The Company of the Dead (short fiction)

She decided to ask her father for advice. They had never gotten along very well, and that had only gotten worse after he’d died.

The graveyard was full of ghosts, but so was everywhere else. The living mounted monuments to the dead, then fenced those monuments off. As if death could be contained in pre-arranged acres. The world was a single giant graveyard, and the dead far outnumbered the living.

Everyone and everything became a ghost upon death. Most of those ghosts lasted only a few moments. Others centuries. There were ghost forests still standing in the deserts, and once, she’d even seen a dinosaur ghost. It’d been little more than a shadow, but it was still here. She thought that maybe they never disappeared. Maybe they just faded away so that she couldn’t see them anymore. Perhaps that was the cruel secret of the afterlife. There was no greater world beyond this. There was only this, and billions of disembodied souls wandering unseen by most people.

Willie leaned against his tombstone. He didn’t look up at her. “What do you want now?”

“Good to see you too, Pop.”

He frowned. Some ghosts wandered the world aimlessly. Some stuck around where they were killed. Some haunted their bodies. There was no rhyme or reason to it, and even the dead didn’t know why they did what they did. She’d long since given up asking.

“I didn’t expect to see you again,” he said. “Not after you started taking the pills they gave you.”

She put her hand in her coat pocket and felt the bottle there. “I stopped taking them.”

“Don’t do that,” he said. “If there had been pills in my day, I would’ve taken them.”

“I know, Pop.”

“It’s not a gift,” he said. “It’s nothing but a distraction. You can’t help the dead, and they can’t offer you anything.”

“I know, Pop.”

“You’ll be here soon enough.”

“I know, Pop.”

“Don’t just say it. Listen, damn it! When your mother died, I wasted years of my life pining after her. But you can’t have a relationship with a ghost. Life is for the living. Leave the dead behind.”

She smiled.


“Nothing. I just came to ask you a question, but you gave me the answer.”

Willie grunted. “I love you, too, kid. Now take those pills and go back to your life.”

She swallowed a pill. “Pop, I’m not going to forget you. Not seeing you isn’t going to change that.”

“I know, kid. Take care of yourself.”

He faded away. She wondered if the doctors were right, and that she was crazy. Not their words, but close enough. It didn’t matter. One day, she’d die and find out. Until then, she’d live. She’d live for her father and mother, all the people who had come and gone before her and all the people who were yet to come.

“I love you, Pop.”

The thousands of unshackled spirits vanished as she left the graveyard. Even so, she didn’t walk out alone.

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One Comment

  1. Rodney
    Posted July 27, 2014 at 4:42 am | Permalink


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