Death: An Afterthought in Thirteen Acts

This work is not intended as a substitute for the medical advice of physicians or spiritual advice of clerics and priests.

I. Beowulf

He slew so many, but now is only a heap of ashes in an urn. His urn sits next to Caesar’s who slew even more. Beowulf is jealous. He tries to comfort himself. Caesar started earlier. Caesar lived in a more populous area. Caesar had more help.

They communicate through smells. Pleasant smell is a long signal. Stench is (mercifully) a short signal. A Morse code of sorts though Samuel Finley Breese would tap his displeasure in his grave at that thought.

Beowulf reads Caesar the poem of himself. All 3182 alliterative lines. And Caesar replies with Bellum Gallicum. It’s a gravely subject.

Neither knows each other’s tongue, which doesn’t bother them a bit. Language is not a barrier for the person with a sword, which is a tool international in scope. Those two can’t slay any longer. So they smell like never before. It’s an olfactory version of the Piano Concerto No. 5 in E♭major, Op. 73, by Ludwig van Beethoven, popularly known as the Emperor Concerto. Too bad no one enjoys it but them. It’s Oscar material, really, and they would look good scattered about the red carpet.

II. Hamlet

He never died whatever Prince Fortinbras and his four captains claimed.

Instead, wounded by Laertes’s poisoned sword, Hamlet was taken by a UFO to Alpha Centauri where a local centaur doctor fixed him up, and where Hamlet became a resident alien with a green card in record time. Not only because he baked mean Danishes, or could skew anyone with a sword, or speak Elizabethan English fluently, but because he was the only male around. The Centauri reproduced asexually, so they didn’t know what genders or love is but were fascinated with the unknown.

Hamlet still sits there, four hounded years later, by a lily pond where Ophelia floats face up. He’s guessing the same UFO brought her in, too. He cares not about the reason as long as she is here. He’s a stoic, though could be a royal pain when faced with injustice.

One day, Hamlet will teach the locals about love. The world without it seems tragic to him. Until then, he is dressed in black, with a skull in his hands, and he mutters, “To be or not to be.” The doctor thinks he will, but only until he brings love to this world. The doctor read Shakespeare, the only Centauri to do so. The others are too practical. They would choke you to death with their practicality.

Come to think of it, maybe Prince Fortinbras and his four captains were right, and he is dead already. That would explain a lot.

III. Lot’s Wife

I don’t even have a name. Just someone’s wife. Mrs. Lot, as it were. Someone never heard, never seen. Someone to follow the man and never look back. Not a pillar of the society by any means. And adding insult to injury, I was turned into a pillar of salt. Any camel could lick me. And they did. Gross.

So I stood there in the desert, fuming as much as salt can fume, for several thousand years. Pilgrims came and stared. Soldiers pissed at my ankles. Tourists came and snapped my pictures. A teenage girl spray-painted ‘Abe’ on my now flat chest. She knows her Bible.

And just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, they started to make salt shakers they call “Lot’s Wife.” They wouldn’t do that to a man, would they? I thought woman’s lot had improved over the ages. My blood pressure is rising. Too much salt is bad for you.

IV. Anna Karenina

In the shelter for severed female souls, I collect Anna jokes and store them in my dresser, under my bloodied and torn clothes. My favorite is where Jean-Paul Sartre tells a friend “Anna Karenina? It’s a long story.” My second best is where a well-dressed woman lies dead on the rail tracks. She died of hunger because the train was late. The third one is a cut off finger with a wedding ring.

Anne Boleyn, my roommate, likes that one the best. She’s such a slut. Just wants to be different. She sing-songs: “All happy families are alike, All happy families are alike. Tada-tada-tada.”

She thinks it’s a joke. So much for female solidarity.

I’m telling her about Henry’s subsequent wives and about the end of the Tudor dynasty. I’m telling her that the English monarchs have become just figureheads.

She bangs her silly cut-off head on the wall with both hands. Her eyes are full of tears. I call her Henrietta. Get it? Henry-ietta. Har, har.

She never bathes and smells like a condemned Tudor mansion.

I close my eyes and think about fast trains and slow men. As I’m looking for perfection, I’ll never be content.

V. Sherlock Holmes

The afterlife is boring. Everything is known. Everything is clear. No mysteries, no crime. Even back in life, we all knew everyone gets what they deserve. We didn’t need to die for that knowledge. But here, everyone knows what everyone else deserves. No need for a detective.

Watson is even more depressed than me. He wants to make the Hound of Baskerville bite Dr. Moriarty. But the Hound prefers to play with kittens. He rubbed off his fluorescent paint on them, and they also glow in the dark. So predictable.

I smoke my opium and play chess with Moriarty. Opium doesn’t get me high here, of course, but a habit is a habit. Moriarty knows. He tried to poison me, twice. The poison doesn’t even give me diarrhea. He knows that, too. Everything he does is for show. So I blow smoke in his face. He blows it back. It’s a battle of wits.

I shall win because he doesn’t inhale deep enough before blowing. He’s never used a blowgun. No imprint on his lips. It’s elementary boring.

VI. Superman

Killed by Doomsday, Superman comes back as a super at a luxury high rise in Wall Street. He is responsible for a 24-hour turnaround response for all service requests and he schedules and performs preventative maintenance and asset preservation. He flies in his sleep every night, but mostly it’s a free fall. Lois Lane is his boss, but they don’t recognize each other. She smokes, but he can’t tell if she has cancer any more. He lost his X-ray vision, among other things. Worse yet, he doesn’t care.

They squabble about his sick days and overtime. She makes fun of his tights and cape. He glares at her but no laser beams come out of his eyes. She fires him for insubordination. He pushes her off the roof and watches her fall. Who will get her now, he thinks. His cape flutters in the wind. He feels tightness in his chest. It may be his heart of steel pumping super-oxygenated blood or maybe a sign of a heart attack.

VII. Robin Hood

Robin Hood is pissed. He sits on his couch, his hands over his ears. He shares a suite of two bedrooms with Fagin, the merry old gentleman. Fagin leans toward the keyhole in Robin’s room and sings “Robin Hood/what a crook/Gave away, what he took.” He has a very pleasant voice; otherwise no one would have hired him for Oliver! Yet he sings 24/7/365 and that is a bit too much even for a musicals lover, and Robin is not. He only likes “Te Deum” and even that in moderation.

He tries to sing “Te Deum laudámus: te Dominum confitémur” but stops after the first line. He hates the sounds of his own voice and he doesn’t know the second line by heart. He asked Fagin once to sing it. But Fagin said that he knows only three songs: “Be Back Soon, “Reviewing the Situation” and “You’ve Got to Pick a Pocket or Two.” And he said that prefers the latter because it mentions Robin, and he, Fagin, is not just merry, but also a friendly gentleman.

Robin wishes he had the Sheriff of Nottingham instead of Fagin. At least the Sheriff has a proper Middle English accent and he knows “Te Deum.”

He’s hopeful that Fagin would develop an organic voice disorder. He doesn’t know that Richard Dawkins said: “If something is true, no amount of wishful thinking will change it.” Robin also doesn’t know he will be forced to watch “Men in Tights” 24/7/365/1,000 soon. No crime goes unpunished.

VIII. Raskolnikov

Upon arrival, Raskolnikov finds himself in a throne-like chair. An ax hangs above his head on a thread. He can not get up. He can hardly move.

Dostoevsky sits in front of him and writes long hand. A portrait of Alyona Ivanovna, the pawnbroker’s, as a young girl, hangs on the wall behind him. It’s animated, and it winks at Raskolnikov.

“Pain and suffering are always inevitable for a large intelligence and a deep heart.” Dostoyevsky says without looking up.

Raskolnkov thinks he’s heard this line before. He’s not sure where. He wiggles but can’t move more than an inch.

He wants to say something witty that befits his immortal vis-à-vis. He wants to say that he’s more of a saint than an ax murderer. But the string raptures and the ax falls on his head.

He wakes up the next day in the same chair, with a splitting headache. He founds it’s funny that his name and the word “split” has the same root in Russian.

For the next five minutes Alyona Ivanovna winks with both eyes from the portrait. He has to warn her. Winking would cause her to wrinkle prematurely.

Dostoyevsky still writes. “It takes something more than intelligence to act intelligently,” he says.

Raskolnkov thinks he has heard this line before also. He looks up. The string holds this time.

“It’s all for a good cause,” he says.

Dostoyevsky nods. He’s busy writing. Raskolnikov thinks about the consequences of a written word. It’s hard to concentrate when your head hurts, but he will come up with something witty and profound. He always had.

IX. Fiddlers on the Roof

Tevye the Dairyman got a penthouse with a roof access. What else would a simple man need? He was happily fiddling all week long (except for Shabbat) until they brought him a roommate with a fat neck and pot belly. The newcomer introduced himself as Nero, and he also played the fiddle. Very badly. And he wore a strange gown and a laurel wreath.

“I’ve actually never played this instrument before,” he said. “What they said about me playing the fiddle while Rome burned is a lie. Fiddles were not invented until the 11th century. I played a cithara. I’m somewhat of a classicist.”

Tevye wasn’t sure what Nero was talking about. The Good Book didn’t mention any of that, and Nero’s Yiddish was tainted with a Ladino accent. So Tevye just showed him how to play and they practiced for another week. Then they had milk and cookies and a glass or two of a kosher Falernian wine, climbed on the roof and played together, watching the Hell burn.

X. Frank Nicholas Stein, PhD

It’s not comfortable here. Scorpions crawl under my feet, tarantulas try to sneak under my shirt’s collar and a black mamba coils around my legs. And that’s my break time, my cool-off, my respite. Most times, it’s worse than that. I want to go home.

When Abbey left me, taking my life savings, I took the carcass of a stray cat ran over by a Humane Society truck, two pounds of nice Belgian chocolate, five silk ties, a dozen of unblemished Georgia peaches, plus a handful of pink rose petals, a few chunks of Brazilian wax, the head of a pickled herring, a pound of organic sugar, and some spice. I ground it together, poured the mixture into a mold I fashioned after a Playboy centerfold (December 2001, my favorite) and ran 38,000 volts through it. The key was to modulate the current with selected tunes from the Grateful Dead. I knew that the resulting woman wouldn’t have any soul, but all I wanted was a body (I had enough misfortunes with full-souled women already).

I called her Eve (I know, I know, my imagination is not so great since I am not a man of letters.) Her skin was soft as Chinese silk, and her cheeks were red delicious apples above and ripe melons below. Her mouth smelled of roses and everything else smelled in a way attractive to a sexually active male. She was shaking all over, but since I was still smarting from Abbey’s departure (and Zyria’s departure before that—she stole my collection of 71,000 species of moths), I went for the kill right away, skipping the tissue analysis, though I longed immensely to do that.

“Oh, Frank,” Eve whispered when I lowered her on the bed. “Frank, darling.”

Just before I came, a whole bunch of fire ants ran out of her lovely mouth. Some bit my cheeks, some bit my ears and the biggest one, the size of the cat, devoured my tongue. If that was not enough, Eve raised those lovely hands of hers and strangled me.

Now, I’m in this strange place. For 23 hours a day, they put me inside what looks like a big cauldron, fixed over a pile of burning coal. The cauldron is filled with be boiling oil (olive or sunflower?), which comes all the way to my chin. It hurts. When the oil cools off a bit, a red-skinned lab assistant with horns throws more coal under my cauldron. He’s very diligent, and lets me cool-off only for one hour a day. I tried to engage him into a scientific discussion once.

“Do you know, sir, that a black-mouthed mamba is a highly venomous snake of the genus Dendroaspis, and is endemic to sub-Saharan Africa?” I asked him.

He just showed me his pointy teeth in need of a power wash.

I realize that this is punishment for me, but for what? For interfering with nature by creating an artificial being? But that’s what scientists are for. Not to interfere per se, but to build the orderly world from the natural chaos. Is Archimedes here, too? Newton? Einstein?

Besides, why is so clichéd? Don’t I deserve some custom-made punishments?

My only hope to return back home is that a woman scientist back on Earth would construct a device similar to what I had made. I envision how that will happen.

I hear the Grateful Dead music. Friend of the Devil. I’m pulled into something dark and confined. I smell snips, snails, puppy dog tails, and a whiff of nuts. I have a body now. I feel a strong, pulsating electrical current running through me. The mold opens up. I shut my eyes against bright light. A woman’s hands run over my body. I’m shaking all over but my muscles are powerful enough to snap her neck like a glass lab tube and squish the rest of her like a beetle.

That’s what I do.

And then the cycle repeats itself. Cycle and epicycle, orb in orb. The snake swallowing its tail. I pity the snake.

XI. The Itsy Bitsy Spider

He has only one inch left to climb. He knows what awaits him at the top of the spout. The Itsy Bitsy Fly. The Itsy Bitsy Moth. The Itsy Bitsy Mosquito. And, above all, the Itsy Bitsy She-Spider wrapped in silky web.

But down comes the rain and washes the spider out. The sun is in his eight eyes. Everyone of them is hurting. He’s not allowed to stop. He wishes he could sweat. He climbs again. At least he has no boulder to roll up.

He knows he will make it one of these days. He’s a crafty son of a spider. Size is not everything.

Just one inch left. Just one inch. The first drop of the rain hits him over the head like a wet hammer. Maybe this time he will persevere. As Coolidge said, persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. But, on the other hand, he’d never been inside the water spout.

XII. The Daesh Fighter

The Daesh fighter had this Yazidi woman for a sex slave. He used to be a Zen Buddhist before converting. He used to avoid stepping on insects. He used to teach yoga, wearing Thai Fisherman Yoga Trousers and peddling tea tree oil extracts that helps the body heal.

Before raping his slave, he smoked, watched online porn, beat her with an ammunition belt and then inserted a live grenade in her vagina. Afterwards, he prayed.

When she escaped, she joined a Yazidi Ladies of the Sun battalion and shot him dead while he was running away from the battle.

Now, seven virgins serve him in paradise from evening till morning. They are unearthly divine. Their hair is like silk and their eyes are shaped like almonds. They look identical except for their lips, each shaded to the seven colors of the rainbow. Their eyes have no whites. In the evening, their skin is gray like gypsum and their tails twitch.

Each virgin has a set of serrated teeth in her vagina. When they are done with him, his cock is shredded to pieces and their faces turn pink. Then they pour a jar of celestial tea tree oil on his wound, and, by the evening, his cock grows back again. He tried to hang himself on his ammunition belt. But he is already dead, so he just hung, swaying in the breeze, his yoga pants low on his hips, until the evening came. Then the smell of tea tree oil is in the air.

XIII. Godot

You didn’t want to stand up Vladimir and Estragon. It was just a series of unfortunate events: first the city didn’t salt the steps of your apartment building, and you slipped and fell. Then you tripped over two urns someone left on the sidewalk. Then two idiots in short pants decided to fence at the entrance to the train station. Then the train was delayed because a Russian noblewoman fancied committing suicide on the tracks. Then a private eye pulled the train’s emergency breaks because he saw a phosphorescing dog in his nightmares. Then someone was shooting arrows at the traffic. And then someone tried to ax the conductor and her sister. And then someone wanted to burn the whole place down. And then a mad scientist conducted an experiment right inside the train. And then you almost stepped on a spider. And then they had a terrorist alert.

Finally, when you were about to reach Vladimir and Estragon, Superman and Doomsday started a fight in the skies. A chunk of concrete fell on your head. Took all the fun out of looking in the mirror.

Now, they will never know if you were Pozzo. Were you? You can’t remember. Concrete is bad for your memory. All you remember, everyone will come here eventually. Just you wait.  

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