She doesn't disappear.
She wakes up again. It's been an hour since she tried to stab me.
She looks at me and smiles. Oh, what a gorgeous smile!
"Good morning," she says. She's still got a great voice.
"Good morning," I say. Dangerous as she may be, I can't help but smile
She stretches. My heart leaps. But I don't dare come too close. I learn
"Did you try to stab me?"
Her forehead crinkles, and she squints slightly. She's still wearing
that smile, though. "No," she says simply.
She could be lying. I choose to believe her.
"Do you walk through walls?"
She laughs. "No." Damn.
"Do you sell life insurance?"
She blinks. "No."
"Then you must have left your groceries in your car."
"Brilliant deduction, Holmes." And she smiles again. I'll take that
as a yes.
So. The woman I met in the store was called Sharon. I wonder where
the other memories came from? Did I have other women here? Why did they
all look like her? It doesn't matter. The past never makes sense. Only
the present matters. And in the present, there's a gorgeous woman that
in all likelihood did not try kill me sitting naked in my bed.
"Would you like breakfast, Sharon?"
"Sure. I'd like dessert first, though." She gestures for me to come
closer. I climb into bed. We kiss.
"I'm disappointed," she says as my kisses move south.
I withdraw. "Why?"
"No coffin. From the way you talked, I was sure you slept in one."
"I admit," I tell her, "that lying dead in a coffin is my life-long
ambition. But it usually takes years of hard work and dedication to
achieve your goals."
She looks at me strangely. That look I have seen before, on
many different faces. This is the look people give me when they don't
know what to make of me. But it passes very quickly, and she laughs.
"You are wa-a-a-ay out there, Joel," she says, and leans closer
to kiss my chest.
Actually, I'm way in here. Inside my head. All three of me.
We have sex. And the crowd cheers.
"So what do you do," I ask her, "when you don't sell insurance?"
We're sitting at the kitchen table. I made some eggs. Or she made some
eggs. Or someone made the eggs before we came into the kitchen. In any
case, we're eating eggs.
"Since I never sell insurance, everything."
"Let me rephrase. What do you do instead of selling insurance?"
"Selling insurance was never an option, so I don't do anything
"Last try." She gestures 'please'. "What do you do for a living?"
"Oh, is that what you wanted to know?" I like her. She's
not scared of me. She doesn't let me get away with anything. "I lift
crates at the peer."
"Really? I didn't think you had enough muscles."
"Advertising? I thought you said you lift crates at the pier."
She stops in mid-chew and looks at me. "Are you serious?"
I shrug. "It's what I heard."
"It doesn't even sound alike!" I shrug again. She seems to consider
something, then keeps on chewing. "So what do you do when you're not
"Actually, that's mostly what I do all day. You'd be surprised how
much variation there is in -- "
"I'll rephrase. What do you do to earn a living?"
"Nothing. I've already earned my living. I used to... tinker around
with gadgets. I invented a couple of patents that allowed me to retire
for the next few centuries."
"So what do you do now?"
"I hang around the house. And think."
"Think? Think about what?"
"Life, death, that sort of thing."
"Doesn't that get tiresome after a while? Just you and your thoughts?"
"Actually, there aren't enough hours in a day for me to cope with all
"Hmm..." She takes another bite as she mulls something over. "Are you
also working on something, now? I mean, inventing something new?"
"Actually ... " I begin, but then I wonder how much I should tell her.
Not all. Not yet. "I am kind of working on some new field of research.
It's still... in the thinking-about-only stages."
"What is it about?"
I open my mouth, then stop. "Next time. If there is a next time."
"You're right. I need to go. Don't want to be late for my job, do I?"
She looks at me and smiles. "If I'm late, who's going to lift all those
I don't say anything. Either I heard wrong. Or I heard right now and
heard wrong before when she said she worked in advertising. Or she made
a joke. Or something.
"And as for coming back? You bet. I like sleeping with walking dead
"So you're a necrophiliac?"
"Oh, absolutely." And she kisses my cheek.
"Good. Me, too."
She begins to smile, then half of it drops, and half of it freezes.
She's not sure if it was a joke. I'd reassure her, but I don't remember
what I said.
I close the door behind her. I look out the window until
I see her get into her car and drive away.
Now I'm alone. And I start to think: Was she ever here? And the truth
is: I don't know.
She felt real when she was here. But right now is right now, and right
now she's not here, and all I have is a memory. And I can't trust my
memories. All I have now is a wonderful feeling of having spent a night
and a morning with the most incredible woman I've ever met. That doesn't
mean it really happened.
If she shows up again, that would mean she had been here before. Unless,
of course, her showing up again would also be a false memory. But even
if she comes again, she'll have to leave eventually. And I'll be left
with myself and my thoughts and my doubts. It's like the only time that
anything real happens, anything I can truly depend on, is when I'm alone.
My thoughts are real, whether they're in a false memory or not. My feelings
are real, whether the people I have feelings for exist or not.
Other people always leave and become part of the past. I'm always the
only one who's constantly here, in the present. And the present is the
only thing I can trust. That's the bottom line: I'm always alone. Just
me and my thoughts.
Now, where did I put that knife?
I never liked the concept of life after death. It seems
ridiculous. Since death is what comes after life, we can't expect it
to have any life in it, because it is our afterlife. If there
was life in death, death would be life, and it wouldn't be death, would
it? The question is not whether there is life after death but whether
death is not nothingness.
That question has intrigued me ever since I can remember. And when
I died it became even more intriguing.
I was seven years old when I drowned in the pool. The life guard resuscitated
me. But for a while there I had no pulse and I didn't breathe. I remember
that suddenly I wasn't at the pool anymore. I was back home. My mom
was there, too, and she was crying and telling me that dad is dead.
And I also remember that there was some woman in the window, looking
at the two of us, curious, amused. But then I remember thinking, I'm
not in the house, I'm in the street. And I was in the street,
and there was some blue Volkswagen that skidded to a halt just as I
-- an older, teenage me -- was crossing the street. The car stopped
an inch from my teenage leg. And then, suddenly, I was back at the pool,
coughing my guts out.
I only have one memory of my death and everything that happened during
it. Everything from before also has only one version. But after this
incident I suddenly had this triple-memory problem. Doctors said it's
due to oxygen deprivation, that I suffered some sort of weird, irreversible
brain damage. I mean, I can still talk and think and write, but ...
my memory is unreliable.
They also said that my out-of-body experience was an illusion. I believed
them, obviously. But seven years later, I realized it wasn't.
A car nearly ran me over. A blue Volkswagen. At exactly the same street
corner, on exactly the same spot I'd seen in my near-death experience.
The VW stopped just an inch from my leg.
I came back home, shaken, and looked in the journal they psychologists
had me write seven years earlier. And it was there. This exact incident,
written in detail, down to the same, precise number of the VW's license
When I was dead, I had somehow gotten a glimpse of the future. Half
of it, at least, was accurate: that part about the VW. The part about
my father dying was false. My mother died only a couple of years ago,
and my father's still alive. Other people have reported out-of-body
experiences, hearing and seeing things which they couldn't possibly
have. Maybe some of it's the brain playing tricks. But I had conclusive
proof, at least in my eyes, that some of these incidents -- certainly
mine -- are real. There is some thing after death.
There is something. It isn't life. But it isn't nothingness,
Something happens after we die. And, soon, I'll know all about it.
I'm standing on the roof. Ten floors up. Sharon is with
"I go first," she says.
She kisses me, then lets go of the railing and jumps.
She sails through the air, and lands face first on the pavement below.
She actually bounces once.
She lies there, pieces of her everywhere, her body probably no more
than a pulp. Someone will have to peel her off .
She knows what's on the other side, now. She knows the whole truth.
No hesitation this time, no fear. I don't even think about my experiment,
I let go. Gravity takes hold, and I fall through the air. This is slower
than I thought. I crash into branches. Oh, no, please, don't let them
break my fall! The branches break, my fall doesn't. Here comes the ground
I sit up. The faint light of sunrise comes through my window. I'm in
my bed. Sharon, beside me, looks up. "What's the matter?" she says through
sleep-hazed eyes. "You screamed."
"I screamed? Did I?"
"What did you dream about?" She puts her hand on my cheek. Somehow,
it feels wrong, unreal. Maybe it wasn't a dream. Maybe it was real and
this is the afterlife? Or maybe I'm still dreamin --
I sit up. The faint light of sunrise comes through holes in my window.
I'm in my bed. Sharon, beside me, looks up. "What's the matter," she
says through sleep-hazed eyes. "You screamed."
"I had this strange dream."
"What was it about?" She puts her hand on my chest, rubbing it affectionately.
"It's just -- " Her hand feels wrong. Can I still be dreaming? Can't
be. I already woke up twice. Sharon looks at me, wondering why I stopped.
What if I try to wake up? What if I --
I sit up. It's the middle of the night. I'm in my bed. No Sharon. Oh,
God, what a nightmare.
I get up, go to the fridge and get myself something to eat. After this
kind of dream, I am not going to sleep again. I make a sandwich
and settle in front of the television.
The Nature Channel has something about maggots. Cool.
I take a bite out of the sandwich. It doesn't taste right. Oh, no.
No, no. Come on! It's already been ten minutes! This is as real as it
gets! I can't be dreamin --
I sit up. In bed again. Sharon's here again. Didn't scream this time.
I feel nauseated.
I wake up twenty more times before I decide I've had enough. Whatever
happens, whatever this present state I'm in is, I refuse to wake up
from it. As far as I'm concerned, from this moment on, this is reality.
I don't wake up again.
"The first dead person I saw was when I was five," Sharon
tells me. We're snuggling in my bed. "I was walking back home from kindergarten
with my mother. We were waiting at the intersection for the green light.
On the other side of the street stood a very beautiful young man with
black hair and one of the strangest faces I ever saw. The light changed,
the cars stopped, and he leaped into the intersection. Suddenly, you
know, for no reason, one of the cars just started moving. The driver
must have pressed the gas pedal by accident or something, and his car
just slammed into the man with the weird face.
"My mother covered my eyes. But the picture of that man, lying, dead,
in the middle of the road, in the middle of the intersection, with one
leg skewed a bit to the side. He lay there, and he looked normal. Only
now he was dead.
"And I remember thinking: Where did all of him go? A moment ago, he
was a person, he walked, he talked, he moved, he breathed, he had thoughts.
And now, he lay there, looking just the same as he ever did. But there
was no 'him' inside him. The difference between the man's empty shell
and the man's 'full shell', when there's a 'him' inside. It was creepy.
It was beautiful. That thin line between the living and the dead, the
person and the non-person. We don't have a word for this. We don't understand
what it is. One minute, that man in front of me is a person, the other
"That's something I never forgot. Even ... " She takes my arms off
her, sits up, turning around to face me. Her face is very serious. She
looks straight into my eyes. "I'm going to tell you something. If anyone
ever has a chance of understanding it, it's you. But you have to promise
me ahead of time, you won't leave me because of it."
"All right, this is ... This is kind'a weird. But a while ago, I realized
that all of my, uh, my previous boyfriends, shall we call them,
or lovers, or whatever, they all look kind'a like him. The more they
looked like the young man that had lain dead in the street across from
me, the more attractive I found them."
"And me?" I ask.
"You're a dead ringer."
I smile. Competition from a dead man. She smiles back.
I couple two of my fingers into a gun, and put them on her ribs. "Boom,"
I say softly. She falls backward on the mattress, and does not move.
I lift one of her arms then let go of it. It falls down, lifeless. I
lift it again, and throw it to one side. Still, no reaction. I caress
Sharon's body, then slowly undress it. I do what I do. She doesn't move.
Later it'll be my turn.
It's one minute away.
It's six forty-four p.m., and I have two pills in my hand that will
cause my death. Can't buy those. I had to make them myself. Question
is, is Sharon going to be here when I die? I remember I made her promise
to be here exactly at seven. On the second. And to use her key. But
that's only a memory.
I go to the board I put up on the other side of the front door. I put
my hands in my pockets, making sure I don't touch it. The notes are
still there -- special stick-up thingies that can be bought in the center
of town, but nowhere near here, the small radius of my existence. I
remember I asked her to buy them. The fact that they're here doesn't
mean she did.
Each of the notes is signed in what I remember to be her handwriting.
It's clearly not mine. I'd made her put up a note each time she came.
It's as close as I can come to proof that she had been here. But I'm
interested in the last note: I peer closer, keeping my hands away from
it. It says she'll be here, today, at seven, on the second.
I look at my watch. It just became six forty-five.
I gulp down the pills.
Wait! Is Sharon coming? What day is this?
My chest hurts. I can't breathe without pain.
My left arm hurts. You took pills to give yourself a heart attack,
you idiot. I didn't think it would hurt this much. Oh, damn, oh, damn,
the world is melting away and there is so much pain.
The doorbell rings. I hope that's Sharon at the door. I hope she'd
brought the key I made for her, because I can't make it that far. In
two out of three memories I forgot to tell her to bring it. If she's
not here when I die --
The sound of a key turning. The door's becoming a blur. There's her
hair swimming towards me.
"Joel?" That's her voice swimming toward me. "Are you all right?"
"Hi." That's my voice, I think. Oh, my god, she's gigantic. Every part
of her is two stories high.
Hi, Sharon. Did I say this, or did I think it? Doesn't matter.
Hi, Sharon. Did I say this? Did I say this?
Did I say this?
Wow. I never noticed it before, but she looks incredib --
My head hurts.
I open my eyes, halfway through realizing that I still have eyes. But
then the image of my living room ceiling registers and all hopes of
understanding the afterlife vanish. Oh, damn. Was the heart attack just
another false memory? Did I imagine it all?
What time is it? Maybe it's still due. Still too groggy to get up,
but, looking sideways, I look at the clock. It's seven and five minutes.
But then why am I not dead? Where's Sharon? Did she go down to call
the paramedics? But why would she if I'm fine? Maybe I didn't take the
pills. But then she should be here, we should be here together. Why
do all my memories have her coming in at the right time?
I sigh. Whatever the hell this is, it's reality.
I get up slowly. My body hurts, but it works.
Something catches my eye. Something about this room.
What? It looks exactly as it does in -- I look down, and realize I'm
not alone. Someone's lying at my feet.
It takes a second to recognize the face and the body. That's me! That's
Well, this is new.
I am -- he is -- whiter than I'd ever seen me. The
back of his -- my -- head rests on the floor exactly on the spot
that hurts me.
I thought the ongoing preposterousness of reality had prepared me for
anything. But not for this.
It takes me a minute to get used to the situation. Still, it's reality.
Accept it. What do we have? Okay, here I am standing. Okay, here I am
lying down. It seems like the me on the ground is the one who took the
medicine. But then where's Sharon? If I -- he -- keep/s lying
around like this, nobody's going to resuscitate him -- me. I
won't come back to finish my research.
And what am I? A ghost? Am I -- is he -- already dead? Is this
it? Are ghost stories real? Will I haunt my house or something until
the end of time? I don't accept that. I don't know that I'm a
ghost, all I know is that there's another me lying there on the floor,
I bend down and take his pulse -- realizing that I'm as tangible as
he is. So much for ethereal ghosts. No pulse. I put his -- my -- hand
down. I don't like this. I refuse to be like everyone else. I refuse
to discover the secrets of the other side only after I'm completely
I pick up the phone, and dial 911. I tell them I'm a neighbor. Better
than telling them I'm the body. They're on their way.
I should do CPR. I go down on my knees, turn the head, move it to clear
the air passage. Just as I bend down to put my mouth over his, his hand
lashes out and grabs my throat.
Before I realize what's happening, I'm thrust against the floor, and
he's above me, an iron grip around my neck, squeezing, crushing it.
I'm already seeing spots, and inbetween them is my own face, lips locked
"How do you like being dead," he says, and his voice is a violent rasp.
I have never hated as much as he does. I have never been as strong as
him. His weight is on my chest. Can't think. Have to breathe. Oh, damn,
damn, damn. "How would you like to die again?" And he squeezes, and
-- gack! -- I feel and hear my neckpipe snap. My neck explodes with
pain and fluids and my lungs feel like --
I open my eyes. People dressed like doctors standing over
me. Disgustingly white ceiling. Smells like medicine. The hospital.
They've brought me back. I'm alive. I'm breathing. I'm exhausted.
"He'll be all right, now," a man's voice says.
Sharon pushes her way to the front.
"Are you all right? Is he all right?" I blink at her in acknowledgement.
She hits my arm. "You idiot! You gave me such a scare! You were actually
clinically dead for a few seconds!"
"Shh, leave him alone. Let him rest."
"You were very lucky, sir," a man's voice again. "If your friend here
had found you a minute later, we wouldn't have been able to bring you
Gee. What a coincidence.
They put me in what passes for a room in the hospital. I'm
supposed to sleep. It's true that I'm tired and that my body's exhausted,
but I have to gather my thoughts, first, while the memories are still
fresh and unclouded. Because this 'other me' who was strangling me is
only one memory.
I have another.
I was at school again. I was ten years old. Or I was watching myself
as a ten-year-old. I'm not sure which. Sometimes it felt like one, sometimes
it felt like the other. Sometimes it felt like both.
In any case, it was recess. I was there with Sam, the stupidest kid
in our class, who always had bubbles of snot in his left nostril. Thirty-or-so
kids surrounded us.
"Lick my shoe," I told him. And I remember thinking how unlike me this
"Come on," he whined.
"Lick! My!! Shoe!!!"
And I remember thinking, feeling like an outsider for a moment, that
I never did such a thing, that this is not a memory. And at the same
time I recalled why Sam wasn't leaving. That he had made a bet with
me and promised to humiliate me if I lost, and that he was so certain
of the outcome, that, if he lost, he would do anything I said.
Sam rubbed his hands on his pants and looked at me with desperate eyes.
"Come on, choose something else," he said again.
I was getting angry at him. And, yes, I remembered this anger. I remembered
it clearly. "Lick. My. Shoe."
"Please. Come on. Ask something else. Ask something normal."
"Sam. I'm not forcing you to do anything. You're the one who wanted
to make the bet. You're the one who said he'd do anything. You're the
one who gave his word. You said you would humiliate me if I lost."
"Don't make me."
"You know what," I raised my arms in acquiescence. "I won't
make you. Let's take this out of my hands. Let's make this democratic.
Let's vote." I waved at the crowd as I turned to face them. "What do
you say?" And as I spoke, I turned back to him, and faced the crowd.
"Those who think he should lick my shoe, raise your hands." And I felt
joy and satisfaction at the storm of hands were raised. "Okay," I motioned
them to lower their hands. "Now. Whoever thinks he shouldn't
lick my boots, raise your hands." I looked around. Not one hand was
I turned around and looked at Sam. "Lick my shoe," I said simply.
"Please, please," he whispered.
"The people have spoken," I gestured helplessly. "Do it now."
Sam, a tear in his eye, fell to his knees in front of me. He looked
And he did it. I watched from the side with disgust, as he the child
licked my shoe. This is not me. I am not like that.
Sam stopped and looked up.
"Okay?" He asked.
"Part of it is still dirty," I told him. "Do it again."
And then I was in the hospital again, brought back from the dead, looking
up at the doctors hovering over me. Back from the dead. Or whatever
I have another memory, a third memory.
I was with Sharon. The both of us looked slightly older. It was probably
two or three years from now. We were at my house, sitting on the floor,
half our clothes off. Sharon was holding an open pistol in one hand,
and a bullet in the other.
Sharon looked at me and said, "One bullet." She dropped it into the
"Now spin it." I told her. She put the cylinder in place, then spun
it. "Point it at me," I said. She hesitated, then pointed it roughly
at me, hand off the trigger. I put my hands around hers, and pointed
the barrel at my chest.
"Finger on the trigger," I told her.
She did as she was told.
"Fire," I said.
She looked at me. "Are you sure?" She was scared, but she liked it.
There was excitement in her eyes.
I touched her knee without moving my chest. "Do it. Do it." She shut
her eyes. "Open your eyes, and do it."
She pressed the trigger. My heartrate skyrocketed, but the pistol did
not fire. She sighed. We kissed. The most passionate kiss I've ever
known. For a moment I thought, wait, am I the one watching or am I the
one being watched?
I took the pistol into my hand, and spun the cylinder. For a long time,
she looked at it, and said nothing.
"Tell me," I said. "This doesn't work unless you tell me."
She stared into my eyes for a long time. "Aim it at me," she finally
I aimed it at her chest. She held the barrel in her hand, and slowly
moved it down, so that it pointed at her upper thigh.
"Finger on the trigger," she said.
I put my finger on the trigger.
Neither of us breathed. "Are you sure?" I asked.
There was a tear in her eye. I swear, she almost said 'no'. But she
said, "Do it."
"Are you sure?"
With more force: "Do it!"
I pressed the trigger, and her leg exploded before me. Her scream was
blood curdling. I should have aimed it at her chest. I should have aimed
it at her chest! She was still screaming, writhing on the rug, when
suddenly she was gone, replaced by the sterility of the hospital. I
was back from the dead. Whereever that had been.
Here's my problem.
My memories always diverge. Which is why they're not reliable.
But it always turns out that at least one of them is supported by the
facts. At least one is always 'true' by everyone else's standards.
But I'm faced with three memories, none of which can be real. Another
me that rose from the dead and wanted to kill me after I was already
dead. A memory of an incident that never happened. A memory from the
future that I know will never happen.
Somewhere in there lies the truth. Somewhere in there is the answer
to the question 'What happens after we die?' All I have to do is find
If I die again -- I could compare these three memories to the next
three memories. If a couple match -- if there is continuity -- I'll
know that's the one.
A day and a half later, the doctors release me. Sharon takes
"Sit down," She says once we're in.
I sit down.
"You had this planned, didn't you?" She points at me. "You took some
drug or something. You planned it down to the second, didn't you? You
planned to be dead by the time I got here, and made sure I got here
on the second, with enough time to save you. That's why you made sure
I wouldn't come even one minute later. I'm right, aren't I?"
"Yes," I tell her quietly.
She shuts her eyes, and holds them with her fingers. "Why," she says.
"Why would you do that?"
I take her hand in mine. "There's something on the other side, Sharon.
I know it."
She opens her eyes, the pain gone in the confusion. "What?!"
"There's something after death. It's not heaven, it's not hell, it's
not ghosts, and it isn't a white light, either. It isn't any of that.
But it isn't blackness and nothingness. I know it."
She shakes her head. "What are you talking about?"
"My fascination with death is scientific. I want to understand
what it is. I want to finally pin this phenomenon down."
"So you want to die?"
I look into her eyes. "Yes."
She puts her hand on her mouth. I wait, but she says nothing. "Death
is death," she says finally. "It's nothing. It's less than nothing.
When we die, we stop. That's all there is to it, Joel. That's
"It isn't," my voice remains soft. "It is something we know nothing
about, but it is something. I saw things."
And I see in her face a look I've seen in others, but had hoped never
to see on hers. She's trying not to say it, but I can see she's thinking
it: 'You're crazy.' "Sharon, I died once. Before this. I was clinically
dead. I had an out-of-body experience."
"The mind playing tricks," she hisses.
"That's what I thought it was. But ... What I'd seen, it was something
from my future. And seven years later, it happened. It happened, Sharon,
just the way I'd seen. To the last detail. And it wasn't my imagination.
I want to explore death. I need to explore it. I want to die
and be the first man to come back and report after having explored
the phenomenon. This is a scientific experiment."
"So you plan to die again?"
"Yes. And again. Until I know what's on the other side. And once I
have all the information, I'll decide whether I want to stay there permanently
now, or whether I should wait a while."
She shakes her head. "I ... I ... I can't handle this."
I sit down, tired. "I can't help that."
"Joel," she says, "I can handle all the rest. All the crazy stuff.
I love it, I really do. It's -- " She trails off for a minute. "I can
deal with the rest. But not this. This is too much."
"This is the rest, Sharon. It's not a game. It was never
a game. Dying is what everything else is all about."
She shuts her eyes again, trying to control her emotions. A tear falls,
despite her efforts. "Look. If you had an accident or something and
you died -- it happens. We all live with this. But knowing you're
going to die -- that there's no doubt about it? -- walking into
this with my eyes open? No. I can't handle that."
"Sharon ... " This hurts. "I can't help you."
"Please ... " she says slowly, and looks deep into my eyes. "Don't
I look away. "I can't help you."
I shut my eyes. "I can't."
There's a long silence. Then steps growing distant. The door opens
I open my eyes. As always, I'm alone. Only I hurt.
I hope this never happened.
I write all three memories of my death in a notebook, with
as much detail as possible. I even record every thought I remember passed
through my mind.
It would have been nice if I could have had a subject to perform these
experiments on. Scientists would not treat my observations as reliable.
But, odd as it sounds, there's no one else whose observations I would
trust more than mine. I may have too many memories, but once I die again,
the memories that repeat will be, in my eyes, the true memories.
I'll just have to wait a few more weeks before I'm well enough to commit
In the meantime, all I can do is think about what I've seen.
I wake up in the middle of the night, soaked with sweat.
Another dream about Sam. I've been dreaming about him every night. About
how I used to bully people. And my dreams have helped me remember. I
don't know why I thought it wasn't like me to do things like that. I've
obviously done a lot of them. I know a large part of me keeps shouting:
'No, this didn't happen. It isn't like me!' But it is.
I know that it is. I remember it well.
I even remember my first death better. The memory is much more intense.
I remember my mother telling me about my father's death. I remember
now how I felt betrayed at his having abandoned me. I remember how hard
it was to cope without him. I remember how my mother couldn't
But that can't be true; he's still alive. No, how can he be? I remember
his death like it was yesterday!
To make sure, I call him up. He answers his phone. He's groggy, it's
the middle of the night. But he's still alive. He never abandoned me!
He's still alive!
I wake up in the middle of the night.
No! It couldn't be!
That face, that woman's face that I'd seen in the window when my mother
told me the bad news -- it was Sharon's face!
But that can't be. My memory's inventing this. Sharon today is a few
years younger than me, and the woman in the window looks the way Sharon
looks now. That could definitely not have been reality.
Unless that part of my memory was a sight of the future, too. Had I
seen Sharon's face? Had I seen that part of my life that long ago? Or
am I making it up now?
There's no way to know. This isn't as easy as looking up a license
plate number. For this, I have to trust what I remember. And that's
the one thing I can't do.
Three weeks have passed since I died. Two-and-a-half nightmare-filled
weeks since Sharon left me -- there are no new notes pinned to the board.
I still keep it up there. To assure myself that she was real.
Physically, I'm still recovering. Body's still weak. It'll probably
be another month or so before I'm healthy enough to commit suicide again.
Meanwhile, I'm burning time watching television. There's a documentary
now about maggots. I swear I've seen it before, but I don't remember
when. Still, I've already heard every word and seen every image. Oh,
well. It will come to me.
Suddenly there's a rustling behind me. I turn around. It's the sound
of a key in the lock. Panic. Quickly, I think, who has a key? Has anyone
called? No one ever comes.
The lock turns. I get up. I'm not strong enough to fight a burgla --
I almost gasp. It's Sharon. Wearing a suit and carrying a suitcase.
She must have come here right from work.
She puts her suitcase on the floor, comes into the living room, and
sits beside me. I look at her. She looks at the television. I sit back
"What are we watching?" She says.
"What's it about?"
She goes to sleep in my bed, cuddling up beside me.
Halfway through the night, I feel her hand making its way across my
chest. I feel it going down, and up, going all over me. I respond in
An hour later, we're into the best sex I've ever had, and although
not a word has been exchanged, I know what's going through her mind.
She is just as scared of my death as she was when she stormed out of
here. But she's also turned on by it. Death excites her.
By returning, she's given her consent for my next suicide. But she's
also bought a ring-side ticket for it. She doesn't want me to do it,
but she'll watch it with joy. She hates it, and she loves it.
And I know -- I know! -- that now I can do anything. No matter what
I do, she's mine. No matter what I tell her to do, what I ask her, what
I say. She's mine. And that thought excites me more than anything.
I can ask for anything. I can say anything.
But I don't. I shouldn't.
I told you I shouldn't -- stop arguing!
Sharon is stirring herself awake. There's light outside.
Time for her to get up. Time to go to work.
"Good morning," she kisses me, then starts to climb out of bed.
"Don't go," I grab her hand.
"I'm only going to the shower."
"Don't go to work."
She looks at me and crinkles her nose. "What?"
"Call in sick." I hold her hand and pull her slightly towards me. She
inches closer, letting herself be pulled.
"I can't call in sick," she's now between both my legs. "I have a project
due next week. I have to -- "
"Call in sick," I kiss her stomach.
"Joel, Joel, Joel," she holds my head in her hands, neither pulling
nor pushing, just touching. "I can't."
"Call in sick," I say softly, my fingers slowly going down her back.
"They -- " She shuts her eyes, unable to concentrate. It takes a few
seconds. "They need me."
"Call in sick," I touch her elsewhere.
"Forget that," she says. "I have a completely original idea."
"I think I'll call in sick."
"Call in sick," I tell her.
It's been a week. In all three memories, we haven't stopped touching.
She hasn't gone to work all that time. I don't think we've put on our
clothes more than once.
"I really have to go," she says, reaching for the cellphone.
"Or I won't have a job to come home to."
She's about to dial, when I put my hand on her phone. "So you won't
have a job."
She pulls back, surprised, suddenly distant. "What the hell does that
I look into her eyes and lean toward her. "I have money. Enough for
the both of us. Stay. Forever."
She blinks a thousand times. Then, "Joel, I have a career. A job."
"Stuff the career. Stuff the job. Stuff the phone. Don't even call
them to tell you quit. Stay. Here. Forever."
"I have a project due," she says. I just look into her eyes. After
a while, she says. "Do you know how hard I worked to get to where I
am? Do you know how hard I work now?" But I just look into her eyes.
"Besides, being dependent on someone else, that's not me."
I touch her cheek, not taking my eyes off hers. "Do whatever you want."
It's a long, long time before her fingers slowly let go of the phone.
She closes her eyes, and practically plummets into my chest. I catch
her. I hug her. "Forever," I whisper into her hair. "Forever."
"I want to see it," she tells me. We're intertwined on the
sofa in front of the tv. She shuts it off, her leg on the remote, and
looks at me. "Next time you do it. Next time you take the pills. I want
to be there. I want to see it."
I kiss her, and she shudders.
She holds the pills in her hand. I'm holding the cup with
the water. She's trembling.
"Wait exactly fifteen minutes," I tell her. "I'll collapse. Count one
minute. Then call the ambulance."
"Okay," she whispers, her voice almost inaudible.
She doesn't move, her eyes fixed on my face.
"Are you sure you're up to watching this?"
She doesn't move. She doesn't say a word. I look into her eyes. Slowly,
my eyes drift to her open hand.
I put my fingers on the pills, but I don't take them. I give her a
chance to close her fingers, to say in that way that she doesn't want
to witness this.
Her hand remains open. Its trembling gets worse.
I take the two pills. A loud intake of breath comes from Sharon. I
look at her, but she's still staring at me.
"I love you," I say.
She doesn't say anything. She's transfixed and completely frozen.
I swallow the pills.
My world is getting bleary.
Two tears fall down her cheeks.
I wipe them, and put my forehead to hers. I kiss her nose. She kisses
my chin. I fall against her, and I feel her deep, quick breaths. Panic?
I don't know.
I want to tell her how much I -- What?
She caresses my head, then my back. I try to do the same, but my hands
aren't under my control. I try to tell her, but all I hear is mumbling.
Her touch is ice-cold. Her touch is like fire. Her touch is like nothing
Her hands on my back, she lowers me down to the floor. I can still
see her. I can still see.
She lies on top of me, feeling my breath with her chest, feeling my
face with her fingers. She's crying. She's crying out loud. She buries
her face behind mine, our cheeks touching.
For once I have only one memory.
I was at home. I swallowed the pills. Sharon came in, just in time.
Boom, black, bang, bye.
And there I was, back at school, watching myself humiliate Sam.
Suddenly my view shifted. It was me in the middle of the circle,
with all my 'friends' cheering me on. Sam was looking up at me.
I looked around, what's going on?
"Okay?" Sam looked up at me from where he was kneeling.
"Go," I told him. "Get up. Go."
The kids booed me, and for the first time I noticed that I was their
After recess, the bell rang. Everybody ran to class. Someone took me
I spent an hour learning long division.
At recess, I went to stand by myself. The other kids realized I wasn't
as strong as the me that humiliated Sam. They beat me up. The bell rang,
we went to class. The bell rang, I got beat up.
By the end of the day I got it: I'm not going to find myself suddenly
in the hospital, revived, refreshed, and well. Something had gone wrong
with the resuscitation effort. I'm going to stay dead. And this is Hell.
It's been weird. It's been a while. It's been weeks.
But for once I have only one memory. The problem is, I remember everything.
No, that's not exactly true. I see everything.
I see my birth. I see my death.
Out of the corner of my eye. I see it. I will it. I make it. I live
it. I am it.
I watch as my parents bring me back from the hospital -- I'm three
days old. I watch myself breast-feeding. I watch my parents sing me
to sleep when I'm a year old. I watch them hugging me and kissing me.
I watch their first fight over my crib when I'm six months old. I watch
my first words being spoken. I watch the television shows I used to
And I experience everything.
My ability to speak, to think through words, to rationalize is suddenly
sucked away as I stare up at two familiar images I can't even call 'mother'
and 'father'. A flood of powerful and familiar emotions I haven't felt
in decades goes through me. And suddenly the moment is past, and I'm
outside the crib again, invisible to everybody, looking at my parents
looking at the baby me.
And then I watch my death. A thousand different deaths from a thousand
times in a thousand different ways. I get run over by a bus. I die of
old age. I die of skin cancer. I die of AIDS. I bleed to death on a
thousand different pavements. I drown in a thousand different lakes.
I commit suicide in a thousand different ways. I live to be a hundred
years old. I live to be eighty. I live. I die.
And I feel each death. And I feel each afterdeath. And I feel ...
And then I look out of the corner of my eye, I imagine a different
place, and I'm elsewhere.
I begin to watch things that had never been. I watch my father abuse
my mother. I watch them get a divorce. I watch me killing them. I watch
me growing up as an abused child. I watch me raping women. I watch myself
a murderer. I watch as I become a policeman, a fireman, a lawyer.
And then I watch things which could never be. I watch a ten-year-old
me bring up a five-year-old me. I watch two of me having a conversation
together. Then four of me. Then a hundred.
I have seen so much, and I haven't seen anything yet.
This place, although it isn't a place, this thing is nothing,
nowhere. And yet it's infinite.
And somewhere, in a far corner I can't access, a strong powerful voice
that sounds like my own, is whispering over the infinite, "I'll wait.
He'll come again. He can't resist coming again."
I'll wait. He'll come again. He can't resist coming again.
That last time, I took too much time. I had to be smart, I had to play
dead on the floor while he thought he was a ghost or something. I took
my time, and they brought him back to life before I could kill him and
take his place.
Next time, I'll kill him immediately. I just need him to commit suicide
one more time.
I know him. He'll come again. He can't resist coming again.
I have one memory, but many futures.
I can even go back and look at the time I came here.
I go back to the school, back in time. I watch the little kid that
was/n't me begin to humiliate Sam. Then I look aside, and watch my grown-up
self, my past self from a couple of weeks ago, suddenly appear. I watch
myself looking with horror at the scene, never realizing that the future
me would be looking in on this exact moment. Then I watch what happened,
how I got stuck here. The little kid and I suddenly changed places,
then he was gone, gone elsewhere in this infinite maze. And me, I was
stuck as the kid, had taken his place.
I can go further back in time, and look at myself taking the pill.
I can go even farther back and sideways. I don't have to stick with
me. I follow Sharon around, when she's not with me. I look in on her
job, I see her flourish. I see how she's better and smarter than everyone
I follow her further. I follow her back in time. I watch the moment
we met, at the Seven-Eleven -- just one memory, now, just the Seven-Eleven.
And then I go back, before she met me. I reverse time and instead of
watching her shop, I watch her taking things out of her cart and putting
them on the shelf. I watch as she leaves/enters the supermarket and
enters/leaves her car empty-handed.
I speed things up. I watch her nights. I watch her days. I watch her
sleep. I watch her dress. I watch her boyfriends. I watch them having
sex. I watch her getting her first job in advertising. I watch her get
her degree. I watch her dreams. I watch her joys. I watch her saddest
moments. And one time, I suddenly appear to her and comfort her. But
then I go back into the past.
Back to her Junior year, her Sophomore year, her Freshman year. I watch
her Senior year in high school. How different she is. And yet everything
that she is today had its seeds back then. But I don't think I want
to go further into her past .
I go someplace else.
I go back to the moment I killed myself.
I watch as I hold the pills in my hand. I watch as I go to the notes
stuck on the front door to see if I have the time right. I watch me
take the pills at exactly a quarter to seven. I watch me wait.
From the outside, I already look wobbly at five to.
I wonder if I could step in, if I could stop this. I wonder whether
if I do, it means I won't have died. But for now, I watch. I want to
see how I died.
It's now exactly seven, and Sharon's opening the door with the key.
I -- the me who took the pills -- stumble forward toward her.
"Joel? What's the matter?" she says.
"Awrrreewreeh," I see myself say, as I collapse at her feet.
She half screams as she rushes forward and checks my cheek and checks
my breath. And exactly as she does so, I breathe my last breath and
collapse, dead, my head on her knees. Her breath is quick, but she's
in control. She checks my pulse. She puts me down softly on the floor,
reaches into her purse, and pulls out her cellphone. She calls 911.
I step closer, invisibly listening to every word. She tells them the
situation. An ambulance is on the way, they tell her.
She throws the cellphone aside, and begins CPR.
I look at my dead body mesmerized. I watch as she breathes into my
mouth, giving me a few more breaths of life. I watch as she presses
on my chest, forcing the heart to distribute life to the dying body.
I want to watch this forever. "Come on," she says, every time she pushes
on my chest. "Come on. Come on. Come on."
After a while -- I don't know how much time has passed -- the ambulance
is heard outside. Paramedics rush into my apartment, taking charge.
Sharon lets them shove her aside. She leans against the wall, her hand
on her mouth, and her facade suddenly collapses. Within less than a
second, she's a wreck.
"Ohmygod," she whispers. "ohmygod-ohmygod-ohmygod ... "
The paramedics put me on a stretcher, and run down the stairs, as one
of them injects me with something, and another keeps on giving me CPR.
Sharon follows them into the ambulance. Everybody's frantic.
"He's dead," one of them say halfway to the hospital. His voice sounds
matter-of-factly. "He's clinically dead." Sharon watches him, her eyes
wide, seeming to be on the brink of sanity.
"Keep working," the other says. "Keep working!"
They keep working. The ambulance gets to the hospital. They rush me
on a gourney into the emergency room, and a doctor takes control of
the situation. I wait for him to pronounce me dead, when suddenly he
-- the dead me -- opens his eyes.
The doctor smiles. "He'll be all right, now," he says.
Sharon pushes everyone aside. "Are you all right? Is he all right?"
This can't be! I will myself closer. I look at myself. I'm blinking.
I'm smiling. This can't be! I died in the hospital!
"You idiot!" she hits my arm. "You gave me such a scare! You were actually
clinically dead for a few seconds!"
"Shh, leave him alone. Let him rest."
"You were very lucky, sir," the doctor says. "If your friend here had
found you a minute later, we wouldn't have been able to bring you back."
I'm alive?! I'm alive?!
But if I'm alive, why am I still dead?
I keep watching, hypnotized by the events.
Sharon drives me home a few days later. She seats me down, confronts
me, begs me not to do this again, and when I refuse, she leaves me.
Oh, I'm glad I wasn't there! I can read my mind just by watching
my face. I know what I'm thinking. I'm hoping she hadn't left. I'm hoping
none of this occurred. But it had. She'd really left me. I've seen it.
And for once I have only one memory, one reality.
I watch from the outside as I write a journal of the events that occurred.
That moment in the schoolyard. He -- the other me -- remembers
it, as well. I watch over my own shoulder, reading my own journals as
I write down memories I -- the one left behind -- don't have. Memories
of a Russian Roulette game in the future. Memories of him being a ghost
and how his body tried to kill him.
And a few days later, he writes in his journal that he suddenly remembers
things he hadn't until now. He remembers incidents of cruelty in the
schoolyard. Memories I know to be false.
He doesn't realize it, but I can see it clearly from here. His memory
is splitting up retroactively.
I think I'm beginning to understand what happened.
We switched. Joel -- the kid in the school -- and Joel -- the adult
that committed suicide -- switched places just as the doctors were pulling
me back to life. And the kid in the school returned instead of me, feeding
his own memories -- false memories -- to the live Joel. And I -- I was
left here, dead, able to watch all that could have been, all that would
have been, all that could never be, and all that could never have been.
I keep watching.
Sharon returns into my -- his -- life. Without a word, without explanation,
she sits by me. And I -- the me who's watching this -- have tears in
my eyes. We make love that night, like I have never made love before.
I am tempted to switch places with him. But I don't. I don't want to
taint the events. I want to see what happened. I could come back to
it later if I want. If I still remember. And I do remember. I
After a few days, I get her to stay here, to stop going to work. On
the one hand, it looks like I want her so much that I convinced her
to stay. But I know me, I know my face. There's something else there,
a different thought, a different purpose.
I keep watching.
Weeks pass. Weeks of passion. Weeks of lust. Weeks of uncontrolled
And then she quits her job. Because of me. She'll stay at my place
forever. Because of me. She'll abandon her life. Because I asked her
Why did I do that? Why did I ask her something I'd never -- ?
I step into my own mind ... I recognize this place. It makes me feel
good to have made her do it. And it makes me feel sick. And I don't
know which one of the two of me -- the one watching or the one experiencing
it -- feels good, and which one feels sick. We are both, after all,
the same person. We both love it. We are both sickened by it. We are
corrupt. I am corrupt.
I can't stand this. I can't watch.
I can't do anything but watch.
He's getting ready to kill himself, again.
I watch. And I wait.
And somewhere in the back of my mind, from across this infinite, I
think I hear a thought that echoes my own.
He's getting ready to kill himself, again.
This time I'll get it right. This time, I'll kill him.
I knew he'd be back.
That voice in the back of my mind is gone. It doesn't matter,
anyway. I have to concentrate on the live Joel's actions. I have to
do this just right, if I want to go back.
I will myself back to the schoolyard, and wait for the kid to reappear.
I will myself back to the apartment, and wait for Joel to
reappear, a knife in my hand.
He's taking the pill. Fifteen minutes.
He's beginning to collapse. Five minutes.
He falls on her. One minute.
I hear his heart beat into nothingness. I prepare the knife.
He dies. He dies!
He appears before me, still groggy, still under the memory of the affect
of the drugs.
I don't wait for him to recover. I stab him through the heart.
I'm in the schoolyard, again. Back in the past. Sam is in
front of me, begging me. The crowd is cheering me on. I don't look at
I know it's time, and out of the corner of my eye, I see him appear.
I see him looking confused.
I concentrate, willing myself to go into him, to experience what he
does, willing us to change places.
He falls down, his blood geysering out of the wound.
He looks up at me, not understanding, his eyes hurt, wounded, black,
and, at last ... dead.
He fights back. He doesn't understand what's going on. He
doesn't understand that he belongs in this schoolyard. He doesn't understand
I can feel the doctors working on my body. I have to do this quickly.
I have to be stronger than him. I remain where I should be, but for
a second, he changes places with me. Quickly! The doctors are reviving
me. I have to --
I am --
I AM ALI-I-I-I-I-VE!!!!!
Sharon's looking at me. I try to speak, but I --
I wake up in what seems to be the middle of the night. Sharon's
sleeping in a chair beside me.
I was dead. But I can't remember. I remember too much. What really
The next morning, the doctor comes to check up on me.
"I remember you," he says. "From last time."
"I remember you, too," I tell him. I don't tell him I remember a more
experienced doctor, too.
"Well, listen closely," he leans closer. "Whatever the hell you're
taking, it's killing you."
"I noticed," I tell him.
"No, you don't understand. That thing is destroying your heart. Take
that stuff again, and no one will be able to bring you back. Do you
understand? Thanks to whatever the hell that was, you now live in the
body that's thirty years older and weaker than it should be. Another
major shock like this, another major shock period to the body, and you'll
be in the morgue. Do I make myself clear?"
"I'll take care of him. I'll make sure it doesn't happen again."
"You didn't take care of him last time," he looks at her accusingly.
And he knows -- I can see it in his eyes -- he knows she's part
of it. He knows I did it with her watching.
"I'll take care of him," she says again.
"We'll see," the doctor says and walks out.
Sharon comes closer. "Time to rethink," she whispers. "You heard what
the doctor said."
I put my head on the pillow, drained of strength. "Yeah. Committing
suicide may be dangerous to my health."
I remain at the hospital for another day. Sharon doesn't
say a word. Neither do I.
We go home in silence.
I spend the day on the sofa, resting. She brings me food and water.
We don't say anything. When it's time to sleep, I undress and go to
bed. Without saying a word, she undresses and follows me in, staying
on her side.
Two minutes later, I feel her hand on my chest. I open my eyes. Her
face is above me, she's staring into my eyes. I say nothing. I feel
hear breaths. She touches my cheeks tenderly. I search her face. She
buries her head in my chest and cries in loud, heaving sobs.
Eventually, she falls asleep.
"I have an idea of what death is," I tell her the
next day when we're eating lunch.
She drops her sandwich and looks at me.
I tell her what I remember that happened after I was left in the school,
after I was left dead. I tell her about everything I saw, everything
I understood. I tell her how you can see everything, how you can experience
anything that might happen in your life. How you can go forward and
backwards. How you can revisit your own past, how you can visit your
future. How you can visit your other selves. I tell her everything,
but there is a sparkle of disbelief in her eyes.
Then I tell her how I followed her around, from the moment we met,
back into her own past. I tell her about her past boyfriends, and her
eyes grow wide. I tell her about incidents at the university, I tell
her about her own heartpains, her breakups, her friends, her parents,
the songs she used to sing in the shower. And I see in her eyes that
every word is true. With every fact I mention, another tear wells up
within her eyes, threatening to finally fall down her cheek. She has
no secrets from me. She can have no secrets from me. And I know that
if Sharon is ever going to walk out on me, it's going to be over this.
Not many people can cope with having all their privacy taken away from
them, all their intimate moments and fears and thoughts and emotions
shared on such a basic level. I realize that as I'm telling her everything,
but I don't stop. By the time I'm through, she has raised her knees
and hugs them. She curls up and says nothing and doesn't move except
to hug herself even tighter.
I look at her for a long time, but she says nothing.
After an hour, she gets up and goes to the porch. She opens it, and
stares out for the rest of the day and the rest of night.
At five a.m., she joins me in bed, not saying a word. She sleeps with
her head buried in my chest, again. And while she sleeps I wonder why
I didn't tell her about the rest of my memories.
I didn't tell her about the other two memories. I'm not sure if they're
separate, anyway. They could have been something I saw while dead, something
I experienced. I'm not sure. The only two memories I'm certain are true
are being left behind for dead (which Sharon confirmed), and being here
with Sharon as I prepared to kill myself again (which my memories-while-dead
confirmed). So they weren't separate memories at all. I was perfectly
justified in not telling her.
It's been a week, and Sharon hasn't been able to stop hugging
me since that night.
Finally, I am strong enough to make love. She makes love like she's
been keeping it in for a year, with passion I can't describe, with desperation
I can't imagine, with a need to be closer to me than two people can.
When we're done, she rests her head on my chest, and looks into my
"Are you going to go there again," she asks.
"I don't know." And my voice is calm.
She says nothing. From the look of her, I don't know which answer she
wants to hear more.
"The doctor says," I go on, "if I do it again, I won't come back. But
it has to be done. There's so much yet to discover, so much to
see. I've touched the tip of the iceberg. I've ... There's so much there.
And it's all addictive and it's all magical and I want to see everything.
I'm not done with my research. It has to be done somehow."
And she says nothing. I don't want her to.
The next day we make love and it's just as heavenly as all
three memories of the night before. We wind up in a mutual hug with
her playing with my hair.
"Do you want to do it?" I ask suddenly.
She crinkles her eyes. "What?"
"To die instead of me. The next time. Maybe you should do it.
I mean, if you want to."
She opens her mouth but can't produce a sound.
She's surprised. She's terrified out of her wits. But she can't say
no. And she can't say yes.
"I'm sorry," I say quickly. "That's a horrible idea. I shouldn't have
said it. I'm sorry. Stupid idea."
She closes her mouth. We lie there and say nothing.
Another week has passed, and Sharon and I have become almost
"I've decided," I tell her as we're enmeshed on the rug, "I will
She looks at me for a long time. "The doctor says you'll die. For good."
"I'll take the risk that he's wrong. Doctors aren't perfect."
"But they understand death."
"I understand it more, now. And ... I have to, Sharon. It's so amazing,
so breathtaking. There are so many possibilities. I have to know
everything about that. I mean ... I have to, Sharon."
"You'll die," she says, and her voice is weak.
"It's either you or me. And I'm going to do it. I have no choice."
We lie on the rug for an hour, then go to sleep.
"I'll do it," she tells me suddenly while we're watching
"I'll do it. I'll take the pills."
I turn the tv off with the remote and look into her eyes.
"That's a bad idea."
"I'll do it," she says.
"No, I mean, it's dangerous, it'll make your body weaker. This is my
project, and -- "
"I'll do it."
"Are you sure?"
"I want to do it. For me. I want to see what's there. I want
to experience it. Please."
I think about it for a while. "Okay."
"Okay?" She looks relieved.
I hug her. She hugs me back.
I put my hand on her cheeks and make her look into my eyes, "I just
thought of something."
"We don't have to wait. Your body isn't weak. We can do it now
or in a few days, or tomorrow, or as soon as you're ready."
Her breath suddenly vanishes and her cheeks pale. After a minute, she
says, "Okay. Three days."
Her eyes flitter, then stop. "Two days," she says, obviously fighting
for self control.
I smile. "Done." And I kiss her.
"I'm going to be there for you," I tell her.
Her head is against the wall, her eyes half shut. "Tell me again,"
"I'm going to be there for you like you were for me."
She shuts her eyes, beating down the pain. "Tell me again," she drones
in the same voice.
"I'm not going to let you die for more than a minute."
"Tell me again," her fingers are scratching my wall.
"You'll be safe."
"Tell me again," her fingers scratch her own skin.
And I tell her. Again. And again. And again.
I put the pill in a spoon and grind it into powder with
another spoon. She watches.
I put the powder in a glass full of cider and mix it real well. I can
see her sweating.
"It's going to be fine," I whisper into her ear. She's rigid.
"It will be heavenly," I touch her ear with my tongue. A shudder goes
"It is not death, it is life to the power of million," I hold both
her cheeks in my hand. She is burning up.
"It'll be fine," my hands go down to her breasts. "It will be fine,"
My hands carress her stomach. "It will be fine," my hands go lower.
I draw away from her and take the glass in my hand. "If you don't want
this," I tell her, "we won't."
She reaches out with her hand, takes the glass, and looks at it. "I
love you," she says. She shuts her eyes, and gulps it down.
"I love you," I kiss her.
"I love you," she kisses me back.
"I love you," I kiss her nose.
"I love you," she holds my ears.
"I love you," I hold the back of her head.
"I love you," her cheek falls into my arm.
"I love you," I put my forehead to hers.
"I llll -- " she slumps and her words become incoherent.
Her head fell into my hand. Carefully, I lay her on the floor.
"Shhh," I say. "Shhh. I love you," I lie on top of her. "I love you,"
I put my ear on her chest and listen to her heart.
"Lllurrrrbid," she struggles. I listen to her heart. "Lllrlwwrrr,"
her voice weakens. "Wwnnwwrr ... " and her voice fades into nothing.
I hear her breath stop.
Her heart is slowly receding.
I lift my head. I still have a minute before I call for an ambulance.
My hands explore her body.
"There was this small room," Sharon says. We're back home
from the hospital. This time we didn't meet the doctor who recognized
me. I put a chair in front of the sofa, and watch her, entranced. "And
it had two doors. And there was this ... old, old woman. The oldest
woman I have ever seen. She looked at me. I couldn't take my eyes off
" 'Who are you?' I said.
" 'There are two doors to the room,' she said. 'You have to choose
the right one.'
" 'Why?' I said.
" 'Your future depends on it.'
"This was weird and at the same time not weird. I looked at her again.
'Who are you,' I said.
"She hesitated. Then she lowered her eyes. 'I'm you,' she whispered.
'Ninety years ago, I was you. I came into this room, and I chose this
door,' she pointed to a door. 'And I've been here ever since, unable
to use any of the doors, unable to return to life. Ninety years. You
have to choose the right door, Sharon.'
" 'You chose this door?' I asked.
"I didn't know what to do, but at the time it seemed so simple. Her
intensity was so ... convincing. I chose the other door. I opened it,
and I walked through it." Sharon took a deep breath.
"What happened then?" I couldn't help asking.
Sharon took another breath, then looked at me, her voice monotonous,
her eyes obviously elsewhere, probably looking again and again at the
things she had seen. "I was in a room, again. An identical room. Small
with two doors. I looked behind me -- there was no door out of which
I could have come, and yet I clearly had walked into the room
a second ago. And when I looked at the two doors again, the woman was
there. The same old woman.
" 'It's you again,' I said. 'The other door is no better.'
" 'No,' she told me. 'I am not the woman you saw in the other room.'
" 'Then who are you?'
" 'I was you, ninety years ago,' she said. 'Ninety years ago, I commited
suicide and I found myself in a room with two doors and an old woman
claiming to be me. She told me she chose the wrong door, so I chose
the other, just like you. And then I came here. And I chose this door.
And ever since I have been stuck here, unable to leave, unable to return
to the living. If you do not want to be me, you must choose the
other door. I don't know what's behind this one, but I know for sure
what's behind that one.'"
Sharon took another breath. Her hand was trembling. Then she went on.
"I ... uh ... I walked through the other door. And ... And I found myself
in an identical room again, with an identical woman. And ... And she's
been through two rooms, too. And I chose the other door again." She
shuts her eyes. "And again." Another puff. "And again. And I was in
another room, again, except that I had no time to talk to the woman,
because I was suddenly in the hospital. With you."
For a long time, there's only silence.
"I can't ... I can't stop thinking ... About what would have happened
if you hadn't pulled me back to the living. I ... How many rooms are
there? How many wrong doors are there? What if eventually I would have
reached a room with no old woman, would I have walked through the wrong
door? Would I have become stuck in a room for ninety years? Or more?
What ... "
She stops speaking. I say nothing.
"But that image of me. That old. Stuck in a room for ninety years.
I ... " She shook her head. "I can't get it out of my head. She was
so much like me. She was me. And I could feel what she felt.
For a moment I knew what it was like to be her, to ... Oh, god,
"Are you all right?"
She looks up at me and gives me a sad smile, "We'll see, won't we?"
I wait for a minute, then ask, "Do you have just one memory?"
We sit in silence for ten minutes this time. Finally, I say, "You want
to do it again?"
She looks at me, smiles, and doesn't answer.
"I think I went through the same thing you did," she tells
me. It's been a couple of days, I think. We're lying down on the mattress,
staring at the ceiling.
"What do you mean?"
She doesn't answer for a while, and when she does her voice is remote,
hundreds of miles away from here. "I think I left part of me there.
I think ... " And she trails off and says nothing.
Suddenly, she turns around, and looks at me. "Tell me about how you
remember being left behind in the school."
"I already told you."
"Tell me again. What was it like to feel stranded? What was it like
to come back? What was it like to learn that you didn't have to stay
in that one place? Tell me again."
I tell her again. She listens, rapt.
She hugs herself. "There's a bit of me missing," she whispers. "There's
a hole inside me, a missing bit of me that I left behind." And
she sounds sad.
I bring my hand closer to her face, to touch her cheek. She turns away.
"Tell me again," she whispers. "Tell me again."
We haven't stopped talking for three weeks. We hardly sleep.
And when we wake, she tells me of the dreams she had, of seeing her
other selves, her alternate selves. Lives she's had but didn't, memories
of things that could have happened but didn't, memories of what it was
like to be ninety years old. She doesn't really have these memories,
she says. She only dreams of them. But they feel real when she dreams
them. Just like all my memories feel real.
And even though she's completely recovered, there's been no sex since
she'd died. I'm losing my hold on her.
"I'm going back," she tells me as we stare out the window.
"Okay." I nod my head. "I'll be there for you."
She looks away, her eyes set on a point beyond the horizon. "I know."
"Don't do it with the pills." It's three a.m., and in seven
hours she's going to do it again. She can't fall asleep. She has to
talk about it. I stay up with her.
"What?" She asks, looking away from the wall.
"Don't do it like me. I didn't know how dangerous the pills are. And
now I can't go back there again. Committing suicide with pills is bad
for my health, remember?" And suddenly I'm not sure if that really
happened of if something else really happened. If it didn't ...
"Yes. I remember."
I nod. "There are other ways to do it. Other ways that will allow you
to go back again and again."
"Like cutting your veins."
She thinks about it for a minute. "Yes," she says. "We'll do that."
And she looks back at the wall. She isn't scared.
I hold the knife. "Tell me what to do." We're sitting on
the floor facing each other.
"Cut here," she points to the vein on her left arm.
I cut there. Torrents of blood gush out onto my carpet.
"Tell me what to do."
"Cut here," she points to the vein on her right arm.
I cut her there. More blood.
"It's not enough," I say. "You need more."
"It's not enough," she says. "More."
"Where?" I say, putting the knife on her left shoulder. "Here?"
"Yes." I cut her shoulder. It bleeds on my knife.
"Here?" I put the knife above her right breast.
"Yes." And I cut it until it bleeds.
"Here?" I put the bloody edge of the knife to her throat.
I cut it. Just enough to bruise the skin and make it bleed a bit.
"Deeper?" I ask.
I cut deeper, scratching something solid.
She looks at me with dead, uncaring eyes. "Please."
I shove the knife deeper, so deep that I can't see the blade anymore.
She doubles over in pain, rivers of blood shoot everywhere, her hands
seize her neck, but avoid touching the blade.
She twitches and twists for almost four minutes until she stops moving
and stops breathing and just ... stops.
She's there, now. With her other selves. She's happy.
I'm here. With my other selves. And I look at what I've done.
Her eyes stare at me blankly, the knife is sticking sideways out of
her throat, and the flow of blood is slowly coming to a halt.
Oh, god: I never noticed it before, but she looks incredible!
I stare at her, my heart thumping and thumping. Oh, my god.
Oh, my god. She's so -- She made me feel so -- I love you, Sharon. I
love the way you made me feel.
My breathing slows down after an hour. There's darkness outside. There's
darkness around the edges of my sight.
I ... uh ... I need to sleep.
I need to sleep.
"Lick my shoe," I say. We're back in the playground, back
in school. Sharon's in front of me.
"Please," she whines. "Please."
"The people have spoken," I tell her. "Do it now."
I'm dreaming. This isn't real. She's dead. This couldn't be happening.
She was never in my school.
She drops to her knees. "Please," she begs.
"Do it!" There's iron in my voice.
Slowly, she bends and licks my shoe. I don't want to see this, but
I can't move away.
After a few seconds, she looks up, her eyes streaming with tears. "Okay?"
And my heart is pounding, and my prepubescent hormones are getting
a rise. Not of her pain or the humiliation, but of the control I have
"Part of it is still dirty," I tell her. "Do it again." The crowd cheers.
I own them.
And as hard as it is for her, she bends down, and licks my shoe again.
And the pounding in my ears is exactly the same as it was when I killed
"Lick my shoe," I tell her.
We're back at the beginning. She hasn't licked my shoe yet.
"Please," she begs me. "Please."
What the hell is this? What's going on? Maybe she isn't the one who's
dead. Maybe it's me, again. Maybe it's me still. Maybe I never
came back to life. Maybe it was part of death's scenarios. Maybe I'm
still here, on the dark side. Playing with my dark side.
Something impels me to say, "The people have spoken. Do it now."
No, I don't want to go through this again. This isn't me. This is a
me that could have been, not a me that was. This is not the me that
Obviously holding back her revulsion, biting back everything, trying
not to cry, she falls to her knees, and bends over. Slowly, she takes
her tongue out. For a friction of a second it hovers a millimeter above
my shoe. This second time, I can see the hesitation. But the fear overcomes
her, and her tongue touches my shoe. I can feel her tongue on my foot,
through my shoe and my sock.
I must still be dead. I try to step sideways, to get elsewhere, elsewhen.
To any other situation but this nightmare.
She looks up. "Okay?" One tear to the left, two to the right. Her voice
is pleading for mercy. For her nightmare to stop. I nearly cry
back. This isn't me. Please, make it stop.
"Part of it is still dirty," I say. "Do it again." The crowd cheers.
And me, as much as I revile this, when she turns her head back down,
when it's clear that she'll lick my shoe again, I feel a rush. A rush
of pleasure. Oh, god, no.
"- my shoe," I hear my voice echo back even as my lips seal
themselves. It's started again.
She's looking at me, her eyes watery, wavering. I shut my eyes.
She's pleading. I shut my ears.
I know I'm answering back. I shut my mouth.
I sense a shift in the sand. I know she's on her knees, now. I shut
Stop this. Stop stop stop this. This never happened. I don't get such
a pleasure out of humiliating people. This is NOT ME! There's
a cheering of a crowd around me. I'm not here. This is someone else's
Through my shoe, I sense the movement of her tongue for the third time,
and a buzz goes through me. A buzz of sheer pleasure.
I know this feeling. I know this joy. I have felt it before.
In childhood a time or two. When a teenager. But I so despised myself
for feeling it, I never put myself in a position to feel it again. Until
No. This is my feeling. It's mine, not someone else's.
I am the monster I've always dreaded I could be.
"Part of it is still dirty," I say, as I open my eyes, willing myself
to speak. "Do it again." My heart begins to thump. She does it again.
Suddenly I can't breathe. I sit up with a gasp.
It's dark. Was I having a heart attack? Why did I stop breathing?
Where am I? A shard of light, outlining a door.
Back home. Sharon's in the living room. Was she ever here? Is
All I have to do is walk to the other room, and I'll know.
Nah. I'll stay here for a while. I'll try sleep again. I don't care.
I lie in the dark and stare at the ceiling and memories
wash over me.
I remember everything.
And for the first time I'm able to separate my memories.
I remember being raised by my father and my mother until they were
divorced when I was ten. I remember drowning. I remember almost getting
run over. I remember going to school and never asking anyone to lick
I follow another path, different memories of a different childhood.
I remember my father dying at the age of seven. I remember my mother
losing herself to drink, ebbing away while being alive. How I was the
one who took care of her.
I remember a different school. How I enjoyed humiliating -- no, not
humiliating people, controlling them -- I remember how good being
in control felt. I remember the satisfaction it gave me of getting back
at life, of controlling everything and everyone, of making it impossible
for the world to manipulate me.
And, in this path, I remember the day I realized that I am not alive.
It began the day my father died. When my mother told me
about it, at home, there was another me there. Another kid who looked
like me, half-invisible, looking at us. I could hear his thoughts, I
could see his memories. He was me, but his past was slightly different.
He was a different me from a different place.
It took me years upon years, but, knowing that impossible things are
possible, I learned the rules of my reality. This wasn't life as everyone
else understood it. I could slip from one reality to another. I realized
this wasn't life. I could slip into lives that could have been, that
will be, that would have been. And when I watched the life of the kid
that showed up in my saddest day, I learned that he was alive, that
he had only arrived after he had died, and that he had vanished once
he had been brought back. This place, where I was born, where I grew
up, it was death. I had never been alive. I was just a possibility.
I hated the real me. I wanted to be him. I watched his life. I knew
he'd come back. He'd come back for me. And then ... I would kill him
and take his place.
And I did.
Only he came back, too. I came back. Back from the schoolyard.
I am both of me, now. I was there, at home, hearing my mother
tell me the awful news. I was there, at home, watching me hearing the
news. Both these versions of me are now inside me. At least both of
me, if not more.
But I can tell the different realities apart, now. They're all of them
real. But I can tell them apart. My father is alive here. My father
died when I was seven over in the afterlife.
This ... other me. This ... me that likes to control people. He's the
one that manipulated Sharon. He's the one that overwhelmed me. He's
the one that got her to commit suicide once, and, when I saw -- when
he saw -- that he was losing control, he was the one who committed
the absolute act of control and got her to beg me to kill her.
It wasn't me. It wasn't my pleasure I was feeling. It wasn't me, for
But then whose pleasure was it? I felt it. It's a pleasure I've
felt before. It is mine, no matter how badly I don't want it
That other me, that dead-me-come-to-life, he's not a different person.
It's just a case of 'there but for the grace of God, go I -- goes he
-- go we'. He's a me that could easily have been. I am he. And everything
he does I could have done, I did do, I would have done.
And now I did. I did it. And I liked it.
And I hate myself.
I can't face myself.
It's not that she's dead. She wanted to die. She's where she wants
to be. It's that I destroyed her world. I took away her job, her friends,
her family, everything in her life -- just for the sheer pleasure
of it -- and then I manipulated her into committing suicide. And once
she'd been to the afterlife, everything she had been was left behind.
She was just like me, she wanted to die again and again and again ...
And I manipulated her, controlled her, took away her thoughts, her reason,
her self -- and had made sure that this death would be the last
death. Just to get that rush of control again.
And -- I don't even want to think about it, but I can't help it --
in that awful place on the other side, in the afterlife, there are other
me's. Me's that could have been. There are me's that are ten times worse
than I am now, who commit deeds more horrible than the ones I committed
here. There are murderers, I'm sure. Rapists. God knows what else. And
they're all things I could have become, if things were different. They're
not disconnected from me, they're not other people. They're me in other
Oh, my god, how can I face myself? How can I look at myself in the
mirror, knowing I could become all those things?
How can I live with myself knowing I'm everything I hate?!
I'm to blame.
I'm to blame for everything I could do, for anything that exists
there, beyond. It's part of me. And I'm to blame for it. I'm to blame
for everything. Everything.
I hate me.
It's been two days. I've been in bed all this time, the
curtains drawn. I don't eat, I hardly drink, and I only go through the
living room when I have to go to the bathroom.
I can't face myself.
And then suddenly, I get this urge to leave the house. To go out. To
find another woman. To see how far I could manipulate her.
I can't. I can't. Not again. I lie on my hands and bury my head in
Oh, my god, I'm such a monster.
It's been two weeks.
At least I can walk around and think. Thinking's important. Maybe there's
a way to work this out with myself. Maybe there's a way I can learn
to live with what I am.
I don't know if it's possible. I don't think it is. But at least I'm
thinking, and thinking's important. I think I'm going to get out of
Sharon's body is really starting to smell.
I stuff it in a huge nylon bag, which I then wrap around a few times,
sellotape, and put in the attic.
I wonder if I should really keep it there, or just get rid of it?
Nah. I'll keep it. Sentimental value.
© Guy Hasson 2002, 2004.
This novella was originally published by Aphelion and is included
in Guy's collection, Hatchling (translated into Hebrew and published
in paperback by Bitan Publishers).
Elsewhere in infinity plus:
Elsewhere on the web: