Sometimes, the dead aren’t restful. They die alone, lonely, sad and pathetically. Sometimes they die by diseases that aren’t content to leave the soul untouched, and consume it as readily as the body. Sometimes it’s violence and hatred that takes them out, leaving a harsh stain on their echoes. Sometimes it’s not how they left the world that matters, but how they existed in it. A young girl teased and tormented by her classmates because she’s quiet and dresses all in black, her long hair covering her face. A middle aged man who put up with abuse from his mother now goes out and enacts revenge on women who look like her, raping them and leaving them in the woods for the coyotes. Another man runs with a crew of three, each one as bad as the next, they hit every bank in town and shoot the place up before anyone can get there. A woman knows her client’s guilt, and how he’ll kill again if he’s not locked up and treated, but still she smiles when the verdict comes, because the money helps her sleep at night.
Dying cold and alone, wasting away in a hospital bed, murder most foul. A life of quiet pain and depression, or one of violence and hatred, one driven by avarice and pride. These are the things that cause a death to go bad. In these circumstances, the dead aren’t restful. They scream, and they shout, and they rage against any they encounter.
A death stained with sadness creates an echo that takes others into that sadness, making them weep until they die, laying in a bathtub drawn with hot water, they lean back and let the blackness embrace them as the blood drains from their wrists. Misery loves company.
A brutal murderer and rapist escapes prosecution only to meet his death at the hands of the survivor. His anger and hatred fuel his echo, and he returns to continue his bloody ‘work’.
A man does nothing more than stumble into the wrong place at the wrong time. His car broke down in front of an old mansion. If he was able to look back now with cognizance, he would laugh at something so cliche. He stumbled in from the rain and looked around for the owner only to find just that, the owner. The only one who’s truly ever owned the estate, and killed anyone who would claim otherwise. Now he’s among the number, just one more echo in the cacophony of anguish that haunts the site.
I’ve met them. The echoes. Some are quiet, and some are restful.
Others aren’t. They’re cold, and cruel, their corpus twisted and altered from years or decades of self inflicted pain that most of them can’t even see. The dangers to themselves that comes from indulging those malicious desires. The desire to write a wrong or save a loved one, a desire that mutates and manifests as something wholly unlike what it might have been.
When echoes become obsessed with a concept, they grow Hungry, feeding off of mortals and creating more of their kind.Those echoes that become something unhuman, something almost primordial, they torment the living and destroy reality with their existence, passively fraying the ends of everything and chewing and digesting it just by being there.
The worst of it is that they consume souls. They do it to sustain their blasphemous unlife, or perhaps to fill some hollow part of themselves, to fill up the empty shell that they know are. The Buddhists have a name for them. They call them Preta, the Hungry Ghosts. They have “mouths as small as needles, and stomaches the size of mountains.” Colourful imagery. That’s what they do, though, they eat and feed, trying to fill that mountain with needle sized bites of humanity. The Japanese call them the gaki or Jikininki, and they were greedy, jealous people in life. They come back with an insatiable hunger, be it for corpses or shit. In the Book of Enoch, something similar is described. Great beings with unrivaled hunger, completely devoid of a mouth to sate it.
Whatever their origins, people who die deaths with a great stain might become one. What’s worse, one of these hungry echoes will often leave more of it’s own kind birthed by it’s voracious wake.
They’re hard to stop, the echoes of people who died terrible deaths—and even those who had their echoes stained before they even died. They come back when you kill them, because they’re already dead. They can be banished back to whatever Hell they came from, but that’s a stopgap. The dead come back, until you can kill them once and for all. Sometimes it’s as simple as offering something to them. A simple meal. Sometimes you’ll have to find a corpse, dig it up, salt it and burn it.
If only it was always that simple.
Sometimes you have to take an exceptionally old and well made sword, blessed by some religious figure, and cut the echo until it dies once and for all and never plagues the living with it’s Hunger.
Sometimes even that, a fight to the death with steel and will, is too simple. Sometimes you have to reenact the death. An act that can be painful even if the echo in question is terrorizing innocents with it’s Hunger. How much conviction does a hunter need to find the soul of a little girl causing young women to take their own lives in depression and berate her and torment her until she takes her own life again, this time with a definite finality. Or what of dragging an innocent man unaware of what his Hunger is doing along the same road he was murdered on, scaring him to death as he’s pulled from a car by chains soaked in holy water.
That’s what it’s like to see the dead.
It means seeing the innocents who are lost, and doomed to repeat their actions, echoes of hurt who can’t move on. It means helping them, whether by destroying what ties them to the world, or resolving their issues.
It unfortunately also means dealing with the restless dead, the merciless demons that a person can become when they don’t get help, when they’re hung up on it all and can’t move on to the Beyond. They become predators, their Hunger withering and killing lives both metaphorically and literally.
It means dealing with the things that are wrong in society, and sometimes it means doing things that shouldn’t be done, things that leave a bad taste in your mouth. You’d damned well better swallow it down and chase it with something less bitter. Sometimes you have to fight off the echo of a lonely girl who met her end in an alleyway at the tip of a knife. Sometimes the innocents go bad. It isn’t their fault. What happened to them would scare anyone shitless. They don’t even know what’s going on half of the time. They just exist, like animals. Fear drives them. The fear of a death they’ve already faced but refuse to face. Refuse to accept and acknowledge. They lash out, frightened and alone.
When they become like that, when an echo’s Hunger starts to take them over, starts to become all they are, they change. Usually it’s the face that changes the most. Their eyes and mouths become… less. Less than human, mostly, but sometimes they become smaller. They may even vanish. Their clothing becomes less clothing, and more symbolic. The old image of Jacob Marley in chains, his earthly greed tethering him to the mortal world, denying him entry into heaven. This is how the Hunger starts for an echo. They think they’re missing something. Something that ties them to the world, something that they can get from others, but they’re too simple, too animalistic, to do anything more than Hunger for that thing.
That’s when they try to take it. That’s when they start to become defined by their Hunger and feed off of the resonance left behind by whatever it is they think they lack. Even the kindest soul can become Hungry after death, no one knows what causes it, other than a thick and ponderous stain on their echo. Even the innocent can become monsters after death, their echoes feeding on friends and family.
Their essence shifts and twists until they become nothing more than a living symbol of their Hunger, a demonic and tortured soul that can do nothing more than attempt to ease that torture by spreading it on to others and consuming what’s left in the wake, all while hoping that they can obtain whatever ephemeral quality it is that they’re missing.
Feeding their Hunger just makes them Hungrier. With every bite, their stomachs grow emptier, and their souls become hollow.