Gerald broke into a sweat. Torrents of the salty liquid fountained from his broad nose, settling as a puddle by his feet. His heart pounded, threatening to burst free from his chest. His legs felt weak and trembled as the room began to spin around him. He was not too fond of the pain growing in his left arm, yet – if he were to be asked later on – his least favourite part was most certainly the shortness of breath.
His face met the puddle with a resounding slap, like that of a semi-defrosted tuna fillet on a freshly cleaned window. The sound seemed to echo within Gerald’s ears as he watched himself slump into a less-than-graceful pile of bone and belly on the lounge-room floor. A wiser man might have wondered at the implications of observing one’s own body collapse to the floor. Gerald had never been considered particularly wise.
Having been one or two strong reality checks on the wrong side of slightly chubby, there was no mistaking the trademark signs of a heart attack. Gerald crouched to better look at himself. His once pale and oily skin now took on a grey hue. His brown hair, well past overdue for a trim, was plastered over his forehead. He gazed past the curtain of hair into his own brown eyes. Hollow as they now appeared, the realisation slowly came to Gerald.
Am I. . . dead?
Gerald walked away from his body. He glanced around his suburban cottage lounge-room, pausing on each of the numerous photo frames that cluttered the various bookshelves and buffets.
I can’t be dead! Half of these frames are still empty. Gerald reasoned, with logic rivalling the great Sherlock Holmes. And if I were dead. Agnes would have said something by now.
Coming to stand before the fifty-something woman nestled amongst a plethora of pillows, Gerald considered the still pretty, yet slightly weathered, woman. The pop-scrape of the needle and thread working her newest pattern seemed louder than ever. Whether it be the incessant noise that had accompanied the previous twenty-three years of their marriage or the fact that she had seemingly missed the fact that he had more than likely just died in the same room, but it was fair to say that Gerald was becoming ever so slightly annoyed with her.
“Gerald, I hope the soup is on. Mother will be here soon, and you do know she enjoys her soup,” Agnes called out, her gaze not leaving the intricate rose-bud pattern on her knee. Adding in a lower, muffled voice, “that is unless you burn it again.”
It’s true. . . I’m dead. Why didn’t I say something? The realisation came, as he waved his hands frantically in front of his wife’s face.
Throwing his hands in the air, Gerald stalked away from his wife. Disparaged at how little she seemed to care, he began pacing the room. How hard is it to say help? he lectured himself. Help. I’m dying here. Hells, even a manly shriek would have done!
It was at that point Gerald’s body succumbed to the effects of death. The loud, elongated release worked itself from within his body.
“Yes dear,” Agnes responded to the flatulence, her hands never missing a stitch, “Mother always visits on a Tuesday.” Agnes trailed off into a muttering of condemnations and never-do-wells.
Wedged between the disgust he felt at his former body to his left, and the rapidly growing annoyance in his wife to his right, Gerald did what he had been encouraged to do from a young age when he was uncomfortable – look at his shoes. Having started the practice early in his school life, Gerald could boast significant prowess in inspecting the same pair of scuffed shoes on countless occasions.
It was his intricate knowledge of those scuffed shoes which served him well. Nestled in the nook between shoe and sock was a shimmering strand of silvered light. It wrapped itself around Gerald’s ankle, looping several times before trailing off toward his corpse. Gerald stooped to pick up the thread. Fine and intricate in its weave, Gerald lifted the glowing chain between thumb and forefinger, bringing it close to his face to examine.
Squinting against the shine, Gerald could make out ripples and currents along the length of the chain. Gathering loop upon loop of the silvered thread into his hands, he inspected it closely. Gerald stared into the flow of the light, the current flowed quickly toward his body, beckoning him to follow it. He stared at the chain: unblinking.
Step by step, he slowly moved with the current toward his body. Each inch closer increased the buzz of static within his ears. The buzzing became louder, reaching a crescendo, a roar of white-noise as if a digital river in flood, then suddenly – silence.
Gerald found himself crouched low by his face, the shimmering thread trailing down his throat. His hands still held the fine chain, taut as though snagged upon something deep inside his gullet. He blinked. The act cleared his head, the fog of whatever entrancement he had just experienced lifting. His eyesight cleared and he looked up – into the hollow eyes a skeletal face.
It was an involuntary sound that Gerald emitted. The type of in-between of shriek, scream and sharp intake of breath which is impossible to mimic. He scrambled backward. Arms flailed as his legs pumped wildly at the floor beneath him. The effort ended with Gerald thumping heavily onto the floor. As impossible to mimic as Gerald’s sound moments before may have been, the purple-robed figure crouched beside Gerald’s corpse echoed it.
“What did you. . . what have you . . . what in the Heavens and Hells did you do?” screamed the skeletal figure. A bony finger pointed toward the thread in Gerald’s hand, no longer trailing into his corpse, but ending in a worm-shaped sack dangling freely.
“That. . . should very much be in there,” the skeleton said, waving his finger frantically at Gerald’s body. The robed figure began bouncing on its toes, hand clenched as fists and pumping in front of his rib cage.
“Please don’t hurt me?” Gerald begged. “Please?”
The pleading seemed to fall on deaf ears. Gerald, finding himself oddly retrospective all of sudden, observed that if this was indeed Death in front of him, perhaps his pleading failed as his life was no longer his for the bargaining.
“Hurt you?” the skeleton stalked toward Gerald.
Robed as the figure was, Gerald could not quite make out its feet as it stepped over his corpse, yet he could have sworn the skeleton had given the body a slight kick as it did so.
“If only you weren’t dead. . . I’d kill you myself!” The figure closed the gap between them and snatched the silvered thread from Gerald’s hand, dumping it unceremoniously on top of Gerald’s corpse. “That will just have to wait for another time. I have a busy day. There’s going to be a gas explosion at the King Street supermarket any minute now.”
The skeleton looked Gerald up and down, disgust somehow plastered over a skinless face. “Yes, I am Death. The Grim Reaper himself. And you? Name, date of death, and preferred destination?”
“Gera -” Gerald began before Death cut him off after glancing at his watch.
“Nope. No time. Wait here,” Death waved his scythe in a circular pattern, a myriad of colours sparked where the blade cut through the air. A blurring mass of intersecting rainbows coalesced into a portal of some sort, the scene within the middle an inferno of a building. Before stepping through, Death turned back, “and try not to touch anything.”
Death disappeared into the portal, as it closed with a pop and a flash of green.
When I set out on this journey, I said that I wanted to show the process to everyone out there that wanted to write. To those who doubted their abilities and were too scared to “take the plunge”. You see, the problem with starting out as a writer is that everything we are exposed to is edited and completed. You read a book doubting yourself – I could never write like that? My work is terrible in comparison! – and you give in. Perhaps you weren’t meant to be an author?
What we forget is the amount of editing and rework it takes to get to that polished piece that you are reading. What I have learned so far (keep in mind – this all started five months ago) is that the more you put yourself out there, the more you try (and fail), the better you will become. It takes guts. It takes resolve. But you can do it. If you are reading this and thinking to yourself, “I wish I were an (insert blank here),” then I implore you; take that first step – now. Do it.
But how? It just takes that first little step. Personally, my step was joining a community of writers online. Offering critique of work (hey – it was free stuff to read as well) and soon realising that if I could offer valuable input for their work, why couldn’t I just write my own stuff? So what does that step look like for you? Let me know in the comments.
Gerald will be returning Friday weekly. Until then, I would love to hear your thoughts on the revisited version of Gerald – please leave your thoughts below and feel free to like and share.