You’re all going to face it someday, the strangest oddest feeling, empty and alone ... standing outside your body, staring into the lifeless shell of your former self. We’ve all looked into a mirror; this is different, way different. You’ve never seen yourself from the outside, how others see you. It changes your perspective, for better or for worse … I guess that depends.
I died two weeks before my eighteenth birthday, never making it to manhood. People were crying, classmates I hadn’t known. I didn’t know they knew my name. Guilt tightened my heart. I should have taken more time, put in a greater effort to know them. I was wrong to stay so hidden all those years.
The gymnasium was packed full. People made me nervous. It’d always been that way. The fear of being the center of attention followed me into death. You’d think when you die everything about you that was broken gets fixed. It doesn’t work like that. The crap you drag with you only gets bigger. My advice, clear your slate, leave nothing unfinished.
They hung my football jersey next to my picture. A banner stretched across the gym, a pink heart with # 81 inside. Coach talked to a group of students and parents sitting on metal folding chairs about my work ethic and what a team player I was. It was kind of him, but from his clichéd speech, he didn’t know the real me.
They ushered in the family … my family. Attending your own funeral, they don’t prepare you for that. Mother’s body shook, held up by grandmother, heavy from the weight of losing a son to tragedy. Grandma was a rock … but not today. No parent should have to bury a child, let alone a grandparent. Dad followed behind, hand on mom’s shoulder, eyes cast forward above the casket, unable to look directly. They took their seats and I floated over, looking into each pair of eyes, trying to find the heart. I couldn’t … it was gone.
I turned, face clenched in agony, unable to stop the crying. I let them down. Logic tells you that getting murdered isn’t your fault, but a piece of you feels like it is, like you could have prevented your fate had you been a better person, had you taken a better path. My family would never know the truth. I didn’t die in a crash. I was murdered. Truth could have given purpose to my death, a way for them to turn their anguish into action.
The angst you feel when watching a loved one experience that level of pain will cause you to wish for annihilation. Hell was bad, watching my family was a nightmare. The only thing holding me upright was knowing the culprits would be held accountable for the pain they created. Remorse will drown them one day, causing great repentance; maybe eons from now, but judgment will come to pass.
Principal Johnson offered his sympathies and thanked everyone for coming before inviting Justin to the stage. My spirit followed closely behind as he stumbled on his way to the platform. It was unlike Justin to be so nervous in front of a crowd, maybe he was sorry. True remorse causes the soul to tremble.
“Thank you all for attending.” I stood next to Justin as he looked upon the mourners in the crowd. “It would mean a lot to Will to see everyone here. I believe he is with us today, smiling.” Justin began his eulogy.
“Yeah bro, I’m right behind you, but you’re wrong about the smiling part.” I whispered into his right ear, forcing a stutter.
“Um, he ... Will is, was, is ... a good person, one of the best I’ve known.” Justin shook. “It took time and effort to get to know Will. He liked privacy, but once he let you in, it was well worth the effort. When I moved here two years ago I didn’t know a soul. I admit I approached Will because he looked lonelier than me. We hit it off right away. My only regret, I got but two years with him. William Stark had no enemies.”
“Except for you,” I whispered into Justin’s left ear. He paused, stumbling over his words, sensing a negative vibration.
“Will was one of those people who was easy to like. His quiet kindness made you drop your guard around him. You could talk to him about anything. He was a gentle listener.” Justin said.
“I can smell the crap coming out of your mouth. Brush your teeth. It’s disgusting.” I said before looking out into the crowd. Randy was in the third row, crying. I always thought nothing bothered him. Justin’s words moved a lot of people in the gymnasium. If Justin was lying, faking his remorse, he was one hell of an actor.
I can’t believe Justin had the nerve to speak at my funeral. He did nothing to prevent my death. It’s was Corbin’s hand and knife that severed the silver cord tying my spirit to its earthly body, ending my final breath ... but Justin was just as guilty. My blood covered his soul. Curse the day I got involved with Justin and Corbin and their bedeviled Project Gateway. Gateway was meant to bring salvation to the lost, at least that’s what they lead me to believe. I was destined to enter the spirit world a crusader of the damned, instead Gateway became the orchestrator of my destruction. I regret the day I didn’t grab the nearest blunt object and destroy Project Gateway when I first set eyes on it.
Principal Johnson thanked Justin for his words and talked about how Millersville had seen too much tragedy, how it needed time to heal. I’d like to think his words reached the hearts of the students. Young people are the keys to change, elders are set in their ways. Maybe someday Millersville would break from its intolerance and closed mindedness that the Puritan movement worked so hard to spread.
Justin hugged classmates after my funeral. People thanked him. The aggression in my body swelled to boiling. Justin was a murderer, not a source of comfort. I screamed for people to listen but no one heard.
The gymnasium slowly emptied. I followed Justin home after the last piece of cake had been served, riding in his car, a ghost in the passenger seat. Unable to fight the heinous thoughts, my hands gripped firmly down on Justin’s neck, inflicting a slight tickle in his throat. He reached for a cough drop, like that could save his wretched soul.
The phone rang from the console next to him. “Corbin, I wasn’t expecting to hear from you.” Justin’s voice cracked as he swallowed the remains of the half chewed lozenge. A soft, “ok,” his only remaining utterance.
Justin pulled into his driveway and removed the key from the ignition. I stood outside his bedroom window, reluctant to follow. Frost lined the edges of the glass pane, the earth cold and hard. Almost a year had passed since Justin and I walked down the worn gravel road leading to the old Victorian house that held the mysteries of Project Gateway in its dingy basement.
Creeping in the darkness and hiding in the shadows, I watched Justin’s movements. He wasn’t the confident person I’d known in life. He was changed, afraid of something.
Part of me felt sorry for Justin, a slave, brainwashed and robotic. His future held no promise. After a life of slavery, death would be the same. An eternity of servitude to the unholy, unless he was resurrected; the reason I was here. When you die they send you back. Some sort of mission training, Code of the Resurrectionist, at least that’s what John told me.
Justin was in too deep to simply walk away. In time, Corbin would take him out, unwilling to risk Justin exposing Gateway and all its dark secrets. I needed Justin’s attention. I’d learned a few tricks during my time at the Richmond farmhouse. A time I recall with horrid disgust. The Browning’s lived in a house that favored me. It owned a history, a dark past. Vile spiritual residue permeated the atmosphere. The perfect storm for a haunting.
Justin was alone in his room, surfing the web on his iPad when I passed through the wall like a vapor. Pacing the room, I circled Justin before crouching behind his body, blowing a cold wind down the back of his neck. Justin sat up, scanning the bedroom. I stepped back, moving to his right side I ran my hand up his arm to his shoulder. He didn’t notice. I needed something bigger. I stepped to an empty water glass sitting on Justin’s desk, took a deep inhale and focused my will on moving it. Nothing happened.
Try his thoughts, a voice sounded from within.
“Justin. It’s Will, I’m right beside you.” No response. Justin walked to his desk and sat down at the computer. I stood behind him before moving into his neural pathways and finding the connections that controlled his fingers. I placed Justin’s hands on the keyboard and pressed down hard before lifting his eyes to the screen.
I’m here, Will. The words flew from my mind through Justin’s fingertips and onto the computer screen.
Justin jolted up from his chair, head shaking. “Will?”
“Get back to your computer, ya dingbat. It’s not like we can talk. Sit, write.” I said, even though his human ears couldn’t perceive my spirit voice.
Justin moved back to his computer. Good, I come as a messenger, not as a friend. You’re in danger. You need to leave, get away from Corbin before it’s too late, now let your mind go blank. Let me write through you. I projected my thoughts.
Justin broke his hands from the keyboard and stared out into his room. “Will, are you here? If you really are … I’m so sorry.” He spoke out loud.
“Save it bud, I’m not looking for sympathy. I’ll deal. You’re alive, I’m dead, end of story.” Justin couldn’t hear my voice, even though I desperately wished he could.
“I can’t just pick up and leave, you know that. The police are keeping a close eye on me, taking a closer look than I’d like. I spoke at your funeral today. I’d been asked to say a few words about you. You were a good person, Will. I played you, we both did. I see that now. Corbin and I were wrong.” Justin said. I stepped back, pacing the room before looking up at Justin’s computer. The words on the screen were from his speech, the eulogy about me.
“Sorry about the accident. We had to stage it, make it look like you fell asleep at the wheel and hit that tree. Please forgive me Will.” Justin’s face fell forward, wrought with guilt.
I fled before emotion took control. Being around Justin was like breathing in asbestos; his toxic aura darkened my judgment. Standing outside, I closed my eyes to meditate upon my home in the city of light. The growl of an engine broke my concentration. I opened my eyes and saw the silhouette of a large figure climb into the driver’s seat of a dark van parked two blocks away. It was evident I wasn’t the only one interested in Justin’s affairs. I floated over to the van and climbed in.
Oddly, I was calm. You’d think crawling into the passenger seat next to the man who murdered you would cause at least a slight ripple in your blood pressure. I looked squarely at Corbin, his big belly hung over the seat belt strap, creating rolls of fat that oozed and jiggled with each bump on the gravel road. His beard had become long and scraggly, entrapping the remains of a leftover tuna melt. The sight repulsed me but had a way of reducing my fear. Seeing Corbin for who he really was, an overweight coward, almost made me feel sorry for him.
The van was immaculate, not a speck or crumb could be found. If he spent half as much time taking care of his inner-self as he did his outer environments, he wouldn’t be half as disgusting.
I’d never been to Corbin’s home until we pulled into the driveway of a modest one story rambler. The exterior appeared well kept, a fresh coat of white paint glowed in the moonlight. Corbin didn’t strike me as the handy type. He must have hired the work done.
Corbin opened the front door and stepped inside. I passed through the wall as spirits do. He walked by the refrigerator without stopping, sitting at a computer, listening with focused unease to a monotone police scanner broadcast. A book with a picture of a winged man resembling an angel holding a sword made of fire rested on the corner of his desk. Corbin reached down, pulling a second book from the drawer. I moved behind him, looking over his shoulder. I swallowed disbelief when my eyes read the name at the top of the page ... Ezekiel.
I glanced around the room, a picture of Corbin hung on the far wall, a younger and slimmer version. He was a holding a diploma of sorts. I stepped closer, it was a confirmation certificate. Corbin was a Puritan.
I looked back at him sitting behind his desk, head bowed and hands folded. Darkness hung over him, a cloud of black. I could see his prayers. They formed shapes and symbols of light that floated up, but were blocked by the darkness, consumed by black before ever going out.
His lack of faith is preventing his prayers from reaching the father. My inner voice rang out.
Corbin was praying out of repetition drilled into him from an early age. His prayers were superficial. The black mass hanging above seemed to be emanating from inside, from within his soul.
I blew on the back of his neck, a common trick spirits use to get the attention of humans. Corbin looked up and raised his head. A tingling went from his neck down his spine, unable to shake the feeling he was not alone.
“I find your lack of faith deeply disturbing,” I whispered into his left ear, channeling my best Darth Vader.
“I find your disregard for privacy equally disturbing.” Corbin spoke into the air. I jolted back. His ability to hear me was astonishing. If he had the gift of clairaudience he must’ve kept it hidden from the world, at least he hid it from Monika and I.
“Who are you?” Corbin asked.
“Wouldn’t you like to know?” I retorted.
“You work for Sunny?” he asked.
“Yes,” I lied.
“Did he send you?”
“Yes,” I lied.
“What does he want? What do you want? They know about the girl.” Corbin said.
“Your soul.” I deepened my voice to sound as evil as possible.
“It’s not for sale.” Corbin said.
“Who said I wanted to buy it?”
“You can’t have it!” Corbin snapped.
“I’m not the type who pays, more of a taker.” I snarled.
“That wasn’t part of the deal. Sunny assured me my soul would owe no debt.” Corbin said.
“Let me tell you about my master. He takes what he wants, when he wants it. He’ll say anything to further his agenda. You’ll be his slave for eternity.” I ignited a fire in Corbin. Sweat formed on his brow, heart rate increasing along with blood flow. He fidgeted in his seat before standing up.
“Get out!” He shouted and fled the room.
“I’m going no where.” I followed.
Corbin grabbed a Bible from his kitchen table, unaware I was a creature of light and didn’t fear the Good Book. The Bible wouldn’t hurt me, but I didn’t want to blow my cover. I let out a guttural growl as Corbin swung the book, flashing it around the room.
“Cast ye back to the fires of hell, dark spirit!” Corbin shouted. I opened my fingers, revealing knife-edged nails. I swung hard at Corbin’s face, slashing three scratches into his cheek.
Black smoke filled the room in a flash. A heavy gravitational pull bore down on me, a mistake to lash out. Violence of any kind was never tolerated by inhabitants from the realms of light. Vulnerability and mental imbalance could cause my fall to hell if I wasn’t careful. I departed before all self-control was lost, charged emotion shattering the lamp bulb next to Corbin, causing a violent gust of wind that left him shaking on the floor of his modest one story rambler.
I stopped outside, fighting to gain control over the darkness that consumed from within.
Headlights reflected off the kitchen window as I stood in the moonlight like a midnight stalker on Corbin’s front porch. Justin stepped out before walking up the front steps and knocking.
“Where the hell you been!” Corbin threw the front door open, grabbing Justin’s shoulders.
“You look horrible. What happened?” Justin asked, pulling away.
“We have to get the lab. There’s work to do.” Corbin replied.
“I can’t … did Will’s service today. I don’t have the energy right now. I gotta tell ya man, speaking of Will-”
“We’ve got a problem.” Corbin cut Justin off, stepping to him with vexed intensity, faces inches away.
“What problem?” Justin stepped back, stumbling slightly on the top step.
“The police, they found her body.”