Some Time Later
|......Harold thought it odd when he walked through the door. The door was closed at the time. Up until then it was just another day.|
......He remembered experiencing an intense pain in his chest just as he was on his way out of the house. The pain had passed however and, apart from feeling somehow lighter than usual, everything seemed to be all right. So he had carried on his way. It had just felt natural not to bother opening the door.
......It was only when he got outside that he realised things were different. He had no clothes on for one thing. He distinctly recalled getting dressed; he always took particular care over his appearance. As he stood confusedly looking from the solid wooden door to his nakedness he became aware of the sound of the electric lawnmower. Abruptly conscious of the penalties for exposure he cast a sheepish and apologetic look in the direction of the sound.
......Next door a man was mowing the lawn. This was curious in itself. The man didn't have a mower. He was walking back and forth with his arms outstretched while from his lips there issued the very realistic impression of the high-pitched whine of the aforesaid implement. The man was also naked.
......Glancing up from his mowing the man looked across at Harold and said, "Hello, new are you?"
......"I beg your pardon?"
......"Just got here, haven't you? I can always tell. You've just done the door thing, and you're trying to work it out. Don't worry; it throws everybody the first time. You'll soon get used to it. Why we have to walk through doors I don't know. I suppose it's expected of us."
......"I'm sorry, I don't understand."
......The man reached down and turned off his imaginary mower. Completely oblivious of his state of undress he strolled over and casually leaned on the fence. Harold, not wanting to appear unsociable, took a few steps towards him then abruptly paused as he recalled his own revealing condition.
......"Oh, you don't have to be embarrassed; nobody can see you. Nobody living, anyway. Well, that is - a few can, but you needn't worry about that just now."
......Feeling even more confused but yet desperate for an explanation, Harold cast a furtive glance around and, seeing no one about, bashfully went to the fence. The lawnmower man held out his hand over the wooden barrier and said, "Good to meet you. I'm Phil."
......Harold automatically took the proffered hand and tried to shake it. It was like grasping fresh air.
......"Weird, isn't it?" said Phil. "You have to sort of imagine you can feel things, even though you can't." He watched with kindly amusement as Harold's quickly retracted hand passed through a fence post. "Same with the fence. If you just bear in mind where things are in relation to your body you can treat them almost the same as you used to." Phil resumed his relaxed posture, his arms again resting on the top rail; though Harold couldn't help noticing they were slightly embedded in the wood.
......"This is really all too much," said Harold, looking nervously at the fence. "Can you please tell me what on earth is going on?"
......"Oh, that's easy. Now, what's the simplest way of telling you?" Phil looked at Harold's bemused expression, thought a moment, shrugged, and said, "You've popped your clogs, mate. You're dead."
......"I'm sorry. I always find it's best to be blunt; there's no nice way of putting it. The thing is, you've snuffed it, passed over. You're now on the other side, the afterlife, the vale of tears and all that stuff."
......"Oh come on, there's some kind of mistake."
......"It's true. Think back a bit. What's just happened to you?"
......"Well... I was just leaving the house to do some shopping when I felt this pain in my chest. The next thing I know I'm walking through doors in the nude."
......"Sounds like a heart attack to me," said Phil expertly. "Tell you what, if you don't believe me there's one sure way of finding out. Go back into the house and see for yourself."
......"Yes, go and have a look."
......Forebodingly, Harold turned and reluctantly walked back to the house, much less concerned about his state of undress now. At his front door he paused. The green-painted wood looked just as impenetrable as ever. He took a deep breath and took a step forward. His right leg and his head passed through the door; the rest of him remained outside. He gasped and stepped back. "Go on, you can do it. Go for it," said Phil's voice from the next garden. It was all right for him to talk, thought Harold. The first time he had done this he hadn't been thinking about it; now he was fully aware that it is generally required for one to open a door before going through it.
......This time he took a larger step and was relieved to find that, except for one leg, he was entirely at the other side of the door. Hastily reuniting his remaining limb with the rest of himself, he stood tremulously in his hallway. A few feet in front of him, stretched out on the floor, fully clothed and wearing an agonised expression was his body. Harold wasn't well versed in medical matters, but he didn't need a doctor to tell him he was looking at a corpse. What he did need was someone to explain to him how it was he was standing there looking at it.
......Stepping nervously forward, he knelt over himself. Feeling uncomfortably like he was trespassing upon something that didn't belong to him anymore, he reached out tentatively to touch that which a short while ago he had been moving about in. His hand sank into the chest of the thing on the floor. With a strangled squeak he pulled back his hand and jumped to his feet. Without a second thought about the correct way to exit a door he raced back out of the house.
......Still leaning on, or in, the fence - Harold wasn't sure anymore - and with an I-told-you-so expression on his face stood Phil. "Well?" he asked.
......"Didn't I say? Bit of a downer, isn't it? I hope for your sake someone finds your body soon. If you think it looks bad now, wait till it starts going off. Not a pleasant sight. Welcome to eternity."
......"You mean this is it? This is life after death?"
......"If you can call it that. What were you expecting, pearly gates and choirs of angels? Sorry to disappoint you, but this is your lot."
......"But I'm still here - that's my house and this is my garden. Do you mean to tell me that you don't go on to somewhere else - that you just stay here?"
......"That's about the size of it. Course, things are different now. Your surroundings might not have changed, but you have. You're nowhere near the man you were. I mean, you're dead, aren't you? So obviously you no longer exist."
......"But I do. I'm standing here talking to you; I can see and touch myself. I must still be here."
......At this point they were interrupted by a creaking sound. An alarmingly spotty youth had opened Harold's gate and was walking up his path. Over his shoulder the spotty youth carried a bag; he whistled tunelessly as he went towards the house. He was completely oblivious of the pair at the fence.
......"Hey!" cried Harold. "Hey, over here. Can't you see me?"
......The spotty youth reached Harold's front door and fumbled in his bag. From it he extracted an advertising flyer of some sort, which he folded and prepared to put through the letterbox. Harold could not conceive how he was unable to see or hear him. "Hey!" he shouted again, waving his arms and striding towards the unconscious youth. "Hey, here on the lawn. I'm here. Why don't you see me?"
......Still entirely unaware of anyone but himself, with a resentful glare at Harold's viciously sprung letter flap the spotty youth turned to set off back down the path. Desperately Harold lunged forward in front of the youth, his arms outspread with the intention of blocking his passage. Harold would have been the first to admit that he wasn't the most prepossessing or significant kind of person; he was quite used to not being noticed. However, no one had ever walked straight through him as if he wasn't there before. This is exactly what the youth did, bag of flyers, spots, whistle and all.
......It was the indignity of it that stung Harold. Being ignored is one thing; being walked through is quite another. Angrily he turned and rushed after the spotty youth who had now reached his gate, still blithely whistling. With a fair approximation of a rugby tackle he dived for the young man's legs.
......"Where do you think you are, Twickenham?" Harold looked up at Phil who had come to join him, presumably by walking through the fence. "I'd get up if I were you, old chap, you look rather silly lying there with your arms clutching fresh air."
......Shamefacedly Harold got to his feet. "You're finding it hard adjusting to being dead, aren't you?" said Phil. "That lad wouldn't have seen you if you were wearing a sheet, carrying your head under your arm, rattling chains and waving a banner with 'I am a ghost' written on it in foot-high letters," he indicated the retreating back of the whistling youth. "Much too insensitive, that one."
......"Ghost?" said Harold. "Are you saying I'm a ghost?"
......"That's about the size of it."
......"But it's broad-daylight."
......"So? What do you think: that ghosts just do night shifts; that they go to sleep during the day? It's true that the living associates us with the night, but that's when they tend to see us most. We're a little more solid then, and that's when they expect us to be around - you don't get many ghost stories set in daytime." Phil somehow contrived to prop himself up against Harold's gatepost; something Harold was reluctant to try. "No, this is the real afterworld. We're here twenty-four hours-a-day, day in, day out," he continued in a dull voice. "You can forget about sleeping too; you won't be getting tired anymore - not physically, anyway. You won't be getting anything anymore, come to that. Death is very tedious, I'm afraid. But you'll get used to it - eventually."
......"But what are we supposed to do all the time?"
......"Do? Well, not a lot. Just haunt the place where we died."
......"Haunt? How do you go about haunting?"
......"You just sort of hang around basically. There's nothing to it. If you're lucky you might get a live one that can see you, then you can have a bit of fun frightening the living daylights out of them. But not many people believe in ghosts these days, so they just don't see you anymore." A reflective smile came to Phil's face as he recalled: "Now a couple of years ago I had some real entertainment. There was this postman who used to deliver in this street. Now he was really sensitive - he could see me even with the sun blazing down. I did wonders for his digestive system for a while; though I don't think he appreciated it." Phil's face saddened, "I think he must have had a nervous breakdown, though; he stopped coming after a couple of weeks. Since then nobody's had a glimmer of me apart from the odd dog. They can see you quite well. You never know, you might be fortunate, someone responsive might move into your house. Then you can pass the time quite happily. Otherwise, it's boredom city, mate."
......"You mean to tell me that's all there is?"
......"That's about it. You can go for a bit of a walkabout if you like, but you're a bit limited."
......"What do you mean?"
......"Well, you can only go a few hundred yards away from where you popped your clogs; any further and you tend to fade away. You don't want to experience that too often. It's not very comfortable. Plus, you have to be around to re-enact your death."
......Harold was just about to ask what this meant when Phil turned to the street and said, "Hello there, Maggie, how's it going?" Walking along the pavement was a woman. She was well past the first blush of youth; however, age had been tolerant to her. This was obvious by her nakedness.
......"Hello, Phil. Can't stop, I'm late. See you around." The woman carried on walking by.
......"There goes Maggie, off down to the corner. She will have been for a walk. A hit-and-run driver knocked her down when she was crossing the road there. Made a bit of a mess, by all accounts. Luckily, your ghost stays intact or you'd get to see some real sights."
......Phil noticed the way Harold was looking after Maggie, "Nice body, hasn't she? You can forget about it, though. You can't do anything in that department. The pleasures of the flesh are a bit awkward when you don't have flesh anymore."
......"But she doesn't have any clothes on!" Harold had more or less forgotten his own and Phil's undressed condition amid all the other questions in his mind.
......"No, none of us do. What did you expect, that clothes have ghosts? No, you left those behind with your body. Naked you came into this life and all that. You soon get used to being in your buff, and you won't be feeling the cold - or anything else."
......Now that the matter had been raised Harold wasn't certain he was happy about a life - or rather, a death - without clothing. He had always been a demure type and preferred to keep that kind of thing to the privacy of his bathroom. Life - death - as a ghost was beginning to seem an altogether unpleasant state. However, for the moment he had other concerns: "You started to tell me something about re-enacting my death. What does that entail?"
......"Oh that. Well, every day at the exact time you shuffled off you have to repeat your death in the way it happened."
......"Every day? Why?"
......"Don't ask me, mate. That's just the way it is. That's death."
......"And how do you go about that?"
......"Well, take me for instance. I copped my lot when I was mowing the lawn. I ran over the cable and fried myself. Stupid of me, I always was clumsy. I used to keep this lawn like a bowling green - the people who live here now don't seem to bother much with it. Just look at the state of it."
......"Is that why you were pretending to push a mower?"
......"Yes, that's it. I like to add a bit of realism to things. Obviously the mower didn't come over with me, so I like to improvise. It keeps me amused. It took me ages to perfect the sound - I do a good impression, don't I? Course, you don't need to be so elaborate; you only need go through the motions. It's just that you get desperate for ways of entertaining yourself. You'll meet Vernon from across the street before long; he likes to come for a chat. Now he topped himself by jumping off the viaduct. He'll be down there now with the other DIYers..."
......"Suicides. They meet up to greet the new jumpers as they arrive so they can tell them how they haven't really got away from it all - that their problems have only just begun. It gives them no end of amusement. Maggie's interest is collecting car registration numbers; only she does it lying in the road while the cars pass over her. We all find our own ways of getting by."
......"But this is hell!"
......"Yes, now you come to mention it, I suppose it is."
......Harold looked aghast. "Let me get this straight. I am now dead and have become a ghost. As such I am incapable of straying far from the scene of my demise, as I have to haunt it. Now you tell me that every day I have to set off to go shopping and in the process collapse in an untidy heap in the hall. Christ, I only wanted a pound of stewing steak and a newspaper!"
......"Yes, it's unfortunate you didn't have a more colourful death; you'll have a job on spicing that up. There's one thing though: you don't need to worry about the stewing steak..."
......"Don't tell me; I can guess - I won't be eating anymore."
......In life Harold had never been a forceful or determined personality. Easygoing and placid would be the kindest way of describing his manner. He had drifted through living without making waves and meekly accepted what came his way. Neither could it be said that his existence had been exciting or adventurous. However, what little he had seen of death appeared to be one unrelenting and unceasing round of boredom and tedium. Compared to it his life had been a veritable cornucopia of fascination. Harold did something totally out of character. He made a bold and purposeful decision.
......He pulled himself up to his full, naked five-foot-six and said, "Right! That's it! I'm not having it."
......"What do you mean?"
......"If this is death, you can keep it." He turned from Phil and began to walk up his path.
......"What are you going to do..? Here, hang on - you can't!"
......"Oh can't I? We'll just see about that."
......Harold reached his front door, turned to Phil, and said, "See you later. Much later."
......With that he stepped through the door. His body was still on the floor, looking much the same as it had previously. Harold walked up to it and stood over it. In the full determination of his newfound resoluteness he steeled himself for what he was about to do. He then positioned himself over the recumbent corpse and slowly and carefully lay down. Ensuring that his ghost body was perfectly aligned with his corporal body he absorbed himself into it.
......Nothing happened. Harold panicked for a moment then, mustering his newly acquired will, he took a deep breath. His chest rose and air rushed into his lungs. Not quite accepting he had accomplished his objective so easily he lay looking at himself. His chest rose and fell just as it has always done. He raised a hand and pinched his nose. It hurt. He decided to go a step further.
......He stood up. He looked down. His body was no longer on the floor. Harold gave a whoop and danced a little jig. He was alive. Apart from a dull ache in his chest and a slight coldness he felt much as he had before his encounter with the hereafter. He thumped himself: he was perfectly solid. What's more he was fully, gloriously clothed.
......There was one final test. He walked to the door and reached out a nervous hand. His fingers encountered reassuringly solid wood and went no further. Humming to himself he grasped the knob and turned it. How delightful it was to pass through a door in the conventional manner.
......Outside his house he gave a frightened start. From next door there issued the sound of an electric lawnmower. Harold turned desperately to the source of the sound. He sighed a massive sigh. His present neighbour was mowing his lawn for the first time in weeks.
......"Good morning," he said to the man with the mower, "Isn't it a lovely day?" Harold set off down his path with a jaunty stride and a grin that stretched the full width of his face.
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