Monday, March 24, 2014

Angels and Shadows

            I wake up with a jolt and a scream. It’s a cold, muggy day and I find myself lying down in the middle of a cemetery. All there was before was a heavy darkness flooding in, and terrible pain. My heart is racing, and I pull my legs up to my chest and hold them there. I can’t help but sob, but I feel fine.
            But I’m not fine. I may not be in pain, but that’s only because I know I’m dead. I don’t even know how it happened. I just came here to visit a friend’s grave. But when I went to leave, I was pushed into an open grave, and I think I twisted my ankle when I landed. I was crying when all of a sudden a large pile of dirt just fell into the hole. I tried to dig out, but it was too heavy. I felt crushed from all sides, and I could barely move. The worst sensation I’ve ever felt.
            Now I’m just lying down next to the grave that turned out to be mine. I stop shaking enough to push myself into a sitting position, looking down on the pile of dirt covering my body. The realization hits me. I’ll never get the chance to graduate, to get married, or to have kids.
But is this it? What do I do now? There’s no light, no voice, nothing to beckon me on.
There is another girl, looking about my age. She’s walking along the next row of graves, humming something to herself, seemingly content, even happy. She’s in all black: black tight jeans, black boots, black jacket and top. What skin that shows is pale, but her long hair bright red.
She walks past without giving me a second thought. I instinctively call out to her. “Hello?”
She stops, turning as if startled. She suddenly looks at me with great interest. She can see and hear me, and I know that I’m dead, so that has to mean…
“So, you’re dead, too?” she asks. I nod slowly, indicating the filled grave. She relaxes, says, “Well, good luck to you,” and goes on her way.
She leaves, but I don’t know what to do. After a minute of her walking on, I figure that I have to do something, because nothing is happening with me kneeling at my own grave. I stand up, take a deep breath, and rush after her.
“Hey, wait!” I call out when I find her again. She turns back to look but doesn’t slow down. I speed up and walk beside her. “I’m Natalie. What’s your name?” I say, extending my hand.
“I’m Olivia,” she says, ignoring my hand. I awkwardly retract my arm before asking, “So…um…what happened to you?”
“I died, now leave me alone,” she replied tartly.
“But where are you going?”
At that, she grabbed my hair, punched me in the stomach with her other hand, then used both arms to throw me to the ground. I’m flat on my back, and stands over me, putting her foot on my shoulder to hold me down. “Don’t follow me,” she warned. She then continues on her way until she just vanishes.
“Wait!” I call out. I move to stand up, but before I’m fully on my feet I’m somewhere else. I’m in a house. It’s run down and abandoned. The walls are full of holes and graffiti. The floor is covered in all kinds of trash. Windows are smashed and boarded up, and the only light comes from the cracks and gaps in the rotting boards and door.
Despite the dim light, I see Olivia searching the next room, just as messy but nonetheless a kitchen, old cupboards on the walls and even a small table in the middle of the room. I can tell where a refrigerator and a dish washer once were, their spaces occupied by garbage. “What are you looking for?” I ask.
She stops her search enough to look at me, bewilderment and anger at once in her eyes. “How are you here? Why are you here?” she asks. I shrug in response to both. I have no idea how I followed her, I just did.
She didn’t like my answer, though. She grabbed my coat with both hands, yelling, spun me around, and shoved me through a door to the back yard. The door was closed, but I phased right through it, although I lose my balance on the three steps down and once again find myself flat on my back in the cold unkempt grass. I look back up in time to see her phase through the door after me, enraged more than ever. “I said don’t follow me! If I see you one more time, I’ll…”
“You’ll what?!” I yell back as I stand back up. “You’ll kill me? Sorry, you’re a little late for that!” I’ve had enough of this girl. “Just don’t bother; I’m out of here.”
I turn and leave, walking through the fence to an inhabited back yard. The dog in the yard starts barking, but I don’t care, I keep walking as the dog’s owners come out to see what the commotion is. They, of course, can’t see me, and I just ignore them as I phase through another fence.
This time, I come out the other side and am right behind Olivia. Bewildered, I turn back around to look at the fence behind me, which just so happens to be a nice, painted one compared to the piece of junk one I thought I just passed through. “What the heck?” I say out loud.
Olivia notices me, turns back on me and grabs my coat threateningly. “Why do you keep following me?”
Looking her straight in the eyes, I say, “I don’t know, and believe me, I don’t particularly choose to.”
She seems to consider my words for a minute before releasing me and turning back to the activity in the yard. It appears to be a birthday party. Little girls in fancy dresses sat at three little tables, each with a small cake, fancy tea pots and cups and little cookies.
“Doesn’t seem like your kind of party,” I remark to Olivia.
“Where is he?” she asks herself, ignoring my comment.
“Where is who?”
She ignores me and turns to walk in the house. For some reason, I follow her, phasing through the glass door after her. We’re standing in a kitchen laden with sweets and smells of a little girl’s birthday party, but no people; all of the mothers are in the backyard with the girls. Olivia has no interest in anything here, except for a sharp knife she pulls out of a drawer. With knife in hand, she moves on, searching the house for someone.
“Olivia, what are you doing?”
“Shut up!” she yells, spinning and thrusting the knife into my belly. At the last minute, though, I manage to get out of the way; even though we’re both dead, I don’t know what would happen if that knife hit me if she can hold it. She whiffs, stumbles, falls to the ground and the knife flies out of her hand. I use the opportunity to pin her down before she can recover.
“Olivia, what are you doing?” I repeat in her ear.
“I don’t have to tell you anything, now get off of me,” she growled back.
I get off of her, but as she stands up, I say, “Fine, don’t tell me; I probably won’t care anyway, but I’m not letting you hurt someone.”
“When did you become my mom?” she asked mockingly.
“No, it’s just…” I begin, “it’s just that I hurt someone very close to me while I was alive, and I think that that is the reason I am now dead.”
“Sorry, I don’t believe in karma,” Olivia replied dryly. “And this guy doesn’t deserve forgiveness.”
“So you’re going to kill him?”
“Only returning the favor,” Olivia said. At that, she left the room in search of whoever she was looking for.
I just stand where she left me, thinking about what she said. Was this guy she looking for a murderer? If so, does Olivia deserve the revenge she wants so much?
But why do I care? I don’t know this girl, or her problems. Who am I to tell her what she should do?
Yet I keep following her. Something is connecting us, and it keeps pulling us back together. Something isn’t letting us move on, at least not until we do what it wants.
“Olivia!” I call out through the house. Going into the other room, I immediately hear noise coming from under the floor. I head down there, phasing right through the door and down the stairs to a dark basement. Light comes from the dirty window, an exposed light bulb from the ceiling and the flickering video game from the television.
Sitting in front of the screen is a man, probably early twenties, and just disgusting. He looks as if he hasn’t moved in days; his clothes are wrinkled and stained, his hair is a tangled mess. Chip bags and energy drink cans litter the couch in front of him, yet he looks pasty and thin. His eyes are lifeless, staring at the screen for who knows how long.
Olivia just stood over him, shaking, pure hatred in her eyes, but almost statuesque. “What’s his name?” I ask.
She doesn’t take her eyes off of him as if he was going to disappear if she did. “His name is Dagon,” she answered through clenched teeth. “He’s a pimp, a drug dealer, and a murderer. The worst kind of person you could think of.” She looked around the couch and a table behind it for a second before producing a gun from underneath some trash. She examined the gun for a minute, determined it was loaded and leveled it at the back of the Dagon’s head; Dagon seem oblivious to what was going on.
The next few seconds felt like hours. I felt more lost than ever before. What should I do? If Olivia was right, and this man was everything she said he was, could I go on with the fact that I let her just murder him? Was this man just playing a video game really a monster? He had the gun right there for Olivia to find, but did that make him a killer?
I should go; I should stay. I should let her; I should stop her. I don’t know what to do.
Olivia hesitates. Her breathing becomes fast and shallow. Her hand is shaking, but never pointed away from her target.
A dark pressure builds in the room, like something coils around the basement. I feel squeezed, but at the same time colder than I have ever been. A thousand voices, real and then not real at the same time, whisper from the walls, the floor, the very air around us, and to some extent I hear it in my head. It repeats one thing, over and over again.
“Do it.”
It’s the creepiest thing I’ve ever heard. It becomes hard to breathe. I sit down and curl into a ball next to the couch, hugging myself. Nothing I do makes the cold go away. The evil in the room is almost tangible, as if there is another person (or something) in this room with us, that even Olivia and I can’t see. It continues to whisper its one message, but it ignores me. The message isn’t for me.
I look up at Olivia. She remains standing, the gun still pointed at Dagon’s head. The shadows seem to coalesce around her. Her hand and breath steady themselves as some sort of dark aura slithers closer to her. It coils around her, its snake-like head reaching her ear.
“Olivia?” I ask.
Olivia ignores me, but the serpentine aura flashes my way, showing bright yellow eyes of pure malice. I instinctually close my eyes and bury my head into my arms, hoping that whatever that is leaves me alone.
But then something else appears. I sense it immediately due to just how dramatically different it is from the darkness. From the ceiling comes a pinprick of light, and the soft sound of a song, like a bird’s, far away but not gone. Amongst the endless voices urging Olivia to do it, one voice, clear and strong, caring and warm, says one thing one time.
“Stop her…”
And just like it appeared it disappeared, but it took my fear and apprehensions with it. In one motion, I stand up, bust through the shadows surrounding Olivia, and ram her in the side just as she pulled the trigger. She missed Dagon, hitting the television in front of him, but the blast right next to his ear causes him to drop his controller and scream loudly. My momentum pushes me and Olivia right through the wall, the last thing I hear is a frustrated hiss.
We’ve somehow teleported again; we passed through the wall but came crashing back into the cemetery where we met. My ghostly adrenaline is gone, and I just lay on top of Olivia, panting, suddenly very exhausted.
Olivia, on the other hand, is absolutely furious. She shoves me off of her, screaming her head off in anger.
“WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT!!!” she yelled and cried at the same time, tears rolling out of her infuriated eyes.
“You weren’t in your right mind,” I try to explain. “That wasn’t you back there.”
“I DON’T CARE!!” she said, now crying more than yelling. “He did this to me,” she wept, indicating herself. She never looked smaller than she did right there, head falling into her hands and shoulders heaving with her sadness. For the first time, I genuinely feel sorry for her. She raised her head enough to say, “He did this to me, and I did nothing!”
She goes back to crying, but remains where she is. What drive she had was gone. I scoot over closer and wrap my arms around her to console her. She doesn’t fight it, but continues to cry in my shoulder. We sit in silence like this, alone, no voices of any kind.
Then all of a sudden, a light appears only a few feet from where we sit. Both of us freeze and look up at it. It had no discernible source, cast no shadows, and drowned out every other source of light, even though we were outside. It was warm and inviting, and soft voices came from within it, calling out to us by name.
“Do you hear that?” I ask.
“Hear what?” Olivia replied, confused and scared. “What is that?”
“I don’t know,” I answer. I stand up and start to walk toward it, knowing that that is what it wanted. I stop, though, and turn around to Olivia, who was still sitting there, looking up at me with sadness in her eyes.
I reach out to her. “C’mon, Olivia, its fine.”
“No, it’s not,” she replies. “I don’t deserve it.”
“You didn’t do anything,” I tell her. “Let’s go; it’s for both of us, I just know it.”
“But, what about…?” she began.
“Don’t worry about him,” I insist. “Don’t let him keep you from moving on anymore.”

She hesitates only for another second before taking my hand. “Thanks, Natalie,” she whispers. Then the light engulfs us both and all is good forever.

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