Within 72hrs of picking up his comfortable life in California, and moving to Glenndale, Illinois, Cole Parker had died. He reflected on this thought sitting upon the tallest steeple at the Glenndale Orthodox church, overlooking the small town.
“The move won’t kill you,” his mother had said. She was wrong. Dead wrong.
To be fair, it wasn’t the move. He wasn’t quite sure what ‘it’ had been, only that he was dead now; the kind of dead that, up until recently, he thought existed only in Hollywood Horror movies. A kind of undead.
He sighed, and wondered if he’d see a door at some point, or if, because he didn’t believe in god, this was his hell – purgatory, living in this piece of shit backwoods town for the rest of his – eternity.
A small white bird with black fringed feathers landed next to him, and looked at him quizzically. Cole drummed his fingers on the old worn roof tiles and contemplated his existence. He felt the cynic in him speak up, which oddly enough, shared a voice with his mother: “You were bored in California. You were bored here. Now you’re just dead and bored.”
The little bird pecked around his fingers, and again, looked at Cole.
Cole swung his legs around to switch his resting position – it was strange, he thought, that even as a ghost he found the most uncomfortable ways to sit, or that ghosts could be uncomfortable. “Maybe thats how poltergeists are made?” he wondered.
The bird took flight immediately.
“Can you see me?” said Cole to the frightened bird, which was now just a spec on the horizon. Somewhere in the distance, he could heard crows cawing, what sounded like laughing carried over the breeze.
Cole wasn’t sure of what day it was, or how long it had been since he had passed. He came to as that mongoloid redneck was burying him behind the old mausoleum. He saw Derik and his two cronies digging the shallow grave, throw the shovels into the brush, and leave the cemetery without so much as a word. When Cole had tried to follow, he found that he could not leave; there was an invisible barrier which kept him from leaving the cemetery grounds.
At one point, he had even tried to break out with a running start, which had in turn knocked him unconscious. He could still feel pain, that much he was sure of, and nursed his still aching head. After waking up, he followed the main path through the overgrown cemetery, and found his way to the small church at the center of the plot.
It was a small, white washed building, surrounded by well manicured flowers. Cole wasn’t much into flowers; there were a lot of them, and they were all different colors. An old, leafless tree stood about 5 yards from the old place of worship, and from one of its branches hung an equally old rope swing.
An old woodie was parked on the other side of the church, but from the looks of it, hadn’t run in ages. Wash Me was written under the first layer of dust, which at some point had become a patina, or a base coat, for the second, timeworn and hardened second coat of dust.
Cole had seen cars like this parked along the boardwalk with surf boards and boogie boards tied to the roof, with hot girls in bikini’s inside. He reminded himself that he wasn’t in California anymore.
This car hadn’t ever seen a surfboard, or the ocean, Cole guessed. The wagon was stuffed with tools, shovels, wooden stakes, hammers, and burlap sacks. He surmised that whoever had installed the rope swing probably didn’t own this car. As for how he got up to the roof, well, he wasn’t quite sure of that either. One moment he had been lamenting over his fortune, and the next, it was like he was a balloon caught by an errant breeze. Cole had always been afraid of heights, but now that he was dead, he didn’t harbor the same fear of falling he had in his natural life.
“Get off the roof,” came a voice from below. Cole looked down, and saw an older man standing on the lawn. He wore faded blue jeans, white long sleeved shirt, and a wide brimmed hat. He had long white hair, and piercing blue eyes, and leaned on the rake he was carrying.
Cole stared at him dumbfounded.
“Get off the roof.” He said, this time with emphasis on each word, slowing his pace, as if talking to a slow child.
“Can you see me?” Cole asked the man. “Are you, are you talking to me?”
The man grumbled to himself, raised a hand in a swiping motion, and the world became a blur of colors and noise as Cole fainted again.
It had been a long time since he had taken the time to actually just look at his the wind blow through the trees. A grove of oak trees grew out from the center of the cemetery; golden brown leaves blew freely in the wind, like arms, waving at him.
“Look at me.” said someone that Cole could not see. “Boy, look at me.”
Cole realized he was laying down. He had fallen off of the roof of the church, and had been staring idly at trees. His mind felt clouded, like he kept waking up and falling back asleep. He tilted his head back, and saw the old man standing above him. His eyes weren’t just blue, they emitted faint blue tendrils of light here in the shade. Had Cole hackles, they would have been raised.
The old man leaned on the rack on his hand with most of his weight. “You’re not supposed to be here.” he said, emotionless. It was neither expected, nor unexpected, or cause for concern, or anger – it was fact.
“You can see me?” he asked the man with the glowing eyes.
“Are you retarded?” he responded. “Are you mentally deficit?”
Cole wanted to laugh, but somehow knew that the man wasn’t joking. He probably owned the station wagon. He sat up, slowly, and with zero effort.
“No, I’m not retarded. I’m dead, aren’t I?”
The old man didn’t respond immediately. He gave no indication he would respond, then: “Yes.”
His hair was less gray than it was silver. It was also longer, and thinner, almost silken as the breeze caught it. His face was surprisingly unwrinkled, except for the skin around the eyes. He had eyes that looked like they had seen the dawn of creation, and time, and hadn’t blinked once.
Cole felt his heart rise up in his throat, and tears begin to well in the corners of his eyes. “Are.. are you god?” he asked.
The old man looked at him, and sighed. “No, I am not god.”
“Angel?” he asked, sounding young to his own ears.
“I am Garthus.” he stated plainly, not as if it was supposed to mean anything, but simply as something that was. The milky white pupils narrowed on Cole. “You are an affront to nature, and should be destroyed.” he said. The clawed end of the rake began to shift and retract, drawing into the main pole of the rake. The top of the rake grew a horizontal appendage, a silvery blade the rippled in the sunlight. The rake became a scythe.
“Oh jesus christ, you’re a demon!” Cole cried out, and covered his face.
“No.” said Garthus. “I am Garthus. I am a reaper.” He eyed the helpless boy, and the rake-scythe shifted into a key, which the old man tucked into his pocket. “And that was a test.”
Cole opened an eye. “It was?”
Garthus grunted. “Do you know how you came to arrive in your current state?”
Cole nodded. “Well, sort of.. there was this redneck cunt that was threatening to beat me up. I ran through the graveyard, just over the hill over there,” he said, motioning toward a secluded section of the cemetery. “I must have tripped, and fallen, and killed myself, or maybe, I don’t know, maybe he or one of his friends got me.”
“You should not be dead, though you are. Interesting.” Garthus said, turned, and began walking toward the direction of where Cole was pointing. “Show me.”
Cole took him to the spot where he had seen Derik and his friends bury him. Behind the old mausoleum, next to an ancient bottle of old english. He could still see one of his red converse – the red converse he was currently wearing – sticking out of the dirt. As they drew closer, Cole saw that his head had not fully been buried, either. His mouth hung open, and dirt spilled in like sand in an egg timer.
“Hmm,” Garthus thought audibly, so deep in tone that Cole felt like he should feel it somewhere in his chest. “Have you made a deal with anyone, or anything, recently? Have you drank something strange, or somehow invited a strange and peculiar fate?”
Cole raised an eyebrow. “Uh..? No?” he thought, and muttered “I mean, I had a pot brownie about six months ago, but I don’t think this is one of the side effects..”
Garthus waved a hand at Cole, as if dismissing any of the words which were not necessary. “You’ve done something very smart, or very stupid. Or perhaps, just foolish. Regardless, I am not an Angel, or God. For all that I know, there’s no such thing as either. But there are spirits, and you shouldn’t be one of them.”
“I’m pretty sure I’m dead though. How do you know?”
“For you, 2+2 equals 4. It always equals four. If at some point 2+2 equaled 5, you would know. Just as I would know if you were dead. Do you understand?”
Cole shook his head, but did not understand.
“Good. You’re learnin.” Garthus motioned to something behind Cole. “What comes next is important.”
Cole turned and saw the gaunt face of an elderly woman hobbling toward him. She had no eyes, and where Garthus’s hair was like silk, her hair was like old cobweb. She cackled madly, making a beeline toward cole’s corpse.
“She’s going to possess you, and once that happens, you’ll never be dead for good.”
Cole gasped. “That cryptkeeping bitch!” he pointed at her. “Hey, you creepy ass goblin, get the fuck away from my body!”
Her empty sockets met his stare, and she licked the stump of a ghastly tooth, the last one remaining in her maw. She was muttering something, it could have been gibberish, but whatever it was, it made Coles skin crawl. “How do I stop this stupid bitch from ghost raping me?!” Cole cried, as she approached the partially buried body at a maddening, skittering pace. She dropped to all fours, and began to squeal.
Garthus took a step forward, and grabbed the scruff of Coles shirt. “Like this,” he said, and threw Cole forward. The hag dove at the exact same moment, hurtling her bag of bones over a shrub. As Cole drew closer to his motionless body, he extended his arms to brace for an impact that never came.
When Cole came to, he didn’t take his time staring at the majesty of the trees. He had done that already, they were just trees. He shot up, gagging on the musty soil making its way down his esophagus. He wretched, and scooped the straggling pockets of mouth mud out with his hand. He felt something wriggling in his scooping hand, saw it was most of a beetle, and then threw up.
Cole crawled forward, pulled himself out of the bulk of the dirt, which was centered around his lower half, and wiped away at the lunch on his chin. He wiped it on his dirty jeans, and then felt around for anything that may have struck a leak; everything felt more or less fine, aside from his head which still felt fuzzy, and his ears which were ringing.
He was acutely aware of gravity, the weight of his fingers, and of how much effort it took to keep his head propped up. He felt the weight of his skin, and felt the heat of his blood. He realized that he had felt as trapped as he felt now.
“You said a bully from your school tried to kill you, correct?” asked Garthus.
“He struck you with something, and there you fell?” Garthus pointed at the empty grave.
“No, I thought I could hide in the mausoleum, and..” Cole raised a hand to his forehead, and felt pain radiate from a growing lump on the crown of his skull. “Maybe I ran into something..” he winced as his fingers grazed the area.
Garthus said nothing, walked to the other side of the mausoleum, and inspected the entrance for some time.
“If there’s a bit of scalp over there, I think it’s mine. Just a guess.”
Garthus continued to say nothing. He looked in Cole’s direction and grunted.
Cole’s heart fluttered, and Garthus was gone. Not just out of view; he had blinked out of existence. “Uh, Garthus?” Cole said meekly. “Hellooo?” He heard the sound of leaves in the wind, birds, and a car horn from somewhere in town. “Okay, well, I think I am done with this stuff for now. I need to go home and call the police, I think.” Nothing. “Okay, bye man. nice meetin-”
Garthus was again standing in front of the mausoleum. Cole felt an immense coldness wash over him.
“Speak of the event that lead you here. I need to be certain that your account is truthful, lest order be re-established.”
Cole blinked. “Well, I guess it started yesterday.”