"A fake love, never destined to be alive. You live in your own world, where goodnight means goodbye. There are times when I wonder if you even found the reason why you decided to abandon reality. Forgive me for one second. I need to die."
Once we exited that cave-like cavity, the strange emerald skeleton stretched and straightened every vertebra of his back, appearing more of a giant than he was before. From the great effort to regain his posture, the skeleton began coughing, his rib bones chiming, sounding like an old highway truck driver with blackened lungs from deep nicotine addiction.
With an unforeseen twist of his waist, he turned to me and grasped the top of my head with his immense fingers.
"Talk to me!"
I stared at him mortified.
"Think of something! Anything! Now!"
What the hell-
You're the devil!
"Well sheesh, lad, you don't wanna play around with that name here. We don't want no guest-star appearances, savvy?"
You can hear me? How?
"Strange thing this place is. You never know who can hear or see your thoughts. Learn to control them, son. And please, call me Andrew."
The skeleton, proudly standing, gazed in the horizon. Pleased with what he was seeing, he shook his head and hopped his way to the opening behind us. From there, he grabbed a gun-shaped object and something that seemed to resemble a hat. My vision was getting blurry again. I repeated the trick of slowly blinking multiple times, in hopes I'd regain a part of my sight. It was then when I saw that object transforming to leg bones and the hat to a military beret. He popped said beret on top of his skull and used those leg bones as a crutch. Most probably, the reason for his earlier hopping was that missing limb he could not reattach back to his body.
I had to know more. I had to pass my thoughts on to him.
Who are you? What do you want from me?
The skeleton grinned.
"I don't know, you tell me."
I couldn't take it. The levels of madness were not fitting for my tired brain. I needed to sleep. I needed forever lasting anaesthesia. Not some lack of sense or constant disappointment.
"You remain silent, but who are you to ask others without introducing yourself first, eh? And don't judge me for being the way I am. Have you ever seen yourself? Oh, you can't, I keep forgetting. Well, you look like a mess. And you smell. Terribly."
In my inability to express myself, I looked and touched the rope hanging around my neck. Its end seemed cut-off, with loose strings hanging about. I looked back at the so-called Andrew.
I used to be Hogan...
"Looks like suicide. Yet, sometimes, looks can be deceiving, doncha think... Hogan? At least, that's what I've concluded thus far."
What do you mean?
"Beats me. I've stuck in this place forever now. I can only assume things."
What is this place?
"You see that town over yonder, lad?"
The skeleton leant on his crutch and jerked his head towards that mess of a shape I saw on the horizon before my fainting. I nodded, not bothering to adjust my vision any further.
"That is the town of West Undeadville. All the dead fellows gather there, pretending to sleep, eat, converse with each other. That is where we're going."
West? Are there any other parts of this Undead... ville?
"I suppose there are, why bother calling it West otherwise? There is definitely an East part for all I know and that is where we're going as well."
"Dead men tell no tales, son. You're stuck in here as well, so why not go on an adventure? Why not enjoy this living death? With us?"
He waited for no answer of mine, instead, he went on forward, hobbling, with his odd leg tightly grasped by his hand.
Understand this, Nicholas, I had no choice. Being scared and dead does not make any sense. And sense had long abandoned me.
I had no choice.
I followed this strange being -or would 'lack of being' be more appropriate?- with all the courage I could muster, in any way I could. I slipped through the sand, trying to adjust to the new way my body moved, and finally caught up.
"You picked a great day to fall, amigo. I'm in a good mood. I'll tell ya my story. It's a long one, but on the other hand, the trip back 'home' is an even longer one."
Andrew kept moving forward, the tone of his voice felt serious and nostalgic.
"It's been several years now, decades, centuries even, I have lost count. I used to serve the troops, more details I cannot recall. What I do remember with great certainty is, though, we were fighting hard against an unknown enemy, with stubbornness and great persistence. We were superior, both in numbers and in strength, however, I didn't know much. You see, I was a young, uneducated lad and very much, deeply in love, yessirree. I was forcefully taken away from her plump bosom, only to be forcefully put into the first line of fire."
He seemed to have practised this talk multiple times, for his expression seemed theatrical and deep. I could not distinguish whether his story was real or just made up.
"What I only wanted was her sweet, warm embrace. What I got instead was the cold touch of my gun and the threat of death by my bedside. And it was one day, that dreadful, fateful day, while I was doing my usual day patrol when I suddenly heard loud noises, gunshots, explosions. The enemy had managed to penetrate our fort. On my watch. I got scared, I had never had the chance to join the fight from this close, up until that moment. I smashed my cigarette with haste in the mound of dirt that surrounded and protected me. I grabbed and loaded my gun and, with my heart struggling to escape my chest, I ran towards the battlefield. And as I was getting closer… BOOM.”
Andrew made a large gesture to describe the explosion, with his hands expanding from his chest. He paused for a good moment to see my unbothered reaction and continued.
“I tripped on a hand grenade and fell. Naturally, it exploded, taking away my leg. I don't know how, but my life wasn't over yet. I crawled my way to find shelter, blood leaving a trail behind me. I cursed my wound for giving away my position. When I finally made it in a safe place, sweating and hardly breathing, I rested my back against a pile of bricks and took out the pendant I was hiding in my pocket.
“Those jet black eyes, filled with light and joy, were the only ones I could think of. The eyes of my loved one, far away and, hopefully, safe. It was never meant to be. My thoughts were bombarded out of nowhere with the abrupt appearance of an ally. He was blinded by the blood on his face, his anguish and terror. He came to me screaming, with a knife in his hands. He was stabbing me wherever he could, we were both yelling in each other's faces.
“And when his knife got my liver, he finally recognised my voice. He stood there, realising in despair that I was no foe, but Andrew, the guy with whom just a few hours ago he was playing poker in the fort. Tears were falling from his eyes as he could feel my beating heart slowing down. Sobbing and weeping, he was begging for forgiveness. I slapped his cheek with all my remaining strength and he looked at me. 'You relieved me from my pain. You hear me, brother?' Our foreheads collided while the sharp blade of his knife was still inside my dying body. He was still pleading, telling me he should get help. I looked at the pendant in my hand and passed it on to him. 'Tell her that I love her.'"
Andrew stood still for a moment. You'd think he was crying, but-
"So what do you think of my story? I can't remember much and chances are most of it is fake... Who knows, right?"
How can a dead person be this excited? The lack of seriousness was killing me. Again. However, even if part of what he was saying was indeed true, then my reason for dying was seemingly absurd and idiotic. Other people fight to save and to be saved, while others, like me, just give up. All of this brought me back to a state of deep thinking, but, thanks to Andrew's impatience, not for long.
"Have you ever wondered why you are here or why you are the way you are now?"
I have... So?
"This is what I want to figure out. There ain't much to do around here, so I've been trying to find others like us, or things that may provide me with some answers. You’re with me, aren't ya?"
I nodded. It would certainly be easier, and perhaps more enjoyable, to search for answers with some company.
So, good morning new world. Hogan here.
I hope you're worth it.