As a child, I didn’t realize that I could see the spirits of the dead. They always sat cross-legged and looked stress-free, as if they were in quiet meditation or prayer. I usually saw them sitting on the side of the road beside small crosses, and I often saw them sitting in intersections beneath flashing red lights. I frequently asked my parents, “Why do these people sit in such strange places?” They would praise me for my creative imagination and give me a fresh coloring book. As I got older, I began to notice my parents’ concern and frustration whenever I asked such things, so I stopped asking.
A few months after I turned thirteen, our family was called to the hospital to say goodbye to my grandfather. It was my first time to visit a hospital, and the first time I really understood that I was seeing the dead.
There were three sitting on the floor of my grandfather’s room when we arrived. The room was crowded, and as my uncles and aunts gathered around my grandfather’s bed, they walked through the spirits on the floor. It no longer bothered me that people and cars passed through the spirits; it was just the way things were. It didn’t seem to bother them, so I learned to ignore it.
It broke my heart to see my grandfather so weak. The strong arms that used to toss me high in the air were now simply skin and bone. His eyes did not seem to hold the same bright blue that I remembered, and he struggled to breathe.
My mom took me to the cafeteria to get a Coke while my dad sat by my grandfather’s side. When we came back, everyone was crying and trying to comfort one another, but I could see that there were now four sitting on the floor.
They were saying things like, “He’s in a better place now,” and “We’ll see him again one day.” But I could saw him sitting on the floor with the others. I screamed in frustration, “He’s sitting right here,” and then I knelt in front of him and begged him to say something to let them all know that I was not lying. He didn’t move or open his eyes, so I screamed louder, “Grandpa! Answer me! Tell them that you’re here!” Eventually, they dragged me kicking and screaming from the room. No one believed me. I could see their concern and pity for me grow the more I tried to get them to understand, so I stopped talking and agreed to everything they told me.
A week later, they caught me sneaking back into the hospital room where my grandfather sat, and I spent the next few months in a mental hospital learning what not to say.
A few days before I turned sixteen, a young man was stopped by the police at the gas station next to my house. No one ever knew why the boy decided to run, but he put his car in drive and hit the gas. The police report said that the young man attempted to run over an officer and that he shot him in self defense.
The young man’s family was never convinced that the shooting was justified, and they exhausted their life savings in the search for truth and justice. They hired detectives, rented space on billboards, and purchased airtime on TV and radio. Their cry for answers could not be avoided, and everyone within a hundred miles saw or heard their pleas multiple times a day for months on end.
I would often walk next door to the gas station and watch the young man sitting in the very spot he died. There were flyers in the store windows and across the street sat a billboard mounted on a small trailer with his parent’s appeal for additional information written in large letters. The spirit of their son and the answers they desperately searched for sat peacefully in the parking lot, and no one but I knew it.
One morning, my parents invited me to go a Civil War battle field with them. The thought of seeing thousands of spirits sitting nearly on top of each other frightened me terribly. I hid my fear as best I could when I begged to stay home, “Please, don’t make me go. I’ve got three tests to study for this week.” Luckily, they mistook my fear for apprehension and accepted my excuse.
I watched them pull away and then walked to the gas station to buy a fountain drink. As I got closer to the spirit sitting in the parking lot, my heart jumped, and I thought I saw him open his eyes. A moment later, a woman whipped off the road, talking on her phone and oblivious to the world around her. The last thing I saw was her vanity plate that read, ‘Adopt – Save a Life.’
Now I sit in silence by pump number seven, just behind the young man and I understand why all the spirits are simply sitting and waiting. There is no hurry. All we have is time, and you will find out for yourself soon enough.
Eddie D. Moore travels extensively for work and he spends much of that time listening to audio books. The rest of the time is spent dreaming of stories to write and he spends the weekends writing them. His stories have been published by Saturday Night Reader, Every Day Fiction and Adventure Worlds. He can be followed on Twitter @EddieMoore27
Image by Martin Fisch