Woke: a portmortem tale (part 2)

Raymond

Raymond looked at his son. He was obviously stressed. Raymond could see the way Lenis was trying to hold it together but his body language was giving it away. Any moment now and the kid was going to snap and do something foolish. Lenis was a far more gentle soul than he liked to envision himself as.

Raymond looked away from the mirror and tried to think of a plan. How the hell was he going to communicate everything to his son? Lenis was in a phase of his life where he was wallowing in his ego. Learning and bettering himself was not an interesting concept to him, he was too self-absorbed to even want to help his old man.

“Ah I see you’re back with us now Raymond,” a deep voice said behind him.

Raymond turned around and saw his teacher, the late great Archibald William Meuller, standing with his arms folded. The other students were smirking at him through lips that were starting to decay, crack, and bleed.

“I’m… I need a bit more time,” said Raymond. 

“Very common answer to most questions concerning Life. But I’ve given you plenty of time to observe the situation. So I’ll ask you again. What did you discover?”

Raymond’s brain worked in overtime as he tried to disengage from the conversation and go back to the mirror.

“I saw that my body was still in the same place.”

The other students whispered and giggled at that. Raymond found himself frowning at them which only made them titter more. 

“Good, very good,” said Archibald in a placating tone. “But that’s to be expected. Did you notice anything about your corpse? Anything that related to what we had been talking about just moments earlier in this very classroom?”

Raymond tried to bring his mind back to the topic at hand. What had they been talking about? It had been very important until he saw Lenis. Ah yes, Objects of Power, yes that was it. He had been looking for a potential OP when he discovered Lenis.

“My corpse had a TV remote in his hand,” said Raymond, trying to bring back the image of his lounge room and where he had died. 

“Excellent! Do you think it would make a good Object of Power?”

“Not really, no,” he said. Raymond had never been attached to the remote after all and it was unlikely that there would be much residual life energy trapped within the remote.

Archibald wasn’t going to let him off that easily though.

“What could you do to the remote? Say you decided you did want to use it as an Object of Power?”

“I could place a curse on it?” said Raymond. 

“Ah! A curse! Fantastic idea! Take your seat,” said Archibald. 

Raymond walked back to his chair and sat down. The room had space for about 30 students and looked like an old-school classroom except for the mirrors running around 3 of its 4 walls.

Raymond watched Archibald walk to the front of the class where there was a black board and added ‘cursed TV remote’ to the list of words that were already there. Archibald turned back to the class who had settled down now that Raymond was no longer a focal point.

“Placing a curse on a TV remote could be fortuitous how… Nelson?”

A man who was sitting near Raymond with his neck stretched and tilted to one side scratched his head in thought. He said hesitantly, “you could curse… the person to experience… your ah… your death?”

“Yes, a possible option. You could set it so that the next person to touch the remote would feel your death,” Archibald drew a line from the word curse and wrote the word experience next to it. He turned back to the class and fixed Nelson with a stare. ”Sort of like a scare tactic to keep them away you mean?”

“Yeah… yeah exactly,” said Nelson, nodding his stiff neck in an odd and jarring way.

“Very good,” said Archibald, “anything else?” 

A woman on the far side of the room put her hand up in the air. The hand was connected to a forearm that had 2 deep lines running down it. Blood slowly seeped out of her wrists like a red sponge from a child’s paint set, forever wet and covering everything it touched but never dripping.  The woman’s shirt was smeared with blood from where her arm had been sitting.  

“You could make the person experience not just the moment of death but the emotions leading up to it,” she said.

“Ah, emotional Manipulation.” He turned back to the board and drew another line from cursed tv remote and wrote Manipulation next to it. “Subtle, very subtle Amanda. And what would be the purpose of this?”

“It could be a way to get revenge on the living.”

Archibald nodded his head as he began to pace around the room, arms clasped behind his back.

“This would work if you wanted to torment someone for the remainder of time they have left in Life, presuming they have empathy for you which requires an emotional connection.” He stopped walking and caught Amanda in his intense gaze. “I’m assuming here that you have an intended target for the Object of Power?”

The woman, Amanda, nodded. Archibald smiled and resumed his pacing. 

“Here then is one of the first problems with creating a cursed object. There’s no guarantee that the intended victim is going to be the first person to touch the object. You wouldn’t want to waste all of that time and energy on creating the curse only to have it be wasted now would you?” The question was hypothetical and not directed at anyone. As if sensing that Amanda was about to refute him, he said, “any ideas on alternate ways to seek revenge on someone?”

Raymond tried to think of some solutions but his heart wasn’t in it. His mind kept coming back to his son and the implications of him being near his body. If Archibald used Raymond’s body as a demonstration on how to place a curse, what would happen to Lenis? What would happen to Raymond once Archibald realised Lenis was there?

Raymond knew he had been lucky to get into Archibald’s class in the first place. The class was called ‘supernatural powers’ and despite the lame name it was quite advanced magic. Prerequisites included having completed your diploma of Death (something he was truthfully only halfway through) and a corpse that was untampered with and wasn’t likely to get discovered anytime in the near future. 

The first prerequisite had initially been an impassable barrier but he was lucky, the person overlooking the admissions was a childhood friend, James, who had been hit by a bus whilst crossing the highway drunk. Raymond saw him during his first day in Death when he had been trudging along in the line of new students. The line ended at table with a bored 14 year old flipping through a book. He would look up the person in front of him, consult the book, then direct the people on where to go next, like a childish St Peter. When Raymond stepped up and the child turned to him he was shocked to realise it was James. 

They had caught up and swapped stories when Raymond had settled into death properly, James on his time spent in this realm of the dead and Raymond with what he had gone and done in his life. Raymond had explained how he was stuck picking electives because he was still early in his diploma and James had given him the nepotistic wink. The next day he’d been allowed into Archibald’s classroom.

No Raymond wasn’t worried about being found out about his lack of schooling, it was the second pre-requisite that had him worried. If his son was in his house looking at his body what were the collateral consequences going to be? He needed to talk with Lenis and calm him down before he did something foolish like went to the police or worse, called the undertakers. Nothing would get Raymond kicked out of this course quicker than someone splitting open his body and riffling through his organs. It wasn’t like he would be able to hide it.

“You could do a haunting,” said a young man sitting near the front of the room, bringing Raymond back to the present. The man had obvious stab wounds in his back and they were slowly oozing blood. Raymond looked away in disgust. It reminded him of a gross kid he used to go to school with called Thomas Janek who wasn’t aware of the yellowing pit stains on his shirt every time he raised his arm. And that kid Thomas was always the first to raise his arm. 

“What kind of a haunting?” said Archibald in a bored tone. Raymond suspected that he too was disgusted by the Thomas look-alike. 

“A dream haunting?”

“Ah! Now that is an excellent idea,” said Archibald, seemingly snapping awake and interested in a moment. He walked to the blackboard and wrote dream haunting on it in large letters off to the side, before circling it. Raymond re-appraised the situation, perhaps the Thomas lookalike wasn’t so bad. Archibald drew a line from it to Raymond’s cursed TV remote suggestion before turning to face the class. 

“Your typical hauntings don’t hold up anymore, the culture has changed. When I was teaching this class even as little as 20 or 30 years ago, you could get away with it. The thing with a haunting is you’re going to get people demanding proof which creates doubt in the intended victim. Nowadays you would be pushed to find 1 in 10,000 people who an ordinary haunting would work on.  Too many people are plugged in to the internet where they can wheel and deal their ‘facts’ to dismiss and silence the voices of the haunted.

“However a dream haunting is just what’s needed in a post-Jung-tech-advanced world. . With a dream haunting it’s internalised and stays with the person. It doesn’t force someone to have a religious experience with the dead. You know how religion is these days.”

The classroom tittered and laughed. It was obvious that despite having been dead for some time, Archibald was still hip to reality in Life. 

“So with a dream haunting,” Archibald continued, “the memory drifts in and out of the victims mind throughout the day. There’s never any arguments or denials about what they dreamt. This often leads to introspection and as we all know…”

“Introspection is the intermission to inculcate,” most of the class rattled off, having learnt it by rote. 

 “Fantastic,” said Archibald. “Now can anyone see any flaws with dream hauntings?”

Amanda thrust her red weeping arm in the air and Archibald pointed to her.

“Yes Amanda?”

“People often forget their dreams so they might forget the message you tell them in the dream haunting.”

“Exactly. The beauty and the difficulty lies in making the dream haunting reoccur.”

Raymond found himself sitting up straighter at this thought and noticed postures change around the room. Archibald had a wry smile on his face.

“What, you thought that you couldn’t keep influencing the world of the living once your three days were up and you’d passed on from this realm?”

Raymond found himself nodding, this was flipping everything he had been learning in the diploma of Death on its head. His school system ran on the Mortis system with each student going through the stages of Pallor, Algor, Livor, and finally Rigor Mortis. After you became a Rigor and your body begun to decompose your ability to enter Life and communicate with the living was meant to be impossible. Without the connection to body your spirit went on to the next realm. Unless you became a teacher of course. 

“I’ll explain it when we dive deeper into dream hauntings,” said Archibald, as if he could sense that the room was now focussed on cheating Life. “As some of you have no doubt already begun to realise the laws that bind us in Death can often be broken. But let’s get back onto todays topic. Objects of Power.”

Raymond settled back into his chair as Archibald began to talk.

“Objects of Power can remain active for years if there is still living energy concentrated on them but they in turn take a lot of time to create. Obviously in the ideal situation you would have been crafting these totems whilst you were alive so there would be some of your own residual energy in them. As one rather famous colleague of mine, the late JC once said, ‘if only I’d carried that cross for a while longer imagine the power I could have harnessed now.’”

There were some gasps and laughs spread out amongst the room and Raymond couldn’t help keep a grin off his face. 

“He was wrong, of course,” said Archibald. “He would have actually needed a smaller cross in say a pendant format to truly harness the available energy that’s in Life today. But there’s some truth in his thought. It would have made him much more powerful and he may have actually heard the prayers people send him. Half the time he isn’t even aware that people are still spending their lives devoted to him. Stupid of course, he’s moved far beyond the realm of Life now and is more interested in inter dimensional racquet ball.”

Racquet ball? What on earth was Archibald talking about.

“So as you can recognise there’s no point in spending days, months, or even years here in Death crafting an Object of Power if you haven’t already built up some energy into the object while you were alive. You need to be working instead on other aspects of your death magic. While it can be hilarious to us watching the living in all of their vibrant shock, awe, and terror when they come across one of our little pranks, we have to be careful that we don’t ruin the buggers experience of Life too much. Any ideas why?”

“Because they will eventually end up here too?” said Amanda.

“Possibly yes. Not everyone ends up here of course.”

Raymond nodded along. This was stuff he had learnt earlier in his studies.

“So if it’s not because they will end up here, then why?” said Nelson.

Archibald smiled. 

“Who here has ever heard of the butterfly effect?”

There were some nods among the people. A man up the back with one of his arms torn off and a mouth full of bloody teeth said, “it was a good movie,” and most of the room laughed.

“Yes, exactly. Ashton Kutcher,” said Archibald. “The point being that if you do put a cursed object into the world of the living, even if it is just a prank, there’s potential repercussions. Those can create ripples through the tapestry of life that can then reverberate through to us here in Death.” A bell rang and Raymond heard the sound of students filling into the hallway outside the room. Archibald raised his voice to be heard over the shuffling of the other students. “Think on this before the next class please!” he called. His eyes swung towards Raymond and it looked like he was about to say something.

Raymond packed up his things methodically yet swiftly, thoughts turning inward once more and keeping his eyes downcast to avoid Archibald’s gaze. He needed to think of a plan to stop his son. Either he somehow persuaded him to stay in the room with his corpse or he sent him away. Sending him away might actually be the more dangerous option, who knew what Lenis would do once he left the house. Raymond shuffled into the wash of students pouring out of the door, pointedly not looking at Archibald. The last thing he needed was to have to talk.

At least Raymond had time on his side, what with one minute of Life taking a day and a half over here in Death. Raymond knew he needed to have a plan of attack next time he looked into a mirror.

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