“Which is worse, do you think? To be dead, or to be forgotten and absorbed into the memory of someone else?”
“I keep telling you, Chris, you’re already dead. I don’t care about being forgotten. Let me sleep!”
In what should have been pitch darkness, Devin cursed every bit of streetlight that leaked into the room through the edges of the blinds. The red spot of light from Carla’s phone charger. The slight hazy illumination of his dead nephew’s soul. They all stole his darkness and kept him awake.
Devin had eaten too much and had a headache from a night of dealing with relatives. The only thing he wanted was to escape his gross body and slip into the bliss of dreams. He pulled the pillow from behind his head and placed it on his face to hold the darkness in his eyes.
“Right,” said Chris, “but like, if you’re forgotten and nobody even knows you ever existed, what was the point of it all? Like, what if the guy we thought invented the laundry press never did?”
Devin pressed the pillow more tightly against his face. Chris’s voice was in his head, so there was no point covering his ears.
“Maybe,” Chris continued, “the guy who really invented it died, but there was another guy with a similar name who was alive at that time and was more famous. Maybe he was a war hero or something. Then maybe some historian made a list of famous olden people and got messed up and attributed the laundry press to the war hero and everyone after that goes by the historian’s list?”
Devin rolled onto his side to face the wall, placing the pillow back under his head.
“Suppose the war hero never knows about the mistake, so he dies without correcting it. Then all the history books have the wrong name in there and the war hero gets to the afterlife to find out everyone thinks he did the thing. But he didn’t! He knows he didn’t invent it!”
Devin sighed. He rolled onto his back again and opened his eyes.
“I don’t know, Chris,” he said. “I don’t even know who invented the laundry press, let alone who gets credit for doing it. How could I possibly know that?”
It had been about four hours since Devin had accidentally gained the ability to communicate with spirits. Those hours had been a strange trip. Even beyond his entire cosmological worldview being shattered. At first he was overwhelmed just to see how many ghosts were in his home, bound there by their worries pertaining to the physical world. Grampa Nelson wanted Devin to know about the thousand dollars hidden in the wall of the attic. Carla’s aunt Millie wanted to punish her sons for their role in her death. Nana Fischer just wanted to tell the kids she loved them. And so on.
An hour later, Devin had helped them all to find some measure of peace and to disconnect them from the mortal world that they’d clung to. They moved on. All but Chris.
“Like,” Chris continued, “What if all ghosts are is the memories of the dead perpetuated in the minds of the living? Like, their memories give us form, you know? If those memories are inaccurate, what happens to the souls attached to them? Does the inventor’s soul wind up intermingled with the war hero’s soul into a ghost that isn’t really either of them?”
As far as Devin could tell, Chris wouldn’t move on not because he was attached to the physical realm, but because he was afraid of what was beyond it.
“Is that new ghost a being of its own? The ghost of someone who never really lived? Is it two tortured souls in one? Does the stronger soul get to live while the weaker is destroyed? And what happens thousands of years down the line when there’s nobody to remember anybody anyway?”
Devin sat up and looked at the wispy unfocused face of his nephew.
“Look, Chris. I don’t know any more about this stuff than you do. Less! Much less, I would assume, give that you are the one who is dead! But I can say this with certainty. If you are worried that our memories of you can twist and somehow harm your soul, I give this solemn promise: If you don’t leave this room and let me sleep, I am going to tell my kids, every day for the next decade, that their cousin Chris was the guy who got arrested for those poop murders back in January. So unless you want your soul mingled with Poop Murder Guy, go away.”
The intangible form of Chris was still for a moment. Silent too. Then, suddenly, like smoke from a stubbed-out butt, Chris was at the ceiling, then gone.
Devin looked at the empty box he’d left on the chair by the door. This was not what he’d expected when Carla had told him she’d left a Medium Pizza in the fridge.
Patrick D Ryall, the D is for Gusto