|Image by Fanghong via Wikimedia Commons|
Author's Note: The first part of this story was previously published on the blog. You can find it here.
Back at the house, I managed to pass through the door on the third try.
"So was I killed here? In the house?" I asked Darius.
He flopped to the floor and stretched out. His tail thumped against the floor in a manner I took to mean he was thinking.
"Yes, I believe you were. I wasn't around at the time."
I stared at him for a moment, waiting for him to go on. He stared back at me.
"And?" I prompted.
"And what?" he said.
"And where were you?"
He sighed. "I was out doing business. It's not like I have any obligation to see what you were up to at all hours of the day, Roy.”
"What business was it you were doing?"
"My own." He gave his tail a mighty thump.
"Okay. But I was alive when you left?'
He sighed. "You had gone out. When I arrived later, you were transitioning into a Monad in the bathroom."
"How long was that?"
"I don't know. It's not like I was buried with a watch. No more than a day."
"I need to sit down." I lowered myself to the hardwood floor. "Wish I had a chair." I got the impression that Darius was laughing at me.
"Your furniture is still here, you just need to adjust your phase."
"Adjust my phase."
"You're all in the afterlife now, but you can manifest in the mundane world by just concentrating on the details you remember. Then you can interact with the mundane on a limited level."
"Like a poltergeist?"
"Walk before you run, Roy, but yes. If you're strong enough. As a vengeful spirit, you have the potential to be very strong indeed. But be careful, if you phase in too much you'll become visible to astrally sensitive creatures: dogs, kids, cats, and the odd psychic."
"Really? That'd be neat. I can go scare the bejesus out of my old boss at the shareholders’ meeting.”
"That'd be a stretch, Roy. You're limited in the mundane to locations with high personal and emotional meaning. For most of us, it’s limited to the home we lived in or the location of our physical remains. Your office doesn't qualify."
"Okay, so how do I start?"
"You want to sit? Picture your house in your mind, and walk through it. Remember your couch; it’s placement relative to the rest of the room. Remember what's in the other rooms, the color of the towels on the racks, the dishes in the cupboards, the shoes under the bed. The more details you remember, the easier it will be."
I did as he said, remembering my ratty brown couch that I had never gotten around to replacing, the way the springs on the left side gave and the left arm’s matted nap from too much wear and the stain from the incident with the chicken wings. I pictured myself sitting there, reaching for the TV remote. When I opened my eyes, my home was filled with its furniture; not only the couch, but the TV, the ottoman, my off-kilter floor lamp, and the TV remote stuck between the couch cushions. I glanced behind me into the kitchen and found the sink filled with dirty dishes.
"Oh, I wish I had done those before I died."
Darius hopped on the back of the couch and looked over. "Really? That's your big regret?"
"I guess not." I walked over to the sink and tried lifting a coffee cup out. It seemed stuck so I gave it a jerk. Then another. No matter how hard I pulled, it stayed there as if it were set in concrete.
"Physically changing the world is way beyond Monad 101," Darius said, jumping on the counter.
"Hey! Get off there," I said.
"Why? Afraid I'm going to leave phantasmagoric cat germs all over?" He snorted. "As if I haven't been doing this everyday for the past few years."
"I wish I hadn't heard that. Next thing you'll be telling me ghosts of all those filthy cockroaches I killed through the years have been taking their revenge.”
"Hey!” said a voice. I looked down to see a cockroach scuttling out from under the refrigerator.
"Oh, that's Ujin, ignore him."
"Ignore me?" The cockroach’s antennae shook in Darius' direction. "Me? You fuzzy mongrel! Dog!"
Darius blinked and turned away. "He was once a horseman of the Mongol horde. Got demoted down to cockroach and has been that way ever since."
"I made their blood feed the grass and set fire to their cities until the smoke blotted the sun. Each night I rested on the bellies of their wives and daughters," Ujin cackled.
"Never learned the error of his ways?" I asked Darius.
"He thinks being a cockroach is a step up."
"I am always armed and armored. The world is my food bag, I have hundreds of females, thousands of sons, and I shall live forever!"
I shook my head. "I hate to break it to you, but you're dead just like Darius and me."
"Au contraire, meatbag, I am very much alive."
I glanced at Darius, who flicked an ear in annoyance. "Cockroaches, unlike other living beings, can phase between the mundane and the ethereal. That's why they're so hard to kill."
"So you're saying they're a kind of anti-ghost?"
Ujin cackled. "You see? I am invincible!" He turned and shook his rear abdomen at me. I lifted my foot.
"I have a size twelve that would prove you wrong," I said. I brought my foot down but Ujin faded just as I was about to crush him. My heel came down empty air and then went numb as it struck the tile. Ujin's carapace appeared a foot to the side and the little bug waved his antennae at me.
"Bah! That only works on the slow ones, stupid human! Armored, swift, good-looking, and oh yes, radiation-proof. When this ball goes nuclear, I and my brethren will dance the Dance of Victory!" Ujin began a dance that was half skitter, half swaying in the air.
"He always like this?" I asked.
"He's an annoying little bug. Ignore him, and he'll go away."
"I said the roof! The roof! The roof is on fire!" Ujin sang.
"I see what you're saying," I said.
"We don't need no water, let the motherfu—"
"So did you see me die?" I said.
Ujin paused. "Yes! I saw the whole thing! How unfortunate the other humans took your body away before my horde could properly feed from it."
I crouched down to Ujin's level and looked into his black eyes. "Who was it? Who killed me?"
Ujin scuttled back and waved a claw-tipped leg. "It was another human."
"Someone I knew? Someone you recognized? A man, a woman?"
Ujin raised both front legs in an approximation of a shrug. "How should I know? You meatbags all look alike."
I stood and kicked at him. He phased out at the last moment and my foot rebounded off the refrigerator door. Ujin reappeared in a corner and laughed.
"You have to do better than that, egg bait!" He scurried under cupboard’s kick plate, cackling all the way.
"I'll kill him." I said.
"Better to just leave him alone. I do."
"Maybe I should be asking if there are any other spirits haunting this house with me."
Darius hopped down and trotted to the hallway. "Perhaps you'd better follow me."
My cat led me to a goldfish floating upside down in the corner of my office. The gold and black-flecked fish had those eyes that bulged like over-inflated soccer balls. Its mouth opened and closed like it was gasping for air, but its gills rippled normally. I realized it was muttering to itself.
"I don't recall ever having a goldfish."
"Previous owners. This was their daughter's room."
Right. I remembered having to paint the walls three accursed times before the pink stopped bleeding though a more sensible eggshell color. "So let me guess. He died here too?"
"Why is he hanging in the air like that?"
"Yes, he's a philosopher."
"Actually, he's an atheist like you. You two should have a lot in common."
"I'm not an atheist," Conrad said in a deep voice, "I'm agnostic with a 51 percent certainty there is no guiding hand on the tiller of the universe. I believe also there is a 21 percent probability that there is a hand on the tiller but the being’s motives are unfathomable, a 17 percent chance we live in a multiverse conceived by a multitude of deity-like beings vying for control of us in some mysterious game, and an 11 percent chance this is a computer simulation and we are just stuck in a buffer."
Darius flicked an ear sideways. "He makes it sound like he calculated that mathematically rather than pulling it from his arse."
Conrad flipped over and swam through the air to Darius. "I think the more interesting question is how a being like myself acquired the concept of higher math in the first place. My corporeal brain barely had the processing power to handle eating, breathing, and flinching when that horrid creature tapped on my glass." He turned and bobbed in the air once. "Nice to meet you, Roy. As Stormchaser-Prime here mentioned, I am known as Conrad."
I nodded at him. "So you've been in my office since I moved in?"
"Unfortunately. We really should talk about your internet browsing habits sometime, Roy."
Funny how an embarrassed ghost's face still flushes hot. I cleared my throat, also an unnecessary habit carried over from life. "Did you see anything the day I was murdered?"
Conrad swam in circles around my head. "I'm afraid not. I was distracted that day with Nietzsche's concept of eternal recurrence and if that would doom me to repeat my former existence in a one gallon world. Would I'd willingly go back to that —'
"Conrad, you're doing it again," Darius said.
Conrad shook himself and turned to hover a foot from my nose. "Sorry. Where was I? I didn't see anything, but did hear something dragging through the house." Conrad whipped his tail and shot back from me. "Oh my. You're smoking."
I looked down. Gray wisps curled out from my clothes. I slapped my palms all around my body, trying to locate the fire. Darius' fur puffed out and he hissed.
"Darius, what's happening to me?"
"Roy, I'm afraid you're being cremated."