June 6, 4:15 pm
Richard lay sprawled in the hallway of his house for long minutes, listening to the grandfather clock tick in the living room.
It took some time for his body to fully recover. Long after he heard Big Bird pull away from the curb, he could still feel the burning as his bones continued to knit themselves back together, as torn muscle pulled back into place, and as rent skin mended itself like the seal on a zipper bag. Once he had the strength, he brought a hand before his face and made a fist.
Everything appeared to be back in place now, and the whole-body agony had receded to a dull throb.
He used the table in the hall to help him climb shakily to his feet and looked around the empty entranceway.
Everything looked so much like he remembered it. And yet that didn’t bring him comfort. He staggered into the kitchen, carefully avoiding the festival of gore in the living room as he rushed by. All the dining room chairs were pulled up close to the table, so he could find no easy place to sit. And there was no way he was going back into the living room. Finally, he satisfied himself by going into the kitchen and sitting on the counter. His feet dangled above the floor, and the sound of the faucet dripping was like a small drum, tapping annoyingly against the stainless steel every thirty seconds.
I have to fix that, Richard thought.
Then he realized, I’ll never fix anything in this house, ever again.
He could imagine Keith walking in on this scene, and the look he’d get. “Get your ass off the counter,” Keith would say with a smirk. “God knows where it’s been!” The thought of it made him smile, and he closed his eyes to try and retain the image.
Slowly, his mind was drawn back to what had happened on his way back to the house. It seemed dreamlike now, but he could remember running. He had been going like a bat-out-of-hell down 7th East, desperate to get back home—to get back to Keith. He remembered passing Trolley Square, and the Whole Foods where he used to get that artisan cheese Keith loved. A few blocks later, he was zooming around the occasional pedestrians and dodging cars as he tore through intersections. He was just nearing the Avenues, and then…
Then I had heard a voice.
He remembered it now. It had been a high pitched, almost adolescent voice, and it was screaming the words “stop running!” He didn’t know if the voice had been screaming at him, but it had a desperate quality to it that had caused him to screech to a halt. He remembered looking back and noticing that he was on South Temple.
And I remember a boy.
Yes, he remembered! It was a boy with a straw hat. It had to be the same boy with the straw hat that he had seen in Liberty Park. But as the boy neared him, he could have sworn that he actually looked at him. And not only looked at him, but really saw him!
He pictured the boy raising his arm, and then he remembered something else. Something the boy had said, just before he winked out. What was it? Something about being… “reset?”
“I was standing in the middle of the goddamn street,” Richard said aloud, remembering now the sign for South Temple. He put his face in his hands and moaned. “Dammit, I must have been… Must have been hit… Oh, Jesus Christ… Does being a ghost make you stupid?” He leaned his head back against the kitchen cabinets, disgusted with himself.
But with the departure of his pain, his mind now felt uncommonly clear. And he knew that what had just happened to him was important, and that he needed to understand it. He had experienced something vital about being a ghost. This world was full of mysteries and this one seemed critical.
“I was ‘reset’,” he said, remembering the last words the boy had spoken. The boy had to have been a ghost too, and he had used that word.
Somehow, he had returned here. And not just to this house, but to the exact spot where he had died. So yes, that word seemed right.
He supposed that meant that ghosts weren’t invulnerable after all. Something about the intense trauma of the impact had not just caused him pain, like when he pushed his hand into the corner of the desk. The impact had physically transported him. It was like being sent back on the game board in Monopoly.
Go to jail. Go directly to jail. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200…
“So there is a limit,” he said, feeling comforted by the sound of his own voice. “I can feel pain, but too much pain, too much damage, maybe, and I’m back where I started. Great.”
He imagined jumping off a cliff, or even throwing his body into a wood chipper. Probably anything he did, he’d just wind up back here. If he was right, it meant that there really could be no escape. No suicide. No way to ever leave this world. The very idea of it made a knot gather in his stomach.
He jumped down from the counter, trying to distract himself before he had yet another panic attack. Walking about the kitchen, he realized that he now felt fully recovered, at least physically. His body felt strong and whole again, and there was no remnant of the pain.
But being “reset” was certainly an experience he never wanted to repeat.
So, now what do I do?
He paced between the kitchen and the dining room. He went up the stairs to the second floor, and looked in the bedroom and his office, as well as the guest bedroom. Everything was in place as he remembered it, if perhaps a bit more organized. A bit more clean.
The emptiness of the house began to feel overwhelming. He had been heading back here to find Keith, but Keith wasn’t here. The only purpose he had in this crazy existence was to protect Keith, and now he was not here to protect.
Sitting on the bed and staring at Keith’s closed journal, still on the foot of the bed where he had left it, he remembered where Keith had said they were going. He’d heard them talk about it last night, and he’d seen a stack of papers in Michelle’s hand when she and Keith came home.
“They are going to the funeral home, to make the final arrangements.” he said to the empty bedroom. “My final arrangements.”
He rushed down to the table in the hallway, hoping to find a business card or anything to indicate where the funeral home was located, but there was nothing there.
Pacing numbly through nearly every room in the house, he wondered if his heart could take the hours of waiting that he would have to endure before Keith returned. He felt like a hungry tiger in a very empty zoo. But what else could he do? Keith was gone, and he had no idea where he went. And even if he knew, could he get there without being “reset” again? Could he even get out of this house, the way he did before?
He went back to the front door to try it again. It was still as solid as a rock. He concentrated, trying to push his hand through the solid wooden door, but it felt as cold and impenetrable as a rock wall.
Jesus Christ, what kind of pathetic ghost am I, if I can’t even walk through a fucking wall?
He turned his back and leaned against the door, looking down the hallway.
On the wall to his right, just at the foot of the stairs, was a framed photo of him and Keith. In the photo, they were both laughing. Richard loved that photo. It was actually an 8×10 print of a selfie he took just last year, and it showed the two of them in Southern Utah, with the glorious curve of Delicate Arch behind them. He remembered how much work it had been to get that picture without getting a ton of tourists in the shot. Richard was standing behind Keith, one arm around his chest, the other extended awkwardly over his partner’s shoulder to take the picture. Richard always said it would have been a much better picture if they’d had one of those selfie sticks the Japanese tourists all used. But maybe this was better, after all. The arch was small in the background, but Keith’s face was handsome and smiling and beautiful in every detail. He looked so content, with his head inclined back on Richard’s chest.
He knew Keith didn’t like how short and round he was, but Richard always loved his husband’s body. When they hugged, he could rest his chin on top of Keith’s head, and even just remembering it, he could almost smell the shampoo Keith was so fond of. When they were naked in bed, he loved the feeling of Keith’s weight on top of him, holding him secure and pressing him into the mattress. He loved the softness of Keith’s cheeks, his hands, and especially his belly. And mostly he loved the way his cheeks would dimple when he smiled, and the joy it brought Richard every time he could make his boyfriend laugh.
Richard closed his eyes, remembering the warm feeling of Keith in his arms, and picturing his face, beautiful and happy and laughing. Wishing with all his might that Keith was there with him.
But Keith was gone.
So where is he? He has to be somewhere, out there in the world.
Richard looked at the picture again, and closed his eyes, holding that image of his lover’s face in his mind.
And suddenly, he felt… a spark.
No, it wasn’t a spark. It was more like a tug.
He opened his eyes, then blinked rapidly, trying to identify the strange sensation in his head. The feeling flickered, but did not disappear completely. He closed his eyes again and concentrated.
Keith is gone. So where is he? He has to be somewhere. But where?
There was an answer to that question. Not an answer really, but an idea. Not really even an idea, as much as a… direction. Ahum, a tug, a glowing warmth in his skull.
Richard concentrated, holding that vision of Keith in his mind. The tug was above and in front of his left ear. He put his hand up to the sensation, but couldn’t feel anything there. Still, it was definitely a tug in his head, and the more he thought about Keith, the stronger the tug became.
Slowly Richard turned to his left.
And the tug moved across his temple, and then slowly around to his left eyebrow, and finally to the center of his forehead. It felt like he was turning his face toward the sun.
Richard opened his eyes and found himself looking vaguely southwest. And he knew that was where he’d find Keith. He didn’t know exactly where. But now he had a direction. He didn’t need the address of the funeral home. He was a compass needle, and Keith was his true north.
Great, he thought. So the dead can cry and we can feel pain. But we can’t die. And as a special bonus, being dead gives you a compass in your head.
Quickly, knowing Keith’s direction turned into an irresistible compulsion. He couldn’t wait here. He had to go to him. He had to find him, and then never leave his side again. That was the one true thing that the universe had shown him in this whole fucking mess.
There was only one problem: The rock-solid front door of his own home. He’d managed to get out of the house before, but how did he do it?
Cautiously, he tried to recreate the trick that got him through the closed door before. But he wasn’t sure exactly what that trick was. He remembered he was frantic and desperate and had thrown himself against the door until he thought his shoulders would break. He considered trying that again, but he knew he wasn’t as filled with panic as he was before. Now, he just felt calm and certain and resolved. He tried battering himself against the door anyway, but after five minutes he had made no progress, and had only succeeded in making his arms and shoulders ache.
Okay, so being frantic isn’t working. But I know I can pass through this door. I’ve done it before.
Slowly, he calmed himself and cleared his mind. He tried to imagine himself on the other side of the door, passing through it like a wisp of smoke through a vent. It was the way ghosts did it in the movies. He pushed his hands against the wood and leaned slowly into it…
…and fell hard on the porch, the door behind him.
Picking himself up, he looked at the solid door behind him. So that’s the trick? Just being slow and deliberate? It’s just a matter of concentration? I certainly hadn’t been deliberate the first time.
He sighed, knowing that this was just one more thing about this new world that would likely remain mysterious to him. Maybe he should just accept that he couldn’t understand all of this at once. He had time. He had a long time.
And it would be a long time at Keith’s side.
Richard ran in the afternoon sunlight. He ran, but he ran much more carefully now, looking both ways before crossing streets, and avoiding impacts with people or anything else solid. He made slower time, as he zipped out of the Avenues and down South Temple. But now the warmth on his face was not only the sun. It was also the glow of Keith, which he could feel whenever he pictured his face.
No, actually, he could feel it best whenever he pictured the two of them together, like in the photo.
Richard realized that would always be the trick to finding the man he loved. He just needed to imagine Keith in his arms, the way he was for all those years. He just needed to remember them together and remember how happy they were. Imagine his eyes. His lips…
When he did that, the universe would always try to draw them back together.
What a great day to be alive, he thought. Then corrected himself.
No, what a great day to be dead…
And for the first time since he came back, Richard actually felt happy.