“It’s a rare mortal who can get out of the way of his own senses.”

Here is an excerpt from the rough draft of Suicide is for Mortals. Trippy dialogue ahead.

***

By far, the most frustrating thing about staying behind after death was that our relationship with the living was so thoroughly one-sided. Our relationship with the truly dead and gone was nonexistent, but that’s a discussion for another time. At any given time, there are millions of departed souls still hanging around in this world, but most living people don’t know who we are and can neither see nor hear us.

How infuriating, that they understand vampires, unicorns, mermaids and fairies so much better than members of their own species who have died but aren’t at rest. I’d like to say it’s not their fault that even when we’re trying to talk to them, they have no clue of our presence, but this is a weakness that I never found charming in humanity: they have such a hard time seeing what’s in front of their eyes. So many mortals either are so sure about what they’re seeing, or so sure about what they’re not seeing, they can’t see and hear us as we really are. It’s a rare mortal who can get out of the way of his own senses long enough to let his surroundings speak for themselves.

There was one way, which I discovered soon enough, that I could communicate with the living, and that was through their dreams. It was nowhere near as god-like as it sounds, but it was all I had and I made use of it. The communication was much like approaching a stranger at a coffeeshop; you couldn’t force them to talk, and if they responded, there was no guarantee they’d tell the truth. I found that mortals were more open to talking to strangers in their dreams, but many were also considerably less coherent than in their waking hours. In short, I found that I could initiate conversation with a mortal of my choosing when the mortal was in REM sleep, but how much I got out of that conversation was not up to me.

After that afternoon in which I managed to appear in one of Meliana’s portraits, I decided that it was time for a meeting with her. I waited until the wee hours of the morning and invited myself into her apartment.

My first thought about her abode was that I knew what kind of money she made from her artwork, and I knew the housing market in the former Rezarta, and that, between her income and her roommate’s tips from waiting tables, surely they could afford more than that one-bedroom place even after renting her studio at the same time.

I suppose it was my own damn fault when I floated into their bedroom and felt all foolish to note the single king-sized bed taking up the middle of the room, where Meliana slept contentedly tangled up with the woman who helped her set up her easel every Sunday before going in for her shift at the restaurant. That explained the one-bedroom arrangement, and I should’ve kept that in mind.

All the same, something handy about talking to a dreaming person is that the person sleeping right next to her doesn’t need to hear a thing. I waited for Meliana’s eyelids to start moving in the telltale pattern, and I made contact.

When I make contact with a dreaming mortal, from my end it appears that the room around us changes into her dreamworld. From her side, I guess she merely sees me appear in her dream. I knew that with Meliana, I could expect to see something totally weird, and I was not disappointed.

On that particular night, I found her exploring what appeared to be a 3D fractal constructed of striated minerals. She was happy to see me floating along with her—mortals can range from friendly to hostile to unresponsive—through that cavern of malachite carved to infinitely dividing curves and points. She appeared to be examining the malachite structures as we floated along, but it soon became apparent that she was manipulating her surroundings, like it was a gigantic sculpture under her control. She crouched down to a particular outgrowth of fractal rock, and the brilliant green turned red, blooming out to navy blue at the transitions back to green. As we floated along through her cavernous dream sculpture, the jewel-toned malachite turned to pastel marble, and the shapes became less rounded and more elongated. It looked less like a fractal in solid form and more like a room carved into very ornate columns.

She seemed comfortable with me following along in her dream; aware of my presence, and content that I was her companion for the REM cycle, but assuming that I did not expect anything of her except that she keep on attending to the beauty of her surroundings. Since she saw nothing amiss about my presence, I started talking.

“Meliana, do you know who I am?”

She looked up from smoothing down a sharp edge on some pale green marble and answered me. “Yes. You look like former President Joy Greenbird, who led us through the Mytho-Revolutionary Fields of Hydrangea Blossoms.”

That was an interesting beginning to the conversation; she started off answering correctly, but the way she veered off could mean she didn’t understand or simply wasn’t putting her words together like she did in the outside world. In my experiences with dreaming mortals, either was a distinct possibility.

“I see you doing portraits outside the restaurant.” She gave me a pleasant smile but made no comment. “Is that how you make your living? Just in portraits?” Of course I knew that was only a fraction of her artistic output, and I needed to get a handle on her answering style.

“No, I also make peony folds in paper frames for the glass ivy opalescent frameworks, and when the–”

I interrupted. “Meli, what’s the name of the woman sleeping next to you?”

“Clarice Adrianson,” she answered happily.

That was good; I took it further. “What is her relationship to you?”

“She’s my lover, life partner and best friend,” she declared. “Oh, also my manager.”

“Fascinating!” I said. “How long have you and Clarice been together?”

“Since we had sixth grade together,” said Meliana.

I understand that kids can become sexually active at precocious ages, but that was not an answer to my question. I decided to test her with some known quantities.

“Meli, what’s your mother’s name?”

“Amanda Lucas, though her stage name is Mandy McNally.”

Yes; excellent. If only I could keep Meli in this groove of answering questions appropriately.

“And who is your father?”

“Daniel Lucas,” she announced with a smile. “He writes about greenwashing for the Herald-Byzantine.”

So close, but not quite in that groove. Meliana’s father was a well-respected journalist specializing in environmental issues for the Southwest Herald-Times. Her mother was an independent recording artist who enjoyed a few years of dizzying success as a pop star before she started her family; everyone above the age of 35 and quite a lot of younger hipsters are familiar with the name of Mandy McNally.

The truth was that I needed to get more familiar with Meliana, but I wasn’t entirely sure of the specifics that I needed to know. By now we had progressed out of the hall of marble columns and into a sort of nebula composed of irregular, though somehow elegant, structures of a wool-like fibrous substance. Meliana had a tool in her right hand that resembled an ice pick, which she used to control the fibers into more coherent shapes.

“Meli, do you, by any chance, visit a therapist of some sort?”

“Yes. Mommy makes sure I do an hour with Dr. Gustafsson every month.”

“Okay! Does Dr. Gustafsson have a first name?”

“His name is Dorian, but I always scooter daisy heads in reverse of polarity.”

I was clearly taxing Meliana’s gifts of coherency in dreaming to their end points. “Where can I find Dr. Dorian Gustafsson?”

“He lives in Apple Creek, New York.”

“If he lives in New York, how do you see him every month?” I wasn’t entirely confident that the conversation wasn’t already shot; I had no expectation of a sensible answer.

“We talk through the webcam,” she explained.

I haven’t believed in any gods since I was old enough to read through a picture book without asking for help, but at that moment I thanked the Neurological Spirits for Meliana’s response. “Meli, you are a lovely young woman, you keep on doing what you’re doing, and I will see you later.” I couldn’t say how much later, but we were off to a promising start.