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second stanza: crazy dead
Life's just some rapid-eye movement
in a warm, cozy bed...
The flesh dream is over, daddy
Now that we're all crazy dead."
--Olivia Ofrenda, "Crazy Dead"
I reflected sardonically how inappropriate it would be to say that I felt afraid for the first time in my life, considering the fact that I was undeniably dead.
I was still adjusting to that. I probably wouldn't have believed it if two very strong pieces of evidence hadn't convinced me: one, I remembered being shot in the back by Giuseppe's men very clearly, and two, I no longer had skin.
Or hair, or eyes, or anything else that would mark me as human. When I'd first opened my eyes into the late afternoon sunlight of a New York street, I'd railed in frustration at the vision of the Grim Reaper standing before me, beckoning, yelled at him that this must be a prank, when my boyfriend got his hands on him he was gonna tear him to pieces--no, wait, *I'd* do it first. In an entire lifetime, I couldn't remember ever losing control, and I'd done it within minutes of my death. All of a sudden, I remembered Reuben's corpse in the hallway, and that was the moment when I looked down and realized that I was a skeleton. I think that was when it finally hit me. I wrote "Ashes to Ashes" standing on that street, watching the magazine-cutout people passing me by.
The reaper introduced himself as Domino Hurley and helped me into a sleek black car he had waiting. Staring out the window, watching New York pass me by for the last time, I realized what I had to do. I didn't know anything about wherever I was headed, but if I still had some kind of consciousness, then the rules of the game hadn't changed. Survive. Do whatever you have to.
And step over anyone you have to.
As soon as that hit me, I regained my composure, and he handed me a a pair of tailored slacks and a black turtleneck. "I had Eva send these up as soon as I heard about your case," he told me. "You might feel a little better in something that feels more familiar. It's difficult to get used to at first."
He explained the system to me in a matter of minutes with the practiced ease of a salesman. My ultimate destination was the Ninth Underworld, the Land of Eternal Rest, but to get there I had to make a journey through the Eighth Underworld. Depending on the aesthetic qualities of my life (his words, not mine; like all salesmen, he had something of the poet in his way of putting things delicately), I might be given the opportunity to make this journey easier by purchasing "travel packages." The entire spiel was blissfully surreal.
When I first saw El Marrow looming on the horizon, I thought the driver had changed his mind and was taking me back to New York. It was only when I got closer that I realized the resemblance was only superficial. The skyscrapers were there, but given their construction, the best earthly approximation I could give would be a highly stylized version of what might have happened had the Aztecs retained Mexico City in the twentieth century. Our journey ended in a large, dingy parking garage not unlike the ones I was used to. The reaper took my arm, shifting his scythe to his other hand, and escorted me into an upholstered elevator for a 56-story flight upwards.
We got off in what appeared to be a regular office building--the executive floor, a virtual carbon copy of the luxurious but nondescript ones where my lovers had always worked. The secretary directly across from the elevator was banging away on an old Remington-Rand typewriter, and her bloodred hair and gaudy blue dress reminded me of what I must look like, a collection of bones in someone else's clothes and a skull etched with some ghost of the dark bob I'd once prized. I was also completely lacking in cigarettes, I realized, staring in envy at the one she gripped between her index and middle fingers.
"This way, Ms. Ofrenda," the reaper said, ushering me along down the hallway into a small office near the end. "I'm sure you have a lot of questions, and I'd love to help you find some answers." He slid the door open smoothly and pulled a plush chair out from the front side of the desk before settling comfortably into his own seat on the opposite side. "Anything at all you'd like to know before we get this party started?"
I detected something in his voice beyond the rehearsed sympathy of a salesman and knew instantly that the man was mine for the taking. I didn't know who he was, but I had a feeling that getting on his good side might be to my advantage in the not-too-distant future. "Okay, Ofrenda, you spent a lifetime doing this," I told myself. "Time to turn on the waterworks."
"Listen, Mr..." I began slowly, looking plaintively up at him.
"Hurley," he supplied. He rested a bony hand on my arm. "Domino Hurley."
"Hurley," I continued. "I'm not sure what I'm doing here, but there must be some mistake. I...I can't be dead. My...my boyfriend was just shot by Giuseppi Caggiano. I have to go to the police. I have to make funeral arrangements. I have to...oh, God, Reuben!" I buried my face in my hands, intensely aware of the clicking sound the motion made. "What am I going to do?"
In answer, Domino Hurley spun around and ran his long fingers through the elaborate filing system behind the desk and selected a manilla folder. He rifled briefly through its contents, set it down, and leaned forward on his elbows on the desk to look at me.
"Nice try, Ms. Ofrenda," he said.
I kept up the dewy facade until I figured out what he was trying to pull. This wasn't in the script. "What...what are you talking about?"
"You don't fool me. Now, these kids here think I'm an honest, straight-up kinda guy, but I've been a grifter a long time, and I know one when I see one. I'm not sure what you're trying to pull, but whatever you want, you're not gonna get it that way."
I laughed. The guy was sharp. "Well, looks like I'll have to try a different tack," I mused out loud with a feral smile. "Tell me, Mr. Grifter, what works on you?"
"Not much," he replied. "Definitely not in your case. Remember the travel-package system I explained on the way over?"
"You're my type, so I'll be candid with you here. According to your file, Ms. Ofrenda, you're not exactly a candidate for the Number Nine. You want to get to the Ninth Underworld, you're walking. And you're pretty lucky to get off with that."
"What, you cats don't have a subway?" I raised an eyebrow at him. "Tell me you at least have cigarettes here."
"No fancy holders, but I've been saving these for you." He slid a pack of Lucky Strikes across the desk and I ripped into it eagerly. "I don't smoke," he told me conversationally, nonetheless removing a lighter from somewhere in his robes and holding it out to me. "Gotta keep this hunk of bones in shape, you know?"
"Does it matter?" I asked, a little surprised. "You don't have lungs."
Hurley leaned back and put his feet up on the desk. "I lied to you when I said I'd love to answer your questions. First rule of the Land of the Dead: don't ask them. Now, I'd like to help you out, Ms. Ofrenda, but my only suggestion to you is to start walking."
I looked at him hard. He was sitting there casually in the office chair, one arm draped languidly over the side, and he was watching me with the same catlike expression I'd trained on so many men during my lifetime. A grifter. I dug on that one for a second, let it sink in. He wasn't as smart as I was, but whatever was in that file had given him a healthy respect for my lifestyle. I could work him.
"No, Mr. Hurley, I don't think it is," I shot back, leaning back in a mirror image of him and dragging on the cigarette. "You call us grifters. You're insulting me, but we'll ignore that for now. Here's my point: if you really do know how to play the game, then you know that bending the rules is part of it. I think you can get me in somewhere." If we'd had eyes, they would have locked for a second of electric charge. "Am I right?"
He looked hard back at me for a long time, and then a broad smile spread across his skull. "You know," he told me, standing up and coming around behind me to lay his hands on my shoulders. "I think you are."
I left the office a few hours later, invigorated by the exercise and as ready as I'd ever be to see what death had in store for me. Hurley's driver, a massive blue hulk the reaper had casually informed me was an elemental demon, already had the car waiting for me.
We sat in silence for the duration of the trip. The car, I had learned, was custom- designed to reach higher speeds than other LOD vehicles, which easily outstripped anything available at the time in the LOL. Despite this, the 1020 kilometer journey to the next point in my journey still took several hours.
According to Hurley, this point was a port city called Rubacava. In its heyday, it would be a hotspot for nightclubs, but when I first knew it it was a sleepy little fog town where everyone was just marking time until they could afford passage across the Sea of Lament. He told me to do there what I did best: find someone and not let go until I found a higher bidder.
As loath as I am to admit it, a pang of fear shot down my spine when I slammed the door of that car shut behind me and stepped out into the misty Rubacava morning for the first time. Hurley had given me a small wad of cash and told me it would be enough to get me a room until I could get a man, but when I climbed the stone steps up to the automat on the hill near the entrance to town, I saw myself in the polished glass window and almost gagged. I stalked the streets of Rubacava until I found boots, a trenchcoat, gloves, leggings, sunglasses, and a beret until I could almost convince myself that I looked like I was alive, and then I got a room at a little hotel that I'd later bulldoze to make room for the Blue Casket.
Everyone who reads this, I dare you: go write a GF fic. Go write several. Let's breathe some life into this place!
Thanks to everyone who's read and reviewed so far--especially Vampire Naomi. I'm actually a big admirer of your GF stories, and everything you've written about Olivia really made me want to try my own hand at it.
As for when Olivia would have lived, in this version she was somewhere in her late thirties or early forties when she died in the mid-1970s. As for when and where her heyday was...well, maybe we'll find out...
To be continued...
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