It was not the being dead that I minded, it was the hours.
No one ever calls me up during the day, and most people decide to wait until after midnight, for some reason. I am a morning person, or was, so meetings in the still, dark hours lost between midnight and the dawn make me crabby.
This time, it was not some comfortable séance room or picturesque graveyard with moss-covered stone angels. I came to the surface of mortal time on a street corner of some American city, mid-Twentieth to early Twenty-First Century. You can tell from the height of the buildings that it is American, and from the fact that the road names are written on signs rather than walls. And Twenty-Second Century streets are not lit up at night, of course.
The main road was called Saint Street. The small alley was called Peter Way. Great. I was crossed by Saint and Peter.
I smelled her perfume before I saw her. I turned. There she was, outlined against the streetlamp beyond. I could not mistake her silhouette: slender, alluring, like a she-panther as she walked.
“Matthias,” she breathed in her low whisper. Her voice was throbbing music to me, despite everything that had happened. “You look well — ah — considering.”
“Lorelei,” I grunted. She was just wearing a blouse and skirt and a knee-length gray coat, but on her the outfit could have made the cover of a fashion magazine. Or a girly magazine. Her wild mass of gold-red hair was like a waterfall of bright fire tumbling past her shoulders to the small of her back. Atop, like a cherry on strawberry ice-cream, was perched brimless cap. My arms ached with the desire to take her and hold her. But I could never touch her, or, for that matter, anyone ever again.
She sighed and rolled her enormous emerald-green eyes. “Sweetheart, this time, you have to tell me if you were murdered. You have to!”
I took a puff of an imaginary cigarette, and watched the smoke, equally imaginary, drift off in a plume more solid than I was. “I ain’t saying.”
“But you must! I cannot rest until I know!”
Now I knew when and where I was. Because I died the day the Korean War ended. July 27. Mark the day on the calendar. That was the day I gave up smoking. This was only a a few months after, judging from the dry leaves scuttling across the sidewalk, the bare branches of the one tree, surrounded by concrete, across the street. Late October or early November.
“My heart stopped,” I said. “I died of natural causes.”
She pointed a slender finger at the holes in my trench coat. “You’re dripping!”
I looked down. The rest of my body was black and white like an old talkie, a thing of sable mist and silvery moonlight. Only the blood was red, bright as Lorelei’s lipstick.
It was not something I was deliberately imagining myself to look like. I guess it was part of my self-image, subconscious or something. That seemed unfair. I had had a tricky subconscious my whole life. It was one of the things I had thought I had gotten rid of, left behind.
“That’s natural,” I said. “When bullets pass through the lung cavity, they naturally make a large holes. One of them went through my heart, and caused it to stop, like I said.”