I have a number of short stories I’ve written over the years, and would like to start sharing them here. I’ll be sneaking these in under the “etc” part of my “Films etc.” blog title. My good friend David Blacklock, best man at my wedding and currently captain of a charter boat in the British Virgin Islands, came up with the title “Friction Fiction” for the fiction section of a web magazine he had some years ago, and has graciously allowed me to use it as a heading for the stories I plan to post from time to time. It’s better than anything I could come up with. I just hope they live up to the name.
Here’s the first one: Just Like He Looks.
JUST LIKE HE LOOKS
I died suddenly, unexpectedly. A massive heart attack toppled me from the tractor seat to fall under the blades of the plow I was pulling, the tractor continuing on across the field and through the fence into the ditch where it tipped over trying to climb up to the road. What a joke. At least I died with my boots on, instead of out playing golf some Sunday morning. Jesus, I was only forty-seven, in the prime of life, as they say, though it occurs to me now that “prime” is also a word used to describe certain cuts of meat. Okay, I was overweight with a history of chest pains that were never conclusively diagnosed, so maybe that, along with all the cigarettes and a constantly nagging wife, had been setting me up for this all along.
Whatever, I’m dead and that’s that. But where’s the long tunnel you hear about with the bright light at the end and all my dead relatives and friends to greet me? I died two days ago and I’m still here, which is kind of a surprise. I’m in the funeral home lying in a casket with my hands folded on my chest wearing the only suit I own, which I’ve only worn to other people’s funerals, so maybe it’s appropriate I’m wearing it now, though I’d feel a hell of a lot better in my work clothes.
I can barely see. They’ve got me in here with my eyes closed, of course, and I don’t dare open them, not now anyway. Still, some light seeps through, though I can’t make out much. The casket lid is open, which means they were able to fix me up well enough to be seen, though I’d have thought getting run over by that plow would’ve messed me up pretty bad. I just hope they’re not screwing my wife for more than it’s worth. She’s never been any good with money.
Figures are passing by, pausing briefly to make inane comments, saying things I suppose they think they should. There seems to be a big crowd, but it’s a small farming community, so when somebody kicks, most everyone turns out. It’s a sort of social occasion, with a meal at the church tomorrow after I’m in the ground.
Two figures are beside my casket. I hear a voice I recognize as Tom Allen’s. “Christ, Charley,” he says, so must be talking to Charley Walters, since the only other Charley in town is Charley Terwilliger, eighty-six and in a nursing home thirty miles away drooling and wearing diapers, but I guess he’s outlived me now. What a deal. “Christ, Charley,” Tom says, “They sure fixed him up great, didn’t they? He looks just like he looks, doesn’t he?”
“Yeah, except for the skin,, they never quite get the skin right, you ever notice? But you’re right, I heard he was really cut to shit by that plow, a real mess, that’s what Dave Doolin said, and he talked to one of the guys who found him out there.”
“Jesus, Charley, keep your voice down. What if his wife or kid heard that? Anyway, it’s too bad. He was a nice guy.”
“Yeah, I guess.”
Their voices drift off. I realize I never did like Charley much. More people pass by. I hear variations on “He really looks good, he looks just like himself” so many times it’s starting to piss me off. Soon people aren’t coming by any longer, and their voices have faded away, but I’m still aware of the buzz of conversation in other parts of the room. Now’s my chance.
Very slowly I open first one eye, then the other. Slowly, carefully, I unfold my hands from my chest. I tentatively grip the rim of the casket, then more surely begin to rise up. This must look like something from one of those horror movies my kid is always watching. I peek over the edge. In this large, softly lighted room the crowd has split into small groups of people talking. None of them seems to be looking in my direction.
Then I see Squeak Dixon standing by himself a couple of feet from my casket, his back to me. Bracing myself I reach out and grab Squeak around the neck. I have the advantage of surprise, to say the least. Squeak flails his arms uselessly and makes a couple of gargling gasps as I choke his life away.
I tip his body back into the casket as I rise from it. Quickly I straighten Squeak out, and fold his hands over his chest. Looking down at my bare feet on the carpet, I realize they’d put me in there without shoes or socks. Cheap bastards. Well, hell, if this crowd didn’t see me switch places with Squeak, they’re not likely to notice a little detail like that.
As I’m patting my hair to make sure it’s in place and smoothing my suit, Bob Woodrow comes over to stand beside me. We both look down at the body in the casket.
Bob says, “No kidding, it’s really amazing what they can do, isn’t it? He looks really great.”
“Yeah,” I say as I adjust the knot of my tie. “He looks just like he looks.”