Entourage of the Damned
Did I ever tell you about the time that I almost died?
I had just turned eight years old, and my brother and I were ice skating out on Rinker's Pond when I went through a patch of thin ice. Barry - that's my older brother - was the one that pulled me out, how he was ever able to do it I'll never know... but I remember sinking right down in that cold, cold water. Not that Rinker's Pond is very deep, I think it's ten or twelve feet at its deepest point, but when the water is just above thirty-two degrees Fahrenheit, it doesn't matter how deep the water is, three feet is enough to do serious damage. The doctors say that I was actually clinically dead for five to six minutes before my heart finally started beating again, and brain waves started waving - or whatever it is they do. They say that I'm lucky to be alive, and that it is a miracle of modem medicine that I'm even here today. What they didn't tell me is that I would be seeing ghosts. Yes... ghosts. Spooks. Specters. Shades. Phantasms. Ghosts.
The first one was a roving shade in my room at the hospital. Looking back on him, he reminds me of Old Marley's ghost from A Christmas Carol because he was trailing IV tubes, catheters and all sorts of wires behind him and he moved across my room and through the wall into the next. I had no idea who he was, I didn't recognize him, but I saw him nonetheless, and I was terrified. Even more so when I found out that he had followed me home, lurching through my parents's house at all hours of the day, and night, though he particularly liked to stay in the cellar. Wandering in and out of my mother's preserves, spoiling the peaches and pears and applesauce in his wake. My mother never could quite figure out what was happening to them, and I didn't have the nerve to tell her for fear that she would think me crazy and take me to a shrink.
The first ghost I recognized was that of my grandmother. I acquired her after being discharged from the hospital. She had died two months earlier, in the upstairs bedroom, screaming and ranting as she died from the tumor in her brain. I woke up to her silently screaming at me, clawing at her haggard face, staggering around my room, occasionally colliding with the Marley ghost from the hospital when he made his way upstairs.
I tried to ignore them, but it was difficult. Especially after my friend T.J. "Pinhead" Pinoppscott joined the ranks. T.J. and I had been best of friends until we were six years old. We had been playing in the field behind T.J.'s house when he ran out onto the train tracks. Looking back, I never could figure why the Pinoppscotts lived that close to the tracks without a lock on their back gate, but they did and the three o'clock from Denver made short work of "Pinhead" Pinoppscott. I saw the whole thing. They found one of T.J.'s sneakers, still laced up tight, bloody, but empty, twenty feet away. My mother says I didn't speak for three months after. T.J.'s here now, forever tearing up my room, searching for his missing sneaker. I think Mrs. Pinoppscott has it, but I don't know for sure. She may have burned it.
After Pinhead, Mrs. Famarqua came to stay. She was one of my teachers in the sixth-grade and dropped dead in the middle of a lecture on the Hundred-Years War. Her fourth period World Civ class had been elated at the time, no test on Friday, that meant, but now... all she does is stand in a comer and stare at me over the top of her glasses. It gives me chills. I think she's grading me.
After Mrs. Famarqua came Sketchers, the tortoise shell cat that I ran over taking my drivers test; then came Mr. Bungles, the pet garter snake that my brother and I put in the microwave "just to warm him up." This was after we learned that reptiles were cold-blooded; then there are the three goldfish that I swallowed as part of a frat initiation (they're creepy, gaping at me in that fish-like way, their eyes bugged and gills working, "swimming" through the air, "shivers my skin," as my grandfather was fond of saying). Keith Quinn was my best friend all through high school, but never graduated. Senior year, we were cutting Brit Lit and went back to Keith's place. Mrs. Quinn (who was divorced and hot) was at work, so Keith and I dropped some acid. I was tripping on the Teletubbies and so high that I didn't even realize that Keith had OD'd and had died of cardiac arrest and pulmonary failure. It took two hours before I was sober enough to realize what had happened and to call 911. Too late, of course, and Keith won't let me forget it. He changes the TV to PBS whenever the Teletubbies are on. To this day my Dad thinks it was a short in the Panasonic. He never realized that it stopped the day I moved out and took Keith with me.
Then there was Julie Caruthers. She was my girlfriend in college and my "first." Two nights after we had clumsily deflowered each other in the back of my '89 Honda hatchback Julie took a header off of the balcony of her dorm room. Her eighth floor dorm room. The eight floor dorm room on the hillside overlooking the University District. She was drunk as a poet on payday, as my grandfather would have said, and supposedly I am supposed to be comforted by the fact that there was so much alcohol and narcotics (cheap vodka to be precise, she and her roommates were making screwdrivers and smoking pot) in her system that she was probably dead before she connected with the pavement and therefore didn't feel a thing. Thank heaven for small blessings.
Julie was a turning point in my life. Until then, I had been able to cope with my growing spectral following. They hadn't interfered too much with my day-to-day life. Then Julie developed her fatal allergy to concrete. Crass, you say? Well, that's in the eye of the beholder, isn't it. I've often heard professionals (meaning nurses, paramedics, police, firemen, etc.) say that it's not the fall that kills you, it's the sudden stop at the end. Their date when density. After Julie's swan dive into the U District is when my social life began to decline. It was sometime in March, and I had just started dating Kristine - the first girl after Julie - and it was our third date, and she invited me into her apartment. Her roommate had gone home for the weekend, and so it was just me, Kristine, her two cats Flutters and Mr. Whiskers (ah, women and naming cats), my following and things were getting pretty hot and heavy on the couch. I sat up to take off my shirt as Kristine worked her bra undone, and I came eye-to-eye with Julie who was standing behind the couch, pointing and laughing. There is something unsettling about seeing the afterimage of a girl you dated, a girl you bedded (or Honda'ed as the case may be) standing there, her head staved in, laughing at you with unseeing eyes. Like a bucket of ice water. Geoff Junior (yes, I named him, so spare me the Freudian interpretations) went right to parade rest.
I don't remember what excuse I used, or if I even gave one, but I left in a hurry. Never saw Kristine again, not that I blame her. It was somewhat abrupt, and the next few dates were even worse, to the point that I eventually gave up trying to get much past first base with anyone for fear of Julie.
I began acquiring more and more ghosts at an alarming rate. They followed me everywhere and gave me no modicum of peace or privacy. They were there when I got up, when I took a shower, went to classes, to work, and when I went to bed at night there they were, crowding into my room.
The first time I came out of the shower and encountered all of them standing there in the steamy bathroom I was so startled that I slipped on the wet tile and cracked my head on the bathtub so hard that I actually blacked out for a bit. When I came to, I don't know how much later, but it was long enough for the steam to dissipate and the mirror to start defogging, they were still there, staring silently down at me.
Afraid of a concussion, I went to the emergency room. That was a mistake.
I added eight new members to my little entourage of the damned with that visit. A jabbering cabbie who died in surgery after sliding his cab under the trailer of semi and shearing the top off of the car, and the three occupants inside, whom I gained as well - three eighteen year old girls who were coming back from a club. They're among the worst that I have in my little group, with their hollow caresses, ghostly kisses and pseudo-sexual teasing. They delight in unzipping my pants at ill-timed moments. Meetings, when I'm in line at the grocery store, when I'm talking to the cutie behind the Starbuck's counter. Also, they giggle. Incessantly. Number four was an old man that was sitting next to me in the waiting room whom I accidentally acknowledged. He died of a heart-attack while waiting for his wife to come out of her mammogram. Five and six were two roving revenants that stalked the hospital, full of rage at their untimely demises at the hands of an alcoholic surgeon. Amazingly, both were the victims of separate surgeons who were under the influence. One was a cardiac cutter and the other worked on GI surgeries. Seven was a homeless man who had crawled under the loading dock last winter to escape the cold and subsequently died of a stroke. His body has yet to be found. Number Eight was a shade attached to the morgue - a high-powered stockbroker who hasn't accepted his death yet, and keeps begging me to let him possess me so that he can play the tips he's getting that come with his expanded knowledge. He promises to make me a rich man, if he can just use my body. He also tells me that he misses robust cigars, fine wine and expensive escorts, and that if he can just use my body for a while, it would be well-worth it to me, as he could provide me with some of the finest pleasures available on the planet. He was apparently well connected in life. I find the idea repulsive: having someone else inside of me, using me like a meat marionette.
They continue to grow in number. There's little Dinny Robertson who my sister used to baby-sit. He drowned in his uncle's pool at the age of three. He's one of the scariest. All little Dinny does is stand there and stare at me, pool water running down his face down his red corduroy jumper and pooling around his Buster Browns. Dinny's stare is worse than the three nymphos's teasings and gigglings and the stockbroker's pleadings combined. There is something of purgatory and damnation behind the eyes of that life cut short.
They are starting to get to me. I came out of the shower the other day, expecting them to be arrayed there, staring, jabbering in their silent way, but found the bathroom deserted. Though, they had left me a message. One of them had scrawled "Join Us" in the fogged mirror over the sink. I erased it with my towel, leaving a broad streak of reflective glass that showed me with the three coquettes standing behind me, cooing in my ears and running their wispy fingers up and down the back of my neck.
Two weeks later, getting dressed for work, I found a length of rope tied to the runner in my closet. A hangman's noose dangled between my best suit and a pair of cotton Dockers. I undid it and threw it away.
The next day, in the magnets on my refrigerator, they had spelled out the following little literary gem: Y WNT U DI3? I got rid of the magnets. The next morning they were back. JOIN US. I ran them down the disposal. They next morning they were back again with another macabre little note from Hell. I have since cut them up, thrown them down a storm drain downtown, mailed them to a nonexistent address in Bahrain, and burned them. The next day, they are always there, always egging me on. Always.
Three days ago I awoke to the sound of running water and found a warm bath already drawn, with a silver razor blade glinting on the porcelain edge of the tub. In the steamy mirror, one of them had written: WHY DON'T YOU JUST DO IT ALREADY?!
I don't like to admit to myself just how long I stood there, staring down at the cold steel edge of the razor, contemplating how easy it would be to step into the tub and draw a pair of large, ragged T's up my arms, crossing them at the Bracelets of Fortune, and let the life run out of me, scarlet and thick. It was a long time.
Last night, I came home to find all of them standing in my bedroom, it reminded me of that album cover by the Beatles, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, you know the one. Anyway, there they were, expectant. I've been slowly going out of my mind, because of everything they're doing to me. I've stopped going to the doctor's for fear of picking up more members of my little group. My health is steadily deteriorating. I'm loosing sleep because of their little tricks. Just today, my boss told me that I'd "better straighten up and fly right" and take care of the Mitchell-Stevens Account, otherwise, "I'd be out on my damned ear!" They were all there, of course, aping my boss, trying to get me to react, trying to get me fired, I guess. I came home early today, and found that the noose was back. Swinging like a deadly pendulum from the fixture above my kitchen table. Salt had been poured onto the wood surface of the table, in two-foot tall letters: COME ON DO IT
I sat at the table, the noose hanging bare inches from my head and wept. My entourage stood by and watched. The silence was maddening.
Did I ever tell you about the time that I almost died?
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Bryan Terry lives in Seattle, WA with his wife Alisa, dog Dama, and two guinea pigs, Cous Cous and Brie.