I opened my eyes anew. The grass beneath me failed to chafe my skin and the cool night breeze didn’t chill me. Any previous memories were blurred and confusing. Glancing down the length of my body I found myself naked. I struggled to remember anything that might clue me in to my current situation, but I simply gleaned over nondescript colors and overwhelming emotions.
Headstones scattered the landscape. Since lying nude in a graveyard at night seemed like a bad idea, I hopped up immediately and searched for something to cover myself. My exploration resulted in a different find.
Just behind where my head had been, a gravestone stood, draped with many flowers, inscribed with the name Jacob Finley Brooks. Though in a daze, I swore that was my name. Perhaps a coincidence, but definitely some mistake. I was right here.
Involuntarily, my fingers stretched toward the engraving, as if to ensure the reality of it. My fingertips reached the rugged surface only to pass through without any sensation. It must be a dream. I continued to poke through the solid matter, creating fun out of the odd, vivid fantasy, until I noticed a sinister detail.
Hard to detect, but present all the same, I watched my hand disappear into the stone. The latter remained rigid. It seemed to be my hand that lost its substance, evaporating as it moved into the tombstone.
Within my dream, I should have stayed solid while the environment bent to my will, not the other way around. The obvious answer dawned on me.
If the graveyard was actually real, and the headstone correct, then I must be-
I squeezed my eyes closed and concentrated on dredging up the whirlwind of memories that my mind refused to focus on. I skimmed through the last thoughts. They were hazy, but I perceived panic and slipping into darkness. I had died.
The fear resurfaced in the present.
Before I could process much more, movement caught my peripheral and I ducked behind my gravestone. A small, fit man who appeared to be in his mid-thirties walked a beeline down the middle of the cemetery, scanning thoroughly across each row as if on a mission. He constantly swept strands of hair off to the side as his steps bobbed along, but what struck me was, with his modern style and swagger, the hue of his hair was aging and gray.
His meandering seemed routine and absentminded until he spotted me quivering behind my grave.
“Dammit, another one. Get some clothes on, please.”
“I can’t. I’m-”
“Dead. Yeah, I got that. Doesn’t mean you get to stroll around with everything hanging out.”
“Stroll around? Where am I strolling? I can’t even put clothes on. They would just fall through me.”
“That’s why you don’t put them on. Not real clothes. Just picture yourself in clothes. That oughta do it.”
“What? You’re crazy.”
“And you’re a ghost. Crazy is relative. Will you just give the clothes thing a try?”
I shut my eyes and concentrated. When I opened I was still nude.
“It didn’t work, see?”
“That’s because deep down you didn’t believe that it would work. Otherwise, it would have.”
“Can you help me?”
His eyes rolled and clothes suddenly appeared on my frame. I wore an oversized, light blue hawaiian button up with khakis and slip on vans. I looked like a cliched, embarrassing dad.
“You wear that until you figure out how to put clothes on yourself. That oughta give you motivation.”
I stared, befuddled, at my new wardrobe. “Who are you?”
“I’m here to make sure you know what’s going on.” His words came across as scripted, almost bored.
“So far you’re not doing a great job because I have no clue what’s happening.”
“You do, you’re just in denial,” he stated without sympathy.
“I’m not denying anything. I know I’m-” the words caught in my chest.
He scoffed at my hesitation, “Yes, you seem completely acclimated.”
“How can you help?”
“I gave you clothes, didn’t I?” he snapped. “I’m here to explain whatever you don’t understand, answer questions, that sort of thing. I make sure you don’t do something stupid.”
“I can’t do anything. I’m basically a puff of air.”
“Right now,” he retorted, “but not always.”
My annoyance gradually boiled over. “You’re here to explain things, so explain.”
“You’re here to learn, so ask.”
My nerves trembled when broaching the subject. “How did this happen to me?”
“I just met you. Why would I know how you died?”
“Why don’t I remember?”
“You probably will eventually. As you adjust everything will become clearer. See,” he rambled like he had recited this many times before, “in your body, your brain stored memories, but your soul perceived everything as well, just from a different perspective. Now that you're no longer in your body, you’re remembering your past through the eyes of your soul and it is a much different experience. It takes some getting used to.”
“How do you know all of this?”
He scorned, “Haven’t you figured it out?” He threw his foot through a nearby gravestone, sweeping right through without disturbing it. “I’ve been dead awhile. I know a thing or two.”
“But you’re still not solid.”
He seemed offended. “Only when I choose not to be.” In an attempt to regain his credibility, he pinched a leaf on the ground between his thumb and index finger and waved it in my face.
“How do I do that?” I asked with new hope.
“Practice. But you’ll have to figure that part out on your own. I’m definitely not sticking around that long. I’m here for the night, and not even the whole night. I have other graveyards to hit.”
“You think you’re the only stiff to rise? Other sorry saps need help too.”
“So you hop from cemetery to cemetery looking for souls like me?”
“That’s the idea. A job’s a job.”
“You get paid to do this?”
“In a way.”
“You’ll find out later.”
“You tell me to ask questions and then don’t answer them.”
He growled low in his throat. “It’s pretty early for you to worry about that kind of stuff, is all.”
“I should be worried?”
He leaned on a tombstone, pinched the bridge of his nose, and squeezed his eyes shut. “I am not in the mood to deal with difficult customers tonight.”
“If you tell me what I want to know, I won’t be difficult.”
“Fine.” He pushed off the gravestone and came within inches of my face. “I work this gig because I’m trying to be good. The only reason a ghost stays on Earth after death is because they haven’t proven if they are good or bad. You live your afterlife here until the powers-that-be decide where to send you, up or down. No pressure,” he added mockingly.
I wandered off in thought. “I’m here because I didn’t make it into heaven?”
To be concluded in Brooks II...
© 2021 by Kelsey Garber