With Halloween and Dia de los Muertos just around the corner, I thought I’d share an excerpt from my second novel, Goodness Falls. The plot unfolds during Halloween Week and reaches its climax on The Day of the Dead. In the story, I was going for a Poe-like ambiguity that allows the more rational reader to explain the characters and events of the story in natural terms but also makes room for the much more fun, irrational, and supernatural explanation as well. The character Mr. Mortis, who appears in the scene below, may be just a substitute English teacher, or he may be Death himself. Similarly, Perdita may be just another transfer student, or she may be a succubus in Death’s service.
In the scene that follows, T.J. Farrell, who is suffering from a traumatic brain injury, finds himself coming down from an Ecstasy (MDMA) high and trying to discern fact from phantasm.
Around four a.m., Perdita took me by the hand and led me outside. We climbed into the pickup. She reached inside her top and bra and removed the bottle of Vicodin. She poured a handful into her palm, closed the lid, then slid the bottle into my jeans pocket, where she allowed her fingers to linger teasingly on the inside of my thigh.
“Open up,” she said. “But chew them this time before swallowing. You’ll be glad you did.”
I opened my mouth. Perdita placed several tablets on her tongue one at a time then transferred them to mine with a deep kiss. I chewed each one and swallowed.
The comedown effects were nearly immediate. I could feel my heart slowing down and the blood returning to my core. In a moment of epiphanic clarity between the high from the ecstasy and the crash from the Vicodin, I looked deeply into Perdita’s black eyes. “Are you trying to kill me, Perdita?”
“The pain is almost over,” she said and kissed me once more, deeply and long. She ran her bony fingers through my hair, then lightly traced my ears and inspired layers of gooseflesh to surface all over my body. She held an index finger in front of my face. The tip was dabbed with blood from my ear. She whispered, “Golden lads and girls all must, as chimney sweepers, come to dust.”
“I suppose that’s Shakespeare.”
“That’s right, baby. Night, night.”
At some point – I’m not sure what time it was – I woke up, or maybe not, maybe I dreamt it or, as Dr. Young insists, I just hallucinated it. Anyway, instead of Perdita, it was Mr. Mortis who sat on the passenger’s side of the pickup.
“Mr. Mortis,” I said. “What are you doing here?”
“The better question, T.J., is what are you, still doing here. Perdita fed you a cocktail that should have put down a newbie like you an hour ago.”
“So she really was trying to kill me,” I said more to myself than to him.
“But,” he ignored my accusation, “to answer your original question, I’m waiting for you.”
“Waiting for me to do what?” I asked.
“To die, T.J. What else? Haven’t you been paying attention this past week?”
“I’m sorry?” I said, meaning that I wasn’t sure I’d heard him correctly, but Mr. Mortis took it differently.
“No need to be sorry. Most people share your reluctance but not your talent for avoiding the inevitable.
“Wait. You’re being serious. Aren’t you?”
“Dead serious. Think about your past week: a vicious blow to the head, a tractor trailer with your name on it, several more brutal head shots at practice, a near-miss stabbing, and now a lethal mixture of drugs and alcohol assault on your nearly virginal system. Just be glad you never did go duck hunting. That would have been messy.”
“So you’re like the Grim Reaper?”
“I’m not ‘like’ anything, T.J. I am what I am. But that’s one of the names people use.”
“You’re Death?” I asked incredulously.
“Not exactly. Death is a condition, a nothingness. It’s not a being. I’m more like a collector.”
“You mean like a guide to the next world?”
“No. I think I told you once before, there is no next world.”
“I can’t believe you came here just for me.”
“Don’t flatter yourself. I haven’t. There have been others. Do I need to list them?”
“No,” I said in a despondent tone.
“Believe it or not, I don’t always control or even exactly know the how, when, or order of deaths. Sometimes, I’m surprised myself.”
“You just show up for work?”
“You might say that.”
“Have you ever been wrong or have you ever changed your mind?”
“That’s a silly question. Why not you?”
“That’s a silly answer.”
“It’s all I’ve got.”
“But people aren’t just dying in Goodness Falls,” I said. “They have to be dying all over the world.”
“That’s correct, and they are. Ubiquitous, remember? I’m always around, T.J. I’m around so often and in so many different forms that few people notice me. I’m the substitute teacher, the bus driver, the delivery guy, the emergency room nurse, the virus on the doorknob, the unexplained lump in the nut sack.”
“What about heaven and hell?”
“Really?” I asked disappointedly.
“Will I see a light or something?”
“You might – for a while. Trust me. It’ll be fine. It looks quite nice, death. I actually envy you.” He assumed a faraway gaze that I recognized from his recitations in class.
“Oh, no,” I said. “Not again. You’re not going to . . .”
“To die – too sleep: no more; . . .”
“Quote Shakespeare,” I finished too late.
“. . . and by a sleep to say we end the heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to, tis a consummation devoutly to be wished.’ Hamlet.”
“What’s with all the Shakespeare?” I asked.
“In all the history of mankind, he’s the only one I regretted collecting. He’s the only one who came close to understanding.”
“What about Perdita?”
“She works for me.”
“What is she?”
“I thought you said . . .”
“She’s the exception.”
“Don’t be. Nothing is nothing to be afraid of.”
“I guess not.”
“I really must be going. I don’t want to be late for class.” He opened the door, which illuminated the cab of the truck. “T.J., it’s been a pleasure. I will say I do enjoy the occasional challenge.”
I tried to prolong his stay, but I was already alone and on the verge of release.
If you enjoyed this excerpt and are interested in reading the rest of the story, click the link below.