The candles go out as he disappears, leaving me sitting in the dark. When I was a kid and my mom used to drag me to church, our cranky pastor used to do that to the church lights when he was ready to get home to his fried chicken and football but his “flock” was hanging around gossiping for too long after service.
You know, subtle.
“Wow, Mike. Thanks for that.”
I know I should get going, but I just don’t have the energy to get up and move yet. Instead, I find myself thinking long and hard about some of the things Mike said. I think about Riley and how I treated him today. I think about how he died and what he left behind. I find I’m ashamed to admit that I wouldn’t have done what he did to save that woman. I’d like to think I would have been one of those people that would go back in the store and at least call the police, but I know I would never have directly tried to intervene myself.
That line of thinking leads me to Mike’s rather blunt assessment of the kind of man I was, and I guess still am. I never really thought of myself as a bad guy. Then again, I guess most narcissists wouldn’t, would they? I did always see myself as the smartest person in the room. I’d get frustrated when I saw people who were walking disasters get promoted ahead of me. I’d feel left out because I wouldn’t be invited out after work. I felt like my world fell out from underneath my feet when Jenna walked out the d-
No, I’m not going to think about that. Not now. I’ve got enough to deal with as it is. Right now, I need to get my not-quite-solid butt back to my “tether” before sunrise. I don’t know what Mike’s definition of “unpleasant” is, but I sure as hell don’t want to find out.
Of course, as soon as I have that thought, a beam of muted sunlight breaks through the grime on the church windows and hits me right in the eye. Very funny, Michael, God, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or whoever the hell is running things.
It feels as though my entire body is being pulled inside out. My stomach does flip flops like I’m on the worst rollercoaster in the history of bad theme park rides, and just when I feel like I can’t stand it any longer I find myself back on the floor of the bathroom in my apartment- a mirror image of my position the day before. I also feel like I got hit by a semi-truck, backed over, and then run over again for good measure. It hurts to move. Hell, it even hurts to blink.
“Well, looks like someone got sling-shotted. Sucks, don’t it?”
Against my better judgment I force my eyes to open and instantly regret it as the slow, persistent pounding in my head suddenly becomes a death metal drummer. Once my eyes focus I see Riley staring down at me from his perch on my bathroom sink. He shakes his head in sympathy. “Harsh, man. Same thing happened to me my first night.”
I grunt in affirmation. It’s all I can manage. He nods in understanding and hops down from the sink. “Well bro, good news is the crappy feeling will pass in a few minutes.” He casually looks around the room. “Wow, your landlord was quick on the trigger to get this place cleaned up. It looks much nicer without all the blood and unhappy people everywhere.”
I grunt again and try to sit up. Big mistake. The room spins and my head drops back to the floor.
Riley helpfully chimes in, “Yeah bro, don’t rush it. Only makes it worse.”
Thanks, Riley. You’re a veritable fount of helpful information.
I lay on the floor for a few minutes, first wishing for death, then realizing that I’m already dead, followed closely by wondering if this might be hell and if the devil is just screwing with me. Meanwhile, Riley has been rambling the entire time, but I’ve been too focused on feeling like hammered dog crap to pay any attention. After about five minutes of this routine I finally feel like I can sit up and manage to do so.
Riley, pleasant and cheery as ever, waves at me excitedly. “Look who’s finally up!”
I try to remember the harrowing tale of Riley’s death and home life that Michael told me last night, but instead all I see are images of me beating him like a piñata and wondering if candy might come out. That mental image makes me smile, an expression that Riley takes as encouragement.
“There we go, buddy! Feeling better?”
The smile dies a horrible, messy death, as I groan and try to stand up. I’m a little wobbly, but manage to make it without falling back on my butt. “This. Sucks.”
Riley nods emphatically. “Yeah, man. You better believe I’m home long before sunup every day after that first night. Once was more than enough for this guy. You should be right as rain in a few. You have a nice place here, by the way. I didn’t really get a chance to look around last time.”
I use the sink for support as I mutter, “Yeah, thanks.”
I’m feeling a little guilty about the piñata thing now that the pain isn’t wracking my body. As I watch Riley look around like a yokel during his first trip to a real city I feel a pang of sympathy for him. “Hey Riley, I’m glad you came by today. I wanted to tell you I’m sorry if I was kind of a jerk yesterday.”
He waves the comment away like he’s shooing a fly. “Naw man. It’s cool. You had a lot to process. I understand.”
I manage a smile for him. “Thanks. How’s your wife doing, by the way?”
I didn’t think it was possible for Riley to get any perkier than he already was, but I’m wrong. He starts to beam. “She’s doing great, man! Won’t be long now! I’m so excited I can hardly stand it! I’m going to be a father!”
I nod. “Yeah, congratulations. Michael told me all about it last night.” I study the floor for a few moments, my own shame suddenly overcoming me. Here I was, a man who took his own life, standing with another who had his taken from him. I hadn’t really thought of it that way until this moment. “I’m sorry, about what happened to you. It’s not fair.”
The sunshine dims just a bit, but he still manages a wan smile. “Yeah, that sucked pretty hard, man.” He shrugs. “But crap happens, ya know? That lady ended up okay, and I’m still able to be there for Becca. So, it’s all good.”
I shake my head. “I don’t think I’d be taking it half as well as you. I mean, you still get to see her, but it’s got to be hard not being able to talk to her, or for her to see you back, right?”
He frowns. “What are you talking about man? She can see and talk to me.”
He starts to laugh again as he points at me and what I’m sure is a comical expression of dumbstruck confusion. “Oh! You got me! You’re just messin’ with me!”
Maybe the slingshot trip messed me up more than I thought. I try to stand up straight and shake my head. “Wait, are you saying Becca can see and hear you?”
“Sure, man! I mean, it takes some real concentration, and it can be draining so I can’t do it for long periods, but she’s my tether, so it’s not too bad.”
Unbelievable. Michael had mentioned it was a possibility last night but I’d not really paid much attention to it. “So, does it work for other people too, or just Becca?”
He stops pacing around the room and scratches at his head. The action kicks up little wisps of spirit-smoke. “You know, I’m not sure! I haven’t really tried it with anyone else.”
“So how does it work?”
He leans against the doorway and I half expect him to fall right through like out of a slapstick cartoon. “Well, it takes a lot of practice. I think I scared Becca half to death the first few times. It’s like, you gotta really concentrate on what you’re doing.” To demonstrate he walks back over to the sink and grunts as he picks up my toothbrush that’s resting on the counter. He’s obviously straining with concentration and effort, but sure enough he’s lifting it. In the mirror’s reflection it looks like the toothbrush is floating on its own. “You have to focus on each word, and have really clear in your head what you want them to see and hear… or in this case, what you want to move.”
He sets the toothbrush back down and falls against the counter for support, breathing heavily, like it weighed a ton. “Whew!”
He has to catch his “breath” for a second before continuing, “It’s almost like when you’re all bound up from not eating enough of that nasty bran cereal, so you’re trying real hard to take a-“
I hold up a hand. “Yeah, I’m picking up what you’re throwing down, Riley. Thanks.”
He gives me a thumbs up as he pushes off the counter and stands up straight. “No problem, man. It’s actually kinda why I came by this morning. I was thinking you might want to meet a few of the other locals, you know? We try to meet once a day and talk. Help each other out.”
I can’t help but chuckle. “What, like a spirit support group?”
He laughs with me but nods. “Yeah, something like that. They might be able to tell you stuff I can’t. A lot of them have more experience with this ghosting thing than I’ve got. They’re the ones that taught me how to do my little magic trick there. If anyone can teach you about how to make yourself be seen and heard, it’s these folks.”
I nod and take a few test steps. When I manage to walk a straight line without falling over I figure I’ll be okay to leave. “That’s a good idea man. Thanks. Let’s head out.”
He starts to warn me but I’m not listening as I try to step through the bathroom doorway and into my living room. The next thing I know I’m back on the floor and the death metal drummer is getting to his solo in my head. “What. The. Hell!?”
I look up and see Riley wincing in sympathy. “Ooohhh, sorry. I tried to warn you but wasn’t fast enough. I think you’re still on the energy mend, bro. You probably won’t be able to leave for a little while. It’s all good though, cuz the meeting isn’t until sundown anyway.”
The dizziness fades quickly, thank God for small favors, and I’m able to stand back up. “Wait, so I’m stuck in here until I recharge? How long is that going to take?”
“Well, since you got sling-shotted, it’ll probably take most of the day.” He shrugs. “At least it did for me.”
“So I have to spend the day stuck here in my bathroom?!”
He nods, and then sticks his head through the doorway to admire my living room. “Yeah, that sucks man. You should have killed yourself in here! You’ve got a sweet setup!”
Anger and visions of piñatas are back with a vengeance, and I growl through gritted teeth, “Hey Riley? You like candy?”
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Copyright © J.R. Broadwater 2013
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All of the characters are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.