Bobby spotted the young man from a mile away, it was like tunnel vision. He was cute. Too cute. Something had to be wrong with him. Taken? Straight? Total ass hole? Something.
As he approached, two things became apparent to Bobby. First, the guy was really cute; the way that his hair was not quite blond or brown, and didn’t count as a dirty blond either, the way his hair fell across his brow. His skin was flawless, pale, but with a hint of a suntan, and it showcased his smooth facial features nicely. Second, the guy was out of his mind.
At least he knew what was wrong with the man now: He was walking around like he was in a daze, not even seeing the world around him, despite the fact that he was looking all around him. He walked by people and across the busy streets as if they were empty. It was a miracle he wasn’t hit by a car as he seemed to wander aimlessly down the street.
Bobby knew just what he should do: Nothing. Just keep going on his own merry way, and let the crazy guy work through whatever drugs he was taking or became a smear on somebody’s bumper. After all, he was on important business himself, wasn’t he? He was delivering something or other. Come to think of it, Bobby realized he wasn’t actually carrying anything.
That was odd. He couldn’t remember ever doing that before. If anything he was certain he had a package with him when he left the office. He would have to go back.
Damn, that guy was cute.
“Excuse me, are you alright?” The guy was definitely in his own little world, completely oblivious to Bobby.
He touched him on the arm. “Hey! Are you okay?”
The guy blinked, and suddenly his eyes focused on Bobby. He jumped back as a car flew by, two inches away from his feet.
“Woah! Sorry,” he said, “most of the time nobody seems to notice me when I do that.”
“You have done that before, and you are still alive?” Bobby asked. “You need me to take you to a hospital?”
The cute guy laughed, “Am I still alive? It can be hard to tell, but I assure you that I am just as alive as anyone else!”
Bobby lost himself for a moment in the other guy’s brownish eyes, and flawless skin. Flawless except for a mole on his cheek. “Right…” Bobby said as he steered the other guy down the sidewalk in the direction of a doctor’s office. “So what did you take to zone out like that?”
“Did you not notice the traffic?”
“Not until you mentioned it,” he laughed. “I’m Isaac, you?”
“Bobby. Are you sure you don’t need a doctor?”
“Positive. What are you doing, other than keeping me out of traffic?”
“I was running an errand for work, but I need to head back to the office.”
“Mind if I tag along?”
“No.” Bobby had to consciously not stare at Isaac. “Wait, why do you want to come with me?”
“To keep me out of traffic,” Isaac smiled, “What sort of place do you work in?”
“I send and collect faxes, and digitize them into the computer system. Occasionally if something is sensitive, I hand deliver stuff.”
“Is it as dull as it sounds?”
“Even more so,” Bobby grinned.
“Mind if I ask you a strange question?” Isaac asked.
“Considering how I just kept you from walking into traffic, I would be disappointed if you didn’t.”
“Have you ever seen something out of the corner of your eye that looked wrong… but when you turn to look at it, it is perfectly fine?”
“Yeah,” Bobby answered instinctively, but then he instantly started to doubt his answer. “Wait, what do you mean? Wrong how?”
“Close your eyes,” Isaac said, and when Bobby did, Isaac spun him around a couple of times then faced him in a specific direction. “When I look out of the corner of my eye at the building to your left, I see broken windows and a dark interior. To your right, I see a tree that looks like it has been charred and burned down to a stick. Open your eyes and tell me what you see.”
Bobby opened his eyes, and was rewarded with a clear view of Isaac’s beautiful face, clear eyes, and perfect brown hair… and beyond him...
He saw more than what Isaac had described. He kept his eyes fixed on Isaac’s features, but that didn’t keep his eyes from widening in horror. The glass in the building to the left was broken, and the interior was blackened, dark and empty. The tree to his right, too, was nothing more than a crooked, blackened charred stick jutting from the ground. But that was not all. The brick wall beside him was also scorched, with the shadows of people forever marked on it in a lighter shade. The sidewalks were cracked and crumbling from lack of use or repair, and not a single weed grew between the cracks. The road was devoid of traffic. And melted cars were parked in the street and next to a broken fire hydrant.
Bobby blinked, and shook his head, driving the images away. “How did you do that?”
He pushed himself past Isaac and forced himself back on the pathway towards his office building.
Despite Bobby’s quickened pace, Isaac managed to keep up. “What did you see?”
Bobby stopped and swung around. “Everything! Everything you said, and more.” He looked back at the fire hydrant. It was in perfect working order, people were walking quickly buy it. There was no car parked next to the hydrant, damaged or otherwise. The streets were filled with a multitude of cars all driving at a brisk pace.
“Everyone sees the broken window out the corner of their eye,” Isaac said, “Everyone. They are startled, look at it only to find that the window is fine, and they forget all about it and carry on about their normal merry little lives. But I think you just saw a glimpse of what I can see.”
“It has to be some sort of trick,” Bobby tried to convince himself.
“I think, that it is everyday life that is the dream, and that burnt out car is the reality that nobody can bring themselves to face!”
“You really are crazy,” Bobby said, still trying to force the images back out of his mind, back into the realm of a forgotten dream.
“If you let me,” Isaac said softly, “there are other things that I can show you to convince you of the truth.”
Bobby wondered if Isaac was aware how cute the pathetic puppy dog face was that he was giving him. He doubted it. “Okay. Fine, I will give you a chance.” Why did he always let the cute ones do this to him?
“Do you ever think much about That Day?” Isaac asked.
It didn’t matter who the person was, if you asked about That Day, they all knew exactly which day you meant. Some people gave it a greater meaning, but most people tried to forget it as another half remembered day, but for whatever reason, nobody was able to completely put That Day out of their minds.
“I did at first,” Bobby answered, “but nobody believed what I thought I saw, and nobody cared.”
“Hmm… You will have to tell me what you saw sometime,” Isaac said. “Did you lose anyone?”
“No, but I knew people who did. My mom’s friend works at the retirement home. She said it was like the Rapture or something. The person I was dating at the time lost their mother, and that sort of broke up our relationship. What about you?”
“I lost my girlfriend,” Isaac said.
Well, fuck! Bobby thought, no, never mind, that doesn’t mean I don’t still have a chance with him. “What happened to her?”
“It was just like all the others. She was there on That Day, we spent time together, were planning to go out that evening, but then the next day she just wasn’t around anymore.”
“Did you at least have a good date that evening?”
“Dammed if I know,” Isaac answered. “Haven’t you noticed that nobody can recall anything after mid afternoon That Day? We all just woke up in our homes the next morning.”
Bobby tried to remember, himself. He had gone up to his favorite thinking spot, sat down, leaned against a wall that gave him a beautiful view of the city. He remembered looking up and seeing the shooting stars, and thinking how odd it was to be able to see such a sight in the middle of the day. And wouldn’t it have been nice if Tom could have been there to see them with him. And then… Then he awoke in his bed the next morning.
“Huh. You’re right,” Bobby said, “I still think you are nuts about the rest of it.”
“That wasn’t a central part of my argument,” Isaac said, flashing a smile Bobby found adorable.
Bobby cursed himself again, hoping his attraction to his new apparently straight and crazy friend wasn’t obvious.
“You know,” Isaac said, “I have done that corner of the eye thing to other people, and they could almost always see the things that I pointed out, but based on how you freaked out… you saw a lot more. It took me ages before I was able to train myself to be able to see what I think you did. You have a real gift for this.”
“Well, for all the non-skills that I have, it is reassuring to know that I am at least gifted at being crazy.” Bobby stopped in front of the next building and walked in. “This is where I work.”
Bobby showed the security guard his ID before being admitted to the elevators. Isaac followed along behind him. Either the security guard accepted that he was Bobby’s guest, or he didn’t notice the man at all.
The doors dinged closed, and dinged open again when they reached the third floor. Bobby showed Isaac down a hallway and entered a room full of cubicles, and finally to one specific cubicle near the end of the third row.
“One of the smaller ones,” Isaac said.
“Yeah, well, all of the others were taken. If someone quits, I can take their cubicle if I want it, unless someone who has been here longer than me gets it first.”
“Are they all full?” Isaac asked, taking a long look around the room.
“Yes,” Bobby said, without a trace of doubt.
“Who is in the third cubicle down?”
Bobby thought, drawing up a mental map. “First there is Joyce, then Wally, then…. I can’t remember the name, and after him is Mike’s. Why can’t I remember his name? I can almost picture him.”
“Yeah, almost, but not quite.”
“Let’s go take a look,” Isaac said, and started walking down the carpeted walkway between the rows of cubicles.
Bobby followed. He passed by Joyce, giving her a friendly wave when she glanced up at his passing. Wally was too busy on the phone to notice anything. The next nameplate was blank. There was a desk, a chair, cabinet, dry erase board and telephone, but it all looked unused and brand new.
“I don’t understand,” Bobby said, “did he quit? I can remember him so clearly… almost. If I could remember him at all.”
Isaac moved behind the desk, and his eyes unfocused a bit, like they were when Bobby had first seen him. “Was he a balding man with dark hair?”
“Ye—yes. That is right.”
“He kept figurines on his desk of super heroes?”
“Yes, he did, we always use to tease him about them! How did you know that? Are you playing some sort of joke on me?”
“No. Remember what you saw on the street?”
“What do you mean?”
Isaac sighed. “Look at me, and then close your eyes.”
Bobby sighed, then stood in front of the object of beauty he had been trying not to stare at. Reluctantly he closed his eyes.
“I’m not going to give you any hints this time, but just like before, look out for what seems odd out the corner of your eye. When you get use to it, you will be able to focus on the other world without the regular world intruding.”
“That is what you were doing when I first saw you, isn’t it?”
Bobby opened his eyes. His vision was filled with Isaac’s beautiful face. Why was he going so far for a pretty face, but then, the answer to that was right in front of him.
He let his awareness take in the world around Isaac’s face. The office was no longer well lit. Some of the ceiling panels had fallen, the lights were all out, and some of the light covers were hanging open. There was a thick layer of dust and soot everywhere.
He chanced moving his head, and the vision stayed with him. He was still in the cubicle, but instead of empty and clean, it was cluttered with papers scattered about. Superhero figures were sitting on top of the desk, although some of them had fallen over. There was a picture of a balding man with a redheaded woman in a dust covered gold frame. The computer screen was cracked, and the silent telephone was off the hook.
Slowly he took a step outside of the cubicle. The nameplate read Greg Peters. The next cubicle down, it was still Wally’s nameplate on the side. Inside Wally’s cubicle it was the same. Broken computer monitor, layers of dust and soot. His calendar had fallen to the floor, along with a stack of papers from his in-box. It was creepy.
Bobby blinked and the real world returned. He had to shield his eyes from the brightness of the lights.
“Bob? I didn’t see you there. Did you need something?” Wally said, looking up from his desk.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to bother you. Have you seen Greg around lately?” Bobby said.
“Huh. I had almost forgotten his name. I know he is next door to me, but I haven’t seen him around much lately.”
“Okay, thanks,” Bobby said, then hastily retreated to rejoin Isaac. “That was weird.”
“That was awesome! You have a real gift! It took me weeks before I was able to do that,” Isaac said.
“What exactly was I seeing?” Bobby asked.
“Difficult to say for sure, but I do have a theory. Where were you on That Day?”
“It was a work day just like any other. I was here.”
“You weren’t just here. What did you do next… what is the last thing you remember about that day?”
“That is right… something happened and they sent us all home for the day. I went up to my favorite spot that overlooked the city. While I was there, I saw a series of falling stars. It looked amazing.”
“Let’s go there now,” Isaac said, and Bobby let himself get pulled towards the elevator. “You saw shooting stars during the day?” Isaac said once they were in the elevator.
“Yes,” Bobby answered, “I know, it doesn’t make any sense, but I did. They were as clear as anything.”
Outside, Bobby took the lead, and Isaac followed. Bobby enjoyed the thought that he had his new friend following him around town like a puppy. With all the weirdness he had experienced that day, he needed any little something he could think of to keep himself grounded in the normal world.
His favorite spot was in a seldom used park that overlooked a good portion of the city. He always loved going there for the view of the city, or for basic people watching where he could watch all the cute guys run the track around the lake. Specifically, his favorite spot was a small area where a statue once stood but had since been removed. As soon as they reached it, he sat down and leaned against a short brick wall and looked up at Isaac. “This is the spot.”
Isaac jumped up on the brick wall. “Nice view. I had no idea this area was even here.”
“Yeah. I always feel relaxed here.”
Isaac jumped down from the wall. “Let me show you a hint as to exactly what I think is going on.”
“Stand up and sit opposite where you are now,” Isaac said pointing to a specific spot. “Sit so that you are looking at the wall you were leaning against.”
“Fine…” Bobby sat back down cross-legged looking at the brick wall.
“Now, can you see past reality again on your own, or do you need me to help you again.”
“I think I can do it on my own.” Bobby looked directly ahead, trying to focus on what he thought he could almost see out of the corners of his eyes. It didn’t help, so he tried closing his eyes. When he opened them again the view was precisely the same. The frustration grew within him. “I can’t do it!”
“Relax. I’ll help you again.” He got down in front of Bobby, and repeated the same process as before. As before Bobby appreciated the close up view of Isaac’s beautiful face before he closed his eyes, and again when he opened them. “What do you see?”
Bobby looks up and around, the world was definitely different. Unnaturally cloudy, and the grass was scorched. “Dead grass…”
“Good. Look directly ahead,” Isaac said, then moved out of the way.
Before him, in his favorite spot, and wearing the same clothes that he wore on That Day, was a charred skeleton. For that matter, the clothes on it were also tattered, and covered in soot. He jumped back, and either the shock of the skeleton or the new pain in his ass shocked him back into reality.
“What the hell!”
“You know exactly what the hell is wrong!” Bobby shouted. “What the hell is going on? Are you trying to tell me that I am dead? Are you dead too?”
“No, of course not. I’m trying to tell you that everyone is dead,” Isaac said, calmly. “As near as I can tell, the entire Human Race went extinct That Day.”
“So we are all just Ghosts now, haunting the planet?”
“What do we know about ghosts?” Isaac insisted.
“Nothing. There is no such thing,” Bobby said.
“From movies then. You know, Harry Potter, the Sixth Sense, Casper, Ghostbusters, The Others… all those movies taught us rules about Ghosts. Using them as a starting off point, what do we know about ghosts?”
“Ghosts don’t always realize they are dead. People become ghosts because they can’t accept the fact that they are dead, or because they have unfinished business on Earth, or some nonsense like that.”
“Very good. Until now, you didn’t know that you were dead. I know that I am dead, but Is not sure as hell can’t accept it! At least until I have some idea what killed us. Maybe it you will be able to accept that you are dead, and maybe you will learn what killed us, but maybe a thirst for revenge will keep you here until you can do something about it.”
Bobby shook his head. “It still doesn’t make sense to me. I saw on TV about a murder this morning. How can ghosts kill each other?”
“Think about it this way,” Isaac said, “he maybe you can’t really kill a ghost, but to a ghost, being murdered is easier to accept than whatever really did kill us. So when he was murdered, his soul passed on, and left the an ectoplasmic shell behind as the body that our collective consciousness expects to find.”
“That is total technobabble that means nothing,” Bobby said.
Isaac just shrugged.
“What about births? The hospital maternity ward is still going strong.”
“People keep having sex. As a species we expect something to come from that. Only time will tell if these new kids turn out to be actual people or just walking shells of expectations. Personally, I hope that these new births turn out to be how the Human Race continues on even after death as energy beings. Maybe we are evolving? After all—“
“Don’t you dare quote Yoda at me,” Bobby interrupted. “Tell me, you asked me, so what is the last thing you remember about That Day?”
Bobby watched as Isaac sat next to him and started speaking. “I remember pain. I saw a brightness that lasted for an eternity, and I felt a burning pain that lasted even longer. I know it only lasted for an instant, really, but God… how it hurt. Every inch, every hair, every cell of my body erupted in an endless stream of pain…”
While Isaac was talking, Bobby watched as Isaac’s body reflected what he was describing in slow motion. His pupils turned white, and his skin started to blister, then fry, peeling back from his face, layer by layer, until only skull remained, and even then the blood coating the skull evaporated, and the skull bleached as teeth and cartilage crumbled.
“And then,” Isaac said, “like everybody else, I woke up, and it was the next morning.”
As soon as Isaac stopped speaking, it was as if nothing had happened. Bobby was again looking at Isaac’s beautifully perfect face. He wondered if Isaac noticed how rapid his heartbeat had become. “That didn’t look pleasant,” he said.
“Didn’t the movie Beatlejuice show that Ghosts were able to change their appearance?”
“You want me to go home, say your name three times and see if you appear?”
“That could be fun. No, but there is a lot I don’t understand yet. Do you think we can walk through walls?”
“Some of them, I’m sure. It is something to work on at least… unless you are planning to use your newfound abilities to rob banks?”
“I hadn’t even thought about that one yet,” Bobby said with a laugh. “Maybe turning invisible and sneaking into locker rooms.”
“Yes sir!” Bobby held up an imaginary glass up in a toast.
“On a more serious note,” Isaac said, “those shooting stars you saw… any chance you saw where any of them landed?”
Bobby stood up and looked back out towards the city. He began to think that if he worked on it, he could train himself to be able to see both versions of reality at the same time. It would be confusing at first to say the least.
He decided not to try it yet, his normal view of the city would make it easier for him to recall exactly where he saw the falling stars going. Finally, he turned around so that the skyscrapers were behind him and pointed out. “It is hard to remember.”
“I know, just do your best.”
“I think the last thing I saw was one of the streaks going down into the old ball field.”
“Really?” Isaac said, “I never thought to look at the outskirts. I always figured that whatever happened would have been in the middle of the city, working its way outwards, not the other way around. Anyway, I am going. See you.” Isaac started walking across the park towards the old ballfield.
“What about me?” Bobby called after him.
“Come along if you like. I figured I had screwed with your vision of reality enough for one day.”
“You can’t lay all this on me, and then saunter off now that you have a lead.”
“Sorry. You just have no idea how long I have been looking for this.”
“All your afterlife?” Bobby prompted.
“Right, I forget you are a quick study.”
“Any chance ghosts can teleport? This is going to be a long walk.”
“Actually, I was going to try to get a cab.”
Bobby watched as Isaac pulled out a cell phone and called the cab company. The cab met them at the edge of the park, fairly quickly.
It dropped them off at the edge of the old ball stadium, but they still had a long walk through the parking lot to the stadium itself.
Bobby followed Isaac’s lead and climbed over the padlocked gate. The old ball field had long ago been replaced by a newer one closer to downtown, and the neglect showed on the old one. The green paint was peeling off the stadium and the bleachers. The old concession stands positioned behind the bleachers had been only half disassembled before someone decided it was cheaper to just replace everything instead of transferring or recycling the old concession stands. It struck Bobby as a sad waste.
They walked to the bleachers and looked down the long stairway down to the field. Another long walk. At least this one was down hill.
At the bottom of the stairs, Bobby didn’t see any to get directly onto the field. When he went to ask Isaac about that, he saw his friend was already climbing over the short wall and was lowering himself down to the dirt field that was much lower than the lowest row of stadium seats.
“Wow,” Isaac said.
“What do you see?” Bobby asked.
“Aren’t you going to try to see for yourself?” Isaac asked. “I can always help you again if you want.”
“I’ll try on my own.” Bobby again closed his eyes, and forced his consciousness to focus beyond the world he knew to see what lay beyond it. Once he was certain he had it, he again opened his eyes.
The ball field was gone, completely. Bobby found himself standing at a crater; or more accurately, above a crater.
Bobby fell with a yell, landing hard on the side of the rocky crater, and rolled down the steep side to the center, yelping with every hard rock or solid steel bit of debris he hit as his uncontrolled fall towards the center of the crater continued. When his rolling fall finally did stop, he found himself grateful that he was already dead, as that fall would have killed him.
Looking up, he saw Isaac walking calmly across the sky above him with a bemused look on his face. Isaac seemed to jump, and then gently drifted down until his feet touched down right beside him.
“How the hell did you do that?” Bobby panted.
“Do you really think that gravity can effect ghosts?” Isaac said. “I should have waned you though… or at least taught you how to avoid a fall.”
Bobby watched as all expression left Isaac’s face. “What?” Instead of waiting for an answer, he looked down.
What he saw was a pink rod about two feet long, hollow, with an oval slot in its side. So far, that piece of metal was the only thing Bobby had seen all day while viewing the ruined world that did not look like it had been through a firestorm.
“That is it.”
“How do you know?” Bobby asked, surprised at Isaac’s certainty.
“I think I saw it before. Once, very briefly, just before the pain started.”
“What do you mean?”
“I didn’t remember it until just now. I hope my mind just isn’t playing tricks on me.”
“What is it?”
“What killed us. Does it look human made to you?”
“How should I know? As far as I know, aliens are just as fictional as ghosts.”
“Are you saying you do or don’t believe in aliens?”
“I’m still working on believing in ghosts.”
“I bet it was a Kinetic bomb dropped from orbit, but it’s hollow, so I’m guessing it had some sort of neutron bomb at the core.”
“Are you making stuff up again?”
“Maybe. A kinetic bomb is a solid piece of metal designed to survive entry from orbit. All the damage is done from it’s impact with the ground. While they can do massive amounts of damage, that still wouldn’t kill everybody on the planet… and it would have done more physical damage. I bet the neutron bomb core detonation softened it’s impact.”
“And what is a neutron bomb?”
“In reality? No idea. But in science fiction it is a weapon that wipes out all organic life, while leaving the buildings intact.”
Bobby remembered the damaged buildings he saw back in the city. “I don’t think that is what happened, but it does look like this had something to do with it.”
“At least now I know,” Isaac said.
Bobby reached down to pick up the rod, only to find that either it or his own hands were somewhat intangible.
“You are going to have to focus if you want to pick it up. Focus all your energy on your fingers… it is not an easy thing for a ghost to have a physical effect on the real world, after all.”
“I guess so. Thanks, Isaac.”
“You are welcome. Will you be able to handle things without me?” a confused Bobby asked.
“I told you before, I just needed to know what it was that killed me. Now I finally know, and I feel so much better for it. I feel free.”
Bobby focused all of his energy on his hands, just as Isaac had said, and was rewarded by the ability to lift the surprisingly heavy tube up over his head in triumph. “I got it, look!”
Bobby looked around, hoping to see the beautiful face of Isaac nod in approval at his successfully picking up a real world object, but Isaac was not there.
Deep in his soul, he knew that it wouldn’t matter how much he looked in this world, Isaac was no longer there to be found.
He reflected on himself, and realized that Isaac was right about something else. He felt something else burning deep within himself. He didn’t know if it was a need for vengeance or justice, but he mentally added the loss of Isaac to the quickly growing list of things that needed answering for.