Cosmic Joke of the Day: I am a Ghost (1-9)
My name is Naomi, Naomi Caldwell. This is the craziest story I’ve ever posted to the internet, and I didn’t even write it! Gail did, but you don’t know who she is... but you will! Check this out, I got home yesterday afternoon, and found a Notepad document open on my computer. I never use that, I stick with Word, so I immediately assumed my sister had used my laptop. Curious and a little annoyed, I pulled it up and started to read. The first few sentences sent chills up my spine, and I had to keep reading. I don’t know if it was a prank, but, I mean, it can’t be! Read it yourself and see. You’re not going to believe it...
I am a ghost. Life after death is not desirable, as it turns out. It was funny really, how I got to be this way. No one believes me, but then again, hardly anyone can see me.
Well, I haven't got anything better to do, so I’ll start from the beginning. My name is Gail. I’m 15, or at least, I was. Until I died. I was a normal girl, if not slightly anti-social, but reasonably normal nonetheless. I never thought much about death, as it was already such a big part of my life, it no longer bothered me. My mom was a doctor, until she died in a fire at the hospital. My uncle, who was an engineer, died of cancer when I was only eleven, two years after my mom. It was hard when my mom died, but we were never close. When my uncle died, I lost it. For two years I didn’t say a word. Not one. Not even in my sleep.
Then, that second year, two people in my school died in a horrible car crash. One of my few remaining friends was very close with them, and I used to be. That night, as I watching it on the news, it hit me. The thought of death, that word I could never speak, the one that scared me. Well, that night, I decided it didn’t scare me anymore. I realized it was going to happen, to everyone, and as soon as I accepted it, the better off I would be.
So I did. On a day when no one was home (meaning my dad or my brother or my sister), I walked down to the cemetery where she was buried, and I said goodbye. I walked a few feet to the left, where my uncle was buried, and once again I said my silent goodbye. And that was it. I started talking again, made a few new friends, and never thought much of death again.
Now, this all sounds very sappy and depressing, but it’s really not. Not to me anyways. But then again, I am dead too. I bet your wondering about that, aren’t you? The living seem to have a strange obsession with the dead, ever notice? Well, you are reading this, which means you have some interest. Yes you, who are you? I could stick around and find out, read over your shoulder, watch your reaction, and I might be. You never know. Because no one can see me...well, almost.
Point is chances are that you have never seen me, and never will. But I see you, but I'm not a creeper, I promise! I'm just...lonely. And you, you are still wondering how I died. I think I’ll make you wait a little longer. No, actually, I finished the back story, so here it goes:
I have no idea.
Yep, that’s it. Funny, huh? I just, went to bed, and woke up the next morning, only it wasn’t morning, it was a week later, and there was a funeral reception going on downstairs. My honest first reaction, “What the hell?! Who died?!”
Then I saw my school portrait, the blue blouse I hated, my long black hair tucked behind my left ear, bangs in my right eye, bright blue eyes staring at the crowd. The purple background made my face look kind of dull, but then again, I always was kind of pale. I was a pretty skinny kid. I never wanted to be, and a few times doctors told me I wasn’t healthy, but when you're surrounded by death, you don’t feel like eating much. I got better, but I never really went back to normal size.
My dad just stared blankly at the coffin, and my two younger siblings looked around, pretty confused. They always were kind of ditzy. And there I was. In the coffin. In the coffin. Dead.
No matter how many times I thought it, it never came out right. I wasn’t, couldn’t be,
For a minute there I couldn't believe it. It can't have happened. I wasn't sick, I wasn't dying. So why did I just, die? Was it a dream? It could be, but it didn't feel like one. I can tell, because I remembered lying down, going to sleep, waking up. I even dreamed! Even if it was about sausage, I was still dreaming. In a dream, everything's fuzzy. Voices are slurred, movements foggy, and details are non-existent. This was real. I knew it. But I couldn't be dead!
But I was, and after a few minutes, reality set in. I accepted it, and my fear of this weird of no longer being alive (however rational) passed. I sat on the stairs in my PJ’s, and watched the crowd. Despite how I had been kind of drifting away from friends lately, they still showed up. Good to know I was loved. Then a thought occurred to me: I’m dead, yes? What the hell am I still doing here?!
I was just thinking of the logic behind a dead person watching her own funeral, and how that must be some kind of cruel joke, when a girl I’d never seen before came over to the stairs. I panicked a little, like being dead was something to be ashamed of and I was about to get caught red-handed; then I remembered she couldn’t see me – probably. I moved over a little, nonetheless.
Then, something kind of freaky happened. She looked at me. Right at me. And, uh, I’m invisible, well, I was pretty sure at least. No one had said anything to me yet, the girl at her own funeral. I was just about to make a ridiculous face at this person who I’d never met, but she did something unexpected – she stared at me again with her deep, penetrating, dark brown eyes. She looked at the back door, then back at me. The girl got up and headed down the stairs and outside. With the strange feeling I was supposed to follow her, I did. I slipped out the glass door before it shut, as I really wasn’t sure if I could open it on my own. She sat down in a deck chair, and patted the one next to it. I looked around, but we were alone. Or, rather, she was alone, because I didn’t think I counted. But she did. She looked at me again, and spoke: “Come here, I know you know I’m talking to you!”
Shocked, I walked over.”Umm, I- I think you might be confused!” I stammered. She couldn’t possible mean me! I was invisible, right? But I said something just to be sure.
“No,” she said. “I mean you. You’re Gail, aren’t you? Hi, my name is River. River Teragram. You don’t know me, and strictly speaking, I don’t know you. But I know who you are, or rather, were. Sorry, no offense intended.” I still couldn’t believe she could see me. She looked like someone familiar, but I knew I didn’t know her. I figured she was one of those people who look familiar to everyone, but no one knows who she is. She had dark brown hair that was neatly cut level with her shoulders, dark brown eyes, and tan skin. She wore a plain black dress that came down to just above her knees, heels, and feather earrings. Her eyes looked, well, smooth I guess. Like chocolate. You know what I mean. I know you do.
She sat in the plastic chair and crossed her legs. She couldn’t be older than a high school student, yet she emanated an air of maturity. This was doubled when she pulled out a pair of wire frame glasses and put them on the bridge of her nose. Speaking of, where the hell did she keep those anyways? River stared patiently back at me, waiting for a response, I supposed.
“I- I-“ I stammered. I couldn't form words. Me, who isn't even afraid of death, who impassively lets life row on past, who was dead, and not panicking. Well, I think I started panicking a little. But why couldn’t I form a stupid simple sentence. Angry at myself for my weakness, I took a deep breath, sat down in the second chair, and tried to compose myself.
“Yes, I’m Gail, but who are you? I mean, you’re River, like you said, but who are you?” I asked with a reasonably steady voice. It was May, so it was just starting to get really warm in Virginia, where I lived (and died), and a cool breeze enveloped us. Two people, quite possibly invisible to the world.
She blinked and tucked the right side of her hair behind her ear, adjusted her glasses, and pulled a paper out of a briefcase I didn’t notice before. The black leather shined in the sun, and I imagined that it would be warm to the touch. It was just like my uncles case of blueprints, and I remember it sitting in the sun, waiting for him. I would pick it up when he got ready to leave, not wanting him to go to work. I remember how warm it was...
She put it back down next to her, and handed me a paper. It had a lot of words on. A lot. Like, size ten font, full page front and back.
“This should help,” she said kindly, and added a small smile. “It explains a lot about what happened to you, what to do with what you are, what you should or should not do, what to avoid completely, and so on and so forth. But, if there are any questions you have now, I’ll be happy to answer them.” She smiled again, and I realized she had completely avoided the question. Annoyed, I tried again, “Who are you, what’s your job?”
“If you must know, I’m a therapist and a counselor. I help people get past certain, uh, problems in their life – or death, I guess – and move on.”
“You mean like, move on move on, or just get on with their, uh, existence?” I was confused at that point. I didn’t want to accidentally take it the wrong way, because that just leads to all sorts of awkward moments. But I also felt like there couldn't possibly be that many dead people walking around the world, so I guess she had to help them move on move on. Strangely, she looked a little annoyed herself, like the obvious answer had presented itself, and I was just wasting her time.
“Well, it really just depends on what they want. If you want to move on, to whatever’s next, I can help you. But, if you want to stay here on earth, until whatever’s wrong with your emotions is fixed, and you feel comfortable enough to go.”
“Wait, what do you means what’s wrong with me? And, where do you go after here? Is this some twisted in-between stage? I really don’t get this. At all.” Everything started buzzing around in my mind so fast. I never really was into anything, confused by anything, not like this. Everything used to just sail past me or through me without much thought. But now I couldn’t stop thinking. River sighed. Before she could speak, I spoke again.
“Wait, can they see me?” I said gesturing towards the crowd of people here to mourn me. “And, can I touch them, tell them I’m alright, ish? Can I open the door, or just phase through the wall? Oh! Can I fly? ‘Because that would be pretty epic!” She stared at me, and I quickly shut up. She sighed again, and fidgeted a little.
“So many questions, so little time.” She checked a silver watch on her wrist impatiently, and stared at me, thinking. “I know I said I could answer some questions, but you might try reading first, and asking me if it doesn’t tell you what you need. I have another funeral to get to, so I’ll be off. My phone number’s on the paper.” Her real age showed just then; the impatient-ness of a teenager. I was also a little shocked that she had just offered to help then left me here! What if I got stuck outside? An idea struck me, and I had to know.
“Okay, fine, but one last question,” I said. She sighed and checked her watch again.
“Fine,” she practically growled, “but quickly.”
“You said it explains how to deal with what I am.”
“Well, what am I?” She looked at me kind funny, regained her composure and gave a simple one-word answer:
After River Teragram left the funeral, I stayed outside. I was still in my PJs: a red tank top and white and grey flannel pants. I wore it almost every night, even my last. Speaking of that, I still didn’t know what had happened, not really. Everyone was murmuring quietly inside, but I was pretty sure that no one really wanted to talk about me dead in the corner. Which was weird in itself. I was basically watching myself across the room, dead. Well, technically, I was looking in the back door, which River had left open, but you get the point.
Unfortunately, no one left a note on my bedside table telling me how I died. And honestly, I didn’t really want to know. I mean, I could make a few guesses, but I’d rather not.
I stared up at the sky. Why did it have to such a nice freaking day at my funeral? Really universe? I thought. But I was nice, warm, sunny, no clouds... My favorite kind of day. I was pretty sure the universe was playing some cosmic joke on me, but then the breeze picked up again. I felt it. I really, felt it. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I was happily surprised to find out that I could still feel the wind. Me one, universe... well... crap. I figured if I was dead, the universe had more than one, but I wasn’t going to admit it out loud, or even in my brain for that matter.
I had no idea what I was going to do then, so I did what I always do: read to look busy. The sheet started out with a simple title and introduction in plain font:
We Are Here To Help You!
Welcome, newly deceased! This instructional handout given to you by your friendly counselor will help you through the following days of confusion ahead. It may be difficult, even beyond reason, to accept your death. However, this is normal. Please, read through this guide sheet to get an idea of your afterlife will be like for a little while! And remember, if you need assistance moving on, please feel free to call your designated counselor.
Handwritten under that was a phone number I assumed was Rivers.
It went on to talk about what you should expect to feel, emotion wise, the next few days. It also mentioned that if you died a violent death – though not these words exactly, by the way – get ready to go through hell. Apparently, wounds at or near the time of death hurt like nobody’s business for a few days, even weeks. Pleasant, I thought grimly. I skimmed through that part, and moved on to the “What to Expect” category, though that was pretty much what the whole thing was about.
Many people think that when you die, you go straight to the place beyond this world. In reality, even we, the counselors of the deceased, don’t truly know what lies beyond. But, if you choose to accept your passing and clear you conscience, then we will be happy to send you on your way!
What you should expect for the first few days (not limited to):
- Inability to touch earthly things
- Inability to eat
- Lack of hunger
- Lack of sleep
- Pain (depending on your type of death)
- Random uncontrollable phasing
Invisibility is guaranteed, until at least a week after death. Note that the time in limbo is not included.
I looked back up to see what it meant by limbo. Turns out that’s where I was for the last week. It’s basically the unconscious waiting room of the dead. Until tour soul is ready to fully depart your body, you hang out there. Normally takes a week or two. All this time I kept wondering if this is what my mom and uncle went through. I dismissed the thought and kept reading.
After a while you’ll become visible, but only to some people. Generally, these people will be paranormally inclined, and may or may not know that their abilities exceed normal humans.
This brings us to Ghost-Human interactions. The number one rule is: You shall not “haunt” a human being. This may result in permanent exportation, or forced passage to beyond. Staying on this Earth after death is a privilege, given to those who need to straighten out their emotions. This will be revoked if misconduct ensues.
Yeah, that was about as far as I wanted to read. I learned what I needed to know, and if I was confused, I could always look back. But basically I learned that I am totally invisible, and I can’t react with my family or anyone that knew me. It’s literally physically impossible. I sort of, fade, when I get close to anyone that had a relationship with me in my life. So I can’t really leave a discrete awesome message to my family, and I can’t haunt them either. My afterlife sucks.
Well, that was basically all the contact I had with my family and friends after I died (very unusual sentence there). I went in my room, grabbed some clothes, my backpack, my phone, Ipod, and whatever money was in my room. Interesting thing about possessions: there’s a sort of copy made of them. Invisible to human eyes, that is, until I’m visible again, and they can come with me! Unfortunately, pets don’t work, so my dad will just have to take care of Cherry, my pet rat. I grabbed a house key off my dresser, donned my blue converse, and left my house. I kept the key just in case I needed something else.
I walked down Town Road, where I lived, and headed north towards Main Street. I was still in my PJs, but then again, I was also invisible. Crossing Main Street, a read minivan came out of nowhere, and almost killed me. If I wasn’t already dead. It passed right through me, like I wasn’t there. I suppose technically I wasn’t. I realized traffic was no longer a problem for me, since I could pass right through. I let my mind float off, and pondered what I had just learned.
All my life, I had sort of made fun of TV shows where people went around ghost hunting. There were no such things as ghosts. There never was, and I don't know what I expected after death, but this wasn't it for sure. I mean, heaven or hell would be acceptable, heaven preferable, but this random, I don't even know what to call it, was going to drive me crazy.
I'd never tell anyone, but I was actually kind of scared. I take that back, I told you...
But really, I didn't want to move on, because I didn't know what it was? I mean, the universe hated me enough already, so what would it do next? Hit me with another minivan crossing Dogwood Avenue.
I quit the pondering and returned my focus to walking. Mostly just because I almost walked through a wall into a restaurant. The handout had said that I wouldn't be hungry, and I guess I wouldn't be able to eat it even if I was. I turned left on the corner, past the oldest coffee shop and diner in the city, and made my way across the bridge that led to the east side of town. I got halfway across the bridge and realized I had no idea where I was going. Where was I gonna go? I thought. Someone chasing their dog that got away from them ran towards me. The dog bolted past almost 30 seconds before the owner got me. I tried to move out of the way, but the guy was too fast.
He ran right through me. He paused, oblivious to the dog running farther and farther away. We stood there, back to back, my mind racing. Thoughts and images flooded through my system, and I caught glimpses of what had to be this guy’s life. Pictures of a girl, his sister. Clips of voices of an older man, telling him stories. A surge of emotion of horrible longing. My breath left me, and I dropped to my knees. I could see him, arms wrapped around his middle, doubled over staring at the ground. Another walker came up to him, put his hand on his shoulder, he said something in a rushed voice, but I couldn't hear. I felt like I was going to pass out. Spots clouded my vision, and I tried to sit up. My head spun and more memories pulsed through me like a heartbeat.
I got to a crouching position, and now there were three people near the guy, seeing of he was alright. A woman with his dog walked up, and the world tilted sideways. I saw the man teeter, then sit down on the sidewalk. Then it all went black. The last thing I remembered was a name, his name, Warren. Then nothing.
It felt like no more than a few minutes had gone past, but when I opened my eyes, the sun was coming up. The orange glow glinted off the water below the rusty red bridge, and I tried to sit up. I was on the edge of the sidewalk, where no one walks. I pulled myself up, but a wave of dizziness knocked me back down to a crouch. I sat there, sun rising around me, a biker zooming past, a few cars crossing the bridge. Memories still pulsed. Flashes of places I had never been, people I'd never met, things I'd never felt. No one but the long gone cyclist was out in the sidewalk. I could see a thin layer of dew coating everything, but not me. I was still dry, my straight black hair falling down my back, as if I'd just gotten out of bed.
But that’s not what happened, and I didn't have a clue what did. I gave up on crouching and just sat down. I pulled my knees up close to my chest, and put my chin down. I was facing east, so I could see the sun peak over the low mountains. I couldn't comprehend what had just happened, and it was scaring me a little. I wondered if he had been able to see my memories, like I did his. If he, Warren, told someone, would they think he was crazy? I felt bad now, that I hadn't gotten out of the way. Where did he go? Was he okay? After I blacked out I couldn't remember anything. Just his name and that horrible feeling of emptiness.
I thought about seeing if he’d gone to a hospital, but then again, what could I do? I imagined the conversation with the receptionist:
“Hi, my name is Gail. Do you happen to have a man here named Warren? He would have just come in yesterday afternoon, I think, I mean I don’t know how long I was unconscious on the bridge, but it would have been about one-ish. Oh yeah, and you can’t see me, because I’m invisible, but you’re probably not crazy!”
Then she would admit herself on the grounds that she was crazy. I decided against it. But I did truly hope he was okay. And I was insanely curious to know if he had gone through what I did.
I was feeling slightly less dizzy, so I tried to stand up. My legs didn’t give out, so I started walking. I figured I’d out to the library and see if it was open. Not that mattered, but I think I’d like it better if it wasn’t. Then I could go and read the whole handout for information and advice on what to do when you accidentally send someone into shock and pass out. It took nearly half an hour to get to the old brick building. White columns reached up and held the slate roof. A balcony extended above the opening, leading into an office. Two huge oak doors led into the foyer of the building, and an elegantly curving staircase led up to the second floor. A railing and walkway let you look down on the first floor, before the room receded back into a maze of shelves. This was one of my favorite places for a long time, but since my uncle died, it wasn’t the same.
I still never had a grudge against the library, and it’s earning points because it’s closed today. Which means it’s Sunday; good to know. I walked up the front steps and stared at the door. What am I supposed to do now? I thought. I looked at door, remembering how I was supposed to be able to phase or something, remembering how Warren had passed right through me, how the minivan armada had sailed through me like I was nothing. I reached out my hand to the dark colored wooden door, but instead of feeling the cool seal on the oak, I felt nothing. My hand went straight through. Faintly, I registered a tingling sensation, like my hand had fallen asleep. As long as I don’t get the stupid door’s memories, I thought glumly.
Thankfully, I didn’t. I managed to walk right through, with only a momentary feeling of numbness everywhere. The lights were off, and the only light came from the large windows. Morning sunlight filled the space, lighting up dust motes and warming the air. I made no sound as my converse met the checkered tile floor, and climbed the wooden staircase. When I got to the top, I looked back down, like I had so many times before, and went on my way.
I thought about sneaking into the library manager’s office, but I felt like that would be rude. I ended up just heading back into the farthest corner of the library. Old and out of date reference books lined the shelves, and all of them had a thin film of dust on the outside. My mind could imagine the pages, yellow with age, coated with the smell of old books. They tempted me to shove my face in and smell it, but that would be weird, and I wasn’t even sure if I could. I left them there and sat down on the window sill, ready to read the stupid handout.
I skimmed the front side for what to do about phasing through someone, but nothing showed up. Flipping the page, I thought I heard the back door open. The back door is obviously in the back of the building, but it’s on the second floor. A rickety old rusting staircase led up to it, and it was meant to be a fire escape or something. Librarians often used it if their office was on the second floor, and I had seen people use it often when I was younger. I tried to ignore my imagination and keep skimming. The first section on the back detailed foods to avoid, like most meats, celery, asparagus, and foods with lots of calories. When I regained eating ability, I still wouldn’t need as much food as a living person, so something with lots of calories would make me sick really fast. Meats were bad because my stomach would stop making the enzymes I needed to digest it. Celery because it was stringy and tough to digest, and apparently, all ghosts are allergic to asparagus. Who knew? I thought.
Still mulling over the asparagus, I heard it again. That familiar creak that meant someone had opened the back door. It was entirely possible that the record keeper had come to take inventory while the library was closed. I didn’t think he posed a threat to me, considering I was invisible. I was more worried about him, or her I guess. If they accidentally ran into me, they could end up like Warren! Only difference was there wouldn't be any pedestrians out here.
I folded the paper, grabbed a jacket out of my back, and placed it in the pocket. I pulled on the grey sports hoodie and zipped it halfway up. Footsteps echoed softly behind me. My heart started racing, assuming it still could. I shoved all my stuff into my backpack and looked through the row of books to see if I could see the person. I decided the second I was in the clear I would call Miss River and see exactly what was up. I didn’t care that I hadn’t actually read the paper all the way. I was done trying to be polite, quite honestly.
Suddenly, someone appeared behind me. I almost screamed, but managed to cover my mouth instead. A woman, dresses in track clothes, stood where I was a few minutes ago, looking out the window. She talked to herself softly, cursing the fact that she had to be at work on a day like that.
I slowly backed up, but hit the shelf like an idiot. I guess I was starting to solidify, because I almost knocked the old thing over. Book fell off, and the woman jumped and, well, squeaked, for lack of a better word. She looked pretty shaken up; she started breathing hard, then bolted towards the door. I didn’t blame her. I tried to pick up some books, but I heard the creak again, and I ran.
I ran from the library and headed back towards town. Changing my mind, I decided to go to the park, just outside of town. It was likely to be populated, but I didn’t think there would be hordes of minivans and bookshelves. It was going to take about an hour to get there though. Crap, I thought. I should probably get out of my PJ’s and into some normal clothes. I had sincerely just realized, walking along Mansion Lane, that I was still in my plaid pants and tank top. Well, now I had a jacket too, but still. I knew a restaurant was close to here, so I decided I’d change out my PJ pants there. I really didn’t want to change on the side of the road, invisible or not.
Right then, I felt kind of weird. Like I was missing something, a part of me. After a few minutes, I realized with a bit of shock, I was homesick. I truly was. I refused to let the emotion get the best of me, so I tried to push on. I saw a pedestrian down the way a little, and immediately, and quite literally, dove into the bushes on the side of the path. The person walked on past with no more than a glance at the bushes. Relieved, I stepped out, only to run into a woman jogging.
Oh no, not again! I started to panic as a wave of emotion rolled over me, smothering me. Anger at some guy, longing for her child, fear of the future, and panic. I could feel her panic right that second. She kneeled on the side walk, just I started to black out. Pictures flashed through my mind, to many to register. The influx of information was over whelming, and I lost it. By it, I mean all forms of consciousness.
I woke up, and it was still light. Unless I had been out for more than 24 hours, it was still the same day. My mind was fuzzy, my body was achy, and I couldn’t really stand up. So I just sat there exasperated, wishing I hadn’t just done that again. I mean, it sucks for me, so it had got to be hell for a human. At least I couldn’t die. Then a name popped into my head. Sarah. Her name was Sarah. Sarah and Warren. Sorry guys.
The ringing in my ears and dizziness sort of stopped, so I got up. The restaurant was right around the corner, then two blocks down. It was an old diner called Maria’s Place, and it had the best chili fries in the universe. Above the restaurant was a book, shop, the the diner had adapted and turned part of it into a coffee shop. The whole building is owned and run by the same woman, Marie Antionelle. I walked through the door because the store was closes, and I happened to be randomly phasing. I went into the back room, and this time invaded an office. I wasn’t really going to take any chances of breaking dishes.
I took off my blue converse, shed my night pants, and pulled on a pair of worn denim skinny jeans. I decided I didn’t really need to change my shirt, so I packed up my PJ pants, dirty from walking around so much, and grabbed a clean pair of socks. I pulled on the soft cotton and put my shoes back on. I left my bag in the office and phased into the bathroom. I scrubbed some dirt off my face, washed my hands, and went back to the office. Turns out, since I hadn't eaten anything, I hadn't needed to use the bathroom. Weird feeling.
I sat in a black leather swivel chair, spun around, and remembered River. I was a little more than a little ticked off she hadn’t warned me about running into people, but maybe she had expected me to read about it. Either way, I was getting ready to call her. I dug around in my back pack for my phone, an old little red flip-phone, and dialed her number:
“444-9023” I said aloud to myself as I typed. I put the phone up to my ear, and listened for the tone. It rang a few times, then she answered.
“Hello this is River Teragram. How may I help you?”
“River, it’s me, Gail, and uh, I think I need some help.” The line crackled a little as she sighed.
“Yes, Gail, of course you do. Sorry, talking to myself. What do you need?” I spent the next four or five minutes explaining what had happened with Warren, then Sarah. There was silence for a minute, then some s
“You should come to my office, so we can talk about this. Honestly, it doesn’t normally happen, but I can get a secretary to look through some old files and see if it shows up.”
“Okay” I said, a little skeptical. So this wasn’t normal? I thought. Great...
“I’ll send you the directions to my office on your phone. When you get to the building, tell them you’re here for an appointment, and head up to the 13th floor.”
“Okay, I’ll see you then.”
“Bye.” As I hung up the phone, butterflies danced in my stomach. But, despite my worries, I re-packed my stuff and phased out.
As I was leaving the restaurant, I noticed a refrigerator, like the kind that sits next to a check-out lane at grocery stores. The lights were on, giving a bluish tint to the tile floor around it, probably lighting up my face though I couldn’t see my reflection. I stood there, staring at the fridge, a soft hum filling the room. A wonderful assortment of goodies filled the shelves: bottles of juice, cartons of milk, individual slices of pie, wrapped cheese, and, on the very top shelf, glass bottles of different flavors of coffee. I suddenly felt unusually hollow. I wanted nothing more in the world at that moment then chocolate bottled coffee, sitting on the top shelf of a refrigerator in one of the oldest and best diners in Virginia. A plan slowly worked itself into the innermost clockwork of my brain. I looked at a napkin container on the counter. If I could pick that up, then I could probably open the fridge, or phase in, and grab a coffee. Of course I’d leave some money, too.
Then, my hopes and dreams were crushed. I couldn’t even test out my plan. There were cameras, had been since they got rid of their German Shepherds and installed a security system. I did not like idea of a viral video making its way across the world of a bottle floating itself across the restaurant. No no no no no no no no no no, I thought. I swore under my breath, and vowed that the second River and I got everything sorted out I would force her to but me so much coffee I would make her wish she had passed me on the second she met me.
With one last grudging glace, I left the coffee and phased out the door. I was finally starting to figure out the phasing thing. I really wanted to see if I could get the stupid coffee, quite honestly because I was still kind of hollow feeling. Also, I really wanted to know my phasing skills were improving, but I would just have to wait until I got to River’s... uh... office? Where did she work anyways...?
Once outside, the sun came out. It felt like it was warming every fiber of my being, one cell at a time. My mood was rapidly improving, and the nice weather took my mind off the hollow-ness. I stretched out my arms (after carefully looking for oncoming pedestrians/ minivans). Soaking up the sun, I glanced down at my feet. A momentary jolt of alarm passed through me as a realized I had no shadow! What was that about? I wondered if I would have a shadow when I rematerialized. I kind of hoped so; you never realize how much you miss random things about being, well, alive, until you no longer have them. Like, oh I don’t know, shadows, or food, or being able to be seen by other human beings.
I dug through my jeans pocket and pulled my rickety old cell phone. My dad had been promising to get me a new phone, but, well, he’s my dad, and like any dad he put it off as long as humanly possible. Of course there was nothing wrong with my current phone, except that it was older than the dinosaurs, so I was stuck with it. Flipping it open like I had done so many times before, I quickly found my way to [messages] and started scrolling through them.
Despite my phones old age, it still had a lot of memory; I had a lot to look through to find Rivers. I saw some pretty old ones, and they were kind of funny. My friends and I had some pretty hilarious conversations back then. Some of them even made me laugh. A thought struck me: this was the first time I had laughed since I died. That single thought amused me so much I started to laugh more. Thankfully, no one could hear me, because pretty soon I was standing there, outside the old diner, laughing like an idiot, tears in my eyes doubled over unable to breathe.
It took me all of five minutes to calm back down. I collapsed on the sidewalk and leaned against the door. My face was probably bright red and my abs (what little there was) hurt whenever I breathed. I glanced at the phone, laughed a little more, and located Rivers message. After saving the number, I read out the directions. I was really close to downtown, and could probably reach the office building in less than twenty minutes. Just over a bridge, across a park, then about seven or eight blocks east.
I was going over the instructions she had given me on the phone, then thought of something. Supposedly I have to tell someone I have an appointment, but, no one can see me? Really River, way to go. I figured I’d just head on up when I got there, assuming the elevator would take me with it. With a last longing glance at the building that held all my desires in this earthly world (otherwise known as coffee), I headed up the road towards downtown.
I was fairly certain that I knew the building. The address fit, and the distance seemed right, and if I was correct, it was a fourteen story office building. Strange thing was, I knew that had passed that building every single time I drove through downtown, but somehow, I had never before questioned its purpose. I never knew what it was, and I had never thought about it before, And I think about everything. Oh, wait, I get it, I thought. If the ghost head quarters of Virginia is in there, then I guess they wouldn't want random tourists coming in every other day. I then assumed there was some strange form of cloaking device in place over the building. Major nerd moment, I know, but it seemed to fit. It made sense to me anyways.
I carefully made my way towards the office building; in doing so I took three or four times longer to get there than I had anticipated. I had not factored in pedestrian/minivan avoidance maneuvers, nor getting lost. Several times. Well, not technically lost, but – oh never mind.
It was almost five-o-clock according to my old scratched up phone screen, and rush hour was starting to get into full swing. Car honked horns and revved engines and people made weird faces all while trying to drive through downtown traffic. The streets were almost equally as crowded, and I do admit I dove off the path exactly seventeen times. At last, I neared the location of the building, and missed it twice. It’s not like it particularly stood out – downtown had plenty of buildings, some even up to twenty or twenty-five stories – but it wasn’t like it was hiding either. It was just, plain, like ordinary was a camouflage, like it was designed to be missed. My earlier theory was all but proven. Somehow, I walked past it on my first go. I knew I was getting close, I zoned out, and when I realized where I was I was almost over a bridge that led to the West side. I knew immediately that I’d gone too far, but I couldn’t figure out how I hadn’t noticed sooner.
I turned around, ducked into the bushes (eighteen) and started jogging back towards the building. My backpack thumped rhythmically against my back, jingling softy from my keys inside. The irritating noise bothered me, and I was almost there, so I slowed down to a walk.
I arrived in the approximate vicinity of the structure, but somehow I got distracted and kept walking, right on past. I didn’t even notice. I almost yelled out loud. Frustrated and a little stressed, I marched back towards the building, carefully examining every little detail of everything along the way. I refuse to be distracted. I will not be denied, I thought. Out loud, I said, “Why did River warn me? I really think she’s not as helpful as she thinks she is...” I grumbled on a little longer, until I got close again. This time, I saw it: A grayish building with dark one-way windows reflecting back the sinking sun. Though the day still had a two more hours, then sun was already descending through the few wispy clouds. I could see this while looking the opposite direction. They had some really shiny windows. I chucked to myself, and approached it.
A revolving door appeared to be the sole entrance to the office building. I love revolving doors. Always have, always will, dead or alive. I walked up, pushed my weight against the stubborn door, and revolved on in. Only, I didn’t, rather I revolved right back out.
“What the –?!” I couldn’t believe it. Not only did I have to find the damn building, but I had to find a clever way in. Growing more and more impatient, I tried again. Same result. I couldn’t focus. A fog clouded my brain, and every time I went in I zoned out and forgot. Thinking about a pretty brilliant plan, I went in again, this time counting the seconds it took to go through the whole thing.
Eight seconds. Thinking only of my time, I went in yet again. I counted slowly to myself,
And jump I did. I practically took a dive hard to my right, and ended up tumbling backwards across the floor. Sprawled across freshly waxed white tile flooring, I noted my small success of the day. The fog instantly lifted from my mind and my limbs, and I could focus again. I took in the scenery: white floors, white walls, grey reception desk, two young men (I guess they’re scenery) dressed in matching grey suits, and one grey door in the back of the room. Two grey elevators sat on my right, and an empty black table sat to the far left. Behind the desk, there was a large black picture frame holding some kind of ink print on a white background. The only thing in the room that stood out – aside from me, that is – was a clear vase, filled halfway up with water, sporting a bouquet of deep, red roses.
I quickly stood up, straightened my jacket and backpack, and brushed myself off. Not because the floor was dirty though, but more so because it might look like I had some dignity left. Which I didn’t. And it didn’t matter anyways, because thankfully no humans could see me. The two men sat typing on their computers, one sipping some form of bottled drink, another eating a snack of, carrots? The one with the carrots had headphones in, and I could hear the faint beat of his music. Some form of techno, I guessed.
I walked over to the elevators, looking for some sort of call button, but none showed up. From the back of the room, I heard someone speak.
“You can’t go up if you don’t have an appointment, ma’am.” It was one of the men, the one with the drink. He had blonde hair, and bright green eyes. He looked right at me. I was about to stammer out something stupid, but I caught myself.
“I’m here to see River Teragram. I do have an appointment, actually.” My voice was steadier than I thought possible at this point, but I let it go and stared right back at the receptionist. He smiled, white teeth flashing, and said, “Very good, I’ll let her know your coming. Do you know where her office is?”
“Thirteenth floor,” I responded.
“Alright, go on up then.” He smiled again, but for some reason, it looked cold. I didn’t want anything more to do with him, and looked back at the elevator. It had opened, and a carpeted interior awaited. The floor was blue, and pretty soft, I must say, and the walls looked like chrome. Shiny...
There were no buttons, but on the panel next to the door, a single light, 13, was lit. As the doors slid shut, I saw the man press an intercom, and begin to speak. The doors gracefully closed, and I let out a breath I felt like I’d been holding for a year.
Elevator music filled my ears, quiet, but still annoying. Why is elevator music all the same? And, honestly, it’s not even good music. If you’re going to play the exact same crappy song in every elevator in every city in every country on every planet, then make it a good crappy song. Letting it go, I started thinking about the two men. How come they could see me? And speaking of, how come River could see me? Was she dead too? Or just special. I realized how little I knew about my situation, and felt utterly helpless. And I still wanted coffee. I wandered if maybe that hollow feeling was the beginning of my appetite returning. I hoped so.
A quiet ‘ding’ let me know I was on my floor. The doors slid open smoothly, and I stepped off. I heard the doors glide shut, and the elevator leave. Leave me here, abandoned, a ghost, on my own. I suppose I wasn’t really on my own, because I had River, but she never seemed to be in a good mood. I looked back at the elevator doors, and hated them. I hated the elevator for bringing me here, for dumping me, then moving on, like nothing was wrong. I did really know that it wasn’t the elevators fault that I died (probably not, anyways), but it was something to be angry at, so I was angry at it. I stood there, staring at, rage welling up in me, totally unreasonable towards the elevator, but otherwise justified. Why did I have to die? Me? Why me! Why did it have to me?! My family’s been through enough, and now this! I thought with all my might.
Out loud, I yelled at the wall, “I hate this! I hate all of it! I-I- I just want to die! Damn it! I can’t even die! Why, why, why!? Are you happy now?” I yelled at the ceiling. “Are you happy now that somehow, my miserable existence has gotten worse! Damn it!” With that last swear I punched towards the elevator. My hand went right through. I was still nothing. I couldn’t take it. I couldn’t even punch a damn wall to make myself feel better, even if I’d regret it later. My vision went blurry as tears filled my vision. Totally against my will, they began streaming down my face. My mind was foggy, full of rage, and something on a large scale level of sadness. Sadness just wasn’t the word. Misery, despair, frustration, misery – I said it twice, and I don’t care.
I sank to my knees. Tears were falling freely, landing in what felt like huge puddles on my lap. I turned my hand, up and caught one. Just for the pure amusement. I thought I heard someone come down the hall, but they walked the other direction pretty quickly. I could imagine, if they could see me, a skinny semi-visible teenage girl, having a mental breakdown on the ground outside an elevator on the thirteenth story of an office building. Great, now I was a spectacle.
I laughed a little, the kind of laugh that makes tears seem silly and pointless. I sat there, just a minute longer, and tried to compose myself. I laughed at my feeble attempts to dray my face, realizing I was probably just spreading around a grime and tear solution on my face. Spotting a bathroom down the hall, I wobbled up, and headed down the hall.
Turned out I was right. Smear of wet dirt streaked my face, following the shape my skinny little fingers had left behind. Thinking back on it, the whole elevator incident was childish and stupid, and my I felt my cheeks burn a little at the thought of it. What must I have looked like to that random passerby? Great, I groaned inwardly.
With a wet paper towel, I cleaned up my face. I washed my hands, cupped them, took a sip of the cool sink water, and wiped my face again. The salty taste of tears gone, I pondered what had just occurred. I must have at least been semi-visible, right? And, hey! How come I could use a freakin paper towel, but not punch an elevator! I would of dented the crap out of that door too... Grumbling a little, I headed out. River was probably still expecting me, despite being nearly an hour late. Unless, that is, she had gotten word of my little tantrum, then I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go see her.
All doubts aside, I gathered what little dignity I had, shouldered my bag, and left the bathroom. Hence began the search through the entire floor for River Teragram’s office.
Truthfully, it didn’t take me that long to find River’s office. I mean, there was a big sign on the door that said, ‘River Teragram, AfterLife Advisor’. But still, the building was like a labyrinth to me; plus the little black security cameras ever 20 yards were just a little creepy. The thought occurred to me that some security guy was either getting a good laugh out of my mental breakdown, or rushing around trying to find me before I started beating people up. Not sure which scenario I preferred.
Coming around yet another blue carpeted corner, I found her door. “Yes!” I yelled, then immediately covered my mouth with my hand after realizing that that was indeed out loud. Feeling my ears turn red, I walked up to the door and knocked. I was only a little bit late…
After waiting for what felt like an eternity for a response that wasn’t coming, I tried to open the door. To my surprise, it was unlocked, and glided smoothly across the wooden flooring. A navy blue rug, same color as the carpet in the halls, covered most of the honey-colored wood.
“Hello?” I called in. “River? You here?” She couldn’t have seriously given up on me showing up! Right? I thought glumly. I took a step in and closed the door; it latched softly behind me. I felt like an intruder, but I was supposed to be here after all, so I figured no one would mind. The walls inside were covered a light grayish-blue faded wallpaper, and all the furniture was more or less a dark shade of blue. A dark wooden desk sat on one side with a black leather chair tucked behind it. A couch and two chair, both upholstered in a dark grey-blue sat right in front of me, with two huge windows behind them. Not much light was coming in though, due to heavy curtains. Light blue patterned pillows sat on either end of the couch. Apparently, these people liked the color blue.
Over on the right side, an archway led into what appeared to be a small kitchen. Light blue walls, white cabinets, a stove, fridge, microwave, and oven occupied the small space. Three barstools sat at a dark marble top counter, backs to the room. Blue tube shaped lights hung down over the bar top. Does she live here? I thought. There were two doors on my left, one behind the desk chair, and one closer to the corner; there was one more door on my right. Aside from the little blue lights and the illumination given off by the quickly setting sun, the room was pretty dim. Nearly 6:30. Wow I was late. Plus it was just that time of year when the sun set way to early.
I was about to further explore the building, when suddenly, the door I came in opened. I swear I jumped two feet off the ground. However, I am proud to say I did not scream like a small girl. Even if I was one.., I knew I was supposed to be here, but staring into River Teragram’s eyes made me feel like I’[d been caught stealing cookies again. I hadn’t even been doing anything wrong either, but I still felt a little bit guilty. River looked rather confused for just a moment, before recovering with her usual glare.
“Welcome home!” I said sarcastically.
“Oh yeah, almost forgot about you. You’re supposed to be here aren’t you…” She mumbled and sighed a little.
“Not only am I supposed to be here, but I am!”
“Your powers of observation are incredible. Timing, not so much. Your over forty-five minutes late and I’m in a hurry.”
“Okay, honestly, I didn’t account for minivans slowing my progress.” I grinned a little, but I felt more certain it was a grimace at that point. River checked her watch, looked at me, her watch again, and sighed.
“What am I going to do with you… Okay, here’s the deal. I have some good news and some bad news. Bad news is that I have to head down to North Caroline. They’re short on staff and I got reassigned for a week or so.” Great, just ditch me here. I’ll be fine taking out unsuspecting pedestrians. This sucks.
“And your good news?” I said just a little too cheerfully.
“You don’t have to worry about a place to stay, and I don’t have to worry about you running into people.”
“Huh?” I didn’t get it. Where was a staying? Here? She glanced at her watch again, the back at me.
“Look, I have to go. It’s a long drive, and I really have to get going. I’ll call you from the road. You got my number right?” I nodded. “Good.” She set down her purse and a pair of keys, ran into the door on the right, and returned with a small bag and a briefcase. “I really just came back up to grab some stuff I forgot. How did you get in anyways?”
“The door was unlocked” I shrugged. She frowned a little. I guess she didn’t realize she’s left it open.
“Well, okay. I guess since you could actually open it, your becoming more solid. Good progress. In fact, I think you’ll be getting hungry by the time I get back.” She almost smiled, locked the door she came out of, and waved a quick goodbye.
“Don’t forget,” River called over her shoulder. “Don’t leave this apartment. Okay? Bye!”
Wait wait wait. What just happened?!
The heavy wooden door latched shut, a lock bolted, footsteps hurrying down the hall. She was gone, and the sound of the bolt echoed through my empty hopes of finally getting some help.