I clambered out and replaced the sheet, making sure to drape it over the casket exactly how I found it. Mom really thought of everything. I’ve heard of plenty of cases where families couldn’t get ahold of a casket in time.
The body stiffens up into a cold, solid lump in whatever position it fell to the ground. Often that requires breaking the joints in order to position the arms and legs so the body will fit in the casket. Not for me though, she really covered all the bases. That’s my mom for you.
When I returned to bed, it struck me as odd how similar it felt. Just two different kinds of bed. One for the little, temporary slices of death that we call sleep, and the other for the endless sleep that we call death.
These thoughts swirled around in my head, folding over on themselves, until at last I once again fell asleep. I’d have liked to dream of something nostalgic tonight. My first love, that magical Summer I spent in Florida so many years ago. Anything but this.
The same old recurring dream that seems to resurface when I’m anxious about something. I’m in a cold, bare concrete room illuminated by a single bare bulb dangling overhead…with a gun on the floor. There’s just nothing else in the room. No way out, except one.
I tasted the barrel of the gun, sliding my tongue around it as I angled it towards my brain stem. What would it feel like, I wondered? Can anybody say? Vanishingly few people ever learn first hand what it feels like to do this, and survive to talk about it.
When at last I pulled the trigger, time abruptly slowed to a crawl. I could feel, with intense clarity, the sensation of the bullet penetrating up through the roof of my mouth. Then the feeling of the red hot bullet searing my soft, tender brain tissue as it tore its way through.
Then, the back of my skull exploded in a fountain of sticky red mist, jiggling chunks of brain matter and shards of shattered bone. I slumped over…only to realize a few seconds later that I was somehow still conscious.
The pain never went away after that, just subsided to the point where I could think clearly. That I could think at all baffled me. I’d destroyed my brain, surely? When I reached around to feel at the back of my head, there was a big sticky, warm opening. I felt something soft and squishy when I stuck my finger into it.
So I put the gun back in my mouth and tried again. I felt it all in slow motion, just as vividly as before. But the result was the same. I was still conscious. All I’d accomplished was to make a bigger mess of my mouth, and the back of my head.
I kept trying until I ran out of bullets. I was crying by this point…but there was also blood streaming out of my tear ducts, nose and mouth. Diluting the tears as the steaming, salty mixture pooled beneath me.
When I next felt around the back of my head, I discovered to my dismay that the entire back half of my skull was hanging open. Like a gaping brain bucket, though there was precious little in the way of brain matter still inside of it.
I reached my hand deep inside the opening and felt around in there. I could feel soft, warm squishy pulsating stuff, experiencing all sorts of strange sensations as I did so. I think I smelled burning eggs at one point, and saw little sparkling points of light swimming around the edges of my vision.
I cried more, but it changed nothing. So I then set about trying to hunt down all the bloody chunks of my brain, scoop them up in my hands and dumping them back into my busted open bucket of a skull. Even after I put all of it in there, I couldn’t remember anything. I couldn’t remember why I shot myself, as my brain would not put itself back together again.
I was miserable, yet also aroused for some reason. Part of me wanted to keep shooting. It’s difficult to say why, as the feeling is impossible to fully capture…but it seemed to me as if the act of the bullet penetrating the skull and plowing deep into the soft, warm brain was almost sexual.
I could imagine no other way forward, desperately wanting to feel it again. To never stop feeling it, if it was possible to somehow make it continuous. If only there were more bullets! My tongue, and in fact the whole inside of my mouth was burnt from all those gunshots. All I could taste was blood and gunpowder.
When I awoke, the house bustled with activity. Dad was on the phone with one of the guests instructing them how to park so we could fit as many cars in the driveway as possible before anybody would need to park on the street.
Mom was busy in the kitchen, preparing to bake a cake by the looks of it. There was some sort of concert on the little kitchen television, which a scrolling banner at the bottom clarified was a charity event to cover the exit day costs for underprivileged families.
The orchestra was playing the 1812 overture, with two long lines of people to either side of the stage. At every point in the song where a cannon was about to go off, the next person in each line would rush up to a podium at the edge of the platform with a pump action shotgun on it, prop it up against a stand designed for this purpose, and put the tip of the barrel in their mouth.
Then, just as the cannon would normally fire, they would pull the trigger. Blasting their head apart in a shower of putrid, steaming gore. It was relentless. As the pace of the song increased, people were rushing to play that lethal instrument at the rate of one per second, or close.
Soon the curtains to either side of the stage were soaked in blood and speckled with bits of bone and gristle. A team of volunteers dragged bodies away, at first faster than they could accumulate, but it became apparent that they were becoming overwhelmed near the end of the song.
It took me longer than it should have to work out that the people lined up to either side of the stage were just all the members of the audience whose exit day was today.
But then, someone choked. They ran up, planted the shotgun against the special stand, put it in their mouth…but didn’t pull the trigger. The orchestra slowly died down. The conductor, bewildered, turned to stare at the spectacle unfolding to the right of the stage.
The camera zoomed in on the portly, middle aged man with the comb-over and grey button down shirt. He was sweating profusely and beginning to cry. The crowd murmured…then began to shout and jeer at him.
The broadcast cut to a “We are experiencing technical difficulties” screen. Then about fifteen seconds later it returned. The orchestra was back in the swing of it, finishing up the song. I could just barely make out the body of the middle aged man lying atop the ever-growing pile behind the stage.
After that, some stupid commercial came on. A woman with a mature but nurturing voice spoke over some faint, melancholy violin music in the background.
“Are you struggling? Did your exit selection come as a surprise, and your life’s in disarray as you hurry to make preparations? Do not give into despair. Call the exit assistance hotline. We’re here for you, and will talk you through this daunting time. Remember that you are not alone, our counselors are available 24/7 to help you do what needs to be done.”
I felt Mom’s hand on my shoulder. “Don’t pay any attention to that nonsense. I have a good feeling about tonight.”
Jorge was the first to arrive, carefully backing in his Yaris along the long, narrow driveway beside the house. “I hope you plan to stay the longest, otherwise it’s going to be a bitch to get your car out” I joked, only for him to grip me by the hand and stare at me.
“Of course I’m going to stay the longest, bro. I’ve known you longer than anybody here except your family, but then we are family. This is your big night, man.” I found myself tearing up a little. But that’s no good. Tears are no good right now, if I were to let them start I knew they would never stop.
Even then I could feel it. A tingling on my scalp, at the back of my head. I couldn’t stop thinking about it as I finished setting up the canvas. Like some sort of sensory premonition. My mouth was even watering, as if in anticipation of the barrel.
Stay Tuned for Part 4!