There are places only the dead know.
Ben misses the living world. He misses his family, his friends, having interests to pursue – being able to spend time with people who aren’t Klaus.
Death is dull, fixed like a photograph in a chemical bath, a stasis. He feels as if everything around him has been cut away, partitioned, put under glass. He can navigate it but he can’t touch.
The dead are all around him, in places Klaus won’t go. The dead are all around them both, but Ben ignores them when he’s with Klaus, both for Klaus’s peace of mind and because the dead are bad company. Sometimes, when Klaus is nearing the edge of sobriety, Ben can touch things, read books again.
Seeing Five again reminds Ben how much he’s missed him, being able to talk to him; they were always the more outspoken of the seven, each in their own way, Five as caustic as Ben was blunt. He misses the stolen minutes talking with Alison, secret cigarettes in the attic windows; he was neither as hedonistic as Klaus nor as ascetic as Diego.
He’d never been as close to Luther, who always spent more time with Alison, nor to Klaus. Death had pushed he and Klaus together. Now he knows Klaus better than Klaus does himself. He relies on that relationship a lot now: the only relationship from his life that he still has.
He should have talked to Vanya more, he thinks. They were the ones who never entirely wanted to be there: Vanya estranged by her lack of power, he disliking the violence of his own, the nausea of an unknown body roiling under his skin. But they were the quiet ones. They did not acknowledge any of it, least of all to each other.
Their father raised them to protect the world, which meant he had also raised them to die young. Ben had always been pretty sure Reginald Hargreeves had considered both Five’s disappearance and his death to be unfortunate, premature accidents.
There are places only the dead know. When he tires of watching the living, it is these places he goes to.
He’s tried to find their father. Wanted to relay his siblings’ questions, find out the truth about his death. But Reginald Hargreeves is as remote and difficult as he was in life, clearly. Ben gives up. He’s not sure he cares anyway.
The dead – the other dead, that he’s not been searching for – come and go, at the peripheries, sometimes speaking, usually silent. He’s used to being ignored by them. They want their lives. They have only one thing in common: that they are here.
It’s night in the city when he meets her. A woman his age, maybe a couple of years older, at death. Wound in her chest, dark blood.
Then he recognises her and— Shit, he thinks, did she never escape that motel?
Jesus fuck, Klaus, you could have warned her.
“You’re Ben, right?” Eudora says. “I know your brother. Diego.”
“You knew I’m dead?” he says.
She shrugs, wry. Some are uncomfortable with this kind of talk, even here, but she isn’t, or refuses to be. “That’s how I got to know him.”
They swap their death stories before long, of course. Then he knows for certain she died the night he saw her, has to confess he was there too, trying to help his brother too.
He’d want to yell at Klaus about it, but Klaus just lost the love of his life in a warzone fifty years ago and for once Ben doesn’t envy what he has.
He gets why Diego cares about her. She’s steady, she’s kind, she’s sharp. She’s good to talk to, better than most people here, better than Klaus sometimes.
The first time he saw her, he’d watched her enter a darkened room alone, without backup or paranormal ability, to rescue his deadbeat brother. He’ll always owe her for that. They all will, but the others don’t know that.
They invent contests. Who can invent the more outrageous fiction (Ben). Who can remember the most general knowledge (Eudora, because Ben’s academic education was erratic to say the least). They watch movies. They ride the subway. They take advantage of their situation to explore places forbidden to the public: old tunnels, private grounds, research centres, condemned buildings. They try to solve Eudora’s cold cases. They visit places that are supposed to be haunted and confirm they are, in fact, not, except by them. Eudora visits her family and, to Ben’s surprise, invites him. Afterwards he doesn’t go to see Klaus; he just stays with her. Tries to be of some comfort.
She’d always been afraid of dying, she says, but she had put herself in harm’s way often, as a matter of course, grown nerves of steel. Death had caught her offguard, like most of the dead he knows.
For Ben, and his family, death had been ever-present yet an ambiguity. They’d been trained all their lives to defend against a dangerous world, but they had never been certain of the limits of their powers. To win was better, of course, and their father did not want them to sacrifice themselves unnecessarily. Death should be for a cause, for the success of the team. But the others took his death far worse even than Five’s disappearance. He’s watched Luther try to work missions alone, Diego become more paranoid, Allison try to unlearn her power. They had all begun to grow apart from one another in their teens. If any of them had asked for his help, Ben would have given it, but he’d tried to build his own life away from them: develop normal interests, spend time away from the mansion, keep his family separate from his friends and boyfriends.
From Tao, so warm and bright and full of light, easy and kind and a little private underneath it all, who had made him jok when he was sick from a mission – Tao, with his thin fingers and long hair, his tiny apartment and his willingness to discuss anything under the sun – and it was only after Ben died he realised he had fallen in love with Tao and never told him. And he had watched Tao deal quietly with his private grief, pick up the pieces of his life and move on, little by little, and wondered if moving on was something that belonged only to the living. He, they, the dead, unchanging shadows in the changing world.
There are places only the dead know.
Eudora did not, in life, believe in life after death. She was unprepared, as she now realises everyone must be, for how irritating it is. The unfinished work. Watching her erstwhile colleagues go through her life – her work, her home – as they investigate her murder and try to build what is certainly a flimsy case against Diego. She’s seen her own corpse.
Her childhood friend Sarah’s great aunt had told her to recognise the good. There isn’t much good in this situation, no matter how she tries, but it’s good not to be alone. There must be countless dead in the world and all the places of the dead, but it seems to be hard to locate anyone you want to find. Ben is here, because he was there when she died, and they never knew each other but they had people in common – Diego, the city – and so she has this. Friendship after death. Post-mortem friendship. And so death is not the end, if there are still places and people to discover.
These are her more optimistic moments. Sometimes she misses her life too much. Her sister has adopted her cat. That’s a good thing, too, but she hates it a little.
She’d lived in this city all her life, known every street long before she ever worked them. The crossroads and junctions, the smoke and steam coming from cafés and kitchens, the people who work in them.
She knew Ben by sight, from before. She’d known of the Umbrella Academy from the start: she was of an age; she heard the story. You couldn’t miss hearing about their missions; all the kids talked about them; the younger ones played at being them. She didn’t read the comics or collect figurines, but she fantasised about having powers, of course she did. It had been a little hard, sometimes, as a child, with all their fame, not to think of the Academy in a way that blurred fact and fiction, to recognise them as fully real.
And then she had met Diego in the police academy, gotten to know some of his demons. Reginald Hargreeves was an asshole, evidently, with some kind of apparent masterplan he had never quite seen fit to share with his protégés, even managing to die without discussing it. And she knows Ben’s tried to find out, over the past few days, but even he doesn’t know anything.
She would like, now, to have known Ben sooner, as a fellow human and not a fellow ghost.
She’d never read Vanya Hargreeves’s book. Maybe she would have if she hadn’t known Diego. Maybe she should have, to see how it would have matched with Diego’s memories, but she felt it would have been intrusive. Diego – all of them – had been treated like research projects all their lives. She wasn’t going to be another part of that. Ben talks about it a little, but they find plenty of other things to talk about. He doesn’t seem as angry as Diego. Bored and frustrated sometimes, regretful and resentful of his death sometimes, but never really angry. It gets harder to be dysfunctional when you’re dead, he says of it.
She likes to walk the city at night, knowing they are beyond duty or danger or weariness. The lamps and neon signs are stabs of light in the darkness. Before them an alley opens up like a gullet. They walk in the rain without feeling it, past shadowed doorways, darkened shop fronts, the dispossessed-looking saplings planted along the edge of the street. A child looks out through a mail slot at them and does not see them. She wonders by how many the ghosts outnumber the living. Theirs is the stratigraphy of the city’s memory, its untold stories. Theirs are the bones and ashes below the earth and stones.
She can remember Ben’s death. The police investigated it. Diego had taken it badly, blamed his father and his brother Luther and more privately himself. He said Ben didn’t want to be a hero.
“No, I’d have been OK with being a hero,” Ben says fairly, maybe a little irritated by the assumption, “just without the migraines.”
There’s a place down by the railway tracks where she and Chuck used to hang out sometimes at the end of the working day. The circuitous route they have taken through the city has led them back to it. “Seems like a pity we can’t get drunk,” she says.
Out in the world, it can be hard to tell the ghosts from the living. Sometimes she thinks someone is looking at her when instead they are looking past her. Sometimes someone says a name that sounds like hers.
She sits next to Ben on the roof edge of a tenement building and stares up at the infinite sky. The world is vast. Death is unending. There are countless others like them. They have an eternity. To learn the places the dead know.