Hey everybody, welcome back to Full Moon First Drafts. This time we’re going to do something that’s a little different. I’m going to be doing a draft from the beginning of what might be a longer form story for me. It’s a story idea that I had originally conceived as a feature film but has sat in the drawer for quite some time now. So I’m going to take it out, dust it off and take a crack at it in prose form. This week we’ll get a start on the first part, and then in subsequent weeks I’ll continue the story.
The basic conceit of the story is based off of a silent film from 1921 called “The Phantom Carriage.” In “The Phantom Carriage” the last person to die before the clock strikes twelve on the eve of the new year has to drive death’s carriage and pick up the souls of all those who die in the following year. So I had the idea to transport this particular story to the modern era.
“Come Pick Me Up” is a dark comedy set in a world much like our own, where what happens after death could be one of a million different religious hypotheses the rules of which are muddy, bureaucratic and complicated. The main character, Charlie, is forced to pick up the souls of the dead and carry them on to whatever the next thing is. Charlie does not live a privileged life. When the bureaucracy of the afterlife breaks down and the good and the evil all go to the same place Charlie has to make a decision about what to do with a charge he’s become close to.
So without too much planning or forethought, we’re just gonna’ see where this goes. Should be fun….maybe……….hopefully. Here goes part one of “Come Pick Me Up.”
COME PICK ME UP
by Levi Lee
Charlie thrust into the waking world with a jolt, his head banging against the dingy armrest of the 1990 Buick Lesabre he’d been shackled to these last years as tiny pieces of window glass showered down on his face. He didn’t have time to register what was happening as the man reached his hand through the now open window frame and grabbed a fistful of the worn gray hoodie he wore underneath his pea coat to keep him warm these cold nights when he didn’t have the scratch to keep the heater running.
“What the fuck!” Charlie half mumbled, still mostly asleep. He wasn’t alarmed so much as frustrated. Seemed like a carjacking so far, but who the hell would want the shitbox he slept in. Somebody desperate, that was for sure. They definitely picked the wrong car, though. Charlie wasn’t violent or anything, he was just already dead, and as such, didn’t have much to lose. He was halfway out of the window when his coat caught the edges of the frame, and that combined with the halfhearted resistance he was putting up was enough to get the guy to let go of his hoodie and stop with the yanking. Charlie, shaking off the last remnants of sleep, finally got a look at the guy then.
He was definitely a junkie. The man was thin and frail looking, with scraggly, long dark hairs hanging in front of his face in stuck together strands. His face was drawn, sucked in and puckered under the cheek bones, and covered in sweat. He was already shaking a bit, and couldn’t keep the gun completely level from the tremors. Charlie sighed, he felt a little bad for the guy. Not much, but a little. He was probably the kinda’ guy who never had a good break in his life, and this situation, Charlie knew, wasn’t going to shake out any better for him.
“G-get out a’ the fuckin’ car man!” He stammered a little, either nervous or the effects of his kick, Charlie couldn’t tell for sure. Charlie looked up and down the road. Not a car in sight.
“You’re not very good at this, are you?” Charlie said, “Of all the streets in this city you pick the one where your only choice for a carjacking victim drives a 1990 Buick Lesabre? C’mon man. You look rough, but at some point in your life you gotta’ have standards. You just walk a block west and shit starts to get gentrified! You could at least try for something that’s been manufactured since the turn of the century!” The junkie was starting to get flustered.
“I said, get out of the fucking car!” He shouted, shaking the gun in Charlie’s face.
“No. You broke my window.” Charlie’s reply was curt, matter of fact.
“Forget it. Not doing it. You broke my window, and you know what…hold on a second.”
“What are you talking about man?! Get out of the fucking car!!” The junkie was shouting now, the spittle flying out of his mouth in little ropes that broke off at their apex and split into tiny rivulets of saliva.
“Just….” Charlie held up his finger, and slid back inside the car, he reached into his pocket and produced a small slightly tattered notepad, some of the pages dog-eared and frayed at the edges. He flipped through a few of the pages, and then stopping on one, looked up and peered out through the broken window.
“What’s your name?” He asked. The junkie looked confused. His eyebrows furrowed together and cocking his head ever so slightly to the side he let the barrel of the gun droop a little, listing to the left. Charlie thought then, momentarily, about flinging the car door open and into the man’s arm in an attempt to knock the gun from his hand. He could probably do it. This guy didn’t have any more business trying to pull off a carjacking than Eddie Vedder trying his hand at hip hop. But he couldn’t be bothered, and he had a feeling he knew how this situation was going to end anyway. It seemed like the kind of thing Vincent would arrange, a fucked up wake up call of sorts. So instead he just waited for the man’s answer.
“M-Martin.” His voice sounded weak and confused. Charlie looked back down to the notepad, running his index finger down the page and then tapping lightly when he found what he was looking for.
“Martin Gale?” He asked, without looking up from the pad.
“That’s right. How did you….” The junkie replied.
“Listen Martin. You look like you’re about to fall apart at any second anyway, but your pick up isn’t until next week. So if you could just do me a solid and wander on down to somewhere they drive vehicles that are worth your time and effort to actually steal I would…” The screeching sound of rubber against pavement jolted Charlie back to attention, and he raised his head just in time to see the city bus barrel down on top of the junkie. In a split second, he saw the man’s face smash against the flat glass of the bus’s windshield, a spurt of blood and teeth coming out of his mouth, followed by the massive condom advertisement that flew past his window as the bus raced by.
It came to stop about forty feet down the road, and the junkie came to a stop about fifty feet further than that, a messy streak of red marking the trail from where he hit the pavement and slid to where he now lay.
“Goddammit.” Charlie said. “I haven’t even had my coffee.” Sighing heavily, he lazily swung the car door open, tiny bits of glass falling to the street below as he stepped out of the car and brushed himself off. Charlie looked pretty rough himself, he looked better than the mound of mangled flesh now spattered across the street, but not by much. His brown hair was matted in a closely cropped cut on top of his head, with a little gray creeping in at the edges on the side. He didn’t usually bother to shave, and having been a few days since he’d done so he was working on the beginnings of a wiry looking beard. He was average height, average build. Charlie was almost markedly average in every conceivable way, the only thing that was decidedly not average about Charlie, was his job. Charlie’s job was to pick up the dead, to pick them up and take them to wherever it was they next needed to go.
So here he was, just barely awake, having already been held at gunpoint, and now finding himself responsible for getting this poor schmuck to the next link in the chain of the afterlife. He walked several feet down the road, trying to get a better look at the junkie. Maybe he wasn’t dead. Maybe the paramedics would get there in just a moment, carry him to hospital, get him on life support and keep him going for the next week so this wouldn’t completely fuck up his schedule. He squinted, and raised his hand to cover his eyes against the morning sun. He thought he saw the poor bastards chest rise and then fall again in short gasping breaths.
The door of the bus hissed open and the driver, a dumpy looking man in his forties by the look of him, came tumbling out, his face a mask of confusion.
“I just looked away for a second! I just…there was a kid who was yelling and I…” The driver muttered, his voice starting to crack. He looked to Charlie. “He must have jumped out in front of me, right?” Charlie looked over at the man, pulled a face and shook his head.
“He was standing in the middle of the road, Jack. He didn’t jump out in front of you. He was trying to steal my car. Been standing there for a minute.”
“There’s no way! I would have seen him!” The driver cried in protest.
“Yeah, well, you didn’t.” Charlie replied. The driver began to heave, bending over to put his hands on his knees in an effort to steady himself as he expelled his stomach onto the street.
“Yeah yeah. I know. You fucking killed a guy. It’s awful.” Charlie mocked him. “I mean, let’s hope you didn’t actually kill him, well, not yet anyway, because I have shit I need to do today. I got a schedule to keep.” The driver kept heaving, not hearing him. Charlie looked back at the junkie, lying there, the pool of blood around him growing by inches with every moment. He was still. Charlie closed his eyes, his jaw clenched tight. He drew a sharp breath in through his nose and turned around to look back toward his car.
There, standing on the curb by his passenger side door, was the junkie, looking marred by life, but not completely fucked from a bus hitting him at thirty-five miles an hour. He looked very confused.
“Goddammit! Goddammit! Goddammit!” Charlie stamped his feet in frustration. “You fucking idiot!” He trudged back to the car, jamming his hands in the pockets of his long blue pea coat. The junkie raised a trembling finger, pointing past Charlie as he walked over and opened the passenger side door for him.
“What….w-what is that?” The junkie stammered.
“T-t-that?” Charlie said, annoyed and mimicking the man’s pitiful stutter. “That is what happens when you try to pull off a carjacking in the middle of the street on an alcoholics bus route.” The car door creaked loudly on it’s hinges as he pulled it open. He took the junkie by the shoulders and pushed him, now trembling, down and into the seat.
“That’s not me, is it?” The junkie cried. Charlie ignored him, slamming the door shut and hurried walking over to the other side of the car.
“That’s not me, right?!” The junkie cried again. Charlie fished the keys from his pocket as he swung himself back into the vehicle.
“That’s not FUCKING ME, RIGHT?!” The junkie was screaming now.
“There’s that fucking spittle again. Don’t get it all over the dash, okay? Wipe your mouth like a human being with dignity and self respect, would you?” Charlie replied as he turned the key in the ignition and the engine roared to life.
“Where’s my fucking leg?!” The junkie screamed, holding his hands out in supplication to the body on the asphalt. Charlie pointed over to the bus.
“Caught underneath the tires, man. It’s underneath the tires. Will you shut up now? We got a ways to drive.” The junkie began sobbing in reply, quivering and shaking in his seat, drool trailing down out of his mouth and sticking to his chin before dropping down into his lap.
“This is gonna’ be a long trip, isn’t it?” Charlie asked no one in particular.