Call Me Home ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
Patricia Blanche Deloite died at a regrettably young age and was placed in the family mausoleum. Her great-grandfather, who made the family fortune in manufacturing, had the mausoleum built in 1870 for what was then thought an outrageous price. He died not long after it was completed, so he was, of course, the first to take up residence. That was long before Blanche was born.
The mausoleum was an impressive neo-gothic structure in the rich-people’s section of the largest cemetery in the city. With its tiny spires, it looked like a miniature church or cathedral. In spite of its smallness and apparent delicacy, it was impregnable, being made entirely of steel. There were small, beveled, stained-glass windows on all four sides, but, no matter how hard visitors squinted their eyes, they were never able to catch a glimpse of any of the dead people inside. If anybody had broken out one of the windows, which would not have been easy, they wouldn’t have been able to get more than an arm inside and might have lost the arm in the process.
When Patricia woke up in the spirit world, after what seemed a most lugubrious nap, she was confused and disoriented. She knew right away that something was wrong. She wasn’t where she thought she should be, in her own bed, in her own room, at home.
“Hey!” she screamed.
“There’s no reason to shout,” grandmother said.
“Who said that?” Patricia said.
“It’s me,” grandmother said with a smile, making herself visible.
“Why do I feel so funny?”
“Funny how, dear?”
“Not myself, I guess you would say.”
“You don’t feel sick, though? Nothing hurts?”
“What is that?” She pointed to something over grandmother’s shoulder but when grandmother turned to see what it was, there was nothing there.
“You’re going to have to tell her,” Aunt Florence said, coming up behind grandmother.
“I’m working up to it,” grandmother said. “We don’t want to shock her, do we?”
“Tell me what?” Patricia asked. “Say, what is this place? Where am I? Where is my mother? Why isn’t she here?”
“She’s not dead yet,” Aunt Florence said.
Grandmother gave Aunt Florence a sharp look. “Your mother was delayed, dear,” she said. “She’ll be here as soon as she can.”
“Is this a hospital? I seem to remember being sick or something.”
The twins, one on each side of her, tittered. They were ten when they drowned and would always remain ten. They looked at Patricia as if she was something that had just been dredged up from the bottom of the ocean.
“Who are they?” Patricia asked. “I’ve never seen them before!”
“They’re some of your kin,” grandmother said. “Now just relax. You have nothing to worry about. All will be explained in time.”
“What’s all the rumpus?” a male voice asked. It was grandfather, coming up behind grandmother and Aunt Florence. He was very dim at first as though made of a puff of smoke and then became more distinct.
“Sorry we woke you,” grandmother said. “We’ve got a new addition, is all.”
“And who is she?” grandfather asked, bending forward and adjusting his pince-nez.
“Her name is Patricia. She’s your granddaughter. Julia’s daughter.”
“I didn’t know Julia had a daughter.”
“She had three.”
“Are you telling me this man is my grandfather?” Patricia asked.
“Why, yes,” grandmother said. “He died when you were a baby.”
“Did you say he died?”
“Uh-oh!” Aunt Florence said. “You let the cat out of the old bag.”
“Yes, dear, we’re all dead,” grandmother said.
“What are you saying to me?”
“You’re in the afterlife. Anybody you see from now on will be dead.”
“Why am I in the afterlife?”
“Because you’re one of us now.”
“In what way am I one of you?”
“Just say it!” Aunt Florence said.
“You were in an automobile accident,” grandmother said. “You hit your head very hard. Your injuries were so severe that you weren’t able to recover. You died.”
The twins tittered again.
“Do you mean…”
“Yes, you have taken up residence in the afterlife.”
“I don’t believe you! I think this is a dream.”
“They’re always resistant at first,” Aunt Florence said. “Especially the young ones.”
“Would I lie to you?” grandmother asked.
“Since I don’t know you,” Patricia said, “I don’t know if you would or not.”
“Are you calling your grandmother a liar?” grandfather asked.
To prove that she was indeed in the afterlife, grandfather, grandmother and Aunt Florence all made themselves evaporate into the air and then reappear.
“Can I do that?” Patricia asked.
“In time,” grandmother said. “You have to be here a while.”
“It sure would come in handy for shoplifting jewelry and cosmetics.”
“Well, you won’t be doing any of that here!”
“Is this heaven?”
Grandmother turned around and looked at grandfather because she wasn’t sure how to answer that question. “No, it isn’t heaven,” she said.
“So it’s hell, then?”
“No, it isn’t hell, either.”
“Then what is it exactly?”
“Well, those of us who are still here are all waiting to be called home. Where we’ll be called home to isn’t clear at this point.”
“So some of you are going to heaven and some to hell?”
“We don’t even know if there is a heaven or hell. There’s a theory that we might be born into new bodies again.”
Grandfather groaned. “Oh, to have to go through all that again!” he said.
“Has anybody who comes here ever been known to come alive again?”
Grandfather hooted and Aunt Florence laughed.
“No, that’s not a possibility, dear,” grandmother said. “You haven’t had any blood pumped to your brain for about a week. Do you know what it means to be embalmed? You’re sure enough one of us now.”
Patricia held her palm up to her face to see some proof of embalmment. Seeing none, she remained skeptical.
“What if I want to go home?”
“Not going to happen!” grandfather said.
“If wishes were horses, beggars could be kings,” Aunt Florence said but everybody ignored her.
“Well, I’m hungry,” Patricia said. “At least bring me something to eat.”
“You’re not really hungry, dear,” grandmother said. “You’re just remembering being hungry from when you were alive. Everybody goes through that.”
“I want a ham on rye with mayonnaise and a root beer.”
“Well, I’ll see what I can rustle up,” Aunt Florence said. “I’m not a conjuror, but I think I can give you at least the illusion of food.”
“Everything here is illusion,” grandmother said. “You’ll find it can be quite lovely to not have to be bothered anymore by your difficult physical body.”
“I never found mine especially difficult,” Patricia said.
“That’s because you’re young,” grandfather said. “You don’t know yet—and never will, now—the pain of arthritis or gout or ulcers.”
Soon Aunt Florence produced the food—or at least the illusion of food—and set it before Patricia on a tray. While she was eating, the rest of the family who hadn’t been called home yet stepped forward to meet her. There was grandfather’s brother, George, and his wife, Grace; George and Grace’s daughter, Georgina, who died of a cerebral hemorrhage on her sixteenth birthday; cousin Minnie who never married and died in her hundredth year; Uncle Byron (one leg shorter than the other) and his buxom wife, Constance; cousin Porter who was killed in a train accident before he was thirty; Uncle David who died in the war, wearing his uniform.
They all looked curiously at Patricia as she nibbled at her ham sandwich. Several of them reached out to her, not to shake her hand or give her a peck on the check, but simply to touch her on the arm or shoulder. Patricia couldn’t help but notice that the ones who had been dead the longest were the faintest, as if they were fading away. Grandmother attempted to engage them in conversation but couldn’t, as they seemed to be listening to other voices.
Soon they all went back to sleep, leaving Patricia alone with grandmother and Aunt Florence.
“Do I really have to stay here always?” Patricia asked.
“You’ll get used to it,” grandmother said. “We all went through the same thing.”
“And I can’t ever go back home?”
“You’ll forget all about ‘home’ soon enough. This is your home now.”
“It’s awfully gloomy here. I’ll get so bored I might kill myself if I wasn’t already dead.”
“You’ll make friends,” grandmother said. “There are hundreds of other young people here just like you who would be happy to make your acquaintance.”
“You mean I can go outside?”
“Of course you can, but only so far. You won’t be allowed to leave the grounds.”
“You can’t go downtown and haunt a hotel,” Aunt Florence said, “no matter how much you may want to.”
“We don’t ever mix with living people if we can help it,” grandmother said. “Of course, some of them will come here from time to time, curiously seekers mostly, but you’ll know to stay away from them.”
“They’re odious,” Aunt Florence said. “Much scarier than we are.”
“Well, I suppose I have no other choice but to try to adapt,” Patricia said.
“That’s a beginning,” grandmother said.
When Patricia looked away, grandmother and Aunt Florence were gone. Finding herself alone, she stood up and, closing her eyes, walked through the wall.
It was really rather pleasant outside with the sunshine and the gentle breeze rustling the leaves on the trees. She looked down at her hands and feet to see if she was invisible, but all her appendages looked the same as they had when she was alive.
She had been outside only a short time when she saw a man standing underneath a large tree. He had a kind of indistinct glow around his head and shoulders, so she knew he was one of the dead. He was tall and straight, about twenty-five or so, dressed in the kind of dark suit that men used to wear a long time ago. When he smiled at her, she was emboldened to approach him.
“Who are you?” she asked.
“My name is Stefan,” he said.
“Pleased to meet you, I’m sure.”
“You’re new here,” he said. “I was watching from behind a tree when you were laid to rest.”
“Am I really standing here talking to a dead man?”
“All things are possible in God’s world.”
“You are, I take it, one of the one-term residents?”
He shrugged his shoulders. “Whether it’s a year or a hundred years, it’s all the same to us. There is no time here.”
“I don’t like it here. I’m planning on going home as soon as I can figure out how.”
“That’s the first time I’ve heard anybody say that.”
“Are you surrounded by your family members, as I am?”
“No,” he said. “I don’t have anybody. I’m buried in a lonely grave over in the corner beside a fence. Nothing ever happens there. The good thing is I can come over here whenever I want and there’s nobody to tell me I can’t.”
“And you’re waiting to be called home, wherever that may be?”
“I stopped worrying about that a long time ago,” he said. “It’s in somebody else’s hands.”
“I’m a little worried,” she said. “I’m afraid I’ve been bad.”
“Let’s go for a walk,” he said. “I’ll show you the points of interest.”
He pointed out the duck pond, the pavilion with Greek columns where services were sometimes held, the brick structures where cremated remains were placed, the graves of a famous Civil War general, a celebrated playwright and a long-forgotten lady poet. When they had wandered almost all the way to the edge of the cemetery, she noticed a large metal door built into a hillside.
“What’s that?” she asked.
“I’ll tell you what I’ve been told,” he said. “It’s the portal into the next life. When you’re called home, you go through there.”
“Now that I know where it is, does that mean I can go whenever I want?”
“It isn’t up to us. We go only when we are called.”
She said no more about the portal for the time being, but it set her to thinking. If she hung around long enough, it would eventually open and somebody would be there, possibly a sympathetic being to whom she could explain her situation. Maybe he or she (it?) would be able to help her return to her life. Isn’t that the sort of thing that angels do all the time? Hadn’t she heard stories about that very thing?
He directed her away from the portal into the most peaceful part of the cemetery, a heavily wooded place for meditation and reflection. They sat on a wooden bench.
“This is my favorite place,” he said.
“Wouldn’t you like to get out of here?” she asked.
“What do you mean?”
“Go out into the world. Away from all this…death.”
“Where would I go? My world has ended. The people and the places I knew are no more.”
“Yes, but there are new people and new places.”
“Not for me,” he said. “I’m dead. I’m waiting here to be called home.”
“I need to return to life so I can make up for the bad things I did. I wasn’t ready to die yet. People my age don’t die.”
“Are you sorry?” he asked. “For the bad you did?”
“Only now that I’m dead I am. I never thought about being sorry when I was alive.”
“Such is youth.”
“Do you want to know what I did?” she asked.
“Only if you wish to tell it.”
“I stole some money at school and was able to make people think that another girl did it. She got into a lot of trouble and when she was expelled from school, she killed herself. I was the only one who knew she was perfectly innocent.
“Another time I got into a knife fight with a girl. She said I stole her boyfriend but the truth was she stole mine. I slashed the knife across her cheek and she had to have twenty-two stitches. Because my father was a member of the school board, I got off with a three-day suspension.
“A couple of my girlfriends and I used to go downtown to the shops and hide little things in our coats and walk out with them, even though we had money to pay for them. We made a little game of it. The one who stole the most won the game.
“When my younger brother and I had an argument, I pushed him down the stairs. I was trying to kill him but ended up only breaking his leg. I lied to my mother, swore, stole liquor and drank it, smoked cigarettes and even cigars on occasion.”
He smiled and nodded his head as if she had passed a remark on the weather.
“I’m going back to try to fix things up,” she said. “Or at least to apologize.”
“How do you apologize to the girl who took her own life?”
“I can tell the truth about what happened and apologize to her family. I can clear her name. That’s the most I can do. I can’t bring her back.”
“You’re fortunate to have family,” he said. “Confess to them and maybe they can help you. At least they might shield you from the Wicked One.”
When she returned to the mausoleum it was so quiet she thought she would scream. She slept for a while but woke in the night and wasn’t able to go back to sleep. She kept thinking about the portal and how it might be the solution to her problems.
It was a beautiful night with a starry sky and a full moon, but she hardly noticed it. She saw several others like her abroad in the night but had no wish to speak to them or acknowledge them.
The portal looked even more mysterious in the dark. She approached it with determination, trying to keep clear in her mind the exact words she would use to the keeper of the portal, whoever it happened to be: I died before I was supposed to. I’m not really a bad person but I did some bad things because of my family situation. I have to return now to repair some of the damage I caused and to apologize.
There was no knob or handle to open the portal door, but she put her fingers in the separation between the right half and the left half and pulled the two halves apart far enough to step inside. She could see nothing except spider webs and some old shovels and tools. She was about to arrive at the conclusion that it was just a shed that the gravediggers used, when she began to hear a faraway rumble.
As the rumble grew louder, the earth began to shake. She wanted to run but her legs weren’t working properly. She wobbled around and even attempted to throw herself down but was held upright by an invisible force. Soon the ground gave way beneath her feet and she began to fall. Before she had fallen very far, though, a demon caught her from behind and flicked his tongue into her ear. The more she screamed the more delighted the demon became, as down, down the two of them fell, toward an eerie red glow not unlike a blazing sunset.
Copyright 2014 by Allen Kopp