Chapter Two: There and Back Again
Away from the fear! Away from the metal barrel of the ugly gun! Away from the miasma of evil that curled from those hateful men in suits!
She sailed up from the building like fireworks, as though her arms were spread and she could ride on the wind, up, and up, and up. The city spread out beneath her, a netting of lights, a twinkling of what might have been lights, but moved about, a shadowy place that looked unreal, like a blurry watercolor painting. The clouds were more real, brilliantly spun of ice, pure and crystalline against the black of the sky.
Oh, the stars!
She could see them, and there was no smog or fog or smoke or dust to impair her perception as she drank in the sight of the Milky Way cascading like a river of light across the sky. She was drawn to it as a goose is drawn to the northern country in the spring, sailing through the space between stars to revel in the roaring harmonics of the light.
She danced in the echoing colors of nebulae, sang with the pulsing voices of basso red stars, raced a comet across a sky of red and ochre and purple gases. Through her joy, she breathed in a beauty and vibrant exultation that she never imagined could exist.
They killed me, but I'm still alive? I'm dead. This is what it feels like to be dead! She observed that she had no hands. Or feet. When she felt for her body, she encountered nothing. Was I ever alive? Did I just imagine being murdered?
No, she could remember the mess in her apartment, the sound of the heavy feet in the hallway, the fear she'd felt. And here I am, and all that fear was for nothing. Being dead is cool. I feel more like myself than I ever did.
Bathing in the loud rhythmic song of a sun, she pondered her thought. She was more herself than she ever had been. She felt happier, stronger, ready to leap in delight at any moment. Being alive had been like having stones sewn into one's pockets, weighed down, covered up, wading through knee-deep mud all the time by comparison. This is the real me, the real ... with a hint of consternation, she tried to remember what they had called her. Who was it that had called her by name? Her mother ... oh, yes, her mother had called her 'Candace.' Her father had called her 'Caesar,' but why? A bucket of memory poured over her. Her given name had been 'Candace Zoe Rodgers.' CZR. A twinkling that was laughter sparkled around her, as she remembered her father shouting, "Hail, Caesar!" when he got home from work.
Twelve years of public school, friends and enemies and teachers and relatives all calling her 'Candy,' a name she hated from the depths of her heart. College, when she introduced herself only as 'Rodgers.' Oh! Roj! That's me!
The awareness of who she was brought her, coalescing, back to the city from the far reaches of space. Had she never pursued the thought of the person she had been, it may have transpired that she would have forgotten that earthly existence, and wandered through the universe, a creature of simple joy and enjoyment. But she had rediscovered an identity, a name -- and with it the strands and anchors that names entangle around a life.
"Roj!" a voice said from somewhere. She heard it clearly, and saw his eyes light up and a smile light up his face. His. She had been away for two weeks, visiting her parents in North Dakota, and had just met him outside the precinct offices. He was illuminated by his love for her, she could see how much now, so much more than she had been able to see at the time.
Matt! Oh, Matt, how could I have left you -- The city of Modesto drew nearer to her, darker, less blurry. Roj stopped flying, and drifted to the dark streets. She walked, and felt the sidewalks under her feet. "I thought I didn't have feet," she said to herself. A little boy holding his mother's hand jerked his head in her direction and stared. Did he hear me? Roj pulled the sides of her mouth and stuck her tongue out at the boy. He dropped his mother's hand, put his thumbs in his ears, and showed her his tongue in return, waggling his fingers. His mother grabbed his shoulder, spun him back around, and reprimanded him for his ill behavior. He saw me. How is that possible?
What did he see? Something that looks like a sheet with holes for eyes? What did he hear? My words to myself, or just a "Wooooooo" of wind?
The stars were starting to look almost unbearably inviting again; Roj steeled herself and tried to focus on what it was she wanted to do. Foremost, she wanted to be with Matt, marry him and have his babies, but considering that she was dead, that was impractical. Find him and have a relationship with him, man and ghost? Hi, Matt, it's me, Roj, and I don't have a body, but I want you to have an exclusive non-physical relationship with me until the end of your mortal days, provided I don't get distracted by the songs in the stars and take off again. How selfish would that be?
A couple of young boys thumped their big athletic shoes towards her, picking at their crotches in habitual motions to keep their pants from falling around their ankles. Roj refused to give ground, and was surprised that as they passed, where one boy should have hit her, he had just gone by without disturbing either himself or her. He didn't perceive me at all.
She had been a clerical employee, not a cop, but she was capable of rudimentary investigation. A little boy saw and heard me, but this dumb ass kid didn't. I should check this out.
One fact was sure: she was dead, and so she should not fear bodily injury.
Then she stopped. What if her returning to Modesto meant she wasn't actually dead, but only in a coma or something? Had she had shoulders, they would have drooped in disappointment and annoyance. She looked at the street signs at the end of the block, and turned to the right, walking on the evening sidewalks toward Lincoln Boulevard, and the precinct office where she had been murdered, or merely shot.
Upstairs, Administration office hours were obviously over for the day according to the darkened windows, though the police desks downstairs were still busy -- police worked around the clock. Roj followed a plainclothes (wasn't his name Simeon?) in the door, and took the elevator to the second floor. It was only once she arrived there that she realized she'd been able to push the button and make it work. Her brow furrowed (and she could feel the wrinkles pushing each other on her forehead -- was she becoming more real?) as she left the elevator and turned to the lounge. Would she see Matt there, with her injured body?
The lounge was dark. Roj brushed her hand over the light switch, and the overhead fluorescents flickered on. Where she and Matt had been accosted, there was not even a sofa to be seen, only a couple of plastic chairs.
Have I gone back in time, to before when there was a sofa in here? She had a leap of hope -- could she prevent the murder and change what she thought had happened? She left the lounge and went down the hallway to the office in which she had worked.
The lights came on; she moved between the cubicles and aisles to her desk. Paperwork, check, stapler, check, pens ... that wasn't her pen holder. She looked at the business cards in the holder. 'Helen Wingam.' Who the hell was Helen Wingam? This was her desk!
She moved around the room. There was rude Ayers' desk, there was Georgia's desk, there was Mack's. There was Danny's desk, there was -- wait, that wasn't Danny's hi-tech gloss black desk crap, it was a picture mug and a Precious Moments Post Notes holder. "Nora Larsen" said the triangular paperweight at the front of the desk.
Puzzled, she returned to the lounge, eyeing the chairs, trying to sort it all out. Danny had worked here for about three years. The sofa had appeared two years before that, Ayers had told her, so that Old Doris Waughkegan could lie down and put her feet up on breaks. Roj's predecessor at her desk had been ... Frenzy ... yes, Frantic Frances, they'd called her. So she wasn't back in time. Maybe.
Roj heard something, or felt something, or saw something out of the corner of her eye. It was on the wall, tiny, tiny, a pinpoint calling her attention. She approached.
It was on the wall, not in back of the sofa where she had sat with Matt, but on the far wall, past where they had sat. She looked at it closely, and saw it glittering with familiarity. It had nothing of life in it, but it still drew her, and she thought she knew it from some time.
Reaching out to touch it, she wondered about its origin, and why it seemed so familiar. Her hand stopped, and she drew back. She knew what it was, and how it had appeared there. Should she touch it, she would re-live that instant of shock and fear and sound. It was a piece of her, of her head, that had been missed by forensics' clean up.
If I was scattered that far by the gunshot, I must be dead. But I'd better make sure. Leaving the lights on for spite, she took the stairwell to the third floor, and Personnel.
The door was locked, but when she hauled on the handle, she just slid through into the offices. She turned and looked at the door, saw its deadbolt engaged, and felt a ripple of humor. She passed by desks and ignored the computers; these people on this floor were like flies walking through molasses when it came to entering information on the database. Most of them were dinosaurs from before the computer age, holding onto their jobs by sheer inertia and constantly skating the edge of Fire Me, I Don't Want To Do My Job. Roj went straight to the main paper files and pulled open the drawer of 'RA' to 'RU.' Rodgers. Rodgers. Rodgers, Candace Z.
Deceased, October 14, 2009.
Yes, I'm dead.
Well, I knew that. What about Danny Chuster? She slammed shut the file drawer and found the one that was labeled 'CE' to 'CR.' Chuster, Daniel L. Terminated October 20, NCNS. No Call, No Show. Wow, had he fled the country as he'd advised her to do? 414 Knowles Street, Apartment C. Roj left the file open and went through the office door, again without disturbing the lock, grinning at the little mysteries she'd been able to leave behind.