No Land's Man - Part 1 of 4
by Jim Kohl
Russell thought the car was coming at him too fast. He was surprised as he stood by the car and watched the young driver get out screaming. He stood by and watched as people made such a fuss over the wreck, and he laughed at the whole scene. “I can’t believe these people think that a car crash is such a big deal,” he said. He combed his fingers through his blond hair.
Russell hadn’t felt this good in months. He smiled huge as the paramedics and firemen and policeman pushed their way through the crowd. Jennica, his girlfriend, and he had been fighting. They fought in a way last night that Russell had not seen since Melissa dumped him. Was that three years ago? This morning, before he left for work, Jennica had given him that line about being friends. It had all seemed like such a big deal before he crossed the street.
Before he first saw the door, he saw the paramedics load some blond guy onto a stretcher and shove him into the back of an ambulance.
“Think’ll make it?” One of them said.
The other let a burst of air escape his lips and shook his head.
“Poor guy,” thought Russell.
Then Russell saw the door. It was white, and it was in the side of the building lined up directly across from the front of the car that steamed and whistled as a tow truck man messed with things beneath the hood. Russell walked this way to lunch at least three times a week, and he had never seen this door before. Once he saw it, he couldn’t take his eyes off it. He weaved through the crowd of people, hurrying along the sidewalk toward the door. “Check out this door,” he said. No one looked.
The door was white and ornate, free of the normal violation of the city. “It won’t be long before some kid comes and tags this thing.” Russell thought.
Russell ran his hands over the carvings in the door. There were angels, and race cars and some of the characters from X-Men. “Wolverine,” Russell said, “Right on.”
The knob turned easy in Russell’s hand. He took a look over his shoulder and stepped through the door. It clicked shut behind him.
He was standing in a long hallway. The whole thing was lined with doors. It was well lit, and it seemed to stretch on forever in both directions. Russell could not tell where the light was coming from.
To his left, he heard voices and music and other sounds that he couldn’t name but that sounded familiar. He headed to his left, and it wasn’t long before he reached the noise. There was a long thoroughfare. People walked up and down it. Everyone smiled, and no one seemed to be in a hurry.
Russell could not believe the flowers. No one stepped in them, and there were no fences around them. There was not a speck of dirt on the white ground, which appeared to be concrete except there were no cracks. A man up ahead rang a bell and held a sign. He chanted something. Russell heard the man’s words as he got closer.
“There are living souls out there. I have proof. Repent while you still have time!”
“What a whack job,” someone said.
“Huh?” Russell said. He turned and saw a man carrying a bag filled with books.
“The guy’s a nut case. He’s out here everyday saying that we used to be in bodies.”
“In bodies?” Russell said, Used to be?” He looked down and saw what looked like his hands.
“Yeah. He says we were solid and had mass at one time. What a whack job!” The man walked on his way and vanished after a few steps.
It was then, standing alone within earshot of the whack job’s bell that Russell realized he was dead. “But how could this be?”
Russell thought back over everything that happened. “There was a white door, but that didn’t kill me. What happened before the white door?” He stood there with his hand on his chin, or at least what he took to be his chin. People passed him on either side. Many looked as if they would knock into him but turned at the last possible inch.
There was nothing before the white door.
“Are you going to the lecture? What side are you on?” It was a woman, or it had been a woman, or it was a female soul. Russell was not exactly sure how to refer to anyone anymore.
“What side am I on?” Russell asked. He combed his fingers through his hair.
“Yeah, you know, for or against?”
“For or against what? I haven’t been here that long.”
She laughed and circled around him. Russell could see wisps of white trailing off the back of her as she moved. “Long doesn’t mean anything.”
“Oh, well…I’m new.” Russell said. He expected heat to come to his cheeks, but it didn’t.
“You mean you just came from the corridor?” She said.
“Yeah,” Russell said. He motioned to where he remembered the corridor being, but when he looked, he saw no sign of it.
“Then you must go to the lecture. You must pick a side. For…”
“Or against, but what do you mean?” Russell said. He watched a group of souls pass them. They had thin sticks with circles at the end. They held these close to them, and giggled shrill as they passed.
“Follow me,” she said.
“Do you have a name?”
She turned to look at him. Her hair turned from blond to red and back. She laughed and twirled. “It was Mary.”
“What is it now?”
“We don’t need names.”
“I’m Russ…I mean, I was Russell.” He held out his hand and then put it down before she noticed.
“I know you were. You were also Mark, and Seth, and Raymond, and Priscilla, but you only tried that once.”
Russell’s mouth dropped open.
“Come to the lecture.”
Mary led Russell down the sidewalk. It twisted and turned. They weaved between the souls. Mary laughed at each turn. She was often just above the white path twirling. The trails tracing her every move turned from white to silver and back.
After much floating and weaving and twirling and laughing, they came to what looked like a large auditorium. It was yellow at first, but it turned more orange the closer they got to it. By the time they were entering, it was red.
A crowd of souls hovered above their seats. Russell chose to sit in a seat and was glad that a few others did as well. Mary was in and out of her seat as the mood struck her. In front of the crowd stood a podium with an emblem on it that Russell had never seen before. It changed shape as fast as the building had changed color, so Russell never saw the emblem again either. It began to look like an eagle carrying a bucket as the speaker arrived.
A soul with serious looking hair walked up behind the podium. A hush fell over half the crowd while the other half chatted and tittered and laughed. No matter the noise, the speaker began. All could hear him. The emblem changed into a broken heart and then a duck.
“They are on to us.”
Some souls shrieked. Some laughed. A large one to Russell’s left pretended to gag and vomit. Mary whirled to the top of the auditorium and back down to her seat. Russell watched and listened.
“I know they are on to us,” the lecturer said, “because I have been watching them too.”
More chaos in the crowd erupted. Russell saw a pair of souls twist around each other and twirl together the length of the auditorium. They spun so fast that the division between them was gone.
“There’s no difference,” he said.
“Now you’re getting it!” Mary said. She spiraled around him and laughed like vibrating crystal.
“They have what they call websites out there,” the speaker continued. He raised his volume a bit in importance. “One of them, DarkPalace.com, offers all sorts of theories on us. Some of them are hilarious. Some of them are too close to the truth for comfort.”
Had they been able to, the room would have gasped. It sounded like a gasp, but Russell realized that even the sound he made was an imitation of what he used to call a gasp.
“You need to decide what side you are on. You either interfere with them, or you don’t. Should you interfere,” the lecturer, “The rest of us should not have to pay the price for it.”
There was applause and hooting and hollering and laughing. Many souls spiraled across the auditorium. Some went through each other and emitted blue sparks that fell like miniature fireworks. “We all pay our own price,” someone said.
The shape on the podium looked like a clown and then like an executioner.
“Greg Daniels, the so called webmaster of DarkPalace.com, has dedicated his life to proving we are here. He and his group hunt for us with cameras and electromagnetic detectors, and thermometers. They scour graveyards and anywhere else that they hear we might be.”
“Graveyards!” One soul said and laughed, “There’s nothing in graveyards.”
“I know you may say that there is nothing in graveyards,” the speaker said, “but his pictures in graveyards are enough to keep people interested. I am of the opinion that we are none of their business. If you feel this way, you must not cross over.”
The auditorium erupted more than the other times. The emblem on the podium vanished, and the speaker stepped away from it and disappeared.
Russell understood little of what was said. It was clear that he had the option to haunt if he wanted to, at least he used to call it “haunt.” It felt more like hanging out now. It was clear that the speaker didn’t like haunting. It was also clear that having souls as your audience at a lecture was not what most lecturers he was familiar with would want.
Russell wondered if that was really right. He had a dim memory of a lecture he attended before he saw the white door, but it was gone as soon as he thought of it. “Lectures were always just like that,” he decided and he hoped that by the next time he would know how to shoot himself across the room.
Mary and the lecture hall were gone. Russell walked along the crack free sidewalk.
“So are you for or against?” It was group of souls. The one that spoke carried one of those sticks with the round end on it that Russell had seen earlier. They circled him and widened what Russell would have called eyes as they waited for the answer.
“I don’t know.” Russell said.
“Are you for and against?” This soul had bright blue eyes as sharp as shattered glass.
“I’m not sure. I saw the lecture.”
“How was it?” This soul had deep crevices accenting his face.
“I…guess it was okay. He seemed to be against crossing over to whatever.”
“Crossing over to where the people are.” The blue eyed soul said. “Tell me something, do you call yourself anything?”
“You’re still using a name.” The three circled him and lifted a little off the ground. “Well, Russell, why don’t you call me John.”
The blue eyed soul laughed, “I’ll be Bill.”
“Uhm…Jacob,” said the soul with the stick.
“What are those sticks for?” Russell asked. He wished he could float like these three and Mary. For a second, Russell wondered where she had gone, but then he felt himself rise. “Hey,” he said, “I’m floating.
“It must be time for you to,” John said. “It all comes with time. It’s all a process of forgetting and remembering in a different form.”
“This is all so confusing.”
“No it’s not.” Bill said.
Russell landed. “So about those sticks…”
“Do you want us to show you what they are for?” Jacob said. He tossed the stick and caught it without looking at it.
“No, he’s too new.” John said.
“He’s a newly-dead, how pretty!” Bill said in a female voice. The three laughed and spiraled all around Russell.
Russell expected the heat of embarrassment once again, but it never came.
“Do you miss anyone?” Bill asked, floating an inch away from Russell’s face.
Russell thought. He could picture the door and he could still see Wolverine carved into it. He could not remember much else at all. He thought of warm drinks, which made him remember a walk with someone. They were near an ocean. “It’s hard to think of anyone, but I remember being with someone. I think we loved each other.”
“Don’t we all.” Bill said. “He seems like he’d be okay, John, he didn’t come up with a name of anyone or anything. And he thought for a while before he even dug up what he said.”
“I don’t like it. He could do something risky and ruin everything.” John said.
“Nah, he’ll be fine,” Bill said. He swirled around John.
“I don’t like it. All we need is one mess up, and we’ll give them an eternity’s worth of lecture material.” John lost all of his wispy quality and stood firm on the white pathway. His well-lined face was as still as a Roman statue.
“Look, Bill, you know what we’ve always said,” Jacob said, hovering between John and Bill, “If the three of us don’t agree on something, than it doesn’t happen.” Jacob slid the stick with the hoop on the end into what Russell would have called a pocket if souls had pockets. Russell knew that he did not.
“We’ll keep track of you,” Bill said, “We’ll come for you when you are ready if that is what you want at the time.
John heard Bill and hovered above the path again. Russell could see the trails coming off of him as he circled Bill and Jacob. “Yes, we’ll talk to you again when you are a little more dead.”
“A little more dead!” Jacob said, and the three laughed and were gone.
“I wish Mary were here,” Russell said.
“I am,” Mary said.
Russell turned in time to see her start to circle him. He hovered himself and tried to circle around her. She was too fast for him.
“Oooh! You’re already picking it up,” she said, “Come up high with me, Russell.”
Russell followed her up. The farther up they went, the farther Russell saw that they could go. It was infinite in all directions.
“That’s right,” Mary said, as if she could hear his thought process, “The only reason you even see a ground is that you still feel that you need a ground. It’s all what you need when you need it here. It’s infinite, yet you can wrap your soul around it should you try.” She smiled, “Of course, you’re soul is infinite too, and that’s why it’s easy to wrap your soul around it.”
“Some guys…I mean…some souls were asking me if I was for or against it again.”
“Is that what they were talking about?” As they floated and streamed along, they saw souls shoot past like multi-colored comets. A streak of purple would be followed by a blast of green and then orange. Russell got the sense that these souls were not in a hurry as much as they either enjoyed shooting fast or enjoyed showing off.
“Yes,” Mary said, “Are you for or against it?”
“I don’t know. I’ve never done it.”
“I can’t explain much about what is going on with you or what this existence is, but I will tell you this. There are no limits here. None. If you want something, it’s yours. If you need someone, they’re there. If you cross over, you have a limitless form in a world with limits, does that make sense?”
“I guess,” Russell said. He was watching a speeding soul turn from red to gold. He saw a purple one mesh with a metallic blue one and he watched the neon green sparks fly in each direction.
“And being here is a process of forgetting everything, and then remembering pieces, and then letting it all go. You’re still in the forgetting stage.”
“Yes. Tell me one thing that happened before you saw the white door?”
Russell thought. He combed his mind. “I don’t know. The door was the beginning.”
“Yes, you are right. We were nothing before the door as far as any of us know. On occasion, a new soul can’t or won’t forget what happened before the door. That’s what gives us souls like the ‘whack job,’ as you called him, that you saw when you first got here.”
Russell remembered him screaming about how they had all had bodies at one point. “I didn’t call him that.”
“You didn’t disagree.” Mary spun and completely broke apart in wisps of mist before forming into herself again. “That is so refreshing!” She said.
“Okay, call me stupid, but what does all this have to do with crossing over?” Russell said. He tried to swirl around, but ended up doing a really slow somersault.
Mary laughed her crystal laugh; “You’ll get it. That wasn’t bad!” She circled around him and nearly went through him. “It’s this. Don’t cross over. If you do, you will unforget things, and it could end very badly.”
“I can’t tell you.”
The path appeared below them and Russell stood on it, “Well, if you can’t tell me why it’s bad, then why should I believe that it is bad?”
“I said it could be bad.” Mary hovered just above Russell. Russell reminded himself of John when he had become stubborn just a few moments ago. “You have to take the path you choose. I know now that it would have been the wrong path for me. I suspect it will be the wrong path for you.” Mary said.
“These guys didn’t want to take me anyway.”
“See?” Mary said, “We all do know what’s best. Even the notion of debating whether it’s good or bad to cross over is a piece of baggage from a form of existence that doesn’t apply here. Every soul gets by in a different way, but we all get by.”
“So you mean some should cross over?”
“Some should cross. Some should not, but new ones should wait.” Mary said, “That’s all.” She broke apart and went every direction.
“So I should wait because I’m new,” Russell said. He enjoyed Mary. He also knew that he was in a place where everything was possible. If that were the case, then no one would be telling him what he shouldn’t do.
(c) 2002 Jim Kohl. All rights reserved.
Jim Kohl lives in California with his wife and three kids. He enjoys playing guitar, and is currently writing his third book. He has also written a children's story and a handful of short stories. Visit him on the web to find out more about his latest book, Noble Poverty: A Teacher's Life in Silicon Valley.
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