Word count: 1438
Summary: Rest in peace. You say that when someone dies and you think it’s what happens. I’m here to tell you, no such luck. Thanks for the beta, Sparky!
Rest in peace. You say that when someone dies and you think it’s what happens. I’m here to tell you, no such luck. I don’t remember much about dying and they tell me that’s pretty typical. Most of us have a vague memory of something happening, but we don’t pursue it. I mean, to what end? We’re dead. Knowing how we died really doesn’t impact that, although it does sort of come into play with the type of assignment you’ve given.
Yeah, that’s another thing. Peace, there’s no peace here. You’d think that once you shuffled off your mortal coil, it would be all daffodils and fuzzy puppy tummies… wrong! For whatever reason, very few of us are given the option of just hanging out and watching time go by. Our passing has to mean something to someone or tie us to something.
That might mean that you end up haunting the house if that was your paradise on Earth. I’ve talked with some of those spirits and they’re a pretty unhappy lot. Think about it, though. They had a home, fixed it just the way they liked it and then *boom* they are gone and someone else moves in someone with new ideas and tastes. Good for them, but not so much for the nearly departed. They are stuck. No wonder some spirits wail and moan. I don’t blame them.
I’m a roadie. Not the kind that follows bands, although that would be a hoot in itself. I died in a car accident or at least that’s what I was told. It’s a bad stretch of road, narrow and winding. There’s a fifty foot drop off just beyond the negligible excuse for a shoulder. Lots of folks died there, just like me, but for some reason, I’m stuck here – a warning to anyone speeding around this particular curve. Hence, the name.
There are worse assignments, believe me – loonies, deadheads, swingers – not the happiest of haunts, believe you me. I hate that I’m stuck here, but I know there are some fates far worse.
For the most part, it’s not a bad gig. In the winter, I can save lives by simply appearing for a split second in the swirling snow or fog. Folks slow down or even stop, thinking I’m a stranded motorist. Even if they come to the realization that I’m a ghost, they still aren’t speeding when they hit that ‘S’ curve. And I don’t appear to everyone, just the ones going a hair too fast. In the summer, it’s keeping teenagers from sailing over the edge after a few too many.
That’s why his appearance was a mystery. This high up the mountain, there aren’t any pedestrians. Sure, another thousand feet up and ten miles further, there was a camp ground, but not here. Here there was nothing but low scrub, wind-twisted trees and bad memories. We never get pedestrians here.
Then there was his clothes. This is mountain country. Folks come here to hike, camp, get back to nature, commune with the Great Outdoors, whatever you want to call it. They tend towards denim, flannel, and hiking boots. He was wearing a tux, the front ruffled in a slightly ostentatious way and he was wearing some sort of short black cape. Think Dracula’s cape meets dryer.
And there was something else. There was something wrong. He wasn’t one of us, i.e. dead, but he wasn’t one of them either. It was almost like he was a copy of a copy, almost there, but blurred around the edges.
“Who are you?”
I was startled. Most people either run or are struck speechless by my appearance. None of them attempt to strike up conversation. His accent was English and I guessed that explained his outfit… some. “You see me?”
He rolled his eyes and nodded impatiently. “Hence, my question.”
“No idea.” It wasn’t a lie. There was a lot of stuff I didn’t know. They’d told me that things would become clearer after a while. They lied.
“Are you Preston Little?”
“Again, no idea. I just do what they tell me. Who the hell are you?”
“I am Steel.”
Huge red flag went up. We don’t remember our names, not usually. I’m the Killer Curve Ghost. That’s what people called me and that’s enough for me. “You don’t belong here.”
He glared at me, then snapped, “I’m doing the best I can.” I walked through a shrub to get closer and that seemed to bother him. “I was talking with my partner,” he offered as an explanation, which really wasn’t one.
I reached out. My hand should have passed through him, but it didn’t. For the first time in ages, I felt something solid. I was suddenly giddy and weak feeling, memories started to flood back to me so fast that they pushed everything else out of my head.
I didn’t remember falling, but I must. I was lying on the ground and it was hard and lumpy and wonderful. Reaching up, I touched my face and felt tears. Crying?
“What are you?” I asked, surprised at how shaky my voice was. Then I realized that there was a second person, a woman, no, a lady. She was dressed in a lovely blue ball gown with sparkling beads sewn into it. She was as out of place here as he was, yet both were seemingly comfortable in their heavy attire.
“You are Preston Little,” she said and I felt compelled to nod as I tried to stand. Steel offered an arm and I used it. For a little guy, he was really solid.
“I guess so.” The wind blew hot against my skin and I held my hand up shade my eyes from the sun from. I thought it had been night before.
“You have met my partner, Steel. I am Sapphire.” The guy joined her and shook his head.
“We used to mean something and now they are sending us on retrieval missions.” His anger rolled off his in waves, but she just smiled.
“We are there to fulfill whatever task is asked of us. Surely, saving an innocent life isn’t a wasting of time.” She smiled at me. “You were a mistake, Preston Little. Time tricked you, but no more. What was wrong has been righted.”
I heard the sound of an oncoming car. Even without seeing it, I knew it was going too fast. It would never negotiate the curve going that speed.
“Your replacement. She’s on her way to join her friends at the campground. She’s excited and anxious, but she doesn’t know they are holding a surprise birthday for her. Everyone will be there.”
“She won’t get there driving like that.” I was panicked as I heard the car shift into fourth gear.
“Exactly. She will never arrive. She will take your place as the guardian of this spot.”
Without even thinking, I stepped into the road right into her oncoming car. It braked, swerved, and fishtailed, but it didn’t crash.
“See? That’s how you do…” I was alone on the road. “Guys?” The woman was staggering from the car and over to where I was standing.
“Are you okay?” She was shaking and crying.
“I think so. You?”
“What possessed you to do that?”
“You would be dead if I hadn’t.” I looked over at her vehicle. “Is your car okay?”
“I think so. Who are you?”
“Aw, Preston Little. My friends call me Press.” I held out my hand and smiled. “Who are you?”
A short distance away, two figures watched as Time unfolded as it should.
“I told you.” Sapphire smiled as the two started walking away. “You can count on people to do the right thing. Now they will marry and their grandchild will go on to accomplish great things, perhaps even to save the world from itself if people will listen.”
Steel sighed and brushed his hair from his face. “And if she hadn’t swerved in time and he was killed?”
“I believe that is what golfers call a Mulligan. A do-over.”
“Not me. Let them give these assignments to someone else.” Steel took a few steps away and looked back over his shoulder at her. “Are you coming?”
Sapphire nodded absentmindedly as the couple climbed into her car and drove away. In the distance, she could hear another car approaching, its motor racing. It would never make the curve. She smiled sadly and joined him. “Now Time will move as it should.”
At the sound of brakes squealing and the scream of metal against earth, like ghosts, they vanished from view.