This is one of the most dark, depressing things I have ever written from beginning to end. I wrote this earlier this year, and it’s a story about a teenager who commits suicide and ends up in a twisted version of the afterlife. I wouldn’t read this unless you’re suicidal, then it might stop you. I can’t imagine who I would submit this to, but it was one of those stories I had to get out of my system.

As Gilly stood on the small chair, she paused in a moment of raw adrenaline. Her face was hot, and she could feel her heart thump in her chest. Her chubby ankles reflected the glow of her laptop on her bed and her toes were bare knuckle white as she tried to persuade herself to jump. The scratchy noose around her neck itched, but she felt this would be only momentary. Once the chair was removed, it would all be over. Sweet, sweet release.

The small chair shook under her weight. It was a plastic chair she had since she was a little girl, when times were simpler. It was before the divorce, before high school, and before the days when Gilly got plump. It was before the heartbreak, when Brit was her best friend, she got good grades, and had lots of free time. Gilly wept at the thought, her stomach panged with ache at the loss she so desperately craved. Those good old days. But those days were gone. Last week, her only real friend in the world, Linda, had said she didn’t want to be friends with Gilly anymore. She said to “stop saying I’m your friend” loudly to everyone in class. And people laughed. Her father was dating again, and he seemed to have forgotten her as well. Gilly felt alone and scared and there was no one to catch her fall. perhaps that’s why she chose to hang herself; a sort of symbolic revenge of what happens when Gilly gets dropped from everyone’s lives.

She looked at the screen of her laptop, and saw the webcam had her feet perfectly in frame. Anyone who logged onto her webcam after they read the mail would see her shins dangling. She saw the chair bend under her weight, and she sucked in a breath to gain courage.

“Just do it. They hate you, Gilly. Fuck them all. Just die already… I… I am such a coward.” This wasn’t the first time she had tried this. But this time, she had sent out the e-mail, posted in her blog and social sites that tonight was the night she would show everyone how she felt about them… or something. She realized as she hit “send” that there was a spelling error. Well, it wouldn’t matter soon. Fuck them all. She cursed her cowardice, and tried to encourage her final end to be the ultimate middle finger to everyone else in this stupid, cruel world.

“Hey,” said a rather bemused voice from her bedroom door. “Whatcha doin’?”

Gilly spun around in panic. The small plastic chair slid to one side, and Gilly righted herself before she realized that was stupid since she was supposed to hang herself… but who was this? “What… who are you?”

“My name is Violet,” said the girl by the door. Dressed in back from head to toe, Violet’s only color was a huge purple bow in her hair and a beret with a small mouse skull on it. She was eating a peach and looking at Gilly with a sense of amused distance. “You gonna jump or something?”

“Maybe…!” Gilly didn’t know how Violet had gotten into her room. The house was empty since her dad was on a date. She had locked all the doors and windows.

“Maybe?” Violet said with a scoff. “I didn’t come here to see a ‘maybe,’ are you going to kill yourself of not?”

“Who-” Gilly started, before she realized she had already asked that. “What are you… doing here?”

“I am going to watch you hang yourself. But I got other stuff to do, so if you’re not going to do it, I’ll just go.” Violet took another bite from her peach.

Gilly was dumbfounded. There was a pause that seemed to go on forever as the plastic chair trembled under her feet.

“Funerals aren’t for the dead, you know,” Violet said.

“W-what?”

Violet looked annoyed. “I know you speak English; what, am I not loud enough for you? What the fuck, you deaf, Gilly? I said, FU-NER-ALS ARE NOT FOR THE DEAAAAADD!”

“I HEARD you, I didn’t know what you MEANT by it!”

Violet shrugged. “I only meant that you’re going to hate your funeral.”

Gilly snapped back into focus. “I don’t care…” she said. “That’s not my–”

“It IS your problem, Gilly. Look, lemme get this straight. You are going to kill yourself, end your own life, because other people — people you don’t like — suck?”

Gilly paused.

“Yeah. Made you think, didn’t I? Don’t be a dumbass. Get off that chair before it’s too late. Or hang yourself, I don’t care. You’re boring me at this point.”

Gilly’s legs trembled. Her feet were getting tired. The small plastic chair was creaking.

“Okay, have it your way. Let’s play a game. Let’s see what happens when a teenager, like you… dies.”

The chair under Gilly finally gave way, and in her attempt to right herself, Gilly slipped off and dropped a foot and a half. As Gilly flailed, the rope went taught and snapped her neck. The gasps she tried to make would not come as the noose tightened around her chin, closed her windpipe, and jammed her jaw into her skull. Gilly’s large size, combined with the coarseness of the rope, seemed to rip across her face like fire. The rest of her body went numb as her spinal cord broke under the weight. Her eyes bulged, and she saw stars in a dark red fog. The last thing she felt was her heart beating like it was going to explode, and a strange sense of regret and horror at Violet’s amused look from the doorway. The pain was intense until it overwhelmed her, and she blacked out.

Later, Gilly awoke on the floor. It took her a while to see, but her eyes gradually adjusted to the dim light of her laptop screen saver. As she got up, she felt something stone-cold brush her cheek.

It was a pale hand. Her own.

Gilly gasped in horror and she backed away. She saw her own body, twisted into a grotesque and sagged shape. Her face was purple to the point of being maroon, and every pudgy part of her face was swollen like a blood-filled sausage, including her eyes. She was wearing the large tee shirt she got at an amusement park, and some sweat pants now hung halfway down one icy leg. Her pale limbs were dark at the tips, and her feet were black as if colored by soot. A dark reddish-brown stain covered the front of her sweat pants.

“Pretty gross, isn’t it?”

Gilly spun around. Violet was still standing nonchalantly in the doorway. “Wh–”

“You have been dead for two days. You are past the cusp of rigamortis, and now as you can see, blood is pooling in the limbs. You are starting to smell a little, but the real smell won’t hit for a few days because the AC is cranked up. You fat people sure need to keep cool a lot.”

Gilly looked back at her gruesome corpse. “Two days? No one found me for two days?”

“Yeah. That’s pretty sad, huh? Look at you hanging there, like a side of beef covered with some cheap bedsheet. Oh, and you shit yourself. Some of you vagina prolapsed into your sweat pants there, that’s where that huge stain comes from. Man… your corpse is more disgusting than most.”

“What about my dad?” Gilly asked. She was shocked her father hadn’t found her for TWO days.

“Oh, your dad came back late from his date Friday night. He slept until 4pm on Saturday, and thought you were at a friend’s house. You’re usually at Linda’s house on Saturday.”

“Oh yeah… Linda and I aren’t speaking…” Gilly said in realization.

“Yeah, but when he asked what was wrong last week, you told him nothing, so he thinks you’ll be out all night. His date went really well, and was on the phone until 2am. His mind is not on you now, and on Sunday, when he said he was leaving, he didn’t see your body. He saw the glow of your laptop, and figured you were on the floor. He didn’t look very hard, but his mind was on date number two. You know, he was serious about this girl. Had you lived, they might have hooked up.”

Gilly’s eyes welled up. She turned to the laptop on the floor. “Didn’t anyone even look on the webcam?”

“Oh don’t cry, Gilly. Won’t help. yeah, they looked. They got the mail and all of them were all, ‘Gilly, what the fuck?’ But see… when you struggled at the moment of hanging, you kicked the laptop to the floor. They all looked, but saw nothing but a darked room with a rug. They figured you were being lame and emo… as always.”

Gilly looked at her body closer. The shock of what she was seeing spread across her skin like needles. “I am really dead, aren’t I?”

“Oh yeah. You are a hanging piece of decaying meat, Gilly. Congratulations, prize winner! You did it. Hung yourself and everything. You know, Linda has been calling the house all day. She suspected something was up. She saw the rug, too, but being your friend she felt something was unusual in this recent chain of events. Your dad finally picked up the phone about one minute ago, and he just replied he’s not sure where you are. This is the last minute of your dad’s life where he still thinks he has a daughter. His life is going to change in less than 20 seconds from… now!”

“Gilly?” came the father’s voice from downstairs. “GILLY?”

Violet walked up to Gilly. “You know why they call suicide a selfish act?”

Gilly backed away from her body as she heard her father run up the stairs. “GILLY?” he called out.

The door opened, and he father turned on the lights.

Gilly looked into her father’s eyes as he saw her corpse. His voice shuttered in deep shock. “Oh God,” he screamed. “OH GOD!”

“Daddy? DADDY?” Gilly screamed. But as she reached out, her father passed through her arms.

“You’re dead, Gilly,” Violet said, taking another bite of the peach. “You can’t touch the material world anymore. That corpse is gonna get more hugs than you now…”

“NO NO NO OH GOD GILLY NO!!” her father screamed. Gilly had never heard that tone of voice from her father before. It was drenched with shock and despair. It was the beginning of a wail that was flooding his words into incoherent babbling. In one moment, Gilly saw just how human her dad was. He was no longer the strong man who lifted her up with his big arms as a little girl. He was no longer the overpowering demon who punished her and grounded her for poor grades. He was a scared child screaming in a lost confusion.

“DADDY!!” Gilly screamed, but Violet held her back.

“You’re dead, Gilly. You know, like that guy in ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.’ What’s his name? You’d think in my job, I’d remember this shit, but I find it very hard to care.”

“DADDY!!” Gilly screamed through her tears. Her whole body shook with shock and regret.

“Yeah, he can’t hear you…” Violet said and chuckled. “You’re deeeeadd….” She shook her head in disbelief. “Always the same thing, ‘how come I float through people, Violet?’ DUH, DEAD! For chrissake, Gilly, pull it together. This IS what you wanted.”

Gilly dropped to her knees and bawled with her father. But her father quickly ran out of the room.

“He’s calling 911. What a dope. Should call a meat wagon…”

“Why did you do this to me; WHO THE FUCK ARE YOU??” Gilly screamed at Violet through her tears.

“How are they gonna get that pudgy little rump roast of your corpse down these windy stairs?” Violet wondered aloud. “Oh well. Not your problem, right?”

Gilly just sobbed.

“Yeah, you should cut that out. Nobody cares. Nobody can even hear you when they do care. Hey, want to see something else?”

Gilly opened her tear-streaked eyes and blinked. She wiped her face and looked around. She wasn’t in her bedroom anymore. “This is Linda’s bedroom,” she said. “How’d I get here?”

The door slammed. Linda’s shocked face walked in the doorway and she sat at her desk, looking past the mirror in front of her. Her normally perky face, alive with her exaggerated and dramatic expressions, was oddly still and lifeless.

“She’s not mad at you anymore,” Violet said. “Just so you know. She hasn’t been mad at you for days… in fact, she was going to make it up to you by inviting you to a bad movie night. Admitting she was a total jerk and everything, and explaining why she said what she said an how you were always there for her… You know what she thinks now?”

Linda just stared. her lower jaw was slack and her eyes were distant and sunken.

Gilly’s tears rained down her cheeks. “Linda…” she whispered.

“She thinks you died because of HER. She thinks SHE killed you! Isn’t that just so stupid?? That last fight you had a week ago is playing over and over and over in her head right now–”

“SHUT. THE FUCK. UP!!” Gilly screamed. She tried to grab a large stuffed animal from Linda’s bed to throw at Violet, but her hands went right through it. “You’re a MONSTER!”

Violet chuckled derisively. “Yeah, she’s going to be hatin’ life for a while. Next to your dad, she really gave a shit about you. Even more than your mom. Hey, speaking of your mom…”

The room exploded, and Gilly ducked down onto the floor and covered her head. She was in the center of a glass coffee table and Violet was standing by the phone. “Listen to THIS,” she said, and pressed “play” on the answering machine.

“Milla? It’s Tony. Please pick up…” Gilly hear her fathers voice filled with a crushed will. Ever since her mom left, her dad had been saying what survivors they were, and how he’d never call her again for anything. It had been years since her mother left, and things weren’t going so well for a while. But he always appeared tough and resolute. Now… he almost seemed to be begging her mom top pick up the phone. It was pitiful and Gilly cringed at the sound of her father pleading. “…please. It’s about Gilly–”

“Your mom hasn’t been taking calls,” Violet said, hitting “stop” on the machine. “She’s away on vacation right now in Bermuda. Her answering machine says so, but your dumb old, sappy dad keeps calling her. She won’t find out about your death until after the funeral. The guy who’s supposed to be taking her messages is a total flake, and the machine is already full.” Violet pressed play again.

“Milla, I know we haven’t talked in a while. But … please. Gilly is dead, Milla. Please call. Please…”

Violet tilted her head back and sighed. “He’s sobbing, desperate to hear a comforting voice. Finally, your dad and mom will agree on something since the divorce. Of course, it won’t be until the Tuesday after your wake.”

Gilly did nothing but blubber.

“Oh, Gilly for Pete’s sake! What did you expect, Gilly? Suicide is a selfish act. You run away, and everyone else cleans up the mess…” Violet snapped her fingers. “That’s right, the MESS!”

“Okay, Chuck… I got her feet. You cut the rope, and I’ll get her.”

Gilly looked up to see three paramedics in her bedroom.

“I don’t know, she’s kind of big,” said Chuck.

“Yeah, well… um… just cut the rope.”

It took a few tries with a knife, but suddenly, the rope snapped, and Gilly’s head jerked down and smacked into a bedpost. The blood-filled head burst on one side and gushed a dark red fluid on her blanket and started to pool on the floor.

“Oh God, oh god, sorry… sorry… Jim.”

“Yeah, well, I didn’t think of a more delicate way to do this,” Jim said. “Jesus, she was what, 14?”

“Big girl for 14,” said Chuck, “How come the skinny ones never hang themselves, always… ”

“You’re not exactly svelte yourself, Jim.”

“And that’s why I’ll chose poison,” Jim said with the kind of detached chuckle only decades of gore could give someone.

Gilly looked away, but Violet turned her head back to see the carnage.

“Gaaaah… what a shitty mess…” Check said, looking at some blood that got on his sleeve. “I hate these calls.”

“Maybe you can call downstairs, and get your dad to help them out,” Violet suggested.

Gilly sniffled. She looked at Violet, who was picking lint off Chuck’s jacket. “Are you Death?”

“Death? THE DEATH??” Violet asked, and clasped her hands. “Why, I am flattered, hon. No, I am not THE death, just one of his ghostly assistants. Like Department Store Santa Claus, Death has many helpers. I am merely a demon that was sent to take care of this mess, because, again, you’re a selfish bitch who just want people to clean up after her.”

“Why are you showing me this?” Gilly mumbled. “I’m already dead.”

“Because I am one sick fuck,” Violet said. “I really get a kick out of taking arrogant shits like you and knocking them down a few pegs. Speaking of knocking down.”

“Careful CAREFUL!” Chuck screamed. There was a crushing thud as the body bag flipped over the railing and landed awkwardly on the stair landing.

Gilly was now in her living room. There were police and some neighbors. Mrs. Hollister, who lived two doors down, was trying to cover Gilly’s father from watching them take her corpse down the spiral stairs in a body bag.

“Aw GEES. Chuck…” Jim said, trying to conceal how funny this seemed to him.

Gilly looked at her dad. He wasn’t looking at her corpse, but outside the large glass window that overlooked their front yard.

“Tony, you want me to… get you a glass of water or something?” Mrs. Hollister placed her hand on Tony’s shoulder.

“Tony, I am sorry I have to ask you again, but when was the last time you saw her?” asked one of the cops.

“You know,” Violet said, flipping her shoulder-length hair, “the police have asked him the same questions about five times. Two cops, a detective… they want to rule him out as a suspect in your death. They find it fishy he didn’t find you for almost two days.”

“Daddy… I’m sorry…” Gilly said, whispering in his ear.

Violet whispered loudly into Tony’s other ear, “Yeah, Gilly, that only works in the movies. He completely doesn’t know we’re here. You are GONE man. Not a ghost, not a spirit, not ANYTHING. Gone, gone, gone… But you won’t be forgotten. He’ll blame your selfish act on himself, too. You ruined his dating chances, you know. He will NEVER know happiness again. But, he’s your dad. He’s not human or anything. Doesn’t need a companion. You yourself said that his girlfriends and dating were ruining your life, how he was turning against you. Oh, he feels that sting now, Gilly. He’ll hate himself until he can no longer function.”

Gilly started to cry again.

“What *is* your problem? You died, people suffered, you should be happy. You wanted people to feel sorry for you, right? Let’s see how that worked out for you. I’ll spare you the time your father is crying at his bedside, praying to God to bring you back. It won’t work, you’re dead in a freezer down by the funeral home. Nobody will answer prayers for daddy!”

Gilly cried until she was interrupted by the sound of a school bell. As she wiped the tears from her eyes, Gilly looked at her fellow students roaming the halls. It was like nothing had ever happened, and the Monday after her death was going on like it always had.

“Yesterday, within 4 hours of your father finding your body, most of the neighborhood knew you had hung yourself,” Violet said as she put in a few coins into the soda vending machine. “Last night, about half of your friends and their friends knew. Most of the students here don’t know yet because you weren’t exactly popular. But the school office is having a meeting about it, want to see?”

Gilly didn’t really want to see, but she found herself in the school office as Violet popped a can of grape soda and took a deep sip. The principal of the school was there, along with some staff around a large conference table.

“Last night, one of our students, Gilland Marconi, took her own life,” said the principal. There were some groans and clucks of disappointment. “Now, I know we have been through this before. This is the third death we have had of a student this year. The first was Derek Childers, the football player. It seems that once we got over his car accident that shadowed Homecoming, one of our special ed students, Laura Tilly, took her own life during Christmas break.”

“I didn’t know that,” Gilly said in shock.

“Yeah, that’s the point,” Violet said. “Derek was well loved and a central point of fame for the school. Laura… not so much. Laura may have donated time at her church for some of the special needs kids, and was a counselor at her church’s Bible camp. She also held the town record for Girl Scout Cookie sales and hosted her own bake sales and yard sales to help pay for disadvantaged kids to go to the Bible camp. She was decorated by the Key Club and Elks Lodge for her volunteer work. But who cares? She was in special ed; she didn’t play football and was not popular in school in the LEAST. Plus, a second death in three months was not something the school was prepared for. And now you are the third so far this year. You’re not even unique or special.”

“Why did Laura take her own life?” Gilly asked.

“Does it matter?” Violet asked. “I mean, if you must know, she was molested by her uncle and her mother neglected her out of shame because her daughter had severe dyslexia. Laura took a bunch of sleeping pills, thinking it would be an easy out, but she died after four hours of excruciating agony that only slow suffocation by sleeping pill can do to you.” Violet whispered into Gilly’s ear with gritted teeth, “Little known fact, that. It’s a secret only those who joined the special club of sleeping pill suicides can attest to. You look so peaceful, but inside? Raging flames of pain and crushing suffocation. Terrible, terrible way to go. You did good by choosing a classic and tried method. Way to go, Gilly!” Violet gave Gilly a wide grin and a thumbs up.

“Do we have to have another yearbook addition?” asked one of the teachers, who was also head of the yearbook committee. She looked pained and distressed.

“No, I think just a small quarter page in the back with the ads and dedications will be fine,” the principal replied. He was looking at the printed e-mail announcing the facts known to the local papers and had Gilly’s file with her picture paper clipped to the front.

“Does Laura get one? You didn’t ask that for Laura,” asked another teacher.

“No, I didn’t. He parents requested we not make a fuss about it, so we didn’t. Gilliand’s suicide, however, presents a problem. It’s already page 3 news. The students will probably be aware of this one, and start talking. It could go either way. You all know what she looks like?” He waved Gilly’s picture around.

“Ah,” said one of the teachers. “Yes. I know her. I think she was in my biology class last year.”

“No I wasn’t!” Gilly said with shock. “I was in Mr. MacMillan’s class!”

“You may be surprised to find out that teachers can’t memorize 7 periods of 30 students each and every year. Students here are a commodity, like heads of cattle to be sorted. You yourself said so last week in the cafeteria. ”

Gilly started to protest, but she was aware Violet was right.

“I want you to call her teachers into a special conference after this one, Joyce,” the principal said to his vice principal, handing her a list of Gilly’s classes. “Just mention she died this weekend, don’t give any details, but ask them to collect her things and not discuss it with students but LISTEN to hear if she’s mentioned.”

The vice principal nodded.

“Okay, the official word is there IS no official word until we can determine if this is really an issue that needs to be addressed. Keep your eyes and ears opened for talk, and if we need to drag out a counseling packet, so be it. But I’d like to avoid any drama. Luckily for us, Gilliand had few friends and her father, a single parent, will be too distracted with funeral plans to make things difficult. I have a list of possible students who may have associated with Gilliand we may need to isolate if they start talking too much. I have a few social workers on standby. In the end, this is a tragic loss, but it need not be a clusterfuck like Derek’s death was. Dismissed.”

Gilly watched the teachers file out of the conference room.

“Don’t cause too much fuss by dying and all, Gilly,” Violet said, sipping her grape soda. “You were right about being a number and nobody caring about the individual in this school. But that’s the gears of a overworked administrative bureaucracy for you. They do their best with what they have. You know Derek’s dedication cost the yearbook committee $500 of potential ad revenue? Plus they cut out half the section dedicated to the Homecoming dance, and left it without pictures. Your friend Linda took a lot of those pictures, you know.”

“I know,” Gilly said. “She was so upset by it, but she couldn’t exactly complain.”

“And you were the only friend Linda could trust to bare her soul to. You hurt a lot of the wrong people with your suicide, Gilly. Your dad, your best friend. But hey, you sure got back at those popular kids who called you Blubber, didn’t you? Let’s check on them. I bet they are REALLY sorry now.”

“How do you get Blubber Macaroni out of a tree?” asked Brittany MacArthur, the girl Gilly despised. “Cut the rope!”

“Oh my god, that is awful!” said the gaggle of friends around her. But they were laughing, too.

“I heard the found her in front of a huge oak tree. Her weight pulled it down on top of her, she didn’t die from hanging, but from being hit by the tree she was hanging herself from,” said Zoey, one of Brittany’s best friends.

“I heard she died while masturbating, that it was one of those… auto-erotic asphyxiation sex things. You know, like how you try and choke yourself to get a bigger orgasm? Like that old rock star did when they found him dead in front of his hotel room.”

“Oh, that is so funny! Blubber died with her whole fist up her ass.”

“Probably was told there was a ham up there.”

Gilly’s face burned with rage. “What is WRONG with these people?”

“Same thing that was wrong with them before you died, Gilly. They are complete and total douchebags. You think your death stopped that? Please.” Violet tossed the soda can at one of the girls, but it went right through her head. “You might be pleased to know Brittany attempted suicide herself last year. Took a bunch of pills, was in the emergency room. She told everyone she OD’d on pep pills, but in reality, she took a bunch of tranqs because she can’t get over her mother’s divorce, either. Can you relate? No, you can’t. You’re dead. Brittany is messed up for a reason, and that won’t change, but she’s still alive and that’s one leg up on you!”

“Mom still doesn’t know…” Gilly remembered.

“Nope! At least I know you’re paying attention. Right now she’s in Bermuda, horseback riding with her current boyfriend. Not a care in the world. That will change, of course. Well, almost.”

“Almost?”

“That’s for later. Right now, let’s see how Linda is doing.”

Gilly found themselves back at Linda’s house, sitting at the dining room table. “And that’s why we think it would be best if you stayed at home for a while,” said a strange woman in a blazer carrying a leather binder. “Just a week, until things settled down.”

Linda was staring blankly at her table, and her parents were sitting at the table with them. “Linda has taken this pretty hard,” said her mother. “Thanks for coming and helping out.”

“Will Linda be attending the funeral? Has one been planned?” asked the woman.

“We haven’t heard yet,” Linda’s father said. “But I suspect we’ll know today or tomorrow. Her father has called some of the relatives, and some neighbors are helping out with the planning.”

“Good. I will be paying him a visit later today. Just to make sure he doesn’t see me as the enemy.”

“Who is she?” asked Gilly.

“Social worker and county psychologist. The school sent her to keep your best friend at home. They are a little worried she might attempt a copycat suicide or flip out in school. Hey, you want to see something weird? Look at her left arm.”

Gilly looked at Linda’s arm, which she was rubbing absently. “I don’t see anything.”

“She’s wearing a long sleeve shirt to cover the scars. She cut herself last night. You do remember Linda has a cutting problem, right?”

“I…I thought she was cured of that…”

“Not anymore. Her guilt is eating her alive like festering maggots. Don’t expect to see her at the funeral; by tomorrow her parents will have discovered her fresh scars and she’ll be hospitalized for observation. But she’ll be fine. They’ll drug her up, and in a few weeks, she won’t remember much, and be okay with that. Later on, this is found to be one of the roots of her alcoholism.”

“What?”

“Sorry, I forgot. This isn’t your problem anymore. You are off the hook and scott free!”

Gilly started to cry again. “I am so sorry, Linda.”

“SHE CAN’T HEAR YOU!” Violet screamed into Gilly face so loudly, she barked in fear. “Jesus, Gilly, you are a stubborn dumb fuck. Anyway, let’s check on dear old dad…”

“Thanks for coming, Karen,” Gilly’s father said. Karen Swensen, another neighbor, was sitting with Gilly’s father in an office with soft lighting.

“I am glad I could help. I know you haven’t been through this, and I have helped plan several funerals, I am afraid… at my age. I wouldn’t want anyone to go through this alone.”

A man in a suit and a soft smile entered the room. “Okay, we’re all set. We have the Magnolia Suite for you from 4pm to 8pm on Thursday, and from 11am to 1pm on Saturday. The cremation will begin tomorrow, and we’ll have the urn you requested. Just to verify, you are getting the Pewter Grecian Urn with the lavender porcelain trim. Engraved is her full name, and the dates July 22nd 1995 to February 4th, 2009. Plus a line from her favorite poem, ‘Abide With Me. ‘Abide with me, fast falls the eventide; The darkness deepens, Lord with me abide! When other helpers fail and comforts flee, Help of the helpless, O abide with me.’ Please check and make sure I have the spelling of her name correct, plus the dates, and any other spelling errors.”

“What is he talking about? I never even HEARD of that poem!” Gilly said.

“Oh, get used to that, Gilly. Remember when I said funerals are not for the dead, but the living?

Gilly’s father looked sunken and beaten. “How… how do you want me to… um…”

“Mr. Marconi, we’ll discuss payment after the funeral. This is not the time to be thinking about–”

“Her name is spelled Gilliand with two Ls,” her father corrected.

“Yes, of course. RIGHT. Sorry, I keep meaning to change that!” The funeral director wrote something in his notebook, and added an L to the form for the urn.

“That is one UGLY urn! They gonna bury me in that?”

“No, they are going to put your ashes in that. And put that urn in a mausoleum. So don’t worry, your father just paid $1200 for an urn you both hate, but it will be sealed in a wall by Sunday. No one will ever see it again.”

“Then… why do they have to…?”

“Gilly, look. The funeral is a necessity nobody likes. More than half the people who attend don’t want to be there, and those that do are not going to be happy about being there for other reasons. Did you know you father had to pay for a $2000 coffin just to burn you in? Plus cremation fees, plus the rental of the space on a weekend day, plus services, plus the mausoleum spot, plus … plus plus plus… the whole thing will set your dad back $8,7000 when it’s all over. The funeral game is a racket, that’s for damn sure.”

“We don’t have a lot of money…”

“No, correction: your DAD doesn’t have a lot of money. Eventually, the debt he incurs from this, plus losing his job due to fights with his depression, will force him to sell the house. But, again, not your problem. Whew, huh?”

Gilly gritted her teeth. “You are a sick, sad–”

“So where’s Gilly?” asked a familiar voice. Gilly found herself in a small hospital room. It was the retirement home her senile grandmother lived in.

“Gilly’s dead, mom,” her father said. While he still looked like hell, he looked better than he did at the funeral parlor. “I have told you that four times now.”

“Dead?”

“Yes, mom, she died on Sunday. I spoke with your nurses, but they said that in your condition prevents me from taking you to the funeral.”

“Who died?”

Gilly was amazed at her father’s patience. “Gilly, your grand daughter.”

“Gilly? Anthony’s Gilly?”

“Yes, mom, I am Anthony.”

“Does Anthony know?”

“Yes, mom. I know. I know that you don’t remember much of what anyone says, but…” Gilly’s father took a deep breath and sighed. “I wanted to let you know that the funeral is tomorrow. I wanted to say that you were right, I couldn’t raise a daughter alone. Milla left and left us in a bad place, and I should have never married her because she was so young. Gilliand was a bad name. I should have taken that teaching job I hated because we would have made more money. I thought spending more time with Gilly would be better even if the job paid less, but in the end, we didn’t get along, and it was moot.”

“They are serving pea soup on Saturday,” Gilly’s grandmother replied happily. “I love pea soup.”

“I am sorry I failed you as a son, and that I was a rotten father, a terrible husband, and just an all around bad egg. Maria was the better kid, she always knew what to do, and I should have been more like her.”

“Maria is a great daughter. She sent me a card!”

“I didn’t send you any cards because I visited you every week. Maria sent cards because she lives in California with her second husband Michael. But she’s coming to the funeral, and said if she has time, she’ll stop by and see you.”

“Maria played Shakespeare.”

“Yes, mom,” Anthony gritted his teeth and swallowed the remainder of his dying pride. “She was a great actress back in high school. She got better grades than I did, and she was very popular.”

“Anthony was always a bookworm! Spent time in the dark, reading all the time.”

Gilly’s father sighed. Gilly had seen this before, her grandmother not being aware of their presence. In fact, even in death, it seemed no different. But something had changed. Her father’s fight had gone, and he was succumbing to his mothers constant belittling instead of defending himself. He was surrendering.

“Yes, mom. I am sorry I didn’t turn out better.” Her father’s eyes welled up.

“Stop crying! It annoys your father.”

“Father has been dead for 20 years, mom.”

“Don’t be smart with me!”

Violet leaned toward Gilly. “This is *fascinating!* Your family is one cracked nut, Gilly. You were the most normal to come out of the bunch, but hey. Probably better you died if your father was so rotten, eh?”

“DADDY WAS NOT ROTTEN!”

“Look, Gilly, you yourself said he was a mean and unfair monster. Last thing you said to him was you hated him. Now you have proof, even his own mom thinks he sucks. Game over, Tony. YOU LOSE. Hah.”

Gilly sighed and gritted her teeth. “SHUT UP, VIOLET.”

“So he’s gotten what he deserved for being so mean with you. Look at him, all surrendering like he should have. Finally, you got what you wanted, huh?”

Gilly said nothing, because she felt it would just egg Violet on, but she choked back her sobs as best she could.

“You know, things do get better for him. I mean, yeah, he gets depressed, loses his job, goes bankrupt, loses his house. But after a few years of that, his sister comes and picks him up and sets his world right again. Gets him a new suit, a new job he was good at, and when he finally dies, he has a big ol’ funeral! Which reminds me…”

Gilly suddenly found herself in a room with the ugly urn. As she set her eyes on the inscription, she realized “Oh, no, they still spelled my name with one L!”

“Who cares? They spelled it right on the form. Your dad didn’t notice until later, anyway. He won’t correct them, he’s got not strength to continue. Your mom still doesn’t know,” Violet said. “It’s Thursday, at about 4:10pm. Put on your top hat, it’s SHOWTIME!”

“Thank you all for coming,” Gilly’s father said. A preacher Gilly did not know was standing next to him at a lectern. It seemed surreal to her that her father, a secular man, was in the presence of a preacher. And had been praying. Her eyes panned the crowd of about 40 people. Most were faces she recognized. Her aunt Maria was there, with some cousins, and work associates of her father. A few of Gilly teachers were there, and a handful of students. There were a lot of people she didn’t recognize. “I know that, um, I am a teacher. And like teachers, I tend to ramble. So I brought some notes. Try and keep on topic here.

“Gilly was more than a daughter to me. She was a best friend. Even though her mother could not be here, you should all know she had the best qualities of both of us. If my tie was crooked or my hair out of place, Gilly would… would smooth it down and kiss me.” Gilly’s father’s eyes started to tear up. The room echoed sniffles. “I never remarried because… well, because I didn’t need to. Gilly filled my heart with enough love for the both of us.”

“Creepy…” Violet said.

Gilly gritted her teeth. More tears came, however.

“Gilly was born in 1995 on a summer day. When her mother came from the emergency room, holding Gilly, I was so proud. Oh, so proud. Many fathers don’t want a daughter, but I knew… I mean, I felt I knew that she would grow up and be something special. It seems like only yesterday I held her little hands… and… I just… ” Gilly’s father turned to the urn. “Gilly, I miss you. I am sorry… so sorry I didn’t take care of you like I should.”

“Tony, you did good. No single dad has it easy,” said one of the neighbors.

Her father turned back to his index cards. “Many people couldn’t be here today. Gilly’s mother is… is out of town, and my mother is medically unable to be here, but they are here in spirit. I don’t really have a whole lot to say. I… would like to open the podium up to anyone else who wants to say something.”

Several people came to the lectern, and told stories about Gilly. Most were stories Gilly had heard a thousand times before, but somehow, they all felt like they would never be said again; that somehow her death took the stories with her. But in addition to the various people who gave good speeches, there were a few people whom rambled and even worse, people who put on a show.

One girl came up that Gilly didn’t recognize at first. “Gilly was my BEST friend,” she said, her tears flowing.

“Who is THAT?” Gilly asked.

“Remember in 6th grade? You were friends with that one girl with the glasses and braids?”

“Tanya?”

“Yep.”

“I haven’t seen Tanya since… like … 6th grade! She was a little drama queen. A stuck up bitch! I wasn’t her best friend, I hated her! ”

“She told your dad she was,” Violet snickered.

“But WHY?”

“Like I said, Gilly. Funerals are for the living. Not the dead. And right, now, it’s ALL about HER!”

“GILLY AND I LOVED EACH OTHER!” Tanya bawled.

“Hah!” Violet laughed. “Homo!”

Gilly gritted her teeth. “Can’t someone STOP her?”

“No, they all think she’s your best friend, grieving like crazy! They are eating it up, look at them. Not a dry eye in the house. Brah-VO, Tanya! You go, girl! Win that Oscar!”

Gilly watched Tanya make up stories about their friendship, outings, and events that never happened. She watched her father look quizzical at times, but after building up to a hysterical crescendo, Tanya’s mother finally intervened and took her outside.

“Oh my God!” Gilly said. “NONE of what she said was even remotely… how could she DO that? Didn’t anyone–” she stopped when she saw how hard Violet was laughing.

But Tanya was not the only one who seemed to be full of fanciful tales. Her Aunt Maria, whom she had only seen about twice since she was 5, also made up stories about their non-existent friendship. She mentioned a huge set of letters back and forth that never happened, and how Gilly said she had come to see her as her second mother, which was so far from true, even Gilly’s father looked away in anger. And like Violet had said, most of the stores were about how Maria was so humble and magnificent, that she shaped Gilly as best she could, and even made subtle slams about Gilly’s mother.

“Wow, if your influence was so great, why did she kill herself, Maria?” Violet shouted. It was the only statement Gilly appreciated from Violet since they had met. “Fuck, Gilly. Your family is WILD! This is the most fun I’ve had on this assignment. DAYUM! I bet Linda wishes she was here… but she’s happy all drugged up in the loony bin.”

When Maria was done, the preacher led the entire group in prayer, asking for God’s forgiveness for Gilly’s transgressions.

“Nope! God doesn’t feel sorry for her ONE BIT!” Violet shouted as she wandered among the praying visitors. “Gave her a life and she THREW IT AWAY!”

“Shut UP, Violet!” Gilly shouted, and tried to shove Violet. But she fell right through her and found herself on a patch of grass. In front of her was a battered gravestone with graffiti on it. Two goth teenagers were making out heavily as the smell of pot lingered in the air. The boy was feeling her up as the girl gritted her teeth and said she wanted him to bite her.

“Oh my God,” Gilly said in disgust, then quickly got up and ran to the other side of the tombstone.

“VIOLET GLUMP” it said. “1968 – 1982” There was an elaborate stone angel on top of the marker, but one of her wings had been snapped off, and someone put a wire coat hanger around her neck.

“V-violet?”

“Yep. That’s me. Love the last name, don’t you? Glump. Sounds like a body falling on the floor. You know how much that grave site cost my folks? More than your daddy spent, I can assure you. My parents came to the site every Sunday for months. Then only on holidays. Finally, they stopped coming at all. The only people that visit my grave now are horny teenagers. The location is perfect. It’s close enough to the woods to get away, and has a vantage point that can see if anyone is coming from downhill. They must have cleaned up recently, I don’t see as many beer bottles and crack pipes.”

Gilly was speechless. Finally, she said, “I’m sorry…”

“No, don’t be. It’s over. Done. Gone. Erased. I am more gone than you are right now.”

“Why did you show me this?”

“I wanted you to know that, in the end, we’re all worm food. When we’re alive, we’re nothing more than self-important bags of meat that go around, thinking our popularity and material things matter. Our mortality is so undefined, it’s worthless. Until we lose it. We’re not immortal, but we toss away God’s gift to us like it was wrapping paper and not the gift itself. Even the bitch Goddess prick that I am… I died, too. I also committed suicide, and threw it all away. I lost my boyfriend to a whore like this topless girl with the nipple piercings here. Know what he does now? Practices law. Has a trophy wife and kids. Complete sellout, but happy as a clam and doesn’t even mention me as a former girlfriend. I took sleeping pills and died in twisted agony. I was 14. I was stupid. I deserved better. But I didn’t think my world could go on if he wasn’t there by my side.”

“So what happens now?”

“I punch you in the face,” Violet said.

Gilly ducked as Violet swung. Gilly found herself by a nice swimming pool. It was part of some private house.

“Geraldo,” said a familiar voice. “It is good to be back!”

“Oh no,” Gilly said. “Mom.”

“I am so not ready for the rat race, Geraldo. Were there any messages for me?”

“Yes, ma’am.” Geraldo, Milla’s personal assistant and current boyfriend walked to the pool with Milla. He went through half a dozen business calls, and Gilly both anticipated and dreaded the messages from her father. But they never came.

“Is that all? Two weeks gone, and only six calls?”

“You got a few on your personal machine, but they were the wrong number.”

“They?” Milla mused. “They called back? What did they want?”

“Someone named Tony. They were very sad, said that his daughter died.”

“Wait… what? Tony?”

“Yes… you know a Tony? With a daughter?”

Milla’s eyes darted back and forth. “Did you save those messages?”

“I was about to delete them. But they sounded so sad, I am not sure why I didn’t delete them, but I felt like–”

“I’ll listen to them privately. This is a… personal call.”

“So personal? Even for me?”

Milla patted Geraldo on the arm. “You heard them, what are you worried about? I think I know who they are. I had an old… acquaintance. Had a daughter, I think. Named Gilliand.”

“Oh, I thought for a second you meant YOU had a daughter.”

Milla said nothing, but got up and went to her answering machine. She listened to all the calls, her face expressionless.

“Tony sounds so sad,” Geraldo said. “How did you know Tony?”

“These calls were made almost two weeks ago. I will need to be alone for a bit, and make some calls from my private office. I hope you don’t mind, but this is OLD business.”

“Sure, Milla. I will go finish unpacking.” Geraldo left Gilly’s mother alone in her study where she stared out the window. She didn’t look sad so much as contemplative.

“She never told him, did she?” Gilly said.

“She never told anyone,” said Violet. “In fact, she has an entirely new persona.”

“Tony, it’s me, Milla.” Milla said over the phone. “How are you doing sweetie…?” Her voice had the lilt of a seasoned house matron. It had all the disconnected sympathy of a school teacher who was trying to be a surrogate mother when a child scraped their knee.

“I don’t believe it,” Gilly said. “She doesn’t care at all.”

“That’s not true. Your mom cares about Tony… well, what she remembered him as. But she wasn’t ready to be a mother when she left. She never bonded with you. She was 18 years old when she got pregnant, and you father was her former teacher. Ooh, what a scandal! They had to move and start a new life.”

“Mom was a student of dads?” Gilly asked in disbelief. That explained so much.

“Yeah… like that book by Nabokov, huh? She was his Lolita!”

“Oh, Tony, please be reasonable. I was in Bermuda. My assistant didn’t think to get the calls off this old number until I returned. Yes… yes, I said I was sorry. Don’t… DON’T be difficult with me, of course I knew she was..,.” and Milla lowered her voice to a slow hiss, “…my daughter.”

“I have seen enough!” Violet said. “I am sure you have, too.”

But Gilly stood there, inches away from her mother’s annoyed face.

“She what?” Milla gritted her teeth and rolled her eyes. “Well… surely you don’t blame than on ME, YOU were the one who wanted to raise her. Look, I’ll send flowers… well to your HOUSE of course. You still live in that little house by– well, excuse ME for caring, Tony. Fine, I won’t send you flowers! At least we can agree on that!”

“Yes, Violet…” Gilly replied quietly, “I have seen enough.”

Gilly suddenly was in front of an ice cream stand. “Where are we now?”

“Venice Beach. Thought you might like some ice cream.”

“I thought my hands floated through everything. Wait, how did you drink that soda at my high school?”

“You want ice cream or not?”

“I want ice cream,” Gilly said reflexively.

“Well, you can’t have one. You’re DEAD!”

“I suppose I walked right into that one,” Gilly said. She felt burned out and lifeless. “Have any more of that grape soda you magically drank?”

“This isn’t Star Trek, you know. I am Death’s assistant number 414. I don’t have to explain the science behind everything to a book nerd. Let’s watch the sunset.”

Violet and Gilly sat on the beach, and watched the sun slowly go down. Finally, Gilly asked what she feared to ask. “So… what happens now?”

They were now in a college lecture hall.

“I first learned of betrayal when I was six,” said a girl at the podium.

“I see by your confused look that you don’t recognize Rachel Cortez at age 20,” Violet said.

“Little Rachel?”

“The very same kid you babysat. I thought you’d might like to start off with something a little more positive.”

“When I was six, my best friend Gilly Marconi disappeared from my life. She was only 14 when she did, but she was like my big sister. She always stopped by my house to say hi, she babysat me while my parents were going through their trial separation. She watched movies with me, played with me, and did everything a big sister would do. I loved her.”

“This is low, Violet,” Gilly said. “Besides, I don’t remember doing that much for her.”

“She was six. She had the mind of a little girl, you WERE her world, Gilly. Maybe you only sat her a few times a month, but those were golden times in her childhood. Let her exaggerate.”

Rachel continued, “When she didn’t come by anymore, I asked my father, what happened to Gilly? He said she moved away. I asked if she moved to Disneyland, like Gilly used to pretend we’d do together, and he said yes. I cried for DAYS. How could Gilly move to Disneyland without me? Then I wondered if she’d come back for me, and I packed a bag and waited for that day. My parents were so sick of me mentioning her, they eventually forbid me to speak her name again. Gilly never came. My heart grew dark and bitter.”

Gilly balked, “I said I’d like to live in Disneyland ONCE with her, and we pretended what it would be like, but–”

“Shut up, Gilly. Six. Remember? Six. Adult Rachel is pouring her heart out, here, be respectful.”

“When I was 12, I decided to look up Gilly’s name on the Internet. I found it. Turns out, she didn’t go to Disneyland. She didn’t go anywhere. She hung herself. I don’t know why. My parents didn’t want to tell me she had died, so they went along with the story about Disneyland. I resented my parents, I resented Gilly, and I resented pretty much everyone. My faith in adults collapsed, and my world went dark. I can never even see Disneyland and the ears of Mickey Mouse seem like devil’s horns to me…”

Suddenly, Gilly was at a party. Various middle aged women were gathered around a roof side pool overlooking what seemed to be a resort.

“My God, Brittany. You are getting so fat,” said a voice.

“Better fat than ugly. I can always get laser surgery, but you? You need like a vacuum mold or something.”

“Doesn’t Brittany look amazing for 50?” Violet asked.

Gilly nodded absently. She was shutting down inside, and preparing to be hit in the gut with some new horror.

“Fattie,” sassed some unknown friend.

“Hey, not funny. I knew a girl back in high school who killed herself because she was fat. She hung herself in a tree or something, and it fell on her.”

Some of the guests snickered. One of them made a gesture like a tree bouncing and knocking a peg into the ground.

“And that’s a wrap!” Violet said. “You have been reduced to a anecdote, and an factually incorrect one at that!”

“Whatever,” Gilly said.

They were now in a small apartment. A pair of old people was going through an old set of photos. “This was owned by the man who used to rent the room up there,” said the old woman. “Sad, really. This was his daughter. She died as a teenager, and he never really recovered from it. Kept to himself most of the time. Then one day, didn’t come down for breakfast.”

Gilly gasped. “I thought you said he got a new suit, a new job he was good at, and–”

“I lied. He died alone, supported by medicare. In that armchair over there. Only 59 when he croaked in his sleep. Maybe if someone had looked after him to take his blood pressure meds, made sure his tie was straight… he would have lived much longer. But after his mother died and he sold the house, Maria just found him this place and never returned to see how he was doing. Your cousins don’t even know anything about him, except he pops up in family tree computer programs. You don’t, though. Funny.”

The scenery changed again, and they were in front of a large brick house. The fancy wooden sign over the gates in the driveway said, “The Alice Porston House.”

“Where are we now?” Gilly asked.

“It’s about 70 years since you died. What you don’t know is that a girl named Alice Porston was one of your copycat suicides. Her parents were so distraught, so beyond grief, that they set up a The Alice Porston House: the Foundation for Mental Health Advancement and Psychiatric Science. This foundation alone has cured more mental health and brain dysfunctions than most pharmaceutical labs and colleges in your time. Of course, it also became a breeding ground for genetic purity movements, but… well, there are two sides to every coin.” Violet shook her head. “The future is so complicated, am I right?”

Gilly shrugged. “Okay. I am dead. People forgot me. You made your point.”

“Yeah. They forgot me, too. Forgot your dad. Forgot that fat alcoholic Linda, too. Forgot pretty much everyone ever born, except for a few people noted in history books, and they were also reduced to a lot of incorrect anecdotes. But you know the worst thing about killing yourself? Beyond the people you loved who got hurt, beyond the people you hated who didn’t, and how everyone forgets you anyway? You had a chance to make something of yourself, Gilliand Marconi. You had the same chance that everyone has, and you didn’t just waste it looking for the key to life, you just wasted it by tossing it away. You can’t even claim selfishness through indulgence. You just… fucked it ALL up. You didn’t even spin the big wheel, you just walked away. Jesus, Gilly. WALKED AWAY. And trod on anyone that tried to stop you. What a selfish, stupid little bitch you are. Just up and killed yourself, and let your life’s servants clean up the mess.”

“So did you!” Gilly said.

“Yeah, oh so that validates what you did, didn’t it? You don’t even know me, you don’t know who the fuck I am, and you never heard of me until I showed up at your hanging. You think that’s even an argument? That’s stupid, that’s what THAT is! Even Brittany had more sense than you!”

“So what now?”

“What do you mean, what now? That’s it. It’s over. Time goes forwards, not backwards.”

“So why did you even show me this? What was the point to show me how I hurt people how I didn’t matter, how and I supposed to redeem–”

“This isn’t ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’ Gilly! There are no do-overs. In the real world, Bedford Falls is corrupt and STAYS corrupt! This isn’t ‘A Christmas Carol,’ Gilly! Scrooge doesn’t get to redeem himself, and Tiny Tim is DEAD. DEAD DEAD DEAD as that fucking goose in the butcher’s window that *someone else* eats! No one sings a Christmas Carol for us.”

“So is this the afterlife?”

Violet rolled her eyes, and cackled in frustration. “This is nothing, don’t you get it? You are in nothingness. You have no purpose. I have no purpose. I just showed you all this because I get off on how FUCKED you are!”

Gilly didn’t think she had it in her, but she started to cry again. “I am so sorry.”

“No now you are sorry. Know what, Gilly? Sorry is for CHUMPS. Who you got to be sorry at? Dust? Memories that no one remembers? Don’t be sorry to me, sister. I got enough sorry of my own!”

“Aren’t you death? Or his assistant? Aren’t you supposed to take me to the afterlife?”

“This ain’t no bible fairy tale, Gilly. I don’t take you to the pearly gates or drag you to hell. This is as real as it gets. It just ended. You didn’t deserve a purpose because you didn’t even invest a lick of time to try and find your purpose. You just assumed that your death would be a great temper tantrum, you spoiled little shit. What the FUCK did you think your hanging would accomplish? Why didn’t you run away or get drunk once in a while like everyone else?”

“I don’t know what to do…” Gilly sobbed.

“NOTHING!! Gahh, Gilly. So. Fucking. STUPID! Even now, you have NO concept of… just how… ah, screw you. I am going to find someone else to feed from. I am glad this job is over, I am so out of here…” Violet simply dissipated into the patterns of the bushes.

“Wait… Violet? Don’t go! Wait. Violet? VIOLET?”

Gilly sat in the grass and sobbed for a long time. Sobs became wails, and when she went horse, she gasped silent open mouthed cries of bitter loneliness, despair, and ultimate regret. She rolled over and pounded the grass with her fists. She missed her dad, she missed Linda, she even missed her stupid drafty upstairs bedroom. If time had any meaning, she wailed and cried alone for days on the front lawn of the The Alice Porston House. Eventually, her clothes turned to dust. Her skin dried out, and she crumpled into ash, and was blown away by a random wind.

And only her despair remained…

————–
This short fiction is copyright 2010 Grig Larson. No reproduction is allowed without the author’s written consent.

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