by Donald Sullivan
Mark Rollins died on a cold, drizzly night in September. At first, he didn’t realize that he’d died; in fact, he wasn’t truly aware of his death until he saw his own body lying on the concrete surface in front of the convenience store.
It was Monday night, and Mark was settling down to watch the game between the Jets and Raiders. Fifteen minutes before game time, he discovered that he was out of snacks. If he hurried, he could make it to the convenience store and be back before the game started.
He parked in front of the store, jumped out of his car, and lowered his head as he ran through the drizzling rain to the store entrance. As he approached the store, he noticed that something was wrong. The clerk — a young girl barely out of her teens — was lying on the floor, and a man wearing a ski mask was going through the cash drawer.
A second masked man appeared at the door, holding a handgun. The man pushed the door open.
“C’mon man. Get in here, quick. Do like I say and you won’t get hurt.”
Mark glanced at the clerk and saw a splotch of blood on her blouse. He spun around and ran. He’d taken only a couple of steps when his mind seemed to blank out, and he had an odd sensation of falling forward. But he managed to check his fall and keep moving, although he experienced a momentary feeling of disorientation.
He knew he couldn’t make it to his car, so he ran toward the side of the store and then turned toward a wooded area directly behind the store. A he neared the woods, he heard the pounding of footsteps behind him and turned his head to see the robbers right on his heels.
He was surprised when the robbers ignored him, passing within inches of him as they ran on into the woods. He heard the wailing of sirens as he turned and ran back toward the store.
As he emerged from behind the store, he saw the flashing blue lights of police cars in front of the store, and an ambulance was pulling up. Several officers, with guns drawn, were cautiously approaching the store. One of the officers warned the paramedics to stay back until the police made sure it was safe to enter.
“You won’t find the robbers in there,” Mark yelled, “they’re in the woods behind the store.”
The officers ignored him and continued moving toward the store. By now, two officers were entering the store, covered by two officers waiting outside the door.
Mark ran up to the door and stood face to face with one of the officers. “Didn’t you guys hear me? I saw the robbers run into the woods behind the store — if you hurry you might be able to catch them.”
The officer, still ignoring him, seemed to be looking right through him.
“The medics can come in now,” yelled one of the officers inside the store. “The girl in here might make it, but I don’t think they can help the man lying outside.”
The man lying outside? In trying to get the officer’s attention, Mark had failed to notice the body lying in front of the store. He walked over to the body. It was lying face down, a puddle of blood around the head, now diluted with the drizzling rain. The body looked familiar. He knelt down for a closer look, and then he knew why the body looked familiar. And he knew why nobody could see or hear him. The body lying there was his own.
A multitude of questions popped into his mind. Was this what afterlife was like? If his spirit was still hanging around, then where were the spirits of those who had gone on before him? The world should be overflowing with spirits.
Maybe spirits were invisible to each other; certainly he was invisible to the living, though he could see and hear them clearly. Maybe spirits hang around on Earth for a while before moving on to a higher plane. He could only wait and see what happened next. He wandered aimlessly for the next two days, and then he went to his funeral. His ex-wife, his parents, and some close friends and relatives were there. There were some he hadn’t seen in years; there were even a few he didn’t recognize.
As he stood watching the graveside services, he noticed a lone figure coming through the cemetery. It was a young woman, and as she approached, he was startled when he recognized her. It was Julie Byrnes, an old high school girl friend. But Julie had died two years ago, a victim of a drunk driver.
She came up to him and smiled. “Hello, Mark. Good to see you again.”
“Julie! But... but you’re dead. That is... I mean...”
“We’re both dead, Mark — at least our Earthly bodies are. But we still exist as spirits, and we’re still aware of our identities. Our minds still hold all the memories and knowledge that we acquired during our lifetimes.”
Julie’s mind certainly hadn’t changed, he thought. She’d always had a cool, analytical mind — the top student in class. But what mattered now was that he’d found someone he could talk to, and he was relieved to know there were others like him.
“Julie, you don’t know how happy I am to see you.” He reached out to embrace her, but his arms found empty air.
“Alas, Mark. We can see and hear each other, but that’s it. Our remaining senses are gone. But there’s no time for talking now. We’ve got to get away from here — this place is dangerous.”
“But... how could we possibly be in danger now?”
“There’s no time to explain. Just follow me, and I’ll explain as we go along.”
He followed as she walked away. “If we’re in such a hurry,” he said, “how come we’re walking at such a leisurely pace?”
“Because we don’t want to attract the Goolies,” she replied. “Goolies are always on the prowl, hunting for earthbound spirits like us. They prey on us — they consume our souls. They can’t harm the living, so we try to act like living people so as not to attract their attention. It’s difficult for them to find us when we behave like normal living people.”
“I can understand that running might attract the attention of something hunting for us,” Mark said. ”But I don’t quite follow you when you say we should behave like living people.”
“By that, I mean that we should avoid doing things like floating in the air, walking through solid objects, levitating objects, and such.”
“Levitate objects? We can do that?”
“It’s easy. All you have to do is will yourself to do it. But if you try it, make sure you’re not observed. And acting like the living is not always as easy as it seems. Remember when you tried to give me a hug? If a Goolie had been watching at the time it would have given us away.
“What are these Goolies, anyway?”
“What we know about them is pretty sketchy. They are also earthbound spirits, but they are different from us in many ways. In life they delved in the occult, like demon worship, vampirism, and other ghoulish practices. They must consume other spirits to sustain their own existence. Goolies are the only thing we have to fear, and we have no way to resist them.”
“Why did you say that the cemetery is a dangerous place?”
“Goolies routinely prowl cemeteries because they know that earthbound spirits are always drawn to their own funerals — as you were. Goolies can sometimes spot us at funerals because the clothing we wear is not appropriate. Whatever we were wearing when we died is a part of us — like your denim jacket and jeans and my tank top and jeans — and we can’t change.”
“How did you find me? Did you know I... I died?”
“My group watches for news of violent deaths and funeral announcements.”
“Why violent deaths?”
”Because earthbound spirits come only from violent deaths. We have no idea why that is.”
They left the cemetery and turned right, heading toward the downtown area.
“Where are we going?”
“To my group’s sanctuary,” she replied, “the River City bus station.”
“Excuse me... did I hear you right?”
“Think about it. What better place to hide? There’s always a crowd of people there, and when the Goolies pass by, we appear to be ordinary travelers. Besides, with some of the characters that hang out around the bus station, it doesn’t get too boring.”
“The prospect of a boring existence had entered my mind. Are we stuck here forever as earthbound spirits?”
”We can look forward to moving on — Transcending — if we survive the Goolies. The number of members in our group fluctuates. As with other groups, we gain when someone dies a violent death, and lose when someone Transcends — or a Goolie gets them.”
“How can you tell if they Transcended or a Goolie got them?”
“Those who Transcend know when it’s time. They become extremely happy, glow brightly for a few seconds, then just vanish.”
“How long do we usually wait before Transcending?”
“It varies. For some it may be months, for others it may take years.”
“Something to look forward to, at least. What’s the idea of forming all these little groups?”
“Small groups are...” She stopped in mid-sentence. “There’s a Goolie. It’s just ahead and to the left, floating above the school building. It’s moving toward the cemetery. Look, but don’t stare at it — and don’t let it know that you can see it.”
Mark shifted his eyes toward the school building, making sure that he did not turn his head. A hooded, black robed figure floated above the school. A snow-white face peered out from the hood.
“Mark! Look out for the fire hydrant.”
Too late, Mark looked down to see that he was walking through the hydrant. Terrified, he glanced up to see if the Goolie had noticed his blunder. Luckily, its face was turned away from them. It continued on its path, floating over them and on into the cemetery.
“That was close,” she said. ”If it had seen you, it would have eaten at least one of us.”
“How does it... eat you?” He asked.
“It must get close enough to you — about ten feet — and then it simply sucks out the essence of your life. It must do that ever so often to sustain its own life.”
“Not a cheery thought,” he said. ”Before that thing appeared, you were explaining about the groups.”
“I was about to say that small groups are less likely to attract the attention of the Goolies.”
“How many in your group?”
“You’ve just become a member,” she said, “so that makes four of us. There’s also Maria Valdez and Josh Hansen. Maria was killed by her abusive ex-husband, and Josh was killed in a hunting accident.”
When they arrived at the bus station, Mark tried unsuccessfully to pick Maria and Josh out from the crowd. Julie pointed them out to him; they were standing near a cluster of vending machines in an alcove. They could have been a couple waiting for a bus, he thought, except that prolonged observation would reveal that they never ate, slept, or changed clothes.
After Julie introduced him to the two spirits, Josh gave Mark a briefing on the group’s rules.
“Don’t float, don’t levitate things, and don’t walk through things,” he said, “and remember that living people can’t see you, so watch that they don’t walk through you — a sure-fire giveaway to the Goolies. And finally, never look directly at a Goolie. Only a few days ago, a member of another group made that mistake. The damn Goolie sucked him in while the other members had to pretend they didn’t see what was happening.”
“The other members did nothing?”
“Hell, they did the only thing they could do — pretend they were living people and didn’t know what was going on.”
“It just seems to me that there ought to be a way to resist them, that’s all.”
“Well, if you find out,” said Josh, “let me know.”
To be continued...
Copyright © 2004 by Donald Sullivan