“Retcon”

I worked at the morgue. I always told new people that early on so we didn’t waste each other’s time before they made excuses and bailed out of the conversation. Not everybody did it but enough to make it a common thing. They immediately thought I was a ghoul, or worse, but I wasn’t really. I did the job because it was a job and dead people didn’t bother me. Except for being hard to haul around, they were much easier to work with than the living. You could put somebody dead on the slab and they stayed there for hours on end without a single complaint, you try to do that with somebody living and see how far you get before they piss and moan.

‘But what about zombies?’ People said and I rolled my eyes. First or all, zombies aren’t really a thing, and if they were then I would want to be the first one to go because everything that comes after that is just going to be a shit-show. Likewise vampires, skeletons and parasites. Just come for me and get it over with. “But aren’t dead bodies gross?” They’d say and I’d shrug. A dead person is exactly as gross as were as they were as a living person, which could be anything from textbook human specimen to abomination of nature. Just because you died doesn’t mean you looked after yourself any better or worse when you were alive. Death is not a magic wand, it’s a permanent parking space.

Of course, when I was in the back of the ambulance, none of that meant anything. I was strapped down with a paramedic clutching at my throat to stop the bleeding and all I could do was think about all the shitty choices I’d made about the big and the small stuff alike. I hoped that when people looked at me on the slab, they saw a noble human being, who did their best before their life was tragically cut short. So basically I wanted death to totally retcon my entire existence into something meaningful, which I knew wasn’t going to happen because it never happened for anybody else. That’s why I started laughing and the paramedic got scared, which just made me laugh even harder. It killed me but at least I died laughing at myself.

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“Double date”

I thought we were going out a real date, she and I, a double but real. I thought that she’d finally noticed me after all those years of just being friends. I got dressed up nice and did my hair then waited on the porch seat nervously. She arrived on time and we drove to a diner I didn’t really know, where we met the other girls. They were perfectly nice, one was a photographer and kinda mousy, the other one was a hairdresser and quite glamorous. It was her that was the problem. It turned out she hadn’t asked me out because she’d noticed me, she asked me because she just needed someone to be there to rub in the glamour girl’s face.

It didn’t take long to work it out, or that she was still in love with glamour girl after being knocked back a dozen times. I stuck it out for nearly an hour then got up and left when she turned her back long enough. I was heartbroken with tears rolling down my face. I’d been in love with her for so long and she didn’t care about me at all. I went home and locked myself in, I closed the curtains and curled up on my bed in the dark. After a while, I don’t know how long, she came and knocked on the door but I didn’t answer. She called out to me and apologized, said she was a jackass. She said that if she had two brain cells to rub together she’d be hung up on me instead of glamour girl but it didn’t change anything. She didn’t love me.

I let her think I wasn’t home and eventually she went away then I went to bed. The next day, a beautiful bunch of flowers came to the house with a note that said ‘I’m sorry’ and nothing else. I was an absolute sucker for flowers, so it earned her a sliver of forgiveness. I put the flowers in a vase by my kitchen table and let them brighten up the room but I still tried not to think about her. She sent me a bunch of flowers every day for a week with a different message every time, like ‘I miss you’ or ‘Forgive me’, before she’d finally earned a phone call and she said everything she did on my doorstep but better. At the end of it all, I agreed to go out to coffee with her so we could try to patch things up. She was different, so attentive and thoughtful. Fucking up was the best thing she ever did for our relationship because a month later, she asked me to marry her and I said yes.

“Hired Blade”

It was the harvest festival, so the streets were crowded and easy to hide in. I was wanted in that city so it was important to go unnoticed for as long as possible. I wore my hair differently to the last time and dressed myself in clothes I would otherwise never consider wearing. I felt like a cheap whore, poured into an ugly dress with my tits bulging out. I loathed to be seen that way, it was antithetical to my soul, but I would not be recognised and that was more important than my principles.

The ambassador was partial to cheap women and allowed me too close, too quickly. She was a pious sort, so convinced herself she was saving my soul instead of coveting my breasts. I waited with forced congeniality for her to invite me into some side room, so that I could kill her more privately, but she did not oblige me. She was too far in denial and restrained herself to the point of torture. I threw myself at her but she only lectured me on morality and fanned her blushing face, while her eyes danced.

Finally, I gave up and ran the ambassador through in the town square, leaving her to die among the people and the produce. I fled immediately but to no avail, one of the guards had noticed me for an assassin and made ready for trouble. She grabbed me and wrestled my hands down behind my back. To my relief, it was my sister and she bundled me into the back of a wagon that immediately started moving. She gave me directions to my payment then invited me to strike her across the jaw. I should perhaps have done it more gently but kindness is a surefire way to be found out.

“Cheap Thrills”

They make pornography in the house across the street from me. They’re very quiet about it, I never would have guessed if I hadn’t seen it through the windows myself last summer. They don’t always bother closing the blinds upstairs because they think no-one can see them but I can from my bathroom window. Often, I’ve brushed my teeth and seen depravity in various flavours but at a distance that makes it more surreal than erotic. To see a person with a mic on a stick and another with a camera run around two people while they bang on a swivel chair can be pure comedy in the right mood.

I crossed paths with one of them in the supermarket a few weeks ago and had to quell the urge to ask them questions about the stuff that had been occurring to me as I looked out my window. Most burning in my mind was why one of the male performers always kept his socks on. Was it to serve a fetish? Was he cold? Missing a toe? What? I stood there in line behind them, clutching my bottle milk and biting my lip while they bought breath mints, a very thoughtful gesture for a person in their profession. I hung back after they left so they wouldn’t think or was following them or anything creepy.

I’m supposed to call it in when I find out about things like that, in my district it’s illegal to make dirty films, but until they do something that’s hurts somebody, I’m just going to leave them alone. They’re all consenting adults, you can tell by the way they get into it, so I don’t see any harm in what they’re doing. As the chief of police, I’m concerned with crimes against victims, not crimes against morality. And besides, at my age where else would I get cheap thrills so easily?

“Guttersnipe”

I lived out on the street with my brother. Our mother was killed in the bombings and our father was taken during the occupation. We had other family but we didn’t know where to find them, so we just stayed in the city and learned to fend for ourselves. We tried not to steal unless we were desperate but on the bad days, desperation came quickly, especially in the winter. My brother was older than me, so he always fed me first and then himself, if there was enough. There wasn’t always.

The woman with the motorcycle noticed us first, she watched us carefully as we walked around and it made us nervous. She didn’t speak to us or come closer, she just watched us for an hour and then left. We were glad until she came back with the man on foot and watched us again. After another hour, he came to us and took out his wallet. He emptied it of all the cash he had and offered it to my brother, there was five hundred dollars there, at least. My brother was scared to take it and wondered what the man wanted in exchange for so much money.

“We were like you once,” the man explained to us, pointing to himself and then the woman with the motorcycle. “Not together but we both grew up on the streets, we both knew hunger and cold. Take this money and spend it quickly before someone robs you for it, I wish I had more to give you but I don’t. Buy warm clothes and good shoes then all the tinned food you can carry. If you have anything left,  buy tape and strap the money to your chest so it’s hard for anyone to take it while you’re sleeping. Do you understand?”

We nodded and waited for him to go on and ask for something in return but no words came. He asked for nothing then pressed the money into my brother’s hand. He left then and so did the woman with the motorcycle. Like he told us to, we quickly went and the spent the money. That night we slept on full bellies and were insulated wonderfully against the cold by our new clothes. Every day after we looked out for the woman with the motorcycle or her friend but we never saw them. After a while we forgot their faces but we remembered their kindness with every step of our warm shoes.

“Yo-ho”

I had joined the ship not three months before the epidemic that killed most of the men. Those that joined after knew nothing about me and or where I came from, so assumed I was a veteran and gave me the due respect. I was still young, barely sixteen, but it was common for boys to start sailing at nine or ten, so I could easily have had a decade’s experience but I was no boy.

At fourteen I had fled my home to escape an arranged marriage to a despicable man that had hoodwinked my parents into thinking he was a gentleman. The first moment we had alone together, he showed me otherwise by threatening to break my jaw for speaking out of turn. I tried to convince my mother otherwise and then my father but they said I was hysterical and paid me no attention.

Disguised as a stable boy, I ran off into the night and eventually found my way to the nearby port. I talked my way onto a ship then kept my mouth shut and did everything a good cabin boy was supposed to. After the epidemic, I was given a promotion and kept that same attitude. One of the men knew I was different, I could tell by the way he smirked at me, but he never said a word to me or anyone else about it. It was his own private joke and it tickled him every day.

In ten years, I was second mate and in twenty, I was Captain. I made my discreet friend my first mate, since he had been so trustworthy already. I had an inkling that some of the other men suspected I was not what I seemed but by then I had proven myself to be a fine sailor, so they turned a blind eye. On my fortieth birthday, in another port, in another country, a young ‘boy’ came to us and begged for a place on our ship. I took them aboard then they shut their mouth and did everything a good cabin boy should do.

“Spook”

Cats could see me. No-one else could, just cats. When I appeared nearby my body in the alley, a cat was looking down on me from a fire escape. It was casually interested in what had happened and what I was going to do next but when all I did was stand there for a while, looking at my corpse, it lost interest. I was a waitress at an all night diner and when I stepped out the back for my usual break someone snuck up on me from behind and slit my throat, so I’ve no idea who killed me or why. I didn’t think I was important enough to anybody in the whole world to get that kind of reaction. But there I was, dead on the bricks.

When I didn’t go back to work for a while, another waitress came looking for me and she screamed at the sight of the blood, there was a lot of blood. Our boss called the police and two beat cops in a patrol car came to secure the scene. They were both respectful of my corpse but one talked a lot and the other was quiet. The chatty one speculated on who might have killed me and why. He was very kind and said that I’d been too pretty to be single, so my murderer could have been my lover. He was wrong, though, I hadn’t dated anyone in months and the last person was half a world away by then.

The quiet one noticed a lock of my hair had been cut off and taken, which I hadn’t even noticed myself. He hoped it was a sign of familiarity but worried it was a trophy. They said that the night before a waitress five blocks away had been killed, not far from her apartment. It was a big city, so people died every day for one reason or another, but two waitresses in two days, five blocks from each other, he didn’t like it. Neither did I. Eventually, forensics came and then a detective, who didn’t listen to quiet cop anywhere near as much as he should have. A few hours later, they were all gone and I was left all alone in the alley.

I haunted the area, talking to indifferent alley cats for three days, until quiet cop came in this civilian clothes, looking for something. I don’t know what he found behind the trash can at the other end of the alley but as soon as he got a good look at it, I started to slowly disappear. I think he knew who killed me, so my mystery was solved and I could move on but I don’t know for sure. Even it’s that not what happened – thank you, quiet cop, you’re a credit to the uniform.