Everyone fears Paul now. Adam, his former bully sits with him at lunch, Adam offers him food from his plate. Adam walks him to his classes so no one else messes with him. Anything he wants, he could ask for it. Adam would likely get it for him. But he would likely beat the crap out of someone to get it. Paul doesn’t ask for much. Girls talk to him now, they kinda make him nervous and he’s not sure what to say. Adam even encourages it. Despite the fact that he’s what most people would call scrawny, Paul thought of himself that way. But he’s been writing stuff down to say. To look cool. You could tell when girls don’t like what you’re saying. You could see it in their face. Paul needed practice. Maybe he’d ask Max how he got Women? Or maybe that was a bad idea. He felt like things were moving in the right direction for once. He was on top of the world, as much as a twelve-year-old could be. It was a happy accident really.
“STOP FOLLOWING ME!!!.” Paul yelled. It was the middle of the night. There was an older man halfway down the street. He was shrouded in darkness. Paul was yelling because he was scared out of his mind. Maybe it would get someone’s attention and they would call the police. The Man continued to follow. “FUCK OFF. I HAVE A CELL PHONE.” No one looked out of the windows. Paul turned and ran. BAM, he ran into the man who was just behind him. Paul landed on his ass. What the Fuck?
“Are you Okay, Kid?” The Man said. He had a sort of Oval face, he had a thick cockney accent. The Man held out his hand. But this guy just teleported. Paul got up on his own.
“What do you want?” Paul asked afraid.
“I don’t want anything.” The Man said.
“How did you get in front of me?” Paul asked.
“It’s simple really.” He said. “I’m dead.”
“Fuck off old man,” Paul said.
“You don’t believe me then?” He said. “Go just over there, find a small rock and throw it at me.” The Man said.
“Your serious?” Paul said.
The Man remained silent and The Man had the sort of face you could never imagine smiling. Paul obeyed. He went just to the side of the path and found a stone. About half the size of Paul’s fist. Paul walked back to the man. He threw the stone at his chest. It went straight through him. Paul took two steps back.
“I’m just as surprised that you can see me. Mostly people can see the stuff I do, but not me. I follow people around for months, often they have no idea I’m there. You got other people, every five minutes or so they will check their surroundings sensing something. But you thought I was alive. Max is my name.” He offered his hand again.
Paul shook his hand, it felt cold.
They sat down on a park bench.
“How old are you kid?” He asked
“What the fuck you doing walking round after dark?” He said.
“I don’t like being stuck at home alone,” Paul said
“Where are your parents?” He asked.
“They work a lot. They don’t have any interest in me.” Paul said.
“Are you sure about that Kid?”
“Yes,” Paul said.
“Well, what about school? You must get good grades and you must have lots of friends?”
Paul began to cry. Max put a hand on his shoulder.
“Ah fuck Kid, I’m sorry. What’s going on?”
“This kid Adam, he beats me up every day, like twice a day.”
This was weird. Max thought this was pretty pathetic. He could empathize, but not with Paul, but with Adam. Max had been a bully when he was a kid. He delighted in making people feel weak and powerless. He had never really gotten over it. But now he was dead, no one saw him, he spent every moment of his death alone, unheard, unseen, weak, and powerless. He could see for the first time how ugly those feelings were. How much they hurt. Max could feel what he had done, to all of them over the years. He felt a deep embarrassment and shame.
“If you want. I’ll make them stop.” Max said suddenly.
“How?” Paul wiped his tears away.
“Leave that to me, ok.” Max put his hand on his shoulder.
“Max, you are a really nice guy, how did you die?” Paul asked.
“Well, I eh, died in my sleep,” Max said.
“That’s not so bad,” Paul said.
Max stood up suddenly. He looked anxious. It had been five years since he had spoken to anyone. It had made him feel more than a little bit crazy. But now he finally had the chance to talk with someone and he had lied. This moment for him was sacred.
“What’s wrong, Max?” Paul asked.
Now it was Max’s turn to burst into tears.
“My wife cut off my head while I was sleeping in bed.”
Paul stood up.
“Why did she do that?” Paul asked.
“Because I beat her, all the time, I had come home that night drunk. She went to take off my shoes. I intentionally kicked her in the face. I broke her nose. I laughed as she ran from the room. She’d had enough. She waited till I passed out. She cut off my head while I was sleeping. I only started to care about other people now that I’m dead.” Max said
Max was trying to calm himself down. But he was confident Paul would run away. All the Boy had to do was ignore him. Max knew he wouldn’t stay. He didn’t want to haunt the Boy, to hurt or scare him. Fuck he had enough of that already.
Max sat down.
“I’m sorry,” Max said.
“You are a Ghost, you are proof the afterlife exists. Is there more?” Paul said.
“Yes,” Max said.
“Why don’t you go on?” Paul said.
“I’m afraid I’d go to hell,” Max said.
Paul looked at the ghost, maybe seeing him for the first time. Paul sat down next to him. Max was surprised.
“I thought you’d run away,” Max said
“Nobody’s perfect, plus I have no friends,” Paul said.
Max laughed. Then so did Paul.
Adam was also twelve but large for his age. His hair was dark and curly, he was a little chubby but possessed a natural strength. He sat on the edge of his twin bed, wolfing down a bowl of apple jacks. He finished the cereal. He tipped up the bowl and drank the milk. He spilled some on his chin and onto his shirt. But he didn’t give a fuck. He placed the bowl on his nightstand and laid down in bed. It wasn’t long before he fell asleep. When he woke, he wasn’t in his bed and it wasn’t morning. His arms were above his head, they swayed. Adam woke, realizing it wasn’t a dream. He began screaming. A shrill cry. He couldn’t comprehend what was happening. He was hanging by what? He felt a tight cold grip around his left ankle. But it was attached to nothing. He was hanging just out of his bedroom window. Adam screamed again. Reaching for the window. Something moved him further away from the window. He pissed himself, the urine slid down his body up his chin and into his mouth.
“Adam!” Max said. Adam was screaming so he didn’t immediately hear him. “Adam!”
He stopped moving.
“Yes?” He said.
“There is a Boy in your school who you bully. I want you to stop.” The voice from nowhere said.
“What Boy?” Adam said.
“Paul, from now on you will be nice to him, he’s your best friend. Ok.” Max said.
“Yes, Sir. I promise.” Adam said.
“What do you promise Adam?” Max said. Adam was confused for a half-second.
“I promise I will no longer bully Paul. He is my best friend now.” Adam said.
“You have no idea how important friends are, Adam. If you beat up Paul or even upset him, I promise you I will be back, and Adam-“
“Yes?” Adam whimpered.
“I don’t know what I’ll do,” Max said.
“Don’t kill me please, I won’t bully anyone,” Adam said.
The unseen force pulled Adam into the window slowly and carefully. Max tossed the Boy in his bed. Adam looked around shocked.
“What the fuck?” He said.
“How did your day turn out Kid?” Max said. Paul was in the kitchen eating by himself.
“It was great Max,” Paul said. He crossed the room. He hugged Max’s legs. Max hugged him back. Max ran his hand through Paul’s hair. Max had never had children.
“I’m glad,” Max said.