The awesome thing about being a spirit is that being stuck in a bathroom all day wasn’t nearly as horrible as I was expecting due to the weird way time passes for me now. It also didn’t hurt that Riley left pretty early on to go back to Becca, promising that he’d be back at sundown. I don’t care how fast the time passing thing is for ghosts; when Riley is around, time slows to a crawl.
Thanks to Michael-the-maybe-angel I had plenty to think about to keep me occupied. The basic gist I’m getting is that I need to find a way to resolve whatever crap I’m still holding on to in order to “move on” to whatever comes next. Turns out, when I decided to try and be honest with myself and really think about what that might entail, it became a pretty long list.
Mike was right, I have issues.
At the top of the list is my relationship with Jenna. She’s pretty much the last person I want to think about right now, and I could act like a complete child and just deny it until I’m forced to face it, but what’s the point? After the emotional butt kicking I received last night when Michael basically called me on all my bullshit, I realized that I spent an entire lifetime running away from stuff that made me uncomfortable or that I didn’t want to face. All that’s earned me is a one way ticket to bathroom purgatory. Mike was right, as hard as it may be to admit, it’s time I sucked it up and dealt with it. He could have been less of a jerk about it, but a spade’s a spade.
That doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy, and it doesn’t mean it’s at the top of my to-do list. I didn’t become the witty, neurotic, narcissist I am overnight, and a paradigm shift certainly isn’t going to change me that quickly either. It’s going to take progression, and as the popular saying goes: admittance is the first step. The next step is coming up with a game plan.
So it looks like I’m going to have to pull a Scrooge and face my past demons. I’m hoping I’m able to learn some stuff from the more experienced ghosts that might help in that regard, as I’m sure just figuring this crap out for myself isn’t going to give me all the closure I’ll need, or they’ll need, or however the hell this is supposed to work. Being able to interact with the living will be a big help.
Knowing that confronting Jenna is probably the biggest hurdle I’m going to have to face somehow makes the whole thing seem more manageable. I know where I need to go; I can see the mountain top, so now I just have to build myself up by tackling the little stuff, the little hills, until I feel ready to face Everest. Not that there’s really a lack of “little stuff”. While the tragic death of the only relationship I was ever capable of making work for any length of time was certainly a big factor in my decision throw in the towel in the game of life, it was hardly the only one. It really did feel like the whole world was out to get me. Trust me; there be hills a-plenty for me to climb.
But before any climbing can happen I need to get out of this damn bathroom.
The little Mickey Mouse clock mounted on the wall opposite the toilet tells me it’s six in the evening, which means that any minute now I should be good to go. I’m hesitant to test that theory by way of the doorway. Unmanly as that may sound, that shit hurt. Still, I’m not getting anywhere just sitting here being scared.
I walk over to the doorway and cautiously reach out my left hand… it goes through. No donkey-kick to the chest. Free at last, free at last! Still, I can’t help but wince as I step through the doorway, half expecting to get knocked on my butt anyway as some sort of spirit world practical joke. Thankfully, it doesn’t happen. I never thought I’d be so happy to see my Ikea-furnished living room.
I’d kill for a Frappuccino right now.
Just because I’m dead and don’t need to eat anymore doesn’t mean that those human cravings have gone. Thank God I never picked up smoking; otherwise I’d really be twitchy. I take a seat on my couch, twiddling my thumbs, and silently wish I could turn on the television. I’ve spent all day being introspective and it’d be nice to have something to take my mind off of things while I wait.
“Well, looks who’s finally out of the bathroom! How ya feeling, Dave?”
I glance up to see Riley’s head staring down at me from the ceiling. His right hand appears and gives me a little wave.
I stand up, anxious to get moving. “Much better, and itching to get out of here.”
“Well alrighty! Follow me.”
The head and hand disappear back into the ceiling above me and I leap after them. I catch up to Riley outside and fly alongside him, close enough so we can hear each other over the roar of the wind. “So where are we headed?”
“You know that YMCA downtown?”
I have to think for a second. “The one they closed a few years ago?”
“That’s the one. We meet in the basement. No one is likely to bother us down there.”
“So how many other spirits are we talking?”
“Hard to say. Depends on how many people in our area died without moving on, and how many of us spirits have moved on since last night.”
Makes sense. “How big is our area?”
“Just a few miles, man, otherwise it’d be nutso. Mike has a network of little hubs spread out in every city.”
I want to whistle, but flying at high speeds isn’t exactly conducive for that kind of thing. Now that Riley has pointed it out it seems obvious, but until now I never really thought about the logistics of how something like this would run. Especially when you consider Mike is doing it in every city in the world. At least, I assume he is. I guess if I were him I’d be a little crabby too if I had to stop managing a worldwide network of the wayward dead just to talk with one asshole.
The city whips by in a blur and it only takes us a few minutes to reach the YMCA. Without preamble we dip straight into the building and head for the basement, and I feel a little beam of pride in myself for not flinching this time as we ghost through the floors and walls. As we pass I can make out several homeless people who have taken up residence in the abandoned building. One enterprising couple has pulled in an old steel drum and has lit a fire for warmth. The bright orange sparks of ash dance dangerously close to flammable debris and walls. I guess someone shut off the sprinkler system in the building, or it just doesn’t work due to lack of maintenance.
It looks as though the entire first floor of the multi-storied building has been used as a large canvas for graffiti art, and I catch a glimpse of a particularly impressive looking dragon breathing fire before we dip below into the basement. Given the hobo-fire above, I fervently hope that wasn’t an omen. If so, we may have a few new members to our little support group tomorrow.
The basement is filled with broken chairs, old gym mats, and various other bits of dilapidated equipment that no one wanted to loot or bother burning. Unfortunately, being dead hasn’t dulled my senses much, so I get to enjoy the full bouquet of stale sweat, human feces, and broken dreams that permeates the very foundation of the building.
Fun fact: ghosts still have a gag reflex. When the full impact of the smell hits me I retch, and I hear Riley chuckling behind me.
“Yeah man, that smell is something else. Believe it or not, you get used to it.”
“Huelk…Thanks for the warning, buddy.”
“Hey man, we’ve got to have some fun. Think of it as a newbie rite of passage.”
Laughter echoes all around us as ten other spirits mist into view. They’re all the same blue-white luminescent glow as Riley and I, but there is a definite difference in body type and stature among them. It’s like I’m watching the Smurfs while tripping on LSD.
I smirk at the one leading the pack, who I assume is the one who just spoke. He’s a bit taller than the others and appears to have a thin frame that matches mine. “You must be Frat Boy Smurf. Nice to meet you.”
He chuckles and offers me a hand. “I’m Robin.”
I take the hand and give it a firm shake. I’m still amazed at how that works given we’re technically incorporeal. “And these are your merry men?”
He laughs as he lets me have my hand back. “Given that a few of them are women, no. We’re living in a politically correct society now. The proper phrase is ‘merry persons.’”
“My mistake. I’m David.”
He laughs again and gestures for me to follow. “C’mon, David, the smell isn’t so bad in here.”
He leads the charge as the others fall in line behind him, and we head into a side room that I assume used to be for extra storage. It’s since been converted into a ghost’s anonymous meeting room, complete with a circle of chairs. The only thing that’s missing is a table with refreshments in the back.
Robin takes a seat and we all follow suit. “All right everyone, let’s get this party started. We’ve already been introduced to David, but David hasn’t been introduced to us, so let’s do that now. Everyone concentrate just like we’ve been practicing.”
Everyone closes their eyes and, to my astonishment, one by one the group goes from smurf-o-vision to real life. Robin looks like a younger Mr. Rodgers, complete with yellow sweater and khakis. He’s flanked by an elderly lady in a yellow flower-print dress and an overweight, middle-aged, bald guy in a plumber’s uniform. His name tag says Robert. The others in the room are a nice mix of ages, races, and gender. There’s an African American guy, mid-late twenties, in a business suit; a young Hispanic couple in matching polos and jeans; and an elderly oriental man. My heart completely breaks when my eyes come to the last three. They’re kids- two boys and a little girl. They’re maybe eight years old and are all wearing t-shirts that read “Wilmington Elementary!” with a picture of a rainbow and multicultural stick figures with smiles on their faces holding hands under it.
I get a much-needed laugh when I get to Riley. In fact, I almost fall out of my chair because I’m laughing so hard. Riley is sporting dirty-blonde dreads, hemp khakis, and a “Jesus Saves After Every Level” t-shirt. He is a walking, talking cliché, and I love him for it.
“Dude, what is it?”
When I can manage to speak between gasps for air I manage, “I bet myself that you’d have dreads;” which sends me into a new fit of giggles that I just can’t stop. Then the kids join in and a few moments later everyone is having a good belly laugh, even Riley.
Eventually I try to apologize through wheezing breaths, but Riley just laughs along with the rest of us and pats me on the back. “It’s all good, man. I know I got style.”
When everyone sobers Robin nods at me. “Now it’s your turn, David. Close your eyes and think about who you are. Try and picture yourself in your mind as though you’re looking in a mirror.”
I tend to make jokes and be sarcastic when I’m nervous. It’s a defense mechanism and sometimes it makes me come off as kind of a douchebag, especially when the people I’m around are being serious or sincere. That’s what happening now, with everyone’s eyes on me, but I fight the urge to make a comment and I do as he instructed.
I try to think of what I saw the last time I looked at myself in the mirror. It was yesterday morning, just before I took the razor to my wrists in my bathroom. I was about to get in the shower and prepare myself for another day at an office full of people I hate and who despise me right back…
I reach for the shaving cream on the counter and my hand pauses there, hovering just over where my Gillette razor is resting in its little holster. That’s when the idea hits me: What am I doing? Why am I even bothering? I hate my life. I hate my job. The one good thing I had, that had made me feel at least a little content, walked out on me, and I don’t blame her one bit.
I am a pathetic, unhappy man who is far too smart for his own good and has never made anything of himself with it. I’ve wasted my time. I’ve wasted my life. I’ve never really been happy. Why not just let it all go? What do I really have to live for?
I look up at the mirror. I stare into eyes like two chips of ice. They’re sad eyes, almost dead. I’m already almost dead.
Time to finish the job.
I flip the razor holster over to where the spare razors are held. I pull one out and look at it. No, this’ll be a pain in the ass to use. It won’t work. I open my drawer and I shove stuff around. I know it’s in here somewhere…there. I pull out an old straight razor. It used to be my grandfather’s. My father had given it to me on my sixteenth birthday. He’d told me I was a man now and it was time to start acting like one. He made me shave with it and I cut the hell out of myself that first time. He just laughed at me. He laughed as I bled and cried…
I open the razor and stare at the blade. It glints in the fluorescent light of my bathroom, mesmerizing me. I’d never realized just how beautiful the thing was. I feel a hunger growing inside me. My eyes are drawn down from the blade to my wrists. It’s like a siren’s call, and I know I’m doing the right thing.
The blade bites, red runs. I quickly switch hands while I still have feeling and do the other side. The blade falls from hands unable to hold it any longer. My knees go weak and drop me to the cold linoleum floor. I feel sticky warmth where the blood is pooling around my body, and I start to drift as my life drains away. The last thing I see before the darkness takes me are three men, all in shadow, smiling down at me with predatory grins…
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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.