No Land's Man - Part 2 of 4
by Jim Kohl
Russell floated just above the white path and weaved between the souls. He thought he noticed wisps coming off his shoulders like the ones that forever followed Mary and many of the others. The wisps held the attention of the corners of Russell’s eyes as the rest of him thought about what he wanted.
“I’m crossing over,” he said. A couple of souls looked at him. One of them had eyes that switched colors at random intervals.
“You shouldn’t yet, and that’s the last time I’m saying it.” It was Mary’s voice, but Russell didn’t see her, so he chalked it up to what was probably left of his imagination.
The thing was that Russell had no idea how to cross over. He didn’t know where John and the others had floated off to, and he had no idea who he could even ask how to cross over. Floating along, he tried not to get the attention of any other soul. He didn’t need to hear a lecture about why he shouldn’t do what he knew he wanted.
Russell saw a curve in the path up ahead. The curve looked like it led into an opening. As he approached it, Russell saw that the opening was black against the blue air around it. Souls went around the black opening as if it were a monolith that could be viewed from all sides, and it was, but it was also an opening. He saw two or three souls come out of the opening. One of them had a wild look on its face. Russell could not tell if the soul was male or female, but it was clear that this was a new soul.
“Are you for it or against it?” Russell asked the soul, and he laughed to himself. He found as he laughed that he did a flip in the air without trying.
“For or against what?” The soul asked.
“Get used to it, my friend,” Russell said. The soul walked away unaware that it could fly.
Russell floated by the dark opening. It was too black to see into, and he wasn’t so sure this is where he wanted to go. Since a new soul came out of it, it made sense that this must be some sort of passage. This must be where the white doors were, but what was on the other side of the door? Russell looked over his shoulder for the new soul, but he could not spot it, and he wasn’t sure he would recognize it anyway. Russell looked at the opening from a distance. No matter what angle he looked from, he could not see past the opening. “What if I go in there, and I can never get out again?” He wondered.
He saw three souls heading for the opening. They had been behind it and swooped around over the top. One of them carried a stick with a hoop on the end. “It’s those souls,” Russell thought, and he floated toward the opening himself. “If they can get out, I probably can.”
Russell entered the opening and stopped floating. He wasn’t sure he could float, and he started to doubt whether he ever had floated. A few more steps into the long hallway of doors, Russell knew for a fact that no one could float. A little further in, and he forgot he was even thinking of floating.
The hallway was lined with white doors and it twisted and turned every few feet. He had not walked this far in it when he came out. It seemed at one point that the hall did a complete circle. At the end of walking the circle, Russell wasn’t sure if he was higher or lower than he was when the circle started. Russell touched one of the doors. It was refreshing to have something solid to touch.
“What are you doing in here!” John stared Russell down. Bill stood a little behind John, and a couple seconds later, Jacob came through one of the doors and stood and looked at him. Bill saw the annoyed look John had. He tried to come up with an annoyed look of his own, but he kept smiling through it.
“You guys look different,” Russell said. He noticed that the wisps that normally surrounded them were at a minimum.
“The hall makes us a little more human-like the more we walk down it,” Bill said.
“Shut up! Don’t tell him anything!” John said. He shot a look at Bill, who turned to Jacob and snickered. “He is not ready.”
“Some say no one is ready for what we do,” Jacob said. Russell felt a shift in all that surrounded him. He looked at two doors that were next to each other in time to see them move apart. More hall wall, which was made of swirling purples and greens, filled in the space between the two doors. A door carved itself out of the new space. A few seconds later, the door popped open, and a new soul walked through. He turned to the left and headed toward the sounds that Russell had followed when he first got here.
“How come that guy didn’t say anything to us?” Russell said, “He was about two feet from me.”
“He’s a soul, not a guy,” John said.
“It wasn’t long ago that he wasn’t able to see souls. Now, he has to get used to us before he sees us,” Jacob said.
“Yeah,” said Bill, “He won’t notice any other soul until he is out of the hall. It’s always that way. We saw you come in, you…”
“Shut up!” John said. He glared at Russell, “Look, I don’t mean to be rude, or whatever you might call it, but you have no business being here.”
“I don’t mean to cause trouble,” Russell said. He looked at Bill and Jacob. Neither showed any signs of support. Bill stared off to the far side of the hall. Jacob twirled his stick.
John stared at Russell. Russell kept looking at John.
“C’mon. Let’s make our move,” Jacob said.
“Fine,” John said. He turned to Russell one last time, “Don’t follow us.”
Russell said nothing.
Jacob took his stick and inserted it into one of the doors where a keyhole would be. He wiggled the stick around a bit, and the door popped open. Bill glowed silver, and the wisps around each of them were back. John floated through the door. Jacob followed him. Bill turned and looked at Russell. “Now, I’m not telling you what to do. I’m pretty careless at times, and I’ve been known to forget to close doors behind me before.”
“What about John?” Russell said.
“Once you’re there, he can’t do anything about it. He’ll have to make sure you get back, or it will, as John would say, hurt our cause.”
“What are these doors?” Russell said.
“I’ll tell you on the other side.”
Russell saw Bill disappear through the door. He approached the door himself. The entry was coal black. It made the purples and greens of the surrounding wall look like neon lights.
Russell went through the door. He was in a room. It had four sharp corners. It had a ceiling and a floor, and it felt constricting compared to where he had been. Nothing had sharp corners, where he had been, with the exception of the doors in the hall.
Someone had painted the walls in the room a shade of lavender. There was a lamp in the room, but it was off. There was light coming from a computer that someone left on.
Wait a minute! No one left the computer on. Someone was sitting at it! It looked familiar to Russell, not the being but the form. It was a woman, and she had a solid body. He thought of the man with the sign.
“What is this place?”
John shot a look at Russell.
“Easy, John, you know she can’t hear us.” Bill said. “She wants to hear us though. She wants to see us. She talks about it all day and night with her online friends on that…that Internet. One day she’ll be able to see and hear us,” John said. He was so close to Bill, that if he had breath, Bill’s face would have been steamed by it.
“Now you’re believing what you’ve been reading over her shoulder. No one really knows anything. Not even us,” Jacob said, “You know that.”
Russell wanted to go over where this girl sat and see what she was looking at. He wanted to see her face and try to touch her. He thought of a name. It started with a J.
“Who’s there?” The girl said. She turned around in her seat.
The three stared at her and stole glances of one another. Had she heard them? Could she see them? Russell felt like she was looking right at him. None of them moved.
She turned back around. John floated over behind her to see what she was typing. “She’s on the DarkPalace.com message board again. She’s typing a new message. She’s calling it ‘This Just Happened…’ She’s on to us.”
“Don’t be stupid.”
“You guys leave the room. I’ll tell you when she’s calmed down,” John said, “Go. Now.”
The three went out into the hall of the girl’s house and looked at everything. There were pictures of her when she was young. She had braces on her teeth and she had her arm around a big dog.
“Her parents are out, so she’s freaking herself out chatting with her ghost hunting friends.” Bill said.
“Ghost hunters?” Russell said.
“Yeah. People that take pictures and all that…You remember from the lecture?”
“Oh yeah.” Russell forgot that he had even been to the lecture. He was looking at the big rectangular box in the kitchen and he remembered that you put food and drinks in that to keep them fresh. “Refrigerator,” he thought to himself.
“She’s probably pretty sure that what she thinks she hears is the lady that died in her room. We’ll see what John says she typed tonight,” Bill said.
“Oh, sorry,” Bill said, “You know that hall we were standing in where we watched the new soul come through, the one with all the doors?”
“Yeah,” Russell said.
“Well, what we’ve figured out so far, is that every time a new soul comes to our side, a new door is made in that hall. Every door we’ve gone through so far, and what’s that been, Jacob, about…20?”
“I think so,” Jacob said.
“Anyway,” Bill said, “Each of those doors leads to a different place on this side. John thinks that when one of these people sheds their skin, or dies, as they call it over here, that a door is made at that moment on our side and this side. So everywhere that someone has died there is a door that the living people can’t see.”
“I remember my door,” Russell said.
“We also figured out,” Jacob said, “that once we’re over here, we can only stay over here for a certain amount of time if we want to go back through the door we used to get here.”
“Time?” Russell said.
“Exactly,” Bill said, “Time means nothing to us. We don’t even notice it going by. We look at the clocks in this house and try not to stay past three hours. We have to watch closely, because we could stand in one place and watch a newborn baby grow up and die of old age and still not feel like we spent any time at all.” Russell didn’t know what a newborn baby was. He had a vague idea that it must be the opposite of old age. He also figured out that old age must be fatal.
John met them. The girl walked right through him and shivered. She clicked lights on all over the house. She had a small rectangle shaped object in her hand. Russell delighted in seeing objects with sharp points. She held the rectangle up to her eyes. “I know you are here,” she said.
“Give her something, Jacob,” Bill said. Jacob stuck the circular end of his stick into himself. A thin film of soul clung to the inner edge all the way around the circle. Russell felt a flash and thought of a tall woman handing him sudsy liquid with a similar stick. It had to do with the letter B. Jacob waved the stick through the air, and three perfectly round objects came out of the end of the stick. They floated.
Then a flash and a click came from the girl’s rectangle. She looked at the back of the rectangle.
“Oh my God! Oh my God! I’ve never seen such bright orbs. There’s three of them. Jesus, Jesus!” She ran down the hall. They followed her back to her computer room.
“Anyone watching the time?” John said.
“We have to leave in a quarter of a turn,” Jacob said.
“We always leave at the 2 hour mark,” Bill said to Russell, “just to be safe.”
John stood over the girl’s shoulder and read what she typed out loud. “She posted the picture of the orbs,” he said.
“These people that she is talking to on the Internet there think that orbs, as they call them, are souls. Every once in a while, we throw these ghost hunters a bone and make a few for them. Jacob makes the best orbs.” Bill said.
“What is she saying about them?” Jacob wanted to know. Jacob glowed a bright gold ever since she said that she had never seen such bright orbs.
“She says she is sure that the old lady that died in her house is here tonight. She said she walked through a cold spot…that was me,” John said. He glowed gold for a second himself. “She says she is freaking out.”
“Is anyone answering her?”
John laughed, “They are asking the normal questions. Does she feel threatened? What does she know about the history of her house? Has anything else happened? They’re saying they are here for her. They are saying she should tell the old lady that she is dead…”
“And move toward the light!” The three of them said it together and laughed like metal pans banging together.
“Are they saying to burn sage? I love when they say that.” Bill said.
“What makes them think we can smell?” Jacob said.
The girl tapped on the keyboard and made whimpering sounds that struck a memory with Russell. “This is a girl,” he said, “and she’s scared. She’s very upset. Jennica.”
“What?” Bill said.
“What’s Jennica?” Jacob asked.
“She was my girlfriend.” Russell said. He stared at the girl. He moved toward her and moved to touch her. This was not Jennica, but this was the closest thing he had seen to her since the white door. This was the first time he had thought of her. “How could that be?” He wondered. Hadn’t he loved her?
“Jennica didn’t love me anymore. I was dumped…”
“Get him through the door,” John said, “Quick!”
“Then I was out walking. I was out walking at lunch. I was going to get something to eat,” Russell kept picturing what happened. He remembered seeing the tears in his eyes that he tried to hide from everyone on his walk. He remembered that he had yellow hair on his head. It was called blond. “Then there was a car. Before all that I lived in a place very much like this one.”
“Take him, Bill. He’s going to get attached,” Jacob said.
“Russell, follow me,” Bill said.
“This place is called a house. Families live here.”
“Time,” Jacob said, “Time.”
“Russell, you need to listen to us. You need to hear what I am saying,” John said. He floated right in front of Russell, and he glowed red.
“Most of the time, families work hard to get these houses. It’s not easy. I thought it was automatic for a good part of my life…” Russell said.
“We have to go through the door. You don’t know about houses. You never lived in one because you are a soul.” John said.
“Time, John!” Jacob said. Bill was already through the door.
“I know it’s time! And I knew he was too new to come. I told you that. He is remembering. He can’t hear me.” John looked again at Russell. Russell stood on the floor of the girl’s computer room and looked almost solid in the blue glow of the computer screen. “If you can hear me at all, Russell, listen to this. You can only open your own door. You’ll probably never find it. You may need to watch for doors to open and get in while they are still open. The one we came through is going to close. I’m going.”
John floated over to the door. He looked back once and saw Russell’s back. Russell muttered something about Jennica. John shook his head as the door closed.
(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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