The Vilest Pack of Degenerate Scum in the Afterlife
by Martin Mundt
This author heard the unmistakable sounds of typing from the front room of the cheap apartment.
The scene: 2 a.m. Damen Avenue on the North Side of the city of Chicago. This author had entered a brand-new, luxury condominium in search of an elusive ghost. The condominium was unoccupied, spacious and with wood flooring; the door had to be jimmied open.
Ghost-hunting often demands bold action and bolder skills.
Unfortunately, a search of the condo had turned up no sign of the expected ghost, and then the sounds of typing began, and the scene changed. The luxury condo faded, and a cheap, two-room apartment took its place. The typing emerged from the front room, in addition to another sound. This author heard a mumbling, a low rumbling of voices, a rustling and whispering that sounded something like gossip, but more like the noise of a crowd heard at a distance, but most like the rising anger of two opposing mobs meeting, but always in that gray area not quite beyond the edge of hearing, but still beyond the boundary of understanding.
In other words, this author heard not the sigh of a single, elusive, expected ghost to record and play backwards on a computer to see if it might be saying “Get out!” to unwary condominium occupants, but a whole mother-lode of ghosts, apparently having a heated discussion.
This author entered the front room of the ghost apartment, lowlight video-camera and voltmeter switched on.
The scene: still 2 a.m., but in some other realm where 2 a.m. never changes. Still Damen Avenue on the North Side of the city, but removed in time and space to some earlier time and space, some amalgam of the turn-of-the-century, hard-boiled Roaring Twenties, and counter-culture, clout-ridden 70s ghost-realm.
In other words, a room that contained a ghost Chicago inhabited by ten ghost writers, all huddled around a table, their pale white backs facing this author. One of their number sat in a hard-backed wooden chair at a typewriter.
They argued in their unintelligible voices, as if air escaping from tires were arguing with air escaping from balloons.
One pointed at whatever it was they were writing on the typewriter, then another stabbed a ghostly finger at it as well. They shouted. Accusations and recriminations flowed, all in the hissing, ghostly, unintelligible whispers like dry sand blowing across the Indiana Dunes. A third shook his pale, thin fist, trailing streamers of ghostly blue ectoplasm. Spielberg had done the effect better, more realistically; this looked like something out of a low-budget movie done in 1981, and yet this author had to remind himself that it was real and not a movie. A fourth waved translucent hands above his head, while the cigarette between his equally translucent fingers cast its ashes over their heads. More blue-screen ectoplasm trailed from their fingers and cigarettes.
They pushed and shoved one another, staggering under the blows as their ghost fists landed. Their blows and bodies bled into one another. They screamed, but the screams still rose no higher than secret, almost silent whispers.
One here, then one there would bellow more loudly, more forcefully than the rest, and the writer at the typewriter would type some new line, some phrase, some word, but that would only spur the others to scratch out the new addition with a pencil, and even sometimes two or three would race each other to eradicate the line first in their extreme distaste for what had been written, either in style or substance, or perhaps both.
This author recognized at once, of course, the writer’s basic impulse in their actions; recognized their writers’ egos, and even recognized the hidden editorial drive inherent in each writer, at least when it comes to editing all writing other than their own.
Each one knew he knew best.
Each one attempted to impose his own will on the piece.
And so, each reached in, with a stubby pencil, at the same moment that all the others reached in with their stubby pencils, their arms all intertwining with each other, and formed one huge, thick, pale, ectoplasmic mass, like a ten-car pile-up on the Dan Ryan Expressway.
This author knew the type from long, personal experience: short-tempered, argumentative, violent. They drank ghostly whiskey in vast quantities, most of them direct from the ghostly bottles. They smoked ghostly cigarettes in profusion, so that a supernatural haze of smoke overhung their heads. Several dangled hypodermic needles of ghostly morphine from their veins. And all of them, of course, tried to denigrate each other’s opinions.
A viler pack of degenerate scum this author had rarely seen outside of a literary convention.
From left to right, it was a motley collection of scribblers with connections to Chicago: Charles Beaumont and Mike Royko, Robert Bloch and Carl Sandburg and Frank Norris and James T. Farrell, John Dos Passos and Theodore Dreiser and Ernest Hemingway, and at the typewriter, Nelson Algren.
And then they noticed this author.
At which point, predictably, their disagreements ceased, and they wanted only one thing; the one thing, of course, that all writers want – to be read.
This author stepped forward and walked through the ghosts, a sensation akin to passing through a gauntlet of spit-takes. They had begun to fade, by which this author guessed that they had completed their manuscript. For when a writer has finished writing, of what further use is even his very existence?
The ghostly typewriter was visible on the ghostly table through their fading bodies, so transparent, so unnecessary, had they become.
The single piece of onion-skin typing paper on which they had been laboring had almost been wound completely out of the roller.
Every paragraph, line, sentence and phrase had been lined through on the page with thick, black, pencil slashes except for two words, a distillation of insight from some of the finest writers ever to have absorbed any of Chicago’s wisdom; or possibly it was the shortest story of disillusionment they could craft, or both.
Two words, but more than that. Two Chicago words.
They all looked at me. The anticipation in their eyes revved like twenty upturned lawn-mowers.
This author could not argue. They had done what all writers strive to do; they had written what they knew. This author nodded and gave the work a thumbs-up.
They smiled. Then they faded away entirely, and the typewriter, with its paper, faded with them.
But the words remained: DYING STINKS.
And this author knew: the ghosts were out there, just waiting to be found.
- The End -