Old Punks Die Hard

by Leslie Edens

In the last summer he’d be alive, Sam took a trip out of New Mexico. He went alone on his motorcycle, leaving Eve and the kids behind. He rambled across the country, taking back roads, going wherever it was like the old days when he used to wander between the mortal and spirit worlds. When he would couch-surf his way through the town of Portales Espirituales, a brief stay in his room at the Vic, then up to the spirit world to roam.

He followed trails up there, tracks that others couldn’t see, and more than once, he’d discovered spirits trapped in half-reality mazes, and Sam had freed them. He had done many small acts of kindness like this and never mentioned it to anyone. But it weighed heavy on him, as he steered the motorcycle west, those he had hurt long ago.

Has it been worth it? he wondered. Has my life had meaning?

Sam fingered the Pen of Esperance at his throat.

The motorcycle buzzed and whirred under him as he drove on into the night, unfazed by the darkness. He headed toward the place where he’d seen the sun burst into orange-and-yellow fire, then disappear. Several hours into the night, he encountered a tiny Arizona town, the kind set up in the thirties to accommodate travelers going west on Route 66. He paid for a hotel room, didn’t say more than five words to the person behind the counter, and went to his room to sleep.

He was so tired, he fell asleep in his clothes, the TV still on. Sam liked having the TV on since it blocked out noise from anything else. Wearing his pen also helped him to not hear voices as he slept, nor dream they were talking to him.

In the early hours of the morning, a loud noise startled him awake. The TV had gone staticky, and it was a flat screen on the wall, so Sam knew something was off. He sat up and called, “Show yourself.”

“Oi,” said a voice. “That’s a great jacket.”

Sam felt his jacket lifted up and pulled as if someone were trying to take it off him.

“Leggo,” he snarled.

“I just wanted to get a better look,” said the voice.

The ghost faded into view gradually, wisps of smoke-like substance becoming more material and solid until Sam saw a thin, tattooed guy in jeans with a seriously high mohawk bristling along his head. He smiled affably and bowed as though Sam was the king.

Sam wanted to sigh, but it might let the ghost know more about him than was wise. The ghost was now flicking a switchblade in and out, then using it to pick his teeth.

“Were you in a band?” Sam guessed.

“Close,” said the punk ghost. “I was a roadie for the Flaming Toads. Ever heard of ’em?”

Sam shook his head, giving the ghost a dubious look.

“They call me Rasp,” said the ghost. “It started out as Raspberry, but then . . . anyway, I lost track of the band, and I’ve had to stay here since . . . but you—you can see me, so I bet you’re gonna be the one to help me get out.”

“Raspberry?” Sam’s look was even more dubious.

“Yeah, like . . .” The ghost stuck out his tongue and blew. Ectoplasmic spit flew out of his mouth, and Sam blocked his face. Rasp laughed.

“Hey, man, what’s in a name? It’s cool, it’s cool. And you are?”

“Sam.” He didn’t give the ghost more than that. Sam was famous in spiritualist circles, and he was aware how much ghosts liked to gossip.

The ghost made to lock hands with him, trying to pump his arm in greeting, but the hand missed the mark and wafted through Sam’s instead. Sam shrugged at the ghost’s puzzled look.

“You’re dead,” he told Rasp. He didn’t see any reason to mince words.

“Yeah, back atcha,” said Rasp like it was some new kind of compliment.

Sam sat at the edge of the bed and put his face in his hands, then he looked around the cheap room. Yellow curtains made of thick fabric. A nondescript painting of the desert hung on the wall, the same desert he’d see outside when the sun came up. A dirty, threadbare carpet. What a place to be stuck haunting.

“Hey, you sick or something?” Rasp seemed incredibly concerned, despite the fiery skulls painted on his jacket and the spikes sticking out of his epaulets. He sat on the bed next to Sam and took out a cigarette. Rasp started smoking, although it was only ectoplasmic smoke and didn’t bother Sam. “Tell me what your deal is.”

“I might as well be,” said Sam. “I’m a seer, and I saw a vision of my own death. It happens on my fortieth birthday in November, and I’m thirty-nine this year. Before you ask, I’m never wrong.”

“Oh, that’s harsh,” said Rasp, blowing smoke. He took out a package of American Spirit cigarettes and offered one to Sam, who declined.

“Well, I’ve made my peace with it, but I still wanted to get out and feel the wind and the sun one last time,” said Sam. “So I’m traveling west.”

Rasp nodded like he understood this, then said, “Do you tell futures? Can you tell my future?”

Sam didn’t like to be asked this, but he said, “I can.”


He looked at Rasp. “You’re going home,” said Sam without elaboration. He stood up and stalked around the room, kicking at nothing and swinging his arms widely.

“What’re you doing?” Rasp followed him, drifting along the carpet.

Sam didn’t really have the patience for this like his sister did. She was a medium and could sit explaining things to ghosts all day, but Sam wanted to get rid of Rasp so he could sleep. He had a long drive in the morning.

“There.” He pointed to a corner of the bathroom.

The ghost shivered when he came near. “I never go in there. I start to rattle, and it feels just like riding in the back of the tour bus, being shaken up and down until I don’t know who I am anymore.”

“Well, that’s your portal to the spirit world.” Sam pointed again to make it obvious. “If you don’t go up, you’ll stay here.” He folded his arms, not wanting to have a long argument about this. He was sure the ghost would choose to go up now that he knew.

Sam wasn’t the least bit curious how Rasp had died, so it stood to reason that the ghost began telling him what happened right away.

“We had stopped here overnight, and I went out to the bar with the band,” he began. “First, I got into a fistfight with some guys from another band, all swinging and punching and throwing hooks. Someone threw a chair through the front window. It was a regular old west bar fight!”

Is this what Heather puts up with? Sam wondered, glad he was a seer and not a medium.

“Then I went out back to throw up because someone had punched me in the gut. So while I’m puking, some jerk in a long coat holds a knife on me. I didn’t have any money, so he tried to cut me! I was still sick, so I puked all over him, and he cut me! So I’m bleeding all over, and I pass out in the alley.”

Sam raised an eyebrow.

“I woke up in a dumpster! Dried blood all over and being emptied into a garbage truck. So I screamed and yelled, but they didn’t hear me. I barely managed to climb out before piles of garbage swallowed me whole!”

Both Sam’s eyebrows went up.

“After that, I went to the local hospital, but once I got in there and they patched me up, they tried to give me morphine for the pain! Well, I’m a recovered junkie, so I can’t go for that. I told them they better not put any junk in me. Morphine’s too close to heroin, and I could relapse, you know? I won’t risk it. So when they didn’t listen, I ripped the IV right out of my arm. Then I escaped by busting out a window and jumping from the second story.”

Sam was transfixed on the ghost’s face.

“I landed with a roll, but the bandages had come loose, and a shard from the window had slashed my wrist, so I was bleeding all over the place again, and my stab wounds were really hot and painful, but I knew if I didn’t get back to the bus, they’d leave me in this dipshit town, and I’d be stuck trying to hitch a ride.”

Sam nodded and gulped.

“I saw a motorcycle that was unattended, so I jumped aboard, but whoever owned it was a tough son of a bitch and came out of the post office firing a pistol at me. I revved the engine, popped a wheelie, and took off, but he kept firing, and one of the shots hit my arm.”

The ghost clapped his left arm with a pained look. “Didn’t really hurt, but I couldn’t steer. That’s what led to me flailing into the dumpster—you know, that same one that almost dumped me?”

Sam’s mouth slid open, his mouth a silent o as he listened.

“I just lay there in the sand and grime,” said Rasp. “I lay there bleeding and looking up at the sky and thinking, this is where I’m going to die. What a crock of shit.”

Sam cleared his throat. “So that’s how it happened?”

Rasp laughed, low and jolly. “Not even close. Because I heard the song ‘Death or Glory’ playing on some radio inside Pinkie’s Café that’s across the alley from the bar. The Clash. It filled me with power. I always liked that tune.” He grinned gappy teeth at Sam.

“Yeah,” Sam agreed. He motioned some of the chorus guitar tabs at Rasp, and they nodded together, in deep accord.

“I lay there listening to that riff, and the energy flowed through me. I remembered why I’d joined the band as a roadie in the first place and how I loved the music and the scene . . . even fighting and getting stabbed if necessary . . .”

Sam nodded.

“. . . or unnecessary. So I dragged up from there right as a truck started to drive through, you know those delivery trucks? These guys driving it must have seen me and thought I was some old bum or drunk, and they came after me like hell on wheels trying to hit me with the truck. I ran like fuck!”

Sam’s mouth had opened again.

“Really! They didn’t think anybody could see what they were doing in the alley, so they tried to run me over! But I outran them, got to the end of the alley, gave them the finger and the Italian salute . . .”

He demonstrated, left hand in the crease of his right elbow, right arm pumped up displaying a prominent middle finger. “Double fuck you, right?”

Sam was busy trying to recreate this gesture and said nothing.

“Course,” mused the ghost, noticing Sam’s attention to this task, “if you wanted a triple fuck you, you could also give them the arm, then the finger, then two fingers . . . like this.”

He demonstrated with a pump of his arm for the bird, then a pump with two fingers spread in a V, knuckles outward. Sam tried.

“No, that’s peace,” said Rasp. “The knuckle has to go out, see?” He rearranged Sam’s hand patiently. Sam could just barely feel the pressure. Sam displayed his hand, and Rasp nodded. “Now, put them all together.”

Sam did the arm, finger, two fingers. He gave Rasp a tight smile as the ghost cheered. “You did it! A triple fuck you! It’s not easy to pull that off in a moment of ‘Death or Glory,’ believe me. You want to practice that if you’re going to pull it off.”

Sam spoke. “I’d like to do that when I meet my end. Just a big fuck you to whoever kills me.”

Rasp thought for a minute. “You know who does the deed?”

“Nope. I’ve been searching. I know who she looks like.”

“Who’s that?” Rasp’s eyes glittered. He lit another cigarette, offering one to Sam in a gesture the ghost could not seem to kick, despite the fact that it was clear Sam did not smoke.

Sam shook his head again at the offered pack.

“My sister’s mother-in-law,” he said. “She’s the spitting image, but I can’t see how . . . I hardly know her. She’s got nothing against me.” He shrugged, let his shoulders slope down in confusion. Then, almost as an afterthought, he slid out of his jacket and lifted up his sleeve to show Rasp the tattoo of “Lady Death’s” face. A woman with black, curly hair, one golden eye shining from behind the thick veil of it, and above, the inscription, R.I.P. Samhain d’Espers. Below, the death date, Sam’s birthday on November eleventh of the current year.

Rasp nodded and showed Sam a tattoo sequence on his own forearm. It resembled a series of cartoon panels. In each one, a punk stick figure with a frill of mohawk died a different death. Hanging, shooting, drowning, flying off a cliff, on and on it went, a cartoon litany of stick-figure punk death.

Sam smiled wide. “That’s cool.”

The last one, the stick-figure punk had landed, presumably in a puddle of his own blood, flat on his back, head cracked, arms stretched wide, legs splayed, combat boots akimbo.

“Splat!” read the horror-font lettering above the dead punk.

Sam laughed.

Rasp continued his story. “So, where was I? I had just given the obscene gesture of double condemnation and was considering mooning them when, due to my extreme distraction in facing these gentlemen, I didn’t notice the bicycle rider.”

Sam’s smile died down as he listened.

“She smacked right into me, knocking us both down, and there I sat on the concrete, beat up, cut, shot, bleeding, and she asks me, ‘Are you all right?’”

Rasp shook his head roughly like a dog ridding itself of lake water.

“So I said, ‘No! Look at this!’ and I showed her a hangnail I had, all red and infected. Well, it must be true what they say about ladies like tough guys. I could tell you some stories . . . but she looked so concerned about this hangnail, I was busting up with laughter even though I felt like I might die any second. She helps me get up, and then she sees all the blood and bruises, and she wants to help me get to the hospital.”

“So we go together, me limping along and her rolling this bicycle and trying to get me to lean on it. We got as far as the hotel where the band was staying. I said, ‘There’s my band. You can leave me here, and they’ll take me to the hospital.’ This part is a little hazy because of all the blood loss, but I swear she leaned over and kissed me.”

Sam nodded like he’d expected this.

“Maybe she thought she could get away with it because I was about to pass out, so she could just kiss and run. But I was more lucid than she thought, so I put my arms around her and gave her something to remember, huh?”

Sam’s nod was knowing, his smile sly.

“In the middle of this, she decides she’s had enough, so she takes the bicycle and rolls it out from under me, and I collapse. She just walked off. Guess she’d had enough of ole Rasp.”

“Guess so,” said Sam morosely.

“I’m sitting there on the pavement, trying to remember what I’m doing here, when I heard some music behind me. And I turn around. And there is the bus, my band’s bus, bearing down on me, blaring their music from the back.”

Sam interrupted. “They play back there?”

“Oh, all the time,” said Rasp. “Can’t set up the drums, but they’d go crazy on guitar and bass. Had an amp set up in there too.”

“How?” Sam frowned.

“Hooked to the bus battery. The whole bus was supercharged with current, and that, my friend, is what knocked me halfway to hell and back.”

“An electrified bus?” Sam was impressed.

“That current never had been under control. People were always getting shocked, and when the bus hit me, I was flung underneath it, and some wires dangling down there made contact between me and a puddle . . .”

“Ooooh,” said Sam, his eyes wide.

“Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. What are the odds?” said Rasp. “And my face was in the puddle, too, when I passed out.”

“Ooooh no.” Sam covered his face with his hands.

“So there I lay, flattened by my own band’s bus, electrocuted, and face down in a puddle,” Rasp continued. “Last thing I heard was the music they were playing. Sounded like ‘When the Angels Sing,’ or maybe I imagined that shit.”

“Social Distortion.” Sam nodded. “So that was it? But then, why are you haunting in here?”

“Naw. That wasn’t quite it. After a couple seconds, I must have snorted enough water to make me cough, and alls I remember is waking up there barely able to move, sore all over, cracked ribs, broken bones, but I really needed a bathroom. In retrospect, it’s possible this sensation was caused by internal bleeding and ruptured organs,” he said, nodding wisely.

“Makes sense,” said Sam.

“So I saw a motel room door open where the maid had been cleaning it,” said Rasp. “I know it sounds crazy, but I wasn’t thinking real straight. I dragged myself across this patio they have, leaving a trail of blood, guts, all kinds of stuff . . . I dragged myself inside the room, all the way to the bathroom. And there, having reached the toilet, I pulled myself up on the throne, and then . . .”

“Yeah?” said Sam, almost holding his breath.

“I fell off, cracked my head on the bathtub, and passed out ass upwards, smothering in the bath mat.”

“You mean . . . ?”

“Yeah, dude. I really did.”

“Died like Elvis?”

“I died like Elvis.”

Sam held up his hand to give the ghost a high five.

“That is the coolest death I have ever heard of,” he said with deep respect. “That beats Elvis all to shit, man. Congratulations.”

Rasp snorted and grinned. “I guess I accomplished something in life after all.” He high-fived Sam hard, the hand smacking solid and making Sam wince.

Rasp ground out his cigarette on the bed, leaving the butt. “I guess I’m out of here.” He reached behind him and pulled out a six-pack of beer. “How about one for the road?” he asked Sam. “Or two or three?”

Sam wasn’t keen on drinking a beer at four in the morning, but he knew the occasion called for some mark of recognition, some ritual. He accepted the ghostly beverage and with Rasp’s cry of “Bottoms up! And I don’t mean dead next to the toilet!” Sam guzzled.

Together, they polished off Rasp’s ecto-beer, standing outside where the sun had barely tinted the horizon. Sam belched, and Rasp said, “I’ve been saving that six-pack for the day I get out of here.”

“It was the summer of ’96,” he said. “I’d been thinking about hanging it up, ya know? It was getting harder to keep going, traveling all the time, the booze, the loneliness sometimes, even in the middle of a crowd.” The punk was momentarily reflective. “Well, I guess I solved that problem, didn’t I?” He toasted with his can. “To death! Be it ever so near or far, it takes you just the way you are!”

Sam clinked his can to Rasp’s and drank. The ecto-beer was not strong but made him feel buzzy and good. The sun was pinkening the horizon. He had the whole day ahead of him.

They stumbled into the hotel bathroom, Rasp singing in an off-tune voice the words of “When the Angels Sing,” a song he clearly did not know well.

“Always did wish I could write one of them ballads,” he said. “I’d write one about your story, brother. I’d write one about mine.”

Sam burped. “What would you call it?”

Rasp boomed, “The Ballad of Rasp ‘Don’t Give a Fuck’ McKeen.”

Sam chortled. They toasted again with the last of the beer and drank. Then Rasp said, “Yours, I think I’d call “The Ballad of Sam-Sees-Death, Don’t Give a Damn.”

“There’s some theme coming through here,” said Sam, chuckling.

Rasp stood next to the wavering space in front of the toilet, his face warping and his voice fluctuating as he neared the portal. He tossed his empty beer can. 

“Hmm,” he said, as it disappeared, sucked into the spirit world. He faced Sam and put his hand on the seer’s shoulder.

“Don’t write yourself off too early,” he said. “It’s hard for you since you see a lot. You feel like you know everything that’s coming.”

Sam nodded, a lump in his throat. Rasp, rough and simple as he was, had hit the nail on the head.

“You can’t possibly know,” said Rasp. “Hell, the way you die could be what makes it all worthwhile. Live ’til you die, brother. Promise me that.”

“I will,” said Sam. “That’s a promise.”

“Good enough for me.” The ghost stepped backwards into the portal. He slammed his hand into Sam’s for one final rigorous handshake. “Thanks for this. If I see you up there, I owe you one.”

His combat boots rose behind him, his legs floating up and away, and Rasp hooted and whooped, half ghost and half kid on a roller coaster. His body floated up, only his hand that grasped Sam’s kept him anchored in the portal’s turbulence.

“Thanks,” said Sam and let go. He watched the figure of Rasp whirl upward, becoming increasingly less solid, dissolving into wispy vapors.

The portal whirled upward and away, receding with the return of Rasp’s spirit to the next world, and Sam allowed himself a sigh. He thought he’d call Eve later, but now, it was too early. She wasn’t a morning person.

Sam took a shower, changed his clothes, ate a few muffins from the continental breakfast bar, and drank a cup of terrible coffee.

He was about to call Eve when the light blazed over him, the explosive sunrise, pink and glorious, lighting up the desert. He went out to his bike, watching the light in the sky in silent awe.

He guessed he might get a few miles behind him, maybe call her at lunch. He mounted the bike and began his roll down the highway, California bound, the sunrise to his back. Thinking about that old punk he’d sent to his resting place . . . or a new adventure.

He revved the engine and drove even faster toward the horizon ahead. He’d ramble up the coast, see the ocean, those giant trees, the city lights. He’d maybe hit Canada before he turned back around. I’ll be okay. He knew he would. He was going to die in November, sure as the sun rises and sets, but old punks die hard.

Leslie Edens grew up in New Mexico and lives in Bellingham, Washington. Usual hobbies include drinking coffee, hobnobbing with other writers, playing D&D, and riding a tiny ebike really fast. She writes far too much supernatural comedy, fantasy, horror, and science fiction. She especially loves reading at the Village Books open mic and chatting with the other writers on the NaNoWriMo discord server. In real life, she is a freelance editor of genre fiction. She’s currently writing a supernatural scifi horror series she likes to call Stranger Things meets Twin Peaks, but the real title is Above & Beyond.

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