Drama Queens and Devilish Schemes
Kevin Klehr © 2017
All Rights Reserved
It was like being in a Hollywood remake of The Jetsons, suspended in air and surrounded by cloudless sky, with interweaving conveyor belts shifting us farther to the front.
Behind me a couple of lesbians fidgeted while peering forward, trying to see where we were going. Below, another mix of curious folk deliberately moved forward on this mechanical mess of pathways. Above me, the same.
“Do you have any idea what’s going on?” asked one of the women behind me.
While she could pass for the girl next door, all made up with lips as red as a 1950s advert model, her checkered dress spoiled the effect with its huge smoldering burn mark.
“What happened,” I queried.
Her partner stuck out what was left of her tongue. It too was charcoal black with a melted piercing smeared all over it.
“Let’s just say, never get frisky outside while there’s a thunderstorm.”
She reached for her skirt and was about to lift it to prove her point. I clutched her wrist just in time.
“I get it. Your girlfriend’s stud became the conductor. I don’t need to see something that will haunt me for the rest of my life.”
Her eyes widened. “Your life? Look at your chest!”
I released her arm and felt my heart. It was like someone had used too much starch while ironing my shirt. I examined a rusty brown stain on the crisp white cotton.
“I’ve returned, but this time for good,” I muttered.
“Wha uw ya awing awout?” said the one with the brittle tongue.
“What did she say?”
“I think she wants to know what you’re talking about.”
I stood on tippy-toes to see farther ahead, but all I saw was a long row of people waiting patiently.
“I’ve been here before, I think. I’m not sure.” I jumped high on the spot but still couldn’t see where we were going. “I guess that’s why I’ve got this frantic ink blot on my chest.”
“Sweet cheeks, it’s blood.”
“Yes, I know that.”
“So what’s your story? How did it get there?”
I felt it again. Its sandpaper texture began to crumble. “I wish I knew.” Bending sideways, I tried to steal a glimpse, but it was no use.
“Well, it’s not quite how I imagined it. I’m not sure it’s how you saw it either, Frida.” She held her girlfriend’s hand. “I was expecting tattooed angels parked on clouds with big black motorcycles ready to take us to Heaven.”
“What did you expect, um, what’s your name?”
“Hi, I’m Sue.” We shook hands. “And this is Frida.”
“Ice oo eet yoo.”
“So, is this the way you pictured it?”
“No, I can’t say it is. My partner isn’t here.”
“What’s his name?”
“Wade. We’ve been together for nearly nineteen years. Or at least, we were.”
“I’m sorry he’s not with you.”
I felt my bloodstain once more.
“Well, at least he survived, if what happened to me happened to him, if that makes sense?” I bit my bottom lip. “Actually I really don’t know what I’m talking about.”
“Aw leees ee awive…”
Sue raised her hand like a cop stopping traffic.
“Don’t try to speak, darling. It looks like hard work.”
“Yeah, but I get what Frida’s trying to say. At least Wade’s alive instead of here.”
“A silver lining in the cloud.”
“That’s one way of looking at it.”
Below me a young chap in a Second World War uniform peeled off his gloves. His conveyor belt had stopped. An African woman wearing more colors than a rainbow tried to speak to him, but he seemed too traumatized to reply. She raised her arms in disappointment and began talking to the gray-haired woman behind her.
“Leopard print,” said Sue.
“Check out the middle-aged woman in the leopard print, far behind us. Wow! She’s wearing more jewelry than a 1960s movie star.”
I looked. “I think she is a 60s movie star. Look at that beehive!”
“Jackie O she ain’t.”
“And look at the older woman next to her. A lollipop in a pantsuit.”
“Adam, how can they be from the 60s?”
“Now I know I’ve been here before.” I glanced ahead and saw the tip of a wing obstructed by the others on my conveyor belt. I couldn’t hold back my smile. “Sue, let me ask you something. What era are you from?”
“Nineteen ninety-three. Why? Aren’t you?”
I pointed to the man in uniform. Sue’s jaw dropped steadily.
“And what country?”
“Poland. And you?”
“Australia, twenty-first century.”
“You speak Polish well for an Australian.”
“Sue, I’m not speaking Polish.”
She shared stunned looks with Frida.
“Wha iz ee alking avout?”
“Girls, you’re about to enter a world I’ve been dreaming of returning to since I was last taken from earth before my time.”
“Maybe you should try Polish. I have no idea what you mean.”
Frida rotated her finger by the side of her head; a gesture to make out I was loony. Sue shrugged before carrying on a private conversation with her girlfriend about the family they’d left behind.
A few drops of water splashed on my face. I looked to the moving path above. A group of teenagers also from the 60s flower-power days stood shivering, saturated to the core. One long-haired guy, with enough swirls on his shirt to send you into a trance, saw me.
“Never do your own plumbing when you’re tripping, man,” he called. “I flooded the apartment.”
“Why didn’t you run outside?”
A naked girl with waist-length long hair clutched onto his arm. “I thought I was swimming in candy floss,” she replied.
“Candy floss!” he said. “I thought the sky had fallen and there was no escape.”
“Weren’t we in space, floating?” asked another.
I chuckled before bending sideways to look ahead. I saw half his body. My guardian angel, Guy. He acknowledged me with a kind grin. I was eager to jump to the head of the queue. I took a calm breath, stood up straight, and closed my eyes.
I already sensed his comforting hugs, letting me know I’d returned to safety. I could feel his strong wings wrap around me like an extra layer of armor. Nothing would harm me here in the Afterlife, not with him by my side.
“Adam’s here,” said another voice I recognized.
“Yeah,” Guy replied. “There’s something I need to explain.”
“Mannix?” I mumbled to myself.
Many passengers later I was at the front. I stepped off the conveyor belt onto thin air, and before a word was uttered, both the angel and my old friend wrapped their arms around me. I clutched them tightly, never wanting to let go. Huge smiles engulfed us all. Behind me were bewildered murmurs, as a stray tear from Guy softened my cheek.
“I’ve missed you,” I said to my angel. I kissed him tenderly on the forehead. “And I missed you too, Mannix.”
“Welcome to the Afterlife again,” said Guy.
“Why am I here?” I whispered. We stepped apart.
“I think this time you’re actually dead,” Mannix replied.
He sounded unsure, like a wife telling her tired husband that there might be a burglar in their house. He was still in his early thirties, just as he was the last time I was whisked off to the Afterlife six months earlier.
His sensual demeanor still warmed me in places I’m too polite to mention, even though his boyhood looks had faded slightly since we last met. A man was taking his place. A man wise beyond his years, wearing older-sexy like a stylish coat.
“Where’s Wade?” I asked.
“Sadly mourning your demise, my friend,” Guy said in a hushed tone. “Adam, we’ll talk about that later.”
I touched the dried blood on my shirt, crumbling it into tiny pieces that fell away.
“Guy, I need to know what happened.”
He turned to Mannix. “I’m releasing you from welcoming duties to show Adam his new home.”
“Which is where?” the young man asked.
Guy pulled out a key from his trouser pocket. “The apartment under mine.” He had a devilish grin. “Adam’s not the only one who needs a friend at the moment.”
“So you and Guy welcome the dead?” I asked.
“Yeah, but we call them new visitors,” Mannix replied. He sipped his scotch and Coke. “I’ve just started, but Guy’s been doing it for ages. He got a promotion when they put in the new conveyor belts. They needed to upgrade.” He looked around the room before leaning toward me. “Too many lost souls coming at once.”
I had showered and changed, and was now sitting with Mannix at a lavish bar called the Carousel in the Medieval Quarter. Two drunken men in full armor jousted with plastic toy swords in the corner while a topless woman with tassels on her perfect breasts attempted to tango as she ignored their clatter. Some drinkers shared their attention between the drunks and the playful dancer, pointing and chatting as if they considered themselves boring by comparison. But to me, they were just as fascinating.
The last time I’d visited the Afterlife, I was still alive, because Guy felt the need to take me away from my earthly dramas. And once again, the supporting extras still intrigued me in this land of the dead. After all, this part of the Medieval Quarter was known as the Carnival of Lost Souls. A fitting description.
“There’s something bothering me, Mannix.”
“Besides not knowing how you died.”
“Well, there’s that, but…”
One of the armored men collapsed to the ground with a thud. A tall woman in a lime backless dress stood up and applauded. I clapped briefly before I realized that no one else was taking her lead. A barman strolled over to check on him.
“Adam, you were saying?”
“My new apartment looks a lot like mine and Wade’s back in Sydney.”
“We do that. I know it’s unsettling at first, but it helps new arrivals fit in.”
“But how did you do it? The couch is the same. My stereo is the same, just without the television. The kitchen is kind of the same, just in a lighter color.”
“Adam, this is the Afterlife. We’re masters of pulling things from thin air.”
“But doesn’t it seem odd to you?”
“I’ve had more time to get used to it.”
“This whole place, it’s like an ethereal version of Earth. There’s running water. Electricity. Music collections. Food and alcohol.” The waiter came to refill my glass of merlot. “But you know what, Mannix? I’ve never seen a toilet. Come to think of it, I didn’t need one the last time I was here.” The waiter nodded before going back to the bar. “And besides that, the only thing that points to this place being the Afterlife is a bunch of people hanging around bars in period costume from a hell of a lot of eras. And, of course, there’s an angel. Take that away and we may as well still be alive.”
“Maybe your wine is the blood of Christ?”
“Don’t go there, Mannix. If it was, I’d be more enlightened.”
An assortment of bizarre collectibles adorned small shelves on the walls. Some looked like rejects from a charity shop. Other’s seemed too precious to be gathering dust. A detailed figurine of a girl walking her shih tzu sat next to a clay horse’s head, so lifelike it seemed more a freaky attempt at taxidermy.
Each table also had an ornament sitting on it. Ours was a vintage doll with a wonky eye. I picked it up while watching a fiendish man in a leather jacket striding up to the topless woman.
“Mannix, is Guy still with that boyfriend of his?”
“You mean Joshua? What made you think of him?”
I pointed to the man who was now trying to touch the woman’s tassel. She took his delinquent hand and slapped it.
“I see your point, Adam. He reminds me of Joshua too.”
“Yes, with the same personality it seems.”
As if written as their cue in a play, Guy and Joshua entered the Carousel that very moment. Joshua was in his angel disguise, with a slight emo twist highlighted by black feathered wings. When he was his demon self, the wings were still black, but resembled those on a bat. Small horns were also part of his natural look, but when he slummed it in the Afterlife, he couldn’t get away with being himself. The only clue to his true form could be found in his reflection, as I discovered when catching a glimpse of his likeness in a drinking glass.
They headed for the bar, Josh gazing at me briefly as if I was the only witness to a murder he’d committed.
“Mannix, what does that beautiful angel see in that sarcastic demon? And why is an angel going out with a demon?”
“Between you and me, I think it has less to do with romance and more to do with the fact that Joshua knows where Guy’s parents are.”
“Oh yes, I forgot about that. Guy never met his folks. Something about being brought up by a fortune-teller, wasn’t it?”
“Shh. They’re almost here.”
Guy plonked a large champagne bottle on our table before Joshua landed four glasses next to it.
“It’s not peer pressure. It’s peer support,” he said. His black wings fluttered.
“I’ll drink to that,” Guy replied. They both sat. “So, Adam, how do you like your new flat?”
“It’s spooking me out.”
“From memory, everything spooks you out,” replied Joshua.
“Only when it has dark wings and a ‘try hard’ attitude.”
“Now, now, boys,” Guy said. He popped the cork and began to pour. “I don’t want my two favorite men—”
Mannix faked a cough.
“Sorry, three favorite men bickering. I need to celebrate!”
He slid my drink toward me.
“What’s the deal with that cock-eyed doll you’re holding?” Joshua asked.
I looked at the toy’s face. “I forgot it was still in my hand.”
“You’ve been using it to punctuate your gestures ever since you picked it up,” said Mannix.
“It must be my security blanket.”
“Don’t worry,” said Guy. “A few celebratory drinks will ease your nerves.” As the champagne reached his mouth, his glass became wobbly.
“Are you already drunk?” Mannix asked.
“I just had one drink before I came.”
Joshua peered down his nose.
“Okay, maybe two.”
Joshua’s eyes now looked to the ceiling.
“No seriously, only two.”
I gazed at Mannix who nodded discreetly. I then peered at Joshua who seemed to have trouble smiling.
“Why did you start without us?” I asked.
“I want to celebrate your arrival,” Guy replied. “After all, Adam, I’ve missed you.” He raised his glass. “To an old friend becoming my neighbor.”
We clinked, then sipped.
“Now that the formalities are over, can you please tell me how I died? That was a nasty bloodstain on my shirt.”
“In time, Adam. I need to ask for a favor, first.”
“You need my help this time? Of course, my angel buddy. What is it?”
He looked to his lover.
“Guy is going to meet his parents,” Joshua replied.
“And I need moral support.”
I reached for his hand. He grasped mine gently.
“Wow. I’d consider it an honor to stand by your side, old friend. Where are they?”
Again he looked to Joshua.
“That’s a secret for now,” Joshua replied.
The black-winged immortal shook his head so only I would see.
“He won’t tell me,” said Guy.
“Adam, I suggested you should be here when he meets them,” Joshua replied. “I know how much he respects you.”
I glanced at Mannix.
“He said the same thing to me,” he declared. “For whatever reason, Joshua wanted you to be here to support Guy.”
“But Guy has both you and Joshua. Why wait till I died? Are you recruiting an ensemble cast for the reunion?”
“It’s difficult to explain,” said Joshua. “The more friends he has here, the better.”
Guy let go of my hand and topped up his champagne, then drank. He put the glass down, unsteadily. I picked up the doll and stared at its imperfect face.
“Wow, I just arrive and already there’s mystery and adventure. I need Wade by my side to share it with. I’m missing him terribly. I just wish I knew how I died.”
“Adam’s right, Guy,” said Mannix. “I think he needs to know what happened.”
“The secrecy is killing me. Oh wait, I’m already dead. Okay, the secrecy is driving me mad.”
“All right,” Guy answered. “I’ll take you to see Wade. That’s all I can do for the moment.”
“Can’t you also tell me how my shirt got covered in blood?”
“No, I can’t.” He reached for my hand this time. I put down the doll and clasped his soft palm. “You have to work out what happened for yourself, Adam. It will start coming to you. That’s the way things work here.” He clasped tighter, but somehow I suspected he didn’t actually know himself. “But I guess if I take you to see Wade, your healing process will begin.”
“My healing process! Shouldn’t I know how I died first? Why don’t you tell me before we see Wade?”
“Now that you’re here, you need to take one step at a time. Come to terms with your demise, calmly. If I tell you everything up front, you might find it too hard to handle.”
“I know this is hard to take in, Adam,” Mannix said, “but Guy’s right. I’ve made the mistake of telling someone too much too soon. It wasn’t pretty.”
“What happened?” I asked.
“A loving parent was poisoned by his kids for the inheritance money. Years of therapy followed here in the Afterlife.”
“Oh dear. I wasn’t murdered, was I?”
“Trust your guardian angel. Let him guide you.”
Guy stood, and as we were still holding hands, I too was lifted from my chair.
“Adam, it’s time to start healing,” he said. “Let’s see Wade.”