Jackie Marbles

Submitted into Contest #65 in response to: Write about someone’s first Halloween as a ghost.... view prompt

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Funny Fiction Holiday

“Excuse me, how long can I expect this to take?”

“You in a rush?”

Was he? Didn’t he have somewhere to be? For the life of him, Jackie couldn’t remember. Let’s see, he had been sitting right there, in that avocado-green plastic chair next to the old guy. Well, old was a relative term. After all, Jackie himself was old. Not old old, but old enough. Old enough to have survived a ridiculously melodramatic marriage and old enough to have a grown daughter, and old enough to have survived the Big C. He did survive, right? 

“Have a seat, please,” said the lady behind the counter. She was as wide as she was tall and officious in both tone and bearing. Her pink cat’s-eye glasses did nothing to offset her domineering presence. Her breath smelled of roadkill. Clearly, she was not human, but Jackie couldn’t quite pinpoint the appropriate classification for her in the world of imaginary creatures. 

Jackie stared at the thin shadow of a number in his fingertips: 2,345,388. The row of avocado chairs and their occupants seemed to extend into eternity.

Suddenly, Jackie realized that the others in the waiting room were staring at him, and this was both a source of great satisfaction and his cue.

“So, I’m dead,” he said. “How about that?”

No one said anything.

Jackie spread his arms wide and smiled. He wasn’t sure what he looked like exactly, but hopefully not as fuzzy and downcast as these other poor saps. 

He continued. “You know, deceased. Gonzo, kaput, pushing up daisies.”

Tough crowd.

A grey apparition sitting just to the left of Jackie’s currently unoccupied seat gave a little cough. Ah, a customer.

“Hey, number 2,345,389,” said Jackie. “Yeah, you. You look a little young to be here. Which farm belongs to you?”

“Farm?”

“Yeah, you know, the one you bought,” said Jackie. But his laughter was all his own, and a little shaky at that. 

“Hoo, boy,” he said. “Sorry, I’m a little rusty, folks. But that won’t be an issue anymore now that I’m oxygen-deprived!”

Number 2,345,387 groaned. “Oh, my god, he thinks he’s a comedian.” 

“Aw, boo hoo!” said Jackie, rubbing his nonexistent eyes with his wispy hands. “Cry me a river, pal.”

“Ed.”

“Okay, Ed, good to know,” Jackie said as he bent over and made a show of looking for something under the seats.

Twins just a few seats down stared in interest, as did a gangly Ethiopian just past them. 

“What’re you looking for, mate?” asked one of the twins. 

“An Aussie! Welcome to the afterlife, mate!” Jackie knew his accent was atrocious, but that’s part of the fun, right? If he had been the reflective type, he might have wondered how he knew where these folks were from. Ed, for instance, was from Prescott, Arizona. The kid? California. How did he know this? Who cares? He had an audience. 

“If you must know, I’m looking for a bucket for Ed here to cry into.” He straightened up. “Oh, well, it’s gone, Ed. I guess you must have kicked it!” He exploded into laughter, then hit them with his signature shout, “Boomshakalaka!” 

Jackie laughed so hard at himself he began to choke. The others looked at each other in a mixture of amazement and horror. 

Another apparition poofed into the seat just behind his in line. Number 2,345,389. Its form slowly evolved from a steamy sphere into what looked like a teen boy. The ghost was pockmarked, ragged, and utterly disconsolate. Jackie found the kid’s appearance profoundly disturbing. He needed a distraction, fast.

“So, Ed, what’s to keep us from just floating away?” he asked.

“Beats me.”

“And it’s Halloween, right? I’ve got some work to do! I told my ex I was going to haunt her from the grave. And that guy at Ray’s Autos that screwed me over with that piece of garbage Mitsubishi Mirage. He’s in for a huge shock. Boo-baby! Am I right!”

“It doesn’t work like that,” said a kindly old Tibetan woman sitting between the twins and the Ethiopian.

Jackie ignored her as he returned to Marge’s counter and then, after getting the heebie-jeebies from her scowl and clucking teeth, raced back to his seat. 

He marveled at something he hadn’t’ been in a long time -- fast. “Man, oh man, I haven’t been able to move like this since, well, I don’t remember! And look at my gut -- all gone! I guess I’m just a shadow of my former self!” 

Feeling a little bolder, Jackie faced the newcomer. “Hey, kid, welcome to the afterlife. What are you in for? Give you one guess what got me. Rhymes with schmancer.”

“Maybe you should just drop it,” said the Tibetan.

“Nah, screw it, I don’t care. It’s all right,” said the kid. “I was sick, too. Sick and tired of everything, you know, all of it.”

Jackie felt suddenly unsettled. “You mean?” He drew a finger across his throat.

“Oh, for god’s sake,” said Ed.

“Un-uh,” said Marge. “that kind of talk is strictly forbidden by Code 7734.” 

Jackie sat next to the kid. “Did you really do it?”

“Yeah, I drove my dad’s Jeep off a cliff, down a ravine, and into a lake.”

“Wow.”

“Yeah, he was real broken up about the Jeep. Just about killed him.”

“Definitely killed you. Wait,” said Jackie, “how did you know how your dad felt?”

“Oh, I was just basing that off his reaction at the funeral.”

Hey, now. “You mean we can go to our own funeral?” asked Jackie.

“Here we go,” said Ed.

“Yeah, that’s what took me so long to get here” said the kid, “but it’s not a good idea.” 

Marge spoke up. “Don’t get any ideas, Mr. Marbles. It never turns out well.”

Jackie had heard enough. “Which way do I go?”

“I’m sorry,” said Marge, “I can’t be a party to this.”

“Up and about,” said Ed. “You’ll figure it out.”

“And they just let you leave?” asked Jackie.

“Define they,” said the old woman.

Jackie ignored her. There was no way he was going to miss his own funeral. “How do I do it?”

“I just pretend I’m an otter and just splash my feet back and forth, like this,” said the kid. He put his feet together and swung them rapidly in place until he began to lift off the ground. “Then, you just kind of go with the flow.”

Jackie imitated the kid’s motions. It had been a long time since he could move his legs so fluidly, so gracefully. Slowly he rose until he felt a blast of air currents buffeting him from all directions. “How do I know which stream to take?” he asked.

Everyone below him shrugged. He heard Marge call out to someone, “We’ve got a flier.” It occurred to Jackie that maybe this sort of thing was frowned upon, and he imagined shadowy goons in hooded robes chasing him. If he was going to his own funeral, he better get going.

He closed his eyes and let the airstreams guide him. He noticed each stream had a vibe of its own: warm, prickly, icy, hip hop, red, wet dog. He chose cream soda and let it absorb him into its flow.

Soon he was soaring across the sky. Forests, hills, rivers, cities rolled beneath him. In his former body, he almost certainly would have been sick, but now the sensation was exhilarating. He could get used to being dead.

It was too early in the morning for a funeral, so he would make a few stops on the way. When he recognized the refineries dotting the Port of Houston, he wriggled his way up the Ship Channel and into Ray’s Auto. And like a miracle, there was Ray himself, one foot on a stack of tires, smoking one of the nasty cigarillos he loved so much. Maybe that should have been a clue when he was buying a car, thought Jackie. 

Seeing an opening behind Ray, Jackie could barely contain his glee. “Oh, man, I gotta go for the classic.”

He sneaked up behind the grizzled old man and waited, savoring the moment. The jerk had smooth-talked him into a used lemon of a car, and then, when Jackie tried to get his money back, he had the gall to grunt “Caveat Emptor.”

This had been a long time coming. In his new, oxygen-less form, Jackie knew that he no longer needed to raise his shoulders and puff out his chest to grab lungs full of air, but old habits die hard, and it felt more comfortable this way. He shouted, “Boo!” Ray took another puff, unmoved.

Jackie cursed. He probably should have taken some lessons in spooking. He tried again a few more times, but his haunting abilities were anemic. 

How about some telekinesis? Jackie directed his attention at a rack of tools. If he could get that lug nut wrench to sail across the room and smack that mook right in the groin, that would be high-class comedy, right there. 

He concentrated his focus, but nothing happened. He tried flopping and flipping and waving his fingers. Nothing. The euphoria of flight gave way to annoyance and frustration. He scowled, or at least it felt like a scowl. For the first time since waking in the afterlife, Jackie was pissed.

The lug nut wrench moved, ever so slightly. 

And Ray said, “What the hell?”

“Boomshakalaka!” Jackie shouted. “Take that, scumbag!” It was not the win he had hoped for, but it was enough for now.

***


It had been years since he had last seen Maureen. After twenty years of marriage, she had kicked him out of the house, and even Jackie had to admit she was probably right to do it. He had always been wired a little differently. He liked sales. He liked long days of work ending with long, happy hours. And he had no idea how to be a husband or a father.

He rarely heard from her after the divorce. She had a new man in her life, Paul, who struck Jackie as humorless and a bit bland. He missed her terribly, something he could never admit before. He knew now that he had to see her again. With any luck, he could at least get her to feel his presence.

He flew like a shot to her home, and as expected, she was sitting on the back patio with Paul, drinking her morning tea. Orange Pekoe, as he remembered it. Maybe. Whatever, this was going to be beautiful.

Jackie swooped down to the patio, twirled twice around Maureen, and then posted himself in front of her face. “Boomshakalaka!”

Maureen was unfazed.

“Oh, come on, Maureen! It’s me, Jackie!”

Maureen waved her hand distractedly as if a fly had circled her head.

“Sure you don’t want to go?” asked Paul.

“No need. I made my peace with that man years ago. Kristi’s going up to the church to represent the family, and that’s enough.”

Of course! The service would be at the Methodist church, the recipient of far too much of his hard-earned money. Well, now they could repay him with a decent tribute to his life. Not a huge send-off, but big enough to let the world know that this man, this Jackie Marbles, had passed its way.

“You know what I would like?” Maureen said. “A moment. Right now, Paul. Let’s just bow our hands and give the card a moment of silence.”

Paul dutifully followed her lead, and the two of them closed their eyes and lowered their heads in silence. Jackie was moved beyond words. She still cared for him. How had he missed it?

“Thank you, dear, for holding your tongue,” said Maureen, opening her eyes. “He was truly an ass.” 

Jackie reeled. The nerve, the gall, to speak evil of the dead! He screamed in fury, and the teacups wobbled lightly on their saucers.

“He must have heard you,” said Paul with a laugh.

Maureen laughed, too. “Get out of here, Jackie, you old buffoon!”

Jackie wanted to stay and scream and haunt the couple, but some strange law that he couldn’t understand gusted him away. A few blocks away from their old home, he was able to steer himself once again, and he found his way to the church, but there was no satisfaction there, either.

A preacher stood at the pulpit reciting banal bromides, and there was a casket, sure, but where was everybody? Jackie counted only eight people there, including the preacher, the organist, the funeral director, and her two assistants. That just left one young woman, his daughter, Kristi, being consoled by two friends.

“Must be the pre-show,” Jackie said. 

He heard one of the friends whisper, “It’s okay, Kristi. Just think, now you can get married and change your name.”

Kristi looked at her friend in shock. “Why would I change my name?” she said.

“Attagirl,” said Jackie.

“Someone has to keep Marbles. I mean, Dad lost all of his a long time ago. Boomshakalaka, am I right?” she whispered. The women sniggered loudly, much to the annoyance of the preacher. 

Jackie hovered, stunned. And alone.


***


Jackie roamed the world, disconsolate. He attempted a few more scares and half-hearted telekinetic tricks along the way, but he was too raw, too unpolished. And adrift.

At first, he gravitated toward warmer climates, hoping to find some kind of warmth. In Rio de Janeiro, he lay on the beach and gawked at the sun worshippers basking in rays of light he could only faintly perceive. He watched as beautiful bodies all shades of bronze and brown and black played and fussed with lotion and kissed on the sand. He homed in on the smallest snippet of laughter, hoping to find a willing audience, but heard no jokes. Instead, the young laughed in delight, guzzling in the joy of being alive.

In Marrakesh, he eavesdropped on a couple discussing how to care for their only child, just diagnosed with cystic fibrosis. In Riyadh, he spent a week following a beloved waiter effortlessly balancing the demands of the pickiest eaters and the bellicose chef. A family in Chennai caught his attention as the father worked extra hours to earn money for school supplies. 

Jackie expanded his travels. Time to see the world. Before, his meager pay in bodily life never allowed him this freedom. Now, he could see the Mona Lisa in the Louvre, the Taj Mahal, The Sydney Opera House, the Great Wall, Mount Fuji. The sights filled him with wonder, but even more thrilling were the million little kindnesses stacking up on each other everywhere he went.

This warmth, this affection, was utterly baffling to Jackie. A whole lifetime on Earth and he had never noticed this? In every Kiwanis, Rotary, and Lions Club meeting, he had finished his set with “Bring it in, bring it in. All right, boys, and hey, let’s bring in the girls, too, hear me out.” He would then sing “Let There Be Peace On Earth” just to show no hard feelings, right? But it wasn’t a mantra or anything. Just a way to wrap things up. He didn’t believe for an instant that it could be a real thing.

His year of wandering the Earth battered Jackie’s psyche until he could take no more. He returned to the avocado chairs in the waiting area. The gang was still there, although the kid looked worse for wear as if a year of contemplating his decisions had weighed him down deeper and deeper into his chair. If tears were a thing in this world, the kid would be stained with them. 

Jackie was so sorrowful that he hadn’t noticed the new apparition next to him, a man who smelled of youth and Wisconsin. The newbie’s eyes opened. He looked around him, wild-eyed and confused.

“Where’s my car?” he asked.

The absurdity made Jackie chuckle. What a maroon. 

“Wait your turn,” said Marge. 

“How long will that take?”

“You in a rush?” 

Jackie felt his own ghostly shape pulse with energy. He sensed an opportunity to try something familiar and comfortable, but in a novel way.

“Hey, kid,” said Jackie.

The Wisconsinite spun around, startled by the noise.

“What?” said the kid. 

“While I was away, I saw a zoo that only had one animal.”

The kid said, “So?”

“Just one little dog in the whole place,” said Jackie.

“Whatever, man,” said the kid. 

“Yeah, sorry, you’re probably right,” Jackie said with kindness. “Anyway, it was a Shih Tzu.”

Give it a moment.

Then Jackie heard something: a snort.

Jackie looked at Ed, who just rolled his eyes. The old woman shook her head.

Another snort.

“Kid?”

The kid was tight-lipped, shaking his head, desperate to hold it all in. But it was no good. He let out an explosive burst.

Jackie joined in the laughter, which spread like a virus. Ed began to chuckle, then the old woman, then the gangly Ethiopian, then the Aussie twins, then the whole room. Even Marge leaned back in her chair and grinned.

The new guy from Wisconsin gave a half-smile, then joined in.  

 “Oh, yeah, I got a million of those, kid,” said Jackie. “This next bit of eternity is gonna go by in a snap. We’ll be fine. Hey, did you hear about the mathematician that was scared of negative numbers?”

“Stop, stop!” said the kid, still laughing. Jackie thought he had never seen anything so beautiful as this lonesome boy, laughing, laughing, laughing. He felt like he had just walked past a sunlit window.

“Welcome back, Mr. Marbles,” said Marge, still chuckling. “Welcome back.”

Jackie leaned back in his avocado chair, closed his eyes, and smiled. 

“Boomshakalaka.” 

October 31, 2020 01:27

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2 comments

Elle Clark
14:42 Nov 01, 2020

I really enjoyed this! It was filled with heart whilst also being a cautionary tale. I also learned the word bellicose, so thank you for that. I do love learning new pieces of vocabulary. I really like the twist on ghosts haunting. Being able to see the world and experience a multitude of small kindnesses around it is something I've never seen in a ghost story before and it spoke to me. Fantastic writing - well done!

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Steve Stigler
15:29 Nov 01, 2020

I'm glad you enjoyed it - thank you for taking the time to read it and for your kind comments!

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