In my current WIP, the protagonist is a girl who can walk and talk with the dead. As a psychopomp, her job is to ferry spirits of the recently dead across the border from life. In the course of doing that job, she comes across many deaths – some accidental, some of old age, some tragic accidents, even a few suicides. She can interact and converse with the spirits before she sends them on. Sometimes she’s there to witness the actual death; sometimes not.
I’ve always had an odd relationship with death. Like many teenagers, I spent a lot of time obsessed with it – wanting to die, or some variation on the theme (like wanting to be a vampire, way before the whole Twilight thing). I was always fascinated by the occult, by spiritualism, by the whole theater and pageant of death. I’ve always wondered if it’s partially because I’m a Scorpio, the sign of transit, the sign of change, of death and rebirth – we’re supposed to be naturally drawn to the darker side and to wondering what makes people tick, what makes them live and die.
And I’ve known my share of death, just like anyone. I saw a handful of friends die in school; one from a drug overdose with heart complications, one from suicide, one car accident, one motorcycle disaster. My grandparents died a few years ago; I was actually sitting by my grandfather and holding his hand when he went. But the oddness of my relationship with death comes from its dichotomy: on one hand, I’m the quiet one, the strong one, the one who holds up really well in a crisis. The one who doesn’t flinch when death comes knocking nearby. The one who stays strong for others, whether they’re the one dying or the ones mourning afterward.
But on the other hand, once everyone else is taken care of and I’m no longer up in front of people, having to be strong, I never stop mourning. I mourn daily for the people I’ve loved and lost – in little ways, but they’re never far from me, and I’m never far from thinking of them. I’ve mourned for deaths I didn’t experience, at least not directly. When I was very young, I was convinced that the death of my other grandfather, who died three months prior to my birth, was somehow my fault, that he’d had to die so I could live. I carried guilt about that for a long time, even though I had nothing to do with it. Even though small children don’t normally think about mortality.
Because of all this, I’m finding my current WIP a constant surprise, because every time my protagonist deals with a death, so do I. And I’m mourning these people I just made up. And I’m giving my protagonist conversations with them so I can get a glimpse at what makes them tick, even though they sprang fully formed from my imagination.
There’s more death on the way, because Emmeline’s job isn’t done yet, and there’s some big stuff coming. I’m hoping she’ll take after me and be strong in its face. She’s a Scorpio too, so I know she can handle it, though there’s no doubt it will change her, as it changes us all.
I can’t wait to see what happens.