Chapter 3: Into the Fray
I don’t know if my mother heard the flush of the toilet, but upon my reentrance, I found her with her ear plastered to the wall and mumbling something about my ghostly moans from the beyond sounding a lot like rushing water. I walked past her and sat on my bed, deep in thought.
“Everyone who read the newspaper this morning now thinks I’m dead,” I mumbled to myself. That’s when my mother threw a white sheet over her head and pretended to be a ghost, in order to trick her otherworldly son into thinking she was just another spirit and making him feel more at home.
Well, how bad could being dead really be? I’d never have to go to school or work again, I’d never have to pay taxes, I’d never have to talk to people I don’t like, and showering, shaving and wearing pants, all my hated foes since day one, were now as optional as ketchup on French fries. Through some cosmic fluke, I had been given the chance to play as many video games as I could stomach while roaming about my home gleefully unshaven and gloriously sans-pants. Call it karma. Call it luck. Hell, you could even call it Richard Simmons if you wanted. That wouldn’t change the fact that after 100 million hours of doing tedious schoolwork and trying to get a decent job, I could actually do something that I wanted to do for a change.
“This is great!” I exclaimed, throwing off my pants and attempting to shove them though the tiny holes of my window screen. After a few seconds, I gave up and threw them on the floor.
“This is awful!” exclaimed my grief-stricken mother, picking my pants up off the floor and throwing them in the hamper. “What am I going to do with all the Christmas presents I bought you? Dead people can’t receive Christmas gifts.”
My heart sunk to my belly button. With my voice trembling, I asked, “What about birthday gifts?”
“Dead people don’t celebrate birthdays because when you’re dead, you don’t have them anymore,” Mom informed me. “But for some reason, one can continue receiving Hanukkah presents, even if they weren’t Jewish to begin with.”
I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t force out a single word and my mouth hung open like a gate in the wind.
Mom left the room and came back a few seconds later with a huge iron hammer. In between blacking out with disbelief every few seconds, I wondered how she was carrying around something so big.
“I guess I’ll just have to smash them all,” she said. She dashed from my room and headed for the secret present repository that has remained a mystery to my brother and me since the beginning of Christmas itself in the early ‘80s.
I snapped out of my trace, screaming, “Oh dear God!” I desperately swung my hands above my head. “If I wasn’t dead before, this is going to kill me for sure!”
In the distance, the hammer whizzed through the air like a pack of killer bees. I closed my eyes and prayed that at least I’d be able to tell what each gift had been by the sound it made as it was shattered from existence. Yet, after waiting a respectable amount of time, I heard nothing. I opened my eyes and stopped grimacing.
My mother’s voice was soft and muffled. “Actually, I should probably give these to charity. Or, better yet…”
I knew what she was about to say. I readied my lungs.
What kind of cruel, twisted fate had God and the ornery orphans bestowed upon me!? The situation reminded me of that episode of The Twilight Zone where a man happened to be inside a bank vault during a nuclear attack, and when he came out, he was the only living soul on the planet. He finally had the time he craved to do what he loved more than anything: reading. Yet, as soon as he found a conveniently intact library, he accidentally stepped on his glasses, crushing them to pieces. I felt just like this man; I had all the time in the world to play them, but how would I ever get new video games if Mom kept smashing them all or giving them to those contemptible orphans?
“This is awful!” I exclaimed, reaching for my discarded pants. I tugged them back on speedily (and reluctantly) and grabbed Mom’s keys from the table. Obviously, with her only second son not dead, she had to take the day off from work to grieve and watch The Price is Right, so I could use her car without causing a(nother) problem.
Something had to be done. If I was going to come up with a plan of some kind to get everyone to see the truth, to see that I was still among the living, I needed to assess the total damage the obituary had inflicted. I needed to see how far the rumor had spread, and then I could begin working on damage control. Luckily, it was the last day of exams before winter vacation, and most of my friends from college would still be there. If I stepped out of my car and people started barreling away from me, screaming something about ghosts and needing Scooby Doo to come save them, I’d know that it was worse than I thought. But hopefully, the erroneous news of my death hadn’t gone beyond the relatively small distribution of the Wappingers Falls Tribune. I mean really, who reads the obituaries but the families of those who have passed on and morbid Irish people like my mother, who have been reading obituaries since the potato famine?
I dashed out into the frigid winter air, side-stepping the patch of ice along my walkway that had been building since Thanksgiving. I felt much better about the entire situation as I hopped into Mom’s car, backed down the driveway, knocked over our garbage cans, and sped off towards the college.
I was positive that my salvation would soon be at hand.