“At least it was quick,” said the hateful woman from number 42.
“Yes, quick and painless,” agreed her loathsome neighbour from number 44. “That’s the way to go. Quick and painless.”
“And how the buggering hell would you know?” I shouted. But no one heard me.
That’s one of the great irritations of being dead – it’s very difficult to make yourself heard.
Another is having to sit through your own damn funeral.
All those people I tried my hardest to avoid throughout life, setting their faces to sombre and barfing their faux sympathy in the general direction of my poor Janine. The whole left side of the church wasn’t there for my funeral at all. They’d come for a communal gloat at having outlasting me. All aside from Dumb Billy, that is – he came for the sandwiches.
For the record, dear reader, being hit by a speeding tram is not painless. Not at all.
Quick? Maybe – although it doesn’t seem particularly so when you’re lying in a pool of your own blood outside Primark, being gawked at by a bunch of rubber-necked shoppers.
But painless? Hell no. I’ll spare you the gory details of a crushed lung, a shattered pelvis and my internal organs letting in blood like they were the goddamned Lusitania and ask you to take my word for it when I say dying hurt like all fuckery!
The congregation continued to dribble in. I swear to you – at least 25% of them I’m sure I’d never met while I was alive. I guess they just turned up for the entertainment.
And then -…- what the bloody hell was he doing there?
My sworn enemy and certified tub of slime Lawrence DiSanton ponced up the path towards the church, his shiny bald head gleaming in the morning sunlight. Whoever said you can’t polish a turd had clearly never met Lawrence and his generously waxed dome. And where do you think he sat? Right next to Janine. Me, not yet in my grave and that slippery little shit was making a move on my wife.
I apologise, dear reader. I am being cantankerous again and that is not the first impression I intended. You will have to excuse me, I’m afraid. You see, five days ago a drunken tram driver took the corner into high street far too quickly, jumped the track and cut me down in my prime. I’ve been in rather an ill-humour ever since.
According to the paper, the driver had recently been dumped by his girlfriend – the journalist thought that was very bad form on her part so freshly into a new year – and had spent the three hours before the start of his shift becoming acquainted with a fellow named Jack Daniels. The newshound went on to opine how fortunate it was that only one person had been killed which, as you may imagine, did not wholly console me.
At this point you may be a little befuddled. If I am, as I claim to be, deceased then what the bloody hell am I still doing here? Shouldn’t I be looking down at this scene from heaven or perhaps from my curmudgeonly manner, you believe I belong someplace else. Alas no, if there is a God, he’s discourteously late for our appointment.
Neither would it be correct to call me a ghost. I don’t float, can’t walk through walls and, I assure you, am not in the slightest bit transparent. I can walk from place to place though, can go into a pub and pour myself a nice beer, can drink that nice beer and pour myself five or six more – and yes, the dead still get pissed!
In fact, the dead can do pretty much everything we could do when we were alive. Except, we cannot interact with the living. Or rather we can but you self-obsessed egotists never notice.
The minister gave quite a nice eulogy. It was mostly bollocks but nice all the same. I couldn’t really enjoy it though. My eyes kept getting drawn back to that dreadful arse Lawrence, whose arm I noticed, was now creeping ever further along my Janine’s shoulder.
I picked up a hymn books and let fly. It slammed into Lawrence’s head with a satisfying thump before clattering to the ground with a sound that should have disrupted the whole service. Of course it didn’t. No one noticed. Not the minister, not Janine, not the hateful woman from number 42, not even slimy Lawrence as the book smacked into his bald cranium. The living are so self-involved.
The minister called Janine’s name and she got to her feet. My mourners admired her with sympathetic eyes as she approached the lectern. The brave woman who had just lost her husband. Lawrence watched her too but there was no compassion in his gaze. His eyes displayed only one emotion – lasciviousness and they were glued well and truly to her buttocks. This time I whacked him hard. I slipped into the pew behind him and brought the hymn book down on that glossy bonce with such force it left a fierce red mark -visible only to me, of course.
And somebody laughed.
This was my funeral. My widowed wife was about to speak from her heart and someone was laughing. Surely, my mourners would denounce the offender with righteous indignation but they did not. Another laugh.
Sitting behind me was an elderly woman. She had a blue rinse perm and was chuckling her heart out. And she could see me!
“Freshcorpse?” she said.
I looked around still not quite sure that she was talking to me. “Excuse me?” I said, when I realised she was.
“You a freshcorpse? Y’know a neocarcass?”
I looked at her blankly and she let out an exasperated sigh.
“A recently dead?” she enunciated each word slowly and deliberately as if talking to an imbecile.
“Oh, yes,” I said. “That’s me up there in the box.” I gestured to the coffin and she nodded knowingly.
“I’m Ethel,” she said as she clambered over the pew, elbowing Lawrence firmly in the side of the head as she did so. An action which, I must say, greatly endeared her to me.
“Happy Funeral,” she said offering a hand for me to shake. “Ashes to ashes and all that.”
She leaned in to examine me and I, in turn, studied her back . To describe Ethel as slightly unhinged would be to do her a great injustice.She was madder than box of hedgehogs but I had not spoken to anyone since my demise and was glad of the company.
Ethel pointed at Janine, sniffling her goodbyes from the lectern. “She the widow?”
“Yes, she was my wife”
She looked at Lawrence, wrinkled her nose as if she’d just noticed a sloppy dog turd, soaking into one of the cushions. “Aaaahhh,” she said. “He’s a widowbagger?”
I was about to ask what a widowbagger was but decided that I already had a fair idea and didn’t need to hear Ethel’s undoubtedly graphic explanation.
“Nasty things widowbaggers. Very nasty,” she continued.
“So, what can I do? How can I stop him?”
“There’s nothing you can do. You’re dead. Us deadfolk can’t affect the world of the living. Unless…” She paused.
“Unless… you don’t know anyone with a Ouija board, do you?”
“I might do,” I said hopefully. “Why, do they work?”
Ethel laughed. “Of course they don’t you daft freshcorpse. No, you’re screwed. Or rather, she is.” With that she hopped over the front pew, incredibly sprightly for an 80 year-old dead woman, and bounded up the steps to where my coffin lay.
“Christ, what a mess!” she said, lifting up the lid. “I hope you’re getting cremated. Looking like that, you’ll make the worms sick.”
She jumped down off the stage. “Come on. This is boring. Let’s get out of here.”
I watched Janine’s tearful walk back to her seat and Lawrence’s arms widening to embrace her and decided that I didn’t want to be here either. I’d take my chance with the batty old ex-granny.
“How long have you been dead?” I asked Ethel once we were outside.
“That, young man, is a question a deceased lady never answers,” she said in a chastising tone.
I was about to apologise but she continued.
“But since it’s you Funeral Day, I’ll let you off. I died 3 years ago at the age of 81 and am still waiting for my hardheaded husband to finish up his bloody life and come and join me.”
“He’s still alive?”
“Yep. Always been the same. Ask him to fix the toilet, 6 months later it’s still not done. Ask him to mend the fence, I don’t think he ever did that. And now here I am, dead as a dingo and that obstinate bastard’s as fit as ever. He ran a bloody 10k last year, can you believe that? Thought he might have a heart attack but no such luck. He-.” She stopped suddenly and then at the top of her voice let out a fearsome cry.
“DEEEEEEMMMMOOOOOONNNNNNN!!!!!!!” she yelled again. “Ruuuuuuuuuuuuunnnnnn!”
Ethel turned to run but such was her panic, she tripped over a nearby gravestone. A comical sight, I must admit, but seeing an elderly woman fall over a headstone and landing face first in a pile of daffodils is one of those sights it seems uncouth to laugh about – out loud at least.
I offered her a hand and she pulled herself to her feet but her eyes were still fixed on the tree behind us.
“Demon!” she whispered, almost conspiratorially this time.
As you may imagine, dear reader, these cries set me on edge somewhat. I mean, something which can terrify a dead woman must be truly abhorrent, mustn’t it?
Nervously, I followed her gaze and with more than a hint of a relief, I can tell you, I located the source of her alarm.
“That’s not a demon,” I said, trying to sound more soothing than patronising. “It’s just a cat. A harmless little pussy cat.” And it was. Just a cute little black cat wearing a purple collar and a bell that rang jingle jangle.
“Demon,” Ethel hissed at the cat and I’ll be damned if the cat didn’t hiss back. It arched its back, bared its teeth and spat out a noise that a more superstitious person than I may have described as demonic.
“DEMON,” Ethel wailed hysterically.
I needed to do something to calm her. No-one else could hear her of course but still, her maniacal shrieking jarred against the tranquil ambiance of the graveyard and to be perfectly honest, dear reader, I found it rather unsettling.
I held out a hand and spoke to the cat gently.
“Here puss puss puss. Who’s a lovely little kitty?”
Its demeanor changed immediately. The hissing stopped and it hopped onto my arm and nuzzled into my chest, purring amiably as I spoke to it. My brain jerked back into life – or perhaps that should be death – I could interact with it.
“Is it dead?” I asked Ethel who was staring at me with eyes like frisbees.
She just shook her head slowly and said again “‘s a demon.”
“It’s a cat,” I said. “Look.” And I brought the cat to within a couple of inches of her face.
Ethel screamed. “Demon. Demon. Get back.”
Although rather confused, I decided that I didn’t want to upset her any more than she already was so I placed the cat back in the tree and led Ethel away.
For ten minutes we walked in silence, me contemplating my encounter with the cat, Ethel still in something of a terrified stupor.
“I want ice-cream,” she declared suddenly and marched across the street to a small cafe with a sign above it which read Feel Like Crêpe?
With my recent transport related death still fresh in my mind, I waited for a gap in the traffic before joining her and by the time I entered the shop Ethel was behind the counter scooping a fourth flavour of ice cream into a waffle cone. She studied it critically, stole a sausage from a nearby diner’s plate and plunged it into the ice-cream as if it were a chocolate flake. She held her masterpiece at arm’s length, admiring her handiwork and then took a delicate bite. It clearly pleased her as the petrified look melted from her face and a cheerful grin appeared in its place.
“The demon,” she said when we were back outside. The fear was gone from her voice now – replaced by a puzzled, intrigued tone. “You spoke to it and it spoke to you back.”
“And it didn’t suck out your soul,” she added with what sounded like a tinge of disappointment.
“Well, yes it purred a bit,” I agreed. “I have – had, I corrected myself – two cats at home. Janine’s a massive cat person. What I don’t understand is how it can see me, how it can feel me stroking it.”
Ethel looked exasperated, as though she’d explained this clearly to me a hundred times or more and I still wasn’t listening. “Because. It’s. A. Demon. Demon’s see everything. The dead, the living, everything.”
“So, I can still interact with animals? Dogs and rabbits too?”
If there had been a brick wall nearby, I have no doubt that Ethel would have banged her head against it. As it was, we’d wandered into the park so she contented herself by taking a very obvious deep breath and then speaking to me in voice which made it abundantly clear that I knew literally nothing about anything.
“No! Dogs is dogs. Rabbits is rabbits. Cats is demons!” She gave me a look that could have withered the tree of life and I decided to hold fire on the questions until she was in a better mood.
That sort of killed the conversation for a while but we kept walking anyway. Side-by-side we made our way to the duck pond and sure enough the ducks and the swans and the geese were completely oblivious to our presence. I tossed a piece of Ethel’s ice-cream cone into the pond – she’d handed it to me when she couldn’t eat anymore – and watched it sink sadly out of sight.
I turned to see where the noise was coming from but before I’d even twisted half way round, I felt the paws land on my shoulder. The black cat with purple collar purred contentedly and nuzzled against my neck. Next to me, Ethel froze. Her eyes wanted to get up and run away as fast and as far as she could but her body would not move. She couldn’t even manage to hiss this time but the cat paid her no attention. It was looking in the same direction as I was. And I froze too. Not because I thought the cat was a demon, you understand. I was quite pleased to have a second friend in this afterworld and one with a touch more sanity left than Ethel, to tell the truth. No, I froze because of what I saw approaching us along the path. Or rather who I saw.
Slowly walking towards us, hand in hand, were Lawrence and my Janine. My blood boiled. I briefly considered throwing the cat at Lawrence’s head, thinking that he may actually feel that, but I quickly decided against it. As I said before, I’m rather fond of cats and this one may be the most compos mentis companion I have. Plus, cats are notoriously difficult to aim accurately and I didn’t want to hit Janine by mistake.
They stopped suddenly. And Lawrence pointed one of his disgusting arms right at me. Could he see me?
“Janine! Sweety!” I heard Lawrence say excitedly. “Would you look at that? That cat looks like it’s floating. Look. There above that bench.”
Janine, who until this point had been staring intently at her feet, looked up and gasped.
“What the hell is going on?” said Lawrence. He broke away from my wife and picked up a long branch from the floor.
“Lawrie, what are you doing?” asked Janine. Lawrie?! She called him Lawrie! I could have been sick.
“Don’t poke it?”
“Don’t worry sweety, I won’t hurt it. I just want to see how it’s doing it.”
Lawrence poked the stick forcefully into the gap between the bench and the cat. It struck me right between my ribcage but unlike Lawrence and the hymn book I actually felt it. I wheezed in pain and doubled over. The cat hissed at our attacker and leapt up onto my head.
“Please Lawrie,” Janine cried. “Leave it be.”
Lawrence ignored her. He swung the branch. It connected with a crunching blow on the left side of my jaw which incidentally is how I discovered that the dead can still lose teeth.
“Lawrie!” Janine pleaded with him. “Please stop. You’re scaring the cat.” She grabbed hold of his arm as she spoke.
“Just a moment, sweety. There’s something under here. Something invisible.” He swung the branch again, from left to right this time. Ethel ducked but I didn’t. It struck me just below my right eye, knocking me sideways off the bench. As I fell, the cat bounded from my head and onto the branch. It wasn’t hissing now. It was snarling, growling, gnashing its teeth, guillotine claws protruding from its paws – for a moment I almost believed it was a demon.
Lawrence’s expression changed too. Until now, he’d had the look of a sadistic schoolboy, pulling the wings off butterflies but now his face was full of fear. He shook the branch violently, trying to upset the cat but he could not. It was only cat, he shouldn’t have been afraid but at that moment Lawrence understood that it wasn’t only a cat. It was something much more terrible. He panicked, his eyes darted around for a solution and then he found one. He saw the pond and his mouth once again upturned into that repulsive self-satisfied sneer.
Janine and I understood his plan at exactly the same moment and we both threw ourselves upon him. But where I was powerless to intervene, she grabbed him in a bear hug.
“Lawrence, stop it!” she screamed. I was pleased to notice he was Lawrie no longer. “It’s just a cat, stop it now. Leave it alone.”
But Lawrence knew it wasn’t just a cat. He’d seen what Ethel saw and he wanted to throw the branch in the pond. Drown the viscous bastard. Destroy it.
I don’t think he meant to elbow Janine, just get her off him so he could dispose of the cat but he caught her cleanly right on the temple. Janine didn’t shout but the way she flopped to the ground was sickening. I tried to catch but, of course, I couldn’t and she landed forcefully on her backside. She was still conscious I was relieved to see and although it was horrible to see her go down like that, my heart lifted as I saw the fury in her eyes. At that moment she hated Lawrence. Despised him.
Lawrence only stopped for a millisecond to take in my wife’s fall but that was enough for the cat. With a earsplitting screech it pounced, outstretched claws plunged the bald head. Lawrence dropped the branch and swung a fist but the cat was in control now. It dug deeply into his scalp causing little trickles of blood to run down his face.
Lawrence screamed and shouted and threw punches and slaps at the animal perched on top of him but none found their target and all the time the cat drove him forward. Lawrence’s eyes were scrunched shut to stop the blood running into them and he staggered around helplessly, lurching his head forwards and backwards. And still the cat steered him towards his destination. By the time Lawrence felt the ground sloping away it was already too late. The cat released its grip and dived clear just before Lawrence hit the water. The ducks and swans who may have been blind to my presence certainly noticed the large man whose ungainly entry had disrupted the calmness of their water and they fled from the scene amid a flurry of disgruntled quacks.
Lawrence staggered to his feet, soaked and embarrassed – his shouting and splashing had attracted quite an audience who were finding the episode distinctly hilarious.
“Where is that damn cat?” he barked.
His demand was not answered. Instead he was met by the cries of two infuriated women – one he could see, one he couldn’t.
“You’re a pig, Lawrence DiSanton,” Janine yelled.
“Take that you lousy widowbagger,” shouted Ethel.
“I don’t know what I was thinking. You’re a disgusting little creep. Not half the man my Marcus was,” said Janine. “I never want to see you again.”
I imagine, dear reader, that you have never experienced a demon cat, pushing a disgusting mucusbucket into a pond after he tried to seduce your recently bereaved spouse, so believe me when I say it’s an excellent way to blow out those postdeath blues.
Slowly all three of us walked away, leaving Lawrence DiSanton to de-pond himself and deal with the protests of some pretty annoyed mallards. Janine smiled to herself for the first time all week. Ethel muttered something about seriously needing to consider her position on demons. And on my shoulder purred a little black cat, with a purple collar and whose bell rang jingle jangle.