Sample Short Story

        
The Anniversary of My Death

Every day, we are careening through time and space towards what we all know is the inevitable.  Every day, bit by bit, we are decaying slowly.  For once a year, every year, you unknowingly pass the future anniversary of your death. 


I, Theolonious Holden, am a writer.  Or, I was before I died.  But the enticing thing about writing is that it transcends time.  A word on a printed page is a breath that will not fade, for it can be read and cherished forever.

Perhaps that’s why I began to like writing.  The untouched paper.  The murmur and hiss of the keys on my old fashioned typewriter.  Ink-stained fingers, the physical display to the world.  To be a writer meant a way to vanish into a dictionary world with paper walls I could build syllable by syllable.  Tapping into the medium of words meant that I was playing God.  And it was a terrible privilege.


My story begins on an early autumn morning in New York.  I was set to meet for coffee with my friend August, a mystery writer.  I was fond of mystery writers because there was something enigmatic about them.

“Good morning,” said August when I took my seat next to him.  We sat outside at a little table, overlooking the street corner. 

August looked like a hipster but he hated that word.  His wardrobe made him seem like a Harlem poet, all the way from the tight curls on his head and the thick-rimmed glasses to the vest he probably got from a thrift store, jeans that were two sizes too tight and loafers from the 80s that were in style for the first time.  His writings, which sometimes were more like psychological thrillers than mysteries, bordered on the philosophical.

“Have you submitted that new book yet?” I asked, taking a sip of my coffee.

“It needs more edits.”

“You’ll always say that,” I said.  “But you should still send it off.”

August nodded and took his mug from the table.

“What about you?”  He was referring to the novel I had been trying to finish.

“It’s a work in progress.  Besides, I’m still working on a name.”

  “I’ll make you a deal,” said August.  He took out his smart phone and pulled open the calendar app.  “In one week, we’ll both finish our books and send them off.  It’ll keep us accountable since we’ll both be doing it.  How’s that?”

I agreed and we shook on it.

“Do you think we’ll ever get famous?” I asked after several minutes.  “I mean, like Hemingway famous?”

“Not likely,” sighed August.  “Besides, he’s dead.”

That was a strange thing to say.

“Why does that matter?” I asked.

“People are always more popular after they die,” he said with nonchalance.

“That’s not true,” I insisted.

“Sure it is,” said August.  “It’s like they become a tragedy and their work becomes tragic, too.  Take Van Gogh, for instance.  The man was considered a genius.  But only after he died.  Then there’s Jim Morrison, mastermind poet and singer.  John Lennon.  Buddy Holly.  James Dean.  Even Marilyn Monroe, who’s still seen as a goddess. It’s the tragedy, Theo.  The pain makes the art tragically beautiful.”

Those words sunk in and I meditated on them.  My whole walk back to my apartment, I was struck by the illusion of fantasy in which we all live, believing that tragedy is something to be avoided, something to be feared.  But was that really true?

For the rest of the day, I sat at my typewriter working while in the back of my mind I kept getting distracted by what August had said.  Was all of this to go to waste?

This was my magnum opus, my most genius work of art.  My characters were vivid and something in me believed every word they spoke.  But I was haunted by the thought that the only person to read these words would be my mother, August and the editor who sent me a rejection.

It was then that the idea came.  Just a spark.  It was more of a feeling than a tangible thought.  Then, however, it began to form until I had a slight comprehension of what I could do.   Take my own life?  Of course not.  But could I fake it?  Perhaps.

It would be like a novel.  This time, I would become the story.  And, finally, I would be a real writer.

~~~

  Planning your means and mode of death is not exactly as easy as it sounds.

Let me explain.

It can’t be too gory and it can’t be just too common.  In order for my work to reach the level of a Pulitzer, I was in need of the kind of tragedy that would evoke the pathos of my soon-to-be devoted readers.  How could I stimulate such an emotional response from my audience?
I had to start with the basics.

Step one, the method.  I wanted to go rogue—but I didn’t want to do it like Virginia Woolf, whose infamous suicide had kept readers clutching at her work for years.  I didn’t want to kill myself, well, that is, pretend to.  It had to be victimizing, like murder.

Step two, the de-association.   In order for my plan to work, I had to get away from myself.  In other words, I needed to get rid of all things relating to my identification.

Step three, the escape.  I had to find a getaway and a secret place to live.

Step four, the time.  I would need to look at a calendar and decide the day of death.

And that is what was the most intriguing.

~~~

The day approached.  As it neared, I felt myself slowly detaching from everything I cared about, like a disease was festering inside of me.  Maybe I was subconsciously preparing them for the separation they didn’t anticipate.  Maybe I was preparing myself.  Either way, the only thing I’d leave them was a finished copy of my manuscript on the desk.  August would know what to do.

Regardless of what happened to my work, the writing was an escape.  A diversion from the suppressing thought of death that had come to reign in my mind.  I felt my soul writhe and wither as I considered all the ways to die.  It’s amazing how depressing it can be just to sit back and ponder the end for so long.  I found myself wondering what kind of obituary they would write for me.

Would I be remembered?

My greatest fear in this experiment was its failure.  What if the critics ravaged my book?  What if my name vanished into obscurity?  

Would I be worth remembering?

The only thing keeping me from giving up was the realization that I had the chance to find out the answer to these questions.  Who else would ever get to see their own commemoration?  I would be like the dead, yet still alive—instead of looking down from the glass-domed world of heaven, steering along in eternity, I would passively observe, disengaged from myself and from life.  In a way, I really would be dead.  For who am I, who are you, who is anyone, without an identity?  What are we but strings of experiences woven together?  I would be dead to this life and on to another, which, in its own way, was more terrifying than facing the great abyss itself.

~~~

On the decided day, everything was in order.  My own distortedly beautiful homicide was unfolding.  How powerful I felt.

The room was quiet and still, like a tomb, when I began.  I drew back the curtains and took my knife.

Blood was necessary.  And it had to be mine if they were to believe that I had been violently murdered.  It felt like unwrapping something as I gingerly rolled up my sleeves.  Turning away, I cut into my wrist.  I proceeded to smudge my arm against the wall and smear it on the ground, maddened by the blood that painted the carpet red.

After a few minutes, my arm began to pulse, so I went to the kitchen and applied a simple bandage.  I then set to destroying a couple things to make it look like a robber had barged into my apartment. 

It was glorious.

I gathered my packed things and ran my fingers across the beautiful book manuscript once more.  By 
Theolonious Holden.  This was the only way to be heard in a world so full of noise that we never take the time to stop and just listen.  At last, the soft resonance of my words would peek through the deafening haze of other voices.

It was electrifying.

It was thrilling.

For once, I could be the hero of my own story.  And there’s no hierarchy of heroism.  I’ve heard it said, carpe diem, seize the day.  Well, I was doing more.  I was taking hold of the world by its collar, ready to offer what I had to say to the long mutilated society that has become and more disinterested.

It was terrifying.

My life was behind me, my past forgotten.  For a few months, I would live disconnected from everything I hold dear, my memories far from mind. 

These were the meditations that haunted me as I took the back flight of stairs from my apartment complex.  It was early.  I planned this so that no one would see or hear.

My heart was pounding.  My thoughts were blurred.

What have I done? I kept asking myself.  I’m an idiot.  An idiot.  A complete idiot.  

I could feel a dull, throbbing sort of pain coming from somewhere.  I was too disoriented to think about it.  My suitcase banged against my leg as I struggled to support it down the tight stairs.  It was gray in the passage and a thin shaft of light streamed in from a window.

Why did I do this?  It’s stupid.  Stupid.

My mother was going to grieve.  But I wasn’t really close to her, so she would get over it.  August would be mortified.  He would mourn for me.  But just think of how relieved they would all be when they found out I was actually alive.

Yes, I assured myself.  Relieved.

At the bottom of the stairs, I threw myself out into the back alley.  Every step was bringing me closer to an artistic freedom I’d never anticipated.  Suddenly, I wanted to leap, bound, jump, dance and sing.  I was nervous and relaxed, hungry and full, scared and exhilarated.  I wasn’t myself anymore.  How enlivening that is.  I would hide from the world, hide from God.

It was perfect.

The station was a block away and I would catch a subway to some remote town and then begin my journey.  Youthful zeal overpowered me as I set out to cross the street. 

~~~

  The impact was hard and sudden like switching off a light.  It was loud and toxic, pounding everywhere, inside me and out.  I felt collision with the ground, saw my own face as if from afar.

A speeding car.  How ignoble.  

I reach back towards myself.  I see the blood, feel the gravel in my mouth, pressed against my cheek, slack on the pavement.  Red on gray.

No, I am the director of this scene.  The curtains can’t close without my direction.

It’s quite sardonic, I note.  Or is this really me noting it?  I see myself like watching a screen, see the woman scream as she fumbles with a phone to dial 9-1-1, see the driver slam the door as he looks down in horror at my body.  People swarm around me, some screaming, others shielding children.

Traffic stops.  I’m the center of attention.

This is what I deserve, isn’t it?  

You can’t play with death.

All at once, I am desperate and at ease.  Everything is gone—nothing matters.  They’ll still find my words.  Read me, I try to tell them.  But I’m outside now, somewhere in between, sinking and rising all at once.

~~~

  If you ever try to fake your own death, make sure that you don’t actually die.  Death is the only thing we can’t know about until we experience it.  And once we experience it, we can never go back.

Today is the anniversary.  I would tell you what’s it like across the chasm.

But you’ll find out. 


Copyright © 2014 by Ciera Horton.  All rights reserved.