If I Died

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“Sir, we really should close up the.. The casket. “ The undertaker, a man named Mr Paul, a sober dressed thin man in his late 50s, with gray hair and a somber black suit with a dark blue tie, stood at the side, by one of the flower arrangements. His voice was soft, hushed with respect and care, as he frowned and tried to make it a sympathetic smile, at the same time. His short-cropped gray hair was slicked back with some pomade or other similar product, and he folded his skeletal hands in front of him.

The casket was open still, and in it was the form of a young man, with a mane of lush brown hair that was as vibrant in death as it was in life, somehow. Mal sighed gently as he looked down at the form of his … what was Dell to him? They’d been friends, close and thick as thieves, for certain. Band-mates, and co-conspirators in so many little fun things. And then they’d found Dell’s body on his sofa, composed, like he was simply asleep. But had passed with no clue why or how. He was simply gone.

They’d been nearly inseparable. Until now.

“Just give me a few more minutes. In private, please, Mr Paul,” the young black maned Mal said. The undertaker bowed his head, and sighed, pulling a handkerchief from his pocket and handing it to Mal. “I understand, sir. Please, take all the time you need. I’m sure that he would have appreciated your devotion to the friendship you shared. “ With that, the old man turned and slowly walked with a slight limp out of the room, closing the double doors into the funeral parlour, leaving Mal totally alone.

Mal wasn’t really sure how long it was before he spoke. He was looking at his friend, and the tears were flowing down his face, slowly, leaving a trail of salty tracks down to his neck through the 2 days of stubble on his cheeks. Mal was of medium height and build, though he was in that kind of shape that rock-musicians would kill to keep, slender, lean, tight muscled build with that six-pack that showed off to the crowd when he had his shirt off on stage.

For now, however, he was dressed in the black leather pants, a dark purple jacket over top, and a silver bolo string tie at his throat, the silver disk like a talisman of some ancient celtic symbol for life and death that had been their band’s central core. He wore a black silk shirt underneath, and the collar absorbed his tears slowly as he softly let out a little gasp.

“Damn it, Dell, you weren’t supposed to go there before me. Now what am I supposed to do? “ he said, softly, to the body – the shell that used to be the guy he wanted to spend his life with, making music and being free.

The body was prepared as Dell had specified in his will, and his he’d left all of his possessions – his part of the Band, “Mortis Operandi”, to Mal, and all of his worldly possessions.

Dell’s body was naked in the coffin, per the will’s instructions. His was face painted, like they did on stage sometimes, like the death mask. His tattoos shimmering on his pale skin. Mal looked down at the body and his fingertip started to trace the tats on the shoulder, the tip of his forefinger barely touching the skin. It felt soft, and supple, and almost alive, except for the faint chill.

13 lillies had been strategically placed on and about the body. The lower body was hidden by the lower half of the casket lid. Only a perv that placed his cheek against the dead boy’s chest, to gaze into the shadows of the lower half of the coffin could have seen anything. But Mr Paul had made sure no one was violating the deceased in that way. Mal probably would have come unglued if he’d caught anyone doing that. Thankfully, none had.

And Dell, in life, would have blushed like crazy to think that anyone would have been looking at him in that way. For a j-rock style musician, Dell had been pretty wild on stage, and a bit of an encouraging exhibitionist. But off stage, he was as private and shy, beyond what anyone might imagine.

Mal had always loved that about him. He found it so endearing. And he’d protected Dell for that for as long as he remembered.

But now it was all over.

“Why did you have to die, Dell? Why?” he whispered.

It was quiet in the room for some few moments, and then, a faint voice softly whispered, “What… if… I… died… “

Mal blinked back his soft tears, and wiped his face, as he glanced around furiously, “Who’s there? That isn’t god-damned funny! Show yourself!”

He shouted that last, and furiously stalked around the coffin, trying to see if some kid had snuck behind and made the voice. He found no one, so he looked under the cart, and the nearby table, and then behind the curtains. Nothing. He scanning the room, he couldn’t see anyone. He started to calm, his racing heart slowly thudding less urgently, as he thought maybe he’d imagined it.

And then he heard it again, as he approached the coffin. It was coming from inside, he was sure of it. He stalked up to the coffin as he heard the words, slightly stronger, “What.. if.. I… died… “

He pulled the lower half of the coffin open, and saw.. Only what Dell had been endowed with by nature – milk white skin, gleaming like it had been gently coated with baby oil. Mal honestly didn’t consider what he was looking at, only that there wasn’t anyone in the coffin, and he saw no devices that might act as a speaker, either. He wondered if some crazed Dell fan had done this?  Was pranking him? He’d kick their ass from here to the dark side of the moon, if he found them.

He frowned furiously, and turned his back on the coffin, after closing the lid once more, covering Dell’s modesty.

He leaned back against the coffin, as glanced around slowly, trying to figure out where the voice was coming from really, when a gentle hand rested itself on Mal’s shoulder, just like Dell had done when he was consoling Mal, when he was alive. Mal felt like this was a dream and didn’t react at first, as he was falling slowly back into his melancholia. The hand was gentle, and squeezed his friend’s shoulder with compassion.

But none-the-less when the words came, Mal leaped nearly a foot before turning around and doubling up his fists.

“What.. if .. died… so .. I could truly.. Live” the voice said, as Dell’s torso slowly leaned up in the coffin. “You remember that song we wrote, all those years ago?” The young man sat up in the coffin now, looking at his companion, his friend, with that green and blue eye that he’d had in life. His hand was extended to Mal, but it slowly lowered to rest on the edge of the coffin.

Mal’s eyes were wide as he gaped at the body.. At Dell’s body.. As it was moving. It had to be a dream, right?  “Dell -you’re… d-dead. H-How.. What in the hell?!“

“Hell has nothing to do with it Mal. But you have everything to do with it. This was my plan – our plan – like we said. And I’ve come back for you.“

“Dell? I – “ Mal’s voice sounded soft and disbelieving, and he slammed his hand against the edge of the coffin’s support trolley, and it HURT – this wasn’t a dream..This was happening.

“I’m here for you Mal – don’t be frightened. This was all part of our plan, to learn more about what we sang about – what we wanted to achieve, “ Dell said, in a soft, but firm voice. Mal was almost hypnotized by the lips, the skeletal mask that he – himself – had painted on his … on Dell.

“I knew you were into this stuff deep, Dell, but I didn’t think it was really real.. Not really. But it’s you then? Not some .. spirit using your body as a meat puppet?” The black-haired guitarist said, as he watched the form before him.

“Yeah, it’s really me, you sleepy headed bastard. I want you to join me. I don’t have much time. But you can, if you want to. There’s so much we can see – so much we can do.. So much time in the universe to be together like we never could in life. “

Mal was tempted, and he gritted his teeth in anguish at the warring feelings in his chest. His disbelief, his fear, his desire, his love – there it was – his love – it was there, burning like it had never done – his love had been silent all these years, expressed only obliquely, and in ways that Dell would never know of it.

“I know that you do, Mal. I know that you love me. And now – we can be together. But there is only a few minutes, and then… the chance will be gone.” The figure raised its hand again, outstretching to Mal. “Take my hand, Mal.. do it now.. And I promise you, you will never regret a moment of it. I’ll bring you across, and – we can make music on this side like we never could where you’re at.“

Mal gasped out in a kind of agony. The reality and the fantasy were warring in him, and the pressure – what if Dell’s ghost was telling the truth? What if it really could be! But – assuming he wasn’t having some kind of hallucinatory episode, or a psychotic breakdown, and this was like in the horror movies – a dark spirit tempting the living so it could .. .what.. Kill him? Inhabit his body? It already had Dell – what more could it want? Make more zombies or something?

These thoughts flashed through his head, and Dell sighed, and nodded, as if listening in to the cacophony of voices and conflicting arguments in Mal’s head. “I’m sorry it’s such a shock, and you are so confused right now, Mal.” The lips of the painted face curled into a soft smirk, “You really think I’d want to have a skinny little shit like you as a host body? I’m so much better looking than you, “ the painted boy said from the coffin.

That tone – that snarky attitude – that combo of insult and humorous twist on the words. “Dell? That’s.. really you… it is, isn’t it.“  It was a statement, not a question any more.

Dell nodded slowly, and his hand lowered to grip the edge of the coffin. The veins in his arms were standing out, like he was struggling to hold on.  “Time is running out, Mal.. I .. don’t know how long I can .. keep this .. going.. Not long.. Take my hand, if you love me… “

Mal was by the coffin’s side, and as he looked down, as Dell slowly slumped back in the coffin, Mal looked into those eyes, and he could see the fire of the green eye and the blue eye shimmering there, and he had absolutely no doubts now. He reached for Dell’s hand, “I’m with you.. All the way.. Take me with you.”

Mr Paul came into the room and peered around like a particularly skinny owl. But he was wearing large round glasses now. He did not hear a sound. He frowned, and walked into the room, and huffed to see the coffin lid still up.

But there was no sign of Mal. And to his dismay, there was no sign of Dell either. Only a pile of lilies inside the coffin, and an empty suit of clothes draped over the pillow, with a silver bolo tie laying on top, where the last kiss had left it.

There might have been the sound of music, from far away, but it wasn’t for Mr Paul to hear. It was for Mal and Dell. Together for all time.

~Dehrynn Shepherd 

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