“Dude! Dave, snap out of it!”
Riley shakes my shoulder and I completely spaz. With a scream I flail and end up falling out of the chair. I’m still flailing and screaming when Robin bends down, lays a hand on my chest, and speaks in a soothing, calm tone of voice. “David, listen to me. You need to calm down. It’s okay. Relax. You’re safe, David. You’re with friends now. It’s over.”
Eventually the screams die out and my throat feels raw. I’m beginning to hyperventilate, my whole body is shaking, and I feel almost as bad as I had after being sling-shotted. What the hell was that?
Now that I’m not freaking out nearly as bad, Robin is trying to sooth the others. As I fight to steady my breathing my eyes drift over to where the kids had been sitting. They’re all huddled together in a corner, holding their hands over each other’s ears. They look terrified and I feel like an ass for scaring them, even though it wasn’t intentional. It’s not like they haven’t been through enough already. The rest of the group looks equally wigged out. Some stood up to get a better view of the show. The young couple is over by the kids, trying to calm them down and get them back into their chairs. The rest are still in their seats with various expressions of “what the hell?!” on their faces as they stare down at me. I guess what just happened to me isn’t exactly common.
Robin holds up his hands in a placating gesture, as though he’s trying to calm a frightened animal. “It’s okay, everyone. David will be okay. He just had a flashback of his death, is all. That happens sometimes. It’s very intense, but he’ll be fine. Everyone, please, just take a seat and we’ll get started again in a few minutes.”
He turns his attention back to me. “David, are you all right?”
I was a damn sight short of “all right” but I manage to nod and mutter, “Yeah.”
He and Riley each offer me a hand and pull me up. I’m still shaky but they manage to get me back into my chair. My body feels like jello, and it takes effort to keep myself upright and resist sliding back down to the floor. I’m supposed to be a freaking ghost! Why is my body acting like I’m drunk?
Robin waits until I’m not squirming any more before asking sincerely, “Are you okay, David? I know the first time that happens can be pretty traumatic.”
The only thing I can manage is, “What the hell?”
He nods, understanding. “I know. It’s upsetting, just as much after the experience as it is during. We don’t have physical bodies anymore, but we still remember what it’s like to have them.” He points to his head and taps his temple a few times with his finger. “This makes it real. It still reacts as though you’re still alive and in your body. It’s why you’re still breathing heavy right now, even though you really don’t need air…or even technically even still have lungs. It’s what you think you should be doing, so you are.”
He must see the disbelief in my expression because he smiles and shrugs. “You’re skeptical, I can tell. Try me. Really think about why you’re reacting the way you are. Think about why you’re breathing heavy. Really concentrate on it.”
I want to tell him to shove it. I’m reacting this way because I’m scared out of my mind! How else am I supposed to act?
But I guess that’s his point, isn’t it? I’m only reacting how I think I should be.
I focus on my heavy breathing. It feels like all those times I’d tried to go for runs like all the other good yuppies. I’ve never been very athletic, and after about five minutes of jogging I’d end up breathing like an asthmatic. My chest would burn and I’d struggle to try and breathe normally… just like I’m doing now.
That’s really stupid. I’m a ghost. I don’t have lungs. I don’t need to breathe. Why am I doing this?
To my complete surprise, all at once, my chest stops burning and I’m not breathing at all. Then I start to panic because I’m not breathing at all! Then I realize just how stupid that is, and I’m fine again.
Jeebus, at this rate I’ll end up in a ghost nuthouse.
Robin smiles and pats me on the back. “Good! You picked up on that pretty quick. Usually it takes people a lot longer.”
My throat still feels hoarse, and now I wonder how much of that is in my head and how much is real. Does this body really “feel” anything? Can I be hurt?
I don’t know, but thinking about it is giving me a headache…which is another thing to think about.
“Yeah, I’m special that way. What the hell was that?”
Robin blinks for a second, confused. “Uh, like I just said, you had a flashback to your death. Death is traumatic, and for spirits, when we remember our deaths, it’s like we’re reliving it. Kind of like a ghost version of PTSD.”
I wave a hand and shake my head. “Yeah, yeah, yeah, I get that. I mean the things at the end. The shadow people.”
Robin’s expression darkens and suddenly Mr. Rodgers isn’t having such a great day in the neighborhood anymore. His voice drops to barely a whisper and he leans down closer to me. “You saw them?”
The intensity in his stare makes me flinch back a little, but I nod. “Yeah, what hell are they?”
He glances around nervously at the others before leaning back in and whispering in my ear, “See me after the meeting and we’ll talk about it. I don’t want to frighten the others.”
Frustration flares but I manage to keep myself in check. No sense in pissing off the one guy who might have answers. Besides, as freaked out as he looks right now, I know arguing won’t do anything but make things worse. “Fine.”
Robin straightens and closes his eyes for just a moment, calming himself, and then he takes his place back at the head of the group. He tries to put on a front that says everything is fine, but I can tell that my mentioning of the shadow people is really flipping his wig. Whatever they are, they’re obviously not good, which is freaking me out even more.
If I was really reliving my death, does that mean that those…things were there when I died? If so, why? They didn’t exactly look friendly…
Son of a bitch, ever since I died my life has just gone straight to hell.
Robin claps his hands to get everyone’s attention again and he forces himself to chuckle. “Well, that was a little bit of excitement, huh? David is going to be okay, everyone. That kind of thing does tend to happen every once in a while, so if it happens to you, please, just give yourself a little time to recover. It can be very upsetting, but I promise you’ll be fine.” He looks back at me. He’s smiling, but there’s a new intensity behind his expression. “David, how are you doing now?”
I’m freaking the hell out, that’s how I’m doing!
“You feel up to giving it another go?” He holds up a hand before I can respond. “If not, it’s totally understandable.”
To be honest, I’m nervous as hell about trying making myself “appear” again. What if the flashback hits and those things are there? But I can’t keep running if I want to get the hell out of this…plane of existence or whatever the damn term is. I know that being able to make myself be seen is a necessary step in that direction. “No, I want to try again.”
Robin genuinely smiles this time, a little bit of sunlight breaking back through the clouds. “That’s great, David; very brave of you. Okay, I want you to close your eyes again and think about what you looked like, and then keep that image in your mind. Focus on it and believe that it’s still how you look. Concentrate on that thought alone- ‘this is who I am.’”
I nod and close my eyes again. I picture myself, how I’ve always seen myself when I look in the mirror. I don’t focus on any particular memory, because that’s how I got into trouble the last time. Instead, I imagine that I’m standing in front of a full length mirror and looking at myself. I’m 5’10. I weight about 180 pounds with a broad build, but thin. My brown hair is trimmed short and well groomed. I’m clean shaven, with brown eyes, a slightly angular face. Jenna always said that she thought I looked like a younger John Hamm. I thought she was nuts, but I wasn’t about to argue with her. Who would? John Hamm is like masculine sexuality personified and if my hot girlfriend wanted to see me that way who was I to disillusion her?
I start to imagine I’m in one of my suits, but that’s not really me. That was a role I had to play. I was always more comfortable in jeans or khakis and a t-shirt. I decide to go with my favorite pair of jeans and the navy blue sweater that Jenna had gotten me for Christmas. She liked the way it looked on me. Satisfied, I hold that image of myself in my mind, focus on it, and then I open my eyes.
Everyone around the circle is smiling at me. The kids all start to enthusiastically clap and cheer, which encourages the rest to do the same. I look down at my hands and see, well, my hands. I’m wearing the jeans and the blue sweater.
I start to laugh again, but this time with relief and pride, and for a few precious moments I’m not worried about anything. For the first time in a long time I’m ecstatic just being me.
Robin is practically beaming. “Great job, David! You just took a big step.”
Yep, me and Neil Armstrong. I thank everyone and once the cheering dies down Robin stands up and addresses the group again. “Okay, guys, I think we’ve had a pretty eventful night already, so let’s just call it a bit early. We’ll meet back here at the same time tomorrow. Remember to practice what you’ve learned, and I want you to keep working on your lists of things that you think you may need to address in order to move on, okay? Great. Good night, everyone.”
Everyone comes by to shake my hand and officially introduce themselves, but Robin comes to my rescue. “Hey folks? David has had a rough night. Why don’t we give him a chance to recover a bit, huh? I’m sure he wants to meet you all, but let’s save it for tomorrow, okay?”
I smile and give everyone a little wave as they disperse. Some just sort of fade away, others fly through the ceiling or walls and after a few seconds it’s just Riley, Robin, and me. Robin looks really nervous as he gestures back towards the chairs. “We better sit down.”
As soon as my spirit butt hits the chair Robin is leaning in and looking deadly serious. “I want you to tell me exactly what you saw and felt, as best as you can. I know how painful that might be for you, but it’s important.”
I feel Riley pat me on my shoulder. “It’s okay, man.”
I nod and relay what I saw and felt as best as I can, though I’m sure to not concentrate on anything in particular for too long. That’s a really fun balancing act to try and manage, but I sure as hell don’t want to trigger another flashback. The entire time I’m speaking Robin’s expression is growing increasingly sour, and when I finally finish and describe the three shadow people he looks like he’s seen, well, a ghost.
“This isn’t good. No, not good at all.”
“Gee, Robin. You really know how to reassure a guy.”
His head snaps up and he looks like he might be sick. “This isn’t funny.”
Anger flares again, but I don’t bother holding back this time. I stand up so quickly that my chair flies backward. “No shit! I’m fucking terrified right now, so how about one of you give me a straight answer as to what the hell is going on! What were those things?”
I spin and look down at Riley. I expect to see him smiling but he looks almost as scared as I feel. “Vampires?! Give me a break, Riley.”
Robin stands up and shakes his head. “That’s just what we’ve come to call them. They aren’t vampires in the way that you’re thinking. They used to be spirits just like us, but now they’re…something else.”
Riley chimes in, “They’re really old spirits that have hung around long after they should have faded. Their tethers are gone, but they stick around by feeding on other spirits.” He suddenly gets a really distant look on his face that creeps me out. “Mike told me all about them after a couple tried to do it to me, right after I died.” His voice drops to barely a whisper. “Mike stopped them.”
“Mike stopped them? How?”
Riley shakes his head and jumps up from his chair. “I- I’m sorry, I just can’t talk about this right now. I’ve gotta get back to Becca.”
Before I can protest, Riley takes off faster than my old cat when the vacuum came on.
“He has a reason to be afraid, and so do you, David.” Robin gestures for us to sit again and I reluctantly take the chair that Riley had vacated. “Those spirits are bad news. They roam in packs, and when they feed, they completely drain their victims. It dissipates them.”
Robin nods solemnly, holds up both fists, and then dramatically snaps them open, like a child describing an explosion.
“Poof. Gone. Spiritual death.”
Spiritual death? Well, things just keep getting better and better.
Main Archive Page Chapter 7 ->
Copyright © J.R. Broadwater 2013
All rights reserved
All of the characters are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.