Back of the line
“You gotta be careful who you talk to Purg,” Fred scolded. “Especially old spirits. The older they are, the crazier, and more unpredictable they are.”
“I’ll say,” she replied softly. Fred had led her out of the cemetery, just as a cold rain had begun to fall. Even though she couldn’t feel the rain, or the coldness in the air, an icy chill ran through her body. “Thank you.”
“Don’t mention it,” Fred replied, leading her down another street.
“What are you even doing here?”
“I’m all done with this country bullshit,” the Reaper responded, his voice was full of cheer, and Lilly could hear it, even over the sound of the pattering rain. “Headed back to the big apple. I felt bad about your situation, and thought I’d check in on you before I left. Good thing huh?”
Lilly didn’t have anything to say. How could she have been so foolish? Or such a bad judgment of character? While her parents both had good jobs, allowing her to be raised with everything she had ever wanted, or needed, she didn’t consider herself having lived in a precious bubble. But still, she had been really wrong about the man that had killed her. He had seemed so nice, so nonthreatening, that she hadn’t even thought twice about talking to him. And then on the flip side, there was Sebastian. How could a ten-year-old be so outwardly evil? She thought back to him throwing the acorn at that poor man walking down the side walk. The signs had been there, now that she looked back at the incident with clearer vision. She thought that what he had done was awful, but never in her wildest dreams did she think that he could have been the same as Lady Annabelle, but there was no hesitation in his eyes when he had stabbed Fred.
“Here we are,” Fred suddenly said, breaking Lilly’s train of thought. They were standing under the covered pumps of a gas station. Far off in the distance Lilly could once again see the faint golden glow in the sky of her unfinished business. “Like I said, I felt bad about your situation, so I’m going to do you a solid,” he told her, walking over to a pickup truck that was being refueled by a normal looking man in his sixties. “About a hundred miles north of here is a casino. Can’t miss it. Word on the undead grape vine is there’s someone there that might be able to help you out with your quest. And it just so happens that this guy is gonna bite it at the craps table there, so you’re welcome.”
Lilly climbed into the back of the truck’s open bed and took a seat up near the cab. “Thank you again. For everything.”
“Just remember what I said,” Fred reiterated, as the truck pulled off.
Lilly offered him a departing wave, which the Reaper half hap idly returned. The young girl pulled her knees up to her chest and buried her head. The wind and rain howled all around her, but things like that don’t affect the dead. But the rain did hide her tears.
* * *
The momentum of the truck began to slow. Lilly looked up and saw a large building, with even larger neon lights. Her parents had taken her on a trip to Las Vegas a few years back, so she had seen casinos before, and this one was nowhere near the size of those, but it was big enough to have a large hotel attached to it. Lit up in bright red lights for the whole world to see was the name The Four Winds, which flashed every few minutes, to break up the monotony of the loud neon.
Lilly climbed out of the truck and followed the driver inside. As soon as the front automatic glass doors parted, she was assaulted by the sounds of gambling. People cheered. Buzzers buzzed. Slot machines dinged. Bright lights flashed and sirens blared. The carpet was a dark maroon, with gold leafs spread across it. Everywhere she looked, people moved about with chips in one hand, and large, colorful drinks in the other. The truck driver made an immediate left turn and bee lined it straight for the all you can eat buffet. “Enjoy your last meal,” she told him, even though she knew he couldn’t hear her.
She moved off to the side, so she wouldn’t be in anybody’s way. The last thing she wanted was to have someone walk through her again. This place seemed a lot bigger on the inside than it appeared. How was she supposed to find anything in here?
She began her search by making a wipe loop around the outer edge of the gaming floor, and slowly spiraling inward. Loop after loop took her further and further into the depths of the casino. When she final reached the center, she found a large ring had been roped off by red velvet ropes, like the ones found in a theater. A crowd had gathered around the ring, but she could see that in the center of the ring was a poker table with three men seated around it, and a large amount of chips in between them. One player was a white guy, who had a balding head. He was wearing a plain white button up dress shirt. The second appeared to be of Native American descent. He had long jet black hair, which was braided into a single strand that ran down the length of his back. And the third man, was also white, who was wearing a black leather biker’s jacket, a pair of dark sunglasses, and a black ball cap pulled down low. At first glance Lilly thought it was just a regular poker game, but then she took a good look.
Walking around the table was a tall, lanky, black man, who was wearing a pair of nice blue jeans, and a red polo shirt. On the top of his head sat a ball cap with the Detroit Pistons basketball team logo. Lilly really didn’t think twice about the man, until she saw deep lacerations running up each of his forearms. She took several steps toward the entrance of the roped off area, when she was stopped by a large woman holding a small Chihuahua, whose neck appeared to have been squeezed to tightly. The dog growled fiercely at the sight of the young girl. The woman was wearing a large green and flowered moo moo, and one of those wicker beach hats.
“Back of the line!” she shouted, holding up a flabby arm. “I’m next.”
Lilly stopped and stared at the woman in surprise. “You can see me?” She looked past the large woman to find nine people standing in a loosely formed line. There were five women and four men. They were all from different age and social groups, but Lilly could see that they were all dead like her.
“Of course I can see you trying to cut in line,” the woman bellowed. Several of the others nodded in agreement.
“What’s going on here?”
“The guy in the black leather jacket can see us,” said the man, who was second in line. He was about six-foot-tall, and somewhere in his thirties. He was wearing a pair of jeans and rock and roll t-shirt. The front of his chest was pushed in nearly half way through his body. “Car accident,” he said, upon seeing Lilly’s eyes drift downward for a second. “Don’t text and drive,” he added, shrugging his shoulders.
Just then, the crowd that had gathered around the ring, cheered, as the guy in the black biker’s jacket pulled the large pile of chips toward him. The man in the white dress shirt, cursed out loud, as he pushed himself away from the table.
“Why are you guys all here?” Lilly asked, trying to get a better look at the guy in the leather jacket. His glasses and hat made it hard to see any of his facial features.
“To have him help us get out of Purgatory,” snorted the large woman in the moo moo.
“How did you even know he was here?”
“When one of the living can see the dead, that news spreads fast,” said the second guy in line. “I’m Carl, by the way, and our boisterous leader is Florence. What’s up?” he said, with a slight wink.
“Darnell was here first,” the large woman said. “The guy told him he had to help him win big first, then he would help him with his unfinished business. So, when he’s done, I’m next! Everybody understand!” All the other ghosts nodded and mumbled insults under their breaths.
Lilly turned her attention back to the poker game. The dealer began by dealing the remaining two players two cards, one at a time. Each player peaked at their cards, before leaving them on the table face down. Darnell, who had been standing behind the Indian, peeked over the man’s shoulder, just as he took a look at his cards. He then rushed over to the man in the black leather jacket and whispered something into his ear. The Indian picked up a handful of chips and tossed them out into the center of the table. The man in the leather jacket did the same.
The dealer then put three cards out onto the table, all face up. They were the King of diamonds, the two of spades, and the ace of diamonds. Both men remained stone faced, either of them showing even the slightest hint of emotion. The Indian picked up an even bigger handful of chips and tossed them out into the center of the table. Without hesitation, the man in the leather jacket did the same.
The next card to be dealt was the four of spades, which was followed by another round of betting. Finally, the last card was placed on the table. It was the five of hearts. “Let’s finish this,” the man in the leather jacket said. The Indian squinted his eyes at the man, before pushing the remainder of his chips out to the center of the table, which brought a round of whispers from the crowd. The man in the jacket did the same, as a hush fell across area. The Indian’s lips curled into a large smiled, as he flipped his cards over. The King of Clubs, and the King of Hearts.
“Three of a kind,” the dealer announced.
The man in the jacket just sat there in silence, staring at his opponent’s cards. With a quick flick of the wrist, he tossed his two cards out on to the table. The three of hearts, and the five of diamonds, combined with the ace, two, and four on the table, gave him a straight.
“Straight wins!” the dealer announced, as a cheer came from both the crowd and the ghosts.
The man in the black leather jacket scooped up his winning, and briskly left the play area, with Darnell in tow. The rest of the ghosts all followed behind, making sure to keep their place in line, as the group made their way toward the elevators. Lilly quickly followed behind, and found that about two thirds of the ghosts had made it on to the elevator before the doors closed. The young girl watched, as the remaining spirts all ran through the door leading to the stairwell. Lilly did her best to keep up, but the other ghosts seemed to be in better shape, or more motivated than she was.
Lilly found the entire line of spooks, on the top floor of the hotel. They were all gathered around the door of room twelve hundred and three. The lady in the moo moo had her ear almost pressed against the door, and doing her best to make sure that she didn’t make contact with it. “SHHH,” she said, as low as she could. “I can’t hear what’s going on.”
“What are you guys doing?” Lilly asked.
“Darnell’s in there right now,” Carl answered. “He’s so close to crossing over. I hope he makes it.”
“Why don’t you guys just go in and see?” Lilly inquired, taking a few steps toward the door.
All of the ghosts gave her a dirty look all at the same time. “Listen new girl,” Florence said. “The man gave us but one rule. He does not want to be disturbed, and will take the next spirit in line when he is ready to, and if anyone breaks that rule, he won’t see any of us, so until then, we wait.”
Five more ghosts rushed through the stairwell door. “Is this where the seer is,” asked the first ghost. He was a good-looking man, in his mid-twenties. He was dressed in really nice clothes, which appeared to be soaking wet, along with his blonde hair.
“End of the line is right there,” Florence pointed
The handsome ghost nodded, as he and the other four scurried to the end of the line, all while Lilly, who was at a sudden loss for words, just watched. “I’m glad we beat the crowd,” the good-looking ghost replied. “I think just about every ghost in the tri state area is headed here.”
“Better get in line girly,” the large woman said, with a large, condescending smirk on her face. “Looks like you just lost five spaces.”
“I don’t have time for this,” Lilly huffed.
“You think any of us do,” Florence snapped. “I chocked on a chicken wing, and fell on poor Buster here,” the Chihuahua barked, then wimped softly. “And I need to tell my husband that I slept with his brother. It’s been weighing on my conscious for ten years, and I can’t get the hell out of Purgatory until I confess my sins. I’m sure your unfinished business isn’t nearly as important as mine,” she added, her body motion full of attitude.
“Actually, I was murdered and buried in the ground for six months, and my parents have no idea where I’m at, and I have to bring my killer to justice,” Lilly retorted, with just enough attitude to outdo the woman.
The ghost of Florence just stared at the young girl for a few seconds, as if unsure on how to respond. “Like I said, not nearly as important.” Her voice was full of uncertainty, but she wasn’t willing to lose her spot in line.
Lilly just stared in disbelief. The nerve of some spirits she thought. It seemed that when you died you lost your sense of humanity, for everyone was just out for themselves, Lady Annabelle had been a prime example of that. If she wanted to get things done, she was going to have to act the same way, she told herself, and with that, she side stepped Florence and started to walk through the door of room twelve hundred and three.
She had made it almost all of the way through, when she felt some one grab her wrist in an attempt to pull her back out into the hallway. Lilly pulled with all of her might. She gained a few steps, as the large lady’s face passed through the door. “Let go of me!” Lilly screamed, pulling even harder.
“Back of the line!” the ghost of the fat lady screamed back, pulling Lilly a tad bit closer toward the door.
Lilly knew that there was only one thing she could do, if she wanted to end this tug of war quickly. She balled up her fist and punched Florence square in the nose as hard as she could. The woman cried out in surprise. She loosened her grip, causing Lilly to fall backwards and land on her ass, as the fat lady disappeared from sight. Lilly quickly got to her feet and turned around, only to find the man in the black leather jacket, and the ghost of Darnell staring at her.
The man in the jacket had removed his hat and glasses, giving Lilly her first clear view of his face. Her eyes widened in surprise, as did his. “You!” they both said at the same time. Lilly couldn’t believe it. What were the odds that the man that could see ghosts, was the same man in the emergency room, that Lilly had seen, when he himself had died and become a spirit?
“You’re the girl from the ER!” the man declared. “I saw you when I was…”
“Dead,” Lilly replied.
“Yeah…,” the man stammered. “Which would mean that you were dead too.”
“Still am,” Lilly responded.
“I kinda got that impression when you walked through my door.”
“Sorry about that,” Lilly said, wondering if her cheeks could still get red with embarrassment. “I just needed to talk to you, and the line was getting bigger.”
“For fuck sake,” the man said, blowing out an exhaustive breath. “They won’t leave me the fuck alone. I don’t even know how they found me.”
“And more are on the way,” Lilly said.
“Excuse me, I don’t mean to interrupt.”
“Oh, shit. Sorry about that Darnell. We had a deal, didn’t we?”
“Can we go the roof so I can see it?” Darnell asked.
“Yeah man, whatever you need,” the man replied.
“Can I come along?” Lilly asked. “I really need to talk to you.”
“Seems like I can’t really stop you, now can I? At least the other ghosts seem to listen,” he added, opening the door and stepping out into the hall, where he found that the line of ghosts had extended all the way down the hallway and into the stairwell. “Fuck me,” he whispered to himself.
“It tried to stop her sir,” Moo Moo lady said. “But…”
“Save it,” the man said, sounding rather annoyed.
“I’m still next aren’t I?”
The man looked past the fat lady and stared at the ever growing line of the dead. “I’m dealing with Darnell right now. The rest of you stay here.”
The three of them made their way to the roof. Darnell moved dangerously close to the edge of the building, his gaze affixed to the south eastern sky. “There it is,” he said, looking back at Lilly, with a large smile on his face. “Can you see it?”
Lilly shook her head no.
“I forgot only I can see my own unfinished business. Where’s yours?”
Lilly looked to the sky, and far off to the north, she spotted her own faint golden glow. “There,” she said pointing.
Darnell looked in the direction she was pointing. “You need to get to it no matter the cost,” he told her, before staring back at his own. “Make the call.”
The man took out his cell phone and dialed the number Darnell had given him. After a few rings the voice of a woman answered. “Hello.”
“Hello,” the man said. “Is this Laneshia?”
“You don’t know me, but I’m a friend of Darnell, he wanted me to tell you that in the back yard, buried under the garden gnome statue, the one with the red hat, is a bag full of money. After he got sick, and couldn’t pay the bills, he robbed a bank and hid the money in the back yard. That was only a couple of months ago, so don’t put the money in the bank, but he said that there’s enough there for you to make a fresh start. He also wanted me to tell you that he loves you with all of his heart.” the man didn’t wait for a response, before hanging up the phone. “Did it work?”
Darnell, who had not taken his eyes off of the south eastern sky, whooped with joy, as the glowing golden ray of unfinished business blinked out of existence. The man’s spirit began to break apart, dissolving bit by bit, into tiny pieces of golden light, right before Lilly and man, as his was carried off to his final destination.
“I would say it did,” the man said to himself.
Lilly was an utter awe, at the sight that she had just witnessed. Darnell had been able to accomplish something that Lady Annabelle had said was all but impossible. And he had done it without losing any of his true color, which meant that there was still hope for her too. She had only one question. “Who the hell are you?”