Johnny Heart Attack
Death came out of the shadows.
He sat on the edge of my bed.
"It's time," he said.
I was still groggy. I had just woken up from a nightmare. I sensed I was being served bad news.
"It's time. Time to die," the figure said.
Death was wearing a suit and a thin tie. Who knew death would end up looking like Rod Serling? He was smoking, even.
The wild thought occurred to me that Death probably looked different to different people. This was my death. Maybe for some people death looked like Julia Child or Pavarotti.
"But how?" I complained. "I'm only thirty-four. I'm in bed for Christsakes..."
"Heart attack," Death said. "Got you in your sleep. Shoulda quit smoking..."
Death flipped his own cigarette out my window.
"Oh crap!" I said. I was thinking of all the shit I had to get done. I was supposed to go on vacation in a couple weeks. I was gonna miss that. I wanted to cry, to feel sorry for myself, but I was too curious what death was like. Death was tall, dark and mysterious. Death looked like Rod Serling. Death was dead.
"So what now?" I said. "Do we go see what life would have been like if I'd never been born or do we see how people take the news of my death or are we going straight to hell?"
"Hell," Death said. "That's a laugh." He lit another smoke.
"Well, what?" I said. Now I was fully awake. I was as awake as a dead person could be.
"We're gonna go meet some other dead people," Death said.
"Oh, like in heaven?"
"No," Death said. "At the bowling alley."
"Do I have to get dressed?" I asked.
"I don't know. Do you normally wear clothes when you go out?"
"Right," I said. I started putting on some clothes. When I was finished I noticed that the clothes magically reappeared back on the hangers. No one was going to notice them missing. It was just like Death to cover his tracks.
When I was all ready, I followed Death out of my apartment. As we passed the bedrooms of my roommates, I cursed internally thinking how lucky they were to be alive. Right now they had no idea how good they had it. They had no idea I was dead. I wanted to wake them up, say goodbye, something.
"We can't do that," Death said. "Come on, we're gonna be late..."
Once we were outside I wondered if we were going to hail a cab. More likely I considered, dead people would probably take public transportation.
Neither, it turned out. Death and I floated up into the sky and flew over street lamps and houses and breathed in the cool, invigorating night air. Unseen birds chirped merrily in the trees, a sound that reminded me of the sadness of drinking till dawn.
We arrived in short order at this bowling alley I'd heard of but never been to before. We landed gently in front of the Diversey Rock and Bowl.
Death opened up the door and I was astonished to see how crowded the place was for so early in the morning.
Bon Jovi's 'You Give Love A Bad Name' was blasting out of innumerable speakers. Strobe lights flashed and colored light patterns rotated. We walked past this game room where I noticed the games didn't have token slots.
"That's the good thing about being dead," Death said. "You're comped everywhere you go."
I stopped in my tracks when I realized Jim Morrison was playing a game of Defender.
"Hey! Is that Jim Morrison? Hey wait! I gotta talk to him!"
"There'll be time later," Death said. "He's always here. Come on... What size shoe do you wear?"
"Ten and a half," I said.
Death told the man behind the counter my number and the man gave me a size eleven.
I protested this but Death put a hand on my arm. "Just take them. He knows that ten and a halfs will pinch your toes and affect your game. That's his job..."
I took the shoes and put them on. I felt instant comfort. They were the best fitting shoes I'd ever worn.
"Now I understand why all the hip kids are stealing these," I said.
"Come on, let's go," Death said. "Let's introduce you to the team..."
"Yeah, we're on the Frosty Pints..."
I followed Death to a lane in the far corner. Everyone was wearing identical light blue knit shirts with their name scrawled across the breast pocket. Death handed me a shirt out of box. I didn't approve of the color but what are you gonna do? You take what death gives you.
"I'm Rod Cirrhosis, by the way," Death said. "Stop thinking of me as Death. I didn't kill you, your heart did."
"So you are Rod Serling!" I said, astonished.
"No, I'm just a Rod Serling impersonator..."
"Oh, I didn't know there was much a demand for those."
"There wasn't. That's why I was a school teacher who drank himself to death. Let's introduce you around..."
I met Shirley first. Shirley was a red-haired woman in her forties.
"Hiya, Honey," she said in a raspy voice, "I'm Shirley Throat Cancer."
Next I met Bob. Bob looked like an overstuffed sofa. He shook my hand. "Bob Heart Attack," he said and did a ridiculous pantomime a-la Fred Sanford of a man having 'The Big One'. He chuckled jovially.
"Why are they telling me how they died?" I asked Rod.
"It's common courtesy when you meet people."
So that's how I started out in death introducing myself as Johnny Heart Attack.
Kevin Ski Accident. Sue Broken Back. Shirley Throat Cancer. Bob Heart Attack. Phil Suicide. Rod Cirrhosis. Wendy Malpractice. Henry Gunshot.
This was my bowling team.
Tonight the rival team was composed out of dead Chicago TV newscasters and newsmen. Fahey Flynn. Phil Walters. Floyd Kalber. Gene Siskel. Tim Weigel. "Why does your team only have five members?" I asked Walters.
"Oh, we're saving a spot for Harry Volkman and Harry Porterfield. We're expecting them any day now..."
Ten frames later, The Cast Aways were high-fiving each other and sleeving their bowling balls.
I'd bowled the best game of my death but it still wasn't good enough. Flynn picked up an impossible Baby Split in the last frame that sealed our fate.
"Don't sweat it Kid," Phil Suicide said. "I used to let stuff like this bother me... We'll get 'em next time, huh?"
Most of our team repaired to the Lucky Strike Lounge to drown our sorrows. The Budweiser was free as were the Slim Jims, Beer Nuts, Pork Rinds and anything else we wanted.
"Eat up and enjoy!" Bob said. "It's not like another heart attack's gonna hurt either of us!" He laughed uproariously.
I smiled and found my hands tapping on the bar involuntarily to Def Leppard's 'Pyromania'.
Rod's attentions for a while were focused on a pretty woman in red who was hovering about looking seductive. When finally she drifted off, Rod came back over.
"Hey," I said. "I was wondering about something... Um, where do I uh, live?"
Rod turned his back to me and announced loudly to our team 'Hey everybody! He said it!" The Frosty Pints all raised their glasses in unison and toasted me, laughing.
"You mean," Rod said, "Where do you 'reside'?"
"Uh, yeah," I said, my face reddening with embarrassment. Being dead somehow hadn't affected that.
"You'll start out with an apartment on the top level of my garage. You know, like Fonzie..."
"It's a nice place," Rod said. "You'll like it. Best part is, the rent is never due..."
Suddenly the whole lounge jerked away and Rod and I were flying again. This time we were in a weird hovercraft thing that zoomed at tremendous speeds over the tops of trees.
"Where are we going?" I said over the whine of the engine.
Rod told me he was taking me for my enlightenment. I wasn't officially dead until I'd received ultimate knowledge. The Theory of Everything was about to be revealed.
The hovercraft landed in front of a giant castle on the Scottish countryside. I was ushered in through a large entranceway and brought to a medieval-looking basement that was empty except for a wooden chair and a metal helmet hanging from a rafter high above.
Rod stood on the side, watching the proceedings. I was now in the care of John Entwhistle, the dead bassist for The Who.
"Hi," he said. "I'm John Coke Overdose."
He motioned for me to sit in the chair and slowly pulled down the helmet. Rod started phasing in and out, turning from a solid mass to TV snow as he smiled in that tight, squinty way the real Rod Serling had.
"This is gonna hurt a little," Entwhistle said.
The buzzing noise made me leap. Cold sweat ran down my back. My heart hammered in my chest. I was back in my bedroom. I felt my arms. I was flesh. I wasn't dead. John Entwhistle was gone. Rod Serling Impersonator Man was no where to be found.
As I caught my breath, my alarm clock continued to howl. When I finally got my head together, I ripped the cord out of the wall, silencing it.
I threw the mind of God out the window.
Time to quit smoking I guess.
About the author:
John H. Matthews has been published around a bit in magazines such as The 2nd Hand, The Whirligig and Strong Coffee. He lives in Chicago.