So, while I have my fellow author and friend George Reagan helping me with proofreading and while I look for a cover artist, I might as well share the first chapter of Dead Boys as a novel. Following very closely to the comic version, it is more fleshed out than it was originally. Hope you enjoy it.
Chapter One: Care for a Smoke?
A young man laid on a grey porcelain floor, no knowing what awaited him. Although his eyes were closed, the bright lights above him shined through his eyelids and woke him from his slumber. He pulled himself up from the floor, groaning as he tried to stand on his feet. Feeling a piercing pain in his, he clutched the side of his head. Suddenly, he snapped into full alertness. Something was wrong. Something was very, very wrong.
“Ugh…My head…Wait. What in the hell happened to my hair!?” He used both hands to feel his head. His albeit already short cut hair had been altered to a more alternative hairstyle. Shaven on one side, he felt the stubble that remained. On the other side, his blonde hair was still there, but had grown out by at least an inch. How in the world had his hair changed almost instantaneously? He looked around, only to discover that he was no longer in his small bedroom.
He now found himself in a rather expansive, yet sparse room resembling the patient’s waiting area of a hospital. Though several chairs, tables, and couches lined the room, there were only a few others there besides himself. The walls around him were blank white, with very little decorations adorning them. One of the few things on the wall that caught his attention, was a poster with the words ‘Keep Calm and Relax’ in bright red letters. Looking around, he noticed another peculiar thing. There were no clocks, digital or otherwise anywhere to be seen.
“Where in the world am I?” he muttered under his breath, scanning the room for signs of activity. “Hello? Can anyone help me?” he shouted, growing concerned that he might be alone with the exception of the few people in the room. He listened to a few of them. They were muttering selves, oblivious to his presence. His voice echoed in the bare room.
“Hey, party boy. You don’t have to shout.” The voice came from behind him, trying to catch his attention. The young man turned, trying to find the source of the voice. After a moment, he heard the voice call out for him again. “Behind you, two or three rows back.” The young man followed the voice past the rows of seats and eventually found its source. On one of the scarlet red couches, a young man close to his age sat, smoking a cigarette. His hair was tied back in long dreads, and he wore a red dress shirt and black slacks. “Good to see you’re awake. You are in for one hell of a shock.”
“Who are you and why are we in a hospital room?” the young man asked, anxiety causing his voice to shake just a little.
The guy in the red shirt chuckled at his queries and took another drag on his cigarette before he answered.
“My name is Marcus. Marcus Williams. But before I can answer your second question, party boy, I suggest you grab a seat. This is not going to be easy to hear.” Marcus patted the seat next to him.
“Will you stop calling me ‘party boy’? My name is Virgil,” he snapped, annoyed.
Marcus rolled his eyes and sighed before he responded. “Alright, Virgil. Would you kindly sit down?” he asked again. Virgil begrudgingly sat down to the left of Marcus, who pulled out a pack of cigarettes from his shirt pocket and offered him one. “Care for a smoke?”
“You know that shit will kill you right?” Virgil stated, pointing at the cigarettes. Marcus shook his head as he put the cigarettes back into his shirt pocket, blowing out a puff of grey smoke as he did.
“Lung cancer is the least of your concerns right now,” Marcus stated, nonchalantly.
“Right, my concern should be why I’m in a nearly empty hospital room with a chain smoker and an asymmetrical Skrillex cut,” Virgil responded, gesturing at his hair. Marcus took his cigarette out of his mouth and held it in his right hand as stretched his arms out for a moment. Then he spoke again.
“First of all, fuck you. I only started smoking when I woke up here. Second of all, you want the truth? The truth is, we are both dead and this is actually Purgatory. All that awaits the both of us is the final judgment.” He affected a placated tone as he spoke.
Virgil gaped at him in disbelief. It took him little time to respond to Marcus’s statement.
“Bullshit,” he retorted, not wanting to believe a word of it. Marcus stopped smoking his cigarette for a brief moment, blowing the smoke out before responding.
“Beg your pardon?” Marcus asked.
“There is no way in hell we are dead. If we were dead, we would not be sitting here talking in a hospital lobby. We would be rotting in the ground. This is just an elaborate prank. Besides, even if this is Purgatory, why are we the only people here?” Virgil demanded, frustrated by being in stuck in the expansive lobby. He stood up and faced Marcus, who had resumed smoking.
“I actually thought that too, well similar,” he said, rolling his eyes at Virgil’s rant. “I thought it was some sort of sick rendition of the Saw movies. I tried to open the window panels and the doors, but I couldn’t open them. But, I have found something that proves our mortality, or lack of mortality in this case,” Marcus added as Virgil placed his hands on his hips.
“Alright, I’m game. What can you do to prove our ‘lack of mortality’?” Virgil asked.
“Simple. Roll up your sleeve and let me see your arm,” Marcus instructed, gesturing for Virgil’s arm.
“What in the hell does my arm have to do with my mortality?”
“Just give me your damn arm, Virgil. It’ll take two seconds, tops,” he said, gesturing again for Virgil’s arm.
Muttering under his breath, Virgil began to roll up the black sleeve of his sweatshirt, revealing his pale white arm. He thrust it angrily in Marcus’ direction. Marcus firmly grabbed Virgil’s his wrist in his left hand, ensuring that he couldn’t move. With his right hand, he took his cigarette out of his mouth. “Now, hold still…”
He pressed the burning cigarette into the underside of Virgil’s arm, causing Virgil to shout in pain. The searing pain caused Virgil to twist and turn in agony until he managed to free his arm from Marcus’s grip.
“Why the fuck did you burn me, you psychotic motherfucker?!?” Virgil asked as he clutched his arm. The burn mark was seared into his palm, and he felt himself filling with anger. Marcus calmly reached into his pants pocket and pulled out a small metallic lighter to relight his cigarette.
“Check your arm, Virgil,” Marcus said, gesturing to where he had burned him. Virgil moved his hand to look, only to see something impossible. Slowly, the burn began to heal as the damaged cells regenerated. Eventually, the burn disappeared and Virgil’s skin returned to its original state. He looked at his arm in shock.
“Holy shit…the burn…it’s gone. What the heck?” Virgil asked, not sure if he wanted to know what had happened.
“You can feel pain here, but any wounds that you might sustain heal almost instantaneously. There is no device or substance on earth that can cause people to regenerate like that. Feel your pulse, there’s nothing there. I’m not kidding. This is not a joke. We are dead,” Marcus finished the last of his cigarette and put it out in the nearby ashtray.
What seemed like an hour passed as Virgil paced around the room muttering to himself, trying to understand what was happening. Marcus just sat in his chair, watching him as he continued to smoke. At one point, Virgil started repeating something through his muttering, the only thing he could say to make himself remain calm.
“This can’t be real. This can’t be real. This has to be a bad nightmare…” There was no way he could be dead. No way.
“Virgil,” Marcus finally interrupted, “this is what we call ‘The Five Stages of Grief.’ The first is denial, followed by almost immediately by anger—”
“Shut the fuck up Marcus!” Virgil shouted, cutting him off. “Don’t you get it?!? We are dead! We could be going to fucking Hell and you’re just sitting there smoking a cigarette! How can you be so fucking calm? God damn it!” Virgil shouted as he kicked one of the nearby chairs, sending it across the room. Despite his outburst, Marcus remained calm and just continued to watch Virgil pace around the room. The others in the room remained oblivious to the commotion.
“You know, saying God’s name in vain is probably a sin,” Marcus commented. “That’s probably not in your best interest if you’re worried about the whole Hell thing.”
“Fuck off!” Virgil retorted in anger. Marcus threw his hands into the air in apathy towards Virgil’s plight. After some time, Virgil stopped his pacing and spun on Marcus. “Maybe we can talk to someone. There should be someone in charge here. Someone…anyone…”
“Thus begins the bargaining stage…” Marcus sighed. “Listen Virgil, I doubt anyone is giving out free passes to return to life. You have to accept this for what it is.”
“No, I refuse to believe that. Heaven and Hell obviously controls a large aspect of human life. They must be bound to make a mistake or two. That’s it, they made a mistake and we are not supposed to be dead.”
Marcus just shook his head. After what seemed like another hour, Virgil stopped walking and stood with his head hung low. “So…there is no going back is there?”
“That would be the penultimate stage, depression. C’mon. Sit with me and try to relax,” Marcus said, gesturing for Virgil to sit on the chair next to him. After a moment, Virgil took Marcus up on his offer. “Look Virgil, I know how you feel. I was just as shocked and pissed as you are when I learned about my death. At one point, I was shouting at the top of my lungs for someone to help me. But if we are dead, we’re dead. We just have to accept it.”
It took Virgil a moment to respond. “Can I have one of those smokes now?” he asked quietly. Marcus reached into his pocket handed him a cigarette.
“Lastly, there is the acceptance stage. Menthol alright?” he asked, handing Virgil the metallic lighter. Virgil lit his cigarette and began to smoke. He anticipated that he would cough, as it was his first cigarette, but it was abnormally smooth and easy. After a moment, Virgil spoke,
“So, this is death? Death in all of its splendors?”
“Pretty much.” Marcus replied as he exhaled, letting out a cloud of grey smoke.
“This is far from what I expected,” Virgil commented, taking another drag from his cigarette.
“What did you expect? White clouds? St. Peter telling you of your life from a book? Pearly golden gates?” Marcus asked.
“Well, I didn’t expect be sitting in an almost empty waiting room, smoking a cigarette,” Virgil replied as he began to pat the sides of his pants, searching for something. Marcus glanced over, curious. “Speaking of which, where did you get those cigarettes anyway? My pockets are empty,” he said.
Marcus pointed to a corner of the room, where a well-kept machine rested. It resembled a vintage cigarette dispenser that was once commonplace in the sixties. On the top of the machine, the words ‘Infini-Smoke’ were displayed in bright green neon letters and the available flavors were listed below. However, the peculiar flavor that stood out amongst them was simply entitled ‘mystery flavor’.
“It never runs out,” Marcus said. “I even got this nice lighter, as well. I’ve gone through at least five or six packs.”
“What’s the ‘mystery’ flavor?” Virgil asked.
“I don’t know and something tells me that I do not want to find out,” Marcus replied, leaning back into his chair. A while passed as the two sit in silence.
“You know, you never told me why my hair looks like this,” Virgil mentioned, pulling some of his hair gently.
“Remember how I burned you earlier and you were able to feel that? While you are able to feel physical pain, that is not your physical body. Apparently, your soul will manifest itself into a representation of your inner self depending on how you lived your life, while your actual body remains on earth. From the looks of your hair and that black sweatshirt, I can either guess that you liked to party or you were one of those ‘emotional’ types that thinks the world doesn’t understand what issues they are going through.” Marcus explained.
Virgil realized why Marcus had been calling him ‘party boy’. But at the same time, he was more than a little confused.
“But I am…or was, an active college student. I attended University of Maryland, had a three point eight one GPA, and was close to getting my degree in marketing. The only time I ‘partied’ was when I went to concerts, but that was seldom,” he told Marcus.
Marcus chuckled. “Despite your college life, I guess your inner self was a bit of a party animal. As for me, I attended the University of Pittsburgh, trying to get a bachelors in graphic design.” As he said this, Marcus grabbed one of his dreads and twirled it in his fingers. “These dreads, though… I have not had these since I was in high school. I shaved my hair short when I began college.”
“I kept my hair cut short, too. Why did you shave your hair?” Virgil asked.
“You ever try getting a job or appearing professional with dreadlocks? You might have the most impressive resume in the world, but if you have dreadlocks, everyone will think that you are an avid pot smoker. Besides, they are a pain in the ass to maintain and clean,” he elaborated as he stopped twirling his hair.
“It seems like you have an active idea of what is going on.” Virgil looked at Marcus, wondering how he knew all of this information about death and purgatory. “How do you know all this?”
Marcus raised himself up from his chair and walked over to one of the adjacent tables to retrieve something. Walking back to Virgil, he held a small white tablet computer. He handed Virgil the tablet and sat back in his seat, sinking into the soft cushion as Virgil examined the tablet. Lightweight, yet sturdy, light shined against its metallic surface. Along the top rim of the tablet, the initials ‘OD’ were imprinted in the casing.
“So, there are iPads in Purgatory now?” he asked, raising an eyebrow.
“That device in your hands explained to me what happens when people die, why we look like this, and what will eventually become of us. It also allows you to observe anything that is currently happening on Earth and it streams TV programs. But for some reason, I can’t look up anyone in my immediate family,” he explained. After a short moment, the tablet came alive and the screen became illuminated. Soon, a female voice came through the tablet.
“Hello Virgil. How can I be of service today?” The tablet spoke in a calm and soothing voice. Virgil jumped back at the sound, startled that it would speak to him directly. He almost dropped the tablet, but managed to catch it before it fell off of his lap.
“What are you?” Virgil asked.
“I am an Oculus Device Version 8.28, or OD in abbreviated terms. I was created by the heavenly powers to provide information for souls, both good and evil, that are entering Purgatory. I am capable of viewing both the mortal and ethereal realms in live feed, accessing the internet, and providing insight as well as conversation about the afterlife.”
“If you can view both the mortal and ethereal realms, then why can’t we see feeds of ourselves or our families?” Virgil asked, concerned how his family was taking the news of his death. He was worried how his parents would react to his death, whether for better or worse.
“In several scenarios, the vision of a soul’s deceased family can cause a potential reprisal of traumatic stress that can lead to irrational behavior, potentially disturbing the other residents of Purgatory. As for viewing yourself, you are here.” The Oculus explained. Marcus and Virgil looked at each other for a brief moment in disbelief at the tablet’s response.
“Apparently the Oculus was designed to be a smart ass,” Marcus said, taking another drag from his cigarette.
“Don’t make me hurt you, Marcus,” it responded, making Marcus lean back from it. Virgil sighed at the Oculus’ response and decided to ask another question that had been bothering him.
“Tell me, Oculus. If we are dead, then how come I can’t remember how I died?” He was desperate to know how he passed away. Marcus chimed in as well.
“You can’t remember either?” he asked.
“No. All I remember is coming home from work and walking back to my bedroom. I was checking a few emails and then I received a phone call. I can’t remember anything else, not the call or anything. There are portions of my memories missing, too. It’s like I have lost months of my life,” Virgil said, trying to recall his most recent memories, but he kept drawing a blank.
“My most recent memories are…well, what I remember is going to the super market to pick up an energy drink or two. That’s it, my memory stops after that. Though I still remember most of everything else,” Marcus said. After a moment, the Oculus spoke.
“In some cases, the moment of death for the deceased was either incredibly traumatic or painful. In order to keep the deceased calm during their time in Purgatory, the powers above and below have decided that it was best that the memory of death be erased. When you meet with you case handler, you will be informed of your respective causes of death.”
“So, our memories were erased? Will we ever get them back?” Virgil asked.
“That is left to be determined. It depends on how the deceased has passed.” With each of the Oculus’ responses, Marcus was clearly growing more annoyed with its lack of detail.
“Can you at least tell us why we are some of the only people in here? It’s a little sparse to be Purgatory,” Marcus added.
“With the number of souls that are continually entering and exiting from Purgatory, Purgatory has been separated into exactly four thousand and eighty two rooms. However, your case worker will explain why you are here,” the Oculus stated.
Marcus and Virgil were taken aback. Virgil wished the tablet would give them a straight answer. Marcus finished another cigarette and leaned back into his chair.
“A tablet computer with an infinite amount of information that is more than capable of seeing everything in the universe, both in the immortal and mortal realms, and we manage to ask all the questions that it does not know an answer to. Do we get a trophy for this?” Marcus asked.
“I simply mean that I cannot provide you with all of the answers you seek,” the Oculus replied.
“It looks like we are being left in the dark about a lot of things,” Virgil stated, defeated from the experience.
“Seems like,” Marcus agreed.
After a short moment, Marcus and Virgil heard the sound of a window panel opening behind them. They pulled themselves over the seat to find the source of the sound. One of the once sealed clerical windows had opened, revealing what resembled a woman sitting at a desk behind the window. She soon beckoned from across the room.
“Marcus Thomas Williams. Virgil Vincent Volaju. Your case handler will see you both now.”