Short story: Phantom empathy

An empath imagines herself in the shoes of a dead girl


Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Breanna Laws weaves a tale of phantom empathy.

Breanna Laws, Staff Writer

At first, I wasn’t afraid. I couldn’t bother myself to be upset — not any more than on the surface level. 

I was shocked, of course. It wasn’t in the way anyone would have expected. I didn’t look like myself when my parents saw me for the last time — which I think may be the worst part. The way they cried over that body, as if its disfigured vessel was mine. 

My service was closed-casket — everyone understood why. They didn’t even bother to put me in a nice dress. After all, no one would see me.

I still hear the gags of the new morticians, followed swiftly by the laughter of those more accustomed to these grim matters. One of the men — a greasy-haired sweat-shack of a person — grabbed hold of my cheeks, pulling my mouth into a smile.

“Don’t worry fellas,” he said with a chuckle. “See? She doesn’t seem too bothered by it.” He carried his hand over to pat a smaller fellow on the shoulder. He was still gripping a bag of his own vomit.

Under normal circumstances, I would have been livid — my blood boiling at the sight of my body being pulled about like a toy. But this character wasn’t me. I couldn’t feel any of their touches. I couldn’t see the morticians peering over my body.

But I thought back to my class last Tuesday, and I began to feel just a hint of something. The school guidance counselor visited our classroom to give a lesson. I was just fine with that — it got our class out of math, and she let us out earlier for recess. She gives a lesson every few weeks, and this one was about —

“Empathy is being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes,” Ms. Toni shrilled. “You have to try your best to fully listen and understand what it is they are going through. When you do this, it helps you feel more grateful for what you have.”

Now, looking back at this lesson, I realized exactly what I needed to do.

I needed to feel empathy.

So that’s what I did. I felt everything that this mangled body felt. I felt the soft insides of the coffin pressed deep into my bloodied body. I heard the disgusted tone of the morticians. I saw them congregate by the table in the breakroom. I watched their blood run cold. I heard them crying. 

I saw them die.

I wandered back to this body’s coffin, and I slipped back out of her shoes into mine. 

I truly understood what she was going through. I must be a pretty empathetic person. I hope Ms. Toni would be proud of me. This empathy thing truly is a gift. Perhaps I should make other spirits aware of it. I think we could make this living world a much better place — even in death.      

I’m sure you wouldn’t mind if any spirits suddenly felt empathy for their fleshly bodies.

At least… I pray for your sake that you wouldn’t.