye.”
“If he had the same power as you, why could he do that? And why did the dead rally to your side instead of his?”
“Because, I just said: he could kill them.”
“And what is it you do to them?”
He looked up at himself like he was a complete moron – and if he was him, he just might be – but whatever he was going to say died in his throat. Yes, what the fuck was he going to say? Finally, he decided the safest thing to say was, “I don’t kill them.”
His other self looked down at him with a raised eyebrow, his expression smug enough that Gryph wanted to smack it off. “Then what is it you do with them?”
He had no idea how to answer that question. “I don’t do anything with them. They take me over, remember?”
“And what happens then?”
“They use me, usually for some bloody god awful revenge.”
His second self looked at him quite expectantly. “And then what?”
Gryph glared at him. “What do you mean ‘and then what’? Are you a complete moron? Then they -” It suddenly occurred to him what this guy had been leading to. “Oh no. Hell no. It’s different.”
“How is it different? What would happen to them if you hadn’t come along?”
He shook his head and looked out at the ocean, wondering what the whole point of this mini Spanish Inquisition was, and if maybe the point was somewhere out there, floating just beyond the edge of the horizon. “I don’t know. I guess they’d be stuck where they were.”
“Right. So you find these people, who are dead and yet still not quite, Through you they find -”
“Shut up,” he demanded, picking up a clod of wet sand and lobbing it into the water. “I’m not listening to you.” The clod made a satisfying “plop” as it hit the water, but the ripples barely cut through the movement of the tide.
“You can’t deny it. Why even try?”
“Whoever the hell you are, just fuck off, all right?” He realized then that the thick stubble didn’t make him look older; paradoxically, it made him look like a kid who had smeared his face with shoe polish. The problem was his eyes were so old that the rest of his face would always look young by comparison. When did that happen? Why had he never noticed it before? And why hadn’t he realized he was fish belly white? He was as white as a fucking …
… ghost. Was this someone’s idea of a joke?
“The difference between you and him is he killed them again; you give them peace. That’s more than most of them got while they were alive.”
Gryphon felt his heart skip a beat, the taste of acid sour in his mouth, and he didn’t want to even contemplate what he was saying. “You’re full of shit,” he began, but as he turned to face him, he was gone, leaving nary a footprint behind.
He sighed and threw another wet clump of sand at where the asshole had been. “Oh sure, leave before I can nail you to the wall, you fucker.” But was he gone? Probably not. This was somebody’s mindscape, certainly not his. He wasn’t crazy about beaches. They were nice, but he didn’t quite get the wild appeal.
With nothing to look at except the open sky and the endless sea, he glanced back down at the Tarot cards, still laying at his feet in defiance of the waves. He picked up the Death card, his old skeleton friend astride his pale horse, and even though it was so wet it was as limp as a noodle, it suddenly crumbled into dust, the grit blowing away in the wind.
He woke up to the murmur of conversation, Clay and Shane talking to a woman with a low voice, and Gryphon wasn’t too surprised to find himself in another dreary hospital room, painted some pastel shade of blue turned extremely off white. He had tubes in his arms once more, and was covered by a scratchy industrial blanket. So he’d survived again. Shit.
He was in a bed by the window this time, light filtering through the dirty window like it was rays of the sun penetrating deep, dark water. It was still gray outside, still cloudy, but not raining at the moment. He stared out it for a bit, wondering if you could tell the difference between the asphalt and the sky right now. He could be upside down for all the chromatic similarity.
Was he really death? Was that what that whole dream/hallucination/ drug induced illusion was trying to tell him? He was death, or at least he was the equivalent to death to these people, these poltergeists stuck in limbo? Ghosts had a tendency to go away as soon as their message was heard; they just wanted to make sure they were noticed, much like an attention starved child. But poltergeists were just stuck, pointlessly violently or disruptive, and getting a message across just wasn’t enough. They were unhappy, and just having a talk with someone wasn’t enough to let them move on. They needed action; they needed resolution.
They needed to die right this time.
Still didn’t make sense. So Stanhope was death, and he was death, only Stanhope just killed them, with no regard to what they wanted. Gryphon suspected he might do the same if he could prevent being possessed by them, but that option was not his table. Why not? What was the fundamental difference between how they acquired their abilities? Stanhope didn’t get possessed by them; he controlled them all the way along. Gryph was hapless, at the mercy of others.
Stanhope certainly was the death god among them. Maybe the difference was Louis was the unpleasant one, while he was the benign one. He was Anubis to Louis’s … oh man, what other death gods were there?
Osiris, Sylvio offered. He was better known as an Egyptian death god, although Anubis came first. I don’t think Osiris was a bad guy, though.
We’re gettin’ into a whole weird area here, Ray interjected. You can’t honestly be thinkin’ you’re death. I mean … shit man, that’s crazy.
He swallowed back a laugh, but just barely. Crazy was the only word for it.
The doctor or nurse – whatever she was – had left, so Clay and Shane had turned back towards his bed, and stared at him, surprised to see his eyes open. He just stared back at them, wondering what the etiquette was in situations like this. Finally, Shane said, “We gotta stop meeting like this.”
“I know. When they find out I don’t have health insurance, they’re going to freak.”
They approached the foot of his bed, and Clay looked like he was all but bursting at the seams to say something. How much did they figure out already? “What happened to you?” Shane said first, as always leading the way. “The e.r. staff figured you’d been beaten up pretty bad. The cops’ll probably be coming by as soon as they know you’re awake. For a statement.”
“Did it have anything to do at all with what happened at Serenity Acres?” Clay asked, eyes wide and bright. He seemed to almost jittering with eagerness … or maybe he’d just had too much coffee. Shane smacked him casually on the arm for mentioning it, but he hardly noticed it.
“What happened at Serenity Acres?” he replied coolly, figuring he was so tired he could easily lie with a straight face.
Even the usually sober and staid Shane stared back at him with the slightest bit of disbelief, and he knew they’d probably figured out most of it.
But he had to smother another laugh as he wondered if Death actually ever needed to explain itself, no matter what it left in its wake.
Oh yeah, he was nuts. But what was he going to do about it?