If you missed Brooks I, find it here.
I wandered off in thought. “I’m here because I didn’t make it into heaven?”
“I told you you weren’t ready to hear it.”
“Not only is there a heaven and hell, but I don’t get to go to either of them.” I slumped next to my grave.
“You will eventually. That’s the point. You stay here until you prove your worth.”
“How do I do that?”
“Basically just try not to be an ass.” He shrugged. “I’m still working on it.”
“But you have a job.”
“Yes, I made a deal with the angels, but that’s not a usual thing. Most ghosts just go about their undead lives and find ways to pass the time.”
“You work for the angels, which means you’re sure to get into heaven someday?”
“That’s the plan. If I help out all you little, fresh, dumb ghosties, supposedly I’ll earn my place on a cloud.”
“How do I make a deal like that? I’ll gladly work for them if it means I’ll go to heaven eventually.”
“I can’t help you there. The angels came to me with this offer. I don’t know how to get in touch with them.”
“Then what do other souls do to prove their worth?” I asked. “You said most of them don’t work, so what do they do all day?”
“A lot of them find a place to haunt and then hang out there for eternity, since they don’t know what else to do.”
“If ghosts are really haunting places how could people not have proven their existence yet?”
“People rationalize everything. Plus, not many ghosts actually go about interacting with living people. Lots of them keep to themselves and maybe stir up only a little trouble for their own amusement.”
“Wouldn’t haunting humans be considered sinful?”
“Then why do they do it if they know they’ll eventually go to hell?”
“You could ask the same about living people. They sin, too.”
“But when you’re alive it’s all hypothetical. There are no immediate consequences. Once you know that there is an afterlife wouldn’t you want to make the best of it?”
“Some ghosts don’t know about heaven and hell. There hasn’t always been someone like me to go around explaining everything. I assume that’s why the angels recruited me, because too many ghosts were reeking havoc without understanding the consequences. And on top of that, human nature doesn’t go away just because you’re not human anymore. Everyone does what they want regardless of the aftermath. Some ghosts understand why they’re here, but after wandering for decades, and sometimes centuries, they stop caring, or they lose sight of what matters.”
“Centuries?” I asked in horror.
“Just be extra good and hopefully you won’t have to stick around that long,” he assured me.
“Have you been here-?”
“It’s been about forty years. I stopped keeping a close count.”
“You’ve been doing cemetery patrols for forty years? And you’re still not in heaven?”
“My job is recent, only within the last few years. I don’t know why the angels picked me for it, but I’m glad they did. It gave me something to do. If they hadn’t I may have lost my mind by now.”
“What did you do before?”
“I hung out in an old diner. I just stayed invisible and watched. It got to be tedious after too long and I would go out and explore, but there’s only so much to see. Eventually that diner closed its doors and I thought I had nothing left. That’s when the angels showed up.”
“You only watch? Can you not interact with people?”
“I’m very capable of manifesting myself, thank you very much. But as a rule, we’re supposed to avoid that, according to the angels. If all of humanity finds out that ghosts are real and that afterlife exists, then the whole concept of ‘having faith’ will be lost. The angels think it’s important for people to make right and wrong choices for their own reasons, and not just because God said so. I think the whole thing is bullcrap, but what do I know? Since it’s all real and you want humanity to do right by the big Omega man, why not just be straight with them?”
“So I can’t talk to anyone? Or tell them what’s going on?”
“You mean the people from when you were alive?” he chided. “Absolutely not. They know you’re dead and you need to keep it that way. Plus, right now, living people can’t see you. I can see you because we’re both ghosts, but for humans to see you, you would have to manifest, which takes quite a bit of practice.”
“How do I do it?”
He snorted. “I’m not about to Mr. Miyagi you on how to tone up. That’s a process that can take years. Figure it out yourself.”
“There’s no secret to it?”
“Nope. It’s all about focus and practice. You basically have to think yourself into solid existence, convince yourself that you have a form. No one can teach you how to do it but you.”
“So if I believe I’m manifested, then I will be. Like Peter Pan believing he can fly.”
“Sure,” he rejoined, disinterested, before swaggering through the headstones. “Good luck with that.”
“Wait,” I called in panic. “Can I leave the graveyard? Aren’t I tied to my bones or something?”
“No, that’s a myth that humans came up with to make themselves feel better. The truth is living people have basically no power over us in any way. If you think about it, it doesn’t make sense. If our souls have left the body, why would we still have any attachment to it? The souls in heaven and hell don’t feel a tickle if someone desecrates their graves, why should we?”
I sprinted to catch up to him and found the task fumbling and awkward, since the ground underneath did nothing to support my foggy figure.
“Then can I come along with you?”
“Because my work here is done, I don’t know you, I don’t really even like you, and I prefer to be alone.”
I mused, “But I have a right to go wherever I want, see the world, you said. So if I just happen to go in the same direction as you, and maybe just put a few more questions out there for the universe to answer, then who’s to stop me?”
He groaned before throwing his hands up in defeat. “Just don’t slow me down. I have a schedule to keep and you’ve already stalled me too long.”
I skipped along beside him in triumph. “What’s your name?”
“I thought your questions were for the universe.”
I shouted obnoxiously, “Okay, universe, what’s this guy’s name?”
“Axel. Jesus,” he cursed. “My name is Axel.”
“Mine’s Jacob Brooks.”
“I really don’t care to know anything about you.”
“Fine, then I’ll only ask and not answer. How did you die?”
“Old age, if you’d believe it.”
“Whoa,” I mumbled before I could stop myself. “But you’re not- I mean, you don’t look old.”
“No, but really, you look like you're in your thirties.”
He pulled to a stop with an aggravated huff. “There is so much you don’t know and if I have to explain every single one of life’s mysteries to you in one night then I will definitely find a way to kill myself a second time, even if it’s supposed to be impossible.”
I stifled some of my eagerness for his sake. “All I’m wondering is how you can make yourself look young.”
He raised an eyebrow and gestured at me from head to toe. “You’re a teenager. You don’t need to make yourself look younger.”
“I’m twenty-six,” I muttered with a bit of indignation.
“And you look twelve.”
“Then I guess what I want to know is if you can make yourself look younger, can I make myself look older?”
He sighed, resigned. “Yes, fine. Yes. Once you master how to manifest yourself, you can also manipulate your own appearance.”
“Can I shapeshift completely? Can I look like anybody?” I asked, my excitement returning the spring in my step.
“No, you still have to look like you. It’s your soul, so it’s confined to your appearance. But your soul is timeless. Therefore, any age that your body lived, or had the potential to live, is stored within. You can pick and choose different features from different points in your timeline to make yourself look as young or old, as good or bad, as you want. Yes, I look like I’m in my thirties because I choose to look this way. This is when I looked my best. I kept the hair from my later years, though. It makes me look distinguished.”
“So I can make myself be in my thirties or forties, even though I never lived those years?”
“Yes. Right now your soul defaulted to the last visage you had. You’ll probably be this way for quite some time. Like I said, getting a handle on manifesting is a long process. Manipulating yourself is an even longer one.”
“You put clothes on me,” I begged. “Can you mess with the rest of my appearance?”
“Your clothes were just a cheap parlor trick,” he scorned. “Changing your form is a whole other beast.”
“What’s the likelihood that I’ll see another dead person I know? I want to look good before anyone sees me. If souls can stay on Earth, do we have famous dead people strolling around? Like Gandhi or Hitler?”
“You’re obviously not listening. The reason souls get stuck here is because it's undetermined whether they should go to heaven or hell. They lived unremarkable lives and managed to do neither good nor bad. The extra time is to determine your worthiness or lack of. Most famous people are notable for their actions. I think it’s pretty clear where Gandhi ended up and we definitely know where Hitler is.”
“So who are you looking for? How do you know what graveyards to hit? You knew to look for me tonight.”
“Sometimes I try to keep up with the obits and check in on the recently departed, but more often than not, I simply show up and see if I happen on someone. I had no idea I would run into you. And it’s not just graveyards. The dead show up in the strangest of places sometimes.”
“How long have I been dead?”
“You would have to ask someone who cares. But don’t ask because like I said, you’re really not supposed to talk to people.”
“If I’m already buried it couldn’t have been instant.”
“It takes a little bit to get your bearings. You could have been dormant in your body for awhile before you finally woke up and stepped into the brave, new world.”
I skipped beside him. “I want to help you and the angels. I want to help people understand.”
“Too bad,” he cut off. “That’s my job, I’ve already claimed it. Go find your own shtick.”
“But I’m not good at anything that I know of.”
“And that’s probably why you didn’t get into heaven in the first place. But that’s not my problem. I did my part, answered all your insufferable questions. Go live your afterlife.” He hurried ahead so my bumbling new legs couldn’t keep up.
“Where am I supposed to go?” I shouted after him.
“Anywhere, as long as you’re not bugging me.” He vanished around the side of a fence.
I whirled around myself, studying the familiar, hometown street corner through new eyes. In life I had no purpose. It was time to find a true calling in death, for the sake of my eternal fate.
© 2021 by Kelsey Garber