You Know What Happens After Dark

Freddy felt the dead people the most at night. That was the only way she could put it. When she understood what was happening, that is. Like most stories about dead people and their re-entry into this world, Freddy’s story begins with the usual: It wasn’t always that way.

Part One: When it began…
Freddy was 20 years old, and newly out on her own. She’d moved out of her parents house at 19 and ½, and moved out of her exboyfriend’s house just three weeks after that. Too proud to tell her parents they’d been right (or even let them think it if she’d gone back to them and said she needed her old room back) she’d spent two nights on the street before finding a small apartment near the restaurant she worked second shift at. “So at least I got a place to go home to tonight,” she said to Lois, who had an old-lady name but was Freddy’s age. The two usually worked together at the restaurant, which tried very hard to recall the spirit of a 1950’s diner while trying not at all to use the prices set back then. They were standing in the entryway under the overhanging awning, with Lois lighting a cigarette and eyeing the misty rain that was falling. “You sure you don’t want a ride?” she asked Freddy. pulled her hood up and shook her head back and forth once. Freddy

“Uh uh. I’ll be fine. It’s not far. I don’t get cold that easy.” She waved to Lois and began walking into the rain. Lois called back, “Just lemme finish my smoke. I’m going that way anyway!” But Freddy waved her off and kept walking. It was almost midnight and the streets were quiet. The streetlights fuzzed in the misted sky and didn’t quite cast enough light to show her where she

was going. They looked to her like larger, closer stars. She thought they were pretty like that. She tucked her hands into the pocket in the front of her sweatshirt, just under the UCLA across the chest. She hummed a little, tunelessly, as she walked, head down. A horn honked, right next to her, causing her to jump. She turned to her left and saw Lois, in her parents’ car, pulling alongside her. “C’mon, get in here,” Lois said. “You’ll get soaked.” “I don’t mind walking, really,” said Jenny. She didn’t like to ride with Lois. Lois was not a good driver. Plus she thought Lois might be a little high tonight. She’d seemed unusually happy and jumpy. “Suit yourself,” said Lois, and turned the volume on the CD player up to where Freddy could hear the thump-thump-thump of the bass in the song but nothing else. Lois waved through the passenger window as it rolled up. She floored it and sped off, turning the corner a block up almost on two wheels already. Freddy, later, would think that she was lucky to have not gotten into the car with Lois that night. Not long after that, Freddy would wish that she had gotten into the car.

Freddy walked slowly home that night, underneath the starlike lamps along the curb, lost in her own thoughts, many of them just the mundane thoughts any twenty year old girl would have, and many of them skirting around the subject of her only-recently-ex boyfriend and many more of them fluttering past the question of when she would tell Mom that they’d broken up. It hadn’t even been anything big that broke them up. She thought maybe that it was just that she didn’t want to live with anyone. She was almost at her apartment building when she heard the thump-thump-thump of that song again. Lois’ song, whatever it was she’d been playing. She looked up and saw the back end of Lois’ car, its brake lights shining at her like two sleepy eyes. The front was engulfed in smoke, or steam, something white anyway, that billowed from the crumpled hood and rose up into the tree Lois had driven into. Freddy rushed up, pushing her hood back off of her face. “Lois! Lois!” she screamed. “Somebody call 911! Help!” She got to the door and peered into the driver’s window. Lois was slumped against the steering wheel. Her arms hung limply on her lap. She wasn’t moving. Freddy pulled at the door handle. It stuck but she kept tugging and got the door open. Don’t move her she thought, but how could you not? How were you supposed to check if she’s okay if you couldn’t move her? And why don’t I have a cell phone? She leaned in. “Lois?” she said. Then louder. Off in the distance she thought she heard a siren. She touched Lois’ shoulder. It was warm but there was no movement. The CD Lois had been listening too kept playing, driving that insistent beat into Freddy’s mind. “Lois, are you, can you move?” Freddy knelt down on the wet ground, water soaking into her knees. She smelt gas and wondered if the car would blow up. She reached for Lois’ face and felt something wet. And warm. She touched Lois’ face, or tried to, but her hand went in and then she saw blood running down her arm. She jerked her hand back, hissing her breath in, and as she did she bumped Lois – Don’t move her – and Lois leaned back in the driver’s seat. Her face was smashed in, like a doll’s face when it’s stepped on. Blood pooled in the concave cheek. Freddy couldn’t breathe at first, and thought she might throw up. She felt faint.

“Freddy,” Lois said, the word gurgling through the broken jaw and shards of teeth that tumbled out of her mouth. Freddy fell back on her legs and stared. How could she be alive? She almost said it out loud. She didn’t say anything. “Freddy, help me,” Lois said. “I don’t know how,” Freddy said. Lois tried to lift a hand. Freddy saw her arm tense and her shoulder jerk, and saw the flash of pain through Lois’ eyes, which were growing cloudy. The only result of all that effort on Lois’ part was a slight flutter of one finger. Freddy saw it, though, and reached out her own hand, slowly. Lois just stared at her as Freddy took Lois’ hand in hers, and interlocked her fingers. “I heard sirens, Lois. Someone’s coming,” she said. “Are you okay?” Such a stupid question! Lois tried to shake her head and instead gurgled up more blood. “Don’t move,” Freddy hurried to say. “Don’t move.” She couldn’t think what else to say. “Freddy?” A question. Freddy leaned in. “Yeah?” “Freddy…” Freddy leaned closer. She felt her hand gripped only a little tighter by Lois. “I know … I can see how…” she trailed off and choked on her blood. More pieces of teeth dropped out of her mouth. Her chest convulsed. “Don’t talk,” Freddy said. She was starting to cry. stared at her. “Don’t talk. It’ll be okay. Just rest.” Lois just

“Don’t…,” Lois said, and clenched Freddy’s hand tightly. Freddy felt that, but watched Lois’ eyes, which seemed to flash briefly. “Look,” said Lois. Her eyes went dull. There was no more gurgling. Her chest, which had only slightly been moving, did not even do that anymore. The hand still held Freddy’s tightly, but it felt different. Like cardboard. The life was gone. The dead don’t close their eyes when they die. We have to do that for them. Freddy didn’t know that. She didn’t know to do that, and didn’t know why that ever started. Even though, in most cases, it is too late for the dead to do anything, even though in most cases it has been some time before someone closes their eyes, the person who finds a dead body always closes the eyes. And nobody ever looks a dying man, woman, or child, in the eyes.

Freddy didn’t know that. She held Lois’ hand in hers, and cried, and waited for the ambulance. And when the drivers pulled her away and put Lois’ body on the stretcher and closed her eyes, it was too late by far.

Part Two: The sound of paper tearing…
woke Freddy up. And just in time. Her dreams were not something she would have wanted to continue that night. Newsprint does not rip cleanly in both directions. It can be ripped straight up and down in one direction, but cannot be torn precisely in a horizontal line. There were no images in her dreams. No people, no guns, no scary trees or gravestones. There were colors, flowing like rivers and dripping like blood. Dripping from where, she didn’t know. And the colors… she could not identify the colors. When she woke she knew they were colors, but could not have told anyone what colors they were. If the purple and greens of a bruise were eaten and regurgitated by the dull blue of a vein under the skin, and then mixed with the pallid yellow of old grease, the pallet might have shown the shades of her dream. She woke to the sound of tearing paper, the sound of a page being ripped in two. She sat up in her room. “Lois,” she said, and then was quiet again. Her heart beat, but only slowly. She was aware of her pulse in her ears. She heard it, and waited… waited… waited too long, and there it was again. She was scared. She felt scared. Her hands were clenched, she was sweaty, she was breathing in gasps, but her pulse was slowed down? She thought something was moving in the corner of the room and turned to look. There was nothing there. Her apartment was as yet to empty to even have a chair or pile of clothing that could make her start with fear until she realized what it was. There was also enough light from the window that she was not fooled by shadows. Then she thought something was moving in the other corner of the room, and looked back to her left. Again, there was simply nothing there. It was not that she was neat, but she had not unpacked yet and all that stood in that corner was the box in which she’d moved her clothes.

Again, off to her right. She turned her head and then felt her pulse again. Did my heart not beat for that long? That was impossible. It had been too long. She sat there, waiting for the next beat, trying to ignore whatever shadow was dancing at the corner of her vision, just off to her periphery, now on the right, now on the left. It jumped around in her eyesight, in her head. She tried to ignore it, waited, waited, waited, how long had it been? And finally it came. She didn’t know how long it had actually been. It couldn’t have been more than a second or two, right? A flash of light outside. She looked to her left where there was something again, and realized it was starting over. There’s nothing there. I’m just shaken up. That was what people always told themselves in situations like this. It’s just your imagination, there’s nothing there, there’s nothing wrong. And they told themselves that because it was true. Those colors. She thought about the colors in her dreams. She felt another heartbeat. She shuddered.

If she was shaken up, nobody had told her heart, which continued languidly beating when it felt like it. She stood up and walked towards the bedroom door. A shadow flitted across her eyesight, from left to right, and she turned her head almost involuntarily to watch it as it passed out of her peripheral vision. She reached out for the doorknob. Yes! Something said that. Something thought that. She wasn’t sure what it was. She felt it like a push in the back, heard it like a shout in her head. It made her pull her hand back. There was no movement now. There were no sounds now. Her heart beat again. She looked at the door. It sat there, waiting. “This is …” she began, but did not know what this was. reached out and opened the door. She

She heard the ripping sound again and turned around. Then her head hurt like someone had kicked it and she fell over.

“Lois,” she said as she put her hands to her face.

Part Three: She did not wake again…
Until the late afternoon. When she did, she at first wondered why she was laying on the floor in front of her bedroom door. She remembered the colors. She remembered the pain in her head, which was gone now, entirely gone without even the dull ache that sometimes was left after a sickness or hangover. She remembered someone saying “yes.” She sat up sharply and looked at her bedroom door. It was open just a tiny sliver. She knelt, carefully, and looked at the space between the door and the jamb. She looked through it. She held her breath and peered through the tiny crack into the other room in her apartment. The only other room in her apartment. She felt like someone was out there. She could see the stove. It sat there, like it had the whole short time she’d rented the apartment. She could see the edge of the refrigerator. There was nothing there. She could not see the front door. As she sat there peering through the doorway, she realized that she had not yet felt her heartbeat. She pressed her fingers to her neck and waited. And waited. And waited. And there it was. How long had that been? Suddenly she gasped and drew in a breath, breathing in and in and in until she felt like her lungs would burst. Then she blew it all out. Her ears clogged up. She felt like there was cotton in them. Then she exhaled and her ears were fine. And she felt another heartbeat. When she’d exhaled, her breath had pushed the bedroom door shut a little. She couldn’t see through the crack in the doorway

anymore. The light coming in through the window was growing more orange and the outline of the window painted in the sunset-light was climbing ever higher on her wall. She didn’t want to go through the door into the other room. But she didn’t want to sit in this room, either. Should I close the door? She had been asleep – unconscious – for most of the night next to the bedroom door, which was neither locked nor lockable. If something (why something? Why’d I think it’s a thing? She wondered) if something was out there, it could have just come into the bedroom, right? Or it could have left? No. “Who said that?” she asked. There was no answer. She sat back and waited. She felt her heartbeat again. Was it slowing down? She sat there long enough to grow thirsty, and hungry. She had been sitting there just staring at the door until she realized that the light from the window had reached nearly the ceiling and that it would soon be dark. She did not want to have to face whatever was in the next room in the dark. And she did not want to have to sit here all night wondering what was in the other room. And she’d been trying to time her heartbeats with no clock and no watch here, her watch lying on the counter next to the stove, probably, where she usually left it. She was sure they were slowing down. She’d been counting between them, one Mississippi two Mississippi and they’d been getting slower, or her counting had been getting faster. But she’d spent most of the day sitting here and trying to think whether she should go through the door. She’d had other things to occupy her mind, too, like the shadows appearing on the edge of her vision. And once she’d begun smelling popcorn, for no reason. She heard snatches of music and her muscles twitched.

She thought I should just open the door and go into that room and see what’s there. And with that her heart beat three times in a row and a thrill ran up her spine, the shudder almost throwing her into the door.

And that scared her because she was not excited about going out there but something was. She put her hand on the door. There was a lump in her throat. She put her fingers on the doorknob. Her lips grew dry. Her heart beat again, but she didn’t let that distract her. She twisted the knob and held it, ready to pull open, but not open, for a second, a minute, long enough for her pulse to throb in her ear again, and with that she ripped the door open and threw it back and threw herself into the next room. It was empty. She sat up and looked around. It was empty. The window was closed, the front door was closed (and, she saw, chained shut so nobody had left while she’d been in the other room), her kitchen was clean, her keys and her watch were, in fact, on the counter. Next to the stove. Where she’d put them… last night. Last night. “Who said that, now?” she said, and stood up. She looked around. She’d heard a voice. She knew she’d heard a voice. She’d heard it and felt it, again. Unbidden, an image of Lois in her car came into her mind. Freddy was not a stupid girl. She was not superstitious. She did not believe in voodoo or curses and probably not in an afterlife of any kind, but she was not stupid. “Lois?” she said. She turned around once more. Despite not believing in an afterlife, she called Lois’ name again. She heard nothing. She was growing ravenous. The light outside was growing more orange and more pink, and the thought popped into her head that she

should eat. She walked towards the refrigerator and opened it, but that helped her not at all. She had not put anything in it lately, and was not the best at grocery shopping anyway. Working in a restaurant, she tended to eat her meals there and not do much cooking when away from there. “I could go out, get something,” she said to herself. And with that her heart began beating thumpthumpthumpthump and her legs actually spasmed, bent themselves towards the door and her hands fluttered. Her vision was momentarily overcome by a flash of light, light that did not come from her kitchen overhead lamp or the sunset, light that came from somewhere else entirely. Don’t. “Lois?” She turned around again. And she felt a shove. Or thought she felt a shove. Or thought about a shove. She was not clear. But she fell to her knees and her brain felt sore. As she stood up again, she felt different. She felt nauseous. A few moments before she had been ready to eat. Now she felt as though she was going to throw up. Her eyes felt heavy. Her hands felt heavy. Her head hurt. She stood there and swayed back and forth. She heard a rushing of blood in her head, in her ears, and felt her heart beat faster and faster, then slowed back down to something resembling a normal rhythm. Her skin tingled and then went cold and clammy. “Lois?” she asked. Lois isn’t here. She had not heard that. She was sure of that. She …saw it, in her mind. That was not quite right. The sentence, Lois isn’t here was in her mind, in her memory, as though she had once heard someone say it long ago and only now just thought of it. “Who is that?” Go outside.

“Who is that?” Her stomach crumpled and she bent double. Stars filled her vision and tears forced themselves out of her eyes and she fell to her knees. She lay there, shuddering, and felt her skin grown warm again, warming slowly. Her heartbeat slowed back down.

Part Four: Not wanting to think
About what was happening to her, Freddy lay there for a long time. Her skin made its way slowly back to room temperature. Her heartbeat slowed down, and down, and down. After a while, she was warm and lethargic and felt like she would not be able to stand up. She lay on her back and looked over her shoulder at the door. She was still hungry. The door was upside down in her sight, locked and chained. Don’t go. The memory of a voice again. Her heart beat. Once. She waited for it to beat again, gave up. Who was talking? She wondered. Who had been talking? She remembered the night before, Lois’ face, and Lois’ words. “Don’t,” she’d said. Her eyes were still alive then. What else had she said? Freddy’s head began to ache. Her heart beat once… twice. Then not again for a while. Freddy waited. What else had Lois said? “Look,” Freddy said aloud. “Don’t. Look.” What did that mean? Her heart beat three times in a row, fast, then not again. Her eyes fluttered. She looked at the door again, felt as though it was

calling to her. Her legs pushed against the carpet, and she skidded on her back a few inches closer to the door. No. Yes. The words sounded in her head like the tones she heard when she was little, and her parents argued in the kitchen below her bedroom. She could hear the words, then, only if she wanted to. Otherwise she heard the tone of voices. These were like that. Freddy. That was Lois! Her legs convulsed again and her heart raced. She felt clammy. The heat was sucked away from the room. She inched closer to the door. Her right arm flung up over her head and towards the door. It landed on the floor and she stared at it. Her heart was beating again. Freddy. “Lois?” Freddy wanted to look around the room but she couldn’t. Her eyes stayed locked on the door. But she knew Lois wasn’t there anyway. A flicker out of the corner of her eye. The sound of paper tearing. Her heart beat and beat and beat and hurt in her chest. More paper tearing. Her eyes teared up. The room grew so cold she thought she would see her breath, only it wasn’t the room. It was her. The cold came from inside her, in her head. Fight Freddy Fight Her vision blurred. Her legs tensed up. Her heels dug into the ground. She pushed forward. Her heart pushed even harder and then the world went black. (While she was unconscious, awake, had she been able to see, shake, like someone trying to wake legs flop like they were being jolted while she slept, had she been she would have seen her body it up. She would have seen her with electricity. She would have

seen her eyes flutter open and her mouth work itself and her eyes closed.) (Freddy did not see that. She was unaware of that.) It was dark when she woke up again. It was nearly pitch black. She was lying on her side. It was the darkest part of the night. Her lips were dry and she was warm. She listened for her pulse. She didn’t hear it. She looked around the room and sat up. She was dizzy and thirsty and starving. She looked at the door, and then at the window. Both still locked. Am I sick? She wondered. She must be sick. She must have had a seizure. She wondered how long she’d been in her apartment. It had been at least a day, because it had been light when she was last awake, and it had been dark when she’d come home. Lois! She remembered. Lois was dead. The world spun around her. Freddy. She looked around in the dark. This time it was almost as though she’d heard the voice, almost as though it was there. Could a person hallucinate noises? Her hands trembled. I don’t have much time. I can’t do much. Freddy listen. Both hands were trembling. She felt her heart beat twice in a row and then not again. She shivered. It’s easier at night. It was Lois. Lois was talking to her. Freddy grew dizzy. Don’t faint. Freddy tried to sit up. Her arms lurched towards the door. STOP IT! Lois yelled, but Freddy only knew that she yelled. She didn’t hear her, and the voice, Lois’ voice or thoughts weren’t as clear

as they’d been. It was like Lois had backed away, or was on the other side of a door. She’s ours. She’s mine. Freddy’s heart beat rapidly. Her arms threw themselves at the door again. Her eyes closed and her back arched and she fell over and hit her head on the floor, hard. She saw stars. Then it grew warm again and her eyes closed. Her heart slowed down and was almost imperceptible again. It’s easer if they can’t see out. “Who?” Them. “Where are you?” I’m here. “Where?” I can’t do much Freddy don’t waste time you have to help me. “Help you what?” Kill you.

Freddy sucked in her breath. That couldn’t be Lois. It’s not said another voice. She felt her chest tighten. She heard a rush of air in her ears. Her eyes snapped open and she saw shadows flit away from her sight. It’s easier if you can see us she heard. Get away she recognized Lois, the feel of Lois. The thought of her. It was the same person who’d said she wanted to kill her. A flick of darkness went across her vision. She sat up suddenly, but not because she wanted to. Her back muscles clenched and held her upright. Her head slowly turned to look at the door, or where the door would be if it weren’t too dark to see it. She watched as her body leaned forward. Her hands had been laying in her lap. They lifted up limply on the ends of her arms as she leaned towards the door. She leaned more and more until she fell forward onto her hands. She wanted to yelp in pain, her wrists jamming into her arms. But her mouth would not work. Leaning there she rose to her knees. Her jaw clenched and unclenched. Her eyes blinked over and over. Then they closed and she felt a warmth wash over her. Go She felt herself flung to the side and then grew cold again. Laying on her side, her arms flopped in front of her, she felt her stomach wrench and she rolled over onto her chest. Her arms pulled back slowly and she rose onto her hands again, and she could only watch as her body moved like a marionette. Her heart beat like an alarm clock hammer in her chest. She thought it would push right through her ribs. She was on her hands and knees now. Her head looked up, pulled back slowly as though someone was clenching the back of her skull. Her eyes watered with the tension of her muscles, her body rigid like rigor mortis. She crawled slowly forward, stiffly, lurching. Her eyes misted over and the tears down her cheeks felt icy. She could hear the sound of rushing water in her ears. Two three four inches forward. Her hands were bent underneath her arms; she was walking on the backs of her

hands, her wrists. She could feel pain shooting up through them. Her knees did not lift off of the ground but scraped over the thin threadbare carpet. Her head was pulled back at a ninety degree angle to her spine. Her eyes fluttered and then were pulled open. Her jaw hurt from being held tightly shut. She bumped her nose into the door. She hadn’t seen it, couldn’t have seen it in the dark and her tears which were leaving damp, cold tracks on her face. Her face pushed into the wood of the door, scraping the end of her nose. Her body finally stopped pushing forward. She sat there motionless. She breathed in small gasps and did not breathe out as often as in. She felt full of stale air. Resting on her knees and wrists, she sat back suddenly. She saw the flickering shadows around her eyes now, more and more flitting back and forth at the edge of her mind. Her left hand swung up over her head, then down to the floor again. She winced in her mind, because she could not control her body to wince for real, when her hand hit the floor, hard, and she thought it might be broken. Her arm lifted up more slowly, shaking with effort, and stopped at shoulder level. She felt her fingers clench into a fist, then spread out in a splay, and she felt her arm slowly swing around. She felt the doorknob, metal against her hand. Her arm stopped. The rushing in her ears grew louder. The flickering around her eyes grew quicker, closer, giving her tunnel vision. She saw spots and a small glimmer of streetlight off the doorknob and then her hand closed on it. She clenched it in her fist. Her heart beat and beat and beat and she gasped in air and filled her lungs and her heart stopped. Her vision swum and her mind screamed. She fell over and her hand came off the doorknob.

Part Five: It wasn’t so bad
During the day, and when the dead weren’t talking to her or trying to use her. Sometimes Lois had enough strength to talk to her. Freddy had made it back to her bed. She’d laid in her bed the rest of the morning, that first morning after the night she’d almost

opened the door. She thought that had been a day or two after Lois’ car crash, but wasn’t sure anymore. She’d crawled back to her bed, feeling warm and drowsy and sick to her stomach, and laid on her bed for a few minutes. Just about ready to fall asleep, as the sun rose outside her bedroom window, she’d opened her eyes slightly and saw, through her bedroom doorway, the door to the outside. She’d seen the chain on it, and the doorknob. And she saw her palm print on the doorknob, a smudge. That’s not enough she heard. She got up. She could barely walk. She’d pushed her bedroom door closed. She’d dragged her suitcase and a small chair and then her bed over in front of the bedroom door, barricading herself in, and flopped onto the bed. That first day, while she’d slept, she’d done something. She woke up to find the mattress pushed away from her bedroom door and a bruise on her leg. She couldn’t move her hand, the one she was sure she’d broken, and her lip was split. She’d pushed the mattress back against the door and gone to the other side of the room, lay down on the floor and stared at the wall. That was what, two days ago? hungry. So thirsty. She wasn’t sure. She was so

It won’t be long now she felt Lois tell her. Her heart beat once, weakly, an acknowledgment. “Do I really have to?” she asked. That was all she’d asked Lois the last few days. Yes Lois told her. She knew she had to. She knew what Lois was doing and why she had to stay here. During the day, Freddy could understand that. During the day, she knew that if she ever managed to open the outer door, they would get out, all of them. Lois would get out, and others like her, maybe, helpful, but the rest of them would, too, all of them who were inside her or tried to get inside her and tried to use her to open that door. They could never stay long. They had a hard enough time getting into someone in the first place. They had to wait, just wait,

until the barrier between the living and the dead was opened, when it opened just enough to let a soul slide through. When it did, if there was something there, something close enough, someone close enough, the spirit that was supposed to leave might cling, just long enough, just hard enough, to leave a hole there, a hole they all could get through. And if that hole was taken where there were no walls, no barriers, no impediments, then more and more could come. During the day, Freddy understood that. During the day, she understood, and could sometimes feel, just how hard it was for them to be near the living. As painful as it was for her, when they came, it was worse for them. However much it hurt when one slithered through the tear and took her and flung her against the wall, or the door, or pulled at her hair in frustration or even the time one poked her own hand into her own eye and blinded her, however painful that was for her, she knew it was worse for them and knew that she had to wait it out and not leave. During the day, Freddy could tolerate the hunger. She didn’t even dare go get what little food was in her refrigerator, taking advantage of the second barrier, flimsy though it was, that her bedroom door represented. It was hard for them to move her, and every impediment counted. During the day, she could tolerate the thirst. She knew why Lois was slowing down her heartbeat. During the day, she hoped that Lois would be there when she died. And that they would not. And she hoped she would not die at night. most at night. She felt the dead