No Land's Man - Part 3 of 4
by Jim Kohl
The girl typed away at the computer. Russell heard her fingers tapping on the keyboard and looked at what she was saying. “I think she is gone now,” she typed, “I don’t sense anything right now. Thanks for being there with me, you guys.”
“Do you think she has some unfinished business?” someone typed.
“I don’t know. I mean, I know that’s common for ghosts to stick around because of unfinished business, but I have no way of knowing what it might be for her, or if she even has any,” she typed.
Russell stepped back. He felt like it was impolite to read over someone’s shoulder, and he had no recollection that just minutes before he did not remember that there were such things as polite and impolite behavior. He was starting to wonder how it was that he ended up in this girl’s house when she shut down her computer for the night and turned toward the door.
“Hey, so you like ghosts?” Russell said.
The girl walked past him and headed down the hall.
“I mean, you know, ghosts are cool. I don’t know if I believe in them or not myself, but that was a pretty cool website you were looking at there,” Russell said. The girl led him down the hall and disappeared into a doorway. The way she vanished seemed familiar to Russell, but he didn’t know why. “Oh, you’re in the…bathroom,” the word just came to him, “Well, I’ll just wait right over here then.”
Russell backed away from the door and found a chair in the living room. He felt like something was wrong. A light switch on the wall caught his eye, and he flipped it up before collapsing onto the couch. He had never felt a couch like this. It wasn’t comfortable or uncomfortable. It was the same as standing, which was no different than sitting.
The girl opened the bathroom door. She stopped in the hall. She turned and looked into the living room. Her hands were at her sides and her fingers were widespread apart. “Who’s there?”
“It’s me, Russell.” Russell figured she must be a friend of his because there was no way that he would be in a house uninvited. “She’s just messing with me,” he said to himself.
“Look, I don’t know who you are, or what you want. But you need to move toward the light,” she said. Her eyes were wide, and she pressed her hands together in front of her chest.
“Okay,” Russell said. “I turned it on, and if you want me to move toward it, I will. You gotta stop acting like such a freak, though.” Russell got up off the couch and moved across the room. He stood in front of the black iron reading lamp that came on when he flipped the switch. “Okay, I’m about as close to the light as I can get.”
The girl crossed the room. She stretched her arm as far as she could and flipped the light switch to the down position. The lamp went off.
“Hey!” Russell said.
The girl let out a yelp and ran the length of the hall. Russell heard a door slam and heard pounding music from down the hall.
“Snob,” Russell said. He found his way to the front door, and before he knew it, he was standing on the lawn. White frost dusted the roofs of houses. Car windows looked like solid walls of water. Russell found it odd that he did not feel cold.
Dogs barked from behind fences as Russell made his way along the empty street. Cars hissed by him. One turned into a driveway and nearly hit him while he strolled the sidewalk. “Idiot!” Russell said.
Miles of houses passed next to him. Russell decided to keep walking until he felt tired. “I don’t remember a time when I was ever able to walk this far,” he said. He passed by all-night diners. Through the windows, he could see couples laughing over coffee, and people sitting alone frowning into it.
The sun came up.
Russell found himself in what he remembered to be called a city. There was steam coming out of the circular steel grates that appeared on the wet street. Paper bags blew in circles on the sidewalk until they trapped themselves on walls or fences. The streetlights turned off and the stoplights weren’t so bright. People started to fill the sidewalks on their way from here to there. A group of people stood by a bench.
He remembered that benches were relaxing. He sat, but he noticed again that sitting was no different than standing.
“After work today, I have to go shopping for Lori’s bridal shower,” a woman said, “I need a dress, and I have to get her something too.”
“Where is she registered?”
“Macy’s, and I think Crate and Barrel,” the girl said.
“I hope all her friends are rich,” Russell said. He looked to the women, but they kept on talking and didn’t even acknowledge him. “Whatever,” he said.
“Did you see something?”
“What are you talking about?”
The first woman looked to the bench where Russell sat. She crinkled her forehead. “I keep thinking I see someone out of the corner of my eye.”
“Real mature,” Russell said.
“Girl, you need some serious sleep.”
“Tell me about it. It’s getting harder to hide the dark bags under my eyes,” she said, “Can you see them?”
Russell knew the second woman was either blind or lying.
“Thank God. I thought everyone could see them.”
Russell got off the bench. The first girl looked over to the bench again. “You didn’t see anything over there?”
“Girl, you’ trippin. Can’t you call in and go home and sleep?”
A woman walked up with a baby stroller. She stood a few feet away from the crowd gathering by the bench. The baby, Michael, looked out from his little blue hood to see the bus stop for the second time in his life. He gurgled and some drool glazed his chin. He looked right at Russell.
“Hey little guy. Can you see me?” Russell walked over to him and ignored the spasmodic shiver of the girl he walked through.
“Someone must be walking on your grave,” a man said to the girl.
“Can you see me little guy?” Russell knelt down right in front of the stroller. Michael stared up at him. “Hey little guy.” Russell waved.
Michael laughed and clapped his hands and looked right into Russell’s face.
“Michael, what are you laughing at. What’s mommy’s silly boy laughing at?”
Michael clapped and gurgled and cooed and never took his eyes off of Russell’s eyes.
“It is so great that you can see me. I feel so relieved! Do you know I have been walking around and no one so much as nods in my direction? It’s like the whole world is in on some major joke except me.” Michael laughed harder than ever and clapped his hands. His eyes beamed.
“You are one of the good one’s, Michael. I like you.” A bus pulled up, and the doors hissed open. The people filed on and plopped change into the till or flashed a pass to the heavy driver who nodded at each person. Michael’s mother pulled him out of the stroller and folded it in on itself. She held the stroller with one hand and held Michael to her left shoulder with the other arm.
“Bye, Michael,” Russell said. He thought of following them onto the bus, but it didn’t feel right.
Michael waved and laughed at Russell from the window as the bus pulled away.
Russell’s favorite time of day was early morning. He loved it in the winter most of all. He sat on a street or on someone’s driveway and watched the cold come in. He couldn’t feel the cold, but he knew it was on its way when he saw the corners of the car windshields cloud over. He would watch that cloud grow. Soon, the entire windshield would be hazed over.
Next, the haze on the window would thicken to the point where it was solid. It turned from gray to white. By the end, it looked like someone had spread a thin coat of cake frosting all across the windshield. Russell loved to watch things freeze.
Sometimes he stayed in a house. He would get used to a family, and one by one they would leave. Before he knew it, there was no one in the house except for him. He watched people fall in love, grow old and die. When they died, they would get up and look right at him. One time, one woman asked him if he was the one that had taken the TV remote control.
“Yes,” he said.
“I knew it,” the woman said. She opened up a beautiful white door and went into it.
Russell stared at the door and watched the people around it. All of them were still tending to the woman’s body. It lay in front of the beige couch. A young boy wrapped his arms around his mother’s leg, pressed his face into her thigh and wailed. She patted his back and told him it would be all right.
“She’s not here,” Russell told them, “She went through the door. She is not here.”
Russell watched the paramedics come and wheel off the woman’s body. Soon, he sat in the empty house and stared at the white door. By the time he had finished staring at it, all the furniture in the house was gone, and a good deal of dust had settled into the place.
Russell stepped toward the white door and tried to open it. He could not. “There is something about this door that I should know. I know I have seen one of these before.”
Russell headed out of the house. It was countless blocks later, in a dark alley in a city, that Russell saw five more brilliant white doors. The more doors he saw, the more he knew he had something to do with the doors.
There were two more in the convenience store. People walked about them as if they couldn’t see them, but Russell saw the people shiver each time they got too close to one of the doors.
He contemplated the doors as he walked the crowded streets. “Does anyone know what the white doors are for? Does anyone have a clue what they have to do with me?”
People walked all around him and through him.
“The end is near. Will your soul be safe? Repent, says the Lord! Repent.” The man held a book in his hand and stood on a black folding chair near a stoplight.
“A soul!” Russell said. “That’s what I am. I’m a soul, I think. And souls go through doors like that. Why can’t I get through the doors?”
Russell glanced across the street at that time. The sun had started to sink again. He could never believe how fast the sun went up and down. He understood why so many people in the city were in a hurry. Time was fast.
Across the busy street was a woman in colorful clothes. She shouted over the traffic’s hum. “I will talk to your lost family. I can connect you to the other side. First reading is free.”
The woman sat at a card table covered with more of the same colorful material she wore. She had a lavender contact in one of her brown eyes, and people that passed her tried to figure out which eye was real. A crystal ball sat on a gold base in the middle of the card table. Russell stood behind her on the street and watched her as car after car drove through him. He always felt most at ease when cars drove through him. A young woman sat in the chair on the other side of the crystal ball. The crystal ball caught the streetlight glow just right and projected the spectrum of colors on the women’s faces. The psychic wore the light well.
“My darling, I am glad you came to me this evening.”
“Thanks,” the young woman said.
“May I know your name. I’m getting a K sound.” “It’s Christine.”
“Welcome Christine,” the psychic said, “What questions do you have for me?”
“Well, you talk to spirits, right?” Christine said.
“If they so choose to talk to me, I hear them and I relay the message. Please know that I only relay the message as I hear it, and should I make contact for you tonight, you may or may not like what you hear.”
Christine nodded. She pulled her black coat tight around her and folded her gloved hands in her lap. “How much does this cost?”
“How can you put price on making contact with the other side. I take donations, most people donate $50.”
“I need to make living. This is my only trade.”
Christine sighed and handed the psychic the money.
“Spirits are all around us,” the psychic raised her arms high above her head and looked to the sky.
Russell was excited. He knew she must sense him. “Where do I belong? Why do I feel so out of place lately?”
“We must wait for the spirits to talk. Who is it that you wish to speak to tonight, Christine?”
“Natalie, Christine misses you in her life on this side and would like a sign that you are safe and that you are happy,” the psychic whirled her hands around the crystal ball on the table and stared into it.
“Look, I don’t know Christine’s grandmother, but my name is Russell, and I just have a couple questions…”
“Christine has questions, Natalie…” the psychic rolled her eyes back into her head and leaned back just right into the orange streetlight glow.
“Great,” Russell said, “I may be able to help Christine with her questions if you can maybe help me out with mine. Do you know why I never feel the cold? I think I remember feeling cold. I feel really out of place just about everywhere I go.”
“Step from cold, Natalie, your loving granddaughter, Christine, needs to talk to you.”
“My grandmother is in the cold? She hated being cold. I used to have to put on a jacket if she ever felt cold.” Christine said. She shook her head, “Why is she in the cold?”
“My dear child,” the psychic said, “the cold is just one of my many words for the other side.” After this explanation, the psychic showed the whites of her eyes to Christine and the people gathering behind her on the street. The bigger the show, the better the pile of money at the end of the night. A lot of people wanted to talk to dead people on Saturday evenings. They waited, sometimes three deep, in their scarves and knitted hats.
“I’m never cold,” Russell said.
“Well, as long as she’s not stuck in the cold,” Christine said, “She went to church every day, my grandma. I don’t think that God would let her feel cold.”
Russell shook his head and started to walk away. “This chick is a scam,” he said.
“Your grandmother is not cold. Natalie says she is not cold and hasn’t been in a long time,” the psychic said, “Natalie says she is never cold.”
Russell turned back to them. He looked at the psychic and tried to ignore the mystical hand motions that she never tired of. She had said what he had said.
“Can you hear me?” Russell said, “You know, I’m not Natalie, but if you can hear me, maybe you can help me. I need to go where I belong,” Russell realized that he wasn’t sure where that was.
“She says she is not Natalie. She wants to be called grandma. She wants to be heard. She was very proud of being your grandma. She was very proud of you.”
Christine raised a gloved hand and dabbed at her eye. Russell didn’t know what to do. He wasn’t sure what to say. If he said all he could, maybe that would help.
“I see white doors here. No one else seems to. I see them everywhere, and there are a lot more in the city than in the country. I have come across a couple in the woods. Hospitals are full of them, just about every room has one. What are these white doors? I feel like they are a part of me.”
“Natalie, your grandmother, is in the light. She is surrounded by white. There is too much to ignore,” the psychic said. “The light is a part of her, and she is a part of the light. Such is way it is.” With a couple of dramatic swirls around the crystal ball, the psychic’s eyes returned to normal. Christine reached into her pocket for a small pack of pink tissues, and the crowd standing behind her applauded.
“Thank you!” Christine said, “Thank you so much.”
“Not a problem, dear,” the psychic said, “Your grandmother loves you very much. I don’t think she’s ever far away.”
“You are a complete fraud!” Russell said, “I can’t believe people buy your line of garbage.”
The psychic’s head turned from the smiling crowd and stared toward Russell. She squinted into the area beyond the halo of the streetlight. She shook her head a little and smiled back at the crowd. “Spirits strong tonight. Who’s next?”
Russell walked away down the street. If that psychic was going to feign closure for another person tonight, she would be doing it without him. “But she did seem to hear me a little,” Russell thought, “Maybe I needed to talk louder.” By the time Russell looked over his shoulder again, the crowd and the psychic were gone. “If I could just always have a clock handy, that would never happen.”
Russell tried to carry a watch, but he could not. Once in a while, he could hide a remote control for a TV or flip a light switch, or even move things around a room if he really tried. No matter how much he practiced, he could not carry anything with him. Nothing, that is, except the growing memory of the end of his relationship with Jennica.
She had ended it. He didn’t want it to end. Now he was a spirit, and the more he wandered around and watched people, the more he knew that he used to be one, and that somehow, he didn’t have closure with Jennica. She probably thought that he became a spirit on purpose. She might have thought that he couldn’t take the pain and he ran away. He didn’t know what she thought. He had no way of finding her. For all Russell knew, Jennica was a spirit as well by now.
Over the shoulder’s of people in libraries and in front of their TV’s and computer screens, Russell learned all that human’s knew about spirits. He thought, for a while, that he was a guardian angel. He liked that idea, but he never really helped anyone, and no one seemed to notice him except on rare occasions. He figured people would be meant to hear him if he were a guardian angel, so how could he be one?
“Still,” Russell said, “it would have been really cool if I was a guardian angel.”
One of the things that bothered him the most was the notion of unfinished business. On DarkPalace.com, there was a whole page dedicated to unfinished business. It said that spirits get stuck to the earth because of some task or some reconciliation that they need to settle before they can cross over. If he had any unfinished business, he knew it must have to do with Jennica. Since he had no way of finding her or knowing if she still lived, there was no way to finish that business. “I’ll never get out.”
(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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