Lying in bed dying of liver disease is pretty boring.
But the ghost was making it interesting. He kept wandering around the room, sitting impatiently in a chair, standing and looking at my chart, looking over the nurses and doctors’ shoulders as they did their usual rounds. I didn’t know this guy. He looked around my age – 52 – and was anglo-looking, taller than me. I assumed he was a ghost because no one else seemed to see him, and I wasn’t that high on my meds.
It wasn’t until my kid brother showed up and sat on the ghost, that I was 100% sure it was a ghost. Right after Tommy dropped his big butt on him, the ghost turned into a mist and reformed in a standing position beside my IV drip stand with a rather nasty scowl.
Tommy was full of the usual pointless blather and questions you share with a dying man. Hope of transplant? Nothing yet. Affairs in order? No, but don’t care either.
“Tommy, you know what?” I said, “Get outta here. Call Mom and tell her I’m as OK as I’m going to be and go see your family. It’s Christmas Eve. I have no interest in making someone stay in the hospital with me.”
Tommy left saying, “see you tomorrow,” and I replied silently, if we’re lucky.
At this point I decided to address the ghost. “Hey, ghost. You want to get lost?”
“So, you can see me.”
“Of course I can; you’ve been messing around here for a while, but I didn’t think it would help me much to be telling the doctors that there was a ghost in the room.”
“Your brother’s not that intuitive, eh?”
“No, not exactly an in-tune guy – except for baseball stats. Why, what do intuitive people do?”
“Well,” said the ghost, “it varies. Most have a subconscious that directs them away from me. A few others will perceive me to some level and make a passing remark and then avoid me. A couple of full-on psychics will miss that I’m not a real person – for a couple of minutes, away.”
“So, uh, why are you here?” I asked.
“Well, it’s Christmas Eve; and there’s always a bit of extra magic floating around that gives me a bit more mojo to do interesting things. So I pick someone in a situation like yours and see if they want to join me.”
“Join you where?”
“In this hereafter I’m in – the space between the conscious and unconscious worlds.”
“Why would you want me there with you?”
“Ah well; good question. According to my research you’re an ass. I mean really, you don’t have personal relationships with women. It’s kind of an exchange of services. You married your wife for the business connections, and if she hadn’t lied to you about going off The Pill, you’d have never been a father. And your daughter is so estranged from you that she might not even come to your funeral.
In essence, beggars can’t be choosers. Were Halle Berry, or even Cher, in suitable near death situations, believe me; I’d be talking to them. But loneliness is powerful, even when you’re dead.”
I looked at this ghost and wondered what the hell this was really about. One of my first jobs was selling cars, so I knew a pitch when I heard one. I decided to carry on the discussion because this was a far more interesting way to spend my last hours than reading Readers Digest.
“I can’t be the only near-death guy on Christmas Eve,” I said
“No, but you have a certain profile; it’s hard to describe. But, we have no time for this. What I need you to do is experience life twice from two different points of view – in fact in two totally different bodies – and then come back and let go of your own life. I.e. not wait until you die, but release yourself to death.
“How do I do that?”
“You have to lose that tiny bit of hope that some doctor is going to come in here with a shiny new liver for you and give up.”
“Um, OK,” I said, “how do I experience a different life?”
“You leave that to me. It’s called magic because very much in the same way you drive a car without knowing how to build an internal combustion engine, I can send you into a body. However, there’re some wrinkles. I can send you anywhere at any time, but the person you drop into will have just died. They have to have died of some relatively subtle ailment (a heart attack as opposed to being hit by a bus).”
“You’re going to make me into a zombie?”
“Uh, sort of. But without all the groaning and eating of human flesh. You will have access to the dead person’s memories, and you will decay, slowly – it’s not a long term deal.”
“You are going to send my mind back in time, into a dead guy’s body? That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard.”
“Of course. This is not something you’ll find on the Internet. Now, we’re running out of time. Just say ‘yes I would like to experience another life’ and we can get going.
“I would like to experience another life.”
I awoke in a much bigger body. Man, this guy had had his fair share of lumberjack breakfasts. I blinked and blinked. It was like everything in this body was set to manual. I had to think about everything, including breathing. Of course, this made sense if he’d just kicked the bucket. As my vision cleared I realized I was on an aircraft. Clenched in “my” hand – wow; this guy had big mitts – was a boarding pass. “UA 93” with a date of “9/11/01.”
Oh crap. Oh crap.
I was sitting in a row by myself. The plane felt empty. Damn, damn, damn, what could I remember about this? This is the one that flew into the ground in Pennsylvania. What else, what else? Passenger revolt. Nothing else was coming to mind.
Time. What time was it? According to the host body’s watch it was 9:35 AM. Hadn’t the World Trade Centre planes already crashed?
I tried to make the host body work. It was stiff; what a surprise (undoing the seat belt helped). I was in coach and started moving to the front. I did recall that the hijackers had bought first class tickets.
Exactly what I thought I was doing was a good question. I was a nearly dead man occupying a dead man’s body who was on a plane about to meet a rather nasty end. I also didn’t see the point of this. But what was I going to do? Do the crossword in the newspaper and watch events unfold? I was put here to learn something – I anticipated a short lesson.
I lumbered into first class. Operating the host body was like having to talk to yourself in order to walk: right foot, left foot, right foot, left foot and try not to flail your arms like a zombie. I parted the curtains and entered first class.
The first class passengers were huddled in a few seats furthest from the cockpit. A hijacker turned to me and said, “Go back!”
I had not tried talking yet. The first noise as I booted up the voice box was “glaackk.”
My next statement was a lot more direct: “People! These guys aren’t going to ransom the plane. They’re going to crash it into DC somewhere.”
The hijacker lunged toward me and stabbed me in the chest with something. You’d think it would have hurt, but in this case being in a dead body has its advantages. I grabbed him by the shirt, pulled him close and fell backwards out of first class into coach. “Help help!” I managed to blurt. Someone from first class climbed over us and went back into coach. The hijacker repeatedly stabbed me with no effect until others from first class pulled him off me.
People in coach hauled me up to my feet and put me in a chair. “Are you OK?”
“I’ll be fine. You have to get into the cockpit and get the hijackers out of there now,” I said.
Now what? It was 9:44 AM and I could see the rest of the passengers were on phones and were mobilizing. Passengers were pounding on the cockpit door, trying to rip it open.
I wasn’t bleeding so much as oozing. One of my arms was now not responding to my commands. I was trying to stand up again when the plane started rocking and passengers were toppling over. The pilot was clearly trying to knock folks over to stall their breach of the cockpit. This of course made me less useful. As the body I was in started to seize up more, I shoved myself in a seat and belted in. I could only watch. It was the faces that were so haunting. The entire range was there: hopelessly paralyzed by fear to completely determined to survive. Had I been my real self in this situation, where in the spectrum would I have been?
I felt the plane roll and dive.
I was back in my hospital bed, sweating and gasping. “What the hell!”
“Nice flight?” asked the ghost.
“What was the point of that?!”
“Come on. In this situation there aren’t that many cool opportunities to be a part of history without messing things up. You don’t think there’s a huge selection of people dying in ways where a body-takeover can happen and no one notice?”
“Crap, why not just put me on the Titanic?”
“Hey, that’s not a bad idea. Do you want …”
“No! Thanks very much, no.”
“Well, brace yourself; you’ve got one more to go.”
I was in an alley. It was dusk and I really was having a hard time getting this body going. Once my vision cleared I saw the needle sticking out of my arm. Not much doubt as to the cause of death. I pulled the needle out and was going to toss it away when I realized that that might not be so friendly for someone cleaning up later. I pulled myself up to standing, using a wall for leverage, and dropped the needle into a dumpster.
This was a filthy body. My hands looked like I’d been gardening in manure for a year. I stood and stumbled as I was trying to make the body work semi-normally. With the sun setting I wandered out of the alley. Where was I?
Once at the nearest street it was obvious to any Canadian who watches the news. DTES. Downtown Eastside, Vancouver. What was the year? I had only visited Vancouver a few times – mostly for work – so I wasn’t clear on my directions. I followed a street called Gore and headed to East Hastings. I found a scrap of the Vancouver Sun and, assuming this wasn’t too old, it was at least December 24, 1999.
“Kelly, Kelly!” Someone was calling out. I could tell it was aimed at me. It was another addict.
“Hey,” I grumbled. I was desperately asking the brain of this body to give me a name. I could not tell from all the harm that this brain had suffered if the trouble was with retrieving, or not knowing. “Susie,” I said.
“Did you score? Did you?”
“Oh yeah.” Susie, up close, seemed truly strung-out.
Susie looked at me, working hard to focus. “You look real bad, Kelly.”
“I’m dead on my feet,” I replied.
And then, over my shoulder, I saw him. Robert Willie Pickton.
“Shit,” I said.
“What?” asked Susie. I pointed in the serial killer’s general direction. Susie shuddered; I thought she was going to faint. My mind was charging through facts. Recently the Vancouver Police released a report discussing how they and the RCMP had messed up the investigation of this psycho. Six murder convictions with up to 49 murders, depending on the reliability of that jailhouse confession. Remembering these facts was tricky, but didn’t the cops only start taking the missing women seriously, now, in 1999?
I started to run, well hobble – I don’t think my host body was much of an athlete – after Pickton.
Susie started yelling: “Kelly! Kelly! Where ya goin’?”
“We’ve got to stop him,” I yelled. Susie was shuffling along beside me.
Of all things, a Vancouver cop stepped out and put himself between me and Pickton, who was walking serenely down the street with a woman who was clearly a DTES resident.
“Officer,” I said, “you have to stop that man. Pickton.”
“Hey, sweetie; it’s Christmas Eve and you shouldn’t be exerting yourself. You don’t look so good.”
I stared at the police officer. His mind was somewhere else. He was not listening and had no intention of listening. I was in the dead body of someone who was a non-person.
“OK,” I said, “I’ll just walk nicely.” And I tried walking slowly around the officer. He blocked my way.
I stared at his badge. “OK, officer 34592, I cannot perceive any reason why you would be impeding my way. I am not doing anything illegal or in fact particularly annoying, which is more than I can say for you. May I please pass?”
The officer stared at me like I was an alien. I realized that he towered over me, which was result of me being in a small body more than he being particularly large. The problem is that by this time, Pickton was gone. The officer was still not moving. I was beginning to think that a well-spoken voice coming from a down-and-out homeless person (who was actually a corpse) had stunned him into inaction. I’m not sure what that damn ghost thought I was going to accomplish here, but I thought I’d give it my best shot and then get the hell out.
“Listen carefully,” I said, “the man that walked by is directly responsible for the missing women in this neighbourhood. I know the cops all think that the women down here are high risk, have risky life styles and can’t be properly traced.”
“Yeah!” said Susie – I’d honestly forgot she was there.
“But,” I continued, “that’s no excuse for you letting dozens of these women be lured to a farm in Coquitlam, murdered, chopped up and then fed to pigs. Are you hearing me?”
He stared at me. The expression was inscrutable. “How do you come by this information?”
“Good grief; it speaks.” I figured my exit needed to be dramatic. I leaned toward him and whispered, “Because I’ve seen it.” And then I let go, kind of like what the ghost was asking me to do with my own body back in 2010. When I let go, I really hoped that Kelly would fall into the arms of the officer, dead.
I was back in the hospital bed, glowering at the ghost. “Just what was that supposed to prove?”
“You tell me; you were there.”
“You put me there,” I was snarling. I wanted to rip his face off. Pity he was a ghost.
“You let me. But, let’s not argue. It’s decision time. Let go of your body, just like you did Kelly, and come with me. An eternity of hanging around with the chance of being annoying … what could go wrong?”
This is the kind of situation where you want to do the exact opposite of the person asking you to do something. However, there was a certain appeal, a hope of something beyond my life, whereas waiting for the end had the distinct option of there being nothing at the end. It seemed clear the ghost’s interest in sending me back in time was to teach me how to come and go from dead bodies so I could do what he wanted.
When a ghost visits you on Christmas Eve, you can’t help but think of A Christmas Carol. Form me, going back in time those two times was worse than that happened to Scrooge. He at least knew he could not interact. Regardless, I had basically the same question as Dicken’s character: why show me this if I’m beyond all hope?
In the end I thought it best to stick to my anti-social tendencies. Hope might be for suckers, but quitting was for losers.
“I don’t know your name, ghost, but I’ve had a good think and I’d like you to go screw yourself and let me die in peace.”
And he was gone.
Two hours later I was not feeling very well at all. I figured I had about seven liver cells left. Then a medical party broke out in my room. People were unplugging me and plugging me into different bits of equipment and generally acting panicked.
A doctor I’d not seen before shoved her face into my face. “Mr. Jamison, I’m going to be your surgeon. We’ve just received a matching liver. Do you understand me?”
As I was rather briskly wheeled down a corridor, one of the nurses joining along was the ghost.
“Did you know this was coming?” I mumbled.
“Of course I did, you idiot. If I can send you back in time I can at least know a liver was on its way.”
“I wanted to be sure you were worthy of the liver. Use it well or I’ll be back, at which point you will have a very bad time.”
I passed out, I think, and went into the operating room.
Epilogue Christmas Day
“Tommy, can you hand me my cell phone?” I was awake after the operation but still felt like a tube farm.
I decided to text my daughter: Santa brought your father a new liver for Christmas. Can we talk?