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There's No One New Around You
written by: Kalam Babu
“Something weird is happening... are you asleep?”
Rabka snapped his eyes open at the sound and got up from where he had been floating mid-air. He rubbed his eyes to clear his head, and then ran his fingers through his thick hair.
“I know we don’t need it but I had nothing interesting going on. What is happening?” he asked looking at the ghost in front of him.
Areihk was so upset that the edges of her form had started to fray a bit. She was wringing her hands, unconscious of her actions; that made him focus more. When she was upset it mattered.
"I can't explain it, come on, you have to see," she said. Grabbing his hand, she took him out of the closet he'd been asleep in, through the wall and out of the building.
Rabka didn't complain, as he was used to being lugged around by Areihk. He carried the burden of being one of the few ghosts that was a medium when they were alive. It was the professional hazard of being considered an expert when there was a problem.
He strode after her, their feet floating a few inches off the ground. He'd usually duck around people, he didn't like passing through them. But Areihk never had that problem and it was a bit hard to do when she dragged him ahead so he didn't bother. Most people couldn't see him anyway, while the ones that did gravitated more towards the new ghosts. One could usually be found cowering in a corner every few feet or so, not being able to get their bearings.
That was when Rabka realized what was different today. The wailing and shuddering that was usually a constant of life, and death, was conspicuously missing.
No new ghosts around—that is an eerie thing, considering how many people die daily. In fact, there were fewer ghosts around overall. Usually when he walked down the street he could see ghosts floating high in the sky, talking to each other and arguing in a futile attempt to pass the time; some ghosts that moved random things around, either trying to communicate with people who couldn’t see them, or scare strangers that couldn't see them, since an object randomly moving of its own volition would frighten you even if you knew why it was moving. But now there were only a few of them around, and they looked just as confused at the lack of crowds as Rabka felt.
“Did they finally find a way to corral us? Is that where you’re dragging me to?” Rabka asked, but Areihk did not pay any attention, which meant she had seen it before, so it didn’t take a genius to assume this was why he was being dragged almost savagely on her part.
“That’s just it,” Areihk said as she pushed him through the wall and they landed in the hospital.
Rabka hated the hospital; it was one of the most haunted places in town. Filled with people too drugged or scared in their last moments to be sane now, a mixture of different voices so disharmonious that Rabka never could separate the scared new ones from the old crazy ones and the regulars. He didn’t know how the nurses handled it. Maybe it was different when you couldn’t see or hear them directly.
Except now, there was nothing to handle. Humans went about their day as they do every day, content that their loved ones were still around, and it was probably one of the rare quiet days in the life of people who were constantly haunted. But for Rabka, the hospital might as well have been deserted.
There were no ghosts around. Well, except for one.
An older man in expensive clothes, Lamradot, who Rabka knew, hung around the hospital to be around his still living wife, stood next to another human, a medium who could hear them. It was Zivrap, Rabka’s grandnephew.
If Rabka ever missed being able to see himself in the mirror he could just look at Zivrap and be content, he looked so much like him.
“Just follow me from the apartment to the office. We can figure everything around from there,” Zivrap’s tone was tired like he had said that about a hundred times today and it had been ignored just like it was now. Lamradot was too panicked to register anything.
“Oh, you have to help, I can’t reach anyone and something’s following me,” the words tumbled out of Lamradot’s mouth with such a speed that it was a wonder Rabka caught all of that.
Lamradot’s form was fraying so much that Rabka wondered if he was even corporeal or just a weird wisp. Lamradot looked over his shoulder as if he was being chased, but he was too scared for it to be a simple game.
“Calm down and explain what is going on," Rabka said in an assuring voice, drawing all attention on him. “If you can’t reach someone new they probably don’t know how to communicate yet. Not every dead person is able to communicate in their new form, it can take a while.”
Zivrap sighed in relief. “You don’t understand, I can’t reach anyone...”
It took a while for Rabka to realize Lamradot was hyperventilating. Rabka reached, intending to grab Lamradot by the shoulders and shake some sense into him when his fingers went right through Lamradot’s shoulder.
“What the hell?” Rabka took a step back. Even when someone was not corporeal they were still there, tangible by their own kind. They needed concentration to touch anything else.
Lamradot shuddered violently, like he was having a seizure and collapsed, huddling into a fetal position. “Cold,” his jaw shook. “Cold, so cold.” His form faded away bit by bit, as if something ate at him.
Rabka had never seen anything like it, and there was a weird pit in his stomach as he patted the floor and his hand went through it.
“He’s… gone,” Zivrap simply stared at the floor, seemingly afraid to move. He was only in his mid-twenties, but he had never looked more like a child than right now.
“I've never seen that happen," Rabka admitted.
No one really had time to answer before a scream pierced the silence.
“Another one!” Areihk came back, or at least her head did, through the opposite wall. Her hair fell over her shoulders, as if gravity could affect it, and the fading had gotten even worse.
Rabka hadn't realized she’d left. “Come on,” he said and took the few steps he needed to pass through the wall, while Zivrap followed the long way around.
She was so old she could barely move, and it would have been a relief to see her pop up next to their bed, able to walk and talk with ease again. But that didn’t happen. Instead, she kept screaming, her eyes growing wide as her hand tried to grab onto the air around them. And then the voice was cut off and there was nothing.
“Sometimes it takes a while if they don't know how to talk," Rabka said, even though he didn't really believe it.
If someone died screaming they usually keep screaming till someone can reach through quick enough to get them to stop. Sometimes that was the only indication they were there and it took a while for them to become corporeal. It was one of the growing list of reasons why Rabka didn’t like being around places where people died often.
“Even if that was true, which, it isn’t, how do you explain everyone else being gone?" Areihk asked with hands on her hips.
“Guys, do you see that?” Zivrap asked, pointing at the empty bed. Rabka couldn't see anything.
“I just see a bed,” Areihk said.
“There is smoke surrounding the bed, dark and cloudy, like from a cigarette bud but more dense and enveloping the whole place around,” Zivrap pointed at empty air, tracing an invisible line that ended up pointing towards Areihk.
As if on cue, the woman’s breathing labored and her color faded.
Rabka reached towards her but Zivrap stopped him. This was the one and only time he had ever helped a new living medium out. Usually, he ignored new mediums, especially now when ghosts have been common knowledge for so long the idea that all mediums had been considered kooks that lied to people for money was a funny story to most people. When he was alive, Rabka had great values.
His sister would destroy him if she ever found out he didn’t do whatever he could for his grandnephew, so there he was, acting as an intermediary. It didn’t help that Zivrap had just enough people skills to make everyone around them think he’s good at helping but not enough to do anything useful.
Rabka shook his head to clear his thoughts and looked ahead.
Zivrap boldly stepped in front of the hyperventilating ghost and submerged his hands into her.
Rabka could see the smoke now. It was extremely dense, burrowing in Areihk’s corporeal form in a way that made Rabka wince. The more it permeated her, the more she faded. And the more she faded, the stronger the smoke became. Her teeth chattered and she hugged herself as much as possible, her body limp.
“I can’t remove it,” Zivrap screamed in obvious frustration.
Rabka walked up and tried to grab the smoke, ignoring Zivrap's protests. The smoke coiled around Rabka’s wrist and a searing pain overwhelmed him where his hands touched it. He had enough sense to try to remove his hand, but the smoke didn’t let him go, burrowing in him. The cold came next, reaching down to the bones he didn’t have anymore, creeping up his spine like a poison.
He realized its power—this thing curling around him, consuming him, leaving nothing but a void. It was hungry. It had been feeding for so long and it still couldn’t fill the hole in it. So it was starting with things that couldn’t fight back. Things that had just come out of their shell or things with no shell. The stronger it is getting, the bigger the prey. Soon, it would consume everything—humans, plants, animals, and maybe then it would be sated.
Rabka used the last of his strength to move away from Zivrap, tearing him and Areihk out of Zivrap’s reach. Fighting the bright lights that were threatening to blind him he dropped down on the floor, letting the smoke overpower him.
“Avoid it. Whatever you do..." Rabka no longer had a voice. There was nothing but the void, and the sinister snicker that accompanied the smoke, almost like it was taunting them to try to stop it.