________Lost Souls_______
Second Chances

by Nancy Jackson

Be afraid of that which lurks both inside and outside our minds and bodies, Michael read once on a poster for an upcoming movie.  He understood those words well for he was that very thing that lurked but never seen.  His existence has been reduced to wandering the streets night and day.  He longed for the day when hed look in the mirror and see a reflection looking back.  Michael walked near the lamppost on the corner of fifth and Hamilton.  Looking towards the looming brick building on his left, he caught a glimpse of his shadow, the mass he had been reduced to.  How quickly things change.
Once Michael had a decent job, got along with his co-workers, owned a car and a shabby little house.  Two weeks ago he was on his way to work but the car wouldn't start, leaving him to get there by foot.  He wasn't in shape to walk the half hour haul, but the shortcut by Lamont's Hill was manageable.  Athletics were never his strong suit but he felt an urge to pick up the pace and so began a light sprint.  Taking the shortcut meant running partway along the railroad tracks.  Within minutes of running a cramp shot up his right side, doubling him over in pain.  Between his pulse racing and heart pounding he was unaware of the approaching train.  He was met with an incredible impact shattering every bone in his body.  Michael hit the ground in a twisted heap bleeding heavily.  The bottom of the train scraped away layers off his skull, and badly exposed.  Long after the train had passed, he looked over his mutilated body but from above. 
Three different sources of light loomed before his eyes.  A comforting tunnel of blue came closer, but as he reached forward, it vanished.  He laughed to himself, so much like school when he was picked last for teams.  Tyler Richardson and Gregory Madsen had teased and bullied him terribly.  Then there was Eliza Dagby, a pretty girl he had been sweet on something fierce.  He had forgotten the names and faces of so many people that have passed in and out of his life over the years, but those three names were as sharp in his mind as the first day he read their names on the wooden school desks grouped with his. 
A dark figure floated up to him, pointing a finger, nodding his head.  When he spoke his voice resounded deep and slow. 
"There is no destination for you now," he said. 
"You mean I have nowhere to go, ever," asked Michael.
"There are things you are holding onto from your past, until you resolve them I cannot send you forth," he explained.  "Accept your fate and learn what you have been living with, it is the key to your final destination." 
"What will become of me until then," Michael asked. 
"You will be a shadow, a form of the night.  Do not waste time, the portal grows smaller each passing day," he replied and vanished.  
Michael found himself in an alley in the middle of downtown.  He couldn't stand the ugliness of downtown it was cold and uninviting.  These were the same spit stained streets he walked daily for his boss, delivering boxes and packages to the chains of stores that came and went.  Michael passed the same dilapidated buildings, laughing at the signs that portrayed his life.  One sign read "welcome" in large letters that were now subject to spray paint and grime.  He had never felt welcome once in his whole twenty-nine years of life.  Another sign "dead end" represented the direction he had always been going.  Now he was there.  This was the last place he wanted to see.  Even in death he couldn't get a break, stuck here like a fresh piece of gum on a running shoe.  As he turned a corner, a bearded man rushed into him.  Remarkably, he went right through him.  Michael grabbed at his body feeling invaded.  This would take some getting used to. 
Now he had nothing but the night.  Michael walked the streets, casually eyeing the collection of homeless people lining the walls and sidewalks.  He hated to admit envying their lifestyle, the freedom to do as they pleased.  They may not have much but they had their life.  In his mind he was a loser and more of a loser than any of the bums dressed in their moth-eaten coats and ripped polyester pants.  Some of them even held themselves with pride and confidence, something he never learned to do.  Still, he had been much too accustomed to sleeping in a nice warm bed and probably would never have survived a single night.  He guessed that if given the choice, he wouldn't mind being homeless for a while.
After hours of aimlessly prowling, he looked to see where he was. The sign read Delmont Street.  He hadn't been this far into the city before.  The streets were clean and the homes had fresh coats of paint.  It seemed he had stepped into an oz-like scene and hoped there wasnt a wicked witch lurking in the corner somewhere trying to peddle drugs to see the wizard fly.  Up the street, a man in a suit with oil-slicked hair purchased a newspaper.  Michael decided he had time to kill and followed the wealthy man into a fancy condo.  They rode the elevator to the fifth floor and entered his private domain.  Michael had to admit the man had impeccable taste.  The rooms were enormous with rich colored tapestries, museum-like portraits and modern sculptures spread throughout.  The sleek tile floors shone and had he a reflection he might have seen it.  Throwing down the paper, fancy pants headed straight to the spacious bathroom complete with a hot tub and mini bar.  The man stopped in front of the mirror examining his unshaven face.  Michael stood behind him, holding up his fingers as bunny ears.  He laughed to himself, realizing he just made his first attempt at humor since death.  As he leaned forward, the man took a step back and somehow they collided.  Strange noises surrounded his ears.  He looked into the mirror and saw the pompous tycoon staring back at him.  This was by far the strangest experience he ever had.  Only in movies could bodies meld like this, he reasoned.  Curiosity engulfed him and he wanted to find out what all he was capable of doing.  Michael moved his arms and was amused to find that the rich guy moved as well.  In fact, any movement Michael did, the man's body mimicked.  He rather liked this puppet master role it suited him just fine. 
Suddenly a stream of memories flooded his mind but none that were his own.  Visions appeared of playing with a golden retriever, jogging around a backyard, and even a glimpse of an old school.  Michael was shocked to see his own school and wondered why it would be in this mans mind.  Several kids were crowding around a small boy.  Then Michael saw it, clear as day, the boy was himself and around him stood Greg and Tyler.  He looked closer at the mirror.  It was unbelievable!  Michael was inside Gregory Madsen's body!  All the anger he had been carrying suddenly welled up.  Here was his hated rival living large with a nice home and plenty of material things.  Emotions surfaced of all the times he tried things and failed, always hearing the voices inside his head reminding him how he was nothing but a loser and would always be.  He bet Greg never had to worry about stuff like that.  Michael's body felt out of control.  He raised his hand and smashed it into the mirror.  Shards of glass clamored to the floor while blood stained the white porcelain sink.  He looked up at the altered reflection and realized Greg had also smashed the mirror leaving his hand a bloody mess.  Michael smiled as he watched Gregs face twist into a perfect picture of pain and shock.  Without resistance, he willed Greg to pick up the razor and slice himself up until he was covered in thick layers of blood.  Nothing gave Michael more pleasure than hearing the screams coming from this supposed tough guy.  Unable to stop, Michael used the razor to slash a deep gouge into Greg's wrist and finally made him slash his own throat.  He reveled in the cries of terror and disbelief.  Quickly he removed himself from the body and watched as Greg slumped to the crimson stained floor, sobbing like a baby with blood oozing out of him in steady streams.  The blood was a delicious sight, the color of Michael's victory.  He breathed in, feeling proud of himself.  Michael felt years of strain release from his shoulders as he danced about the apartment.  A sense of peace filled his being.  He waited for Greg to bleed to death before wandering back to the loneliness of the streets and alleyways. 
A week later the harsh rains began, drowning both the rodents and the human rats of the city.  Seas of sopping newspaper infested the streets, providing stragglers their only shelter from the relentless weather.  Next on his agenda was seeking out Tyler.  He had looked up the names in the phone booth and found three people with the same name living fairly close to one another.  After a few blocks he came to the first place to check and entered the slanting building.  A rank smell seeped through the hallway as he moved along the damp floor.  An elderly man was just unlocking the very door he was going in.  Immediately he could tell he had the wrong guy.  Days old dishes lined the counters, growing mold and stuff Michael didn't care to examine for long.  Off he went to the next person claiming to be Tyler. 
The next place gave him more confidence, as it was a well to do home complete with a white picket fence and flower boxes hanging from the windows.  Peering through the windows he couldn't see anyone so in he went.  The rooms were immaculate and clean.  Hanging upon the wall was a picture that caught Michael's immediate attention.  Tyler smiled back at him with his glossy features, complete with beard and mustache.  Michael wanted to check out the other photos but was distracted by a noise coming from the hallway.  He went to investigate and came upon Tyler, standing in his bedroom, hanging clothes up in the closet.  Tyler was much heavier than he remembered.  Again memories flooded his mind, reminding him of the torture he endured.  Years of counseling hadn't achieved a moments peace for Michael, but Tyler certainly had gone on with his life.  The bitterness swept Michael away and he stepped right into Tyler, using every bit of his strength to stay inside.  Flashes of faces and places spun around his head.  Out of the bedroom they walked and into the kitchen where Tyler opened the refrigerator taking out lettuce, meat, cheese, and onions.  As Tyler reached for a knife, Michael felt a surge of power rush through him.  He waited as Tyler unwrapped the thick slab of roast beef.  Knowing he could control his movements, he knew what to do next.  Raising his hand high into the air, he sliced through the air with the knife and brought it down, severing Tyler's hand.  Blood spurted forth as Tyler wailed, rummaging around in a nearby drawer for a towel.  Again Michael took over and giving into his craving to kill and conquer, slammed the knife into his enemy's upper thigh.  A loud scream echoed through the kitchen as Tyler went down on one knee.  Michael was far from finished as freedom swept inside of him, dislodging fears of his childhood and fueling him with strength and courage.  Swiftly he pulled out the knife and this time aimed for the back of Tyler's heel.  Oh how he loved to hear the way the knife met the skin followed by the sweet sounds of blood and bone.  Falling to the floor, Tyler grasped at his foot, trying to stop the incessant bleeding.  Michael willed Tyler to turn the knife so it pointed towards him.  One final stab to the heart was all he needed.  This time he wanted to observe rather than just experience it.  Right at the moment of contact he jumped out and watched with sheer delight as Tyler's face displayed excruciating pain.  Michael felt glorious triumph but it was quickly interrupted by the sound of the front door closing, signaling someone else was in the house.  A woman strode in calling out to Tyler that she was back.  She walked into the kitchen and placed a bag of groceries on the counter.  Her eyes followed down to the floor and flung wide open as she watched Tyler struggling in a massive pool of blood drenching the vinyl floor.  A blood-curdling scream tore from her petite frame.  Standing over Tyler was his sweet yet fickle Eliza Dagby.  So many times he wanted to seek her out and confess his feelings for her.  Seeing her again made him feel things he didn't think he could feel anymore.  Not in his current form anyway, but still, he felt a slight stirring.  He wanted to run to her and let her cry all over him, bury her face into his shoulder and let her sob uncontrollably.  While he wasn't sorry for what he did to Tyler, he was sorry to leave Eliza alone and suffering such pain. 
He watched as Eliza prodded her husband.  Panic consumed her and she strode to the phone to call for an ambulance.  Michael watched, feeling torn.  It was then the black figure appeared, staring at him, faceless yet intimidating.  It spoke in the same eerie slow voice.  It explained Michael had almost completed all his tasks but had one remaining.  If he wanted to crossover he would need to kill Eliza for she was one of the three people that plagued his soul and his soul would remain lost if she lived.  He didn't know where his final destination was.  What if it were no better than where he was right now?  He feared the unknown more than he feared staying a shadow forever.  He knew it would be horribly lonely but was it worth the price of harming the woman he still continued to have feelings for?  He never truly hated her he just thought bad thoughts of her from time to time.  He tried to ask more questions but was answered with silence.  Confusion racked his brain as he looked over at Eliza.  He knew he could never be with her the way he wanted.  The figure let him know he had only a short amount of time before the portal to his crossover would be closed for good and Michael feared he would regret staying here.  It left him to make his final decision.  He knew it was selfish, but he had to make the choice that made the most sense.  She could have picked him long ago but instead she chose to marry Tyler. 
Slowly he allowed his body to meld with hers.  Her sweet scent warmed him and for a moment he was a part of her.  It felt wonderful.  This was the closest he would ever get to her but it felt right.  Michael needed to think up a way to kill her without causing a lot of pain.  Instead he wanted it to be gentle.  He directed her to the bathroom and she opened the medicine cabinet.  Inside there were several bottles of pills and he knew right then that would be the easiest way out.  He had her reach in, and remove three of the bottles.  She filled a glass with water and one by one ingested each pill.  Then she walked to the bedroom and lay upon the bed.  Michael removed himself from her and waited.  She lay there so still and lovely.  The black figure returned announcing it was time.  He blew her a kiss goodbye and placed his hand upon the ghostly form.  The figure turned into a spiraling tunnel and sucked Michael into it.  Darkness engulfed him and for a moment he became scared of the unknown he was about to face. 
After what seemed like days, Michael sat up, staring into the slate gray sky threatening rain.  He scrambled from the ground and rubbed his eyes, trying to assess where he was.  Damn, he was back in the alley, the place he despised with his very being.  Looking down he saw he was back in human form, dressed in baggy trousers and a shabby old coat.  He was alive!  Somehow he was reincarnated back to being a man.  His smile lasted for only a few short minutes as he looked around.  To each side of him was a snoring lump of disease and decay.  Michael couldn't believe that after everything he had been through, he was to return to the living as a homeless man, with nothing and no one, just like before.  He shook his head with despair.  Did he not deserve better?  A large man tapped him on the shoulder.  Michael turned but did not see a face, just a black hood covering a scruffy bearded form.  As he spoke, his words were slow and eerie.  He explained that deep inside, Michael had always wondered if he had the strength and courage to live on the streets, and now he was being given his chance.  Michael looked at him, stunned.  It seemed he had made his choices in the very beginning and would never have the opportunity to go back and start over.  From here on out, he would be wiser with what he wished for.
Copyright Nancy Jackson 2003

Nancy Jackson is an author with works in Anotherealm, Ultimate Hallucination, and various anthologies including Labor Pool and the upcoming Halloween anthology both by Cyber Pulp.

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