She wasn’t surprised when she climbed in the car, to find Sarah in the passenger seat with Chuck and Elisabeth sitting in the back.
“Who cares? I don’t.” Chuck said, obviously still upset that he had been attacked by the larger man.
“Okay, I meant to ask you guys this last night because I gotta know, what happens when you’re not with me, in the car or whatever?”
Lizzie turns to Sarah who shrugs, “I’m not really sure. It’s like, yesterday when you left with Jess. We were with you in the cemetery, but once you climbed in the car, you were gone and then we were back with you when you got out. It’s like … well I don’t know how to describe it.”
“It’s like we don’t exist and then we do.” Chuck said, obviously frustrated.
“It scares me sometimes. You’ll leave and we just disappear, and, well I don’t know what this is. I mean, we’re dead, right, but we’re linked somehow, to you, and when you leave, we just are gone and then come back wherever you are. Well, what If we don’t come back some time. What happens then? Do we move on? Are we lost in limbo? The darkness scares me,” Elisabeth was holding herself, struggling to hold in tears. “I don’t know why, but it does.”
“And what happens when you are in the car? Why did Josh not come with? I mean, I know there’s not enough room for him, you really need a bigger car Liz, but who chose that he would be the one in the darkness?” Sarah added.
“It’s scary.” Elisabeth said.
“I hate not having any kind of control.” Chuck continued as he turned to look out the window.
“I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what happened, why you’re here. I’ve googled it and such, but I don’t know. I wish there was something I could do to help.” Lizzie said as she started the car.
“We know that. Liz, you’re like a sister. I know you’ll be here for us. And we’re here for you, anytime you need us.” Sarah said as she reached out for a hug but stopped herself remembering that they couldn’t touch.
“Love you sis.” Lizzie said as she put the car into gear, wiping away tears of her own.
* * * *
Lizzie hadn’t been surprised that once she parked the car and got out, Josh was standing there waiting for them. He was disoriented, looking around at the parking structure, and now she understood why.
The rest of them soon appeared around him, not having to get out of the car, but just at one moment sitting there and the next to be standing outside. None of it made any sense, but did she really want the answers?
Josh immediately turned to Chuck and Elisabeth, his fist already clenching.
“Stop it!” Lizzie said forcefully. Something must have shifted in her voice because all of them had stopped moving and looked at her. She quickly glanced around to see if she saw anyone in the structure before continuing. “We’ll talk about this later. Josh, I get that you’re pissed. Not sure what your situation is as we don’t know you, right?”
She turned to Elisabeth and Chuck to confirm that they didn’t know him. They both shook their heads.
“So, we’ll talk later and work this out. Right now, I gotta find out what’s going on with this lawyer and why he needs to see me so bad. I can’t have you guys fighting while I’m trying to talk to him. You guys make it hard sometimes when I’m talking to living people that I’ve been lucky no ones sought to have me committed. Please, not in front of the lawyer who actually could and probably would have me locked up. I don’t know if I trust this guy, he’s a lawyer.”
“The only good lawyer is a dead lawyer.” Josh quipped and Lizzie nodded.
“So please, no getting upset,” she turned and looked at Sarah, “with whatever news he has for us. We need to remain focused.”
Josh was seething. She could tell he didn’t want to do what she was asking, his fists opening and closing were signs he was ready to throw another punch.
“Josh, I don’t know what you’ve been through,-“
“I was losing everything. All of it was going to slip away. My lawyer said I’d never see my family again. All because of these two idiots.”
“Josh. Listen to me,” she moved so that she could get him to see her, then her eyes locked on his. It was hard with his disfigured face to look at him, but she fought to keep her disgust in check. “We don’t know what’s going on and I’ll be honest, we should have tried to figure this out. We really should have, but Sarah… I was being selfish, and I don’t know how I’d been able to handle her being dead. So, her and these two… I’ve been selfish. You being here now, that changes things and we’ll figure this out. I don’t know what’s happening or why you’re here but trust me. Okay.”
Josh wasn’t saying anything, but just watched her. Maybe she was getting through to him. She’d like to think that maybe some of those psych classes were paying off but in truth she just said what felt right. Those psych classes had just taught her about Pavlov and Id and superegos. She hoped that speaking from the heart would help him.
“I don’t know you.”
“I know that. We don’t know you either which is-“
“I don’t know you so I have no way of knowing if I can trust you. Why should I?”
A car door slammed shut nearby and Lizzie turned, scanning to see if she saw anyone. In the distance, the sound of another vehicle making its turns in the garage as it circled through the layers trying to find a parking spot. It was getting closer.
“I know you don’t know me. I’m just asking you work with me for a little while and go from there.”
Josh continued to stare at her, and she felt like the scene was going to continue until someone saw them. It would become awkward, her standing there glaring at nothing. Then her phone rang, and she was relieved for a break in the growing tension.
“Yeah?” She said as soon as she tapped the green button that was just below the glowing picture of her friend Jessica.
“How ya holding up?”
“I’m doing okay Jess.” She said. The group of the dead around her started to walk around her, some growing uncomfortable with just standing around in the parking structure.
“Really? Its okay. You know you can talk to me.”
“Who is it.” Sarah mouthed even though she had to know Jessica couldn’t hear her.
“Jess” Lizzie mouthed back, and then into the receiver, “Yeah. While I was in the hospital I had met with a nurse and she’s helping me through it.”
“A grief counselor? That’s good.” Lizzie wasn’t going to correct her, but it helped if her friends thought she had already been talking to someone. She knew that if she’d said anything else it would be the beginning of phone calls from a variety of friends and acquaintances, all offering their ears and their advice on professional help. This way, Jess would get word out she already had someone helping.
That was much easier than explaining that she wasn’t really grieving because she hadn’t really lost her best friend. She was right there and continued to be with her.
“Fine, I’ll trust you for now, but can we just get going? This parking garage has me uneasy. Don’t know why but it makes me feel like I’m in my own grave.” Josh said as he leaned against her car.
“You know, I’m also here to talk and hey, I wanted to ask,” she said, “Dennis is working today, but I’m off with nothing to do. You want to get together later?”
“I have plans this evening.”
“How about lunch?”
“Sure. I’m at the lawyer’s office now but can meet up when we’re done.”
“Okay, when and where?”
“I’m thinking sushi.”
“Hmm, well,” Jessica said, and Lizzie could picture her as she closed her eyes thinking about her favorite places downtown. “We could go to Little Joe’s”
“That works. Meet you there?” She said as Josh started pounding against the car. She turned from him and started walking towards the stairs.
“Is that really necessary?” Elisabeth hissed at him just before he quit and followed Lizzie.
“I don’t know what’s worse between the two of you.” Sarah said. Lizzie wasn’t paying any of them attention and missed the look Sarah gave the two men. “You two keep acting like a bunch of children. We’re dead. Get over it.”
“What the hell did I do?” Chuck asked, running a little to catch up.
“Both of you have acted like children. Your no better than him, yelling all night long.”
“I get bored.”
Lizzie didn’t wait for them as she entered the stairwell, the fire door slamming shut behind her. The silence enclosed around her, and she embraced its briefness as her and Jess finalized their lunch plans, and she disconnected the call.
She took in a long deep breath, letting it out in a sigh. She was alone and it felt great.
“So what floor is this lawyer on?” Sarah asked.
Lizzie opened her eyes to see that they were all gathered around her. Her solitude was gone, she hoped that it would not be forever lost.
* * * *
The entryway for the lawyer’s office wasn’t much better for privacy and Lizzie felt cramped in the little amount of space that was used for a waiting area. She had been surprised her first time there, and it hadn’t changed in the last two weeks. It was nothing like she’d ever seen when she watched them lawyer shows. Where was all the glass and the polished metal? There was none of it.
Instead, what she found was that the office was in a complex, the third floor and over a bank. The front office area when she walked in had a younger man sitting behind a desk, an older computer and a monitor littered in post-it notes. The desk was covered in folders, and in fact, folders of paper were everywhere. The walls were lined with filed cabinets and even these had files on top of them. The whole room was a graveyard of dead trees as there was enough paper to fill a forest.
Quickly after introducing herself to the man, his name was Adam and he had a slight lisp, she sat in one of the two chairs. Both were old leather chairs, dark brown and not fashionable to the light decor of the room. Though the room itself didn’t have much of a theme going for it. The walls were an off white, and Adam’s desk was was gray with dark accents. Someone really needed to fire the interior designer, but that wasn’t her place. At least it didn’t smell bad in there.
Her first time there, she had thought she was in the wrong office. It was only after confirming she wasn’t that she thought the phone call and letter had all been some sort of scam. After all, who would leave her anything? She had forgotten about her uncle and her parents had long since passed away, and the little family on her mother’s side was nonexistent. She never knew why, but her mom wouldn’t talk about it.
Now she was there again, and her dead entourage took up the extra room around her. She had to wonder about whatever force kept them with her and how it worked? Especially with the size of the small room, it would be nice if one or two of them had vanished into that in between nothing Sarah had told her about.
Immediately Josh had taken the other chair and was quickly becoming bored with waiting. She was starting to get the sense that he was a highly impatient person. Maybe that had something to do with how he had barreled into Chuck and Elisabeth.
“Thank you, Mrs. Robbins. I’ll talk to you again next week.” Adam said into the phone. He had been taking a payment and now lowered the receiver as he looked over to her. “I can check to see if he’s read.”
He rose and stepped though the door behind him. Other than the entrance it was the only other door in the room.
“Hurry up and wait. Just as bad as being in the military.” Josh said as he slumped down in the chair.
“You have some big date?” Elisabeth gave him a frustrated glare and Lizzie was suspecting that the truck driver was getting on many of their nerves.
“Hey Charles, tell me, you like a good joke?” Josh said, not even looking at him, keeping his eyes returning Elisabeth’s stare.
“You can come in,” Adam said as he quickly emerged from the office. Lizzie was quick to stand, already feeling crowded by the bickering dead people scrambling around her. The dead could be so annoying even if they couldn’t physically interact with her.
“So, this man was working out on his roof, and it was hot and all that. He was putting down some new shingles with his friend helping him. His friend was getting frustrated and asks him, ‘Hey, what time is it?’” She heard Josh as he told them the joke while she left the room. Sarah was following and Lizzie wished the rest of them would stay in the outer office.
If she’d been unimpressed with the piles of files in the outer office, she was equally unimpressed with the lack of files and the dingy furniture in the inner room. Even the computer looked liked it had been out of date five years ago. The desk looked like one of those back-to-school specials on sale for fifty bucks at any office supply store and the chair was a thrifty high back rolling chair with its faux leather torn along the back side. She sat in the chair across from the lawyer.
The man behind the desk looked tired and old. When she’d seen him before, he had been an older man yes with a complete matching set of silver hair and beard, but it had been perfectly in place. In fact, to all the chaos his office represented, his appearance had been perfect.
What has happened to this man? He looked so haggard now, his hair on end and skin was an ashen pale. His eyes were dark, deep shadows under them as though he hadn’t slept since she’d seen him. His suit could have been the same one he’d worn then and has since never been removed. It was wrinkled and fit him poorly. Had he lost weight since she’d seen him?
Oh no, he’d better not be dying. If he did, would he become one of her ghosts? Something about this unkempt old man following her around sent a twinge of disgust through her. It just seemed wrong.
“Hello Miss Rogers” he said as he looked up from his computer screen. “Do you like music?”
She was surprised by the question, and he must have noticed as he smiled at her, and his pale face colored with embarrassment. She could see red stains on his teeth in that smile and she barely suppressed a shudder as she thought of the naked man as he crushed Sarah’s skull.
“I’m sorry. I just, sometimes in rough times, get lost in a good melody. I didn’t mean to keep you waiting but had been listening to Dylan and was lost in that soulful way he releases his pain.”
“The man saw as his watch slipped off, but he couldn’t stop it, it was going to go off the side of the roof.” Josh said, watching Chuck for any kind of reaction as they entered the room. Chuck lingered in the doorway, not entering quickly filling space.
Lizzie briefly glanced up at them, annoyed. “I listen to mainly Imagine Dragons and stuff like that. I love Ed Sheeran.”
“He has some good stuff. Nothing as intense as Dylan, but it’s great to just disappear into the rhythm and let your thoughts fade.”
“Stop it!” Elisabeth hissed at Josh who didn’t care as he kept telling his joke.
“So, the man ran across the roof, slid down the ladder and was running back around to the other side of the house, back over to where he had been when his watch had slipped off. All of this while his son-”
“Thought you said it had been a friend helping him on the roof.”
The lawyer seemed to have drifted away, looking blankly out his window, studying the view of the neighboring rooftop. Lizzie was relieved as she glared at the men that only she could see and hear and who had no regard that she was trying to have a conversation. Neither of them paid her notice and she briefly caught Elisabeth’s eye as she shrugged apologetically back at her.
“Your right, his friend-”
“I’m sorry. Where was I? Oh yes, sorry about that. I haven’t been sleeping well and as my partner passed away last month. I don’t know if you remember me telling you that, but he had, and this had been his case. He’d been managing much of your uncle’s dealings for the last ten, fifteen years.” The lawyer said. She tried to pay attention to him, but the lawyer spoke softly while Josh was loud, his voice boisterous.
“But the man ran around to the side of the house. He was huffing of course by this point and the friend watched him, wondering why he was hurrying so much just to pick up his watch that by this point would have fallen to the ground.”
Lizzie was shaking her head, getting frustrated with all the noise confusion floating around her. It was all too much, and she found herself closing her eyes to help herself focus. At the funeral it hadn’t even been this bad, but with both talking, Josh and the lawyer, it was like she had struggled to listen to two fighting, squabbling kids as they talked over one another. She just couldn’t do it.
“-Are you okay?” The lawyer cut off whatever story he was just about to tell her when he’d seen her shaking her head, noticing the first in the latest set of tears.
“-Yeah” she gasped.
She could feel more tears welling up inside of her and she had no clue why. Why now? Why here? She could feel her chest getting tight and knew she was on the verge of letting loose.
Come on girl, get it together.
“Liz?” Sarah asked. Lizzie heard the lawyer getting up from behind his desk. She tried to push them all away, but found that the harder she tried, the more she thought of Sarah lying there on the floor.
That had been her fault. All of it was her fault. Sarah wouldn’t have been there if it hadn’t been for Lizzie asking her. Sarah would still be alive, with her her today and really be there for her.
“Are you okay? Can I get you something or call someone? I mean-”
He was hovering over her, and she wanted to listen to him and get this over with, but she just couldn’t tune it out. Josh was telling that hideous joke and with all the chaos around her, she just kept hearing him.
“The man reached out and grabbed it. The friend had watched and couldn’t believe it. He called down and asked, ‘how’d you do that?’ and the man replied, ‘well, the watch always was a bit slow.’”
Lizzie couldn’t help it. The joke wasn’t even funny, but she found herself giving in and letting the laughter take her. It brought with her more tears and she truly thought that the last bit of her sanity had just snapped.
“Lizzie, come on. It’s going to be okay.” Sarah was saying. Lizzie had her head in her hands, the laughter shaking through her, but she could feel her friend close to her.
“I’ll be fine.” Lizzie said, trying to reign in the fluttering of different emotions inside her.
“Are you sure. I can get you a glass of water.”
“I’m fine, really.” And if she just kept repeating that long enough, she might actually start to believe it herself.
“You sure Lizzie?”
“Yes, I’m fine.” Lizzie said, looking briefly at her best friend before looking back at the lawyer. She knew eventually she’d remember his name. It was something to do with food, she remembered that much.
The lawyer was going to the door anyways and she had no doubt he would return with a cup, probably filled from the fountain in the hallway. So then, she had been surprised when a figure emerged in the door handing the surprised lawyer a bottle of water.
“Thought she could use some water,” Adam was saying to the much older gentleman who nodded his appreciation. Though as Adam went back into the outer room and the lawyer was turning away from the door, she noticed that he was closing it behind him. Josh had quickly ducked into the room, pushing up against Elisabeth, leaving Chuck to sit it out in the waiting room.
“So, you want to hear another one.” Josh said as soon as the door was closed and the lawyer returned to his seat behind the desk, passingly handing her the water as he had gone by.
“I hadn’t realized you and your uncle were so close,” he said as he started sorting through his piles of folders, looking for one he eventually found near his computer. He pulled it out and perused the contents, occasionally looking at her. It took a few seconds to realize that he was purposely avoiding eye contact.
She glared at Josh for a moment longer, long enough to see the little smirk and his quick glance to her. The smug bastard was enjoying this, and he was doing it on purpose. He was doing it and she was sure it was because he knew she couldn’t do a damn thing about it. She couldn’t just walk right over there and knock that damn smirk right off of his mouth.
She would have too. She’d never hit another person in her life, but she felt the anger, the violence rising inside of her. She had never wanted to hit someone so hard in her life.
“We weren’t. I don’t know if I’ve ever met him. He had a huge fight with my dad, and they’d never talked until just over a year ago, shortly before my parents passed away.”
“Oh, my misunderstanding.”
“My best friend just died last week.” She turned to look back at the lawyer who was now looking up from his folder and studying her. She could feel those judgmental eyes on her, and she hoped she was about to wipe that right off him. “She had been murdered in my uncle’s house while we had checked it out.”
She watched the color drain from his face and his jaw was ready to hit the floor. Win! Score one for the crazy person. We’ll see if he still wants to judge her for breaking down in his office. Though she didn’t feel like a winner. Far from it.
“I…I’m sorry for your loss. This happened at your uncle’s house?”
“You got a key?”
“Yeah, Adam had given it to me when I had stopped by to sign the paperwork you left for me.”
“Right right. Hmm,” he studied the piece of paper again that he had pulled from the folder. Then he pulled out an envelope that she hadn’t noticed before.
“Is there a problem?”
“What? For you, no, probably not. For me, maybe. It all depends on how you would like to proceed and if you decide to come after us, I completely understand. I just want to start by saying, I’m sorry about all of this.”
“What’s going on?” She looked at Josh, surprised that he was staying quiet. He was still smiling at her but didn’t say a word. He just made that childish motion of zipping his mouth and then flicking over his shoulder as though throwing away a key. She turned back to the lawyer who was again looking her over.
My God, he thinks I’m crazy.
“I’m sorry but we misread the will. That is to say-” cutting her off as he could see she was obviously about to say something. “We left something out.
“You see, your uncle changed his will a few days before he passed, and we hadn’t logged the new will into our system, so we went off what we had recorded in our latest file.” He handed over the envelope. “This was left to you by you uncle.”
She gingerly took the envelope. It was yellow with age, probably having sat around that dirty old house for years before he finally used it. Then she looked at the front to see her name delicately printed in that messy handwriting of his. Each word of her name was printed large and readable, and he had spelled out her whole name, not the nickname everyone else called her. “Elizabeth” plainly visible as she took it.
She immediately noticed the hum that emanated from it the moment it touched her fingers and there was something inside it. There was a lump of something larger and irregular and she felt a piece of a sharp edge that was ready to bite her.
“Okay, so what is so important that I needed to rush down here.”
“Well, that’s it. The new will stated that you were not take possession of the house or have any of the money until you took possession of that envelope. We couldn’t transfer the money or move ahead with anything else until you had it.”
“Really? So what’s inside it?”
“No clue. It arrived sealed.”
“Okay then, well that’s odd, but so was my uncle.”
“Never met him. All his business was normally through my partner. This thing with the new will, it’s all strange. Doesn’t make sense to me, but-” The lawyer doesn’t finish what he was saying and instead looks out his office window. “Tik-tok”
“What?” She looked around to see that everyone else had heard it too. They were all studying the lawyer. Even Josh who probably had no clue who the shadow man was had caught on and turned to watch the lawyer.
“Tik-tok.” The lawyer seemed to break out of whatever trance he had gone into and turned to look at her, though she didn’t feel like he had fully returned. His eyes were glazed over, and he had this dreamy quality to his voice as he spoke. “Tick tock, it’s getting close to lunch, and I have a meeting. Was there anything else I can help you with?”
Lizzie shook her head and got up slowly, not taking her eyes off the man. He had already dismissed her and had gone back to shuffling around paperwork on his desk. She watched and wasn’t sure if he even realized he did it, as he slipped her folder to as far away from himself on the desk and as if that wasn’t good enough, buried it under all the other files.
She left the office, catching out of the corner of her eyes him turning back to the window and gazing out. The sounds of Johnny Cash followed her out. She hadn’t even seen him press play or turn to his computer. As she waved to Adam who returned it politely, she could hear the soulful chorus of “When the man comes around.”
In the elevator she realized she was still holding the envelope. Why hadn’t she opened it in his office or even now as she was in the elevator?
She turned it over and studied the writing. It was her name, written in large letters. Whoever wrote it had taken great care to get it right and there were indentations from the pressure from the pen.
“You gonna open it or just stare at it all day?”
“Shut up Josh.” Sarah hissed at the larger man.
“What you gonna do to me sweetheart? Kill me again?”
“Calm it down.” Chuck said. Lizzie ignored them, something that when no one else was trying to talk to her, she was getting quite good at.
“Go ahead playboy, take another shot. If not, then just stand there in your corner and let the adults here have a conversation.”
“What the hell is your problem?” Chuck was getting closer to Josh, his fists clenched.
“My problem? Really? You’re going to ask me what the fuck my problem is.” The door to the elevator opened and Lizzie was quick to exit into the parking structure. “My problem is I’m fucking dead. I’m dead because my life was ruined when you two dipshits pulled out in front me. I was facing vehicular manslaughter charges and my scum bag of a lawyer said the best he could get me was six years in jail. I was going to jail, no way to support my wife and kids all because of you two dumbasses.
“Then it gets better because I just don’t die, I’m stuck in some kind of limbo purgatory hell with you two shits, that glaring bitch, and some kid who we follow around with no fucking control, always just whisked away to wherever she is.
“This is bullshit, and she’s got an envelope, something in her hand, right there, and she’s not rushing to open it. Fuck this. Fuck you! I want this shit to end, and she’s not doing a damned thing about it.”
Lizzie hadn’t really thought much about it but noticed it struck her as there was something different. It was how she heard him talking so crisply. She looked at her friend Sarah and noticed that, yes, her face was different. Like part of it had healed a little and wasn’t so disgusting to look at and that she’d been able to speak clearly the longer she was dead.
“Lizzie?” Sarah was looking at her, those soft blue eyes that had melted away many hearts still had the ring of blood shot, but it had clearly faded since she had first come back from the dead.
“Don’t trust the dead.” Isn’t that what someone had written on her parents’ tombstone? Something close to it. What did that mean? Had someone else been surrounded by them.
“Just open the fucking envelope.”
“You think all this has something to do with her uncle.” Elisabeth said, looking back and forth from Lizzie to Josh and then back.
“And you don’t? Are you that fucking dense?”
They were all looking at her, she could feel their dead eyes collectively drilling into her.
“What about all that creepy shit we saw there. It was like, like he worshiped the devil or, I don’t know.”
Lizzie had forgotten about the carvings on the floor, the drawings, what had looked like blood, the burned candles. All of it was pushed away and she hadn’t realized just how hard she had tried to forget it. It was like how she kept forgetting that her best friend was dead, which it was so easy to do because there she was, standing and talking to her. But that wasn’t her, not truly. That dead thing was not the girl who had slept over at her house.
She turned the envelope over in her hand and then grabbed a corner to rio it open.
Her phone chirped breaking her focus. Then another chirp. She pulled it out and looked at the screen. There were nearly ten messages, all from Jess, the last one saying “There you are! I see you. Walking over.”
That was when Lizzie heard the screeching of tires, a horn blaring and amongst all of it, she heard the screaming.