Riley rambles about T.V. shows I’ve never heard of for a few more minutes when I guess it finally dawns on him that I haven’t been paying attention. “Sorry, dude. I tend to get distracted and go on about stuff sometimes. It used to drive my wife nuts.”
This peaks my interest.
“You were married?”
Riley perks up from his prone position on the rooftop. “Yep! It woulda been eight years this May! Still amazes me that she stuck with me that long. As I’m sure you’ve figured out, I’m not the easiest person to be around sometimes. Becca, my wife, used to say I was best taken in small doses.”
He chuckles and I find myself smiling with him. After a few moments I venture, “So Riley, if you don’t mind me asking, how long has it been since you…”
I wince. “Yeah.”
He stares up into the clouds for a few minutes, as if he’s doing the math in his head and it’s confusing him. Eventually he shrugs and says, “You know, dude, I’m not really sure anymore. It’s hard to describe, but stuff works differently for us now.”
“How do you mean?”
His brow crinkles in concentration. “Well, you just died so you’re still thinking of stuff like a normal dude would, ya know? Like minutes and hours and days and worried about time and stuff. When you’re rocking the spirit world like we are now that stuff doesn’t matter as much. It’s like time goes by differently.”
I resist the urge to rub at temples that aren’t there anymore. “That doesn’t make any sense, Riley.”
“I know, right? Here, lemmie try and give you an example. How long do you think we’ve been chillin’ up here on this roof?”
I shrug. “I don’t know, maybe ten minutes or so?”
He nods. “Sure, it feels like that, but it’s probably been more like a couple of hours.”
I snort. “No offense, but I think you fried too many brain cells when you were alive, Riley. There’s no way we’ve been up…here…that…”
I look where he’s pointing. It’s the sun. The sun that’s close to setting. I could have sworn it was high in the sky, maybe noon or so, when we first popped out of the roof.
I shake my head. “No, that’s impossible.”
He grins sheepishly at me and shrugs again. “Told ya, dude. Welcome to the crazy-nutso spirit world.”
I feel like I’m going to pop a gasket. “Okay, so why wasn’t everything moving in fast motion when we were in my apartment?”
“Cuz we were focused, man.”
I look at him incredulously and have to fight the urge to make a crack about him and focusing, but it’d be too easy. Instead I venture, “I’ll probably regret asking, but could you try and explain that?”
“Man, Mike’s so much better at this kinda thing… Okay, it’s like this: if you’re interested in something, or like, super focused or whatever, you’re in the moment, ya know? You’re there. But when you stop trying to be in the moment, time just kinda flies by you.” He suddenly brightens like a kid that just figured out the answer to a question. “Like daydreaming! You ever just kinda drift off in thought and the next thing you know you’ve missed the first half of Scooby Doo?”
He levels a finger at me. “Same deal. When we’re focused on something it’s like everything is cool and the gang, but any other time it’s like we’re living in a daydream. Mike told me that’s why focusing on moving on is so important for us. It’s real easy to just kinda get lost in thought, and before you know it you’re giving little old ladies a heart attack because you think they broke into your apartment, when they’ve really been living there for years.”
He does the “crazy” pantomime again.
“You’ve mentioned Mike several times now, and he obviously has a good idea about how all this works. Think I could meet him?”
I have no idea how things work in this new…dimension? It’s all so hard to wrap my mind around, and I really need answers before I go “loony toons” myself. As if to emphasize this point Riley snaps his fingers and they actually make a sound, even though all evidence I’ve seen so far tells me that it shouldn’t have worked. So can we be solid sometimes and not the rest of the time? How does that even…gah!
“That’s a great idea, bro! He could answer your questions a lot better than I can!”
I sure as hell hope so.
“Just follow me, compadre!”
For the first time since waking up into this surreal headache I’ve found something that genuinely makes me momentarily happy. Flying is fun! It’s strange in that, like everything else has been so far, it’s off compared to how you’d imagine it would feel. I can feel the wind on my face, but it isn’t hot or cold, it’s just a sort of pressure. Still, flying, doing loop the loops, and barrel rolls, and all the other things you’ve always daydreamed about still causes a flutter in your gut and is just as fun as I always imagined it would be. For a short amount of time I actually forget how miserable and freakish everything has been since this morning. I was almost sorry when we arrived at our destination.
Once again, I’m surprised and more than a little nervous.
We’ve just landed at a church.
It’s not a large church by any stretch of the imagination. It’s just a small building out in the sticks- a country church like you’d see on “old timey” movies or television shows, with faded and chipped white paint and a steeple with a rusted bell and missing shingles. There are no people or cars around that I can see. In fact, there’s only a small dirt road lined by trees that leads to the church proper. It doesn’t look like the building has been in regular use in some time, though someone obviously still tends to the place. The building itself hasn’t fallen completely into disrepair, though it could use some fresh paint and a little TLC here and there, and the surrounding land hasn’t become overtaken by weeds and such. If I had to guess, it’s probably a family church on someone’s land, and every once in a while someone comes out to make sure that things don’t go completely to hell.
Riley doesn’t hesitate at all and just dive bombs directly through the roof. I’m still new to the whole ghost thing, and for a few moments I have a little panic attack about plowing face first into wood, even though I’d already flown through my own apartment not but a few hours ago.
Riley sticks his head out through the roof and waves me in. “It’s okay, dude. Just stop thinking so much.”
Then he disappears back inside.
Well, it’s easy for him to say. Thinking too much doesn’t seem to be a burden Riley has ever had to bare. But I know I’m being childish and I force myself to close my eyes and go. A few terror-filled seconds later I’m floating next to Riley in a musty, dark church. The sun has set and it makes the old building even creepier on the inside, and I find myself nervously listening for banjoes.
From beside me Riley sighs. “Dude, you need to relax! You’re so uptight that I could shove a lump of coal up your butt and get a diamond.”
I start to snap back on him but hesitate when I register what he said. “Wait, did you just quote Ferris Bueller?”
He smiles at me. “I figure if yer gonna steal, steal from the greats!”
“Right. Well, Ferris, I think I have the right to be a little freaked out right now. I kill myself and then wake up into some freaky dream-world where nothing makes sense. Now I’m standing in an abandoned church in the middle of nowhere that reminds me of scenes from Deliverance with a hippy ghost waiting for some guy named ‘Mike.’”
He actually scoffs at me. “Dave, I have the feeling you were a real uptight dude even before you bought it. You’re dead now, man. You let all that crap get to you and you offed yourself. Time to lighten up a bit.”
Before I can respond he takes off and flies through the roof again. I start to shout after him but my voice freezes in my throat when candles all around the room suddenly flicker to life at the same time. A blinding light springs into being from the alter at the front of the room- a light so bright that closing my eyes and covering them with my arms does nothing to shield me from the glare. A voice echoes throughout the tiny building in a booming baritone, and my whole “body” seems to resonate with it.
“Welcome, David Mathis. I am Michael, and I believe that you have some questions for me.”
Main Archive Page Chapter 3 ->
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.
Rant Alert: Anonymity Does Not Equal Blameless
I spend a lot of my day on the internet. As I write, I take frequent breaks to mull stuff over or just to get away from what I’m working on for a few minutes to come at it a little fresher later. (Read: I goof off.) Because I spend so much time online it’s hard to not let the crushing weight of negativity that permeates things start to get you down after a while. I try to avoid comments sections on fan sites in particular because nothing of substance generally comes from them, and they generally only end up ticking me off. Still, like a sickness, I find myself drawn to looking at them anyway.
Trolling is nothing new. For longer than there has been an internet there’s always been “that guy” or “that girl” that just can’t wait to pee in someones Cheerios, or just generally be a total jackass to people because they get a kick out of getting a reaction. But now that the internet has become such a staple of everyone’s lives, trolls are no longer the little jerks you’d run into every once in a while, and silently (or sometimes not so silently) you wish someone would just come along and beat the stupid out of them. Now you can find entire swarms, like locusts, that invade message boards and comments sections and feed off of each other. Online bullying has become a real serious thing. Kids have committed suicide over it. It’s becoming ridiculous.
I think a large part of the problem is because of the anonymity that the internet brings. You can say anything you want and, outside of the online environment, you don’t have to pay any consequences for it or see the real world affect it may have on people. I think to a lot of these negative people it’s become an escape from their normal lives. They’re able to say and do things they just can’t in the “real world”. Additionally, because it’s online it feels less real. The other people commenting don’t feel like real people. They’re screen names. They’re digital voices in the internet ether. It’s all a game and it’s no big deal.
Until it is.
Those are real people behind those screen names, and many of these people have no separation between “reality” and “online”. For many of those who have grown up with the internet their online persona and their real life persona are one and the same. When people say nasty and hurtful things, it has a real world impact. it goes beyond just making some random person explode on the internet. It could have serious ramifications, depending on what was said and the subject matter. Ask any of the families who have suffered through the loss of a family member because of online bullying.
For any of you who are into gaming at all or are big on watching YouTube videos you’ll probably at least recognize Francis. He’s known for being “the fat guy that freaks out about stuff.” As an example, here is a video he posted today giving his reaction to Microsoft’s reveal of the new X-Box console. The ending made me laugh out loud.
What many people may not realize is that “Francis” is actually a character that the guy plays on his YouTube videos. He does this for his job. He gets paid to act like spaz for a few minutes at a time. Living the dream. But earlier this year Francis made a different kind of video in which he talks about his real life, the stuff he’s gone through, and where he is now. It’s a sad story, but it’s not played for sympathy. He tells us this story to let his audience know how much he appreciates them, so that people who watch his videos can see that just by watching him act silly for a few minutes at a time it’s completely changed, and in this case it’s helped to save, his life. He wanted to say thank you, and he wanted everyone to know just how serious he was and what it means when he says it. I don’t normally watch his videos too often, but I admit this hit me where I live a bit.
So I watch this video and come away from it feeling all the feels that I’m sure if you watched it you are feeling right now too. Against my better judgement I scroll down into the Kotaku comments section and this is what I find:
It gets progressively worse from there from this commenter and a couple of others. For those of you who did not watch the videos, the guy in question is a really big dude. He came from an abusive home and was constantly sick as a kid and ended up with a few medical conditions that only added to his not being able to exercise/eat right, including depression. As a result he ended up getting bigger, and then more depressed, and eventually became a shut-in for 7 years and almost committed suicide. This guy has opened up, stepped away from his online persona, and talked about what I’m sure are things that were extremely hard to speak about, not only as a thank you, but also as a means to help others. As a result he gets crap like the above back. While yes, it’s just a vocal minority, and some people are just know-it-all jackholes, crap like this can seriously do harm, especially to someone with a history of serious depression and suicidal tendencies. Sure, you could argue that when he put himself out there he knew that would happen, but that’s not the point. The point is these are real people, and anonymity does not mean you get to be blameless for the crap you say or do. It doesn’t mean there are no consequences for your actions. It isn’t harmless.
The commenter above is obviously a jackass that makes a lot of assumptions and knows nothing about what clinical depression, or this man’s life, is really like. He’s just one example, and it’s not just the internet. There are a lot of people like this jerk in the “real world” too. I’ve had to suffer them for 32 years, and assumptions are a large reason why I’m in the medical position I’m in right now.
I know there’s nothing I can really say that’ll make a difference to these hurtful people. I know I can’t change the internet. I guess the whole point of this is to hope that someone might read it and it might make them stop and think before they respond the next time, both online and in real life. Just remember that it is human beings (most of them) on the other end of these digital devices, and those people have feelings just like you do. And if you realize that and just don’t care, and continue to be hurtful to people just because it’s fun and you have nothing better to do with your time or your life…well, that just makes me feel really sorry for you.
J.R. Broadwater is the author of the non-fiction book Down with the Thickness: Viewing the World From a Fat Guy’s Perspective, the sci-fi detective novel You Only Die Twice, the fantasy novel The Chosen: Rebirthing Part 1-, and the superhero tale Just Super, all available now in digital and paperback formats. Sample chapters and more information about these books can be found here. Digital copies on sale for a limited time for $0.99. Check back each Sunday for a new chapter in the ongoing serial Moving On!
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Tagged as comments, depression, humor, hurtful comments, jerks, rant, real life, suicide, the internet, trolls