Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Sad, Strange Ghosthood of Benjamin Bray

In a gray and lifeless office in a gray and lifeless town, a gray and lifeless man haunts the gray and lifeless corridors; his name is Benjamin Bray, and although he likes the taste of flan and believes strongly in hydration, he nonetheless believes he is dead.

Each week Benjamin checks his checking account to find no money, and although he believes he does not actually work at the gray company, each day he nonetheless goes to a desk which is never occupied, and he sits at the computer and does not feel his fingers on the keyboard. He sits alone in his cubicle and his fingers dance above the keys and words and figures appear on the screen, but they are ghost words and empty figures, without meaning or value, and they do nothing to convince Benjamin that he is alive.

When he glides past open office doors, papers riffle and the temperature drops, and people close the doors and complain about the draft. When the corridors are full of subdued laughter and talk about the home team's latest travesty, no one acknowledges him, and one time he swears Charlie Keller from Accounting walked right. through. him.

On a Tuesday in March, with the sky gray and lifeless, Benjamin enters the office to find a cluster of people gathered around a blood-spattered desk. A young man named Jeremy, who had only yesterday afternoon in the break room told the vilest joke that Benjamin has ever heard, involving a horse, a prostitute, and three pounds of manure, is missing the top of his skull. His mouth is a round O of wonder around the handgun, and his eyes are wide with surprise.

Benjamin wonders what Jeremy had seen in that last moment before his brain flickered out, and he wonders if he will finally have a friend.

"Why did you do it?" Benjamin asks the ghost at the windowsill, but the ghost only looks out at the gray March sky and pays him no heed. "Did I kill myself? Is that why I'm here?"

After a while the ghost speaks. Benjamin can see his lips move, but the words are inaudible. Hell, Benjamin reflects, is being unheard.

And so they stand side by side, the gray lifeless man and the ghost, and they look out at the rain spattering the parking lot.

"...never even saw it coming," pretty young Caroline says from the circle gathered around Jeremy's body, which has now expanded to include police and EMTs. Benjamin wonders if it is only coincidence that they seem to have more color today, more warmth. That their talk is louder, that they move their hands more expressively, touch one another openly and never for a moment mention quarterly reports. "He seemed so alive."

"Just goes to show," Charlie Keller says, putting his hand on Caroline's shoulder in a way that might have been innocent. "That's why you have to pay attention to the people you care about, I guess. If you need to talk . . ."

Benjamin turns away from the colorless sky and the gray, lifeless parking lot, and he faces the ring, and he lets himself be drawn back to their warmth.

"I need to talk," he says as he takes the first step, and his voice is rusty with disuse. The ring faces one another and the body between them, and they pay him no heed. "I do. Me."

Jeremy's ghost has turned to watch, now, his eyes round with curiosity and his skull open to the world.
I am not a ghost, Benjamin tells himself. And he moves toward to the circle, drawn now not only by the group's solidarity but by the flowery beauty of Caroline's perfume.

When he gets to them he will walk through Caroline, or he will not.

And then, one way or the other, he will know.


This from a Reddit /r/writingprompts prompt:

An ignored office worker who is about to realise that he's not a ghost, it's just that no one likes him.

I've been reading Marquez lately; I hope some of it seeped through.

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