EXCERPT FROM “MR. SHADY” by Rob E. Boley
After dying in a car wreck, I spent the first three days of my afterlife standing in the same damn endless line. Okay, technically I wasn’t standing. I was hovering in mid-air. Also, to call it a line was being generous. Imagine instead a squirming mob of thousands of ghosts all floating in front of the same massive orb of light. Yes, the fabled Light with a capital L—the one that was waiting for all of us after our final breath. The crowd waiting for the Light had no real shape. We jostled against each other, restless yet passive. See, the line wasn’t moving. No one was passing through. Something about the Light was broken.
I imagined those at the front of the pack had lost all form—smashed from the hundreds of thousands of fellow spirits pressing against them from behind. Even surrounded by countless lost souls, the Light still glowed brilliantly. I couldn’t not look. Indeed, all the ghosts waiting with me stared blankly at its immeasurable beauty. I didn’t know if it was heaven or not, but it was clearly worth the wait. Imagine my surprise when after days of waiting, a tingle washed over me and I fell out of the sky.
It happened like this. Something tugged me downward. Like gravity, except more purposeful. Instinctively, I grabbed the hem of my skirt. I drifted lower, now at eye level with the crotch of the ghost beside me, a balding spirit in a faded blue suit. His aura glowed white—just like all the others in the crowd.
“Shit,” I said to him. “Will you save my place in line?”
He nodded wearily, but as soon as I drifted out of the way, some old biddy hovered into my spot. Damn it. You’d think heaven would’ve had some kind of Fast Pass system like Disney World.
As soon as I was free of the crowd, I fell.
Faster and faster, I spilled through clouds. The tingling sensation wormed around my ghost flesh. My intangible arms pinwheeled at the shreds of unblossomed rain. I tumbled past new spirits rising to join the epic crowd. My velocity increased, the wind shearing bits of my ghostly essence away. Those phantom particles trailed behind me like the tail of a meteor, except this meteor was screaming her fool head off.
“Fuuuuuuuuck,” I yelled. “Meeeeeeee!”
The ground was coming fast. I was falling toward my hometown of Davis, Ohio—a one-stoplight town surrounded by well-groomed cornfields, a patchwork of forest, and an increasing number of upscale subdivisions. The elementary school was in the middle of town. It must’ve been recess because a bunch of kids were standing on the playground. Most likely they couldn’t see me, but I crossed my legs all the same. I didn’t want any prepubescent boys seeing the goods.
For a moment, the view of Davis eclipsed my sheer panic. I’d never seen the town from this angle. The divide between the poor and well-to-do couldn’t have been more clear. Those with less lived in the run-down homes clustered in the middle of town. Those with more resided in the much larger, newer, and more spaced-apart homes that rippled outward from the town like the rings of Saturn.
Winter’s fresh potholes hadn’t yet been filled. Green buds sat like fat insects on the trees’ bare limbs. Leaves filled the gutters. It was a normal early spring day in Davis, aside from the unusual number of cars parked at the graveyard.
My home—rather, my mother’s home—sat, or more accurately squatted or leaned, almost in the dead center of town. I expected that was where I was headed. Perhaps I was destined to haunt those crooked walls and crammed closets for the rest of eternity. If so, I vowed then and there that I’d find a way to strip the Home Shopping Network from Mom’s cable system. I was already thinking of ways to torment Sasha, her annoying Persian cat, but soon realized that I wasn’t going home after all.
No, the tingling force was taking me to the intersection.
Skid marks from the crash that took my life still marred the asphalt at the four-way stop where Dorothy Pike met Orchard Way. Trees lined both roads. An old blue Dodge van was parked on the shoulder in a patch of shade near a shrine of wreaths, pictures, and random knick-knacks. Aww. A shrine? For me? How sweet.
The ground rushed at me. The wind roared like an angry lion. I curled into a ball to minimize the impact. If I’d still had a functioning bladder, I surely would’ve pissed myself. I closed my eyes but could still see through my translucent eyelids—though everything was milkier. My spectral muscles tensed. Would I shatter like glass or splash like water?
The tingling force field that enveloped me eased to a stop and plopped me as light as a feather on all fours to the ground. An ectoplasmic tear rolled down my cheek. The field tugged me toward the parked van, but I wanted to see the memorial. I clutched at the grass on the side of the road.
A handful of tiny knives stabbed into me.
The grass’s thin green blades did not yield to my touch. My hand didn’t bend and bow the grass. Rather, the long green cutlasses pierced my phantom palm like a pincushion. I discovered then and there that I was no longer an active participant in the physical world.
No, I was at its mercy.
I screamed. Each penetration stung horribly and yet I crawled onward. The grass blades stabbed into my knees and shins, the pads of my feet. I gasped and grunted, edging closer to the shrine. More tears. The force tugged me, but I needed to see the memorial. Despite the pain, I couldn’t stop a trembling grin. This outpouring of love gave me the strength to endure.
Except the monument wasn’t for me at all. No, the pictures were of some young blond girl, and all the signs said shit like, “We miss you, Shannon.”
“Rest in peace, Shannon.”
“I love you, Shannon.”
Fuck you, Shannon.
My unbeating heart sank. I yielded to the field around me. The tugging force pulled me to my feet and dragged me down the shoulder of the road. It was strange not hearing the gravel crunch under my feet. Stranger still was the fact that I was wearing only one kitten heel. My right foot was bare. I must’ve lost that shoe during the crash. I kicked off the ghostly heel but it whizzed around in a wide arc and snapped back onto my foot like some kind of podiatric boomerang.
The force sucked me backward into the van’s open driver side window. I tumbled into the passenger side bucket seat, surprised to find another ghost sitting behind the wheel. It was Shannon, the girl from the shrine, and she was wearing a track outfit. Blue and red—the Davis High School colors. I’d worn a similar uniform back in school but that’d been over a decade ago. Shannon wore her hair in a tight ponytail. She stared at two teenage girls in the back of the van. Her aura glowed a faded yellow—the color of old newspapers.
“What’s going on?” I said, because I couldn’t think of anything better. “My name’s Molly.”
She ignored me. I figured that maybe she couldn’t see me. Maybe I was so unwanted and forgotten that I was a ghost even to other ghosts. I looked down at my palms. The tiny stab wounds from the grass had stopped bleeding. As I watched, my ghostly flesh knit itself back together.
The van’s rear seats had been stripped out, replaced by two beanbag chairs and a pile of blankets. The girls sat on the bags facing each other over a Ouija board. They both wore black lipstick, too much eye shadow, and blue streaks in their hair. One sported a black halter top that revealed way too much cleavage. The other had big horn rimmed glasses that I was pretty sure were supposed to be ironic. Their fingertips rested on a planchette. A thin line of smoke wormed upward from an incense stick beside the board. I sniffed but my ghost nose could barely smell its spicy scent. And maybe that was just a memory.
“This feels wrong,” Cleavage said. “I mean, shouldn’t we be at Shannon’s funeral? We could get in trouble for skipping.”
Her funeral. That explained all the cars at the graveyard.
“C’mon,” Glasses said. “This could be my last chance to talk to her before she passes over. I need to make things right.”
“But shouldn’t we be doing this at night?”
“I’m grounded, remember?”
“You haven’t talked to her in, what, a year?”
“She’s still my best friend.”
Cleavage frowned at this.
Shannon’s ghost finally spoke up. “I’m not your best friend. Now let me go, dammit.”
“You who have died here, we summon you,” Glasses said. “Shannon, can you hear us?”
“Of course I can hear you,” Shannon said. “What the hell do you want?”
“I think you’re supposed to use the planchette,” I said.
She still apparently couldn’t hear me.
“You who have died here, we summon you,” Glasses said again. “Shannon, can you give us a sign?”
Shannon flipped them both the bird. I had to chuckle at that.
“You who have died here, we summon you.” Glasses wiped her eyes. “Please, Shannon.”
That’s when I realized why I was here. I hadn’t been called here. I hadn’t been wanted. No, I was here because of non-concise word choice. You who have died here. I’d been swept here because I’d died in the same accident as the ghost beside me.
“She seems sincere,” I told Shannon. It was like talking to sitcom characters behind a television screen. Yes, I had hours of experience doing that very thing. “She only wants to make peace. What have you got to lose?”
The ghost turned on me, and I shrieked. It was like when a street performer pretending to be a statue lurches at you. Except this statue had creepy black eyes—almost totally dilated as if she were high as a kite. Hundreds of black tendrils squirmed at the outer edges of her bulging pupils, slowly devouring each pale blue iris.
“Oh, I’ve got abso-fucking-lutely nothing to lose now, thanks to you,” she said. “Nothing at all. No boyfriend. No scholarship. No future. I have nothing, nobody, and no body, bitch. So thanks for killing me. I really appreciate it.”
“I didn’t kill you,” I said.
“You plowed right into my car.”
I tried to remember the accident, but it was all a blur of metal and headlights. Screeching tires. Metallic crunching. Kid Rock rapping lyrics. Blood squirting. And then screaming . . . horrible screaming—not my own.
“Oh fuck,” I said. “You . . . you didn’t die instantly, did you?”
She sat back and lifted her track shirt, revealing a horrible gash in her abdomen. I gasped. Her intestines uncoiled and snaked outward, but she stuffed them back inside her wound and tucked in her shirt.
“You apparently died instantly,” Shannon said, “because your dumb ass wasn’t wearing a seatbelt. I got to lie in my car and scream for help until I choked on my own blood. It took quite a long time. And seriously? Kid Rock? I have to spend my last goddamn moments on Earth clutching my viscera listening to Kid-fucking-Rock?”
I lowered my gaze. “I’m sorry. I was on my way to a job interview. I was using Kid Rock to psyche myself up.”
“Don’t be sorry. Just be gone.”
I moved toward the window, but it was like wading through thick syrup. The force wouldn’t let me leave the van. The tingling grew tighter as I resisted. My own aura on my outstretched hands glowed the same dull yellow as Shannon’s. She stared at me and rolled her eyes. The both of us pushed against the force binding me to the place. Her hands shoved at my shoulders and back. A tingle ran through me at her touch. The invisible grip proved too strong. I grunted. She cursed. For a moment, a golden glow tinged both our auras. I spilled sideways into the steering wheel, and the van’s horn blared loud enough to make all of us—ghosts and girls—jump and scream.
Glasses said, “Oh fuck. Shannon, you’re here.”
I stared at the ghost. “I can’t leave. I didn’t come here by choice. They summoned me. Just talk to them, make peace, and hopefully we both can go.”
She gritted her teeth. While she climbed into the back to kneel over the board, I pressed my hand against the steering wheel. It wouldn’t yield. The horn wouldn’t blow again. I turned and watched the teens. Cleavage’s hands trembled on the planchette. A grey mascara tear rolled down Glasses’ cheek. Through Shannon’s translucent back, I watched her place her fingertips over the girls’ hands on the plastic planchette. As it slid over the board, Cleavage mouthed the letters that Shannon gave them: “I-M-H-E-R-E.”
“Shannon,” Glasses said, “I’m so sorry about what happened between us. Do you forgive me?”
The ghost’s shoulders hitched. She guided the planchette over the NO printed in the board’s corner. More grey tears spilled down Glasses’ face. She’d be a raccoon in no time.
“Please,” Glasses said. “We used to be best friends, and then you abandoned me. I got so lonely. I missed you so much.” Cleavage frowned at this. “I didn’t want to hurt you. I wanted to bring you back down . . . down to my level. So I spread rumors that you were bulimic. It was petty and mean and I’m sorry.”
Shannon was no longer looking at the board. She was staring at Glasses. Her spectral hands balled into tight fists, as if she was going to slug the girl.
“Anger can eat you up if you let it,” I told Shannon. “Believe me. I’ve seen it firsthand.”
She glared at me with her awful squirmy eyes. “What the fuck do you know about it?”
I sighed as best as I could without lungs. “Your friend, what’s her name?”
“Give Tara some peace. If nothing else, hopefully it’ll end this. We can go our separate ways and you won’t have to be around me anymore.”
“Fine.” She returned to the planchette.
Once again, Cleavage spelled out the message. “I-F-Y.”
Tara of the Glasses burst into tears and bowed her head.
“Iffy?” I said.
Shannon rolled her dark eyes, which I could only see because the back of her head was transparent. “I forgive you, dumbass.”
“My apologies,” I told her. “I still know how to spell actual words.”
“How about F-U-C-K-O-F-F?”
“Aw, you’re so charming,” I told her. “No wonder you got such a delightful shrine out there.”
She smirked as she worked the planchette. “Peanut butter and jealous, much?”
Cleavage read aloud the message. “L-Y-K-T-H-X.”
“Thank you, Shannon,” Tara said.
The girls moved the planchette over the GOOD BYE printed on the bottom of the board. A weight instantly lifted from my non-being. My aura turned from yellow to a hazy white. I scrabbled out of the van’s window and into the patch of shade on the shoulder of the road. When I looked up, I almost fell over.
It was my first time seeing the Light from down here. It floated in the clouds, surrounded by what must’ve been millions of waiting souls—all shimmering white like some kind of massive squirming cloud. The mass of ghosts reminded me of blind puppies fumbling over each other to get to their momma dog’s nipples. Except in this case, the momma dog had only one nipple, the milk had run dry, and the litter was larger than I could fathom.
Shannon climbed out of the van and wiped her eye. I figured she must’ve had a speck of ghost dust because I couldn’t imagine the little shit was actually crying. Her aura now glowed white, too. I pointed upward at the sky. She glanced upward and then stared at me.
“What the hell did you do to your face?” she said.
“What?” My hands went to my cheeks. “Are my eyes black like yours?”
Her brow knitted in confusion. She squinted at me. “You mean my pupils are all dilated too?”
I nodded. “Yeah, and the edges are all wiggly. The darkness is growing like a splash of black ink bursting in slow motion.”
“Very fucking poetic,” she said, before turning on her heel and stalking away.
“Did you see that Light up there?” I said, walking alongside her.
Our steps made no noise on the gravel. The rocks nipped at my feet.
“Pretty weird, huh?”
She shrugged. “I guess.”
“I wonder why we still have organs.”
“I don’t,” she said.
“Yes, you do. I saw your intestines.”
“No, I meant I don’t wonder why. What does it matter?”
“Well, it’s just . . . I don’t have a pulse and yet I can still bleed. And you still clearly have your intestines, but it’s not like we eat or digest food.”
“Fuck,” she said.
“I just realized that I’ll never eat chocolate mint ice cream ever again. Fuck.”
We walk further down Dorothy Pike, shaded by the trees. I practiced kicking off my lone heel. No matter how far I launched it or what it hit, the stubborn footwear always boomeranged back to my foot. I busted out some old school Tae Bo moves—a series of roundhouse kicks and snap kicks that sent the shoe in all directions.
“The same thing happens with my goddamn ponytail ring,” Shannon said. “No matter how many times I take it off, it snaps back into place. Of all the accessories to get for eternity.”
Accessories. Oh shit. I reached under my skirt.
“What are you doing, freak?” she said.
“I’d just started the day we died. I wanted to make sure I didn’t have to spend eternity with a tampon. Thankfully, all clear.”
“My joy knows no bounds,” Shannon said, picking up her pace.
“Were you up there in the Light, too? Waiting in the sky?”
“No. No, I wasn’t. After the accident, I crawled into the shadows. I was confused. Tired. All I wanted was to be home in bed. So, I walked all the way home. I don’t remember how I got inside the house, but I was in my room when the phone rang. I heard my parents get the news. The screams. The wailing. Glass breaking. I hid under my bed, as if it wasn’t happening. Before they left to go to the hospital, one of my parents shut the bedroom door. I think . . . I think they couldn’t bear to look inside. I couldn’t get the door open. I was trapped in there. Ghost Life Tip Number One: don’t let yourself get stuck somewhere you don’t want to be, because you can’t move anything here anymore. The physical world can influence, shove, stab, and maim us, but we can’t do a damn thing to it.”
“But yet, we can move each other,” I said, thinking of how she’d tried pushing me out of the van.
“I was a prisoner in my own bedroom until this morning, when Mom finally opened the door to get Bastion.”
“None of your fucking business. God, just leave me alone.”
“I’m just trying to—”
“Enough.” She turned on me. “We’re not friends. We’re not going to have some tender ghostly girl power moment here in the fucking road. I’m dead and it’s your fault. I can forgive Tara for being a bitch, but I won’t forgive you for killing me.”
I had to grab my lone heel to keep up with her. The persistent footwear tugged against my hand, eager to return to my foot.
“So,” I said. “Where are you going now?”
She sighed. “Back to my funeral. I’ve got a huge turnout. The whole damn town practically. I was watching from the trees when the goddamn Ouija board summoned me.”
For a moment, I wondered why she watched from the trees instead of graveside at the service. “I wonder if I already missed my service.”
“It’s later today at Lamb Funeral Home. My parents were talking about going over to scream at your mother.”
“Oh.” I struggled for words. “I wonder why I ended up going up toward the Light, and you stayed down here?”
“Beats me. Maybe because I actually had something to live for.”
I stopped walking. She didn’t bother looking back. I stared again up at the Light, surprised but relieved that I wasn’t floating back up to it. Birds chirped in the trees. A bee buzzed past. I decided to go check out my funeral service.
Shannon stuck to the shadows of the trees lining Dorothy Pike. Dumb kid. She could’ve saved a ton of time by cutting through the field beyond the trees. Her path was taking her way out of the way. I almost called out to her, but figured she could go screw herself.
When I stepped out of the shadows and onto the street, I saw myself for the first time in raw sunlight. My astral body was as translucent as a jellyfish, with streaks of red and blue blushing beneath my insubstantial skin. The light revealed traces of my bones. A vague aura of white light glimmered around my whole body. When I held my hand up, the light stuck between my fingers like a bird’s webbed feet. I noticed wisps of smoke rising from my fingertips a split second before pain bubbled under my skin.
That’s when I realized why Shannon watched her funeral from the trees—to stay out of the sun.
The hurt started as a dull simmer but escalated to full-on agony. My legs gave out. I fell to my knees and screamed. The asphalt beneath me seemed to chew on my seared flesh. The sun was burning me alive, um, dead. Even my skirt and top were burning, and pale smoke drifted from every crevice of my tortured body.
I reached for the shadows, ready to drag my seared flesh across the gritty road. My blood boiled. The sound of me screaming and sizzling masked the noise of the oncoming van until it was too late. I turned my head in time to see through a blur of simmering tears the blue van’s grill rushing toward me.
The impact knocked me backward. Tires rolled over my legs. The undercarriage throttled my hips and arms. It happened so fast, and then I was lying in the road.
A mangled wreck.
I tried lifting my arms but the fractured stems only twitched in response. My legs were cracked husks. Smoke rose from my body. My hair smoldered. The sun set me ablaze. I lay in the road.
Read more in INTERSECTIONS: Six Tales of Ouija Horror, now available in ebook and paperback: