If ghosts had bladders I’d be peeing right now. Just as suddenly as it appeared, the light blinks out and a man with short blonde hair wearing a white t-shirt and jeans is in its place. With a bemused smile he winks at me and says, “Boo!”
I lower my hands and grimace as he laughs. When he sobers he waves his hands around the room and says, “I’m sorry about the theatrics, but it’s just too much fun to pass up.”
I fold my arms over my chest. I’m still extremely nervous, but I’m also more than fed up with being screwed around with. I put up with that crap all the time when I was still alive, and I’ll be damned if I’ll put up with it while I’m dead. “I didn’t realize that angels had a sense of humor.”
He grins as he leans back on the alter. “Who said I was an angel?”
I mimic his previous gesture and indicate the building and all the candles. “You saying you’re not? What with the church, the candles, the blinding light, and the big booming voice?”
His grin becomes lopsided, like Harrison Ford about to deliver a one-liner. “Well, maybe I just really dig the Wizard of Oz.”
And this is where I finally lose it.
“Can someone please just give me a damned straight answer! I slit my wrists to get away from bullshit like this! So I could finally find some kind of peace! What do I get instead? A bad LSD trip, a brain dead hippy, and a smart assed angel! Is that all life is?! Am I doomed to just be eternally miserable surrounded by morons and assholes?! God!”
Now that I’ve spent all that pent up frustration I feel like a total idiot. Michael hasn’t so much as blinked since I started my little tirade and he’s still just staring at me with that smug grin on his face. We stand like that for a few minutes before he finally pushes off of the alter and arches an eyebrow at me. “You done throwing your little temper tantrum?”
Anger, hot and fierce, blooms in my chest again, but I bite back my response. As if Michael could tell, he nods and takes a few steps towards me. “Good. Now we can get started.”
My voice is strained, and I’m suddenly very tired as I float down to the floor. “Started with what?”
“What you came here for. Answers.” He shrugs. “Well, some of them anyway. There are some things you’re going to have to figure out for yourself.”
Before I can say anything he holds up a hand to forestall comment. “Not my rules, David. There are some things you’re going to have to work through on your own. It’s a part of the process.” He levels a finger at my chest. “And it’s your own fault.”
Exasperated, I point to myself. “My fault?”
He sighs. “You took your own life, David. You left a lot of things unresolved. You basically just made the process a whole lot more complicated for yourself.”
I rub my face with my hands, surprised that they feel solid but too tired to care why at this point. “More complicated. Just freaking great. And you send Riley the village idiot to explain things to me. Thanks for that.”
For the first time Michael actually looks angry. In the blink of an eye he’s nose to nose with me and jabbing me in the chest with a rather large finger. “You stow that crap right now, you hear me? Riley may be a bit eccentric, but he’s a good man and he volunteered to help you when nobody else really wanted the job.”
Ouch. So I’m a pariah even in the afterlife. Sucks to be me.
I wince but still can’t help but retort, “If Riley is such a good man, then why is he still here in limbo? Why didn’t he just get a free pass to the other side or whatever?”
Michael’s hard expression goes soft, and he suddenly looks as tired as I feel. He nods over at a pew next to us and takes a seat. Reluctantly, I join him. Once I’m seated he leans forward on the pew in front of us, like it’s Sunday School and all he wants to do is go back to sleep. “He should have, but Riley chose to stay.”
I snort. “He chose to stay?”
As if he can hear my unspoken thought Michael stares daggers at me and repeats, “He’s a good man; a good man who doesn’t want to leave his wife alone on this world while she’s still pregnant with their unborn child.”
Aaand my smug balloon is popped. “Oh.”
Michael sits up and continues heaping the coals on my head. “He was at a grocery store about a month ago, picking up some things for his wife when, as he was leaving, he heard a woman scream. She was being attacked by a man in a side alley. Most people would have just kept walking, afraid to get involved. Maybe they would have run back in the store and called the police, knowing that by the time they responded it’d be too late to help. Not Riley. He didn’t hesitate for a second. He ran to help her, and he was stabbed in the chest while trying to pull the man off of that poor woman. Riley was a hero, and saved that woman from being raped and probably killed. He gave his life for a total stranger, and now he refuses to leave his pregnant wife alone until his child is born. But, he still volunteered to take a day away and go to help you through your transition.”
Who has two corporeal thumbs and feels like a total ass?
He lets it sink in for a moment before adding, “Just something to think about the next time you see him…if he decides to see you again.”
I nod, unable to speak past the foot in my mouth.
“So!” Michael’s voice brightens as he slaps me lightly on the back. “Here’s what you need to know for now. Riley already told you about the most important thing.”
I mutter, “Moving on?”
“Yep! You may not have cared for his description of it, but believe it or not it was fairly apt. You need to resolve whatever crap it is you’re still carrying around with you that’s holding you on this plane of existence. Until you do, you can’t go on to what’s next.”
I glance up at him. “What is next?”
He smiles and shakes his head. “No spoilers. Right now what you need to focus on is you. Whatever comes next is entirely dependent on that.”
I sigh in frustration, wanting to protest but knowing it’s pointless, and nod my head instead. “Okay, so what do I need to do?”
“That’s entirely up to you.”
I glare at him but he’s unphased. “Hey man, it’s not my life. I can’t tell you about you and what you need. You’re the only one that knows that, whether you realize it or not. This isn’t a paint by numbers kind of thing. Riley wasn’t wrong, though. It’s important that you don’t throw a pity party for yourself and just hang out at your tether for too long. You do that and you’ll start to lose yourself. All that’ll remain is a shade that’s entirely fueled by those unresolved feelings.”
“Thanks, Doctor Phil.”
“So, what’s a tether?”
“It’s your emotional anchor to this world. For someone like Riley, it’s a person that he deeply loves. For someone like you, it’s usually where you died.”
I snap, “What’s that supposed to mean? ‘Someone like me?’”
His demeanor darkens and his blue eyes become tiny ice crystals. “A suicide.”
“And one of the first things you might want to work on is that huge chip on your shoulder. The world was never really out to get you, you know.”
I grunt. “Coulda fooled me.”
He stands up and shakes his head. “David, did you ever stop to consider that maybe the reason you felt so alone all the time, and why you were always so miserable, is because you were a selfish, smug, self-important, jerk?”
I sit back, stunned. “Wow, Mike. Don’t hold back. Say what you really feel.”
He sits on the back of the pew in front of us so he can face me. “Hey, the truth hurts kiddo. Now’s the time to suck it up and accept it.” He shrugs. “Or not. The choice, like everything in life, is yours. So are the consequences. Just because you decided to take the easy way out means you get to shurk the responsibility for your choices when you were alive.”
Emotions are rolling around inside of me like a washing machine. I’m angry and more than a little hurt by what he’s saying, but I also know there’s some truth to it too, which stings even more. And to think, this morning I thought I was actually ending it all. Instead it looks like I just made things infinitely worse.
While I sulk he continues, “Your tether is important. It’s where you go to recharge, for lack of a better term. You’re probably already feeling pretty tired just from the flight over here. As you get used to your new spiritual body you’ll realize there’s a lot of stuff you can do. When you concentrate and learn to focus enough you’ll be able to turn yourself solid and manipulate stuff in the real world. Maybe even have people hear you. But doing anything like that burns a lot of energy, and when you boil everything down, that’s pretty much what you are right now- energy. So every day you’ll need to recharge. Your tether is where you’ll be drawn back to when you’re too low on energy, or at the dawn of a new day.”
I glance up, momentarily torn from my pity party. “What do you mean?”
He rubs at some stubble on his jaw. “Think of it this way: whenever you leave your tether you’ve got a big spiritual elastic band tied around you connecting you to it. When you run out of juice, or when dawn hits, the band will snap you back there to keep you from just winking out of existence. How long you’ll be stuck there recharging depends on how much energy you drained. But here’s a nickel’s worth of free advice: go back on your own. Don’t let the clock run out. I hear being snapped back is…unpleasant.”
Great, so it’s like just about everything else so far. Death sucks.
“Okay, the energy thing makes a kind of sense, I guess, but why do we get snapped back at dawn?”
“Dawn is a new day. A time of renewal. It just works that way. It’s a universal rule, I guess you could say.”
He stands up and stretches. “Speaking of which, that’s enough to get you started. Dawn is coming and you’ll want to get a move on.”
I hold up a hand, afraid to actually try touching him. “Wait! Please, just one more question?”
He pauses mid step and looks over his shoulder. “Sure.”
“What are you, really? Are you an angel?”
He turns back to me, smiles, and places a hand on my shoulder. It’s warm, the first kind of heat I’ve felt since I “woke up” this morning. “What I am or am not doesn’t really matter right now. All that matters is that you think about what I said and decide for yourself where to go from there.” He straightens. “And maybe I’ll see you around.”
His smile fades, and the pained look on his face shakes me more than anything else he’s said. “Maybe. Good luck, David.”
And then he’s gone.
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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.