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The Dead Man

WARNING: Contains Disturbing Imagery. Discretion is advised.

They found him slumped on a park bench. His eyes were slightly open, like when you are falling asleep but battling to stay awake one second longer. But these eyes were unseeing, foggy, and lifeless. His mouth was open like a gash above his chin. His lips were cracked and chewed, making his mouth look even more wound-like. A trail of blood trickled out of the corner of his mouth, dried and flaking slightly and dark red where it was still wet and congealing. His hair was a nest of knots, straight patches, and curled ends. What he once kept in a neat form, styled with any liquid product he could manage, sometimes only water or his own saliva, was now disheveled and telling of a time gone wrong. 


His arms were at his sides. One would have thought he would’ve curled them around his body in order to protect himself from the chill of the cool autumn night. But they laid at his sides as if the cold that the night had brought was no bother to him at all. His thin black suit was stained with all manner of debris and muck. The back of his hand was covered in dried splatters of blood. His now pale skin threw the dark rust colored droplets into greater contrast. His fingertips were stained a greenish brown from the tobacco he handled to roll his own cigarettes and the loose dried leaves crusted underneath his fingernails. Shoes, once black, shiny and gleaming when they left the store many years ago, were scuffed to a pale grey. Holes were worn into the heels and the soles were tearing away from the body of the shoes like peeling paint. 


His bloated belly filled the tattered and dirty fabric of his suit with a fullness that was misleading. From his physique it would be safe to assume he was well fed every day, and even indulged a little every so often. But his stomach was not a result of a healthy lifestyle. More often than not his belly went empty as he fell asleep. And when he had the penny or dollar to spare which would have bought him a number of groceries or at least a square meal or two, it instead went to supply his body with only alcohol. He preferred whiskey, when he could afford it, but would settle for almost anything that would be bought in whatever way he could manage. Short of prostituting himself to whomever would take him, he finagled, swindled, and sometimes even worked, for whatever was given to him. 


On the occasion he found himself in good fortune and a pocket full of coins and bank papers, he filled himself to excess. He relished the burn of the alcohol, the sour taste of whiskey, and the sweet bitterness of any aged wine, and drank until either his partner was under the table, or he found himself under there as well. He could be seen staggering about the town, unable to inhibit himself, with a bottle in one hand and his other outstretched to keep the world away. 


Others would groan and whisper around him. Often as he walked into a room, his reputation preceded him and all turned a cold shoulder to the man with the mustache. When he got very raucous and went on carousing and carrying on, he was put back into his place by the shortest tempered man in the current vicinity, or the suitor of the woman he had just offensively propositioned. Without a penny to his name longer than a few hours, and an ability to forget himself that it was a wonder he ever remembered how to write his own name. No one found him to be good company. Those who did chance their company onto him, did so hesitantly, begrudgingly, and most times, briefly. 


So it was no wonder he was found alone on the park bench. The dew of the morning mixed with the damp of his forehead and coated him in a glaze of droplets in the morning. There was no sign that he had noticed the collection of water on his skin and shoulders, as he was unknowing of the world long before the hours of day crept into the sky. When it was put to someone to shake the man sitting on the bench, his head wobbled onto his shoulder then to his chest and there was no doubt that he was gone from the world. 


He left little impact on the world in his time, or any time short after it. Though he tried and struggled to gain a foothold in the passion he held and art he wished to master, nothing came from it in his eyes. Some of his work did go noticed in the public eye, he even felt he had accumulated some sense of success at a time or two. But those were short and scattered in his life. In between, the gaping frames of sorrow, depression, defeat, and misery dwarfed the times he felt he was happy. He never gave up, even on his very last night, he never gave up trying to win an audience that he so desperately craved. 


On his final night he had found some fortune. A handful of coins and a couple bank notes were given to him in exchange for a piece he had labored at for several weeks prior. He felt it was crafted in an undoubtedly genius way that any common tongued street urchin would see it for the piece of art that it was. He expected several bundles of bank notes, perhaps even hundreds or thousands of them, in exchange for the piece he was so proud of. But the man who accepted the stack of prose he had been presented with only shelled out a handful of dirty and scuffed coins and a pad of low numbered papers. “Nothing more,” the man had said, “and that’s the last you’ll get from me.”


Dejectedly, the man trudged around the town. The soles of his shoes not preventing the puddles from soaking to his unwashed stockings, he wandered to the only building he found any relief, and shuffled to the bar. He slammed the meager means he had been given onto the polished wooden counter and ordered. “Whatever this will get me. As much as it will get me, I do not care” he said bitterly. This was not the usual manner the proprietor was used to when this particular customer had a handful of money to spend. Instead it was a solemn manner that was more haunting than saddening. The large man took the mustached man’s money and handed him the bottle the man could afford. The man in the dirty suit dragged it off the counter and shuffled outside without saying another word. 


He trudged around for a while, incognizant of the passing time or the fading of the light. When he got tired, he wandered into the park and found a black iron bench. The metal felt cool on his back as he leaned against it and stared through the trees. The moon was full, his favorite time of the month. He often wrote about it and enjoyed the opportunities it presented. But this moon seemed to be taunting through the trees. The glowing white casting a judgment onto him that was as cynical as his thoughts. He glared at the moon as he opened the bottle. He raised the bottle to his lips and drank deeply. The liquid filled his cheeks then his grumbling stomach. He coughed as he choked on some of the alcohol. He thought nothing of it and drank more. He continued to glare at the moon and silently curse the fruitless inspiration it had caused. He coughed a couple more times as he drank and it wasn’t until it doubled him over and his throat burned that he took any notice of it. 


He had put his free hand to his mouth as he coughed. He may have been alone, but he still instinctively covered his mouth with the back of his hand. When he leaned back from his fit, he glanced down at his hand. What seemed to be merely phlegm or spit expelling from his mouth, he discovered the wetness on his hand was actually colored. The moon shone bright and the street lamps behind him shone dim but It was enough light for him to make out the dark shade of red in the droplets. 


Red. The color that had haunted him all his life. It was a color that only meant one thing to him and he had always wished to avoid. Cursing, he put his hand down and brought the bottle up to his dried and cracking lips and drank. He felt the burning sharpen and the taste slightly metallic in his throat as he swallowed. He emptied the bottle quickly before he doubled again into a coughing fit. He felt his lips dampen with what he knew was blood, as he wretched and ached. When he could catch his breath in between gasping coughs, his breathing was ragged and labored. His body felt on fire and shards of glass seemed to be digging their way through his throat and into his stomach. The taste of alcohol was no longer in his mouth, but the sharp and nauseating taste of iron covered his tongue. He wretched and gasped and wretched again. The bottle dropped out of his hand and rolled away on the ground. It was chaos, this man coughing in such agony. His sight seemed to be fading and his head felt light. He leaned back and tried to gasp for any air that he could manage. And as he breathed in one long ragged gasp, his eyelids dropped, his body went limp, and a final trickle of blood dropped from his mouth. 


It took many hours after dawn for anyone to give any notice or concern for the man on the bench. Many recognized him and thus shuffled away, giving as wide a birth as possible. Most thought him sleeping, or just passed out from his usual night of drinking. It wasn’t until a pair of police officers walked over to the bench and began ordering the still man to wake up and move on, did anyone notice the unresponsive man was dead. After some stern shouting and a couple kicks to the legs, one officer gripped the dead man’s shoulder and shook him until the man’s head lolled around and down. The two men stood up and began a procedure they weren’t surprised to be performing, but merely amused that this wasn’t necessary for this particular man before now. 


The result of the man’s death was unremarkable. Those who had known him did not approve of him, and the only one who would come in and identify the body did not want anything to do with him. But the man came and agreed that the man was who they suspected. The doctor pronounced the man dead and covered him up. No one else came to give their respects. 


The mortician didn’t bother with using any chemicals or materials on the dead man. He had known the man in life and had many unpleasant dealings with him. He found the man grotesque in his curiosity and grim in his manners. He felt no sorrow or sympathy with the dead man and only wished to get the matter over with. His assistants found a small plot that was unmarked and unremarkable. They dug the grave to the most minimum of requirements and the cheaply made wooden box containing the remains of the dead man, still in his dirty suit and his hair still a mess, was lowered into the grave and the hole subsequently filled. No one was eager to pay the man’s expenses of dying. The mortician hated the man even more then, knowing he would get very little out of the services he was providing. But the police said that the town would pay for the dead man’s burial and tombstone as necessary as the good Lord granted to even the lowest of sorts. A flat grey stone was carved with the man’s name and what was known of his birth and death date. No other decoration was given, no other remembrance was expended. It was a bitter end to a man that left bitter ends wherever he went. 


He thought himself a writer, and a sensational one at that. Those around him he thought were fools and simpletons as they did not recognize the talent that he held in such quantities. He thought the prose and poetry he created was that of a master, though the value of it was seen by others little more than fish wrap or Sunday evening page filler. His stories were dark and brooding, and filled with the death that many found unsettling at best and unholy or blasphemous at worst. But he continued without relenting until he finally had enough. And on the expiration of his vigor and undying dedication to his craft, his body found itself expired as well. 


And in the lives of those he met he was a miserable and bothersome soul whose company was best avoided. And to those who came after him, the legacy of his words were finally recognized and enjoyed for generations of avid readers of all walks and ages of life, he was seen as a genius.


But he died. And his marker read:


Edgar Allan Poe

1809 - 1849

Text Copyright © Maximillion Almgren-Bersie 2023

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