Things To Do In Bristol When You're Dead
The day a removal van drove into Eddie Pearson, it was raining. Eddie knew this, because his first conscious recollection afterwards was of watching a morgue attendant pull wet leaves from what remained of his mouth and wondering, vaguely, where the pain had gone.
After that things got more confused. The attendant went away and returned with three serious-looking men in scrubs, who set to work with saws and knives. Eddie tried to shut his eyes, but found he'd forgotten how; while all the time some deluded, rational part of his mind was screaming that his eyes were there, in his head, which was on the table in front of him. The same part then decided that this was all a bit much, and promptly short-circuited.
When the room returned once more, the attendant was trimming Eddie's fingernails for him. The scalpels had been removed and the incisions stitched up, ruler-straight across his chest. There was the sharp smell of whiskey in the air, and it took a moment for Eddie to realise that it was coming from the newly-sewn scar across his abdomen. So, he'd been drinking. That made sense. Insofar as anything today made sense.
"You stupid bastard." He said, aloud. Nobody paid any attention. Instead his own shattered jaw leered back at him, the mouth slightly agape. Eddie contemplated climbing back in.
After about half an hour two of the serious-looking men came to take his body away, and Eddie followed them. It wasn't that he was especially attached to the thing- at least, not any more. It had been scrawny, and diabetic, and it had ached more than he would have liked on damp mornings. But it was his, and so he hung on, with the instinctive tenacity of a drowning man.
They passed several corridors on the way out, but none of them looked remotely like the one he'd glimpsed earlier. The mere memory sent a shiver down his none-existent spine, and he recoiled from it, quickening into a trot alongside Scrubs One and Scrubs Two. They halted at an elevator, and Scrubs One punched in a code on the keypad set into the wall. The doors slid open with a hiss.
That was when Eddie panicked. Any leftover survival instinct should have been well and truly defunct by this point, but suddenly the idea of being trapped with his corpse in some subterranean basement frightened him even more than the half-real, half-remembered corridor. He turned, and ran for the nearest exit. He hadn't so much as jogged for years- hadn't had the breath for it, but it seemed that breath was now a commodity he could do without; and so he ran- sprinted, flat-out, twisting through passages and up flights of stairs, not even stopping when he reached the locked double-doors at the top. There was a strange, squelching sensation, like passing through warm custard; and then he was through into the next hallway, this one noisier and- thank God- full of people; normal, everyday people, in jeans or dressing gowns, and without scalpels or saws or solemn, disinterested faces.
Eddie let himself drift, oblivious, for a long while.
The people passed him by, oblivious, for even longer.
The only free chair in the whole lobby was between a grotesquely large man in denim and a washed-out forty-something with three broken fingers. Eddie curled himself up very small, chin on his knees, and watched two porters wrestle a drunken teenager into a wheelchair. A man in identical blue scrubs slipped past them, pushing a floor polisher with one hand and holding a mobile to his ear with the other. A girl dogged his every step, tugging at his sleeve.
"OK, will you please- put that thing away and talk to me." The man shot her a sidelong glare.
"Look, I'm sorry, but you're thin air, okay? And I don't fancy getting shipped off to the Psych Ward just so you can..." His gaze fell on Eddie, and rested there. "Annie. Look."
They were both staring at him now. Genuine, purposeful, meaningful stares.
It was the closest thing Eddie had had to contact all day, and it sent a bolt of heat straight through him.
The girl released her companion's elbow and came closer.
"Um. Hello. Annie. And...sorry, but- are you...?"
"So." Eddie whispered. "'M dead."
Annie pulled an understanding face. Her hand felt soft and cool in his, and almost completely real. "I'm sorry."
"Nah, s'not your fault." Eddie glanced down at his arms. Same pale, bruised, sinewy arms they'd always been. He pictured them, growing stiff inside a body bag, and shuddered. "Always thought it'd be the diabetes, y'know? Death by cake, I thought, that's the way to do it. Not..."
The corner of Annie's mouth quirked upwards, in a rueful smile. "If it makes you feel any better, I got pushed down the stairs. Wasn't quite what I had planned either."
Eddie sniffed, and waved a hand at the cleaner, who was sitting in the row behind them, arms folded. "What about you, then? You-?"
"Dead? No. Well...sort of."
"He's a vampire." Annie broke in. The vampire in question glared at her, and she stared back. "What? No-one else can hear me. His name's Mitchell, by the way."
There was a pause. The vampire winced, and shifted a little, looking uncomfortable. Eddie studied the chapel altar, with its candlesticks and ornate silver cross. Well. He thought. Someone, somewhere, fucked up royally, didn't they?
"Is anyone coming for you?"
Eddie frowned. "You mean, like, those men?"
Something flashed in the ghost's gaze, but she merely shook her head. "No. I mean- friends...family..."
"Got a brother. Haven't seen him for...oh, twenty years? I'm in a bedsit in Easton." Eddie gave a hollow laugh. "Landlord might miss his rent. That's 'bout it." Annie's mouth formed a noiseless 'o' of sympathy. Her gaze turned back to Mitchell, and there was a short, silent exchange between them, conducted entirely in meaningful looks. At last, Mitchell rolled his eyes, and nodded. Annie grinned.
"Why don't you- stop by our place, for a bit? I'll make some tea."
"Tea." Eddie repeated, stupidly.
"Don't get too excited, mate." Mitchell shrugged. "You won't actually be able to drink it."
Annie shooed at him with both hands, and then beamed once more at Eddie. "Still. Tea smells nice, doesn't it? C'mon. Up you get." She tugged him to his feet and led him out onto the central aisle; almost skipping, her ghostly curls bouncing with excitement.
"I've been wanting to try this."
"Be careful with him." Mitchell warned.
"I will." Annie turned to face Eddie. "Hold my hand. Okay?"
"What're you-" Eddie said, and vanished.
Eddie swayed. The chapel floor, which had been very emphatically there a moment before, was now very emphatically not. Instead, he was standing by the table of a cramped kitchen; while Annie, having let go of his hand, was pouring sugar into a bowl.
"Now. First things first. Typhoo, or PG Tips?"