When someone tells you to live each day like it's your last, do you listen? Of course you don't. No one ever does. It's human nature. We're born to plan, to live five years in the future instead of for today. But you really should listen, because the really smart people are the ones who do. Now I'm not saying that "live fast, die young," is the way to go. 'Cause it's not.
I should know. I was fifteen when I died. And now I know that what they tell you isn't just another saying. You really don't know when Death is going to rip the carpet from beneath your feet. And it really, really hurts when that happens.
Trust me, you don't want to re-live getting hit by a car. Now I'm completely respectful of them- no more jaywalking, no more playing in the street. I'm not one of those few people who waits at the streetcorner for the little walk sign with the stick-figure guy.
But I was lucky. I didn't fully die- instead I came back from the afterlife. Now I help souls move on after they die. In essence, I hunt ghosts.
Sure, I'm alive, of sorts. I eat, I breathe, I sleep, all that good stuff. But to dogs, I reek of death. Or whenever I get a cut, it smells like a newly exhumed grave. Not pleasant in the slightest. It's because my body, although "alive" is still decaying. I'm like a really, really moldy pear.
But everything I do is unpleasant. It's certainly not pleasant to be around death this much. I find all kinds of souls, people from all walks of life. Terminally ill cancer patients to the little boy killed in the drive-by shooting in the bad part of town- I've seen them all. And it's still unsettling. The most haunting one I've had was a little girl who was hit by a car, just like yours truly. She kept asking where her mommy was. It was awful, really.
I read somewhere that in Japan, they have this story about this creature, the tatari-mokke. It plays this flute, and the music is supposed to soothe the souls of dead children and help them move on. I'm not the tatari-mokke. And it's not just because I can't play the flute.
The girl in front of me played flute. She was in band, I remembered that. She was also a cheerleader, due to the obvious fact that she was still in her uniform.
She was staring at me, still standing with one foot on the rooftop ledge. The wind was blowing, sending leaves rushing past her blonde head at a rapid pace in the fall light.
I held onto my coat tighter, wrestling it to stay shut. The right side fluttered again, and I finally decided to give up on it. Instead, I watched her, waiting for her to do something.
"I didn't jump, Mandy," she choked out at last. In another second she was flat-out crying.
A frog formed in my throat. I didn't say anything at first, mainly because I couldn't say anything. I just kept remembering how many times I'd seen her happy. I started to attempt to spit out a response, but my brain was reeling, and all I heard was music, a record stuck on repeat.
"Have you heard the news that you're dead?"
Shut up, I told it. Instead of a verbatim response, all I could do was hold out my hand.
She didn't notice. At least, I think so. She seemed preoccupied with crying. I was ready to cry, too.
You see, this girl, this pitiful soul standing in front of me, was my best friend when I was alive.
"I know," I finally stammered. My voice was so shaky it was amazing it didn't just give up on me.
"I didn't jump," she insisted. "I didn't jump, Mandy."
"I know," I repeated more confidently this time.
The breeze picked up. Leaves scattered across the gravel rooftop. She tried to grab one, but it slipped from her grasp. It didn't matter even if she did grab it- her hands weren't tangible anymore.
I sighed. She stared off the rooftop, watching the clouds go by. A cardinal flew overhead, fire red against a cool sky. Holding out my hand again, she finally grasped it.
Shaking her head in disbelief, she followed me a few steps. "I didn't jump, Mandy. I slipped."
"I know." She pulled away from me, and reached for another leaf. It fell into her palm and then passed through her hand.
"I guess I have to move on then, don't I? To whatever's out there." A soft silence fell as she pondered. I left her alone, and instead ran my fingers through my hair.
"You died," she said. I nodded. "Then what is it like?"
"I don't know," I answered. "I've only been to purgatory, and that was an office building."
"Really?" she questioned. "Aright then. What's your best guess?"
I shrugged. "I'm clueless. Be sure to tell me what it's all about, okay?"
She smiled. That was a relief. I don't think I could have smiled right after finding out I was dead as a doornail. In fact, I didn't, now that I think about it. But we were two different people, who had died in two very different circumstances. Plus, I never had my best friend to help me move on.
"It was nice to see you again, Mandy. And I guess I'll see you again sometime, won't I?"
"Depends," I answered honestly. "I hope so, though. But I've still got a lot to do here."
She pondered that over a moment, biting her lip just like how she always did. "Mandy," she began, "aren't you dead? I mean, you died and all, and now you're here. Are you alive?"
"Technically, yes. But you're right- I did die," I admitted.
"Then how come you get to stay here and live while I just have to up and go?"
My head hurt. I blinked a couple of times, trying to hide from the demanding glare she was giving me. It wasn't nice, I know. But life (and death) don't have to be nice.
"I'm here because I was offered a deal- a one-time-only deal. And I regret taking it more often than not."
"That's not fair!" she shrieked. "That's not fair! What did you ever do that made you so special? I was a straight-A honor student! I was a JV basketball player! And what were you- you were just the weird kid who sat in the back of the room! Nobody liked you, Mandy- nobody ever did!"
Ouch. Just, ouch.
"And it's not bloody fair that you get to live and I have to die!"
"Oh, just shut up!" I roared back. "Do you honestly know what you were? Do you?! You claimed to be my friend, my best friend. You knew me since we were five! That's ten years, Laura, ten whole years. And when a taxi ran me down, you wouldn't even go to my funeral! You were too busy hamming it up for all your little 'friends'!"
I still wasn't done yet. "So don't you cry to me about death. I've been there- I know what its like. But you get something I never did- a chance to move on." I'd been so busy I hadn't noticed that she was crying again. My cynical side rose up and pushed any sympathy I may have had for her out. Anger was flying solo in me now.
Standing there, crying, she really did look pitiful in her little orange and blue cheerleader's uniform. Clouds had blotted out the sun, and deep shadows took hold of the rooftop. "I'm sorry," she said so softly I could barely hear her.
This time, I didn't say anything because I wanted to be silent and brood. Honestly, this was the first time I'd ever really gotten mad at anyone for my death. Before I had just accepted it- so what, big deal, I died. Now I had a scapegoat, in a way.
"I'm sorry," she said more intently this time.
"No one's ever sorry," I retorted. Maybe it was the misanthropic attitude I got at times speaking instead of me, but I have a feeling that most people would agree with me on that one. "But I can't blame you," I continued, staring at the floor. "It wasn't your fault I died."
"I'm sorry, Mandy," she said again. "I'll put in a good word for you, wherever I end up."
I looked back up at her, watching as she melded into the sun's glow as it returned from behind the clouds. I squinted, then blinked, and finally realized she was gone.
"Bye, Laura," I murmured, still dazed. At least she hadn't died with me still mad at her. I stayed on the roof a moment, standing still and waiting. What did she ultimately go to? Where was the afterlife, if it even did exist?
Shaking my head, I walked across the gravel, hearing to scrape under my shoes. I stopped at the ledge, where I had first seen her. Leaning over, I looked down until I saw her.
She jumped, I thought. Sighing, I knew it was true. She had jumped. Laura may have been a super student and all, but there was a side of her that ultimately couldn't handle that stress in the long run. Pity swam through me, but there were no tears, just a long, drawn out sigh.
As I turned away from the ledge, I froze dead in my tracks. Off in the distance, I could have sworn I heard a flute being played.