The Not Yet Dead

📅 Published on June 1, 2021

“The Not Yet Dead”

Written by Micah Edwards
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Rating: 9.33/10. From 6 votes.
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I can’t touch people who are almost dead. It’s not a phobia, a religious thing or even a preference. I just literally can’t do it. My hands pass through them like they’re already gone.

It’s horribly unnerving. You ever walk up a flight of stairs, but you think there’s one stair more than there is, so at the top you try to step up onto air? That lurch, that deep sense of wrongness like reality itself has betrayed you. That’s what it feels like when my hand moves through someone else’s. And then I have to smile and play it off like I’m doing a funny joke where I refuse to shake their hand, because what else am I going to say? “Sorry, you’ll be dead within the year, better get your affairs in order”?

I probably always had the ability, but I didn’t know about it for a long time. I was seven the first time it showed up. It was at a day camp, and I was running around playing tag with a bunch of other kids around my age. We were screaming, shouting, having a good time. I was chasing this kid Ryan, trying to tag him. He was just a tad slower than I was, so I was gaining by inches. His arms were pumping as he ran, and I took a wild swat at one of his elbows as it swung back toward me. I had him dead to rights, and it should have been a solid hit—except that my hand traveled right through his arm as if it wasn’t even there.

I stumbled slightly, a little off-balance and a little bit in shock. Ryan heard me falling behind and aimed a taunt over his shoulder. “Ha, ha, missed me! You’re too—”

Ryan never got to finish his insult. While he was looking back at me, his feet carried him onto the gravel road that ran through the center of camp. One of the counselors was trundling along in one of the camp’s beat-up white vans. She stomped on the brakes, but the tires were old and the gravel wasn’t enough to slow it down in time.

It was a pretty light hit as these things go, and Ryan might have been okay if he’d landed in an open patch of road. He didn’t, though. He got thrown to the edge of the road where he landed hard on the edge of an old stump. I heard the crack as he hit, like rotten wood snapping. I thought it came from the stump until I saw how his head was angled compared to the rest of his body.

Everyone was screaming as they ran over, kids and adults alike. The teenage counselor who had been driving the van was on her knees by Ryan’s body, sobbing and shaking his limp form. I just stood stock-still and stared at my hands, touching the fingers lightly against each other to confirm that I could still feel things. I was sure that I’d caused this somehow. I didn’t know what I’d done, but I knew it was my fault.

I didn’t tell anyone this. I just stopped touching people. For a year or more, I would absolutely refuse to shake hands, to high-five, to give my family hugs. My parents knew from the camp that I’d seen Ryan die right in front of me, so they figured that this was some weird residual effect from that and that I’d get over it in my own time.

In the end, I did. I slowly let myself believe the people who told me that it wasn’t my fault. I told myself that what I’d seen couldn’t have been true, that that wasn’t how reality worked. I’d imagined it, or maybe even made it up after the fact. I got rid of the long-sleeved shirts that I could pull over my hands in the summer. I started giving hugs again. I stopped flinching every time a friend and I reached for the same thing and our hands brushed.

I was fourteen before it happened again. I’d long since stopped blaming myself for Ryan’s death, and I even believed that I’d been mistaken about seeing my hand pass through his arm. I’d written the whole thing off as some strange little-kid delusion. I’d moved on with my life. And then I tried to high-five Jared Orsan after school one day, and it all fell apart again.

I don’t even remember what the high five was for. Jared had told some sort of a joke, or maybe zinged someone with a good insult. He held his hand up and I slapped it—only my hand went straight through.

“Dude, did you just completely miss?” Jared asked me.

Inexplicably, my first reaction was to cover up what had happened. “No, you missed the high five! Too slow!”

He looked embarrassed to know me. “You can’t do that on someone else’s high five.”

“C’mon, try again,” I told him, holding out my hand, ready to pull it away if he actually went for it.

Jared shook his head at me. “Whatever, weirdo.” He walked off toward the bus. I held my breath, certain that I was about to see him crushed by the giant yellow machine, but he just climbed on and sat down like nothing was wrong. After a moment, I followed him.

The whole ride home, Jared ignored me while I tried not to stare at him. I was waiting for something to happen, and I breathed a sigh of relief when he got off at his stop without anything going wrong. Of course nothing was wrong. I had just missed the high five. It was nothing.

That was the last time I ever saw Jared. I really wish I could remember what joke he had told that prompted the high five. It would be a better memory. Instead, I’m stuck with his actual last words to me: “Whatever, weirdo.”

I started to get a churning feeling in my stomach when Jared wasn’t on the bus the next morning. That feeling solidified when the principal started off the morning announcements with a somber tone.

“This isn’t easy to say,” he began. I could feel bile rising in my throat.

“One of our students, Jared Orsan—” I didn’t hear what he said next. I opened my mouth to ask the teacher if I could go to the bathroom, and instead I vomited on the floor.

I found out the details later. Jared had choked to death during dinner. His family had been there with him, but none of them had been able to dislodge the food blocking his throat. By the time the EMTs arrived to help, Jared had been without oxygen for twenty-three minutes. They weren’t even able to get his heart restarted.

I resolved never to touch anyone again. The long sleeves came back, covering my arms no matter the weather. I added on gloves as well, passing them off as an odd affectation. I skipped showers as often as I could get away with, letting my hair go greasy and my odor build up. I became known as the weird kid, a strange fulfillment of Jared’s parting words. It hurt to lose my friends, to see people pull away from me, to hear them whisper behind my back—but it worked. They stayed away, and I didn’t run the risk of accidentally murdering anyone with my horrible ghost touch.

By sophomore year of high school, I’d fully embraced my new identity. I’d even made new friends, ones willing to tolerate my eccentricities. It had been slow going at first, but once I found the theater department things all fell into place.

I had no interest in being onstage in the plays. The characters were constantly hugging, hitting, kissing or catching each other, and I wanted none of that. But working backstage was perfect. It gave me a group to hang out with, while at the same time making sure that they had other things to do that required them to keep their distance. I was still the weird one even among the theater kids, but on the whole it was a big step up.

There was even a girl I had a crush on, Joanna Sharps. She and I had kind of a flirting thing between us, though obviously my refusal to touch anyone meant that it wasn’t going to go particularly far.

Or so I thought, anyway. I was backstage dragging scenery into place for an upcoming production when I felt something like an electric shock, a jolt that struck right at the base of my skull. I jumped, hitting my head on the flat I was moving, and spun around. Joanna was standing behind me, slightly wide-eyed but laughing.

“Wow, you’re jumpy!” she said.

“What did you touch me with?”

She held up her empty hands. “I was just going to run my fingers across the back of your neck, give you a little scare. You jumped before I ever even touched you, though!”

I felt a sick hollow begin to form in my gut as I understood what I must have felt. That had been the sensation of her fingertips passing through my skin.

Joanna continued, oblivious. “Sorry you hit your head. How is it?”

She reached out to touch my forehead. I recoiled, shying away from her touch. She withdrew her hand.

“Sorry,” she said again, sounding slightly hurt. “I know you don’t like being touched. I just thought—sorry.”

She walked quickly away. I stared after her, trying to think of anything to say. How could I explain that she only had hours left to live? That I’d done something to her, cursed her in some way? It hadn’t been my fault this time, but still. I didn’t want her final words to me to be an apology I didn’t deserve.

While I was trying to figure out something meaningful to say, Joanna was climbing the ladder to the catwalk. She’d been up and down that ladder hundreds of times before. Maybe this time was different because she was flustered from our conversation. Maybe it was just a random coincidence. Whatever the case, just as she neared the top of the ladder, Joanna’s hand slipped. With a short scream, she fell.

It was a bad fall. Her feet tangled briefly in the ladder, leaving her falling headfirst toward the stage. The scream came much too late to do anything to help. If I’d been any farther away, or doing anything other than staring at her, there would have been nothing I could have done.

But as it was, I’d sprung into motion the instant her hand had slipped. I was already picking up speed by the time she screamed, and before she had completed her fall I was diving to catch her.

I’d love to say that it was a good catch, that I swept in underneath her and caught her gallantly. Instead, what it was was a painful slide on an unforgiving wooden stage as I hurled my body desperately toward her. I slammed into the metal feet of the ladder just as Joanna crashed down into my belly, knocking the air out of me. Her feet slammed down an instant later, kicking me in the side of the legs hard enough that I would have a bruise in the shape of her shoe for the next week.

It was ugly and undignified, and for a moment I didn’t know if it had even been good enough. I lay there with throbbing pains in my shoulder, ribs and leg, unable to take a breath in, wondering if I had a dead body on top of me. Then, as the stage shook with the pounding of feet as everyone else ran over, Joanna stirred.

“Oww, my neck,” she complained, rubbing it. She looked at me. “I could have died if it wasn’t for you.”

Before I could react, she kissed me. I felt her lips on mine, and with that came the realization that they were indeed on mine, not passing through. It was over in an instant, but the implications staggered me even more than the impact had.

I had changed things! I had saved her! She should have died, and I had been able to stop it.

I didn’t allow myself to believe it at first. I was sure that there would be some delayed effect, internal bleeding or something similar, that would still take its deadly toll. The hospital found nothing worse than a few nasty sprains, though, which left her better off than me; I’d gotten two cracked ribs from my stint as a landing pad.

Even then, I worried that she’d die of her injuries in the night, or maybe even of something unrelated. It just didn’t seem possible that I’d saved her.

The next day at school, though, there she was, with a slight limp and a stiff neck but otherwise hale and hearty. I cried when I saw her, though I tried to hide it and she did me the courtesy of pretending not to notice.

“It’s good to see you,” I told her. “I’m glad you’re okay.”

Joanna smiled. “Nice to know that you can touch people if you want to. I was starting to wonder if you were a ghost or something.”

“So, what, you thought maybe you’d make yourself a ghost too to be with me? That’s a little Romeo and Juliet, don’t you think?”

“I’m in theater,” she retorted. “Obviously I’m dramatic.”

It was hard, making the next move. Every avoidance skill I’d learned since Jared died screamed at me to stay back, to stay clear. But I leaned in, touched her face with my gloved hand, and kissed her.

I felt electricity again, but this time it was from the thrill of intentionally touching someone for the first time in years, tangled up with the knowledge that all this time, I’d been wrong about my ability. It wasn’t a curse, condemning those I touched to death. It was a superpower, giving me an opportunity to save them.

I took off my gloves and put my bare hand on the side of Joanna’s neck, holding her close. I could feel her heartbeat under my fingertips. She was solid, real and alive—because of me.

It would be great if this story ended with us as soulmates, but we were both sixteen and stupid and that’s not how it went. We dated for a while, then broke up and made things awkward backstage for a while, and I lost track of her after graduation. I never did tell her about my ability, so although she knows I saved her life, she’ll never know that I’m literally the only one who could have.

That attitude is probably a lot of why we broke up, really. I developed a bit of a savior complex for a bit. Plus I got very insistent on fist bumps and the like. It was a pretty huge shift from my previous personality, but no less weird, so it’s not surprising that our fledgling relationship didn’t survive it.

It probably won’t surprise you to learn that the majority of the people in my day-to-day life weren’t particularly close to death. I wanted to know the limits of my powers, though, so I started to seek it out. I volunteered at veterinary clinics and nursing homes. There wasn’t much I could do to stave off the deaths I felt there, but it let me start to establish the rules of how it worked.

My ability seemed to have a cap of about a day at first, but the more I used it the farther out it reached. Soon, if someone was going to die within the week, I was able to pass my hands through them.

It worked on animals, too. The veterinarians told me that I didn’t have to wear gloves to handle all of the animals, that most of them weren’t carrying anything communicable to humans, but it wasn’t diseases I was worried about. Without a barrier between us, terminally ill animals would literally slip through my fingers.

Sometimes I was able to save an animal by getting a vet to reassess their diagnosis, or rescue one of the folks in the nursing home just by diligently watching them. For the most part, though, I was just regarded as the uneducated help, and no one really listened to me. I concluded that if I wanted to make a real difference, I’d have to go into medicine myself.

It sucked. Having spent high school focused on theater, I was not prepared for a switch to the hard sciences. I was working from a deficit on everything from basic science knowledge to how to cite sources in a scholarly paper. I knuckled down and figured it out, though. Every time my motivation started to slip, I’d end up passing my hand through the arm of some perfectly lovely gentleman in the hospital and remember that I was putting in all of this work to be in a position to save the life of people like him.

It was a long, arduous slog, but I got my degree. Along the way, I regained some of the habits I’d left behind in high school. I increased my personal space. I stopped making casual contact with friends. I started wearing gloves again, the blue nitrile ones this time. I told people I was a germaphobe, and they accepted it without question. A surprising number of doctors are; I suppose because we know in great detail what some of the nastier communicable diseases can do.

The truth, though, was that although I’d come to terms with death in the abstract, having seen so much of it in my volunteering, the idea of it affecting me personally had begun to take on a kind of terror. My awareness of impending death had continued to expand, and was now verging on three months. I lived in fear of brushing up against a friend of mine and discovering that they would die in less than a dozen weeks. When I had only known within a few hours, it was the sort of problem I could address. With such a lengthy window, I couldn’t possibly follow them for the entire time to stop whatever was going to happen.

With patients, I had no such concerns. If I found myself unable to shake hands with one, I would simply order a battery of tests designed to reveal anything that might be wrong internally. Obviously if they were going to fall victim to misadventure, the scans would show nothing, but quite a lot of the time I was able to detect some hidden problem that would have proved itself lethal in short order. The times that it worked, I looked like an intuitive genius, which quite excused the times that nothing at all appeared to be wrong.

Over the years I have saved hundreds of lives with my ability. It’s astounding the variety of time bombs we can contain, quietly ticking away a countdown on a display that’s hidden until it’s far too late. I’ve saved people from everything from atrial flutters to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Sometimes I don’t even know what I’ve done; just the act of signing them up for all of the tests causes them to regain solidity to the touch. I assume I’ve scared them away from some related habit, though obviously I can never know for sure.

My most recent patient, however, was looking like one of my failures. The tests showed nothing. I continued to be unable to touch him afterward. I put on a fake smile, presented him with a clean bill of health, and sent him on his way. I wondered what would happen to him. Car accident was usually a good bet, but there was always a chance for something like a mugging gone wrong or drowning at the beach.

I was making a mental note to watch the obituaries for his name as I stepped into the elevator that night. Lost in my thought, I didn’t see my colleague rushing down the hall for the elevator. It wasn’t until he called “Grab the door!” that I noticed him, at which point obviously I stuck my hand in between the closing doors.

“Thanks,” he said, brushing past the re-opening doors. What I saw and he did not, though, was that as he squeezed through the doors, his arm went directly through my hand.

He was young, hearty, the picture of health. Nothing suggested an early death awaited him, except for my certain knowledge that it was true. I tried to figure out what to say, but the elevator dinged and released us into the parking garage before I’d constructed a reasonable sentence.

Distracted as I was, I did not put my gloves back on as I was leaving the garage. I handed my parking pass to the attendant bare-handed. When she returned it, her fingers passed through mine without stopping.

I stewed over this after I arrived home. Three impending deaths was far too many in too small an area. Was something going to happen to the hospital? Or perhaps had something gone wrong with my skill? I needed more data. I had to know.

I headed downtown, to the nightlife and the crowded streets I usually avoided. I left my hands uncovered and swung my arms as I walked, allowing them to casually bump into people I passed. Or rather, I would have bumped into them had I encountered any interference at all. Instead, my hands passed freely through each one, utterly unimpeded by any person I met.

It has been days now. I have attempted to touch hundreds of people. In every case, the result is the same: like passing my hand through electrified air. The animals in the pet shop were the same way. There’s just nothing there. Or at least, there won’t be soon enough.

It’s conceivable that my ability has taken a sudden leap forward, that I’m now no longer to touch anything that will at some point die. It’s never advanced in a giant move like this before, but I can’t say for sure that it didn’t. Honestly, I hope that’s what’s happened.

There’s a chance too that I might be about to die. I don’t know how this will play out when it’s my turn for death to come for me. It could look like this. It doesn’t feel right, but it’s a possibility.

And if it’s not that, if it’s not either of those—then something very bad is about to happen. Something the size of the city.

I hope it’s one of the first two reasons. I’m very afraid that it’s not.

Rating: 9.33/10. From 6 votes.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

Written by Micah Edwards
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: Micah Edwards

Publisher's Notes: N/A

Author's Notes: N/A

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Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

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