In an effort to promote my book, I started blogging, but the blogging thing took on a life of its own. I think I should probably do a little bit of promoting so I am offering an excerpt from my book. I selected this chapter because it is when Jose (my favorite character) tells his story to Vicky. They are both ghosts. Although this book revolves around death, it is an uplifting, inspirational ghost story – it is the ghost’s story. One of my readers from Australia called it an “Ethical Fantasy”.
Below is an excerpt – From Cornflakes to Eternity. I hope you enjoy it.
When Jose was a new ghost, he had just returned from the long tunnel, after talking with the Lady in Red, whom he had absolutely loved. He had loved the Nice Place, at the end of the long tunnel, but he had asked the Lady in Red if he could come back, because he needed to see the nurse who had taken care of him in the hospital and let her know it was okay he had died.
He had died so suddenly, nobody was expecting it. He had been doing really well and they all thought he would be going home to his family soon, because he was doing so much better. But that never happened. He never did go back to see his family, but he wasn’t mad and he wanted the nurse to know that. He had just wanted to come back and say to the nurse, I’m not mad, and then go back to the long tunnel with the Lady in Red. That’s all he wanted to do. Really quick.
But it hadn’t worked out that way at all, and now he was stuck, being chased by an Evil Guy, hiding during the daylight and being generally miserable and alone.
Of course, it had all gotten so much better when Vicky had come, when he went to find her in the operating room. The nurses had been talking about this little girl, the one who got run over by her Mom in the driveway, and how she was in the operating room, with doctor people trying to save her.
Jose had been really brave going up there, to the operating room, cause it meant going up to the floor where the Evil Guy was, but he had done that, because he wanted to see if the little girl, or Vicky, needed his help. He had been so glad that he had done that, and found Vicky, because it meant being stuck in the hospital wasn’t such a bad thing, now that he had a good friend to hang out with.
So it was a shock to everyone that night when he died. His nurse had taken it very badly, feeling completely responsible for his death, thinking maybe if she had seen the signs, the whole thing could have been averted. Jose had wanted to come back from the tunnel and let her know he was okay and they shouldn’t worry, because everything had worked out fine.
Vicky had stopped him in the middle of his story, and asked him what he had died of. What could possibly kill him that quickly, so quickly that the nurses and the doctors couldn’t even stop it? He had stopped talking, and looked at Vicky and said,
“I swallowed a battery. That’s what killed me.”
Vicky, thinking he had swallowed one of those big batteries, the ones that come in the flashlights, or the remotes for the television, had envisioned him trying to swallow a C battery and couldn’t understand why he would do something so stupid. She had said that to Jose,
“Why would you do something so stupid? Why would you swallow a huge battery?”
But Jose had shook his head and said,
“I didn’t swallow one of those big batteries. That would have been really dumb. I may be only four years old, but I’m not dumb, you know.”
“Well, what kind of battery was it then?” Vicky had said, still having trouble figuring out why this would kill him.
“It was one of those tiny, little batteries, you know the kind they put in the toys, to make them light up and do all that other junk.” He had put his thumb and his index up to show her how little the battery was.
Vicky still hadn’t been sure how a tiny little battery would kill him so quickly.
He wasn’t real sure either, but it had. He tried to explain what he had heard the doctors tell his Mom, when they had all been standing around his bed, looking at him.
“Somehow, the little battery got stuck in the pipe that my food goes down. It had just sat there and kind of ate away at my food pipe. Something in the battery had made a hole in my pipe, they called the food pipe an esophagus, but I thought they were saying Snuffleupagus, or something like that. You know, Mr. Snuffleupagus, like on Sesame Street. At first I thought they were talking about him, the big hairy elephant who is Big Bird’s friend, and I couldn’t figure out why I would have a big hairy elephant inside me. It wasn’t the elephant at all, it was my food pipe.”
Vicky and Jose had laughed about that. A hairy elephant inside Jose, how ridiculous was that? They sat there and laughed quite hysterically, a little boy of four years old, wearing a wife beaters shirt and a baseball cap, and the girl of ten, wearing pink boots, sitting in a darkened room, just off the nurse’s station, laughing. They laughed about that a lot. A hairy elephant inside Jose. And then they thought it would be even funnier if Big Bird was inside Jose too, visiting his friend, the hairy elephant, who Vicky pointed out was really a Wooly Mammoth. But hairy elephant sounded funnier They imagined Big Bird inside him and how every time Jose coughed, little yellow feathers would come flying out of his mouth, puffs of yellow feathers. That was even funnier. They kept saying that over and over, and each time they did, they would laugh more. When Jose and Vicky had laughed themselves into a ghostly exhaustion, they sat silently smiling at one another.
Vicky finally said,
“Where did you get the battery from? Was it just lying around on the floor and you decided to eat it?
Jose shook his head vigorously and told her how his Dad had been saving his money for months to buy this toy Jose had so desperately wanted. It was a race car, with lights and sirens and all kinds of other cool stuff. He had seen it on television, when he was over at his cousin’s house. Jose’s family didn’t own a television, they didn’t have enough money, so he would go over to his cousin’s house to watch TV. It was one of his favorite things to do.
Vicky was amazed and appalled at the thought of family being so poor they couldn’t afford one TV. She thought about her house, where they had a television in almost every room, hidden neatly in huge entertainment centers and built-in bookshelves. She had asked Jose why his family had been so poor.
He had shrugged his shoulders and said he didn’t really know. His Dad was a migrant worker, he worked in the fields for long hours every day, picking fruits and vegetables for hours and hours. He got up early, before the sun was even up, and piled into a big white van, with a bunch of other men, to go to the fields. He’d come home in the evening as the sun was setting, covered in dust, sticky with juice from the fruits, too tired to even talk to his family, too exhausted to play with Jose and his siblings. After eating his dinner in silence, he would lay down and sleep so he could do it all over again the next day.
Jose told Vicky his Dad did all the work the white men didn’t want to do. That’s what his Dad said, ‘I do the work the white man will not do, that’s the way I make my money, that’s the way I eat, that’s the way I feed my family. If the white man had to do all the work we do, nothing would ever get done. Nada. The fruits would rot on the trees, the grapes would wither off the vines, and the lawns and gardens would become overgrown with weeds. The white man should be happy we are here. They need us.’ That’s what his Dad always said.
In the summer, his Dad and his Mom would pack the family into a van, with another family and they travelled to Oregon. The van would be so crowded, children sitting on adult’s laps and certainly not enough seat belts to safely secure everyone, and they would make the long drive north. Anyone that was old enough to walk and understand what needed to be done was enlisted, put out in the fields to pick whatever needed picking. And that is how Jose’s family made enough money to eat and live in the small, rundown, two bedroom house in the Central Valley of California. And his parents did this willingly, because they had come to America to give their children better lives, more opportunities and all of this was a small price to pay to make that happen.
He and his parents, and six other siblings shared the small house. When family members, newly arrived from Mexico, needed a place to stay, Jose’s family and all the other families on the street, would make room for them. Jose really liked that, because there were always tons of kids to play with and they played outside in the sandy front yard and on the street until his Mom and whoever else’s Mom, who might be living with them at the time, would tell them to come in. All the kids would eat dinner, while their respective Moms stood and watched, making sure they had everything they needed, making sure they ate their food, because nothing could be wasted. A plate piled with food would be set aside for his Dad, ready for him when he came home from the fields. The children would clean up their dishes and go outside and play, leaving his Dad to eat undisturbed. That’s the way it was at his house.
Vicky couldn’t grasp any of this. Such a life seemed so horrible, especially compared to the life she had led, living in her big house, with her Mom and the Nanny, Graciela. She had wondered if perhaps Graciela had come from such an existence. She had never bothered to think about what Graciela’s life was like when she was away from Vicky and her Mom in their big house. Perhaps she should have asked Graciela. Perhaps she should have been more interested in Graciela as a person, but she never really knew or thought about how other people lived. She never considered that they might not have enough to eat, or that every day was a struggle to find food for their children. That had never occurred to Vicky when she was alive, she was too busy admiring all her things and making other kids feel bad about not having what she had. She had said to Jose,
“That sounds like a terrible life. How did you do it, living in such a small house with who knows how many people? Did you ever just want to get away from it all, go somewhere else, away from all the craziness?”
Jose had looked at her, with a confused look on his face.
“Why would I want to get away? Why would I want to be myself?”
“Umm, for peace and quiet?”
“Why? I loved having all my family around me. It was so much fun. There was always someone to play with and I was never, ever lonely. Did you have lots of people at your house, lots of family?” he asked Vicky.
She had shaken her head.
“No. It was just me and my Mom and Graciela the Nanny. That’s the only people that were at my house most of the time. Sometimes, my friends would come over, but that didn’t happen very often.”
Jose had looked at Vicky with sad eyes.
“That sounds so very lonely Vicky. Weren’t you sad?”
Vicky hadn’t thought she was sad, but maybe she was and she just hadn’t realized it when she was alive, when she was in the solid world. Maybe that’s why she felt the need to surround herself with things, to make her feel less lonely. Maybe if she had all those family members around her, and lots of people to talk to, she wouldn’t have needed all that other stuff. Maybe she wouldn’t have needed that sleepover and maybe she wouldn’t be dead, talking to Jose, another dead child, in a room off the nurse’s station. Maybe. Maybe. Maybe.
“Jose, did you ever want stuff? Did you ever wish you had stuff that you saw on TV? Did you ever wish you had fancier clothes, big cars and all those other things? Did you ever wish for any of that?”
Jose thought about it for a minute and slowly shook his head.
“Nope. Well, maybe sometimes, but only when I watched TV at my cousin’s house. When I saw the commercials, I would think, Wow I really would like that. But then when I wasn’t watching TV, and I wasn’t seeing those commercials over and over again, I would forget about it. I didn’t think about all the stuff I didn’t have. Because I had my brothers and sisters and cousins and aunts and uncles and everyone else that loved me, and loved spending time with me. I was too busy and happy to think about that junk. Besides everyone else I spent time with, they didn’t have fancy stuff either. They lived in the same type of house we lived in, and their Dads got in the van every day to go to the fields, just like my Dad. So, I guess we just didn’t worry about all that other stuff.”
Both children fell silent again, considering how different their solid world lives had been, and how it didn’t matter that much anymore because they were both dead and they were both trapped in the hospital trying to get to the long tunnel, and back to the Lady in Red.
From Cornflakes to Eternity (available in both e-book format and paperback)
Photo Credit: issba.org