It’s a little late for a Happy New Year post, but happy New Year anyway. This week, we’re all fat and lazy, because of the holidays, so we decided instead of a thought provoking post on this or that, we’d just amuse you with a story. Enjoy.
Neither Here, Nor There
By Renee Miller
Dave Collins died in his thirty-second year. He was masturbating at the time. The doctors agreed it was a shame it happened before orgasm. Dave didn’t mind so much. The dead could be philosophical about such things, as they were dead.
He was in his car when it happened. Parked, because he wasn’t a lunatic who’d jerk off while driving. He couldn’t do it at home, as a normal person might, because he lived with his parents. His mother still cried about the one time she caught him knocking one out in the shower. He’d been thirteen and she was supposed to knock before entering the bathroom.
Anyway, Dave pulled to the side of the road just past the gas station with the rusted out truck parked out front, but before the exit by the mini-mall where Buck Dodson drove through the donut shop window, because he’s a moron and an alcoholic. The ditch widened at this spot and sloped just enough to hide a car from passersby. He could open his pants, do his thing, enjoy several seconds of blissful relief from the stress and depression that plagued his existence before the Catholic shame kicked in and reminded him he was going straight to Hell, and get back on the road in minutes, with no one the wiser.
The day he died, Dave was running late. He told himself he didn’t have time, but his self said, “Dave, this is all we have. Life has fucked us—no, it’s sodomized us and then fucked us in our mouth with its dirty cock—and this roadside masturbation is the only joy we’ve got left. We need this.” Dave’s self told him the same thing every day at four as he approached the widened part of ditch perfect for monkey spanking. Only on the day he died, Dave approached at half past four.
If he hadn’t been running late, he’d have been back on the road and almost home when the man driving the blue Chevy pickup fell asleep and rolled it in the widened monkey-spanking section of ditch. But he was running late and the truck crushed his tiny Honda with the broken taillight and wired-shut passenger door.
And Dave died because the truck crushed his skull. Too bad the rest of the scene remained as it was before the accident. The paramedics took pictures, because obviously. He made it into a Top Ten Strangest Ways to Die article, where those pictures showed him slouched in his seat, legs spread, dick in hand, and his head a pulpy mess of brain, blood and bone.
You’d think this would be the interesting part of the story, but The Powers That Be made a clerical error.
Dave stared at the burly man standing in front of a large set of doors. He knew he died, but that was all he was sure of. Was this Heaven or Hell? His mother said nothing good came from touching your penis. He never imagined she’d be right.
“Name,” the man said again.
The burly man stared back.
“What does “nope” mean?”
“Negative. Not. No. Nein. Non.”
“You asked for my name, and then you said nope. What do you mean by that?”
“I said nope because you’re not on the list.”
“The list for where?”
Burly man pointed to the doors.
Dave didn’t know what to do. “Should I go back?”
He pointed behind him.
“Nothing back there.” Burly man said.
“But if I’m not on the list for here, then I’ll have to go back there.”
Dave chewed his lip for a moment. “So, if my name isn’t on the list for here, what am I supposed to do?”
“Dunno. You just wait. Now shut up, there’s a line.”
Dave didn’t see anyone behind him, but maybe everyone was invisible to everyone else when they died. He’d never died before, so he didn’t know how it all worked.
“Name.” The burly man said again.
He smoothed his shirt, which was the same shirt he died in. It made Dave glad he died on Casual Friday. It was good last day of life shirt; comfortable, the material really breathed.
“I. Said. Name.” Burly man looked at Dave.
“I just gave you my name.”
“Fuck,” Dave said. “David Collins.”
“We just did this.”
He felt a twitch near his eye. What the hell?
“Name.” The burly man’s face never changed. He didn’t smile, but he wasn’t frowning. He didn’t look at Dave, but he wasn’t exactly looking away. “Name.”
Dave sighed. “Julius Caesar.”
The man looked at the list. “How’d you get out?”
For the love of…
“They’re gonna be pissed. Get back in here. No purpose in being out there. There is nothing there and you’re supposed to be where there’s something.”
The doors opened. Dave, a little shaken, because he just lied to an angel or whatever the man was and would probably get thrown out of Heaven when the real Julius Caesar was all, “But I am me and you are you,” walked slowly toward the door.
“Haven’t got all day,” the man said.
Dave jogged over the threshold and heard the stone slabs slam shut behind him.
“Here” was a quiet street lined with trees, tiny homes and fences. He stared at the houses, which looked like cutouts of each other. They were all gray. Each had one window, a blue door, and a dog lying on the step.
“Where am I?”
“Here,” A voice said from behind him.
Dave turned. A tall woman with short black hair smiled back. “Who are you?”
She stared for a moment. “No.”
“Well, I am.”
“So am I, but David Collins isn’t on the list.”
“The one for here.”
“Where is here?”
“Where you’re standing.”
“Oh my fucking God,” Dave said and then laughed.
“What is funny?”
“It’s not a compliment.”
“If I’m not on the list, tell me what I should do.”
She shrugged. “Never met anyone who wasn’t on the list.”
Dave looked at the many houses. They stretched on and on. “What’s in the houses?”
“In a house?”
“In most of them.”
“So if I were on the list, would I get to live in one of the houses?”
“Dead people can’t live.”
“Okay,” Dave pressed his forehead. “If I was on the list, would my afterlife be in one of those houses?”
“Yes, but you’re not on the list.”
“How do I get on the list?”
“You have to die.”
“Which I did.”
“This is most unusual.”
“Do you have a supervisor?”
“Maybe he or she can shine some light on the situation?”
“Is there not enough light?” She looked around. “It is supposed to be the perfect amount of light. Not too bright. Not too dim. Just right. Isn’t it just right?”
“I meant… it’s not important. Can I talk to your supervisor?”
Dave waited. She stared. He waited some more. She stared some more.
“Well?” he asked.
“I am, thank you.”
“No, I mean, will you get your supervisor?”
“Sure.” She snapped a finger and a man appeared.
“This is most unusual,” the man said. He wore a black robe tied at the waist with a white rope. His red hair was disheveled, as though he’d just been roused from sleep. “Why have you brought me here?”
“David Collins wanted to talk to you.”
“David Collins is not on the list.”
“He can’t be here.”
“Why is he here?”
Dave watched the two speak their strange, vague language. He took a deep breath, held it, and then blew it out slowly. “I told the guy on the other side of the doors that I was Julius Caesar.”
“Why would you do that?” the man asked.
“Because I got tired of giving my real name and getting the same answer. Believe me, I didn’t think he’d let me in.”
“If you’re Julius Caesar, then he would most definitely let you in, because you should never have been out. Julius is well into his afterlife. If he was out, well he’d have to start again. Most inconvenient for everyone involved.”
“I’m not Julius Caesar.”
“Then why did you say you are?”
Dave was sure they were trying to make him crazy. Maybe this was Hell. His personal purgatory where he never got anywhere, just as it was in his life. Shit. He was doomed to do this forever.
“Well,” the man put his hands on his hips. “I guess you better come with me.”
He pointed. “Over there.”
“I thought there was nothing there.”
“Nothing back there,” the man pointed to the doors. “But there is something over there.”
Dave said nothing. He followed the man ‘over there’ and suddenly he stood on a large set of stairs. “Where are we going?”
The man grumbled, but didn’t answer. He continued to climb the stairs. Dave followed, though his legs ached. How many damn stairs were there? He didn’t dare ask.
Finally, they reached the top. Dave stared at the three doors in front of them.
“Pick one,” said the man.
“What part of ‘pick one’ is difficult to understand?”
Dave scowled. He pointed to the door in the middle. “That one, I guess.”
“No. Pick again.”
“That one.” Dave pointed to the door on the right.
“Good choice. You don’t want that one.” The man nodded toward the door on the left. “Bloody anarchists, that lot.”
“And the middle door?”
“Is in the middle.”
“But why did you say no?”
“It’s in the middle. Come on.” The man led the way through the door on the right.
Dave followed him into what looked like a large white bedroom. Well, a dormitory. There were several beds, all covered in white pillows and blankets, distributed throughout the room. No one was in any of them, though. “What’s this place?”
The man shushed him.
They walked to the far end of the room, where a man sat on a large white sofa. He had a long beard, wore a white robe, and strummed lazily on a ukulele. “Are you God?”
“Am I?” Bearded man asked.
“I asked you.”
Dave realized not a single person in this place would give him a straight answer.
“Eugene,” bearded man said. “Why is this person here?”
Eugene, being the man Dave had just followed, took a deep breath before answering. “So, Charlie let this guy in, because he said he was Julius Caesar, only he isn’t. He’s David Collins.”
“David Collins is not on the list.”
“I know. Anyway, so he got in, but Clare stopped him.”
“She did not,” thought Dave.
“And he demanded to speak to a supervisor.” Eugene continued.
“Ew,” bearded man frowned. “Always unfortunate when they go that route.”
“Yes,” Eugene agreed. “So anyway, after some discussion, I realized there was only one thing to do.”
“You’re right. Only one thing. This is highly unusual, but it goes to show that one must be prepared for every eventuality. I am always prepared and this is most definitely the only thing to do.”
“What is?” Dave asked.
Bearded man put up a hand. “Now, let’s start with who made the list.”
“You did.” Eugene said.
“Oh right. I did.”
“And you did not add David Collins.”
“I did not.”
“But he’s here.”
“Can’t go back there.”
“But here is unsuitable as well.”
“Where is here?” Dave asked.
“Where you are.” Bearded man said.
“But is this Heaven or Hell?”
“Which is it?”
“Which is what?”
“You’re most confusing. Please, close your mouth while I figure this out.”
Dave closed his mouth.
Suddenly a long piece of paper appeared in the bearded man’s hand. He stared at it, muttered, made a note with a pen that also magically appeared, and then muttered some more. Eugene chewed his fingernail as they waited, and Dave wished he’d never masturbated on the side of the road.
“Okay,” bearded man said. “I see what’s happened.”
“You do?” Dave asked.
“Oh yes, it’s right there,’ he pointed at the page. “Clear as water.”
“Air, I guess.”
“Air and water are both clear, mostly. Air would probably be clearer. Water can be dirty. Murky. Air is almost entirely always clear. Should’ve said that first. Avoid confusion.”
“No. I mean, what is it that’s clear?”
“And what is the problem?”
“Your name, of course.”
“I don’t follow.”
“Well I’m not going anywhere so I don’t imagine you would.”
“I mean I don’t understand how my name is the problem.”
“It’s not on the list.”
“We’ve established that. Several times.”
“Take him back there.”
Eugene stopped chewing his nail. “But there’s nothing there.”
“Why would I go where there’s nothing?” Dave asked.
“Because your name is the problem.” Bearded man said. “Highly unusual, but there it is.”
“Can I die again? Because if so, I’d like you to just kill me so I can start over. This is unbearable.”
“Yes, I imagine it is.”
“Okay, back there we go.” Eugene said. “Lucky bastard.”
“Yes. There’s nothing there.”
“Why is nothing lucky?”
“Because it’s nothing.”
Dave opened his eyes. “Where am I?”
The same woman from here looked down on him. “You’re there.”
“But where is there?”
“It’s not here, that’s for sure.”
His head hurt. “But I was supposed to go back there.”
“And there you are.”
“Why are we still talking in circles?”
“I don’t know.”
“Can we stop?”
“Of course we can.”
“What happens now?”
“Because that’s what happens when you’re there and not here.”
Dave sat up. The room wasn’t dark but it wasn’t light. He sat on nothing, but there was something beneath him. Clare was there, but she wasn’t. She was sort of everywhere and nowhere. He stood. It felt weird to stand on nothing.
“What am I supposed to do here?”
“Nothing,” she said.
“I can’t do nothing forever.”
“There’s nothing to do.”
“Is this Heaven?”
“I suppose it might be.”
“I figured I’d go to Hell.”
“Well, your name wasn’t on the list.”
“That was Hell back there?”
“No, Hell is here.”
“Back there is nothing.”
“So that’s Hell?”
“I have no idea what that is.”
“Has to be Hell, because this whole nightmare is awful.”
“But doing nothing forever isn’t good either.”
“Nothing isn’t bad or good.”
“Because it’s nothing.”
“Right.” She smiled.
“And that’s what you want me to do here?”
“Oh no. That would be awfully dull.”
“How long do I stay, uh, there and do nothing?”
“Until your name is called.”
Dave frowned. “Fine. I don’t have much choice, I guess.”
“I’m quite jealous,” she said and then disappeared.
Dave waited fifteen minutes. He counted the seconds in his head. Finally, bored out of his mind, he opened his pants. As he touched his penis, a deep voice rumbled through the nothingness. “David Collins.”
“Because you can’t come there.”