Roadkill angels

A single horn drifts past my head, solitary in nature yet able to fill the void of silence that surrounds me. The sound is faint, as if it were carried solely by the breeze and intended to be a whisper of notice rather than a cry of anger, though I know not the origin of this horn and fall painfully to the will of imagination. I say painfully for it is at this time that I realize how foreign my environment seems to be. Knowledge aside, it is a sector of sterility; an installment of insignificance; a manifestation of mortality; a wilderness of wishfulness; a display of dirt; a desert of destitute. In all actuality, this barren sight is a wasteland, occupied by decaying shrubbery that haunts the rocks about it like a faint spirit emerging from the earth with all the reluctance of a terrified child. It peers around the space it haunts, unsure if this is where it belongs or if it has entered some sort of dull purgatory. The plant is trapped in this stage as it fights to take back the life bled from crumbling roots so many years ago. And so goes the story of a bush in the desert, destined to thrive amongst the spectors we fail to see.

 

Yet where is it that I fit into this story? Why am I standing here, staring at the remnants of vegetation, gazing into the void? The sound of cars shuttling past my location fail to escape these ears, though the area from which they originate is obscured by a small hill. I turn from the incessant noise and am startled by a man kneeling upon the ground. He wipes sweat from his brow but remains focused on his internal mission, somehow unable to notice my presence within the empty desert around him. I am about to speak to this man, hoping to not startle him too severely, though the words catch in my throat - sharp, choking - and the universe in its entirety commences to collapse upon itself, with me serving as the focal point of this implosion. I am suffocating. I am being deprived of the single greatest invention that life could mutate into replicable genes: free will. Yes, the free will that defines my choices, my life, has been stolen by this unknown man kneeling on the ground.

 

He places the soiled knife in a plastic bag and sets it at his side. He then sits back on his feet and stares at his handiwork, almost as if he’s admiring the beauty of my dead body. There it is! Before my very eyes! The blond hair now tainted with blood. The normally flush face now growing pale. The t-shirt I received on my previous birthday now being repurposed as a sponge, absorbing the grotesque amounts of fluid pouring from my flesh. The jeans that I have been told are too big on my skinny legs but I know to be incredibly comfortable, covered in dust and rocks from the desert floor. My shoes, large, stylish, chosen to be worn that day (and many other days) simply because they are my favorite. I can recall picking out the entire outfit this morning, ensuring that everything remains relatively cohesive in the eyes of someone that understands next to nothing about cohesion in fashion. And now, at some point in the late afternoon, I am staring at these garments without the assistance of a mirror, finding it difficult to look into my own sightless eyes. They are empty. No one is home. The mind that only moments before held so much love and cheer and knowledge and potential, the culmination of countless experiences and teachings, this mind has now been expelled from its humanly capsule by a knife, wielded by a hand, supported by an arm, swung by a shoulder, and commanded by a brain. His brain.

 

279 days. That’s how long my development lasted before I was born to my loving parents. It’s a boy! they cried. By God, it’s a boy!

 

12 and a half months. That’s how long it took me to say my first word. Bye.

 

15 years. That’s how long I had to wait before my first kiss.

 

20 years. That’s how long I was in school before finally receiving a degree and completing my education.

 

67 weeks. That’s how long I had my job before being granted my first promotion.

 

12 seconds. That’s how long it took me to bleed dry from multiple stab wounds.

 

I have often heard that spirits do not feel emotion. Somehow, when the mind is separated from the body, there is a metaphysical occurence that tears all humanly feelings from the entity and what remains is an overpowering aura of peace. As someone that is staring at their dead body upon the ground, hoping that the limbs will start moving once more but knowing there is nothing of worth remaining within the corpse, I can attest to the fact that us ghosts can feel everything. I am terrified of what is to come. I am pained by what has happened. And I am angered that the man who ended what could have been a fruitful, meaningful life is wiping my own blood from his hands as if he is merely removing some burger juice that has dripped upon his fingers. This mind can still love, just as it can cry and scream and… Wait. I am unable to scream. I have lost all capacity to produce sound, a most unfortunate fact given that the only action I can consider doing at this very moment is screeching until my vocal chords rupture in order to release this unbearable suffering within my… my… There is nothing tangible in which I can consider myself contained. These hands do not hold any weight, just as these feet fail to stand against the oppression of Man. They are not weak. They have simply ceased to exist! And yet my thoughts continue to flow! What unbelievable torture this is to be saddled with the image of one’s self lying murdered upon the earth, and then to be denied the chance to communicate this pain with the universe. It is as if all emotion must remain bottled within the invisible barriers of a mind where they are free to fester into still greater despicables that embody the trapped nature of these body-less thoughts.

 

And here! The man has begun to carve into the ground a grave perfectly suited for a freshly killed human. He stabs at the dirt repeatedly, mutilating its surface with disturbing ferocity until the planet begs for relief. Stop! it cries. That be enough! You have proved your malice and now I beg of you to make your leave! Return at once to the burning hole from which you emerged! However, the man exercises his will to ignore a mutilated world and pulls dirt from a growing hole until its size seems appropriate for my tall stature.

 

With cars continuing to pass from behind the hill, driving a highway of ignorance that sees not what has become of me just beyond their field of vision, the man continues to operate as if totally free of any repercussions. He has murdered without guilt or concern, his reason for such a cruel action escaping me. Do I recognize his grinning face? No. Do I have any enemies that could devolve to such a primal state? No. I see no reason that anyone could have considered my life worth taking. Perhaps I was merely a circumstantial kill, someone that was caught in the crossfire of mutual violence. Or maybe I was robbed of more than my life, with desperation steering this man to scrape any material worth from my fight-less body so he may find his next meal. There is an answer to these wonderings, close to my grasp, though obstructed by the terror that has blinded me to logical thoughts.

 

Whatever the cause, however the means, my corpse has been dragged into the man-made hole and is now being consumed by the ground. This earthly mouth masticates the graying flesh and sends plumes of dust dancing through the air, a manner-less feeder in a brutal world - as human nature is planetary pollution - boasting a hunger to discard of the parasites that suck away what used to be. It chews and chews my body until the billows of dirt descend upon their origin to reveal a featureless ground that has swallowed a corpse in its entirety. I watch, horrified, as the man shovels dirt upon my head, leaving nothing visible save the cold expression upon my face. Finally, with one motion, the eyes and nose and mouth that have always stood as my reflection are guided into the underground realm of darkness where nothing is hidden from the worms burrowing holes through whatever material lies in their path. Soon, my newly deposited body will be christened for the holiness it develops. And all the while, I am here, separated from the grave of mortality and the heaven of eternity.

 

Before a tear could be shed from my invisible eyes, the man has gathered his equipment and disappeared over the hill, headed toward the highway on the other side. I am left to exist, if that be the right term, devoid of any human sentiment. The closest I can come to the living world is listening to the sound of traffic passing my final resting place. And this in itself is a tease! My body is buried just here, so close to the general public, and yet no one will ever know of what has become of me! My soul is to mourn here, staring at a patch of dirt that conceals the truth below, and gaze across an unstimulating desert that serves as a constant reminder of my downfall. No one will ever see my being as it waits for conclusion. My body has been defiled and concealed by its murderer, and somehow I am the one to be punished with an eternity of residence within limbo. What irony the universe reserves for those that live innocent lives. How comedic God must be to look upon my sentence as one of great humor. I thought good people were rewarded for their efforts. I thought karma was a functioning entity of the world. I thought someone would have discovered my pitiful tomb by now.

 

Though time has meandered on with little notice of my plight. It dare not cease the movement on my behalf but instead feels the need to pass me by like a king sauntering through a village of groveling commoners. I am shackled to an unfaltering train that rumbles across countryside and city alike, unable to cease or change course in spite of my protests that emit not as calculated requests for my rightful freedom, but as hair-raising screams that echo across the tundra, between the mountains, and over the water, before failing to reach the ear of any living soul that would undoubtedly raise a questioning eyebrow at the sound while quickly deciding that to take action would exhaust much more effort than the trouble be worth. This is how one feels when bound to a spot on the desert as a newly appointed spirit, unable to stray more than a few yards from their decomposing body. And when I say one, this is of course in reference to myself, the individual that craves human interaction like I crave the ability to dig through the earth, retrieve my corpse, and drag it towards the highway where someone may bring their wavering attention to my penury, possibly forcing that murdering scoundrel to justice and allowing my soul to pass on in peace. Ah, such is the dream that has taken over my thoughts. A heartfelt way for the organless ghost to pass his time. What could have been and what could be are scarcely realized for they are naught but constructs of the imagination created by those with condemnation over what happened to be. And yet, this construct serves as an escape for those that are suffering and it perpetuates the inability to achieve these aspirations for the individual is enslaved to their mind as a dreamer rather than someone whom is capable of taking action. However, I feel the comparison dissolves at key points. I am lost in a world of mentality because there exists no physical body possessing the ability to manifest my thoughts into motions or words, whereas the apathetic human chooses to picture their ideal future rather than actually working towards that grand objective. A pity it is. Comedy at its finest.

 

I continue to mull over these conjurings of my mind, tasting each one for flavor and adapting them to my particular palate in that moment until the perfect combination of spicy imaginings and subtle undertones produces the dream I covet. This game rolls on with the creeping of time, monotonous, wearisome, like the drivers on the highway cruising towards their destination with little more to look at than flat dirt and nothing left to do but stare into the expanse of wasteland while occasionally wiping the drool from their mouth. But they are relieved from this tedium by the eventual conclusion of their drive, leaving me to remain in a perpetual state of boredom that sees no possibility of alleviation.

 

But now, something is changing. What is it that I can feel shifting upon the dark horizon? There is an alteration in the air, an anomaly, something present that has not appeared before mine eyes for an amount of time that escapes me. Approaching my spirit is an aura of desperation that hovers very near the aging grave upon which I stand. I cannot discern any shapes in the darkness of night. The only object visible to me is the small hill that obstructs the highway, for it is backlit by the occasional passing car, however far and few in between they are. And yet, I have the innate sense that other beings upon this planet are making their way towards my lonely entity. Could it be a search party looking for yours truly? Could it be adventurers lost in the desert? Could it be a motorist that has stopped to urinate upon my buried corpse? Whatever the reason for this nearing individual, I welcome their presence. I pray to the god that has forsaken me, beg of him to permit my interaction with this person. It is all I can do to maintain my composure in this moment of unimaginable tension.

 

As I await the coming of this intruder upon my desolation, the possibility of my freedom begins to warm the night around me. Not that I had ever felt hot or cold postmortem, but the darkness has somehow brightened ever so slightly and the ground has ceased to exude a sense of sharp coldness. For the first time, there is peace within my grasp, hanging just above my head like a halo of light beckoning me towards the great beyond, beautiful in essence and holy in nature. I can feel the touch of angelic hands upon my tortured soul! They are pulling me towards sanctuary where no murderer with a knife or unlivable desert can tear apart my person. Bugs do not eat through one’s flesh once residing in the afterlife, leaving the clothes intact so they may serve as an expression of character and experience rather than as a reminder of what had occurred on an unforgiving planet. I am so close to this freedom. Heaven has shown itself to me. The angels are here!

 

And then the sound of crunching dirt floats over the hill. I jolt with surprise and turn in the direction of the highway just as two shadows appear before me as sinister spectors from the world below. Their features are imperceptible, existing as black figures stalking through the night, impregnating the air with their sadistic aura. These feelings of peace and comfort have vanished within me as the foreboding pressures of natural fear urge me to flee. However, I remain rooted to the spot as a petrified ghost.

 

One of the figures flicks on a flashlight and nears my grave. All at once, as the light bounces from the ground and into the faces of the newcomers, I can see with what treachery I am dealing.

 

The very man that murdered me (days ago, weeks ago, I am unsure) has returned to his crime scene with the same proud, menacing expression that oversaw my own killing. I fixate on that ugly, stupid face as it sneers wildly into the sky where the heavens have receded from Earth, and God has turned his back to the scene, permitting humans to carry out their sadistic fantasies with the only repercussions being bloodstains on their favorite shirts and muscle strain from driving knives into thick bodies. I am momentarily distracted from the present by flashes of disturbing imagery that weigh down my mind. The dagger comes down repeatedly with such force and consistency that I am able to predict the individual explosions of agony across my body, adding terrible anticipation to what was originally good old-fashioned pain. The fear that had once filled me comes rushing back as this man reenters my life (my death?) until I force myself to break eye contact with someone that quite literally saw through me. Tearing all attention away from this sinner, my gaze falls on the second of the figures to have come over the hill. With the beam of the flashlight splashing rays upon this person’s face, I initially notice that she is a woman of roughly my age. The gold of her hair shines as a biblical star, guiding me towards an atmosphere of innocence that seems to define her being. Her eyes are green spheres, brilliant in color, deep in essence, adding a cartoonish tone to her sharp, skinny face. I can just see her teeth hiding behind plump, slightly parted lips, and I am reminded of the cuteness that a mouse holds, a creature that must be cherished and protected from the many predators roaming unchained through the world.

 

After taking in the extreme beauty of this woman, I am then alerted to the fear in her face. It drips from her pores as sweat and it stains her cheeks as tears. The fear leaves marks upon an otherwise unblemished face and I watch helplessly while a madman throws the woman onto unforgiving ground. She lies only feet from my body, whimpering into the nighttime air and begging her captor to show mercy. He does not oblige. Instead, he brandishes the same knife that has haunted my thoughts. The flashlight has now fallen to the ground and illuminates nothing more than the black boots of the aggressor. Dust swirls around those boots as the man suddenly lunges towards the woman, bringing the knife through her soiled shirt and into her chest. A scream penetrates the sky, rupturing the stillness of the desert, but no one is around to listen. She cries out again as the murderer continues to stab, creating fountains of fluid that erupt from the man-made holes like geysers littering a volcanic park. They thrust her life into the air, a deep maroon that looks deceptively dark in the dim setting, and dance to a pulsing beat, rapid at first, but slowing in pace as the pumping of the heart becomes increasingly strained.

 

Soon enough, the bleeding has ceased and the darting eyes of the woman have sunken into her head: sightless, lifeless. She cries no more and the area is once again quiet. I stare with pity and anger for what has just occurred. If I were an actual human possessing a functioning body, then I could have exhausted every effort to hinder this man’s attack. However, I am a helpless ghost, an impotent spector, wishing that a fantastical hero would come bounding over the hill and save this woman from the claws of death that are gripping her flesh. Save her! I scream in my mind. Please! Help her! He’s doing it again! No one comes. The deed is done and I watch as the killer of two people (Oh God, possibly more!) begins to dig a hole directly next to my grave.

 

“Hello?”

 

I start as the voice comes from behind me. It is soft in my ear, almost a whisper, the terrified tugging of my shirt by a small child asking for protection while the world behind them burns furiously. However, this is the voice of a grown woman that I hear repeating the same, powerful word: Hello.

 

Turning around slowly, cautiously, I expect to see a previously undetected third person, possibly a wanderer of the desert that has happened upon the gruesome scene and is preparing for their own doom. But surprisingly, the face that meets my gaze seems to be speaking directly at me. And suddenly, I realize that I am looking at none other than the deceased woman herself, a clone of the figure lying in her own blood next to the murderer. Her face is pained, a clear sign of the suffering that fills her mind, and her entire being appears slightly transparent.

 

Quickly, I look from this apparition, to the dead body, and then back at the apparition. The ghostly woman then does the same and before my sympathetic eyes I can see the realization spread across her face. She hurries to her corpse and kneels beside it, bawling at the sight of so much loss. I step behind her and fight for any words of comfort in such a surreal situation, though all expressible compassion evades my speech. After so much time of lacking a voice in my loneliness, I feel unable to manifest these mindful thoughts into audible sounds.

 

“What is happening?”

 

The woman has turned towards me once more and I can see the tears on her face. She is shaking uncontrollably, seemingly unsure of what to do with herself.

 

“Please. What’s happening?” she speaks again.

 

“You’re… you’re dead.” As the words escape from my mouth I can feel the curtness they hold.

 

“Wh- what?”

 

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” It is becoming easier to speak. “You and I are both dead. At the hands of that man.”

 

The woman looks to the only living figure around us. He has finished digging the hole and eagerly drags the freshly dead body into the darkness. She cries continuously as her remains are buried by the illumination of a flashlight. It had been startling to see my own grave filled, and is no easier watching someone else’s face disappear from the world with each crash of dirt.

 

Within minutes, the sight of the murder has been cleared and no person could fathom that two bodies lie just below the smooth surface of the desert. The man has gathered his tools and stepped over the hill towards the highway, into the darkness, out of our deaths. I am left to sit beside this woman who lays supine over her grave, silent except for the occasional moan that carries into the night.

 

Somehow we are able to see and hear one another. Before this moment, I had assumed that words would never again form between my lips and that my body would forever remain invisible to other beings. Yet now, with such miraculous happenings, there is someone else beside me, trapped upon this spot for the same reasons that have trapped me, and the elation begins to build.

 

“I’m so sorry for what has happened,” I say to her sincerely. “No one should ever experience something so cruel.”

 

Without sitting up, the woman says, “Why are you here?”

 

“Same reason you are. My body happens to be buried next to yours.”

 

She turns her head to look at the ground beside her, studying it as if searching for any signs of the truth that rots below. Her eyes then close slowly and she moves into a cross-legged position, facing me.

 

“Do you remember what happened?” I ask her.

 

“No.” A moment of pause. “Not really. I remember being at home. At night. This night? I don’t know. And then, oh God, nothing. Just, darkness. I then woke up in a car, tied up, and that man was driving. That man!”

 

“I know. His face will haunt you forever. I haven’t-”

 

“No!” she interrupts. “I know him!”

 

Her words startle me into motion and I find myself standing above her, anxious about the knowledge to be divulged.

 

“I know him!” the woman repeats. “He was a suspect in a murder case. I- I was the officer that questioned him. Oh God, he knew that I suspected him. He knew I had put it all together. Oh God!

 

“What was the murder case?” I ask quickly, and by the way she looks at me, I can assume that this former police officer has made the same conclusion.

 

“Richard?” she asks quietly, as if preventing others from discovering my true identity.

 

“Yeah. That’s me,” I say to her, finding it strange to hear my name coming from a total stranger.

 

We both stare at one another for several seconds, stunned into silence by the strange connection that has brought us to lie beside one another in eternal sleep. How sadistic the universe is for arranging something so twisted, ironic, and yet strangely beautiful. With nothing else to say about the matter, I crack a smile at this woman. She cocks her head in bewilderment, and then grins in return.

 

Embarrassed with our poor response to this mutual strife, we break eye contact and stare across the desert. For the first time, I take in the beauty of our surroundings. The stars glitter in the sky as orbs of light unobstructed by the pollution of big cities. The dry shrubbery sprouts from the earth sporadically, continuing patternless into the distance as a testament to the wildness and natural state of the area, untouched by the hands of man.

 

Finding her presence comforting, I sit beside the woman and ask for her name.

 

“Maria,” she says warmly.

 

“Nice to meet you, Maria. Sorry they are over such grim circumstances.”

 

She chuckles lightly and then falls silent, possibly in response to the reminder that we are dead. I choose to leave her in peace, allowing this amateur ghost the necessary time to accept her fate. I cannot say how many days had passed before I came to terms with my own death, though Maria seems to handle the situation with great maturity and strength. Perhaps she had already embraced her mortality when becoming a police officer and this made her eventual death a simpler transition, though who could say.

 

As a ghost, time seems to move in undescribable ways. I have no sense that we are traveling through space, even as the sun rises and sets in a predictable pattern. It is as if I have been detached from the physical rules that govern our universe and am instead part of a higher power, a spectral entity, that exists outside of time and beyond the realm of human understanding. And so when I say that Maria has ceased her crying and garnered an acceptance of life as a spirit, I am incapable of describing how long such a process took. All that is clear is that no other soul, living or dead, has crossed paths with us and the murderer has hopefully remained far from this desert.

 

“Richard?” Maria says with an unprecedented amount of strength in her voice. “What happens now?”

 

“I’ve thought about that,” I say to her. “And I haven’t a clue.”

 

She flashes that beautiful smile at me and something pulls at my absent heart. Before, when I was a complete human, I would have likened such a feeling to attraction. Though ghosts cannot express such emotions, especially not towards one another… right? We do not have the capacity to care for our equals and exist as living people do. But I am currently studying Maria’s face for it is exquisite, feminine, yet powerful, and I can’t chase the shameful thoughts from my mind. Her body is toned, fit, even in its transparency, and once again I am left to wonder if this sense of attraction is even possible.

 

“What is it?” Maria asks as I stare fixedly at her like an utter moron.

 

“Sorry. Just… getting used to having someone here.”

 

“I’m sure. How long have you been at this spot?”

 

“I don’t know. Kind of hard to tell.”

 

“I know what you mean,” she says as she sits on the ground next to me. I follow her example and we are soon engrossed in conversation.

 

This woman is so easy to engage. She has a comforting nature about her that invites me to continue conversing. I am free to share stories of my past, personal confessions that only lifelong friends have heard, and she accepts them all without judgement. I can sense that Maria is experiencing the same level of belonging for she has given me personal tales that, upon admittance, no other person has heard. We continue like this for minutes, hours, days, like two children forming a bond of friendship that will last a lifetime. There is so much to learn about one another, so many mannerisms to notice and so many experiences to share, each one bringing us closer and closer with the soul next door.

 

It is difficult to say what comes first in the order of things. Does one fall in love with a person upon initial sight, and therefore learning details about this individual only deepens the attraction? Or is love a consequence of learning these details, for without this knowledge about the personality or traits there could be no such thing as love? I consider posing such a consideration to Maria, then decide the topic is not appropriate. Here are two people, trapped in space by their untimely death, and the notion of ruining this relationship with unreciprocated thoughts is unbearable. I remain quiet.

 

Our friendship grows with each passing word, blossoming into new directions and new heights that bring us closer together. This camaraderie we experience makes existing beyond death more than bearable. The sentence handed down to us by ungoverned entities has taken on a pleasurable nature that cannot be denied, as a committed vegetarian consumes bacon for the first time only to find that their self identifying choices are now in question. It changes everything, it alters the future and brutalizes the past, and I can sympathize with the vegetarian for I know not whether to pity myself or take advantage of the pleasure this friend brings to me. I choose to live in the moment (if that be possible for a dead man) and converse as I would with someone I am discovering. And in the spirit of discovery, she and I venture forth into a terrifying realm.

 

“Do you suppose our souls will ever move on?” Maria tosses the impossible-to-answer question at me, a question I had been asking myself for quite some time but was afraid to say aloud. Afraid of what? To be judged by this incredibly grounded, open-minded woman? Afraid of sounding unintelligent to someone that truly listens to what I have to say as if every word were a glimpse into my being? Afraid of sounding, well, afraid when the both of us are saddled with an eternity in limbo?

 

She and I have been getting to know each other for weeks, months, years (impossible to tell), and through every conversation that develops between us, a greater part of my soul becomes devoted to her happiness. To make her smile is my ultimate goal; to make her laugh is the next step; and once she has flashed those brilliant, green eyes at me with an expression of total contentment, only then have I won the challenge. And the greatest part of this game is that once I am victorious, reveling in my ability to please this woman, the entire thing begins anew. Over and over, day and night, I am working to cause that smile, break out her laugh, and then wait for the look on her face that tells me all I’ve ever wanted to hear: that Maria knows how special she is to me.

 

“Do you suppose our souls will ever move on, Richard?” she asks again, inching closer as we sit on the ground, me over her grave and her over mine.

 

“I don’t know, Maria,” I say honestly. “I suppose it could happen if our bodies are found and we are put to rest or something like that. But I really don’t know.”

 

It is in this moment that I finally realize why that question could never escape my lips. There never existed any fear that my companion would judge me prematurely, nor was there any concern that she would think of me as unintelligent or fearsome of our spiritual fate.

 

It is the answer to the question itself of which I am afraid. Will our souls ever move on? And if they do, what is to become of my relationship with Maria? The passing of our minds into a state of eternal bliss could destroy our capacity to think and express, meaning that we would never know of the other’s (or our own) existence… We would never know.

 

“Why do you ask?” I say to her, my head bowed in a state of hesitant pensiveness.

 

“I- I am worried,” she says shyly. Through peripheral vision I can see that she has turned towards me. Her eyes are soft, glistening, and I am quickly losing the game. Maria is not smiling, she is far from laughing, and even further from knowing how special she is to me.

 

“What are you worried about?”

 

“Um, I am afraid of…” There is a pain in her voice that I have not heard recently. It troubles me, terrifies me.

 

“Maria. I… uh…” The words catch in my throat.

 

“I don’t want to leave here,” she says suddenly.

 

My head jolts up and I look at this woman, a transparent apparition in my eyes but someone that holds so much worth in my death. Could it be? Could we both feel it?

 

“I don’t want to either,” I say quickly, not wanting this moment to end but needing to express my love for her like a drowning human needs to breath. Yes, I am drowning in this emotion, suffocating from the pressure it exerts over my being. I must be freed from this torment and take a breath. Now!

 

“I love you, Maria.” It is all I can do to maintain my composure and prevent every thought from spewing from my mouth at once. “I don’t want to pass on if that means we are separated. I need you and will always need you by my side. This is not a curse to be trapped here. It is a blessing to have died here at your side. I pity those that are living without a fraction of the emotion I feel. I love you and will always love you.”

 

The concern on her face fades from view. Her weary eyes brighten with energy and her full lips pull into a smile.

Step one is complete.

 

“Imagine how lucky we are to have found one another in such a moment,” I continue. “We are neither alone nor alone in our loneliness. We can have each other until the end of time, taking on new adventures upon this small patch of paradise.”

 

She laughs in elation and turns about as if to admire our surroundings, knowing that they are barren but never doubting that they represent our land of plenty.

 

Step two is complete.

 

“There is nothing more I want in the world than your love. I have and always will devote myself to you, but only if you will have me. So, Maria, will you have me as your soul mate?”

 

The woman glances at her feet, continuing to smile, and then lifts her head to look at me, her expression one of total conviction that she is truly special in the eyes of this man.

 

That’s it. Challenge complete. The game is won. All that is left to do is start again, continue to make her smile and laugh and love herself for all eternity.

 

“I will always love you, Richard,” she says to me.

 

We sit together in a content silence, listening to the passing cars on the highway and knowing that if we had beating hearts, they would be beating in unison.

 

As time moves on, a burden to most but an enigma to us, I can’t help but wonder if the murderer ever intended to harm us. Perhaps it is merely coincidence that two people so perfect for one another fell into a circumstance that trapped them both together. But what if it was something more controlled? More divine?

 

Yes, I truly believe that fate was on my side that day. It was not a robber that broke into my house while I was at work. It was not a madman that kidnapped me when I unexpectedly came home for lunch. It was not a killer that threw me in the trunk of his car only to end my life hours later in the middle of the desert. And it was not a murderer that stabbed the police officer working his case to death before burying her beside the very body she had been so desperate to find.

 

I lived a good life, Maria lived a good life, and the angels rewarded us in the greatest way possible. Our souls were never intended for Heaven. They had always belonged to each other.

Roadkill angels

A single horn drifts past my head, solitary in nature yet able to fill the void of silence that surrounds me. The sound is faint, as if it were carried solely by the breeze and intended to be a whisper of notice rather than a cry of anger, though I know not the origin of this horn and fall painfully to the will of imagination. I say painfully for it is at this time that I realize how foreign my environment seems to be. Knowledge aside, it is a sector of sterility; an installment of insignificance; a manifestation of mortality; a wilderness of wishfulness; a display of dirt; a desert of destitute. In all actuality, this barren sight is a wasteland, occupied by decaying shrubbery that haunts the rocks about it like a faint spirit emerging from the earth with all the reluctance of a terrified child. It peers around the space it haunts, unsure if this is where it belongs or if it has entered some sort of dull purgatory. The plant is trapped in this stage as it fights to take back the life bled from crumbling roots so many years ago. And so goes the story of a bush in the desert, destined to thrive amongst the spectors we fail to see.

 

Yet where is it that I fit into this story? Why am I standing here, staring at the remnants of vegetation, gazing into the void? The sound of cars shuttling past my location fail to escape these ears, though the area from which they originate is obscured by a small hill. I turn from the incessant noise and am startled by a man kneeling upon the ground. He wipes sweat from his brow but remains focused on his internal mission, somehow unable to notice my presence within the empty desert around him. I am about to speak to this man, hoping to not startle him too severely, though the words catch in my throat - sharp, choking - and the universe in its entirety commences to collapse upon itself, with me serving as the focal point of this implosion. I am suffocating. I am being deprived of the single greatest invention that life could mutate into replicable genes: free will. Yes, the free will that defines my choices, my life, has been stolen by this unknown man kneeling on the ground.

 

He places the soiled knife in a plastic bag and sets it at his side. He then sits back on his feet and stares at his handiwork, almost as if he’s admiring the beauty of my dead body. There it is! Before my very eyes! The blond hair now tainted with blood. The normally flush face now growing pale. The t-shirt I received on my previous birthday now being repurposed as a sponge, absorbing the grotesque amounts of fluid pouring from my flesh. The jeans that I have been told are too big on my skinny legs but I know to be incredibly comfortable, covered in dust and rocks from the desert floor. My shoes, large, stylish, chosen to be worn that day (and many other days) simply because they are my favorite. I can recall picking out the entire outfit this morning, ensuring that everything remains relatively cohesive in the eyes of someone that understands next to nothing about cohesion in fashion. And now, at some point in the late afternoon, I am staring at these garments without the assistance of a mirror, finding it difficult to look into my own sightless eyes. They are empty. No one is home. The mind that only moments before held so much love and cheer and knowledge and potential, the culmination of countless experiences and teachings, this mind has now been expelled from its humanly capsule by a knife, wielded by a hand, supported by an arm, swung by a shoulder, and commanded by a brain. His brain.

 

279 days. That’s how long my development lasted before I was born to my loving parents. It’s a boy! they cried. By God, it’s a boy!

 

12 and a half months. That’s how long it took me to say my first word. Bye.

 

15 years. That’s how long I had to wait before my first kiss.

 

20 years. That’s how long I was in school before finally receiving a degree and completing my education.

 

67 weeks. That’s how long I had my job before being granted my first promotion.

 

12 seconds. That’s how long it took me to bleed dry from multiple stab wounds.

 

I have often heard that spirits do not feel emotion. Somehow, when the mind is separated from the body, there is a metaphysical occurence that tears all humanly feelings from the entity and what remains is an overpowering aura of peace. As someone that is staring at their dead body upon the ground, hoping that the limbs will start moving once more but knowing there is nothing of worth remaining within the corpse, I can attest to the fact that us ghosts can feel everything. I am terrified of what is to come. I am pained by what has happened. And I am angered that the man who ended what could have been a fruitful, meaningful life is wiping my own blood from his hands as if he is merely removing some burger juice that has dripped upon his fingers. This mind can still love, just as it can cry and scream and… Wait. I am unable to scream. I have lost all capacity to produce sound, a most unfortunate fact given that the only action I can consider doing at this very moment is screeching until my vocal chords rupture in order to release this unbearable suffering within my… my… There is nothing tangible in which I can consider myself contained. These hands do not hold any weight, just as these feet fail to stand against the oppression of Man. They are not weak. They have simply ceased to exist! And yet my thoughts continue to flow! What unbelievable torture this is to be saddled with the image of one’s self lying murdered upon the earth, and then to be denied the chance to communicate this pain with the universe. It is as if all emotion must remain bottled within the invisible barriers of a mind where they are free to fester into still greater despicables that embody the trapped nature of these body-less thoughts.

 

And here! The man has begun to carve into the ground a grave perfectly suited for a freshly killed human. He stabs at the dirt repeatedly, mutilating its surface with disturbing ferocity until the planet begs for relief. Stop! it cries. That be enough! You have proved your malice and now I beg of you to make your leave! Return at once to the burning hole from which you emerged! However, the man exercises his will to ignore a mutilated world and pulls dirt from a growing hole until its size seems appropriate for my tall stature.

 

With cars continuing to pass from behind the hill, driving a highway of ignorance that sees not what has become of me just beyond their field of vision, the man continues to operate as if totally free of any repercussions. He has murdered without guilt or concern, his reason for such a cruel action escaping me. Do I recognize his grinning face? No. Do I have any enemies that could devolve to such a primal state? No. I see no reason that anyone could have considered my life worth taking. Perhaps I was merely a circumstantial kill, someone that was caught in the crossfire of mutual violence. Or maybe I was robbed of more than my life, with desperation steering this man to scrape any material worth from my fight-less body so he may find his next meal. There is an answer to these wonderings, close to my grasp, though obstructed by the terror that has blinded me to logical thoughts.

 

Whatever the cause, however the means, my corpse has been dragged into the man-made hole and is now being consumed by the ground. This earthly mouth masticates the graying flesh and sends plumes of dust dancing through the air, a manner-less feeder in a brutal world - as human nature is planetary pollution - boasting a hunger to discard of the parasites that suck away what used to be. It chews and chews my body until the billows of dirt descend upon their origin to reveal a featureless ground that has swallowed a corpse in its entirety. I watch, horrified, as the man shovels dirt upon my head, leaving nothing visible save the cold expression upon my face. Finally, with one motion, the eyes and nose and mouth that have always stood as my reflection are guided into the underground realm of darkness where nothing is hidden from the worms burrowing holes through whatever material lies in their path. Soon, my newly deposited body will be christened for the holiness it develops. And all the while, I am here, separated from the grave of mortality and the heaven of eternity.

 

Before a tear could be shed from my invisible eyes, the man has gathered his equipment and disappeared over the hill, headed toward the highway on the other side. I am left to exist, if that be the right term, devoid of any human sentiment. The closest I can come to the living world is listening to the sound of traffic passing my final resting place. And this in itself is a tease! My body is buried just here, so close to the general public, and yet no one will ever know of what has become of me! My soul is to mourn here, staring at a patch of dirt that conceals the truth below, and gaze across an unstimulating desert that serves as a constant reminder of my downfall. No one will ever see my being as it waits for conclusion. My body has been defiled and concealed by its murderer, and somehow I am the one to be punished with an eternity of residence within limbo. What irony the universe reserves for those that live innocent lives. How comedic God must be to look upon my sentence as one of great humor. I thought good people were rewarded for their efforts. I thought karma was a functioning entity of the world. I thought someone would have discovered my pitiful tomb by now.

 

Though time has meandered on with little notice of my plight. It dare not cease the movement on my behalf but instead feels the need to pass me by like a king sauntering through a village of groveling commoners. I am shackled to an unfaltering train that rumbles across countryside and city alike, unable to cease or change course in spite of my protests that emit not as calculated requests for my rightful freedom, but as hair-raising screams that echo across the tundra, between the mountains, and over the water, before failing to reach the ear of any living soul that would undoubtedly raise a questioning eyebrow at the sound while quickly deciding that to take action would exhaust much more effort than the trouble be worth. This is how one feels when bound to a spot on the desert as a newly appointed spirit, unable to stray more than a few yards from their decomposing body. And when I say one, this is of course in reference to myself, the individual that craves human interaction like I crave the ability to dig through the earth, retrieve my corpse, and drag it towards the highway where someone may bring their wavering attention to my penury, possibly forcing that murdering scoundrel to justice and allowing my soul to pass on in peace. Ah, such is the dream that has taken over my thoughts. A heartfelt way for the organless ghost to pass his time. What could have been and what could be are scarcely realized for they are naught but constructs of the imagination created by those with condemnation over what happened to be. And yet, this construct serves as an escape for those that are suffering and it perpetuates the inability to achieve these aspirations for the individual is enslaved to their mind as a dreamer rather than someone whom is capable of taking action. However, I feel the comparison dissolves at key points. I am lost in a world of mentality because there exists no physical body possessing the ability to manifest my thoughts into motions or words, whereas the apathetic human chooses to picture their ideal future rather than actually working towards that grand objective. A pity it is. Comedy at its finest.

 

I continue to mull over these conjurings of my mind, tasting each one for flavor and adapting them to my particular palate in that moment until the perfect combination of spicy imaginings and subtle undertones produces the dream I covet. This game rolls on with the creeping of time, monotonous, wearisome, like the drivers on the highway cruising towards their destination with little more to look at than flat dirt and nothing left to do but stare into the expanse of wasteland while occasionally wiping the drool from their mouth. But they are relieved from this tedium by the eventual conclusion of their drive, leaving me to remain in a perpetual state of boredom that sees no possibility of alleviation.

 

But now, something is changing. What is it that I can feel shifting upon the dark horizon? There is an alteration in the air, an anomaly, something present that has not appeared before mine eyes for an amount of time that escapes me. Approaching my spirit is an aura of desperation that hovers very near the aging grave upon which I stand. I cannot discern any shapes in the darkness of night. The only object visible to me is the small hill that obstructs the highway, for it is backlit by the occasional passing car, however far and few in between they are. And yet, I have the innate sense that other beings upon this planet are making their way towards my lonely entity. Could it be a search party looking for yours truly? Could it be adventurers lost in the desert? Could it be a motorist that has stopped to urinate upon my buried corpse? Whatever the reason for this nearing individual, I welcome their presence. I pray to the god that has forsaken me, beg of him to permit my interaction with this person. It is all I can do to maintain my composure in this moment of unimaginable tension.

 

As I await the coming of this intruder upon my desolation, the possibility of my freedom begins to warm the night around me. Not that I had ever felt hot or cold postmortem, but the darkness has somehow brightened ever so slightly and the ground has ceased to exude a sense of sharp coldness. For the first time, there is peace within my grasp, hanging just above my head like a halo of light beckoning me towards the great beyond, beautiful in essence and holy in nature. I can feel the touch of angelic hands upon my tortured soul! They are pulling me towards sanctuary where no murderer with a knife or unlivable desert can tear apart my person. Bugs do not eat through one’s flesh once residing in the afterlife, leaving the clothes intact so they may serve as an expression of character and experience rather than as a reminder of what had occurred on an unforgiving planet. I am so close to this freedom. Heaven has shown itself to me. The angels are here!

 

And then the sound of crunching dirt floats over the hill. I jolt with surprise and turn in the direction of the highway just as two shadows appear before me as sinister spectors from the world below. Their features are imperceptible, existing as black figures stalking through the night, impregnating the air with their sadistic aura. These feelings of peace and comfort have vanished within me as the foreboding pressures of natural fear urge me to flee. However, I remain rooted to the spot as a petrified ghost.

 

One of the figures flicks on a flashlight and nears my grave. All at once, as the light bounces from the ground and into the faces of the newcomers, I can see with what treachery I am dealing.

 

The very man that murdered me (days ago, weeks ago, I am unsure) has returned to his crime scene with the same proud, menacing expression that oversaw my own killing. I fixate on that ugly, stupid face as it sneers wildly into the sky where the heavens have receded from Earth, and God has turned his back to the scene, permitting humans to carry out their sadistic fantasies with the only repercussions being bloodstains on their favorite shirts and muscle strain from driving knives into thick bodies. I am momentarily distracted from the present by flashes of disturbing imagery that weigh down my mind. The dagger comes down repeatedly with such force and consistency that I am able to predict the individual explosions of agony across my body, adding terrible anticipation to what was originally good old-fashioned pain. The fear that had once filled me comes rushing back as this man reenters my life (my death?) until I force myself to break eye contact with someone that quite literally saw through me. Tearing all attention away from this sinner, my gaze falls on the second of the figures to have come over the hill. With the beam of the flashlight splashing rays upon this person’s face, I initially notice that she is a woman of roughly my age. The gold of her hair shines as a biblical star, guiding me towards an atmosphere of innocence that seems to define her being. Her eyes are green spheres, brilliant in color, deep in essence, adding a cartoonish tone to her sharp, skinny face. I can just see her teeth hiding behind plump, slightly parted lips, and I am reminded of the cuteness that a mouse holds, a creature that must be cherished and protected from the many predators roaming unchained through the world.

 

After taking in the extreme beauty of this woman, I am then alerted to the fear in her face. It drips from her pores as sweat and it stains her cheeks as tears. The fear leaves marks upon an otherwise unblemished face and I watch helplessly while a madman throws the woman onto unforgiving ground. She lies only feet from my body, whimpering into the nighttime air and begging her captor to show mercy. He does not oblige. Instead, he brandishes the same knife that has haunted my thoughts. The flashlight has now fallen to the ground and illuminates nothing more than the black boots of the aggressor. Dust swirls around those boots as the man suddenly lunges towards the woman, bringing the knife through her soiled shirt and into her chest. A scream penetrates the sky, rupturing the stillness of the desert, but no one is around to listen. She cries out again as the murderer continues to stab, creating fountains of fluid that erupt from the man-made holes like geysers littering a volcanic park. They thrust her life into the air, a deep maroon that looks deceptively dark in the dim setting, and dance to a pulsing beat, rapid at first, but slowing in pace as the pumping of the heart becomes increasingly strained.

 

Soon enough, the bleeding has ceased and the darting eyes of the woman have sunken into her head: sightless, lifeless. She cries no more and the area is once again quiet. I stare with pity and anger for what has just occurred. If I were an actual human possessing a functioning body, then I could have exhausted every effort to hinder this man’s attack. However, I am a helpless ghost, an impotent spector, wishing that a fantastical hero would come bounding over the hill and save this woman from the claws of death that are gripping her flesh. Save her! I scream in my mind. Please! Help her! He’s doing it again! No one comes. The deed is done and I watch as the killer of two people (Oh God, possibly more!) begins to dig a hole directly next to my grave.

 

“Hello?”

 

I start as the voice comes from behind me. It is soft in my ear, almost a whisper, the terrified tugging of my shirt by a small child asking for protection while the world behind them burns furiously. However, this is the voice of a grown woman that I hear repeating the same, powerful word: Hello.

 

Turning around slowly, cautiously, I expect to see a previously undetected third person, possibly a wanderer of the desert that has happened upon the gruesome scene and is preparing for their own doom. But surprisingly, the face that meets my gaze seems to be speaking directly at me. And suddenly, I realize that I am looking at none other than the deceased woman herself, a clone of the figure lying in her own blood next to the murderer. Her face is pained, a clear sign of the suffering that fills her mind, and her entire being appears slightly transparent.

 

Quickly, I look from this apparition, to the dead body, and then back at the apparition. The ghostly woman then does the same and before my sympathetic eyes I can see the realization spread across her face. She hurries to her corpse and kneels beside it, bawling at the sight of so much loss. I step behind her and fight for any words of comfort in such a surreal situation, though all expressible compassion evades my speech. After so much time of lacking a voice in my loneliness, I feel unable to manifest these mindful thoughts into audible sounds.

 

“What is happening?”

 

The woman has turned towards me once more and I can see the tears on her face. She is shaking uncontrollably, seemingly unsure of what to do with herself.

 

“Please. What’s happening?” she speaks again.

 

“You’re… you’re dead.” As the words escape from my mouth I can feel the curtness they hold.

 

“Wh- what?”

 

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” It is becoming easier to speak. “You and I are both dead. At the hands of that man.”

 

The woman looks to the only living figure around us. He has finished digging the hole and eagerly drags the freshly dead body into the darkness. She cries continuously as her remains are buried by the illumination of a flashlight. It had been startling to see my own grave filled, and is no easier watching someone else’s face disappear from the world with each crash of dirt.

 

Within minutes, the sight of the murder has been cleared and no person could fathom that two bodies lie just below the smooth surface of the desert. The man has gathered his tools and stepped over the hill towards the highway, into the darkness, out of our deaths. I am left to sit beside this woman who lays supine over her grave, silent except for the occasional moan that carries into the night.

 

Somehow we are able to see and hear one another. Before this moment, I had assumed that words would never again form between my lips and that my body would forever remain invisible to other beings. Yet now, with such miraculous happenings, there is someone else beside me, trapped upon this spot for the same reasons that have trapped me, and the elation begins to build.

 

“I’m so sorry for what has happened,” I say to her sincerely. “No one should ever experience something so cruel.”

 

Without sitting up, the woman says, “Why are you here?”

 

“Same reason you are. My body happens to be buried next to yours.”

 

She turns her head to look at the ground beside her, studying it as if searching for any signs of the truth that rots below. Her eyes then close slowly and she moves into a cross-legged position, facing me.

 

“Do you remember what happened?” I ask her.

 

“No.” A moment of pause. “Not really. I remember being at home. At night. This night? I don’t know. And then, oh God, nothing. Just, darkness. I then woke up in a car, tied up, and that man was driving. That man!”

 

“I know. His face will haunt you forever. I haven’t-”

 

“No!” she interrupts. “I know him!”

 

Her words startle me into motion and I find myself standing above her, anxious about the knowledge to be divulged.

 

“I know him!” the woman repeats. “He was a suspect in a murder case. I- I was the officer that questioned him. Oh God, he knew that I suspected him. He knew I had put it all together. Oh God!

 

“What was the murder case?” I ask quickly, and by the way she looks at me, I can assume that this former police officer has made the same conclusion.

 

“Richard?” she asks quietly, as if preventing others from discovering my true identity.

 

“Yeah. That’s me,” I say to her, finding it strange to hear my name coming from a total stranger.

 

We both stare at one another for several seconds, stunned into silence by the strange connection that has brought us to lie beside one another in eternal sleep. How sadistic the universe is for arranging something so twisted, ironic, and yet strangely beautiful. With nothing else to say about the matter, I crack a smile at this woman. She cocks her head in bewilderment, and then grins in return.

 

Embarrassed with our poor response to this mutual strife, we break eye contact and stare across the desert. For the first time, I take in the beauty of our surroundings. The stars glitter in the sky as orbs of light unobstructed by the pollution of big cities. The dry shrubbery sprouts from the earth sporadically, continuing patternless into the distance as a testament to the wildness and natural state of the area, untouched by the hands of man.

 

Finding her presence comforting, I sit beside the woman and ask for her name.

 

“Maria,” she says warmly.

 

“Nice to meet you, Maria. Sorry they are over such grim circumstances.”

 

She chuckles lightly and then falls silent, possibly in response to the reminder that we are dead. I choose to leave her in peace, allowing this amateur ghost the necessary time to accept her fate. I cannot say how many days had passed before I came to terms with my own death, though Maria seems to handle the situation with great maturity and strength. Perhaps she had already embraced her mortality when becoming a police officer and this made her eventual death a simpler transition, though who could say.

 

As a ghost, time seems to move in undescribable ways. I have no sense that we are traveling through space, even as the sun rises and sets in a predictable pattern. It is as if I have been detached from the physical rules that govern our universe and am instead part of a higher power, a spectral entity, that exists outside of time and beyond the realm of human understanding. And so when I say that Maria has ceased her crying and garnered an acceptance of life as a spirit, I am incapable of describing how long such a process took. All that is clear is that no other soul, living or dead, has crossed paths with us and the murderer has hopefully remained far from this desert.

 

“Richard?” Maria says with an unprecedented amount of strength in her voice. “What happens now?”

 

“I’ve thought about that,” I say to her. “And I haven’t a clue.”

 

She flashes that beautiful smile at me and something pulls at my absent heart. Before, when I was a complete human, I would have likened such a feeling to attraction. Though ghosts cannot express such emotions, especially not towards one another… right? We do not have the capacity to care for our equals and exist as living people do. But I am currently studying Maria’s face for it is exquisite, feminine, yet powerful, and I can’t chase the shameful thoughts from my mind. Her body is toned, fit, even in its transparency, and once again I am left to wonder if this sense of attraction is even possible.

 

“What is it?” Maria asks as I stare fixedly at her like an utter moron.

 

“Sorry. Just… getting used to having someone here.”

 

“I’m sure. How long have you been at this spot?”

 

“I don’t know. Kind of hard to tell.”

 

“I know what you mean,” she says as she sits on the ground next to me. I follow her example and we are soon engrossed in conversation.

 

This woman is so easy to engage. She has a comforting nature about her that invites me to continue conversing. I am free to share stories of my past, personal confessions that only lifelong friends have heard, and she accepts them all without judgement. I can sense that Maria is experiencing the same level of belonging for she has given me personal tales that, upon admittance, no other person has heard. We continue like this for minutes, hours, days, like two children forming a bond of friendship that will last a lifetime. There is so much to learn about one another, so many mannerisms to notice and so many experiences to share, each one bringing us closer and closer with the soul next door.

 

It is difficult to say what comes first in the order of things. Does one fall in love with a person upon initial sight, and therefore learning details about this individual only deepens the attraction? Or is love a consequence of learning these details, for without this knowledge about the personality or traits there could be no such thing as love? I consider posing such a consideration to Maria, then decide the topic is not appropriate. Here are two people, trapped in space by their untimely death, and the notion of ruining this relationship with unreciprocated thoughts is unbearable. I remain quiet.

 

Our friendship grows with each passing word, blossoming into new directions and new heights that bring us closer together. This camaraderie we experience makes existing beyond death more than bearable. The sentence handed down to us by ungoverned entities has taken on a pleasurable nature that cannot be denied, as a committed vegetarian consumes bacon for the first time only to find that their self identifying choices are now in question. It changes everything, it alters the future and brutalizes the past, and I can sympathize with the vegetarian for I know not whether to pity myself or take advantage of the pleasure this friend brings to me. I choose to live in the moment (if that be possible for a dead man) and converse as I would with someone I am discovering. And in the spirit of discovery, she and I venture forth into a terrifying realm.

 

“Do you suppose our souls will ever move on?” Maria tosses the impossible-to-answer question at me, a question I had been asking myself for quite some time but was afraid to say aloud. Afraid of what? To be judged by this incredibly grounded, open-minded woman? Afraid of sounding unintelligent to someone that truly listens to what I have to say as if every word were a glimpse into my being? Afraid of sounding, well, afraid when the both of us are saddled with an eternity in limbo?

 

She and I have been getting to know each other for weeks, months, years (impossible to tell), and through every conversation that develops between us, a greater part of my soul becomes devoted to her happiness. To make her smile is my ultimate goal; to make her laugh is the next step; and once she has flashed those brilliant, green eyes at me with an expression of total contentment, only then have I won the challenge. And the greatest part of this game is that once I am victorious, reveling in my ability to please this woman, the entire thing begins anew. Over and over, day and night, I am working to cause that smile, break out her laugh, and then wait for the look on her face that tells me all I’ve ever wanted to hear: that Maria knows how special she is to me.

 

“Do you suppose our souls will ever move on, Richard?” she asks again, inching closer as we sit on the ground, me over her grave and her over mine.

 

“I don’t know, Maria,” I say honestly. “I suppose it could happen if our bodies are found and we are put to rest or something like that. But I really don’t know.”

 

It is in this moment that I finally realize why that question could never escape my lips. There never existed any fear that my companion would judge me prematurely, nor was there any concern that she would think of me as unintelligent or fearsome of our spiritual fate.

 

It is the answer to the question itself of which I am afraid. Will our souls ever move on? And if they do, what is to become of my relationship with Maria? The passing of our minds into a state of eternal bliss could destroy our capacity to think and express, meaning that we would never know of the other’s (or our own) existence… We would never know.

 

“Why do you ask?” I say to her, my head bowed in a state of hesitant pensiveness.

 

“I- I am worried,” she says shyly. Through peripheral vision I can see that she has turned towards me. Her eyes are soft, glistening, and I am quickly losing the game. Maria is not smiling, she is far from laughing, and even further from knowing how special she is to me.

 

“What are you worried about?”

 

“Um, I am afraid of…” There is a pain in her voice that I have not heard recently. It troubles me, terrifies me.

 

“Maria. I… uh…” The words catch in my throat.

 

“I don’t want to leave here,” she says suddenly.

 

My head jolts up and I look at this woman, a transparent apparition in my eyes but someone that holds so much worth in my death. Could it be? Could we both feel it?

 

“I don’t want to either,” I say quickly, not wanting this moment to end but needing to express my love for her like a drowning human needs to breath. Yes, I am drowning in this emotion, suffocating from the pressure it exerts over my being. I must be freed from this torment and take a breath. Now!

 

“I love you, Maria.” It is all I can do to maintain my composure and prevent every thought from spewing from my mouth at once. “I don’t want to pass on if that means we are separated. I need you and will always need you by my side. This is not a curse to be trapped here. It is a blessing to have died here at your side. I pity those that are living without a fraction of the emotion I feel. I love you and will always love you.”

 

The concern on her face fades from view. Her weary eyes brighten with energy and her full lips pull into a smile.

Step one is complete.

 

“Imagine how lucky we are to have found one another in such a moment,” I continue. “We are neither alone nor alone in our loneliness. We can have each other until the end of time, taking on new adventures upon this small patch of paradise.”

 

She laughs in elation and turns about as if to admire our surroundings, knowing that they are barren but never doubting that they represent our land of plenty.

 

Step two is complete.

 

“There is nothing more I want in the world than your love. I have and always will devote myself to you, but only if you will have me. So, Maria, will you have me as your soul mate?”

 

The woman glances at her feet, continuing to smile, and then lifts her head to look at me, her expression one of total conviction that she is truly special in the eyes of this man.

 

That’s it. Challenge complete. The game is won. All that is left to do is start again, continue to make her smile and laugh and love herself for all eternity.

 

“I will always love you, Richard,” she says to me.

 

We sit together in a content silence, listening to the passing cars on the highway and knowing that if we had beating hearts, they would be beating in unison.

 

As time moves on, a burden to most but an enigma to us, I can’t help but wonder if the murderer ever intended to harm us. Perhaps it is merely coincidence that two people so perfect for one another fell into a circumstance that trapped them both together. But what if it was something more controlled? More divine?

 

Yes, I truly believe that fate was on my side that day. It was not a robber that broke into my house while I was at work. It was not a madman that kidnapped me when I unexpectedly came home for lunch. It was not a killer that threw me in the trunk of his car only to end my life hours later in the middle of the desert. And it was not a murderer that stabbed the police officer working his case to death before burying her beside the very body she had been so desperate to find.

 

I lived a good life, Maria lived a good life, and the angels rewarded us in the greatest way possible. Our souls were never intended for Heaven. They had always belonged to each other.

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