A person breaks his neck and dies in the most ridiculous manner. He chooses to recount the tale to a small audience in return for getting a chance of avenging his death. But what awaits him is more than laughter.
The window was open just enough to let in the cool air. The attic was empty save for its two occupants.
“How long will you continue sitting there brooding to yourself?”
“What else is there to do, Tony?”
“I don’t know, get a life maybe!”
I turned to look at Tony. He lowered his head and put his hand on his forehead. The ridiculousness of his suggestion embarrassed him more than it surprised and humoured me.
“You know that’s not possible,” I said. I moved my hand from under my chin and let my head drop. It was difficult to look at Tony from the position my head was in, but displaying my broken neck helped me make my point.
“Yeah, I know. My tongue gets the better of me sometimes. But you know what I mean. Being dead is not the end of the world!”
I raised my eyebrows and turned to him again. “Pray tell me what is then, Tony?!”
He shut his eyes and pursed his lips, holding his breath. His bulky cheeks doubled in size as a result.
“I just don’t like the fact that you spend all day and night sitting here by yourself. I can understand being indoors during the day because of the burning sunlight, but try and get some fresh air during the night. It’ll do you good!”
I turned my head swiftly towards him, which caused my head to drop to the side. Seeing Tony grimace at my haplessness only fueled my anger.
“How can it do me ‘good’, Tony? How can it do anyone good? We’re dead! I have a broken neck, and you have a hole in your chest! If you’ve forgotten that fact, just unbutton your shirt! But damn you to hell don’t utter such drivel again!”
Tony raised his arms in surrender. I buttoned my collar to let the weight I kept in it support my head. I could see that Tony wasn’t finished, and I didn’t want to continue holding on to my chin.
“I don’t want to upset you, my friend. I just want you to get out. You’ve been cooped up in here ever since you died a month ago.”
I was about to raise my voice but checked myself at the last moment. If I shouted and argued my body would move and it would make it difficult to keep my head in place. I was still a long way from adjusting to my fatal handicap.
“Why should I leave this room? There’s no one to bother me here, and I like the view from the window.”
“Well, for starters, you’re scaring the living daylight out of the people who live in this house.”
“I don’t do that intentionally. It’s just that I hate it when they come up here to the attic. It’s completely empty, Tony, so why do they keep coming here time and again when they know something is haunting it?!”
“I don’t know. It is human nature, isn’t it? People try overcoming their fears by facing them. But I don’t want to go into that. I simply want you to get out of here for a change.”
“Give me one reason why.”
“There’s someone who wants to hear your story, the way you died. He likes to hear stories that are…you know, different.”
“You mean hilarious,” I said with a frown.
“I didn’t say that,” said Tony, raising his arms again.
“But it’s what you bloody well meant.”
“Alright, fine! He likes hearing tales of people dying in the most ridiculous manners. I believe he will love to hear yours.”
“Why can’t you tell him?”
“Telling the story will help you get over it. I happened to be passing through the house where you died so I know your story. You’ve never talked about it with anyone, and I understand it must be difficult for you. But unless you talk about it, you won’t be able to deal with it. Besides, he only allows the person himself to narrate the story.”
“Why should I care?”
Tony repeated the motion of stopping himself from saying something and pursing his lips, doubling his cheeks in size again. He then scratched the hole on his chest. The moonlight fell gracefully on him, and the large bullet wound tried its best to peek from under his shirt. I’d only seen it completely once. It was a most singular wound. He’d killed himself with a shotgun. The hole was so neat it looked like the work of a surgeon. I’d always loved bullet holes, having given a few of them to people myself. But Tony’s topped the lot. I had tried catching a glimpse of it on many occasions but had only seen it in bits.
I didn’t look at the wound for long, though. I knew Tony only ever touched it when he was about to say something uncomfortable. It didn’t happen often – although I’d only known him a month -, but when it did, he always said something interesting.
“He’s known for giving people a chance at revenge.”
It became almost impossible to control the rage bursting through my body. My arms shook with the seething anger when my killer’s face flashed in my mind. I’d never felt such fury in all my mortal life! It was an offer I just couldn’t refuse.
Tony led me to an under-construction building. I could hear voices as we made our way to the sixth floor. It looked like a group of four was playing cards. There were cheers and jeers every minute. For a second I felt like I was living my old life, my mortal life, when I would meet new team members in similar places. It had a touch of nostalgia to it.
Tony went into the first room when we reached the sixth floor. He was received with a loud cheer from the occupants, which led me to believe they were probably drinking. I’d never seen a ghost drink. My interest was piqued.
I was in a better mood when Tony appeared a couple of seconds later and signalled me to follow him.
There were a lot more people in the room than I’d imagined. About a dozen were lined up against a wall, while a group of four was seated near a bonfire. Three of them were sitting on the floor while the fourth sat on a large, cushioned chair. There were two others in front of them, speaking to them in earnest. I looked for a bottle of alcohol around the bonfire but there wasn’t one.
“My friend, you see, was a ballet dancer, but he looked quite off balance when he stood up on the tapered roof after gulping his tenth drink of the night. It was New Year’s Eve so I hadn’t felt it proper to stop him drinking. But when he stood there like that and seemed to lose his footing, I got up and moved towards him swiftly. But, you see, he was a ballet dancer, and he steadied himself and twirled just when I was about to grab his hand. The result was that I missed his hand and went crashing down. We weren’t that high up, but my house had a spiked fencing running across the boundary wall. It was one of those spikes, you see, that arrested my fall.”
There was a roar of ‘boo!’ from the three people sitting on the ground. Their boss looked at them before nodding and waving his hand, shooing the speaker away. He looked at his partner before they made their way to the exit on the far end of the room. His exit was met with a loud cheer from the three sitting on the ground. I understood what was happening. The boss looked at Tony, smiled, and gestured for us to narrate our story next. There was some complaining from the people lined up behind me, evidently waiting for their turn. But one look by the boss silenced them. I could see that he was a man with power. I was always comfortable with people like him. They always talked to the point and listened to the other person intently.
His three minions produced another welcoming cheer when I took my place on the other side of the bonfire. But my eyes were fixed on their boss. His pot belly threatened to send his shirt buttons flying into the air whenever he inhaled. The effect was compounded since he was taking deep breaths to let the tobacco do its thing. I had only seen people smoking pipes in movies. It would usually look completely out of place in the mouth of someone missing a bunch of teeth, whose nose matched a fortune cookie in shape and size, and who wore a black top hat and a white bowling shirt which looked two sizes smaller for him. But his glowing red eyes and sinister smile allowed him to get away with his peculiar getup.
“How did you die?” he asked. I’d never heard a voice as deep as his before. He spoke slowly, giving his voice even more weight.
“I broke my neck. I don’t have a neck.”
“Neither do I!” he said. His minions burst into laughter and slapped their knees as their boss shook his head animatedly to show the double chin hiding his neck. He snickered through his gritted teeth holding the pipe in place. Their combined merriness made me smile in turn.
“Let’s have it then, your story,” he said. I looked at Tony, who nodded at me, before turning back to him. I took a deep breath and put my memories in order.
“Well, where do I start?”
“You can start by telling us your name.”
The boss widened his eyes, raised his eyebrows, and tapped his head with his finger a few times.
“Yeah, that thing in there. My name is Brain.”
He looked at his minions incredulously, who found that even more amusing than my name. The boss looked around at everyone with a face bearing a combination of disbelief and humour.
“It’s best if people don’t use real names in my line of work. We used to break into rich folks’ houses and rob them of everything they had. I was usually the one planning everything, so I was Brain. I always gave my partners similar names depending on their role in the operation.”
More laughter ensued when I gave my explanation, although the boss only chuckled for a couple of seconds. He let his minions enjoy themselves for a few more seconds before raising his hand and stifling their laughter.
“Now that we have got that out of our way, let’s hear your story,” he said.
“Is it true that you can help me get revenge?”
The boss continued looking at me for a few seconds before blinking slowly and nodding in response. I took turns looking at them all before nodding and taking another deep breath.
“It was just another day at work. I was working with a new team. Two of us were making our way from one side, while the third member was to use the other side to get in. The plot of land behind that house was empty, so we didn’t have to worry about covering the back. The house belonged to a young couple. It was past two in the morning, but the two lovebirds were still going at it. Their bedroom window was open, and their amorous utterances were clearly audible to us. My partner had stopped by the window to get a better look. I had to drag him away to follow me.”
The minions only chuckled this time, careful not to interrupt me.
“The third member of our team was supposed to get inside and let us in. We were waiting for him to do so when I heard a clattering sound. When I looked up, I saw a fat kid on the roof.” I had to grit my teeth and clench my fists to calm myself. “He was standing there… flexing. He had a frying pan on his head, a cut-up bed sheet as a most miserable cape, and nothing on except his underpants. He paraded his flabby chest and large belly with a pride that led me to believe he was on something.
“‘Stop right there! I won’t allow you to break into this house and disturb the sanctity of the place!’
“The woman’s ardent moaning was still audible to us even though we were a few feet away from the bedroom.
“‘The sanc…tity… of the place?’ said my partner, trying his best to get his sentence through his burst of laughter. I wondered what was more baffling between the fat kid and my burglar partner laughing uncontrollably without worrying about attracting attention.
“‘I have been on a neighbourhood watch for months on the lookout for pricks like you. I will not let you have your way! This is the last house you try to break into!’
“He said this quite loud, which made me worry he would give us away. So I wasted no time in equipping my pistol and shooting him. The bullet hitting the frying pan made a louder sound than the gunshot since I used a silencer. It ricocheted off his frying pan. I doubt if he had it on for that specific purpose, but it saved his life. The shock of my action, though, proved too much for him. He doubled over and fell on his back. I heard the sound of glass breaking and felt he must have landed on a glass roof or something.
“My other partner opened the door the next instant and led us in. He was surprised to see me holding my gun and smoke coming out its nozzle, but I didn’t waste time explaining it to him. I was determined to finish the job as quickly as possible. We closed the door behind us and burst through the bedroom door.
“The two of them fell out of the bed on seeing us. The woman scrambled to cover herself with the blanket as I kept my gun pointed at them. She then darted towards us, tripping over the blanket a couple of times. I couldn’t understand what she wanted to do. She didn’t rush at me or the one standing beside me, and she didn’t run for the entrance to try and escape, for my third partner was manning that door. She ran into another room of the house. I turned to the man in disgust and cocked my gun at him.
“‘The baby…she…she’s gone to the baby! Please, don’t shoot! We’ll give you what you want!’
“I grabbed him by the neck and dragged him where the woman had gone. I was prepared to shoot them both if I found he had lied and the lady had tried to contact the authorities. But that wasn’t the case. She was standing beside the crib holding her baby. I pushed her husband towards her and stood in front of them across the crib.
“‘We don’t have much cash in the house, but there’s some jewellery in the third drawer of the second cupboard in our bedroom. You’ll find its key on a hook in the other cupboard’s door. Please, just don’t hurt my family!’ he pleaded. His voice was shaking, and his wife clutched on to his arm as tightly as she held the baby to her bosom. It was only then that the baby woke up and began crying. I frowned and motioned my partner to go collect the valuables. Our third member had joined me.
“My eyes fell on something dark on the ground, illuminated by the somber moonlight. It was blood, and it was coming from the lady’s foot. As I took a step towards her my boot crumbled a piece of glass. I looked around for the source of those broken glass shards and found it when I cocked my head up.
“A pair of buttocks was blocking it, but there was a skylight. The butt belonged to the unconscious fat kid. It solved the mystery of the sound I heard when he had fallen. He remained wedged there due to his fat. What was most revolting about the sight was that his underpants had a hole in them on the right butt cheek.”
The boss snickered maliciously again, and his minions had another laugh. I exchanged glances with Tony, who scratched his bullet wound and nodded. I gulped hard and took a few deep breaths to steady myself, for I was about to touch upon the worst part.
“My partner, having not witnessed the earlier episode, was befuddled by the sight. So, too, was the couple. They continued panting but their faces now bore traces of confusion in addition to paranoia. I decided not to pay attention to the trapped fatty and waited for my partner to return with the loot. I lifted my leg and bent down slightly to remove the broken shards of glass from my boot. However, a heavy weight fell on my bent head and pushed it hard into the crib. The fatass had fallen on me. My throat got crushed from the impact, and I’ve had to support my neck ever since.”
I turned my collar down and shrugged as I said this. I hadn’t intended to end with a bow, but my head drooped the moment I removed the supporting collar.
The three minions sitting around the fire were rolling and grasping each other as they broke into a fit of laughter. The boss stuck out his tongue and placed his huge hand on his hat as he laughed silently. His entire body bobbed, though he didn’t utter a sound.
“I don’t know if his thighs had gotten lubricated with sweat and allowed him to slip through, but he landed on my head and it broke my neck. The fall ended my life but it brought him back to consciousness.”
I could see Tony struggling to hold his laughter back as well. I didn’t mind it and continued to finish the story so that I may have my shot at revenge.
“The moment he gained consciousness, the son of a bitch crapped himself. I didn’t feel it spread all over my head, but I did see it the moment I left my lifeless body. It infuriated me beyond measure,” said I. My head had continued to remain downcast, but I feel I would have lowered it even if I had my neck bones. The pain of the memory was too much to bear as it is, and the combined laughter of everyone present in the room made it worse.
“So it is a shit story!” said the boss. It sent everyone into a fresh bout of uncontrollable laughter. The three minions were rolling around and clutching their stomachs while beating the ground. Even the boss’s laughter was audible now. I could do nothing but take my time to place the collar back into support and wait.
It took them a few minutes to catch their breaths. The boss waved his hand to signal the end of the night’s session. I was the victor. The others lining up against the wall moved out. I then waited for my reward. Tony placed his hand on my shoulder. I turned and nodded to him before looking back at the boss.
But the three minions had grabbed hold of me before I could do that. They held on to my arms and legs and rendered me motionless. Tony removed his hand and took a step back.
“Tony!!!” I screamed and tried to reach him. But the minions were leading me away from him. They took me to a different room and tied my limbs with a rope. The wall behind me felt thin and rugged. The boss approached me slowly.
“I like collecting stories about the most comic deaths. It is a passion of mine. But I don’t have such a good memory. What I do have is a great skill in knitting!”
He lifted his arms to his sides and the room illuminated.
There were tapestries on all the walls of the room. They depicted the most preposterous scenes, but they all depicted deaths. It didn’t take me long to understand what was about to happen, and what the surface I had felt behind me was.
The boss pulled his pipe apart. The bottom came off and revealed a long and sharp needle. It sizzled with smoke but didn’t glow with fire. It had a black texture to it, almost as black as the handle of the pipe. I could see Tony from the corner of my eye, standing near the entrance to the room.
“TONY!!” I yelled desperately.
“He won’t help you. He is a suicide. He cannot pass over to the other world. But if he doesn’t get a certain substance every now and then, he will crumble away slowly and painfully. Tut, tut. Don’t be afraid. Fear is only something your brain creates, Brain!”
He pierced my chest with his needle before removing it. A thread protruded from my wound. I could see the darkness of the needle travel slowly down the thread and reach my body.
“Congratulations, Brain! You are part of Comic Death Volume XXI!” he said.
The last time my body had gone limp it had all happened too fast. This time, it was painfully slow. Every move of the needle gave rise to greater affliction.
The minions removed my collar and my head dropped down. I couldn’t see the boss anymore, only the black needle. My entire body was turning black from its repeated action. I’d never felt fear before. It was ironic that it should acquaint itself with me after I’d died. The last sound I heard was the malicious snickering.