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Moving On: Chapter Six

 

Moving On

“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.

Figures.

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.”

That’s ridiculous.

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.

Dammit!

“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!

“I’m fine.”

“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’m me.

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?”

“Vampires.”

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.

Damn.

“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.”

“Dissipates?”

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.

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Filed under Moving On, Ongoing Serials

Moving On: Chapter Five

Moving On

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…

Main Archive Page   Chapter 6 ->

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.

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Filed under Moving On, Ongoing Serials

Moving On: Chapter Four

Moving On

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.

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.

Very.

Funny.

“Well, shi-“

 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.

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