“The Lepers in Your Head” / Chapter Seven: The Graveyard

This is the seventh chapter of a novella I’ve written. It will be published here one chapter at a time, roughly twice a week. Trigger warning: this story is very dark, and may be triggering for those with suicidal ideation. It’s also not the kind of thing you’d expect your pastor to write. So, fair warning.

I fell backward onto the ground, but everything was different. The basketball that had knocked me down was gone – vanished. And I’d landed not on asphalt but on grass. And it was suddenly nighttime. I caught my breath, and stood up. I was winded from the fall, but I didn’t seem hurt at all. I looked around. I was certainly somewhere else. This wasn’t Scarlet Hills – I didn’t think this was Scarlet at all. I was in a field of grass, with stone markers all around me. This was a graveyard. I seemed to be near the top of a hill, and the gravestones went all the way down. I could see a street below, and some buildings. A few street lights gave an amber glow to the bottom of the hill. Where the hell was I, and how did I get here?

I walked around on the grass, and looked at some of the stones. I read names on them.

HEMINGWAY

MONROE

PLATH

VAN GOGH

I was surprised so many people in this cemetery bore names so similar to celebrities. I kept going.

WOOLF

DWYER

COBAIN

BOURDAIN

WILLIAMS

I started getting suspicious. These were not just random names. And these were not people who would have been buried in the same cemetery. These were –

“You think you belong among them?”

I spun around to see who was speaking to me. I saw a woman, tall and thin, dressed in a long black dress. She stood on the hill about ten yards above me, and looked at me with disdain. She continued, “You really think you should be listed here, don’t you? The hall of fame, as it were.” She held up her hand, and admired her long red nails.

“I don’t understand,” I said. “Are these all suicides?”

She turned to face me, and laughed a short, brittle laugh. “Are these all suicides? Look around you! The whole hill, brimming with the self-destroyed. Yes, little man, yes, these are all suicides.”

I shook my head. “But I still don’t understand. Anthony Bourdain? Robin Williams? They were long after 1996. How are they here?”

There was a reddish shimmer, and the woman suddenly stood next to me. “Time? Does time exist here? Hmm.” She looked at her wrist. “Care to see what time it is?” She showed her wrist to me, right where a watch might have been, and all I saw was an open wound, from which thick dark red blood oozed. “You see? Death knows no time.” She pulled her arm back and laughed bitterly.

I said to her, “How did I get here? Who was the guy with the basketball? Who are you?”

She bared her teeth, perfect, straight, gleaming white. “You understand nothing. You toy with things you don’t understand. And why? What are you trying to accomplish, little child? Do you think you’ll be famous? Listed up among the stars as someone so sad, so deep, so mel-an-cho-ly?” She stretched the last word out mockingly, then threw her arms in the air, and shouted toward the sky. “All hail Damon Herriot, the Sad Sack of Scarlet!” She looked back at me, her arms falling to her side. “No. You are nothing. In death as in life, you are nothing.”

“I’m not looking for fame,” I said. “I’m not looking for pity, or sorrow, or even understanding. You know what I want? Release. I want to end this, for everyone’s sake. I want to be set free.”

“There’s no afterlife for you,” she said. “You’ve broken the rules. You won’t get your pie in the sky in the by and by.”

“Good! Why would I want this to continue? I never asked for any of this in the first place! Who asked me if I wanted to have this life?”

“It’s been a good life…” she said in a quiet sing-song.

“Yes, I’m sure it has. But who asked me if I wanted to have any life, good or bad? Who asked me if I wanted to be born in the first place? No one! I just want out.”

She reached toward me with her long nails. They looked more like claws as they approached. “Then perhaps you’d like me to end it right here, right now.”

I stared at the claws for a moment.

She spoke again, softly. “I can make it slow or quick, painless or agonizing. Whatever your preference.”

I finally answered, “It’s very tempting. It really is. But, no.”

She laughed, throwing back her head. “Whyever not, child? Would that be too easy for you? Not deep and dark enough for someone like you, who contains such mul-ti-tudes?” She stretched out that last word again.

I looked down, shaking my head. “Shut up. That’s not it. It would just cause more pain than necessary.”

She examined a claw. “I told you it could be painless,” she said, picking a bit of dirt off the claw.

“For me. It would be painless for me. But my family would suffer. That’s the trouble with suicide. It’s a zero-sum game.”

“Oh honey,” she said. “No matter what happens here in my domain, you ain’t never going back home. Your family will suffer either way.”

“No,” I said confidently. “They won’t. My wife and my children will not suffer at all if I can do what I’m planning.”

There was another red shimmer behind her, a mist that transformed into a bejeweled chair. She sat down in this throne, and looked at me pensively. She was higher up the hill than I, but her seated position made our eyes even with one another. “I don’t know if that’s true or not,” she said. Her arrogance and contempt seemed gone, and she seemed to be interested, intrigued even. “I haven’t lied to you once. I’m a lot of things, but not a liar. And what you’ve done, tearing through timelines, I don’t honestly know what the damage is. You might be right, but you might also be very wrong.” She laughed, and the cruelty came back to her face. “That is, of course, assuming you have the fortitude to finish your little mission.” She stood up, as the throne faded away again into nothingness. She waved me away with the back of her hand. “So go,” she said. “Go and save your family. Go and be brave and cowardly at once. Go, but know this: your name will not appear here on this hill. You simply aren’t worth it.”

I nodded, and said, “I know.”

She turned to me with huge eyes and a snarl on her lips. “I said GO!” She reached for me, and scratched my face.

The claws dug across my cheeks and nose. But they didn’t hurt as much as I expected – there was a strange raw soreness rather than a slash of pain. Then the world began to get dark all around me, and I felt as though I were hovering above the ground. I tried to shout, to ask her who she was, but I blacked out before I could say anything.

Next chapter: The Dead.

(c) 2021 Michael J. Scholtes

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