It was in the early stages and the great disaster was about to begin. I hadn't much time left, so was running around, up and down columns of people and things, trying to find the final details of my thesis. Everyone else's cover sheets and progress reports were nailed up on the walls and I wanted to find mine before it all got going. On the way, as I clambered over pieces of torn metal wreckage, I encountered old video reports of children who had gone missing or had been taken from their parents. The surviving siblings said that now that their parents were distressed again, this time they knew how to take care of them. I knocked the back of my neck against something. I put my hand back to feel for what had happened and was shocked to see there was blood on my fingers.
I can't remember if I found my thesis or not, but soon it was too late, because we were all buckled into the plane, a huge aircraft seating hundreds of people, all strapped in tight and all knowing what was about to happen. The voice over the PA said hello and welcome, and so on. He pointed out a few of the guests – look out for that one over there, he was our first casualty last time. I was relieved because the guy in question was quite a distance from me and my friend, so I still had a chance of surviving. As I understood it, some would live and others would die, but it all depended on chaotic things and couldn't be predicted.
As we flew, the vessel we were on changed into a hybrid thing that was part aeroplane and part cruise liner, like in the movie. We were flying high over the ocean when I turned to my friend and asked, 'What happens next?' She replied, 'We die.' I felt a growing sense of panic. It was never clear what the disaster was – some sort of super-sonic earthquake where everything was upheaval for one deadly, world-changing moment – but as we crossed the point on the map where it was marked, the ship exploded and I was falling through the sky, hurtling down to earth, unable to scream, unable to breathe.
Some people had parachutes but all I had was a pillow. We were so high up in the sky that we could see the entire map of Australia below us. Other groups of people were falling over other countries, so great was the explosion that it blew them so far - or perhaps so small was the world as we approached death. As for us, those of us over Australia would land all over the country in different spots. The anticipation was that those who survived (the ones with the parachutes) would establish settlements and start looking for food. As for my friend and I, this did not apply – we hadn't much of a chance of surviving. Still, though, we tried to aim for water and wound up descending over southern Tasmania, approaching a bay near Hobart. As we got closer, the soldiers on the ground looked up. Aiming for the water had been a gamble. The idea was if we could some how slow our descent or land in a certain way – maybe using the pillow as a buffer – we might have a chance of surviving, but in the end we missed the water and died instantly.
I picked myself up and looked around. There was a sense of relief that this was how it had happened – instantly and with much less fear than I'd anticipated. There had been no pain at all. Those who survived would all die later in various ways, some quite awful. The disaster was not yet over and there would me more horror to come – it was one of those movies - and so it was good to have it over and done with.
Being dead, everything had a sense of permanence to it. I realised, for example, that I'd never lose or gain any more weight, which was good, because weight-loss programs on TV were becoming increasingly demented and cruel. Everything was OK. Everything was DONE.
We walked into the sunshine, where the rest of the dead had gathered. They were wearing the clothes they'd had on when the plane exploded, and I remember remarking to my friend that I never approved of wearing bikinis on aeroplanes. It was all bouncing tits and bare shoulders in the baking hot sun. I said that even though I was dead and had no skin, I'd still stick to the shade. Cancer's a killer, after all.
We walked and walked. We saw the dogs that had been in the aircraft's cargo hold fall from the sky and be caught by people on the ground. A Maltese, a border collie, and a golden retriever all landed in the arms of strangers, their new owners, but the golden-coloured staffy never did. It must have died.
Huge goannas leapt up from the ground into the trees and from there propelled themselves, long, unsettling reptiles, over to the other side of the road. As they made their jump from one side to the other, they held our their stubby limbs and let the dangling flaps of skin act as wings. Turns out they weren't jumping but flying.
We walked through streets and then through forests, where it was dark. We stumbled across other survivors, who were also dead, who had set up bases of operation for the apocalypse to come. They guarded their territory fiercely and wouldn't let us pass through. It was odd, though. We were dead and impervious to pain or any kind of second death. What on earth were they afraid of?
We passed a wilderness outfitter's store. I knew I needed boots and a sleeping bag for going hiking, but everything was lying out on the floor in a great big mess and I couldn't find what I was looking for. I knew it was there but... it could not be found. A creeping doubt - I'm dead. Why do I need a sleeping bag when I can't feel the cold? It was frustrating.
Because I was dead, I was invisible to the living. I realised I could shoplift my groceries, which was probably necessary given I'd never be able to work again, so would have no money to pay for things anyway. I thought, but you don't need bread and milk – you're dead! The reply came: I still want to eat!
But how do the dead go to the toilet? I was at a meeting with Sifu and the kung fu group and asked to be excused so I could visit the ladies' room. I left the table and went into a dark corridor and was struck by the futility of what I was about to do. I didn't need the bathroom; it was a memory, a habit, that drove me here. I realised that what I actually wanted was to sit in a small room by myself and be by myself, and I'd sought out the bathroom as something at least approximating that in a socially acceptable way. It was a convention that was now useless to me. I turned away in anger and saw there were other dead women who had come looking for the bathroom for the exact same reason, and had suddenly reached the same conclusion. As we walked back to the group, through a flimsy-looking gym, I confessed that I was starting to get angry with accommodating the lie that nothing had changed.
I left the kung fu group and walked down the road to a Lebanese restaurant, where another friend and I played tricks on the guests, including the cast from Home Improvement. It turned out that though we were invisible to most people, if we focused really hard on them, we could make them see us. This meant we could do what we want. WE COULD DO ANYTHING! We joked and laughed and I called the woman a hypocrite for her double standards in being against various parties in some global conflicts but being for their equivalents in others and not seeing the discrepency. I called her out. I pointed and said, “Hypocrite!”
Being dead was amazing. Nothing anyone said or did had any hold over me. I was in control. I would live forever. Children could see me, though. This I did not mind so much because children were interesting and it felt like I could help look after them in my own way, be a secret imaginary friend and then go away when I wasn't needed and it was over. Sometimes, though, we would laugh too loudly and the adults, the living adults, would look around as though they'd heard something and would try to find us with their eyes. I didn't want to be discovered like that. It would be embarrassing.
I returned to my people, back to where the dead had been basking in the sun and dancing, and I found that things were looking bleak and that the world was grey. As a response, there was a strange program being initiated and they were holding auditions for people to stomp on the ends of large plastic pipes, which was were all jumbled together to make a weird-looking musical instrument. The audition process was tough, but one man made it through.
Later, when the humans were holding their first of many tearful memorial services for the dead of the great disaster, we, the objects of their distress, gathered above them and played the musical instrument. Though I couldn't hear it at the audition, I could hear it now and it was the most heavenly music. We sent it to the mourners as a gift and to say hello and to say that everything was OK and that we were gone but still with them at the same time.
I was transported back to the moment many in the aircraft died. For me, it had been instant, crashing down to earth, but for the others who were still strapped in their seats as the cabin filled with water and pieces of razor-sharp debris flew around them - and into them - it was longer. I saw in slow motion the old couple, waking up from their deaths and turning to kiss each other, though their faces were torn and bloody. I saw a young man raise his hand to wipe sweat from his forehead in relief, though his hand had been sliced into seven pieces. I saw a blonde woman screaming out her last breath, trapped in her seat and totally submerged in water, and then not scream any more. Another man with his intestines out, breathing a sigh of relief. I saw all of this, how they had died and how they had felt when they realised that they were now free, and I looked down at the congregation of mourners below, crying as they listened to our music, and I wanted to tell them that everything was OK. I think, on some level, they started to understand.
I woke up feeling amazing.