Suspense Urban Fantasy R .  Mac Wheeler Multi - Genre Author
He appeared on the other side with no memory of his past. Eagle tattoo, weightlifter-build, and comfort on the basketball court are the only hints to who he was. History of the live-ones he's near pours into his head though, also their thoughts, emotions, even glimpses of their future. He learns this is unique among his kind, as is another inconvenient shortcoming. He forgets most of the previous day. He searches for purpose. His meddling endangers the lives of those he tries to help, generates ire in his fellow spirits.
Chapter 1 ~ L ike   everything   that   pops   into   my   head,   I   have   no   idea   how   I   acquired   her   life   story   in that   instant.   But   the   woman   in   the   powder-blue   Toyota   with   the   off-kilter   sign   in   the window   that   said   Baby   On   Board,   careened   toward   the   intersection.   The   light   flipped   to red,   but   she   would   never   look   up.   She   stared   at   the   three-inch   screen   of   her   adult pacifier. I   screamed   at   the   woman's   rolled   up   windows,   cupping   my   hands   around   my   mouth, as   though   that   would   make   a   difference.   Even   if   she   wasn't   listening   to   her   too-loud music   player,   preoccupied   by   the   inane   text   from   her   college   buddy   about   how   stupid her   boyfriend   acted   last   night,   the   woman   wasn't   going   to   hear   a   peep   out   of   one   of   my kind. Whatever my kind is. I   never   received   a   user's   guide.   No   one   ever   met   me   to   orient   me   on   my   existence.   I think   of   myself   as   a   ghost,   for   lack   of   a   better   term.   But   the   classification   doesn't   seem right. The rules that bind me make no sense. Way too arbitrary. Ghosts   have   to   come   from   previously   living   humans.   Right?   The   heck   of   it   is   I   have no   memory   of   ever   being   alive,   of   any   existence   prior   to   the   moment   I   became   me.   I didn't   even   come   with   a   name,   though   bits   of   other   extraneous   knowledge   pops   in   my head,   like   the   future   of   Heather,   who   plowed   toward   the   intersection   a   hundred   feet away. I call myself Bob. No   reason   for   my   choice   of   names.   Probably   because   I   lack   imagination.   I   mean,   how lame   is   Bob?   Like   the   guy   with   no   arms   or   legs   who   fell   in   the   lake,   I   float   with   the current,   bob   with   the   waves.   I   could   have   chosen   Matt.   Why   not   Sebastian?   That   name has   a   little   panache.   But   I'd   already   settled   on   Bob   when   I   came   across   Sebastian,   while standing outside Zola's Muffin Shop. I   stepped   off   the   curb   figuring   I'd   reset,   but   maybe   I   could   get   close   enough   to   rap the    window    to    wake    Heather    from    her    stupor    before    the    powers-that-be    sent    me coursing back to the place I always started, from that first moment I became me. Two steps into the street, and dink, just as I expected. I   stood   among   the   musty   furniture,   cleaning   equipment,   and   dusty   boxes   holding Christmas   ornaments   that   clogged   the   apartment   that   was   the   center   of   my   private   hell. I    turned    and    sprinted    through    the    accumulated    junk    and    the    front    wall    of    the apartment. Three   blocks   away   at   Main   and   Canopy,   the   powder-blue   Toyota   now   looked   like   a toaster    oven    mated    to    a    rider    mower.    The    front    was    caved    in    by    the    pickup    truck Heather   T-boned.   The   delivery   van   that   slammed   into   her   left-rear   quarter   panel   had   a frown-shaped   indention   across   its   grill,   which   wedged   half-way   inside   the   Toyota.   The nineties   Caddy,   which   kissed   the   pickup   and   finished   off   what   was   left   of   Heather's   fuel- miser import, barely cracked a grin. Heather   was   toast.   A   convenient   coincidence,   since   her   twisted   body   resided   in   the portion that looked like an oven. Her telecom company lost a text subscriber. Flames   flicked   from   under   the   section   that   looked   like   the   mower.   Shouts   rose   from dumbstruck   gawkers.   "Get   back!   It's   on   fire!"   and   such   rattled   against   my   brain.   I   hated that   I   knew   the   baby   in   the   back   still   lived—looked   forward   to   a   harsher   end.   I   looked   up Canopy   Avenue   hoping   to   see   a   fire   truck.   They   had   about   two   minutes   before   Baby Ryan   met   his   mom   on   the   other   side.   But   the   fire   station   was   four   minutes   away   on   US 301. I   took   one   step,   straddling   the   curb.   Another   step,   and   I'd   reset.   I   might   be   dead,   but the   pain   in   my   chest   and   gut   still   challenged   to   take   me   to   my   knees.   I   looked   at   the other drivers. They stared like deer at the crumpled mower-oven. The   driver   of   the   van   and   Caddy   realized   they   could   save   their   vehicles   from   the   fire, rushed   to   them   and   backed   up   with   a   stereo   of   screeching   tires.   The   pick-em-up   truck driver   did   the   same   a   moment   later.   Tentacles   of   fiberglass   and   aluminum   from   the Japanese   pretzel   drug   along   for   a   three-count   until   giving   it   up   and   laying-lonely   in   the center of the intersection. "Stay away from there, kid," I mumbled. The   teen   glared   at   me   for   a   second   before   diving   into   the   gnash   of   refuse.   The   way his eyes seemed to lock on mine, it appeared he could see me. But that was nonsense. No one could hear or see me. The   flames   made   their   way   over   the   hood   of   the   oven,   across   the   back   of   the   mower. The kid sliced through the car, like I could a wall, telephone pole, or mail box. One of me? His head poked out. "What are you waiting for?" He shouted. "Help me!" He   dove   back   into   the   debris   and   fire.   I   ripped   my   eyes   away   to   look   at   the   curb. Both of my feet set on the asphalt. He screamed for help again. I wish I could. Oh    well.    I    stepped    forward,    expecting    the    darkened    menagerie    of    castoffs    to surround me. I   remained   under   the   blue,   Florida   sky.   I   ran   to   the   crash,   expecting   to   reset   any moment.   Why   wasn't   I?   I   reached   the   center   of   the   intersection,   a   little   dizzy   I   think   in surprise,   and   peered   through   the   accordion   roof.   Heat   billowed   against   my   legs.   The   kid struggled   with   the   twisted   latch   that   folded   around   the   toddler.   With   effort   I   could   push and    shove,    manage    light    switches,    but    grasping    things    in    the    human    world    was something I had never managed. A   foom    erupted   under   the   car   and   black   smoke   billowed   around   us.   Sweat   ran   down my   face.   Smoke   burned   my   eyes.   Funny   how   some   things   in   their   world   I   could   feel,   and others   I   couldn't.   I   longed   to   feel   the   texture   of   Ryan's   soft   blanket,   baby-boy-blue, between my fingers. Ryan's   seat   rested   cockeyed,   wrenched   right   and   downward,   so   the   latch   nearly   faced the   floor.   I   concentrated,   visualizing   the   connection   I   required   to   influence   objects   in their   world,   and   pushed.   My   hand   didn't   do   its   slicing   thing.   The   seat   yanked   upright. Baby   Ryan's   face   pulled   away   from   the   blanket   that   smothered   him.   His   face   was   three tints   darker   than   the   original   powder-blue   of   the   Toyota.   A   hiccup   of   a   deep   breath,   and a high-pitched wail assaulted my ears. My   legs   burned.   My   jeans   were   on   fire.   I   couldn't   imagine   hurting   like   that   when,   if,   I ever lived. Still,   Baby   Ryan   was   stuck   in   the   middle   of   a   wadded   up   car.   Neither   the   kid   nor   I could   grasp   him   to   lift   him   out.   I   pushed   at   Ryan,   the   kid   pushed   the   latch-release   from his   angle,   and   Baby   Ryan   jolted   out   of   the   seat.   Another   matching   shove,   and   Ryan wiggled   forward,   screaming   between   choked   coughs.   Another   shove.   Ryan's   tiny   mitts reached out, pumping in fear and anger. Glove-covered    hands    encircled    in    fireman-yellow    reached    through    the    narrowed opening once covered by glass and the baby pulled away from me. Smoke stung my sinuses. Fire seared my flesh. I closed my eyes to the pain. Chapter Two ~ I    took   a   deep   breath,   relieved   to   be   in   the   dark   of   my   jail,   the   apartment   that   owned   my soul.   I   don't   suppose   I   actually   have   a   soul.   If   anything,   all   I   am   is    a   soul.   But   my   reset place   wrapped   around   me,   where   I   always   return   if   I   close   my   eyes   hard,   or   wandered off   one   of   the   paths   I   found   that   accepted   me   in   the   real   world.   No   burns.   The   pain   was gone. At least there was that. Reset meant everything  returned to the way it was, for me. I   jerked   my   head,   searching.   The   kid,   the   one   who   called   to   me,   the   kid   from   the car—I   hoped   he'd   be   with   me.   But   I   was   alone.   Again.   For   the   gazillionth   time.   Was   he truly   like   me?   In   the   time   I   existed,   a   measurement   lost   to   me,   I   had   never   found   anyone I   could   communicate   with,   who   could   see   me.   I   sprinted   out   of   the   apartment,   down   the manicured lawn, through the parking lot. "Crud!" In   my   rush   I   veered   away   from   my   celestial-allowed   territory   and   reset.   I   started over, at a jog, not a sprint. Made it to the street. "Take it easy. Middle of the sidewalk." Down   Oak   to   Willow.   Up   two   blocks   to   Canopy,   two   blocks   to   Main.   My   two   resets threw   me   forward   in   time.   There   was   little   left   of   the   accident.   Still,   standing   there,   I knew    the    baby    survived,    was    safe.    I    wish    I    understood    how    I    knew    that.    It    was frustrating, knowing what, but not knowing why , no way of confirming it. Why do I exist in this Purgatory, neither heaven nor hell? There   were   no   ambulances   left,   only   two   wreckers   and   a   pair   of   sheriff's   deputies directing   traffic   around   the   effort   to   clear   the   street.   The   T-boned   pickup   already   sat loaded   on   a   flatbed.   The   driver   of   that   wrecker   stood   resting   his   arms   on   the   handle   of   a push-broom   as   another   man   winched   the   gnarled   toaster-mower,   screeching   toward   the inclined,   second   flatbed,   demons   working   to   outshout   each   other,   metal   and   plastic dragging against asphalt. I picked up a thought from one of the tow truck drivers. "Amazing they got the baby out of that ." A   pause   in   the   noise,   thankfully.   Both   men   worked   to   slide   skids   under   the   debris.   As they   labored,   I   scanned   for   the   kid.   Without   thinking,   I   stepped   into   the   street,   and expected   to   reset.   I   took   a   deep   breath   and   waited,   as   though   the   powers-that-be   jerked my   chain,   delayed   my   return   to   jail   for   the   grins   of   it.   But   nothing   happened.   I   took another step. Still nothing. "Hmm." Over   the   time   I've   been   me,   I   concluded   I   was   allowed   my   other   paths   because   I   had been   there   when   I   was   alive.   Assuming   I   once   lived.   Now   I   have   a   new   path?   Did   God,   or something, decide that? An interesting proposition. Was    that    my    purpose?    Continue    for    perpetuity,    assisting    humans    in    whatever situation I could, in my limited domain? I   turned   in   a   circle   keeping   my   eyes   out   for   hero-kid.   I   didn't   take   any   more   steps.   I didn't feel like testing my new theory. I held out hope hero-kid would show up. "Okay. Where are you?" A   car   turned   right   on   Canopy   and   plowed   through   me.   I   shivered.   I'd   never   get   used to   that.   Well,   maybe   I   would.   It   wasn't   as   if   I   aged.   I   could   live   forever—except   living isn't what I'm doing. Could I exist  here forever? Whatever here, is. I stepped back on the sidewalk, still turning slowly in a circle. "Come on, kid. I got questions." The   last   gawker   standing   on   the   far   sidewalk   returned   to   his   storefront   business   as the first wrecker pulled away. "Please. Come back, kid. How could you see me?" Time   isn't   something   that   makes   a   dent   on   my   brain,   but   I   sensed   the   sun   lower   in the   sky.   I   might   have   been   standing   there   a   couple   hours.   Nothing   remained   from   the accident   but   the   odd   fragment   of   glass   in   the   middle   of   the   street,   glistening   in   the   sun,   a black   smudge   where   the   tar   liquefied   under   the   wreckage,   and   a   clean   path   left   from   the water   that   cleaned   up   the   mess.   I   could   still   smell   the   acrid   tinge   in   the   air   from   fire   and spilled gas. Maybe barbequed Heather. She probably used her last breath to text boyfriend-advice. With   time   clicking   by   on   the   live   ones'   watches,   the   world   returning   to   normal,   so faded   my   connection   with   Heather   and   Baby   Ryan.   Where   I   seemed   to   know   everything pertinent   about   them   during   the   crisis,   the   elements   dribbled   from   my   memory.   In   too short a time, I wouldn't remember their names. I   don't   tire,   but   I   bore   as   the   clock   ticks.   If   I   closed   my   eyes   for   a   three-count,   I'd reset,   my   personal   Groundhog   Day   renewal.   Only   everyone   else   would   move   forward.   It didn't   look   as   though   hero-kid   planned   to   return.   I   guess   he   wasn't   as   curious   about   me as I ached for someone to talk to, ask questions of. "Crud." I   backtracked   down   Canopy   to   Willow,   and   over   to   Broad,   up   to   the   little   planned community's   park,   with   its   quaint   gazebo,   fifteen-foot-tall   music   shell,   and   duck-lined pond   connected   by   a   man-made   canal   to   the   Little   Manatee   River.   I   walked   to   my   bench facing the water and slumped. "If   I   could   grasp   a   gun,   I'd   love   to   put   myself   out   of   my   misery."   Even   the   birds ignored my words. An   angel   or   demon   should   have   visited   me   ages   ago   and   explained   my   existence.   It wasn't   fair.   Not   knowing   was   a   bear.   Was   this   all   I   would   know,   forever?   My   Groundhog Day   would   start   again,   and   the   drudgery   of   listening   to   others   living   their   lives   would shatter   my   eardrums.   Anyone   who   ever   dreamed   of   living   forever   has   no   clue   how horrible that could be. "Of   course,   you   aren't   living,   Bob.   Bob.   You   don't   even   have   a   name.   What   kind   of name is Bob?" I   sat   there   in   my   misery   until   the   sun   set.   Didn't   seem   that   long—the   benefit   of   not sensing   time   passing.   I   stood,   a   little   out   of   sorts.   I   couldn't   picture   my   path   back   to   the sidewalk   bordering   Broad.   I   had   maybe   six   feet   of   leeway.   Misstep,   and   back   to   my dreary   apartment.   I   glared   at   the   grass   in   front   of   me,   measuring   away   from   the   nearby clump   of   saw   palmetto,   my   reference   point.   If   they   ever   died   and   turned   to   dust,   I   was   in deep doo. Back   to   the   sidewalk   I   reversed   my   previous   route,   to   Canopy   and   Main,   stood   on   my corner   watching   for   hero-kid.   The   traffic   lights   flipped   yellow,   red,   green,   yellow,   red, green in infinity. I closed my eyes against the drudgery. I sensed the empty precursor of reset. Chapter Three ~ W aking,   or   at   least   what   I   call   waking.   A   new   Groundhog   Day.   Mrs.   Stansell,   the   current apartment    manager,    plopped    a    duct-taped    box    onto    a    stack    of    similar    boxes.    She shuddered and looked around, angry eyes searching what used to be a living room. "I hate this place," she mumbled. "You and me both," I answered. Of course she couldn't hear me. She   turned,   shuddered   again   as   she   meandered   around   the   junk   to   the   front   door.   I followed   her.   The   new   box   wasn't   aligned   edge   to   edge   with   the   one   below   it,   so   I   nudged it. I couldn't help myself. I sighed in relief. Order is good. Mrs.   Stansell   whipped   around   and   looked   at   the   box   I   fixed .   Her   hand   rested   on   her chest.   "Oh,   Lord.   Who   needs   the   storage?   Should   throw   away   the   key   to   this   place."   She shook   her   head   and   exited   the   apartment,   slamming   the   door.   The   lock   turned   with   a clunk . "Sorry,   Mrs.   Stansell.   Didn't   scare   off   all   those   people   on   purpose."   It   was   actually kind of nice having people living here. That   wasn't   how   I   originally   felt.   I   wanted   to   be   alone   at   first,   in   my   depression, assuming   I   was   a   dead   dude.   But   as   time   dragged   by,   maybe   even   years,   the   voyeurism of   watching   tenants   move   about   the   apartment   gave   me   something   to   do.   Knowing   the thoughts   of   the   humans   nearby   amused   me   most   days.   Husbands   cussed   inwardly   while they   smiled   and   apologized   to   their   mates.   I   wished   I   had   a   second   of   humanness   for every time I read a woman thinking, "Don't even expect sex for a month." Women! The only thing ya can depend on. Mrs.   Stansell   learned   it   served   no   purpose   to   rent   out   my   dungeon.   The   tenants would   break   their   leases   and   escape.   Now,   boxes   stacked   five   and   six-high   surrounded me. I couldn't annoy boxes of junk. I   found   there   were   two   other   apartments   in   the   complex   I   could   enter.   Maybe   I called   upon   neighbors   when   I   was   alive.   Since,   I've   visited   the   tenants   residing   there,   to break    my    monotony.    But    the    discomfort    my    presence    generated    in    the    folks    was palpable.   I   can't   remember   when   I   last   stopped   by   for   a   visit.   It   saddens   me,   a   physical pain in the solar plexus. I   crossed   the   threshold   of   the   apartment   wall   and   breathed   in   the   humid   Florida   air. The   sun   hung   two   hands   above   the   horizon.   Not   yet   hot,   but   not   cool   either.   Typical spring   or   fall.   I   couldn’t   remember   which.   Had   summer   just   passed,   or   winter?   Odd those kinds of things didn't stick in my ghostly brain. The nebulousness of time sucks. Young   Mrs.   Dekeener   walked   her   brood   down   the   sidewalk,   the   youngest   in   the stroller   of   course.   Snot   as   always   layered   his   upper   lip.   Aaron,   the   eldest,   age   four, gripped    a    yellow,    hollow    plastic    baseball    bat    in    his    hand,    head    tilted    toward    the sidewalk,   searching   for   any   ant   or   crawling   thing   that   dared   cross   his   path.   When   one did,   he   walloped   the   heck   out   of   the   concrete   walk,   and   investigated   the   remains   that painted his deadly weapon. The kid would grow up and be a serial killer. Am   I   here   to   keep   that   particular   future   from   coming   true?   Supposed   to   kill   the booger?   Shove   him   in   front   of   a   powder-blue   Toyota   driven   by   an   idiot   texting   about how   stupid   men   are?   Save   the   world?   If   that's   my   purpose,   someone,   or   something, better   come   along   and   explain   it   to   me.   I   couldn't   wrap   my   mind   around   killing   a   four- year-old.   Not   even   if   I   knew   he   was   destined   to   grow   up   to   be   the   kind   of   guy   who   would wear   a   square   of   hair   on   his   upper   lip   and   be   photographed   a   lot   in   poses   that   looked   as though he hailed a cab. The   middle   son   plowed   into   Aaron's   shoulder.   "Lemme   see,"   he   screeched   in   that annoying pitch that made my toes itch. How   could   Mrs.   Dekeener   put   up   with   that?   The   bugicide,   not   the   voice.   Women   act as though they hate sex, but ignore serial bug murder. Ach . I don't get the gender. I   hurried   through   them,   not   around   them,   enjoying   the   sensation   of   revulsion   that crossed   their   faces.   I'd   completed   my   good   deed   for   the   day.   I   tramped   on   with   a   smile on    my    face.    My    eagerness    to    find    hero-kid    replaced    my    desire    to    understand    the Dekeeners. Old   lady   Grapebottom   trudged   up   Oak   drawing   her   two-wheel   grocery   cart   behind her.   Though   stern   as   a   serrated   knife,   she   had   a   good   heart,   but   owned   a   face   that   could put   a   frown   on   a   ten-year-old   turnip.   Her   New   Jersey   accent   was   almost   as   bad   as   the middle Dekeener brat's screech. Mrs.   Grapebottom   should   have   settled   in   Sun   City   Center,   a   fifteen   minute   drive north,   where   she   would   have   been   surrounded   by   peers.   Tressel,   Florida   was   an   odd place   for   an   eastern   retiree.   The   overnight   community   with   its   faux-heritage-looking Main   Street   oozed   dual-income   up-and-comers.   Condos   lined   the   tops   of   storefronts. Hidden   garages   lined   the   back   alleys,   proof   the   place   didn't   exist   in   the   nineteenth century.   The   five-square-block,   fairytale   village   was   modeled   after   simpler   times   before the   term   burbs   was   coined,   before   kids   were   allowed   to   slew   harmless   bugs   with   plastic bats for no reason. "Morning, Mrs. Grapebottom." Of   course   she   didn't   answer,   but   she   craned   the   top   of   her   question   mark   physique   to search    around    her.    She    looked    cute    in    her    tourist    tee    and    thirty-year-old    sweater, Bermuda shorts, and Birkenstocks. I   passed   twenty   storefronts,   merchants   opening   their   doors,   setting   out   their   teasers on   the   sidewalks.   They   needed   to   look   up   at   that   beautiful   sky,   smell   the   air,   enjoy   life.   It didn't   last   forever.   The   whiff   of   vanilla-scented   coffee   escaped   from   Zola's   Muffin   Shop. Heck,   I   wish   I   could   step   inside.   But   I'd   ruin   Zola's   business.   Nothing   ruins   ambiance like   my   presence.   I   stopped   and   gave   the   air   a   big   sniff.   Cinnamon.   Something   else   sweet that reminded me of Thanksgiving. Not   any   Thanksgiving   I   experienced   as   a   live   one.   I   had   no   memories   before   that first   time   I   found   myself   standing   in   my   reset   spot.   That   first   time,   a   couple   in   their   early twenties   stood   on   each   side   of   me,   screaming   at   me ,   I   thought.   I   lurched   away   as   the   air emptied   from   my   lungs.   They   kept   at   it.   She   stood   there   in   a   rather   indecent   fashion, wearing   nothing   but   a   spaghetti-string   teddy.   She   wielded   a   ten   pound   hair   brush   at   her husband   like   it   was   a   weapon   of   manly   destruction.   He   wore   dress   slacks   and   nothing else. If I had chest hair like that, I would wax. From    that    very    first    image    that    flashed    in    my    mind,    I    saw    they    continued    an argument   they   hadn't   worn   out   the   previous   evening.   He   was   irritated   she   spent   so much   time   at   work.   She   was   exasperated   he   didn't   have   more   gumption.   They   had college loans to pay, and managers to impress, after all. I   said,   "Excuse   me,"   confused   out   the   whazoo   how   they   could   ignore   me.   Whole thing freaked me out, born to that. No one should experience such a nightmare. I   walked   on,   crossed   Symphony   Drive   allowing   the   rush-hour   traffic   to   flow   through me,   one   of   the   luxuries   of   my   condition,   not   having   to   wait   for   the   walk   light.   I   mumbled hellos   to   the   occupants   of   the   vehicles   as   their   faces   and   names,   family   histories,   rushed through   my   head.   Joys   but   mostly   anxieties   racked   each   of   them.   What   I   would   do   to have   my   own   emotion.   I   smiled,   realizing   I   did   hold   my   own   emotion   for   the   first   time   I could   remember.   Eagerness.   To   find   hero-kid,   and   maybe   learn   why   I   existed,   how   long I would be cursed. I   made   it   to   the   Main   Street   intersection   and   studied   every   sidewalk,   curb,   business front   door   and   alley   entrance.   No   skulking   little   kid.   I   stood,   waiting.   The   cars   and infrequent   pedestrians   streamed   past   in   triple-forward-motion.   The   morning   humidity burned   off.   The   sun   arced   across   the   sky.   The   Florida   heat   rose,   and   sweat   ran   down   my sides. I blinked against the glare, until the sun fell below the buildings. "Crud." I   shook   my   head   and   strolled   over   to   the   park.   Jermaine   sat   on   my   bench.   He   held   a bag    containing    the    remainder    of    a    loaf    of    three-week-old    bread    he    bought    up    the highway,   with   thirty-nine   cents   he   could   have   used   for   milk   tomorrow   at   lunch.   A   dozen ducks sat patiently for his next offering. "Hey, Jermaine." The   fifteen-year-old   black   kid   jerked   one   shoulder,   and   looked   around,   as   though   his drunk   papa   was   looking   for   him,   needing   to   whack   him   around   for   general   principles. Kid   lives   a   bigger   hell   than   I   do.   At   some   point   in   the   near   future   his   drug-spaced   mom would   blow   his   papa   away   with   the   four-ten   shotgun   they   kept   next   to   the   front   door. She'd   get   manslaughter,   and   Jermaine   would   go   from   heck   to   worse   in   the   foster   care system. Why   did   I   have   to   know   that?   I   infrequently   received   future   glimpses.   Mostly   I   heard static thoughts. I   sat   down   next   to   Jermaine.   He   shifted   over   four   inches,   and   a   big   gander   fluttered his wings in irritation. "At least someone is appreciative, huh?" I said. Jermaine extended his lower lip. His eyes welled. "If   I   could   exchange   places   with   you,   I   would,"   I   said.   "Key   is   to   study.   Do   like   you're doing   and   stay   away   from   the   punks   where   you   live.   Nice   park,   here.   Quiet.   Peaceful. Bring a book and read. The band shell even has a place you could do your homework." He   nodded,   not   for   any   reason   he   understood.   He   continued   to   flip   dime-sized   bits of   bread   at   the   ducks.   A   swarm   of   pigeons   riffed   into   the   air   and   landed   ten   feet   nearer, keeping   their   distance   from   the   Muscovies.   Jermaine   always   gave   the   pigeons   a   bit before   he   finished,   but   his   ducks   remained   his   favorite.   He   had   named   several.   He wouldn't get to finish the bag of bread today. I   looked   over   to   the   left.   Three   black   kids   and   a   Hispanic   entered   the   park,   with mischief   on   their   minds.   They   loved   to   scare   the   ducks.   I   looked   around   for   an   adult   that might keep them in line, but the six of us were otherwise alone. Jermaine   saw   them   and   muttered,   "Crap."   He   twirled   the   top   of   the   bread   closed   and rose,   walked   for   the   opposite   corner   of   the   park.   The   ducks   fanned   out   in   a   huff,   and   the pigeons took to the air. "See ya, Jermaine." I   watched   him,   sensing   his   anger   and   fear.   He   skipped   into   a   jog.   I   looked   back   at   the other    four.    They    swerved    away    from    the    water    and    headed    this    way.    I    studied    the ground,   mentally   mapping   the   loop   I   had   found   inside   the   little   park   where   I   could   walk without   resetting,   and   estimated   where   they   would   cross   it.   My   mind   mulled   what   kind of mischief I could generate, to give Jermaine more time to escape. I    hurried    in    the    zee-fashion    I    had    to    follow    to    reach    the    tired    oak    between    us, absorbing   the   deeds   the   four   had   been   up   to   lately.   Bullying   was   far   from   the   worst   of   it. They   escalated   their   cruelty   in   an   effort   to   impress   each   other.   I   felt   the   pain   of   the Maynard's   goat   they   abused.   Bastards.   The   spray   painted   store   window.   Overturned porta-john.   Slashed   tires.   An   entire   high   school   English   class   terrorized,   a   spineless teacher unwilling to provoke their ire. The list continued, turning my stomach. They   ran   now,   each   gripping   their   baggie   pants   so   they   didn't   trip   over   them.   I hurried   to   get   in   place,   concentrated   in   order   to   affect   the   real   world,   and   gave   Trevor   a shove.   It   was   enough   to   move   his   momentum   into   the   tree.   His   face   connected   with bark,    and    he    bounced    back,    eyes    rolling    up,    blood    bursting    out    his    nose.    I    passed through   Micha,   and   flicked   his   right   foot   enough   to   wrap   it   up   with   Travis'   left.   The   two sprawled into the knobby roots reaching out of the earth. Dominic stopped and turned on his pals. "Jeez! Whas with ya guys?"    I   mentally   crossed   my   fingers   and   stepped   toward   him.   No   reset.   I   grinned,   reached out   and   tried   to   pull   his   sloppy   pants   down.   But   the   whole   grasping   thing,   as   I   expected, was   a   bust.   I   took   another   step,   until   my   soul   overlapped   his.   He   shuddered.   I   stood   still, as    he    shook    more    violently.    I'd    never    done    anything    like    this    before.    Sure,    I'd purposefully   passed   through   people   I   didn't   particularly   care   for.   But   I   remained   within Micha.   I   sensed   his   stomach   turn.   A   second   later   he   volcanically   spewed,   barf   spraying across his fellow perpetrators. I laughed so hard my hands went to my knees, and I stumbled backward. "Crud." That empty feeling preceding reset numbed me. © R. Mac Wheeler 2017
SCI FI Fantasy Dystopian
Haunting Tressel, Florida Chapter 1 ~ L ike   everything   that   pops   into   my   head, I   have   no   idea   how   I   acquired   her   life story   in   that   instant.   But   the   woman   in the    powder-blue    Toyota    with    the    off- kilter   sign   in   the   window   that   said   Baby On       Board,       careened       toward       the intersection.    The    light    flipped    to    red, but   she   would   never   look   up.   She   stared at    the    three-inch    screen    of    her    adult pacifier. I   screamed   at   the   woman's   rolled   up windows,   cupping   my   hands   around   my mouth,    as    though    that    would    make    a difference.   Even   if   she   wasn't   listening to        her        too-loud        music        player, preoccupied   by   the   inane   text   from   her college    buddy    about    how    stupid    her boyfriend   acted   last   night,   the   woman wasn't   going   to   hear   a   peep   out   of   one of my kind. Whatever my kind is. I   never   received   a   user's   guide.   No one   ever   met   me   to   orient   me   on   my existence.   I   think   of   myself   as   a   ghost, for     lack     of     a     better     term.     But     the classification    doesn't    seem    right.    The rules   that   bind   me   make   no   sense.   Way too arbitrary. Ghosts   have   to   come   from   previously living   humans.   Right?   The   heck   of   it   is   I have   no   memory   of   ever   being   alive,   of any    existence    prior    to    the    moment    I became   me.   I   didn't   even   come   with   a name,   though   bits   of   other   extraneous knowledge    pops    in    my    head,    like    the future   of   Heather,   who   plowed   toward the intersection a hundred feet away. I call myself Bob. No   reason   for   my   choice   of   names. Probably   because   I   lack   imagination.   I mean,   how   lame   is   Bob?   Like   the   guy with    no    arms    or    legs    who    fell    in    the lake,   I   float   with   the   current,   bob   with the    waves.    I    could    have    chosen    Matt. Why   not   Sebastian?   That   name   has   a little   panache.   But   I'd   already   settled   on Bob    when    I    came    across    Sebastian, while    standing    outside    Zola's    Muffin Shop. I    stepped    off    the    curb    figuring    I'd reset,     but     maybe     I     could     get     close enough    to    rap    the    window    to    wake Heather    from    her    stupor    before    the powers-that-be   sent   me   coursing   back to   the   place   I   always   started,   from   that first moment I became me. Two   steps   into   the   street,   and   dink, just as I expected. I   stood   among   the   musty   furniture, cleaning    equipment,    and    dusty    boxes holding      Christmas      ornaments      that clogged    the    apartment    that    was    the center   of   my   private   hell.   I   turned   and sprinted   through   the   accumulated   junk and the front wall of the apartment. Three     blocks     away     at     Main     and Canopy,    the    powder-blue    Toyota    now looked   like   a   toaster   oven   mated   to   a rider   mower.   The   front   was   caved   in   by the   pickup   truck   Heather   T-boned.   The delivery   van   that   slammed   into   her   left- rear   quarter   panel   had   a   frown-shaped indention   across   its   grill,   which   wedged half-way   inside   the   Toyota.   The   nineties Caddy,    which    kissed    the    pickup    and finished   off   what   was   left   of   Heather's fuel-miser     import,     barely     cracked     a grin. Heather     was     toast.     A     convenient coincidence,     since     her     twisted     body resided   in   the   portion   that   looked   like an oven. Her    telecom    company    lost    a    text subscriber. Flames      flicked      from      under      the section    that    looked    like    the    mower. Shouts   rose   from   dumbstruck   gawkers. "Get   back!   It's   on   fire!"   and   such   rattled against   my   brain.   I   hated   that   I   knew the   baby   in   the   back   still   lived—looked forward   to   a   harsher   end.   I   looked   up Canopy    Avenue    hoping    to    see    a    fire truck.    They    had    about    two    minutes before   Baby   Ryan   met   his   mom   on   the other   side.   But   the   fire   station   was   four minutes away on US 301. I   took   one   step,   straddling   the   curb. Another   step,   and   I'd   reset.   I   might   be dead,   but   the   pain   in   my   chest   and   gut still   challenged   to   take   me   to   my   knees. I    looked    at    the    other    drivers.    They stared   like   deer   at   the   crumpled   mower- oven. The    driver    of    the    van    and    Caddy realized   they   could   save   their   vehicles from     the     fire,     rushed     to     them     and backed   up   with   a   stereo   of   screeching tires.   The   pick-em-up   truck   driver   did the   same   a   moment   later.   Tentacles   of fiberglass     and     aluminum     from     the Japanese   pretzel   drug   along   for   a   three- count    until    giving    it    up    and    laying- lonely in the center of the intersection. "Stay     away     from     there,     kid,"     I mumbled. The   teen   glared   at   me   for   a   second before   diving   into   the   gnash   of   refuse. The    way    his    eyes    seemed    to    lock    on mine,   it   appeared   he   could   see   me.   But that was nonsense. No one could hear or see me. The   flames   made   their   way   over   the hood   of   the   oven,   across   the   back   of   the mower.   The   kid   sliced   through   the   car, like   I   could   a   wall,   telephone   pole,   or mail box. One of me? His   head   poked   out.   "What   are   you waiting for?" He shouted. "Help me!" He    dove    back    into    the    debris    and fire.   I   ripped   my   eyes   away   to   look   at the    curb.    Both    of    my    feet    set    on    the asphalt. He screamed for help again. I wish I could. Oh       well.       I       stepped       forward, expecting    the    darkened    menagerie    of castoffs to surround me. I   remained   under   the   blue,   Florida sky.    I    ran    to    the    crash,    expecting    to reset    any    moment.    Why    wasn't    I?    I reached   the   center   of   the   intersection,   a little    dizzy    I    think    in    surprise,    and peered     through     the     accordion     roof. Heat   billowed   against   my   legs.   The   kid struggled    with    the    twisted    latch    that folded   around   the   toddler.   With   effort   I could    push    and    shove,    manage    light switches,    but    grasping    things    in    the human     world     was     something     I     had never managed. A    foom     erupted    under    the    car    and black   smoke   billowed   around   us.   Sweat ran   down   my   face.   Smoke   burned   my eyes.   Funny   how   some   things   in   their world   I   could   feel,   and   others   I   couldn't. I    longed    to    feel    the    texture    of    Ryan's soft    blanket,    baby-boy-blue,    between my fingers. Ryan's        seat        rested        cockeyed, wrenched   right   and   downward,   so   the latch       nearly       faced       the       floor.       I concentrated,             visualizing             the connection     I     required     to     influence objects   in   their   world,   and   pushed.   My hand   didn't   do   its   slicing   thing.   The   seat yanked   upright.   Baby   Ryan's   face   pulled away   from   the   blanket   that   smothered him.    His    face    was    three    tints    darker than    the    original    powder-blue    of    the Toyota.   A   hiccup   of   a   deep   breath,   and   a high-pitched wail assaulted my ears. My   legs   burned.   My   jeans   were   on fire.   I   couldn't   imagine   hurting   like   that when, if, I ever lived. Still,    Baby    Ryan    was    stuck    in    the middle   of   a   wadded   up   car.   Neither   the kid    nor    I    could    grasp    him    to    lift    him out.   I   pushed   at   Ryan,   the   kid   pushed the    latch-release    from    his    angle,    and Baby     Ryan     jolted     out     of     the     seat. Another     matching     shove,     and     Ryan wiggled     forward,     screaming     between choked   coughs.   Another   shove.   Ryan's tiny   mitts   reached   out,   pumping   in   fear and anger. Glove-covered     hands     encircled     in fireman-yellow     reached     through     the narrowed     opening     once     covered     by glass    and    the    baby    pulled    away    from me. Smoke   stung   my   sinuses.   Fire   seared my flesh. I closed my eyes to the pain. © R. Mac Wheeler 2017
R .  Mac Wheeler Multi - Genre Author