The smell of fresh rain on wet pavement woke me. It was daylight and I was outside. Logically I had to be asleep or heavily sedated, dead was also a strong possibility. The outdoor space I found myself in didn’t look like my idea of heaven or hell or even purgatory. It looked like an empty office complex.
Sitting on the cement edge of a well-manicured planter I was partially hidden by small trees. Red and gold leaves were scattered among clusters of dark green plants with little white flowers. Manicured deep green lawns stretched as far as I could see. This landing was a small part of a much longer stairway that led to huge, dark granite building. From this height, I could easily see all the way down the empty street in front of me.
A hefty metal plaque was bolted to the building's stone façade. The square symbol in the middle didn’t look familiar nor did it lend any clues as to the purpose of the structure. I was in no obvious danger so I sat quietly and waited to wake up.
Across the street, the foggy image of a tall man shimmered into solid form. He took a few steps down the sidewalk before stopping in front of a vending machine. He collected two cans of soda and began jogging across the street towards me. I was numb and confused by my new surroundings, but strangely I wasn’t frightened of him.
“Here, have a drink. This swill is your favorite poison. How did it go? You get to heal up?” The previously shimmery man wiped one can of soda clean on his blue tee shirt and motioned for me to catch it.
“Thank you. Were you in the restaurant with me? You were in my head telling me what to do weren’t you?” I could scarcely recall the melodic words I heard as I wandered back into consciousness. It seemed like it had happened days ago but logically no more than a few hours could have passed.
“Maybe I was. Maybe you were here with me.” The shimmery man smirked and I got the feeling that he was toying with me.
“So this is what my inner psyche looks like? An empty street in front of an empty building?” I ran my fingers across the gray cement slab I was sitting on; it was cold and rough and felt real.
“No, this is where we work? You and I come here every night while your body sleeps.”
“Oh of course. I work while I’m asleep. Sure, I see the appeal. Burn the candle at both ends. Makes perfect sense. So what is it we do overnight?” I asked.
“You and I usher the dead forward to their next area, their next spot to exist if you will. You’re a familiar face to our kind.”
“Our kind? You know your face is much too symmetrical to be real or familiar for that matter,” I noted.
The man looked irritated but he continued to drink his soda one long sip after another. “Well shit, I guess I’ll have to work on my face. So are you more coherent now? It was sad to hear you beg. I could have died laughing if that were possible.”
“Those men were going to kill us. I was sure I was going to die today,” I explained.
“Yeah right. Like I can’t do my job. Why didn’t you just call up one of your dark mists? They would have made quick work of those robbers. Sorry murderers. Let’s pick a story and stick with it right.” The man winked at me and continued pouring the soda down his throat.
I dream of a black mass that follows me like a puppy. It calls my name and generally freaks me out. “What the hell is a black mist? What job are you talking about?” My composure was fading. I had heard too much nonsense in too short of a time.
“Really? You don’t recognize my energy, do you? It’s there in your eyes. I can tell when you’re bullshitting me and you don’t have a clue. Honestly, I was surprised to hear from you. Well outside of work anyway.”
“Stop, this is my imagination. All of this crap is being thrown up from the deep recesses of my mind. There is no need for all the cryptic bull shit.” I stood in the shade of the planter and rested my hands on my hips.
“Please no throw up. That has to be the least endearing quality of this species.” The shimmery man put his hand over his mouth and took and took a step back from me.
“Species? You know what? I don’t recognize you. I don’t understand what’s happening, and I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. I would like to wait in peace and quiet until I wake up. Thank you for the soda but I’m happy to wait by myself.” I plopped back down on the cold cement, crossed my arms, and prepared myself for silence.
“You asked me for help. I helped. There isn’t anything more happening. Everything is fine. I think I like you better as a man. You don’t whine nearly as much.”
“What the hell are you talking about now? Nothing is fine. You are a figment of my imagination. I'm having a fricking nervous breakdown.”
“No that’s not it. Don’t focus on that thought, it’s completely wrong and you’re missing the point. You’re safe. Your offspring and your spouse are safe. The day went well. Seriously you don’t you like my image? It’s a mix of all the male qualities you find favorable. I chose this visual to put you at ease. Your incarnation is so damn gender-fixated I’m surprised you can get anything done at all.”
“Yes, you’re a pretty man. Clean cut, tall but not too tall, muscular but not imposing. The dark brown hair and the deep blue eyes are a nice touch. It’s also why I know I’m losing my mind. I’m talking to myself embodied in a strong looking, handsome man. What does that say about my mental state?”
“Meeting with you like this is difficult for me. It takes all of my energy so please focus. The anesthetic they gave you is strong. I had to wait for it to start wearing off before making contact. You need to heal your body. It is in considerable pain even if you can’t feel it.”
“Painkillers, that has to be it. They gave me a big a dose, and I’m hallucinating. That’s the explanation for all of whatever the hell this is.” I took a sigh of relief and another big gulp of soda. “It is amazing, I can remember exactly how this soda tastes. Even the smell and the feel of the bubbles is perfect"
“You’re not hallucinating. We are talking right now. You and me are real. Here and now is real.” The shimmery man grabbed my shoulders. I knew his touch. He wasn’t a man at all. An electric shock moved through my flesh like I was made of butter. Imaginary flesh and imaginary butter, but very real shock.
“My injuries will have to heal on their own. I’m not sure how badly I’m hurt, but I’ll wager that I need more than antiseptic spray and a box of bandages. That’s the extent of my healing abilities.”
“No, that’s not good enough. This only works if you can heal the body you incarnate into,” He demanded.
“And there it is. The logical thread I needed to return to sanity. I knew I would have one stashed away somewhere. Thank God. You aren't real.” I was saved this man was only a figment of my imagination.
“Seriously God, you’re falling back on your planetary religious nonsense? What is wrong with you? Next time you call for me be ready to talk seriously.”
“Fine, I’ll play along. How do I call for you? You have a cell number I can text. We can meet for a coffee. What are you some kind of angel.”
“No, I’m not an angel. I’m not a damn ghost or goblin either.” The man looked at me with such a mix of bewilderment and disgust on his face. I had insulted him.
“So what are you? Have you ever been human? Are you a demon? You're demon right?”
“Awe for fuck sake. I’m the same as you. I’ve been human for short times, you know I have, why are you asking me this stupid, pointless shit?”
“I don’t know anything about any of this shit, stupid or otherwise.” The man crouched in front of me bringing his gaze level with mine.
“For what it’s worth Pal, I’m sorry. I wouldn’t have allowed your flesh to become so battered had I known your head was still screwed on backward. It had to look like you did the damage. There were a lot of people watching. I considered several outcomes but I didn’t consider this one.”
“Since you’re a figment of my imagination I’ll just tell you what I already know. I was terrified. I didn’t want them to hurt my family or me. I’m not a violent person. I don’t stab people. I don’t shoot people. I heard someone tell me what to do so I did it. I know how bat shit crazy this sounds but I don’t know how was I able to do those things?”
“There it is then. You believe what you’re saying. I’m glad that you’re okay. I’m right beside you. That’s my job. Next time you call for my help don’t fight me. This plan of yours has given you a nice long break, but you need to wake up now Pal.”
“What plan? What are you talking about?” I demanded.
“Your soul is splintered, so I know it’s hard for you to focus. I don’t blame you, that wasn’t your fault, but you chose to lose your memory in this life. You wanted a break, and I understand why, but I’m betting your break came to an abrupt end today. You should have let that skinny bastard cut your finger off. I think that would have been easier for you to live with. Now wake up!”