REAL-TIME VIDEO OF DEAD PEOPLE YOU WANT TO HAVE COFFEE WITH: A NOVELLA
(SERIALIZED AND BROKEN UP INTO SECTIONS FOR YOUR READING PLEASURE, AS DENOTED BELOW)
Prologues and Stars:  
Ghostboy Dies in Tragic Mishap:   
Interzone:   
TO BE CONTINUED IN DIAGRAM 5.1
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Wellbutrin is dying for a cigarette. He hasn't said anything, but he's fidgety in his chair. He's closer to the box than I am, and though he is trying to focus on our slow tour of the place, he is scraping his knuckles in a self-conscious rhythm against the cinder-blocks next to us. He only acts like Tito when he wants to smoke. He hasn't had a cigarette in a long time, not since changing his name. I didn't know him then, but I imagine that he scowled more.
He is rocking from his hips. The musty smell of the unfinished basement isn't helping the craving. He is quiet, which isn't unusual, but his lack of attention is dense and listless.
"Change is amputation," I whisper. "I was thinking."
"You're wrong," Tito says.
"Explain," Wellbutrin says.
"I've changed like a grand total of three times," I say. "When I lost my parents, when I lost my job, when I lost my fingers. You're different than you were as a smoker. That's all. Change is loss."
"Plato's tautology," Tito says.
Wellbutrin smiles and puts a finger to Tito's lips.
"Surely," he says as he turns to me, "addition is change, every bit as much as subtraction."
"If you give me a suitcase," I say, "I've lost my need for a suitcase."
"And your tautology is half-empty," Tito says.
"Why does it matter?" Wellbutrin asks.
"Look at us," I say.
For a few seconds, they do. They make eye contact, search my face. Before long, we are silent again, looking at the monitor, at the virtual brown carpet, the virtual beige rooms above us, walls we could touch if we went upstairs.
"A surprise," Tito says. It is the first any of us have said for a few hours. "Check your silent silence," he says. He begins typing again, a stubborn bob to his head and hand. "I've given this a bundle of thought, twenty metaphors worth at least. We need a brand new lute for the data renaissance."
He grins at us, and keeps typing. A few minutes later, the monitor divides in two, one half for the video of the house, the other for a chat room.
"Good," says Wellbutrin. "Feedback."
"And back again," Tito says. "We have a screen name."
"For Bill. BUR_GHOST," Tito says. "The people's poltergeist."
"Conjecture," Wellbutrin says.
"You wanted control."
"I want an audience to know what to look for."
"So tell them."
"In the guise of a virtual medium."
"Exactly," says Tito. "Look. We're selling this. Bottom line. We want this place, this man, the facts of this man to be un-suppressed. If we want this to inculcate and swim, we need to put a spin on it."
"That's crass," says Wellbutin. "The point was no spin. The visuals are the spin. Not us. Not with puppets. We can watch the chat, see what sticks and what doesn't. We can address mistakes in my write-up. And next time."
"We need to sell it," says Tito. "Revolution must be sold. Every truth must be sold."
"I'm not a revolution," Wellbutrin says. "This was an important man."
"And he's dead. Think of us Elysian tour guides. There is Bill playing William Tell, cooking up a heavenly speedball, knuckling up to a hand of bridge."
"We've got the house. If that's not interesting enough than we're selling something we don't own."
"Of course it's enough. It's a good bullet. But it needs to be fired."
"We said trust the houses."
"We need to pull the trigger."
"Trust the house."
"Sell the house."
For now, they have finished.
Tito has pushed his chair back a bit, so he can face Wellbutrin straight on. Their hands are fists. Their necks are corrugated with veins. Still, their knees are almost touching, their bodies squared. Even in their anger, they are a closed system.
Usually, fame feels like televised surgery, like being explored with close-captioned explanations and conjecture. For all three of us, fame was more like a public X-ray of a second cousin. We're all famous, but you wouldn't know it by looking.
You'd never spot Ghostboy in the yellow and orange dresses I wear. Tito's name is no longer connected to the story swapped at cocktail parties about some strike-it-rich internet kid. Wellbutrin was only in a band for two years. And he played bass. He might as well have worn a mask on stage. He went to grad school afterwards, and was almost never recognized, even with a half-dozen songs in heavy rotation on most radio stations. If I started singing any one of them, you could probably sing along.
Perhaps we are drawing attention to these houses, to names that haven't been in the paper more than a few times since death, because we feel a kinship. What we are doing here is probably the equivalent of teaching self-defense classes after you've been attacked.
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