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.
Adam hadn’t thought about Boswell in years. Back then Boswell was an eccentric high school kid from town who said that he wanted to be a writer. He admired Adam’s aggressive journo style and hung around one whole summer learning tricks of the trade. Now Boswell was a local journalist working for a weekly paper and had his own entertainment column online.
Boswell introduced himself to Doris and explained how he wanted to write a story about Adam and what an interesting writer he’d been in his heyday. Boswell said that people should know how important he was to the arts scene at the time. Adam was pleased to be remembered by someone new and felt excited when his mother invited Boswell inside to discuss the story.
Doris let Boswell browse through some old articles in the basement and recalled Adam’s then-promising career. Boswell chuckled at the writings, took some notes, and marveled at how prolific and observant Adam had been. Boswell assembled the clippings and asked if he could digitize them so they wouldn’t be lost or forgotten. Doris agreed. It was music to Adam’s ears. For the first time since he died, Adam was enjoying himself.
In the midst of all the excitement, Adam felt compelled to act. He really wanted to guide Boswell to some other articles in the basement while he still had the chance. Adam concentrated with all his might, and was able to generate enough psychic energy to draw attention toward a box containing some of his better articles.
Adam was thrilled that he still had some power in the physical world and was glad that Doris would let Boswell scan the old articles for posterity. It could be the start of something good. Not long after the young writer packed up and left, Adam’s spirit began bouncing back and forth between his mother’s house and Boswell’s place. They were off and running.
As Boswell researched the story, he conjured Adam, a lot. Adam liked hanging at Boswell’s place a lot more than lurking in his mother’s basement. He enjoyed the music Boswell listened to and got to watch some decent cable programs while Boswell sat in front of his computer, typing occasionally and talking regularly with his editor on the phone.
Being a night owl, Boswell conjured Adam late into the evening. This suited Adam, who usually spent the afternoons at his mom’s house. His days were now filled and he didn’t dread the drifting downtime of the Grey Haze quite so much. Then Boswell began corresponding with some of Adam’s old associates, which caused his spirit to be pulled across town and even conjured out of state. His social life was picking up.
It was fun for a while, and Adam became less anxious about the great embarrassment. He was grateful to a few peers for staying positive when discussing his writing. Adam even tried fueling some good vibrations when conjured, and had to acknowledge that he’d been an arrogant asshole for a long time. He’d given certain people a lot of things to resent, especially back in the old days.
So Adam was hanging at Boswell’s place, watching cable, visiting former associates and feeling fairly upbeat. Then Boswell’s editor called and said that the story was coming along well enough to make it into a bigger feature. Boswell was psyched. Adam decided he needed to act more like a guardian angel and direct whatever energy he could muster into helping Boswell finish the piece.
Maybe he would be conjured by different people in new places. Maybe he’d get some of the appreciation he lacked in life. Maybe he’d get away from the Grey Haze. Maybe certain old associates were willing to forgive and forget and nobody would bring up his great embarrassment. That would certainly give Andrea and Roger something to chew on. That would be his best revenge.
He decided Boswell should go back to his mother’s basement in case there were any more articles that he’d missed and Boswell visited Doris the very next day. Adam felt proud as Boswell told Doris of the interest in his story, but when she unexpectedly brought out Adam’s personal correspondence, he immediately became quite aggravated. Then she suggested Boswell contact both Andrea and his ex-wife Judy for commentary—and Adam’s psychic rage knocked her coffee cup right off the table.
It was too late, though; the damage was done and Boswell began following up on his new leads and reading the old correspondence. Adam became much more active, too, with his spirit skipping around town at inopportune moments. He was grateful not to be languishing in the Grey Haze and wanted to help, but the mere thought of Boswell interviewing his ex-wife Judy was a real drag.
Boswell became consumed with his research and was conjuring Adam so much he felt like a roommate. Adam was desperately trying to use his spirit influence to prevent Boswell from contacting Andrea and Judy—but to no avail. To make matters worse, Andrea told Boswell that she wanted to be interviewed along with her boyfriend Roger who had some good stories about Adam. This wasn’t what Adam had in mind at all.
Since they all lived in the same town, Boswell interviewed Andrea and Roger together at her apartment. Naturally, Adam was conjured into attendance and suffered through it all with great indignation. Andrea didn’t have much to say besides her vague plans for a memorial, but Roger was more than eager to provide some damning details from Adam’s checkered past.
To Adam’s surprise, his great embarrassment didn’t come up among Roger’s caustic recollections. Roger’s revelations did include Adam being caught impersonating a priest on two different occasions, making many threatening and obscene phone calls to a certain female editor and their subsequent disagreement over the definition of plagiarism which resulted in Adam losing his job.
Of course his ex-wife Judy made sure to mention the great embarrassment in her phone interview with Boswell. This threw Adam into a panicked, furious rage. He really wanted to transform himself into some kind of avenging angel and make a point of burning her ass out there in Phoenix, but as soon as the interview ended Judy forgot all about Adam, and he bounced straight back to Boswell’s apartment.
There was tension as Boswell outlined his final draft of the article. Adam was reading every word over Boswell’s shoulder and the writer felt his uneasy presence. When Boswell included a graph mentioning the great embarrassment, Adam registered his protest by cutting off Boswell’s phone call to his editor and dropping the room temperature by about three degrees. Depressed and angry, he watched cable without interest until Boswell went to sleep, which sent Adam back into the Grey Haze to dwell on his fate.
Finally, the article came out in the weekly paper and also online. Adam and Boswell had busy schedules for a while, both together and separately. Of course, Adam was immediately conjured over to his mother’s house, but he was also being conjured by other people he’d long neglected, who were just remembering him now.
Adam was resentfully conjured to Judy’s condo in Phoenix for just a few brief moments, and then spent 10 minutes at an outdoor café on the West Coast where someone recalled his great embarrassment, much to his great embarrassment. He was even conjured to a garden party in Japan where an American expatriate was discussing the article with his friends. Adam couldn’t understand what was being said and felt unsure if he should be embarrassed or simply pleased when they all started laughing.
Humiliated or not, Adam was being conjured enough to stay away from the Grey Haze for a decent amount of time. This spate of conjuring had allowed him to get out and about, visiting forgotten friends and going to unfamiliar places. Still, the great embarrassment was getting around some and it nagged him. He felt like the butt of a bad cosmic joke, not to mention the amount of time he was compelled to spend around Andrea and Roger.
Then a publisher from Manhattan contacted Boswell and said that someone had forwarded the story to him. Based on the article, the publisher thought there was potential for a book on Adam’s life. The publisher asked if Boswell was interested in putting together a formal proposal that he could show the rest of his team. Of course they’d pay him a nice advance if a book deal could be reached.
Boswell happily agreed to turn in a complete proposal within a couple weeks. At first Adam was thrilled at the prospect of being remembered and further escaping the Grey Haze. But then Adam began to worry about his life story and how the great embarrassment would invariably be recounted in lurid detail. He was uncomfortable being under such a microscope, and was also feeling a little bit jealous of Boswell’s growing success.
The book idea loomed as Boswell went about organizing his proposal, and he was conjuring Adam every day in the process. Adam couldn’t help being impressed by Boswell’s work ethic and often heard him mention a number of other story ideas. Adam realized Boswell was talented and bound to succeed, but also decided that he didn’t like the whole book idea. A battle of wills soon ensued.
Since Adam felt disenchanted, it abruptly became four degrees colder in Boswell’s apartment. Adam still hung out there, it just wasn’t much fun anymore. His spirit was being conjured around as Boswell contacted more people for interviews, and the great embarrassment was becoming an obvious focal point. He’d surely have to endure Judy, Andrea and Roger again, and Boswell was looking for even more sources like that one bitch who fired him. Adam sulked in Boswell’s kitchen.
Adam couldn’t scare off Boswell’s interview subjects but he made some of them uncomfortable. Overall he was a pretty lousy avenging angel, and the most he could do was disrupt a few Skype conversations and destroy some email messages. He also gave Roger an upset stomach and a case of athlete’s foot.
In one last-ditch attempt at sabotage, Adam managed to get Boswell’s computer to crash, but Boswell stored everything in the cloud and was back on track almost immediately. After that incident, Boswell seemed even more determined to finish the proposal, and made sure to have multiple backups in place at all times.
Besides frustrations related to the book proposal and the constant humiliation of Boswell’s detailed research, Adam was actually getting tired of being conjured all over the place. Interest in his memory finally started to fade, and when Boswell turned in the proposal and took a well-deserved break, Adam had some time to himself—reluctantly drifting into the intangible Grey Haze. Adam still hated the Grey Haze, and chafed at every moment of his amorphous exile.
When the book publisher finally called back, Adam was conjured to Boswell’s side. He saw the disappointment on Boswell’s face as the publisher explained that while it was an interesting topic, his team didn’t think a book on Adam was commercial enough to merit publication. He was sorry to have wasted Boswell’s time, but would have to pass. The publisher told Boswell to feel free to pitch him any other book ideas, thanked him again, and said goodbye.
After the phone conversation, Adam could feel Boswell’s many thoughts. They coexisted quietly for a while until Boswell called a friend to discuss his setback. Boswell was convinced that he could still shop the proposal around and would surely find another publisher willing to take a chance on Adam’s story. Adam thought about this, found the whole premise exhausting, and had no desire to intervene.
For the first time in his afterlife, Adam ceased obsessing over his great embarrassment and wasn’t worried about the Grey Haze either. For the first time ever, Adam stopped caring if others thought about him at all. Then he was gone.