Becoming Dead

By Brad Goldberg


Panya_Anakotmankong/ Shutterstock


“I can’t bring him back. You know that, right?”

“You said.”

“I just want to be clear.”

“But he will be in the room with us? My Harold, I mean. You said you could contact my Harold, didn’t you, Mr. Bleakley?”

Conrad Bleakley looked at the diminutive woman pleading in front of him. She rubbed the back of one hand, misshapen from arthritis, leaned forward on the faded, flower-print cushions of the chair and beseeched him from across the small, dim living room. He had seen that look in her eyes from so many others—hope, suspicion, desperation. That look was why people came to him. He smiled just enough to show sympathy.

“I can do that. I can contact your Harold. He will be with us.” 

Conrad looked around the cluttered room. One end table was covered with porcelain knickknacks; some were mementoes of trips, others the decorative figurines that only exist in gift shops. The upright piano that took up more than its share of the living room was covered with framed photographs of Harold and Hannah Morse. They showed their wedding. Vacations. Dinners with friends. Family events. They showed a couple aging together. There were none of children.

“I can feel how much you loved him. How much he loved you.” Conrad paused. The next part wasn’t necessary, but it made his clients more trusting. “Do you have something… some small token… anything really that was special to him? Something he may have kept with him?”

“I have his wedding ring. He never took it off. Never… until… well. I just wanted to keep it.” Hannah seemed apologetic for taking the ring.

Conrad nodded gently. “That would be perfect.”

Hannah Morse got up with difficulty.

“Let me help you.”

He stood and offered his arm.

“Thank you, dear. Some days are harder than others.”

She crossed to a display of souvenir spoons mounted on a wall that caught mottled sunlight shining through lace curtains. She opened one of the small drawers at the bottom of the shelves and held the ring out to Conrad. He took it. Slipped it on his own finger as far as it would go, just past the first knuckle.

“He had slender fingers. Did he play the piano?

Hannah’s eyes moistened. She nodded. “Beautifully.”

After they both sat down, Conrad took her hand. “I know this is difficult, Mrs. Morse. Just one more question. How did Howard die?”

“A heart attack. Right on that couch where you’re sitting. We were just about to watch Murder, She Wrote. Reruns are on in the afternoon.”

Conrad took a deep breath. “Heart attack,” he said almost to himself.

He twisted the ring on his finger and began to concentrate. He closed his eyes. His body tensed. He quivered as if possessed. His breathing became staccato, labored. He didn’t want to frighten Mrs. Morse by screaming, but he moaned. Abruptly, he clutched his chest. His eyes opened wide; the pupils rolled up until only the whites showed. He grimaced in agony.

Mrs. Morse was frightened indeed. That’s exactly how her Harold had acted moments before he passed. “Should I call someone?”

Conrad shook his head. More a tremor than shake. He tried to speak, but he didn’t have the breath. He grabbed at his throat. He pulled at his shirt collar. He gasped for breath. He looked at the frightened woman. He seemed to be pleading for help.

“I’ll call 9-1-1.”

His head shook violently. “No.” The word erupted in a gasp.

He collapsed and lay motionless. She wasn’t sure what to do. She had been to other mediums. They all put on a great show of contacting her dead husband. Many moaned. They often contorted their bodies in strange configurations before speaking in a tortured voice that was supposed to come from the beyond. She had seen many variations on this act and, sadly, spent thousands of dollars. She knew that she had never really spoken to Harold. It was something she wanted so desperately that she was willing to give up much of her small savings. Part of her knew it was futile. She didn’t mind so much. She wouldn’t be around much longer herself. The money would outlast her. She was sure she was about to be disappointed again. This would probably be her last try. Conrad Bleakley charged quite a bit more than any of the others. He had told her he needed to because the process was very draining on him. He tried to explain that Harold would actually be in the room with her. They all said that, but he kept repeating it, emphasizing “actually”. The thing that worried her the most was that he refused to make the appointment until her check had cleared. She feared he wouldn’t show up. But there he was lying at her feet after what, she had to admit, was one of the most convincing displays she had seen.

What did he want her to do? “Mr. Bleakley?” she inquired tentatively.

After enough time had passed that she could have made herself a nice cup of tea, he moaned. It was a soft, raspy sound like the air was passing through a very ancient and corroded pipe. With difficulty, he started to push himself up.

“I’m sorry, lovey. I hope I didn’t frighten you. I thought my time had come.”

He managed to make it to a sitting slouch. He looked at her with drool running from his mouth.

Mrs. Hannah Morse stared in utter, abject, panicky disbelief. “Harold?”




“Another rough one?” Jorge asked as he poured the third Wild Turkey in ten minutes. 

Conrad Bleakley curled over the bar as if the weight of his body was more than he could bear. His skin was clammy. His chest felt like something had been trying to break out from inside. He downed the medicine then held up the glass for another.

“How do you do it, Jefe? People say you really make yourself look like el muerto. That’s quite a trick.”

“It’s not a trick.” Conrad was tired of explaining.

“Mierda. You saying you really bring them back.”

“Not exactly. Kind of. Not really. I just become them for a few minutes.” His hands trembled a little as he smoothed his hair. 

“I’ve got clean up. I have another appointment.”

“I’ll have the bottle waiting for you,” Jorge tapped the bar.

Conrad Bleakley lurched toward the men’s room to get himself ready. 

“Hey, Señor Conrad. Why do you always look like you crawled in here across the desert?”

Conrad only half turned back. “Because each time, I experience their death.”




That afternoon Conrad Bleakley was a ninety-year-old woman who died peacefully in her sleep but whose grown children were not there to say goodbye. A young boy accidently killed in a drive-by shooting whose parents hoped he could finger the shooters. (He couldn’t because he was engrossed in Minecraft and never saw a thing until the game ended for good.) And a millennial who died unexpectedly of an aneurism without telling his partner the passcode to his bitcoins. When he staggered into The Home Office Bar that evening, Conrad felt like he had passed through a python. Experiencing others’ deaths drained him beyond exhaustion. He couldn’t make it onto a barstool. He almost knocked a table over as he collapsed into the nearest chair. Jorge tossed a coaster on the table and poured whiskey. Conrad waved at him to leave the bottle.


Without looking up from pouring his second shot, Conrad nodded. “Yeah. Ah. Wings. Sliders. Zucchini sticks. “And one of those crappy pepperoni pizzas you heat up from the freezer.”

“No fish and chips?”

“Yeah, those too.” 

It didn’t matter what he ordered. Conrad needed to eat as much as he could before he stumbled home to bed. If he didn’t, he’d wake up the next morning with barely the energy to make it to the kitchen. 

“Why you do it, jefe?”

“It brings me joy.” He said this with all the enthusiasm of a man contemplating root canal and a colonoscopy on the same day.

“No, really. Why?” Jorge pressed.

“Put the order in. Then I’ll tell you. No, bring me some pretzels first.”

Conrad didn’t see the blond who entered and sat in a nearby booth. She was not the kind of woman you’d expect see in a bar alone. She was not the kind of woman you’d expect to see anywhere alone.

Jorge returned with the wings and a bowl of pretzels.

“It’s just…” Conrad started to explain as he stuffed one fistful of pretzels in his mouth and dipped another pretzel into his shot glass. “…something I can do. When I was around thirteen, I saw a rabbit that had just been shot. I sat down and put him in my lap. After a few minutes, I felt a searing pain in my chest. You know, like I had been shot. I passed out. When I woke up, I was that rabbit.”

“Mierda. Bullshit.”

“I’m telling you, Jorge. I was that rabbit. For fifteen minutes I hopped around eating leaves and grass. I heard sounds I could never have heard as human. At the least disturbance, I’d dart for cover.” He gnawed on a chicken wing and ate the tip—bones and all. “My sense of smell was uncanny. You can’t believe how much is out there that humans can’t even guess at. I’m telling you. I was a rabbit.”

The blond woman got Jorge’s attention. He took her order and went back to the bar to attend some other customers. When they were settled and Jorge had delivered a snifter of Remy to the blond, he returned to Conrad Bleakley’s table with the pizza and the sliders.

“Okay, you were a rabbit. But if it’s so hard, why do you do it? Por qué?”

“I woke up after that really confused. I thought I had imagined it or dreamt it or something. But a few years later my father died.”

“Lo siento.”

“It was a long time ago. He worked in a chemical plant that exploded. He was one of fifty-three that were killed. They may have been lucky compared to the survivors. Many of them were disabled and lived painful, short lives. Still, I could see the way my mother was suffering. I found out later they had had a fight before he left for work that morning. She felt guilty. And alone.”

Jorge brought the rest of the food from the kitchen. Conrad dipped two sliders into the sauces and downed them whole. He folded two slices of pizza over each other and ate them in a few bites.

“After the funeral, my mother just sat staring. I was fifteen. How could I imagine what she was feeling? I sat next to her. I wanted to tell her it would be okay. She turned and looked at me with a smile that was the saddest thing I’d ever seen. Then she put her hand on my knee. Suddenly, my entire body was burning with fire. My lungs were searing. I screamed. I couldn’t stand the pain. She must have been terrified, but I was experiencing my father’s death. I passed out.”

Jorge grabbed Conrad’s untouched glass of ice water and drank it in a single gulp.

“When I came to, my mother looked like she was seeing a ghost. I guess she was.”

“You were him, jefe?”

Conrad shook his head, “yes”.

“But you were you?”

Conrad shook his head again.

“So… I… my father… calms my mother down. He thinks maybe he dreamt the explosion. He also doesn’t understand why his clothes—my clothes really—were so tight. My mother starts to apologize about the fight. He apologizes back. They hug each other and start telling each other how much they love each other. My fifteen-year-old self wants to get the hell out of there. What teenager wants to see his parents being all mushy.” He paused, remembering what it felt like. “What teenager wants to be inside his father’s body when he’s being all lovey to his mother. It really creeped me out.”

They sat in silence for a moment. Jorge checked on the few customers at the bar. Conrad started eating the fried fish. He had eaten enough that he didn’t need to shovel everything in. Still, he never enjoyed food after a round of resurrections. He just craved it.

“Then what happened?” Jorge asked when he returned to the table.

Neither one of them noticed that the blond was leaning in to hear their conversation.

“My father realized that the explosion was real. I think I was able to put the thought in his head. They sat on the couch and just held each other. After fifteen minutes or so, things started to get blurry. I could hear my mother talking but it was like she was on a cheap radio far away. I blacked out again and came back as myself.”


“Mierda is right. My mother stared at me. She didn’t understand what had happened. I didn’t either. But I could see that she was at peace. That fifteen minutes meant so much to her. That’s why I do it, Jorge. I don’t know how or why I have this ability—”

Jorge looked upward. “Èl hombre.”

“Maybe. Word spread and people started coming to the house begging, praying. They brought shrines of their loved ones. They were desperate. That’s the one thing they all had in common, desperation. Then this crazy minister started a campaign against me, calling me the devil. He’d stand outside our house with a bullhorn.”

“What did you do, Señor Conrad?” 

“All our neighbors came and shouted him down. They called him evil and worse. One of them took his bullhorn, removed the batteries, and handed it back to him. We never saw him again. 

“I was getting calls from newspapers, radio, television. I couldn’t take it. I hated the fame or notoriety. I just wanted to be a normal kid. I pretended I lost the ability. Slowly, people gave up. They stopped calling, stopped camping out on our front lawn. But I couldn’t forget the look on people’s faces when they pleaded with me. Begged. Offered every cent they had just for a few minutes with the person they had lost. Eventually, I moved here and quietly started offering my services.”

You’re a good man, jefe.”

“I’m possessed. Every one of those deaths stays with me. I see death… I feel it… I smell it… all the time. I die two or three times a day. Sometimes in excruciating agony.”

“What’s it like?” Jorge asked.


“Being dead. Do you see angels? Light? What?

“I don’t know.” Conrad said. “I don’t see anything. I feel that I’m… that they’re dying. But at the moment of death everything just goes black like I’m in a deep sleep.”

“That’s it. That’s all we have to look forward to?”  Jorge’s disappointment verged on anger. 

“I don’t know, Jorge. I guess I should say I know what it’s like to die. But I don’t know what it’s like to be dead.

“But afterwards… afterwards… even when there’s so little left of me, I’m at peace. Like my mother. And the people I help are at peace.” His mood brightened. “And no matter how much I charge, people are willing to pay. Sometimes they expect a charlatan, but even the most cynical gets what they pay for. Why do you think I’m such a great tipper?”

The blond woman stood up. She was tall and slender. She walked to their table and stood over Conrad. He looked into the most beautiful face he had ever seen. Her blond hair swept around her face in soft waves. She sat at his table and riveted her gaze on Conrad as if she were trying to read his soul.

“You can really do that?” She looked into his eyes without blinking. She smiled like the question meant so much more than mere words.

It took Conrad a second to answer. He’d been asked that question hundreds of times, but he was so taken by the intensity of her stare that he had trouble understanding what she meant.

“Uh. Yeah.”

She wrote a name and address on the coaster. “I’m Charlotte. Can you be here…” She tapped the address. “At three tomorrow?”

Conrad pulled himself together enough to talk business. “I always wait for the check to clear. It’s not that I don’t trust you, but when people are desperate—”

“Be there. Name your price. I’ll pay cash.”

She stood. “And clean up a little. Frank was a classy dresser. Let’s not dishonor him.” She sanded the edges of her barb with a smile that could make a life sentence seem like a gift.




Elevators always felt like coffins to Conrad Bleakley. For a man who had experienced dying many times over, an obsession with coffins was natural. He was relieved when the doors opened on the eighteenth floor. His hard-soled shoes resounded on the marble tiled hallway. He usually dressed more comfortably for work, but Charlotte had been clear. He should dress nicely. He stopped short of a necktie.

“Mr. Bleakley. Please, come in.” Charlotte smiled as she opened the oversized door to her apartment.

“You can call me Conrad.” He blinked from the light shining through the expanse of windows that formed two walls of the living room.

“Maybe after you’ve been my husband for a little while.”

He was not prepared for this kind of playfulness. Most of his clients spoke to him with a combination of fear and reverence and expectation. Charlotte ushered him in as if for a social engagement that they were both looking forward to. He had to admit he was looking forward to sharing time with this woman.

“Drink?” She set two glasses on the bar. “I’m having vodka.” She dropped ice cubes in the glasses for punctuation. 

 Like everything else in the apartment—the glasses, the ice, the vodka—sparkled in the sunlight. The room was sleek. The clean lines were hard-edged but inviting. Conrad thought he could describe Charlotte the same way. She didn’t wait for him to answer but poured vodka in both glasses and squeezed a wedge of lime in each. She licked the juice from her fingers then contemplated the man standing in front of her. He looked away.

“Tell me about yourself,” she said as she handed him his drink and led him to the leather sofa in the center of the room.

“Not much to tell.”

She took a sip and raised her eyebrows. “With most men, that’s true. But if you can do what you say you can do, you definitely have a story. Indulge me.” 

He shrugged. “I grew up in a small town in Oklahoma. After I discovered this… this ability, I came here to escape.”


“I felt like a freak. Or a religious relic. I couldn’t breathe.”

“Interesting way to put it. So how does it work? How do you do it?”

He forced himself to discuss business. “Before we go too far—

“Too far?” She giggled.

Conrad blushed for the first time since he was a teen. “Before we get on with this, we have to talk—”

She leaned forward. Her arm brushed his. She rested her glass on his knee as she tapped an envelope on the coffee table with her other hand.

“There’s ten thousand dollars in there. That’s more than twice your normal fee, I believe.”

The cold from her glass made his knee burn. She looked into his eyes and smiled. “You can count it.”

“Why would you pay more than I would have asked?” Conrad was uncomfortable with the way he was feeling seduced and manipulated at the same time.

She sat back. He was relieved to have the glass off his leg. 

“There’s a certain amount of discretion that comes with this.”

“Discretion? I don’t understand.”

“You will.”

Conrad sensed that he would need to cross some lines he wouldn’t normally cross. “I’m not sure, I—”

“What are you a lawyer? A priest, Mr. Bleakley?” She stared at him until she was sure he was uncomfortable. “A boy scout? You have no obligation to report anything. Be my husband for a while. You might enjoy it.”

He wanted to think that her comment held a promise of more than money. He wanted to think that, and it terrified him.

“So how does it work?” She leaned in close enough for him to smell the vodka and lime as she took another sip and whispered, “What do we do?”

He gave up pretending to himself. He would cross any lines she wanted. “How did Frank die?”

“He fell—was pushed actually—from a considerable height.”

He digested that, thinking about what he was about to go through. “Do you have something that was important to Frank? Something that he held dear?”

She flexed, presenting herself, and smiled seductively. “Frank only cared about two things: money and women. So, I guess I’ll have to do.”

She took his hand and placed it on her knee. Conrad felt a tingle run though his body. His ears grew hot.

She murmured in his ear so close she almost licked it. “Frank has something I want. You help me get it, there’s a bonus in it for you.”

He was going to kiss her, but his stomach suddenly lurched into his chest. Wind rushed over him. He was falling. He closed his eyes so as not to see the sidewalk rushing up. He screamed. He squeezed his eyes tight. He took what he knew would be his last breath and braced for what he was sure would be excruciating pain. The pain never came. Instead, blackness. Blackness and unconsciousness.

Frank Saxby bolted upright on the couch. He looked around, scared and suspicious.

“Easy, baby.” Charlotte had tried to prepare herself, but she was still startled and more than a little frightened. “You’re okay. You just had a scare.”

“A scare? Gettin’ shoved off a 40-floor balcony’s a lot more than a scare. How’d I get here? Where those fuckin’ mooks?” 

“Don’t worry about them. You’re here with me.” She moved closer to him on the couch and stroked his back. “You just woke up. Maybe it was a bad dream.”

Frank moved away from her. “You in on this?” He looked around the room. “They hiding somewhere?” He felt under his jacket. “Where’s my gun? You take my gun?”

He stalked the apartment like a beast of prey. There weren’t many places anyone could hide, but he checked behind the bar and in the kitchen. He took a knife from the wooden block and headed for the bedroom. “Billy! Tango! You better come out where I can see you.”

“There’s nobody here,” Charlotte said. She wanted to reassure him, but she knew he wouldn’t trust her until he was sure. “Why do you think Billy and Tango would be here?”

“Because there after the stash. They took me to Tango’s place. They kept askin’ where I had stashed the money.”

“You were supposed to split it with them.”

Frank turned and looked at her with dark venom in his eyes. “They were going to take it all. I knew as soon as they took me out on that balcony. They held me over the railing and kept screaming at me to tell them. I knew I was goin’ over as soon as I gave ‘em the 4-1-1.”

Charlotte came up behind him and held him affectionately. “Thank God, you told them. Otherwise—”

“I didn’t tell them nothing. Billy lost his grip, the little shit.” Frank stopped. He was confused. “At least that’s what I remember. The last thing I remember. But he couldn’t’ve. Otherwise, I’d be… Charlotte, what’s going on?” He saw the second glass on the coffee table. “Whose drink’s that? Somebody’s here.”

He started searching the apartment again.

“That’s your drink, Frankie. I poured it for you when you started to wake up. Nothing’s going on, baby. Come on sit here.” She stroked the leather next to her and curled her legs up under herself.

Conrad Bleakley watched all of this through Frank’s eyes. He could feel the man’s fear and his paranoia. Frank Saxby knew he had been thrown off that balcony and Conrad experienced every bit of doubt and confusion that Frank did.

“You just woke up from a bad dream is all.”

“It wasn’t a dream. I’m tellin’ you, Char. I don’t know how I’m alive, but it wasn’t a dream. I was fallin’. I screamed like hell and waved my arms trying to fly. I saw that sidewalk. It was right in my face and then… I’m here.” He relented and sat next to her. He gulped half the drink.

“I think I know how I can make you relax.” She rubbed the inside of his thigh and played with his belt buckle.

Frank smiled. Conrad couldn’t separate Frank’s arousal from his own. They took Charlotte’s face in Frank’s hands and drew her to him. Frank kissed her roughly. 

Conrad was feeling everything Frank felt—Charlotte’s breath as she kissed Frank’s cheek and nibbled his ear, the heat from her breast on the palm of Frank’s hand, the pressure as she stroked him to hardness. He didn’t know which of them was in control as they unbuttoned Charlotte’s blouse.

Charlotte stroked his cheek and pushed him away with a gentle nudge. “I need you to do something for me first.” She pulled Conrad’s ill-fitting jacket off Frank’s smaller body.

“Anything,” Frank panted. For the first time, he noticed what he was wearing. “Hey, where’d these shitty threads come from? This isn’t what I was wearing.”

Charlotte shrugged. “Well, it’s what you have on. It doesn’t matter you can ditch the clothes. I need you to take a shower.”

“What are you talking about? I’ll shower after.”

Charlotte ran a hand down his chest. “You’ve been through a lot today. You’re a little… you know, ripe.”

Frank smelled his armpit. “Okay. I guess you’re right. You’ll join me for a little foreplay in the shower?”

“You go first. I’ll be right there.”

Frank started undressing as he walked to the bathroom. “I don’t know where these clothes came from, but let’s burn ‘em. They give me the creeps they’re so ugly.”

Conrad was angry and embarrassed. He wondered if that’s what Charlotte thought when he showed up at her door.

Frank turned on the shower. While the water heated, he looked for any signs that he had fallen from a tall building. He had no marks, no bruises, nothing hurt. He was glad to be alive, but he had no idea how he ended up back home in one, unmushed piece. 

Conrad was surprised to see a normal looking guy in the mirror. He had expected someone out of a thirties’ gangster movie, but the face staring back at him was a mildly handsome forty-year-old. A little gaunt. Mid-length brown hair, neatly combed. He was smaller than Conrad, but in much better shape. He was glad Frank wouldn’t be around to come after him once the transformation was over.

Frank and Conrad, as one person, stepped into the shower. After he got washed off, he called out, “Charlotte, I need you to do my back.”

They could see Charlotte’s blurred image through the textured glass of the shower door. Frank opened the door and made a sweeping gesture, “Come right in— Hey, why are you still dressed?” Then he noticed the gun, his gun. “What the fuck?”

Conrad thought maybe it was some role-playing thing they did. Tough guy and gun moll. Who knows what gets these kind of people off? But Frank’s fear was real. This wasn’t a game.

“What’s going on, Charlotte?” He started out of the shower. A jerk of the gun and sharp nod of her head made it clear he needed to stay put.

“I’ll tell you what’s going on. Those two idiots you call partners kept me from getting what I really wanted.”

Frank didn’t understand. “They wanted the money.” Suddenly it became clear to him. “You want the money? You can have it. You can have it all. Just put that down.”

She looked at him like he was a mentally challenged child. “I have the money. You really think that panel in the closet was so hard to figure out?”

“Then what? You’re good. We’re good. I ain’t gonna do anything. Keep it.”

“Billy and Tango killed you for the money. I’m going to kill you for pleasure.”

Frank couldn’t make any sense of it. But Conrad could and he was panicking.

“Whadda you mean they killed me?” Frank was sure he had been thrown off the balcony, but he was also sure he was alive and standing naked in the shower with a gun pointed at him. He couldn’t make sense of it, but he didn’t want to be shot. Neither did Conrad.

“I’m going to kill you for all the lying and cheating and all the women you slept with.”

Conrad forced Frank to speak. “But it’s not really Frank. It’s me.”

“Close enough. Guess you won’t get that bonus.” Charlotte stepped forward quickly and shot Frank in the head. “That’s for Cathy.” She shot again. “That’s for Justine.” And again. “That’s for Sookie.” She put three more bullets in him. “And I’m sure there were a bunch I didn’t know about.”

Frank (and Conrad) collapsed on the shower floor. Blood eddied around the drain.

Conrad felt something he had experienced many times before—the approach of death. This time, he wouldn’t be coming back. He had died hundreds of times, but this time he had no idea what to expect.


The End


About the author: After spending years working as an editor, writer, and creative director in motion picture advertising, Brad Goldberg decided to start telling his own stories instead of selling other people’s. He has written for film and television. His fiction has been published in Best Indie Speculative Fiction: Volume IV, Bards & Sages Quarterly and on RipplesInSpace.com.

Website: https://bradleygoldberg.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/brad.goldberg.52/

Twitter: @BradGberg

Instagram: @BradGberg



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My name is Jack L. Bryson and I'm the editor of Teleport. I studied literature at University of Montana. I live in Mountain View Ca, and my email is coffeeant1@gmail.com

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