Adam Coil was only 55 when he passed away. He was alone in his apartment eating Chinese food and watching The Daily Show when a sudden heart attack took him just before midnight. The moment Adam died, he felt that the entire situation was quite unfair since there were so many things that he’d left unfinished and undone in his life.
He felt ripped off watching his own funeral—that final clichéd conceit—and he cynically observed the assembled few pay their last respects. Adam noticed those in attendance, but was more interested in keeping track of the folks who didn’t show. He ignored most of the grieving and focused instead on the many frustrations and slights that had been inflicted upon him.
Coil’s adieu was not well attended, nor was it an overly emotional affair. Some weary pastor he didn’t even know gave a halfhearted eulogy and besides the obligatory presence of his mother and recent girlfriend, Adam didn’t spot anyone he really cared for.
It all happened so fast after the heart attack—being carted from his apartment to the hospital to the morgue to the funeral home and then the burial service. Still reeling in disbelief, Adam had trouble with this strange flurry of activity. The fact that his ghostly essence was moving back and forth between his close relations and the people handling his remains was very confusing.
Back when he was among the living, Adam worked as a freelance writer, balancing an arts column and news articles with commercial ad copy and press releases. It wasn’t glamorous or lucrative and although he was self-defeating and incapable of raising his own profile, he’d never imagined a different career.
He had displayed a unique grasp of the cultural zeitgeist back in the ’90s, enjoying literary accomplishments and the respect of his peers. But that was long ago. He’d burned many bridges since then and his life was marked by disappointments. Among his many grievances, Adam felt denied the recognition he deserved for his insightful perspective on popular culture.
After days of his spirit being pulled in many different directions, things settled down enough for Adam to discern a pattern. Apparently his spirit was summoned by thoughts and memories. He was being conjured, so to speak, when other people were in the conscious act of remembering him—good, bad or indifferent.
When his obituary finally ran in the local paper, Adam was conjured by a boring couple he hadn’t seen in ages and another dude he hardly remembered. He was further irked that his death barely trended on social media, and there weren’t any tribute pages constructed in his memory. Adam feared that he would soon be forgotten completely.
After his funeral, Adam stayed somewhat active. He was being conjured by his girlfriend Andrea, who spent a lot of time texting her friends. They’d only been together for six months and he wasn’t very attached to her. Still, she cried every day, and spoke of him in this high-pitched whine that Adam disliked.
Adam hated Andrea’s messy apartment and hated her cats—but when he was conjured his spirit was stuck close to that person until leaving their conscious thoughts. He tired of listening to Andrea’s remembrances of how moody he’d been before he died, and so he tried to focus on the radio station she always had blaring. Unfortunately, he hated the radio station, too.
When Adam wasn’t hanging around Andrea’s place he would sometimes find himself back at his mother’s house. His mother, Doris, had a stream of visitors since his passing and many of them brought her food. She was obsessive-compulsive, cleaned constantly and stacked everything edible in old Tupperware, which drove Adam crazy.
Doris had this spiel about how Adam was just starting to turn his life around when he died. That got old quick, and Adam suffered resentfully as she repeated this tale over and over. He resorted to watching daytime TV in the living room when conjured to her side. Adam remained fitful, and could barely distract himself with the television programs, all of which he hated.
Not many people were aware of Adam’s passing and although he was anxious about being forgotten he was also OK with the sparse attention because of his great embarrassment, the one he’d spent decades trying to erase from his mind. Adam was soon conjured downtown by an old editor and another colleague, and they gossiped about him for about five full minutes. He felt an immense relief when the great embarrassment went unmentioned.
Adam had assumed that his spirit would be shuffling off into the sunset somewhere after he was buried. He vaguely imagined going to an alternate afterlife or ascending to the next level of cosmic existence but he didn’t go anywhere at all. He just kept hanging around, still getting conjured occasionally, but with less frequency and less intensity as time went on.
Since he was being conjured less, Adam spent more time drifting in the Grey Haze. This was most befuddling for him. The Grey Haze was akin to languishing in a thick murky mist where his thoughts barely percolated and the Earth was nowhere in sight. Adam struggled to maintain his sense of self when within the Grey Haze, but he was always diminished—lacking focus, energy and stimuli. He hated the strange isolation of the Grey Haze and feared that this suspended state would become his permanent purgatory.
There was one busy weekend when his landlord brought some boxes of his belongings to his mother’s place. The landlord helped her put his computer, financials, old clippings and other junk down in her basement. The landlord commented how little Adam had to show for himself. His mother sadly agreed and went into her spiel about how Adam was just starting to turn his life around when he died. Adam fumed in the basement. He never did like that landlord.
Adam was also weary of visiting Andrea’s apartment. She left food out all of the time and even though he no longer smelled things, it was still a big turnoff. He thought she was getting fat, too—but hanging out at her place was preferable to wallowing in that damned Grey Haze. Andrea kept talking about organizing a memorial for Adam, but he doubted that would ever happen.
Then Adam was conjured over to Andrea’s apartment when his long-estranged friend Roger dropped by. The two were discussing her memorial idea and it was all mildly interesting until the pair started making out and rolling around on the couch. Humiliated, Adam waited for them to forget about him so that he could disappear. They forgot him soon enough, and for the first time he was actually grateful to revert back into the Grey Haze. He sullenly noted that Andrea didn’t conjure him that night, or the next day.
Now on the skids with Andrea, Adam spent most of his time floating restlessly in the Grey Haze or watching TV in his mother’s living room. Unfortunately, there were new indignities. Adam’s mom had actually reconnected with his ex-wife Judy in Phoenix. Their phone calls proved upsetting to Adam since he was reminded of his failures as a spouse, provider and friend. Of course, the great embarrassment was discussed. Man, he hated Judy.
The unchanging drift of the Grey Haze did give Adam time to dwell on the memory he’d left behind. It was the only thing that mattered to him, as his legacy dictated how often he’d be conjured among the living. Fixating on his many resentments toward others seemed to help him maintain consciousness within the Grey Haze—kind of like a nightlight glow in the shaded, formless dark. He wondered how he might improve the quality of his afterlife.
He was especially angry with Andrea, who was now telling people that she was ready to break up with Adam when he passed away. This was the first he’d heard about it, and true or not, it stung badly. She also had begun dating Roger. Adam loathed seeing them together but they kept discussing that damn memorial so he had no choice. He’d never trusted Roger and now thoroughly despised him.
Adam’s mother continued to conjure him. After painfully listening to her drone on about him while restacking her Tupperware containers for the umpteenth time, Adam reached his limit—he couldn’t ignore her by watching TV any longer. Raging, Adam frantically determined that he could actually go into the basement by himself. If he went directly below the living room near his belongings, he’d still be in range of his mother, but could escape her inane ramblings. There wasn’t much to do down there hovering among the cardboard boxes, but Adam was desperate for any relief from his mother’s humiliating discourse.
Things soon reached low ebb. Adam wasn’t seeing Andrea any more, there was no memorial in the works, and no one was conjuring him very much at all. When he wasn’t fulminating in the Grey Haze he was literally hiding out in his mother’s basement. Then one day a young man named Jimmy Boswell showed up at his mom’s house unannounced.