3,600 Words

VERSION ONE

New “Gravestone” Mimics Life

 

There’s a new way to exit this world—by never really leaving. At least that’s the idea behind Shawna Herze and Edward Blanhurst’s innovative new type of gravestone.

“We wanted to create something new, something that really captured the soul of the departed loved one,” says Shawna. “Gravestones don’t do that. Lots of people plant trees in their relative’s name, and we liked that personal touch, but we wanted to take that, just take that one step further.”

Shades of both the tree and the gravestone are present in their new grave marker. Made of durable, stone-finished metal, the new “gravestone” is shaped like a tree and even allows space on its branches for relatives to hang mementos and flowers. But that’s not the main draw of the fascinating new product they have termed the “Memory Tree.”

“We got to thinking, and we thought, how could we really capture someone?” says Shawna. “So what we did is we took all the online data we could and we actually loaded it into the Memory Tree.” This is more than just interacting with your mom’s Facebook page or blog, though. “What we did is we actually…we have a program we run on it, which takes all this information about you from around the web, and it can run the personality of the deceased. So you can interact with your phone, and you can actually talk to your aunt again.”

Shawna and Edward’s Memory Tree is shockingly accurate when it comes to capturing personalities, too. After having tried the process on their own information, they ran their program on their friends, who could not distinguish between real Edward and Memory Edward during texts.

“My mother thinks we’re crazy,” Shawna confesses. “But I like the peace of mind of knowing that I’m going to be able to take my kids to see their grandma no matter what happens to her.”

No doubt many people will want that ability. Shawna and Edward also state the benefit of preserving history in a more palatable manner, as well as ease for genealogical studies. The Memory Trees are aesthetically pleasing, require little maintenance, and never die. It is truly a way to stay around even after you’ve passed on.

Shawna and Edward are currently seeking funding to launch their product, which they have in two different sizes and one type of tree, with hopes of expansion. If you’re interested, visit their funding page. For more information on their project and how you can get your own Memory Tree “gravestone,” their website is here.

Justine French is a wine enthusiast who also happens to be fascinated by all things death. She loves black nail polish, glittery skulls, and anything with a bloody history. She has been a writer for Deathly Dead Dear since January of this year.

 

VERSION TWO

 

Angelo spends whatever hours he can using Ma’s cameras and computers. She isn’t his ma, but she’s the best place to be on a weekday if you want to go anywhere with your life. Angelo’s sister started going to Ma’s house once she opened it to the school kids four years ago, and she’s at community college, so Angelo thinks he should try the same. Ma’s place is creaky and old, full of books and computers and other black kids from around the area. Ma helps with their schoolwork and gives them internet access, someplace to be that isn’t someplace else.

Angelo likes photography. His art teacher told him he’d never be able to take a decent photograph, but Ma lets him borrow a camera and take pictures of whatever he wants, edit them up on the computer. Only one of hers has the program for it and he waits his turn a lot, but he’s making a portfolio of his work and he’s getting better at it.

He used to take pictures of stupid things, garbage and pigeons and people at a distance, but it’s been a year and he’s moved on to better things. He’s found a site for amateur photographers, too, and that place posts challenges. Angelo keeps up with the challenges as best he can, but he’s twelve and most people on the site are white mothers in their twenties who have a lot of time, Angelo’s decided. He really hates whenever flower themes get posted, so he doesn’t do them, but some of the photography themes are good, and sometimes there are professional photographers that give him advice.

So far Angelo’s favorite theme is graveyards. It’s creepy there, and he always hopes at least just a little that one of his pictures will have an orb or apparition on it. Angelo thinks it would be great to be a photographer for a paranormal investigative team, but he knows there’s not going to be a place for him at any of those.

He’s been noticing something about his pictures, though. Over a few months the graveyard starts to look different, like people are planting fake trees instead of stones. The more expensive plots get the trees now, and some of the old gravestones are swapped out. Ma lends him a phone and he goes out to interact with one, because these new trees run a people program. He listens to a pretty white girl, her face on his phone as the program sends her voice from the tree through to him. She complains about how ugly she is and how she wants to die and he has to stop listening to her after a while. He only takes pictures after that.

Over summer he starts putting the pictures together. It’s his own idea to take the same picture every week from the same spot, and he has enough now that he can mark how the human-made trees make their way into the graveyard. He works on one project until he gets it right and then shows it to Ma.

The shadows of the old graveyard are ghostly over the new ones, where it looks like someone has planted metal and stone trees of every size. They rise up in one section of the graveyard, the new markers of death, blotting out anything behind them. Angelo knows what they offer. He doesn’t like them. Ma tells him it’s very interesting what he’s done here, and he knows her well enough to believe her.

 

VERSION THREE

Life in the 1990s by Terrence K.

 

For my project I chose the 1990s because I heard a lot about it. It was awesome. Everyone says the 1990s are the best and I want to write about that. So for my project I decided to interview three dead people from the 1990s because even though its not that long ago its a good history.

First I went and saw Jessica H. She died from cancer two years ago and lived in the 1990s. She told me that there were lots and lots of Jessicas in the 1990s and that they were all called Jennifer too. There were lots of Jennifers too. She was a kid in the 1990s but didn’t want to talk about fun stuff that wasn’t boring.

Next I saw Joshua T. He told me all about the toys and shows of that time in the 1990s. And Joshua T. only died three months ago and it was in a car crash too. He said the games were really old-looking but they were the best, and his parents let him go up and down his entire street to play. I thought that was a good piece of history because my mom doesn’t like me out in the yard alone even, and its just weird to walk to your friend’s house for games.

After that I went and saw Rose S. but she didn’t want to talk to me, so instead I went to the 1990s museum with my dad when he picked me up Saturday. He showed me the toys he remembered and we had authentic Dippin’ Dots. I learned a lot about what kids back then did and its interesting because there are some things that are still around today, for example the Harry Potter books my aunt got me for Christmas. They’re on my shelf but they’re really a piece of history I think.

In conclusion I picked the 1990s because I could interview actual people and some of them were even dead. I learned lots about what it was like then and I think it was a good time in history but I still like now the best.

 

VERSION FOUR

 

June 4

I miss you. I still miss you. I can’t stop missing you. I try and I try—whenever anyone asks me to go out I do, I don’t mope at home—fuck home is so empty now!—I need you and you’re gone. I keep trying.

 

June 7

I couldn’t stay away. I visit your grave every day and S doesn’t think it’s healthy, so I tried. I made it almost five days. Well, four. Five would be tomorrow—tonight?—at two thirty in the morning, but I was drunk those days because there was no better way to be with you. You remember getting drunk and fucking in positions we could never do? Waking up aching and throbbing and sick and so happy?

 

June 8

I try not to talk to you, but I give in. Just like I gave in about not seeing you every day. I just need to hear your voice and then I do and you make me cry. It’s like you’re here with me all over again, like maybe we could pick up and fix the things I did that ruined those hours of your life we spent mad at each other. I love your voice so much.

 

June 8

I can’t sleep. I can’t smell you anymore.

 

June 9

I write this knowing you’ll never read it, but some part of me thinks you will. It’s on paper, old fashioned like that, but I don’t want you to be able to access it and tell me things. I’m scared what you will say. I love you so much, and I need to hear you, but I’m not ready for you to know me like I am now.

 

June 11

I had the crazy idea that you were missing when I got a pizza today. Still love you.

 

June 14

Isn’t it funny that we were in such a drought before you died, but it hasn’t stopped raining since? Off and on and off and on, never much at once. You told me it was poetic when I went to see you and then I went home and read every one of your poetry books I never touched. When will I know you? I need you here to tell me who you are and why you left.

 

June 15

But reallly june 14, kinda the way it is when it’s night and you dont really know which part of which day any day is cos its just dark. It’s so dark and I need you, why I’m drunk now. was going to talk to you and thought of S, we’re getting coffee tomorroday so maybe not. Have to tell S I tried!!

PSpS I love you

 

June 20

I’m torn. I feel so hollow without you. The rest of the world keeps going like you never even mattered and I can’t stand that. Does it mean we never even mattered? S makes me call before I go over to visit your tree now so I can be stopped. Once a week, I’m told, that’s healthier than again and again. Sometimes I wish I could connect with you from anywhere. You’d never be gone then.

 

June 22

I hate this. I try to masturbate and pretend you’re here and fuck I can’t. All I seem to eat is your favorite kind of pizza.

 

June 23

S went with me to see you today. It was so hard to connect with you when there was someone else around invading our privacy, but it felt so good to hear your voice!

 

June 24

I cheated. I didn’t call S, and I spent half the day with you, eating pizza and reliving good memories, like a picnic. The only thing better would be to touch you again. Whenever I’m visiting you, it’s like you’re here, but not quite, because I can’t touch you or smell you, only hear you. Whenever I’m gone, it’s like you’re here, only separated from me. The lack of a body fits better, but you feel so much more absent…

 

June 26

I’m scared I can live without you as long as I have your tree. I’m scared I can’t live without you as long as I have your tree.

 

VERSION FIVE

 

Tammy8585:

Its like the pain wont ever go away

1tinyquiverfull:

It won’t, @Tammy8585. I know I cry every night. Dan is so kind about it, but he just doesn’t understand a mother’s love.

1tinyquiverfull:

He loves all our children of course. It’s just, it’s so hard…

two_lil_angels:

God’s watching over her now, @1tinyquiverfull. He’ll give you strength. He gives so much.

1tinyquiverfull:

I know, and I’m so grateful for everything He’s given. I don’t know what I’d do without Him. He leads me along the path I can follow, thanks to Him.

1tinyquiverfull:

He gave Ruthlynn life and maybe only four short years, but she was the happiest little girl those years.

Tammy8585:

n you have all her memories too. you can spend time with her whenever you need to.

two_lil_angels:

That’s what I do. I take B and D out to see the twins every week. They won’t have to grow up not knowing their brothers.

1tinyquiverfull:

Oh, I love that idea @two_lil_angels! I want us to start doing that. I’m sure Dan will appreciate it, too. We’ll make it an after church tradition. Ruthlynn only has one older sister, but not for much longer. I love the idea of all her siblings knowing her even if she can’t be around in person to be with them!

two_lil_angels:

OMG! @1tinyquiverfull So happy for you!

Tammy8585:

Congrats! @1tinyquiverfull maybe youll get another little girl!

1tinyquiverfull:

I’m hoping for a boy this time! It’s been so difficult to conceive, there’s years between Ruthlynn and her sister, I’d like to have a boy before I stop being fertile!

Tammy8585:

what does dan think?

two_lil_angels:

Just pray @1tinyquiverfull. You will be answered.

1tinyquiverfull:

I really am so blessed.

1tinyquiverfull:

Have to go. Love you both, I can’t thank you enough. God truly was watching over me when He led me to this group. I would have never known about the memory trees.

two_lil_angels:

So grateful for them! So happy we all documented our lil ones as much as we did, too.

Tammy8585:

theyll always be our little babies, evn if we can never hold them again.

1tinyquiverfull:

Really have to go!

 

1tinyquiverfull has signed out

 

VERSION SIX

 

Adam prefers the version of his project he has online. Each page begins with a quotation, stark black on white, and then the image follows. The pictures he took are black and white everywhere except for the panel of the phone showing the portrait of the deceased, the background meant to echo death and permanence, the foreground meant to show the person as alive as possible and unable to truly die. There follows the rest of the quotations.

He’s sure no one understands what he’s trying to do here, not even his professor. When Adam sat down with him to talk about his final project the professor stared at him as he had described it, then asked one question: How does this explore your heritage again?

Adam hates the perception people have of him, that he’s in art to either explore his mother’s Japanese-American background or show what his father being Latino means to him. It’s assumed whatever he does in some way addresses that; when the class attempts to analyze the work the students complete someone always mentions it, dresses it up in cheap, ill-painted words like “the artist is examining himself here,” or “I think Adam’s delving into his soul. With paint. And old mousepads.”

The truth is that Adam always felt inferior. The truth is that what everyone’s searching for isn’t exactly what they think they’re searching for. Adam was never very good at sciences, math, the subjects he was supposed to excel at. And he loved art. It felt right. So he spent his years examining those things that he failed and failed at, and turned them into something beautiful he could understand. Portraits on ancient floppy disks. Sculptures from discarded flash drives. Chunky landscapes on mousepads like some freakish 8-bit Van Gogh. And now, this.

It’s very likely the project of his with the most meaning behind it. Adam usually explores, but now he wants to do that thing everyone keeps pestering him about. He wants to make people look at themselves, at their lives. And what better way to do it than to make the dead examine theirs?

I think I tried too much and never enough.—Anah, laughing nervously.

First the quotation in which the deceased sum up their lives. Adam thinks this should be the most difficult question, but it never is. Some of the answers are one word: faith, hope, love. Some are small attempts at wisdom: You never know what you regret until you’re about to die. Some are failures: I should have asked Ethan out. In all those years, I never went out of my way to make her feel loved. I never really grew out of my childhood, and I loved every moment of it.

Next the pictures. When Adam went to interview the subjects he asked permission for these, and the person chose the portrait they wanted associated with them. This is the visual part of everything, the point where art is supposed to hit home as human. In the exhibit, these are blown up images, the first quotation hanging above them, the others to the side. Adam prefers the scrolling of the web, how the image of the person is lost when examining their words. The exhibit isn’t right; a person can still keep the picture in their vision as they read.

Last the other quotations, the deceased answering his questions, sometimes their own offered thoughts. Adam kept it simple, yet deep, as far as he could. He wants them to feel alive but captured. He wants them to feel dead. He wants them to be both as simple and as complex as the trees in which their programming hums.

Yes, purple is my favorite color, and I can admit that now.—Jake, unfeelingly.

Biggest regret? Didn’t I just tell you that?—T.J., defensively.

I killed my pet hamster when I was eleven. I never told anyone that.—Alyssa, sounding confused.

 

VERSION SEVEN

 

A year after I had gone missing my father put his savings into a Memory Tree for me. They thought me dead. They all thought me dead. Seven years, seven blocks, seventeen. I can’t forgive them for that.

I visit the graveyard on the first most perfect day I can after my father told me about the tree. I have to see my death, have to see what it was my family had done to mark me as no longer alive, while I rotted in that basement seven blocks away. Seven, such a lucky number.

The trunk is carved with old hashtags, the branches full of memorial leaves in thin metal from the people I knew before I was abducted. Their words, their handwriting, twisting and evolving as they grew from teens to adults, adults to more worn adults. The leaves flutter and tinkle in the breeze like wind chimes.

I am nearly sick at the base of it. The graveyard is empty around me, so full of trees, so absent of flesh. People live on in death while everyone alive feels secure in knowing they’re always there. Nothing to search for, nothing to remember, nothing truly gone. I see bare trees, a small tree with locks of hair tied to the branches. I see the fingers, the branches reaching up and begging for death again.

Turn back, I have to turn back. Take out my phone, stare at my old face, which I hate more than I hate him, even. Flip over my phone in the grass to hide myself, maybe kill myself like I never could, feebly, weakly, all mine.

I listen to myself speak. I listen to someone who is not me, using a voice that is not quite mine. I don’t sound like that. I don’t sound like that. I don’t

Phone. Grab it, fling it, wish it could die. Run. In circles, in squares, in lines, anywhere. This is not who I am. This is not who anyone is. I could dig up any body now, question it, ask, and I know they would all say not me, not me, teeth rattling in skulls or maybe swimming in a soup of flesh and chemicals and soul.

I laugh at them. They’re right. The sound echoes in the graveyard.

“This is none of you!” I cry, spinning. “A human can’t be planted like a tree! If we’re not spinningspinning spinning we never existed at all!”

I never existed at all.

Jes Rausch lives and writes in Wisconsin, with too many pets and too much beer for company. Their fiction has appeared at Crossed Genres, Plasma Frequency Magazine, and Bastion Science Fiction. Find them not updating their Twitter @jesrausch.

1 Comment

  1. I’ve had discussions with friends about how social media will be handled after death, how people will probably have social media clauses in their wills with passwords and how to deal with the information. I absolutely adore this story and how it explores how people are remembered after death from so many different perspectives. Fantastic work.

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