Timelines

Able Bastyr d’Espers       1966 – 2006 Life

2006 – present Death

——————————————————————————————————–

Oct. 31, 1966 — Able is born / mother unknown

Scorpio

1970 — Able’s father (d’Espers) dies.

1995 — Travels to Portales Espirituales to claim his spiritualist bequeath, the Vic.

Oct. 31, 1995 — Able, age 29, meets Shirleen on his birthday.

February 14, 1996 — Sam is conceived.

April 1996 — Shirleen moves into the Vic / Able and Shirleen are married.

Nov. 11, 1996 — Samhain d’Espers is born.

Scorpio

August 18, 1998 — Heather Esperance d’Espers is born.

Leo

1998 – 2003 — “The Four” unofficially rule Portales Espirituales.

Oct. 31, 2003 — Able’s encounter with Bellum. Able is stricken.

2003 – 2004 — Valente dos Santos, Maximilian Pollander, and Arturo Benavidez die.

Oct. 31, 2006 — Able d’Espers dies.

—————————————————————————————————————

2006 – 2010 — Able’s time in the Dead Sea. Able requests help from Valente to protect his children from Bellum.

2008 — Shirleen sells the Vic.

2009 — Shirleen meets and marries Bruce. Shirleen, Heather, and Sam move to the junkyard.

2010 — Able exits the Dead Sea and Sam (age 14) receives a single visitation. Able goes after Bellum and is lost in the far dimensions, entrapped by Coçeaux.

May 2014 — 17-year-old Samhain d’Espers tracks down Able and rescues him. They develop a plan to get the Vic.

June 2014 — Return to the Vic

Able’s Timeline                                 1996 – 2006

Born 1966 – Oct. 1967 = 1

67 – 68 = 2

68 – 69 = 3

69 – 70 = 4

70 – 71 = 5

71 – 72 = 6

72 – 73 = 7

73 – 74 = 8

74 – 75 = 9

75 – 76 = 10

76 – 77 = 11

77 – 78 = 12

78 – 79 = 13

79 – 80 = 14

80 – 81 = 15

81 – 82 = 16

82 – 83 = 17

83 – 84 = 18

84 – 85 = 19

85 – 86 = 20

86 – 87 = 21

87 – 88 = 22

88 – 89 = 23

89 – 90 = 24

90 – 91 = 25

91 – 92 = 26

92 – 93 = 27

93 – 94 = 28

94 – 95 = 29

95 – 96 = 30

96 – 97 = 31

97 – 98 = 32

98 – 99 = 33

99 – 00 = 34

00 – 01 = 35

01 – 02 = 36

02 – 03 = 37

03 – 04 = 38

04 – 05 = 39

05 – Oct. 2006 = 40   Dead

Heather’s Timeline          1998 – present Life

Born Aug 98 – 99 = 1

99 – 00 = 2

00 – 01 = 3

01 – 02 = 4

02 – 03 = 5

03 – 04 = 6

04 – 05 = 7

05 – 06 = 8

06 – 07 = 9

07 – 08 = 10

08 – 09 = 11

09 – 10 = 12

10 – 11 = 13

11 – 12 = 14

12 – 13 = 15

13 – Aug. 2014 = turns 16

Sam’s timeline   1996 – 2036 Life

2036 – ?  Death

Born 96 – Nov. 97 = 1

97 – 98 = 2

98 – 99 = 3

99 – 00 = 4

00 – 01 = 5

01 – 02 = 6

02 – 03 = 7

03 – 04 = 8

04 – 05 = 9

05 – 06 = 10

06 – 07 = 11

07 – 08 = 12

08 – 09 = 13

09 – 10 = 14

10 – 11 = 15

11 – 12 = 16

12 – 13 = 17

13 – Nov. 2014 = turns 18

14 – 15 = 19

15 – 16 = 20

16 – 17  = 21

17 – 18 = 22

18 – 19 = 23

19 – 20 = 24

20 – 21 = 25

21 – 22 = 26

22 – 23 = 27

23  – 24 = 28

24 – 25 = 29

25 – 26 = 30

26 – 27 = 31

27 – 28 = 32

28 – 29 = 33

29 – 30 = 34

30 – 31 = 35

31 – 32 = 36

32 – 33 = 37

33 – 34 = 38

34 – 35 = 39

35 – 36 = 40 Death

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The Lexicon: A Disturbingly Complete Guide to Spiritualist Terms

 

The Lexicon: A Disturbingly Complete Guide to Spiritualist Terms

Aether (a term and a name): one of the original twins of d’Espers, a female with golden eyes

Aletheia Mysterium: see Lady Mystery

All, The–one of the four powers of the spirit world. Can also be used as a swear, as in “Good All!” Since the All is legion, another word for the All is Alphala. Also known as Omni.

All’s Hold: the castle in the center of Dead Town, in the middle of the labyrinth, surrounded on one side by the Dead Sea, and over the catacombs

Aphoristic heaven (A. H.): a limited version of heaven created by popular conception

Arachna-location: see spider method

Arbor: the Overwood, Lady Mystery’s celestial realm, the transcendent realm

Artifact of the spirit: aka haunt or object of a haunt, home in the spirit world, center of his universe, etc.

Bat-chis: hybridized half-bat, half-Chihuahua creatures, the product of spirit procreation

Bellum Omnium Contra Omnes: what it sounds like, the war of all against all. One of the four powers of the spirit world, who turned against his brother All. Bellum means “war.” His brand of evil is universal, all-transcendent evil. Can be used to swear, “by Bellum!”

Bident (aka spectricity scepter, large tuning fork): a two-pronged implement that is a traditional weapon of demons. Emmett took his collection of bidents from Plouton that time, during an ancient invasion attempt by Plouton into the upper realms, which Emmett and the other gods repelled. Plouton and the others are all friends now, except for Bellum of course.

The bidents have various abilities. The larger bidents can be used to absorb, hold, and release (fire) spectricity. The smallest bident can be used as a dimensional key that locks the Vic into a slightly shifted dimension, preventing break-in. It can still be seen in this state, but is hazy and transparent.

Celestial coffee: Really? Obviously, this is the coffee that Lady Mystery drinks.

Chocolate milk trick: teleportation, a power activated by extreme desire. Heather uses it at school to get chocolate milk when a bully chases her away from the bin.

Coffee haunt: A coffee shop in the spirit world, which is created by the impression of a spirit who experienced a lot of coffee shops in life. Drinks are levitated, and “payment” is only through experiences for the spirit. “Tips” are generally kriot — rusted keys or small bones, for example. This does not denote value, but attachment. Tips are an acknowledgement of the experience, not payment. Nothing is owed, only given. There is no economy in Dead Town–just experiences, longings, desires, impressions, etc.

Coming End–Familiar with Ragnarok? The Coming End is a prophesied end to the spirit world that will happen when Bellum defeats and swallows or absorbs the All. This will bring about the end of the two worlds, joining them back together into one, and Bellum will rule as the one God. Older spirits and ancients will meet their end, and the remaining spirits and mortals will take a new place in the one world. (Also described as an event at the end of this era’s time when all the ghosts will end their existence. The Fate of the Spirits.) Spirits of Dead Town need Heather and Sam to find out when it is coming.

Coterie: as in a coterie of kindred spirits. A small or exclusive group with similar interests, and can also mean a ring. The Four identify themselves as the reigning spiritualist coterie of Portales Espirituales twenty years ago. The Paranormals are the current reigning coterie, but I would also include their spirit friends in this coterie.

Crux: a swear, and the center of a spirit, akin to a heart in a mortal

Cruxors: a variation on crux as a swear

Dead Sea: a cleansing place for the newly dead as well as a portal to other places in the spirit world. Newly dead spirits are strongly advised to do their time in the Dead Sea before reincarnating or roaming Dead Town and other areas of the spirit realm. To not do so is highly uncouth and considered unhygienic.

dead time: see ecto-time

Dead Town: in the transitional realm of the World Tree, near the center, exists Dead Town, ruled over by the All and administered from All’s Hold, a giant castle fortress in the center of a labyrinth, next to the Dead Sea, and over a catacomb. This is Emmett’s home. In Spanish, it is Cuidad del Muerto: City of the Dead.

deadlight: just a term for the light in the spirit world, since it sure ain’t sunlight.

deadzines: magazines in the spirit world that keep spirits up to date with everything that has happened in the mortal world during their absence

demon cord: an excessively strong cord used by demons to restrain spirits in the Underwood

demon fire: the fire used by demons in the Underwood

demonized: (see also ghost psychosis) what happens when a ghost or spirit or mortal turns demon. Ghosts most commonly demonize due to extended separation from what they are haunting. Spirits and mortals would demonize due to excessive exposure to evil, malevolent spirits, or evil influences. Sam is the only mortal currently known to have demonized.

d’Espers: A family of accomplished and powerful spiritualists who trace their roots back to the original d’Espers twins, Aether and Aeriel. The name was cursed by the Llorona so that everyone mistakes it for “Despair” until the curse is lifted.

Dimensionals: another way of dividing up time/space in the spirit realm. Once one is outside of the World Tree, one travels through other, similar worlds, which are known as dimensions, and going through several dimensionals means traveling through several such worlds.

Disenchanted Forest: the strange forest that rings the portal field outside Dead Town, home to the Feeders and many slough trees. This is the wood for which the Underwood is named; demons and shades sometimes travel up from the Underwood and haunt the Disenchanted Forest. It has a “slough of despond” effect on mortals if they aren’t accustomed to it.

Ectoplasm: the matter of the spirit world, enlivened by spectricity and in the case of a spirit, a crux is the center of one’s ectoplasm. Also, spirits can carry huge stores of kriot in their ectoplasm.

Ectoplastic: a joke term for the stuff that covers seats in Beth’s Coffee Haunt

Ecto-time (aka dead time): Nobody except Sam understands ecto-time (or so he claims). It is basically nonsense because time does not move forward in the spirit realm, and spatio-temporal references are akin to meaningless, although the spirits do pretend, out of feelings of connection to the prior world.

Ecto-vino: good grape juice served as wine in the spirit world at their parties

Far dimensions: this represents dimensions of the spirit world beyond the World Tree (the Transitional realm of Dead Town and the surrounding areas, the Underwood, the Overwood, and the Encircling Realm of the Lexiverse or the Transmogrifying Realm).

Feeders: Classic Evil’s minions who mostly roam free in the wood around the portal field outside of Dead Town. The labyrinth was originally designed to keep them out of Dead Town, since they aren’t very smart. They are, as Emmett put it, “just big, ugly, soul-sucking predators that threaten the fearful and the desirous. So clichéd really.” They have detachable, free-floating jaws that can spring out and bite people, but they don’t retract very well.

Freedom Prophecy– a prophecy which may change the inevitability of the Coming End.

Fool Prophecy–A prophecy that prophesied, among other things, that the Freedom Prophecy would be given. Johnny Vallejos’ role is mentioned within it.

Four, The–as in “The Four” who are the four spiritualists of Portales Espirituales twenty years prior. They refer to themselves as “a coterie of kindred spirits.” They are Valente dos Santos, Max Pollander, Arturo Benavidez, and Able d’Espers.

Full medium–a medium who has graduated past protégé level, and no longer needs to be under tutelage by the operating spirit, although the bond and relationship continue.

Ghost: see haunting ghost

Ghost psychosis: when a ghost is separated for extended periods of time from the object of haunt or from the artifact of the spirit, a ghost can go into temporary psychosis, change into a beast, wraith, or death form (known as “demonizing”), and do a lot of damage–usually spiritual wounds. Healers can reverse some of the damage.

Ghost whisper–spirits trying to speak surreptitiously, which tickles mortal ears

Ghostwriter–one who can write under the influence of ghosts/spirits, or who writes to ghosts/spirits

Ghoul–a ghoul is a creature that can’t live and can’t die, so is stuck and out of place in either realm. Ghouls have not experienced actual death, but the death of their humanity. Ghouls become evil through excessive brooding, hating, and obsessing. Ghouls hate spectricity, but they are immune to it as a weapon. They cannot fly. Their abilities can be unpredictable. They can pass through earth, and they can also attack and eat mortals, but they prefer to eat corporeal remains. They would be categorized as chthonic, I’m sure.

Ghoulspeak: a dialect spoken by ghouls, difficult for mortals to comprehend. Phanzie speaks this, and La Llorona speaks a version of it, heavily influenced by Spanish

Half-ghost: the result of procreation between a mortal and a spirit, a half-ghost can manifest a variety of abilities. It is thought that spiritualist families originate from half-ghosts, or spirit generation, way back up in the family tree.

Haunting ghost: a spirit who remains in the mortal realm and does not go up their portal to the spirit world. All haunting ghosts have a portal nearby waiting to take them up, which can be used by others. Once the haunting ghost uses the portal, it disappears. The spirit ceases to be a “ghost” and must spend years in the Dead Sea before roaming the spirit world at will. At that point, the spirit can pass back and forth from the spirit to mortal realms at will, using the portals of haunting ghosts. The spirit can also choose to reincarnate at any time after coming out of the Dead Sea.

Haunted, The: The mortal-run paranormal bookstore that takes up the ground floor of the Vic and provides not only income but connection between mortals and spirits.

High levity: a highly transcended spirit reaches this level, but it can cause a spirit to be lonely and behave in an incomprehensible and silly manner (or that is how the lower spirits see it). Emmett has passed up opportunities for high levity many times.

Hollowed (unfilling): Part of the process of reincarnation when one is helped by a spirit guide. Experience and personality are gone and only meaning remains.

ILL — interspiritual library loan. This is Lily’s answer to the dissonance between information available in the spirit world libraries (including the one in the Underwood) and the mortal world libraries.

Incant: This is basically a spell involving a little poem or song to make it work. It could also mean to put something in a bottle and save it, like Emmett’s death experiences, which he incants in little vials to prevent them from giving him further trauma.

Infinite Stairwell of the Void: this is a stairwell that leads many places in All’s Hold, including Beth’s Coffee Haunt, the Place of Lost Spirits, the Council room and A.H., and presumably, the Void, although you’d have to progress down it infinitely to get there. Some traveling on this stairwell can be done by going up and down at the right intervals. The stairwell itself is a dark well with walls of stone and some tattered tapestries on the walls, and the stair is actually a spiral staircase that runs down the middle of the well. The well is thought to actually be infinite and has some other peculiarities.

Interspiritual relationship: a relationship between a spirit and a mortal, much maligned by the First Church of Portales Espirituales and loathed by Blade Doctorman, who is himself the product of one.

Keystring–the incredibly long string of keys that Emmett carries. Other spirits carry them too, but Emmett’s is probably setting a record for length. The keys represent his many, many pieces of the All that he has subdivided. It may be they unlock some of them.

Kriot–this is something the spirit attaches to, or in some cases, it serves to connect the spirit or hold them to a plane of existence. Spirits carry kriot in their endless ectoplasm. Think of it as being something like a mind space–the mind can hold endless attachments, ideas, memories–but they get all jumbled around and don’t always come up reliably. However, weird things happen when Emmett starts to rely on bits of his kriot to do things–he starts to rely on his bidents and his glasses and have urgency and things he must do. This makes him more mortal, methinks. He develops a life. He starts to be more reliable and to create things with his nonbook, instead of just looking in there for entertainment.

Lady Mystery (Aletheia Mysterium): one of the four powers of the spirit world, rules the transcendent realm or the Overwood. Seldom seen, but keeps All’s Hold protected. Lady Mystery receives prayers. Can be used to swear, as in “Great Lady Mystery!” Also, Lady Mystery is the mother of the All and Bellum.

Lexiverse: a realm controlled by words. Really a separate universe with complex rules about portaling in and out. There are more than one; they occur throughout the spirit world.

Liminal space: a space between the usual dimensions that can be used for hiding temporarily and escape. When mortals travel in a liminal space, all the water is squeezed out of them and they have to do extreme hydration when they come out again. Often liminal spaces are all but two-dimensional.

Medium: a spiritualist who speaks to and communicates with the dead. Special talents include getting on the good side of the dead, summoning the dead, controlling spectricity, being possessed, writing when possessed by the dead, telepathy, mild visions and seer abilities. More advanced talents include levitation, spectricity shields that allow the medium to pass through walls, telekinesis, teleportation (the chocolate milk trick). Healing powers occur when the spiritualist has golden eyes. Portal making or portal creation would be a very rare and highly advanced skill, almost unheard of.

Metempsychosis: this word means “transmigration of the souls” but Metempsychosis , or Mete, is a reincarnation guide (kind of a reverse psychopomp). She exists as pure meaning, and guides reincarnating spirits through the stages of reincarnation and back to the mortal realm. She can pass through places of high levity with no apparent effect on herself, and she also understands well what stays with spirits and what get left behind when they reincarnate. Mete’s specialty is guiding lost spirits who were creative or artistic in life, but were blocked from reaching their goals.

Nonbook: Emmett’s multipurpose volume. There is a separate document on the nonbook. To date, it holds the records of his lives, communicates messages from the All, and unwrites. It also picks up on whatever Heather writes in her notebook. Heather (the quintessence, joiner of worlds) is the only mortal who should write in the nonbook, but May and Johnny tried, with disastrous results (Johnny’s death). Blade, a half-ghost, also wrote in the nonbook with rather better results, as he is a genius. Emmett is learning to use the unwriting capacity of the nonbook to create in the spirit world.

Nymphala: denotes the nymph is legion (and therefore cannot be diminished by spirit procreation)

Overwood (transcendent realm, the arbor): this is the realm of Lady Mystery, the highest realm in the World Tree.

Paranormals: a club that began as a paranormal investigation club, turned into a writing club, and wound up a loose family of people with spiritualist powers or connections to the paranormal. An important distinction is that the Paranormals are pro-spirit, while some groups of spiritualists hunt or persecute spirits.

Pen of Esperance: an artifact given to the male heirs of d’Espers to control powers–lost during the Roman era

Plouton: one of the four powers of the spirit world, the lord of the Underwood, the lowest realm in the World Tree, which lies under the wood that surrounds the portal field. Can be used to swear, as in “Plouton’s depths!”

Pocket dimension: Just what it sounds like. A small, divided-off world of its own. Used for various purposes, including imprisoning Blade Doctorman, suggested as a way to keep people out of the kitchen when Lily is cooking a delicate recipe, and technically, the Round Room is in a pocket dimension. Also, Bellum creates a pocket dimension in the Lexiverse Junkyard to imprison the Paranormals. The Lexiverse might be considered a type of pocket dimension when merged with the mortal realm, such as when it merges with Bruce’s junkyard and forms Bruce’s Infernal Junkyard. (It is unclear whether the Lexiverse ever fully disengaged from the junkyard. The brimstone would suggest not.)

Portales Espirituales: “Spirit Portals” is a town in New Mexico known for having a high percentage of spiritualists and portals to the spirit world. There is a real town in New Mexico called Portales, but my fictional town bears no resemblance to it, other than the name.

Prior world: a name the spirits call the mortal realm, much as mortals call the spirit realm the “afterlife.” Can also be “prior life.”

Protégée or protégé: a medium or spiritualist trainee, someone being trained by a spirit to work with the spirit world.

Quintessence: a joiner of worlds, the essence.

Ring of Esperance: an artifact given to the female heirs of d’Espers to control powers. It resembles a Victorian cocktail ring with a high, ornate setting and a huge black diamond. It is ridiculously large and conspicuous. The All gifts this ring with the ability to navigate the spirit world, but he does not gift it with the ability to create portals.

Round Room: the special medium room in a turret of the Vic, which is not in the spirit or mortal realms, but in an in-between realm.

Seer: a type of spiritualist who mainly has visions, visitations, hears voices, and has some ability to speak to the dead. Advanced seers can cast their thoughts into the minds of others. Telepathy is also a common ability. Seers generally have limited ability with spectricity, although this mild ability can be enhanced in some situations. Very advanced seers have the ability to cast thoughts out of their minds and create realities, or to envision (manifest) themselves into a real situation, while actually remaining safe at home.

Slough trees: a type of tree that grows around the World Tree and connects the realms. Travel by slough tree is possible if one does not mind becoming covered in sap. This kind of travel is slow and produces visions while one experiences it. Slough tree is the only way to escape the Underwood, once thought inescapable. Mortals can always leave the Underwood this way; sufficiently pure spirits may also leave this way.

Sordid sounds: see games, below

Spectral: anything in the spirit realm could be called spectral

Spectral band: a rock band of spirits

Spectral elevator: an elevator that, while uncomfortable, can transport mortals and spirits to a pocket dimension like the Round Room much better than spiderlocation.

Spectral ink: a type of ink used to write spectral script. The Pen of Esperance has this type of ink. It originates from the waters of the underground river of words that runs below Dead Town.

Spectral script: a coded script used by some spirits — comes with a ready-made decryption wheel that can lock out the wrong reader

Spectral spades: see games, below

Spectral shades (just kidding): “Because we are shades.” –Emmett

Spectral telemetry: a method of finding one’s way around in the spirit world. Where they are in relationship to everything else.

Spectric guitar: the equivalent of an electric guitar from the spirit world

Spektrixx: an invisible spirit DJ, actually Emmett

Spectronica music: EDM as interpreted by spirits, although of course it can’t be electronic–it’s spectric–so it’s SDM in the spirit world.

Spectre-Twister (or Specter-Twister): see games, below

Spectricity: the enlivening energy of the spirit world, that which enlivens ectoplasm, or the “blue electricity” which can be used as a weapon or manipulated to effect changes in the spirit world. Spectricity is generally used in bolts, orbs, and bands. Bolts and orbs are offensive weapons, and bands are restrictive devices.

Spectricity bands: bands made of spectricity that hold a person and restrain them

Spectrometer: a device Blade Doctorman used to detect spirits and ectoplasmic presence

Spider method, spider-location, arachna-location (short distances only): this is a method Emmett uses to get around. Spiders have great spatial skills and a bit of ability to predict the future. Emmett harnesses this ability to find his way over short distances, since he’s extremely weak in spatial skills. For unknown reasons, the method involves throwing a spider into someone’s hair. Possibly this produces the desired response in the spider, terrifying it into action.

Spirit: a non-mortal person who has passed over to the spirit world and is not a haunting ghost. A spirit can come and go from spirit to mortal realms using portals at will. A spirit can choose to reincarnate, travel to dimensions beyond, transcend to high levity (or mid-level if one is a total newbie), or stay in the spirit world indefinitely. Some spirits are deities.

Spirit blind: unable to see spirits. Some mortals are spirit blind until they visit the spirit world. This happened to Sam, who could not see spirits, only hear them, until he visited the spirit world. Mattilda Mopes was spirit blind until Lady Mystery cured her. Spirit blindness is common worldwide, but uncommon in Portales Espirituales, with generations of spiritualists creating a population that is much more likely to see and engage with spirits than the average population.

Spiritualist: an all-encompassing term for a mortal who has paranormal talents. This would include seers and mediums alike.

Spree, sprees: from the word “esprit” meaning spirit, these are spirit creatures inhabiting dust devils.

Stairwell of the void: see infinite stairwell of the void

Static: describes a phenomenon of spectricity gravitating downward, getting stuck in one area, and not cycling at a normal rate, and increasing evil behavior on the part of animals in the spirit world, among other things. Caused by the failure of the All and Bellum to engage in battle, which gave Bellum too much time to explore the capabilities of the Lexiverse and to exert evil influence on both worlds.

Thresholds: this is a concept I was playing with in an earlier version, a way of getting from one dimension to the next. I may still use it–it’s basically a door you need to cross through, with some other weird effects.

Turned against: a term for evil leanings, for being against those who should be your allies and friends, for going over to the dark side

Undead spirit: a loosely used term for a spirit who is likely to remain a spirit or has to remain a spirit. May be used for a spirit who has been a spirit  long time or who spends a lot of time in the mortal realm. This is to distinguish from a regular, reincarnating spirit who undergoes a normal life and death cycle. The Llorona would be an undead spirit. Any spirit who gets stuck in some drama that prevents a normal life and death cycle might be referred to as an undead spirit.

Underwood: the lowest realm in the World Tree, which lies “under the wood” (the Disenchanted Forest) that surrounds the portal field.

Unfilling: see Hollowed

Unnatural: things don’t happen naturally in Dead Town, they happen unnaturally. So spirits there say “unnaturally” when mortals would say “naturally.”

Unwrite, unwritten: to un-exist something, although this has varying degrees. To un-exist a person means to cause that person’s death, and that is absolute. One is either alive or dead, and there is no varying perspective on this (if one is dead, one is dead to everyone). However, for inanimate objects, in some cases, only one thing might un-exist to one person. Unwriting is done in the nonbook. The skill and identity of the writer, type of ink used, and writing used (English? Spectral script?) determine the result.

Note that to un-exist a person could also mean to erase their existence, George Bailey style. This is a bit more complicated to effect, as it involves all that nasty transdimensional math to completely un-exist someone who has been, in the past and in the present.

Prophecies and curses can be unwritten under some circumstances, but it’s complicated.

Vials–Emmett carries vials full of red liquid, aka death vials. They each contain the sorrow and horror of one of his deaths. He has dozens of them. If they break, he becomes traumatized–catatonic–and cannot move for days. They can also be used as a weapon against other spirits. Effect on mortals: unknown, but likely not good.

Vic (The Victorian): a large Gothic mansion known as the Victorian (technically it’s a hybrid of architecture, with many additions). It has real world additions as well as transdimensional enhancements. Has about twice the usual number of turrets, balconies, porches, and windows that a Victorian house would have. It also has many small gardens surrounding it, some which are hidden or grown over. This is the headquarters and home of many of the Paranormals. The paranormal bookstore, the Haunted, is on the first floor. The Round Room exists in an in-between dimension in a turret near the top (not strictly visible from outside, but there is a turret visible which is not the Round Room, but serves to represent it). There is also a cellar with a ghoul, a lab, a central staircase, a large kitchen, and many bedrooms. Other rooms mentioned are bathrooms, a dining room, and a small parlor. The Vic belonged the d’Espers as an ancestral home. Able discovered his ownership and brought his young family there to live while he practiced as a medium. Ownership of the Vic is by spiritual right and the property should never be transferred or sold. However, after Able’s death, Shirleen sold the Vic due to dire financial circumstances (and also probably some distaste and fear). The new owners tried to use it as a hotel but was too haunted for this to continue, so they rented it out to students. Able took it back by “right of the scariest” and Heather later used the services of the Frankelins, a married spirit couple who were lawyers in life, to regain legal title to the Vic for Sam and herself.

Illustrative quotation from Emmett:

“This was not good news. Someone else–a mortal–owned the house I had been casually renovating with spirit portals and dimensional distortions. Why, the ghoul in the basement and the damage from the interspiritual party might be enough to get us thrown out on the streets!
There were gunshot holes in the walls, we’d had a spectral elevator put in, and one of the largest trees had burned down during the church riot.

Why had no one told me that we were in a rental?”

Void: a place where some spirits who will be the forebears of important spiritualist families go to cleanse their souls and make decisions about their future. Also, there is an infinite stairwell of the void nearby.

War of All Against All: see Bellum Omnium Contra Omnes

Zombie: Teddy puts a zombie curse on Plouton which causes him to want to eat brains. Also, when Blade Doctorman’s spirit is separated from his body, and yet his body goes on trying to eat ectoplasmic body parts, Emmett likens his situation to a “zimbie, zumbie, zombie” but both he and Sam claim not to believe in zombies.

Spectral Band Names:

Hellevators: Sam and Eve like this band

The Hitchhiking Ghosts: members are Bubba (Robert), Billy Badbreaks, and Mariana. Emmett and Heather’s favorite spectral band. They play gigs in all the books. They are at Heather and Emmett’s reception, the interspiritual mixer, and Heather’s birthday party. Play an important role in incapacitating demonized Johnny.

Writhing on the Wail: a dark spirit band that plays at the interspiritual mixer

DJ Spektrixx, a spectronica music DJ (Emmett–he always stays invisible as DJ Spektrixx)

Books and Publications:

Abnormal Psychology (a mortal textbook Lily reads while doing research on Trenton)

The Chosen One’s Funeral (a spectral novel)

Deadzines (periodicals–various titles)

A Disturbingly Complete History of Spiritualist Artifacts, author Alfredo Benavidez and Dr. Zetian C. O’Toole in 1802. Updated by Arturo Benavidez in the 1990s, which is when information about the 1890s is added.

Dr. Zetian O’Toole’s Complete Abridged and Updated How-to Book of Portals

Let’s Talk About Reality by Dr. Zetian C. O’Toole (must be a transdimensional expert, also Emmett’s professor incarnation)

Mesmerizing Plants for Fun and Profit

The Nonbook

The Complete and Authoritative Guide to Portals of Portales Espirituales by Mattilda Mopes

The Ghost Tracker’s Guide (like a birdwatcher’s book for people who watch ghosts–not used yet)

Seeing Ghosts by Heather d’Espers

The Specter Bones (a popular paranormal novel–mortal in origin)

A Spiritualist History of Portales Espirituales, Vols. 1 – 8, by Arturo Benavidez

Vol. I: Genealogies (family histories of well-known spiritualist families)

Vol. II: Unnatural History (this contains paranormal biology–fauna and flora–as well as geology)

Vol. III: Transitions and Transmogrification (portals, types of haunts, types of spirits and their visitations)

Vol. IV: I’m leaving this one open for now

Vol. V: Incantations and Incarnations (words effective in summoning spirits and healing, reincarnation and spirit procreation)

Vol. VI: leaving open

Vol. VII: leaving open

Vol. VIII: leaving open

The Spiritualist’s Guide to Ancient Prophecies

TV Shows:

Spirit Hunter, hosted by Jeremiah Jackson

Dates:

Oct. 15 is Valente dos Santos Day, Día de Valente dos Santos

November 11, 1996 is Samhain d’Espers’ birthday (Scorpio)

August 18, 1998 is Heather d’Espers’ birthday (Leo)

June is Emmett’s birthday month (Gemini) He does not know which day in June is his birthday, but it’s likely he was born on many or all the days of June, at some time or other. (May 22 – June 21 is Gemini)

July 14, 1997 is Johnny’s birthday (Cancer)

May was born in (you guessed it) May. May 20, 1998 (Taurus on the cusp of Gemini)

Trenton is Aquarius (February 14, 1998)

Games:

Sordid Sounds (really more of a tonic, comes in a bottle and the user makes a variety of unusual sounds)

Spectral Spades: a spirit card game. The cards dig graves for themselves when they’ve been captured and bury themselves, or they go up in smoke. Used to test and develop spiritualist abilities, since some level of clairvoyance helps tremendously.

Spectre-Twister: a game of Twister, but played forty feet off the ground, usually between spirits, who tend to be much more flexible than mortals.

Heather Despair — Chapter One: The Teardrop Trailer

Here I am, as always. Concealed. Out behind the creosote-dotted hills. Ten miles down highway twenty. Behind a chain-link fence. Five acres of tires, old car bodies, wood, piles of wire, and other detritus–yes, that’s the word–blown in by the desert wind. A sandblasted double-wide trailer squats–exactly what it does–at the entrance to this junkyard. In the cramped family room of this double-wide, sits me. Heather Despair. Writing as always.

Heather scanned the assignment: write a page describing the place where you live. Her pen moved across her notebook paper. Her curly blond hair hung into her eyes, and she blew it aside. She could smell fatty hamburgers cooking and her stepfather’s beer, sour and nasty, but she blocked it out. Detritus, she hummed to herself. What a lovely word detritus is.

Her stepfather, Bruce, stumbled around her chair. Her mother brushed past her, but Heather’s pen continued to fill the lines. Somewhere far in the back of her head, she heard the sounds of the room, like the buzzing of insects. She touched the thin pages of her notebook, heavy with ink.  She was heady with its sharp scent.

“. . . describing the place where you live.” Their routine was always the same. Heather listened; then she wrote the room.

“What time is that program on, Shirl?” A hiss as he cracked open a can of beer.

“I don’t know, give me a minute,” said Shirleen. Clinking–she would be carrying plates of hamburgers and French fries from the kitchen to the family room, somehow balancing all three.

“Looks like your mother could use some help.”

Heather shifted, put her head closer to the page. ” . . . could use some help,” she wrote.

“Oh, I’m fine,” said Shirleen. A clank–she set the food down and sighed. “Heather, don’t you want to come eat? We’re about to watch that show.”

Heather let out a breath and pushed her hair from her face. The sharp smell of ink. The heavy pages. She laid her head on the notebook, still writing.

“Oh, are we too loud for you?” said Bruce. “Think you’re too high and mighty to help your mother?”

The words flowed faster and faster, her pen pressed hard into the paper. She put her hand to her forehead.

“Leave her alone,” said Shirleen. “She’s working so hard.”

“No. She’s ignoring us. Heather! Come over here and eat your dinner and watch TV with the rest of us! Now!”

Heather looked up, into the distance at first. Then her eyes focused on Bruce. She sighed. Always Bruce, in his lounge chair, with hamburgers and beer.

“Come and eat!” He pointed to an empty lounge chair next to him.

“I’ve got to finish this,” said Heather. She scribbled, “lounge chair, hamburgers and beer before him . . . ”

Bruce’s blue eyes narrowed, and his face reddened.

“No, you will sit here and eat with the rest of us. You may be fifteen, but you don’t get to decide the rules of my house just yet. And my rules say you have to eat with the family.”

“Come eat now, and you can work on that later,” said Shirleen.

Heather slammed the notebook shut. What did that sound like? Death knell, she decided. She stalked to the lounge chair, head held high, and bit into her hamburger. The fatty meat and rubbery American cheese made her want to gag as she rolled it in her mouth, trying to swallow it without tasting. She took a deep drink from her water glass. Why did it always have to be hamburgers and lounge chairs and mindless television? Her fingers ached for her pen. She rolled the phrase “She shut her notebook with the sound of a death knell,” over and over in her mind.

“What’s wrong now?” said Bruce. “Don’t like your mother’s cooking? Maybe if you had to do it, you’d like it better.” He took a big bite of hamburger. Shirleen hurried back to the kitchen and began clanking the pots and pans around. Heather watched her go, misery settling in her throat. Why did Bruce always have to start something?

Bruce’s eyes fell on Heather’s notebook.

“What’s that you’re writing? That a school assignment?”

“Yes,” said Heather. She held tight to her closed notebook. Death knell.

“That sure is a lot of writing for a school assignment.”

“It’s an assigned journal,” said Heather. “For English class.”

“Time-wasting busy-work bullshit. Let me see it.”

Heather held her head high, one hand on her notebook.

“Bruce. It’s private. You don’t just–you can’t read other people’s notebooks!”

“Hmmph.” Bruce opened a second can of beer. “Baloney. Give it here.”

“No!” She clutched the notebook to her chest, fear stabbing her stomach, and she felt a little sick. What if he saw what she’d written about him? That when he got angry, he looked like an American flag–like those tiny flags on the dirt patch out front–with his red skin and his blue and white eyes.

Bruce reached over and snatched the notebook with his non-beer-holding hand. He turned through it, tearing a pages a little bit. Heather’s shoulders lifted toward her ears, and her heart thudded. Did he have to manhandle it like that? She hated him with every fiber of her being. Still, she didn’t try to grab it back. She refused to sink to his level; she wouldn’t give him the satisfaction.

“Why do you have to write so much?” Bruce said. His eyebrows raised as pages and pages of words confronted his eyes.

“I don’t have to write that much,” said Heather, her voice thick with hatred.

His eyes fell on her description of the scene that evening.

“‘Bruce lay in his lounge chair, hamburgers and beer before him?’ What is this?”

“It’s a school assignment–‘write a page describing the place where you live’–and it’s private!” said Heather. Her face flushed to hear her words alive in the air, but from Bruce’s mouth.  She glared at him.

“Stop staring at me with those weird eyes!” said Bruce. Heather smirked. She could always unnerve him.

“Heather’s eyes aren’t weird,” said a voice. “Her eyes are golden.”

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Bruce jumped. There stood Sam in the doorway, black leather jacket and torn jeans, his hair spiked. Heather gave Sam a half-smile. He stood there like their father come back to life–the same intense green eyes, the same lean face and light brown hair. Nearly eighteen–he was so tall now. Heather was short and blond, like her mother–except for her golden eyes. No one else in her family had eyes like hers.

“Yellow eyes, like a snake,” said Bruce. “And now look who’s shown up. If it ain’t Sam-hane. The devil’s own. Where you been, boy? Raisin’ Cain?”

“Sam. My name’s just Sam.”

“It’s Sam-hane! Ain’t it, Heather?”

The blue of his irises stood out against the bloodshot whites of his eyes and his red complexion. American flag.

Sam smirked and hummed, “Hooray for the Red, White, and Blue.” Heather smiled. Sam got her. He got her messages.

Bruce goggled from Sam to Heather.

“Sam-hane!” he bellowed. “It says so right on your birth certificate!”

“It’s pronounced ‘sah-win,'” said Heather.

“I can read and it says Sam-hane! You two think you’re so smart!”

“What are you blithering about?” Shirleen came out of the kitchen.

“Don’t it say Sam-hane on his birth certificate, Shirl?” said Bruce.

“Yes, it does. You know it does. But it’s ‘sah-win,’ remember?” She turned toward the hall leading the back bedrooms. “I’m going to bed.”

“Aw! What about our show! We were going to watch that new thing–Spirit Hunters!”

“I don’t like the sound of it,” said Shirleen. “Brings back bad memories.”

Bruce crossed his arms and frowned.

“Aw, come on, Shirl,” he pleaded in a softer voice. “Forget all that bullcrap with Able. It’s just a TV show, for cripes’ sake.”

“I just can’t tonight.”

“Good night, Mom,” said Heather. She pecked her mom on the cheek. Her mom’s skin sagged–dark shadows sat under her eyes. Mom’s depression again. Bruce got her meds for it, but some nights, her mom just had to lie down early. All the fighting didn’t help either. Mom never had depression before they lived in the junkyard.

Shirleen turned to her tall son.

“Good night, Samhain Despair,” she said. She gazed up at him for a moment before she stood on tiptoe to peck him on the cheek. Heather’s heart ached at how much Sam resembled Able–and her mom must see it too.

“Good night,” said Sam. “You look so tired. Are you sure you’re all right?”

Shirleen didn’t answer Sam. She just shook her head and walked back to her bedroom. Bruce frowned as she went, and then he turned to Sam.

“Now, Sam-hane, since you’re the devil’s very own, you should know the answer to that. Since your father believed you would be some kind of fortune teller.” He took a pull on his beer and laughed.

“You shut up about my dad,” said Sam. “Don’t talk about him.”

“All that fortune telling, talking to spirits, seeing visions–ha! Didn’t save him. Did it?” Bruce’s face slipped into a nasty leer. He locked eyes with Sam. Sam started to shake, his fists clenched, his face white with rage.

Heather dug her nails into the arms of her chair. Her stomach flip-flopped–she wanted to punch Bruce herself. How could Bruce talk to Sam that way about their dad? She concentrated her thoughts at Sam.

–Don’t, Sam. Don’t give him an excuse. Don’t.

Bruce started to stand up, and Sam tensed. Heather gripped the chair arms harder and harder as Bruce lurched toward Sam in slow motion.

Heather’s head swirled. She wanted to scream, she took a deep breath–and the lights blew. Pop, pop-pop, pop-pop-pop! Every one of the lights in the house blew out. Glass exploded onto the carpet, the doublewide filled with darkness, and if Bruce swung at Sam, nobody saw it.

A current of blue electricity rippled along the walls of the darkened house. In its glow, Heather saw Bruce gape. The current passed, and Heather laughed in the darkness. Her heart filled with light and bubbles–carefree and wild, a trapped thing torn free.

She heard a loud clunk and a crash.

“Dammit!” said Bruce.

A feathery sound near her feet alerted Heather to her fallen notebook. She scooped it up with a rush of glee, then she sensed Sam by her side. His hand touched her shoulder.

                –I’m going to hide in the little trailer out back.

She cradled the feel of his thoughts for a moment, like a tough but tender egg, and then she sent her own back to Sam.

                —I’ll join you.

The back door opened for just a microsecond, and Sam slid out. How did he find his way around in pure blackness like that? A loud clanging sounded in front of Heather; Bruce expelled a string of curses. Heather backed away, stepping on a hamburger on the floor. Even this made her heart sing with joy.

Heather groped her way into the kitchen and tripped over a bag of garbage before she found the back door. Outside, her glee evaporated. She gazed up at the stars and sank down in the sand, her notebook hugged to her chest. No Sam anywhere–probably already in the small trailer. Heather leaned up against the double-wide. She heard Bruce stumble toward the back bedroom. His voice. Her mother’s voice, cranky. Both voices. Someone shouted–Bruce. Shirleen shouted back. Both screamed at each other. Hot tears sprang to Heather’s eyes. Why couldn’t he leave Mom alone? Why couldn’t he leave all of them alone?

Heather Despair. Heather Desperate Despair. How had she wound up with a name like that? It seemed both ridiculous and fitting, given her life. And Sam’s name, Samhain Despair–both their names sounded like miserable jokes.

Tears ran down Heather’s face and soaked into her hair. Then she heard stumbling inside, and something heavy crashed down on the kitchen floor.

“Dammit. Who left this garbage here?”

At the sound of Bruce’s voice, Heather jumped up. She crept by moonlight toward the teardrop trailer, a round white shape in front of Bruce’s piles of junk. Dark, narrow corridors ran between the piles. Her heart pounded as she glanced down the corridor behind the teardrop trailer. A black form moved. Could it be coyotes? No–it stood upright, like a person! Sam?

The figure turned, and she saw a pale face. Black eyes bored into her own. Heather held her breath, but darkness swallowed the figure into shadows. She took a few steps down the corridor. A strange stillness, a feeling like dead electricity, the air pregnant with energy and silence–what was this feeling? Her neck prickled with fear. Too frightened, she ran back to the teardrop trailer and crept inside, her heart pounding.

Good. You’re okay.

Sam grinned at her in the moonlight. He sat on the floor, his arms wrapped around his long legs, too tall for this trailer. She crouched down next to him, then leaned up against him, shivering.

–What’s the matter?

“Sam–I saw someone.”

A shriek issued through the night air.

–Listen to that! I’m sick of them and their fighting. They never shut up.

Heather sensed his impatience flickering between them–impatience to get away from all this and live free. She peered out at the double-wide trailer. A lighted candle moved from window to window inside. Her mother and Bruce screaming at each other by candlelight. Probably be at it for hours now.

Heather felt the pages of her notebook, searching for a clean page. Then she pulled a pen out of her pocket and scribbled in the dark. Black eyes. A white, glowing face.

Sam watched from his place in the shadows.

                –Can you see what you’re writing?

“Not really,” Heather said. “But I know what I’m writing. I saw another one, Sam. Down there, at the end of the junk piles.”

                –Your writing is terrible in the dark. What did you see?

“Not what. Who. A boy, I think, with black clothes and a really pale face.” She wrote a few lines in her notebook.

Sam shook his head.

“What? Now you don’t believe me?”

                –I do. Heather, I do. There are things in this junkyard–well, I don’t need to scare you.”

“What things? What things in this junkyard?” Heather peeked out the round window again. Her heart thumped as the shadows twisted and morphed into fantastic shapes.

                –Let’s just say the one you need to worry about goes by the name of Bruce.

“Have you seen the–the things?”

                —No. I hear them, though. They never shut up.

Sam winced, and put his ear buds in. He turned away from her. Heather found a patch of moonlight that lit up her page, and she wrote–what she had seen, what Sam had said–all of it.

#

Two hours later, the noise in the double-wide died down. Sam and Heather lay on the small bed in the trailer. Sam rested his feet on the ceiling, and Heather placed her feet halfway up the wall.

“Sam?”

            –Don’t talk out loud. They could hear you.

            “I don’t always like to do that. It’s creepy.”

Oh, and zapping things with blue electricity isn’t creepy at all, I guess.

Heather shrugged at Sam, and Sam shrugged back.

“I have to leave,” said Sam.

The big yard light outside buzzed like an insane cicada. Heather shook her head no. He’d threatened to before, but always he’d promised to wait until he was eighteen, in November. This time, he sounded dead serious.

“You can’t leave. What about me and Mom? What would–”

“–Dad say?” said Sam. “I think–I know–Dad would say to leave. Even if Mom won’t.”

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“Then take me.”

Sam twisted his face away from Heather.

“I can’t,” he said. “Not right now. I know some place I can stay, but you can’t stay there.”

Heather shut her eyes to hide the tears welling up.

“You promised you’d get us both out! Aren’t you even going to tell me where you’re going?”

“I will get us out, Heather. You’ve got to trust me.”

“I trust you,” said Heather, but she felt like she’d been punched in the stomach: one, two, three times. Her father dying. Her mother marrying Bruce. Now Sam leaving.

“Please, Sam. Don’t leave me here alone. I can’t stay here with that man. He’s dangerous.”

“He’s dangerous,” said Sam at the same time, and smiled. Then he sighed and put his hand on his forehead. Just like their dad used to do.

“Dad would never say to leave me here alone,” she said.

“I know,” said Sam. “That is what he says. I–I guess I’ll bring you along then. But I have to go. Tomorrow.”

“Why tomorrow?” Heather frowned. “What does he say? Can you hear dad?” She tried to search Sam’s mind, but Sam didn’t give up secrets. His thoughts slipped away like ice before she could make sense of them.

“Stop that,” said Sam, weariness in his voice. “That stuff Dad believed, some of it was true. Maybe all of it’s true. I don’t know yet. ” He looked into Heather’s eyes, unfazed by their golden strangeness.

“We leave tomorrow,” he said.

He lay down on the floor, his back to Heather, and was soon asleep.

Heather listened to Sam breathe. The junkyard breathed too–sometimes she imagined the tangled mess of junked vehicles, piles of metal, pieces of wood, and old tires lived a life of its own. The place had a charge–especially at night–like weird energy in the air. She couldn’t explain it, but she’d felt it so strongly when she’d seen the figure at the end of the corridor.

Something scratched at the door. Heather stiffened. She let out a breath, and opened the door. A tiny black Chihuahua scrambled inside.

“Oh, poor Sybil,” she said. “Where have you been? Shhhh. Lie down.” Little Sybil curled catlike inside Heather’s sweater and sighed.

“I wonder where you hid this time?” Why did Bruce have to be so mean to Sybil? He could at least allow her to live in the double-wide. Bruce thought Sybil wouldn’t survive the junkyard–eaten by rats, he said! Heather didn’t believe that. But the coyotes, that was true. Sooner or later, if Sybil didn’t stay hidden–Heather shuddered and tucked her sweater closer around Sybil. The tiny dog rolled over in her sleep and squeaked.

Through the overhead window of the teardrop trailer, an old school bus loomed. Heather shivered. That bus gave her the creeps. The way Bruce parked it so close, like a head-on collision frozen in time.

Heather gazed at the bus, musing about the scars of a crash on its grill, the broken windshield. What if people died in the crash, on that bus? She lowered her head. The face of the strange pale figure flashed into her mind. Who was he? She drowsed, her mind playing tricks with the image of the face with its dark eyes. It stretched wider, the eyes deeper, and the mouth opened in a cascade of showering golden light. Heather shaded her eyes with her hand.

“Too bright,” she murmured, and then she opened her eyes, startled. She rubbed sand from her eyes. The morning light showed the trailer door wide open to the blue desert sky. She searched the trailer for Sam. He wasn’t there.

Heather scanned the inside of the trailer. Sybil still curled inside her sweater, asleep. Sam’s sleeping bag was gone, too. Sand blew in the open door and coated the floor–must have been open for hours. He’d left early.

–Sam! Where are you, Sam? Don’t leave me here!

She waited, but the message fell flat and dead. He didn’t answer. She searched around for clues, but found no note, no tracks, nothing, nada.

Sybil rolled out of Heather’s sweater and yawned with a squeak.

“Sybil, where’s Sam?”

Sybil sniffed around and gave a small yip. She had no idea.

“I’ll tell you where he is!”

Bruce stepped into the open doorway. Heather jumped back and hit her head against the wall of the trailer. Sybil barked an alarm, then hid behind Heather. Bruce’s clothes dripped with dust and sand; he had stubble on his chin and bags under his eyes.

“I sent him packing. That’s where he is!”

Chapter 2: The Paranormals (23 pages)

“Hi there!” said the round-faced boy with the blond hair

“Hi there!” said the round-faced boy with the blond hair. “I’m Trenton, and this is Lily!”

Heather paused at her school locker. The boy waved and grinned like a maniac, and Heather stared directly into his eyes before she remembered. The girl, Lily, froze under Heather’s gaze, but the boy only hesitated, then said,

“You’re in our English class, aren’t you? Did you happen to get the homework assignment? I’m afraid I got distracted in there. Can we get it from you? I mean, that is, if you have it.”

Heather remembered this boy–he was the “comma spice” guy. Last period, when Mrs. Cockleberry had asked him how to fix a comma splice, he’d responded with “Don’t commas need spice? They’re kind of plain without it.” This caused an uproar in the classroom. Heather might normally have laughed along, but after losing Sam that morning, she was in no mood for jokes.

She lowered her gaze and nodded, rifling through her binder. Finally, she pulled out a crumpled piece of paper with the assignment. Trenton goggled at the name “Heather Despair” written in the upper left hand corner.

“Wow!” said Trenton. “That’s an unusual name. Is that–I mean do you mind me asking? Is that your real name?” He grunted as Lily elbowed him in the ribs, and kept going.

“Because I’m uh, interested in names, and I’ve never heard that name before. Of course, I know what the word ‘despair’ means. I’m in honors English, after all. But I’ve never heard that word as an actual name before.”

“It’s my real name,” said Heather. She bowed her head in sadness, and struggled to open her locker. It was Sam’s real name too. Her locker finally popped open, the door nearly smacking her in the face, and a cascade of all her notebooks and books poured out for everyone to see. Notebooks slid across the floor of the hall, flying open. Pages and pages of her handwriting, visible to all. Heather blinked back tears of frustration and shame. What use was all this stupid writing? It wouldn’t bring back Sam or her dad–it wouldn’t put her family back together.

“What is all this?” said Trenton. “You write a lot of notes, Heather Despair.”

“I’m a writer,” sniffed Heather, snatching up several of her notebooks and stuffing them back into her locker.

“Here, let us help,” said Lily. “I’m sorry about my friend. He’s just kind of–enthusiastic.”

Lily picked up some books and handed them back to Heather. Trenton scrambled around, gathering up the rest. He passed them back to Heather with a gallant smile.

“I like to write too,” Lily said. “I keep notebooks of stories and poems I’ve written.” She read the title of one of the books.

The Specter Bones. This is a good book!” she enthused, “Have you read this yet?”

Heather shook her head. How was Lily not even embarrassed of her literary tendencies? She was so openly nerdy–Heather usually hid her writing from everybody. Except at home, and look what had happened there.

“You’re going to love it,” Lily went on. “I work part time in the town library, and I get to see all the new titles come in. I ate this one up right away. It’s about supernatural hauntings.”

“Oh yeah?” Heather’s tears receded as Lily talked on and on about the book. She smiled at the girl with the black hair and bronze skin, who had both spiked hair and wore large glasses and a sedate argyle cardigan. She resembled a punked-out librarian.

“See, we’ve got so much in common,” said Trenton. “Come to lunch with us, Heather Despair! Come on!”

Heather stared Lily straight in the eye. Lily would have to pass the test first. This time, Lily did not freeze up at Heather’s gaze.

“Yes, come eat with us,” said Lily. “I’ll tell you more about the book. No spoilers, though. I promise.”

“I guess,” said Heather. These two were up to something–what was it? If Sam were here, he would–oh, Sam. She sighed.

“Yay, Heather Despair!” said Trenton, dancing around.

“Just ignore him,” said Lily. “If he doesn’t spaz out every half hour, he’ll explode.”

Heather did not smile.

“Just Heather,” she said. “I don’t much care for my last name.”

“Oh really? It’s so cool, though,” said Trenton. “It’s really for real? You didn’t make it up?”

Heather shook her head. She hoped Trenton would shut up before he called more attention to her weird name.

“We’ll just call you Heather,” said Lily. “Won’t we, Trenton Lloyd Minch? I’d want the same thing, if my last name was unusual. I totally get it.”

Heather gave Lily a little smile. Lily seemed genuinely friendly. She bet whatever they were up to was Trenton’s idea. Trenton grasped his chest as if the mere mention of his middle name had wounded him.

“How dare you bring up ‘the Lloyd’?” he moaned. “Liliana Renée Benavidez!”

Lily shrugged.

“I like my name,” she said.

“Mine gets worse,” Heather said. “Can you keep a secret? I mean, just a small one.” She glanced around to make sure they were alone in the hall.

“Sure,” said Lily. “My lips are sealed.”

“Well–” said Heather. “My middle name is ‘Desperate.’ So my entire name is ‘Heather Desperate Despair.'” She couldn’t believe she had told them that.

“Wow!” squealed Trenton, and then put his finger over his lips to shush himself as Lily glared at him.

“Wow,” said Lily. “How’d that happen?”

“My father –” said Heather. She jerked as the dead electricity hit her then. Was someone there? Sam? Her head buzzed, and she hear something fuzzy, like words.

“Was he like a hippy?” said Trenton. Heather, concentrating hard on the buzzing words, jumped. Trenton tsk-tsked and took Heather’s arm, leading her to the lunch room.

“What? Oh, yeah. Something like that,” said Heather. The buzzing receded and the words with them. Everything returned to normal except Heather. Drained and disappointed, she stumbled along after Trenton, wondering why she hadn’t gotten the message.

–Sam, where are you? Just let me know you’re okay.

Dead and flat again. Wherever Sam was, he was not receiving her. She clasped her hands together, head down, sending out a mental alert signal that usually made Sam come running at top speed. Nothing–as if he didn’t exist.

#

Taking a tray, Heather moved into the lunch line. She regarded the revolting food in metal boxes. Tater tots again. At least she’d be able to stomach those fairly well, not like the vomitous mass of lasagna that awaited on the far end of the line, jiggling ominously. She passed by the Jell-O salad, gagging when she saw a hair in it. She picked up a piece of corn bread with honey that seemed reasonably hair-free, and avoided the suspicious-looking canned pears sitting gloppily in their syrup. She inspected the iceberg lettuce with a thin, runny “Italian” dressing and decided it wasn’t worth it. She grabbed a few anemic tomato slices and carrot sticks and headed toward the table where Trenton and Lily waited for her. Too late, she remembered chocolate milk. She glanced back at the bin of milk pints.

Even at age fifteen, Heather remained a picky eater, meat avoidant and easily nauseated, a fact that incensed her stepfather. Heather inspected everything closely, noticing the revolting qualities of food–every little inconsistency and texture. She constantly picked things out of her meals and set them aside. She would have fed them to Sybil, but Sybil’s level of pickiness surpassed even Heather’s.

Determined to get a pint of chocolate milk, Heather returned to the milk bin. Unfortunately, a large girl named Janet Hughes who didn’t like Heather got there first.

“Don’t cut in line!” bawled Janet when she saw Heather trying to snatch a milk.

“Jeez, I was just getting milk,” said Heather. “I forgot.”

“So go to the end. Don’t get in my way.” Janet cracked her knuckles.

“But they only give us ten minutes to eat.” If she had to wait in line again, she’d miss her lunch entirely. She turned her back on Janet, but didn’t walk back to her seat just yet. The wanting of that chocolate milk completely overtook her. She closed her eyes and wanted that milk so bad–and then something happened. There was a whiz and a bang, Heather saw stars, and the chocolate milk carton arrived in her hand. Heather reeled back to her seat, smiling to herself. Lily and Trenton, who had been waiting for her to come back, stared. The whole cafeteria stared at five kids lying on the floor in various stages of consciousness near the milk bins. Janet had been hit the hardest. She was passed out cold.

“Oh no,” whispered Heather, her smile fading.

Lily and Trenton turned to her with open mouths.

“Heather–” said Trenton. He knitted his brow so hard he made marks between his eyes. Cherubic was the word for Trenton, with his golden curls and bright blue eyes. Heather struggled to keep a straight face as Trenton waggled a finger at her.

“So there’s this thing I’ve been dying to ask you about,” he said. He gestured toward the scene near the milk bin. “Did you do that? Knock out Janet Huge?”

Heather poked at her lunch and let a little snicker escape. She hoped Trenton would think it was at Janet’s expense, and not because he looked like an angry Kewpie doll right now.

“Come on, Heather! You did not have that chocolate milk in your hand a minute ago! You got that thing out of nowhere!” said Trenton.

Heather shrugged. He couldn’t prove anything–it was her word against theirs. People had accused her before, but she just put on her innocent act, ignored them.

“I’m glad Janet Huge got knocked out. She always messes with me. She wouldn’t let me have chocolate milk.”

“Uh huh–thought so,” said Trenton. He didn’t seem fooled. “That’s one thing I was wondering about. Also, I think I might have seen you glowing once when the lights were out.”         He glanced around the cafeteria furtively, then back to Heather. “Lily and I have–well, it’s like a club. We call it the Paranormals. We’re investigators–like in Jeremiah Jackson’s Spirit Hunters. And well, you seem kind of–”

He trailed off. Heather waited. Paranormal. She was paranormal. Say it!

“I mean, some of the things I’ve seen.”

Why didn’t he just say it? She was a freak, a weirdo, an oddity–just something to investigate to these geeks with their geek club. She wasn’t a girl to them–she was a paranormal phenomenon.

She should lie, cover it up–but suddenly she didn’t care anymore. With Sam gone, she had no one else to talk to. Not that Sam had ever talked that much anyway. If these nerds wanted to know about the paranormal, then why not? She would tell them.

“First, how do I know if I can trust you two?” she said. “I mean, Lily–you seem all right. But this is not something you can go around blabbing about.” She gave Trenton the full power of her stare, and he shivered. If he really wanted to get to know her–the real her–he should know what he was toying with.

“I won’t blab. Really,” he said, his face for once somber. “I take investigating the paranormal very seriously.”

Suddenly, Heather pitched forward, burying her face in her arms. Her shoulders shook as she poured all her grief onto the table top. Sam. Her father. Missed messages. Things in the junkyard. Her freakish weirdness. Her poor, hungry dog. Her total lack of real friends. It all rolled down on her at once, and she sobbed and sobbed.

“Oh no,” said Lily. “Trenton, darn it! You’ve upset her.”

“Aw,” said Trenton. He slid to Heather’s side of the table and put his arm around her. “I didn’t mean to, Heather Despair. I’m sorry.”

Heather peered up, her face stained with tears.

“I’m the one who is sorry,” she said. “I just–I just can’t always help it. I should be able to be normal, but I can’t.”

“You mean you really–” Trenton’s eyes opened wide. Even though he had suspected Heather was paranormal, he seemed amazed to find that he was right.

“Yes,” said Heather. “There really is something very strange about me. You guys should just leave me alone, because sooner or later, I’m going to do something even weirder and really freak everybody out. They’ll probably banish me from school, and I’ll have to spend all my time with my creepy stepdad.”

“Stepdad, huh? Did he name you?” asked Lily.

“No, my real dad gave us these names,” said Heather. “My brother too. His name is ‘Samhain Despair’ if you can believe it. But he goes by Sam. Dad named him that because he believed he’d–he’d–”

Sobs broke through Heather’s words. Sam would never do anything now that he was missing. It was all up to her, and what could she do?

Lily scooted in next to Heather and patted her on the back.

“You can trust us, Heather,” she said. “I know we just met, but Trenton and I are really interested in the paranormal. Maybe we can help you somehow.”

Help. The word sounded so simple, so wonderful, coming from Lily. Heather blew her nose on a napkin and regarded her new friend.

“My brother is missing,” she said. “Sam. He disappeared this morning. My stepfather says he made him leave, but Sam wouldn’t leave without me. And now I don’t know where he is or what to do–” It all came out in a rush. Fresh tears formed in Heather’s eyes, but before she could cry again, Lily held up her Smartphone. She hit a number and waited. Then Lily said in a deep voice, “I’m checking on Sam Despair. I’m making sure he got to school today.” After a second, she said, “Thank you,” and hung up.

“Absent in all his classes,” said Lily. A tear rolled down Heather’s face.

“Don’t worry,” said Lily, who looked worried. “He’s probably just really freaked out. He might have stayed away to think things through. I bet he’ll be in school tomorrow.”

“But he knows I will worry,” said Heather. “Why doesn’t he at least send me a message?”

“Maybe he dropped out of school,” said Trenton. “You know, like to join the circus or a motorcycle gang.”

“Trenton, you’re not helping,” said Lily. “I’m sure he just needs a day off to think things over. He might be getting his living situation worked out. It would be pretty hard to handle school right after your stepfather kicked you out.”

“I know he’d message me if he could. He’d let me know he was okay,” said Heather. “I’ve always been able to reach him. See, Sam’s very powerful. Dad gave him the name Samhain because he believed Sam would be a spiritualist like him.”

“And you too?” said Trenton.

“Dad never said anything about me becoming a spiritualist. It was mostly about Sam,” said Heather. “Then Dad died–when I was eight. I guess maybe he never got around to noticing what I could do.”

“What can you do, Heather?” asked Lily.

Suddenly Heather knew she’d tell them everything, everything. It felt so good to finally talk about it. She shook her chocolate milk carton at them.

“This,” she said. “Although it always knocks people out. A few other weird things.”

“Such as?” said Trenton.

“I can hear my brother’s thoughts, and he can hear mine. I mean, not all the time. Just if we want to talk, you know? It’s like our own private messaging system.”

“Wow! That’s pretty paranormal,” said Trenton. “Right, Lily?”

“Yes. That’s telepathy,” said Lily. Her eyes were wide, but she had taken out a notepad and scribbled a few things down. Heather didn’t care–she went on.

“Also, sometimes there’s this blue light that comes. Usually it’s if I’m scared. Like it’s trying to protect me or something. If someone touches it, it shocks them.”

“Wow–Lily, what is that?” said Trenton.

“I have no idea,” said Lily. “But it certainly sounds paranormal.”

“Also–” Heather smiled a little. Here it came, the big one. “Sometimes I see things in the junkyard outside our house.”

“Things? Could you be more specific?” Lily paused with her pen poised above her notepad.

“Like ghosts?” Trenton burst out.

“I don’t know,” said Heather, going solemn again. “Could be. I don’t get a very good look at them before they disappear. But they are people–not coyotes, like my stepdad says. Not animals.”

Lily pulled her glasses from her head to her face, and then she fixed Heather with a serious gaze. Her huge lenses magnified her brown eyes and made her imposing, especially with her spiky black hair.

“Heather,” Lily began, “I’ve done a fair amount of reading about the paranormal. What you’re describing  could be classed as telepathy, psychokinesis, and possibly some kind of psychic channeling. That is a lot of paranormal activity for one person. I’m worried about you. I think you might need to see a medical professional about this.”

“Oh no,” said Heather. “A doctor? They’d say I’m crazy. Or lock me up!”

“From what I’ve read in the literature, you’re unlikely to be able to stop on your own. These incidents may only increase in scope and magnitude, up to and including your possible demise, and that of others. People could be injured, Heather. People could be killed. Even you. Especially you!”

“No, I won’t let it get that out of hand. I won’t.”

But what about how badly she wanted to find Sam? What if she released that want? She couldn’t think about that. Better to think about wanting chocolate milk.

Trenton said, “I think it’s pretty out of hand already. Look.” He waved his hand in the direction of the passed-out students. A teacher knelt next to them, trying to help them sit up, and a nurse came running across the cafeteria. Students gathered around, staring at the kids scattered on the floor.

“You probably should try to not knock people out when you get your chocolate milk,” said Trenton. “If it’s that big a deal to you, you could always ask me. I’ll get it for you.”

“No, Trenton, they pick on you even worse,” said Lily.

“Yes,” said Trenton. He stood up and executed a pirouette. “But I do not care, because I’m awesome.” He skipped off toward the milk bin, swinging his little lunch pail, and getting dirty looks from several jocks at a nearby table.

“Oh no,” cried Lily. “Now he’s going to get beat up and need a nurse, and she’s already busy. Come on!” She grabbed Heather’s hand and pulled her along, chasing after Trenton. “I have to protect him!”

Trenton had already been surrounded by several smaller tough-looking types. When they saw Lily approaching, they edged away. Lily took out her notepad and wrote down a few names.

“What’s your name?” she asked the smallest one. Instead of answering, the boy took off running.

“Hmmm, works every time,” said Lily. “Trent, are you okay?”

“Of course, I’m fabulous,” sang Trenton, unaware of the trouble he’d almost gotten into. He winked, then picked up a chocolate milk and tossed it to Heather.

“Heather Despair,” he said. “I wonder if we could ask you for a favor.”

“Sure. I guess it depends on what it is.”

“Can we just–I don’t know–observe you?”

Heather fixed her golden eyes on Lily, and then on Trenton. They gazed back at her. Lily’s mouth slid open as Heather stared them down, but Trenton just frowned and crossed his arms.

“I’m not a lab rat,” said Heather.

“No, but–” Trenton started. Heather held up her hand.

“I’ll let you do it, but you’ve got to do something for me.”

“We could help you find your brother,” said Lily. “I’m going to anyway, so you might as well say yes.”

“You can be a member of our club,” Trenton offered.

“Ha!” said Heather. “Me, a paranormal investigator! Join the geek club? Right–and what will I be investigating? Myself?”

Trenton pouted at Heather’s rebuff, disappointed. Heather paused. Actually, maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea. What had she been doing all this time anyway, but investigating–herself, her brother, the junkyard where they lived?

“Wait. I–I changed my mind. Trenton, I’m sorry. I want to be a Paranormal. I want to join your club, and–”

“–and we’ll find Sam,” said Lily. Heather smiled at her gratefully. Lily got her–almost like the way Sam got her messages. Almost.

“So the first thing we should do is write. We’ll meet after school and we’ll write about the paranormal,” said Heather.

“Write?” The marks between Trenton’s eyebrows returned. Heather gave him and Lily a full stare. Lily, slack-jawed, nodded in agreement.

“We should write,” she said in a flat voice.

“Lily, snap out of it,” said Trenton. “She’s mesmerizing you or something.”

Heather broke eye contact and Lily’s jaw snapped shut. She shook her head in confusion.

“Am not,” said Heather, but then she grinned at Trenton. Trenton got her too–just in a different way. “How come it doesn’t work on you?”

“Dunno,” said Trenton. “I guess I’m just too fabulous!” He did his pirouette, and Heather couldn’t help it. She giggled. She guessed maybe Trenton was all right after all. She watched him wave spastically at a dark-haired boy from their English class.

“Hi Oskar!”

Oskar gave a half-hearted wave and grinned. Trenton turned back to Lily and Heather, a besotted smile on his face.

“He’s so cute!” he squealed. “And smart, too. Don’t you think he’s smart, Lily?”

“He says that about Oskar practically every day,” said Lily to Heather.

“We should invite him to join our new club!” said Trenton. “I mean, once we get it going.”

“Guess so,” said Heather. “But you should come and write anyways. I’ve got to show you something–something paranormal.”

“I’m there,” said Trenton.

“Every day. After school,” said Heather. “We’ll meet and write. Today, I’ll see you in the library.”

#

“I’m not looking for a book to read,” said Heather for the third time. The librarian ignored this and picked up another stack of books from her shelving cart.

“Or these,” she went on. “If you’re interested in fantasy and science fiction–are quite popular choices among your age group.”

Heather gave the books a baleful stare. She noted the bright, flashy covers and the sloppy artwork that failed to grace them. They almost certainly contained predictable plots with short, choppy chapters that were simple and bite-sized, intended for the short attention spans teens her age were presumed to have.

“If it reads like texting,” she said. “I don’t want it.”

The librarian pulled out one of the “popular choices” and paged through it, determined to prove its merit to Heather.

At that moment, Trenton and Lily finally showed up in the library, toting their notebooks. Heather waved at them.

The Long Shadow

A short story canonical to the Despair universe.

The Long Shadow

by Leslie Edens Copeland

The old man twitched and groaned, lying on the hospital bed. His family gathered around–his grown children, his graying wife. I gathered with them, drawing close, floating invisible above the death bed. No one shivered when I floated close–they watched the old man, his rib cage moving up and down with each breath.

I looked over at the long, dark shadow that spread from his bed and crossed the floor, all the way into the bright kitchen.

He struggled to sit up, and I tore my gaze from the long shadow and watched him. His eyes opened and stared forward. His family shifted around him, tense and waiting.

“It’s time,” said the mother to her grown children.

Finally, I thought. He’s ready to give up the ghost.

His eyes were open and staring now, glassy and glazed over as if he looked into another world. I met his eyes with mine. With incredible effort, he lifted a shaking finger and pointed at me. His lips parted, but only a grunt came out. He collapsed back on the bed, and now his breath came in gasps that lifted his rib cage with effort. The family was listening and watching, their hands clenched tightly on the arms of chairs or in the hands of each other. The breaths came farther apart now each time.

One, two, three . . . I counted between his breaths. I made it to fifteen. He breathed.

One, two, three . . . This time I counted to twenty.

One, two, three . . . Now it was twenty-five.

Each time he breathed, the family let out their breath with him, sighing with relief. Then the wait began again.

I kept my eye on that long shadow. I felt myself floating sideways and struggled to lift up, to not float into any of family.

His next breath sounded ragged and shallow. I moved in closer, floating directly above the old man’s form.

I glanced over at the lighted kitchen floor. The long shadow had started to recede. The family was closing in, leaning over the old man in their tension and fear. As I watched, the long shadow seemed to roll up and disappear into the man’s body. Then a translucent form emerged from his chest: the spirit, at last.

The family continued watching the man’s body as it died, gathering around to touch him.

“He’s not breathing,” said the mother, “He’s gone. He’s gone.”

While they focused on the old man’s death, I watched the spirit being born before me. The translucent figure sat up and looked around, gasping as if he was still trying to breathe. He looked just like the old man had in life. When he saw me, he pointed at me again.

Now!

I dropped downward and grabbed onto him.

I found him slippery–new–and I almost lost him. But I wouldn’t be much of an investigator if I couldn’t think on my feet–or on my ectoplasm. Some desperate instinct kicked in, and I simply merged my ectoplasm with his.

I found it unpleasant–I could feel all he was feeling now. His fear filled me as he began to rise up from his body, his family still surrounding the corpse below. Wave after wave of his fright crashed over me, but at least he didn’t try to fight off the strange spirit who was now inhabiting him.

Bound together like this, we winked out–went out, just like a candle–and everything went completely black.

#

I had expected such sudden blackness at my own death. A final end–going out like a candle. Nothingness.

Instead, at the moment of my death, I found myself under a whirling shape like a small tornado that suctioned at me, as if urging me upward. It pulled at me until I let go and flew up into its center. I spun inside, watching blue electricity crackle all around me, and then I shot out at the top, floating effortlessly above a flat gray plain ringed with trees–a field in another world–a field full of holes like the one I had just come out of.

I’d floated around in shock, not feeling at all peaceful or at ease.

“Where am I?” I moaned, my voice sounding hollow as it echoed through the still gray sky.

Only moments before, I’d been in the hospital, alone in my bed. I’d been thinking of my badge and my gun. I felt like nothing without them. I looked down at my wasted hands, my emaciated body. This disease had left me nothing to investigate. No mystery, no suspects. The disease had just come, out of nowhere, and when it was done ravaging my body, it left into nowhere too.

Now I was floating above this flat plain.

I looked around for someone, anyone, who could help me. I floated higher into the strange, still air of the gray sky. The height frightened me, but I did make out a large complex of some kind on the horizon. I started to move toward it, and found I could fly with great speed, but this terrified me. In my fear, I sent myself crashing down into the trees. I bounced off several of them, but floated up again unhurt. In fact, I floated right through some of the branches. During the crash, I’d become insubstantial somehow.

“At least I’m not harmed,” I said, but then I realized I was most likely dead.

The complex, when I reached it, was a large walled city, with maze-like streets, overlooked by a massive castle. I saw no one in the streets, so I flew to the castle where I simply entered through the wall. Inside, I found myself in room with red leather benches and tables, where people sat and held cups. I sniffed a familiar smell and realized I was in a coffee shop.

“Please, I need help,” I said to a pale, see-through couple, but they gave me a sour look and lifted up from their seat, passing through the table and out the back wall.

I tried a few more of the people in the room, but they all either lifted up and floated off, or they disappeared into thin air.

I finally sat down in a back corner, frustrated and exhausted. For a moment, I closed my eyes. When I opened them, I couldn’t see my own hands. Then I gritted my teeth, concentrating, and they reappeared.

Smelling the rich odor, I found myself wanting a cup of coffee. I felt as if I were drowning in that feeling of desire. Then there was a popping sound, and the coffee appeared before me.

Thrilled, I slurped the coffee. I thought then of my gun and my badge. I swam in the desire of them, gone these many months–and moments later, I held them in my hands.

I don’t know how long I sat there–hours, days, weeks. As I sat still, letting myself go transparent, others began to drift back into the seats and fill up the place. The waitress never approached me and no one sat near, but listening to the conversations around me, I began to piece a few things together.

I was in a place called Dead Town–silly name–and the people here were all dead–spirits–as I was. The other spirits avoided me, and I finally overheard why.

“Who’s the guy in the trench coat with the shifty look on his face?” This was a young girl who looked to be no more than fifteen–blonde, blue-eyed, about five foot seven, I noted.

The teen-age boy with her–Hispanic, slight build, about six foot one–pushed his hand through his black hair and closed his eyes as if trying to sense something. He faded in and out–now sharp, now transparent–and wore a strange white cloak that looked like it was made out of a bed sheet.

“Best to avoid him, May,” said the boy, “He’s skipped his bath in the Dead Sea and will have to learn the hard way.”

“What’s that hard way?” asked the girl, a concerned look on her face, “You didn’t get much of a Dead Sea soaking yourself.”

“I’m a special case,” he said, winking, “But avoiding it altogether will lead to paranoid insanity, I think. I’m getting bad vibes. We should probably leave and come back later.”

The girl nodded as if she understood, and the pair threw a handful of old keys and bones on the table. They left quickly, after giving me one backward glance.

I floated out through the wall and rose up into the still air. Once I was above the castle, I could see the Dead Sea–a sprawling, gray body of water that spread out to the horizon. Its surface was smooth, like glass, but when I hovered over it and looked down, I could see the people. There were thousands of them, all swimming around in there like schools of fish, in silent trances, never breaking the surface.

Recoiling in disgust, I flew upward and landed on top of the wall that ringed the town.

“I don’t want to be dead,” I said, and when no one answered, I shouted as loudly as I could, “I DON’T WANT TO BE DEAD!”

Still no one responded. Why was there no guide, no rules, nothing to tell you where to go or what to do? I was furious. Not only had my death been unsatisfying–I’d always wanted to die in an exciting way, such as a gunshot wound or perhaps a car wreck in a high speed chase–but now I was in a place where everyone ignored me and no one gave me directions. Except that I was supposed to swim in that awful Dead Sea, and I was not going in there.

As I perched on that fence, I started to get a sense of some kind, like a tingle. I looked up. The boy with the sheet was floating past, holding hands with the blonde girl. I went transparent, almost invisible, and followed them from a distance.

They landed in the flat field with all the holes. Hiding in the woods, I watched the boy in the sheet walk hand-in-hand with the blonde girl up to one of the portals and jump in. After they disappeared, I walked up to the edge and looked down. I could feel a slight suction, but I couldn’t see anything but shadows.

I hesitated only a moment, then I jumped in.

Maybe I wanted to investigate, or maybe anything that could be down there was an improvement over my lonely existence in Dead Town. But immediately I was swirling and rolling, feeling like a flat penny in a three-dimensional universe, as if everything around me had more reality than I did, and then I fell out at the bottom and found myself back–back in my house, back in my wood-paneled room on earth, in my favorite place in the world. In any world.

I ran to the door, which was closed, and grabbed for the knob. My hand immediately went through it, but this didn’t really present a problem, because I just floated through the door.

Helena was in the kitchen, preparing dinner. The kids were grouped around the table, doing homework. Everything appeared as normal, except I was not there.

“Helena!” I cried and held out my arms. She didn’t move, so I floated closer and tried to touch her lightly. She shivered, and turned to take a sweater off of a chair. As she was putting it on, I tried to take her in my arms.

More shivering.

“Oh no,” she muttered, “I must be getting sick.”

“Helena, I’m here,” I said. Patricia, the younger one, looked up and for a moment, I thought she was seeing me. I came closer, and she lifted up one hand and held it out, so that it was right inside my middle. I reveled in the feeling of contact, but soon enough she shivered too and put her hand down. Then she turned silently back to her homework, as if nothing had happened.

“Patty, are you feeling chilled too? We must both be getting sick,” said Helena, putting her hand on Patricia’s forehead.

Bob, my seven-year-old son, never even looked up from his math problems when I wafted straight through him.

For days, I tried to get their attention, focusing on Patty and Helena, since they at least had felt some cold. Nothing seemed to change or work–they got cold chills, but they never saw or heard me. When I overheard Helena talking on the phone about all the doctors she’d been seeing, I knew it was time to stop.

Frustrated, I floated out through the wall, wandering the neighborhood aimlessly. As I floated past our neighbor’s house, I noticed some movement, and then I saw something protruding from the roof of our neighbor’s house–a whirling gray cone, like a small tornado, flecked with blue electricity.

I flew through the wall of the neighbor’s house and found myself under a whirling shape like the one I’d gone up when I died. It almost touched down on their dining room table. Looking at it, I didn’t notice the tall, pale ghost who rested in the corner of the room–until he spoke.

“Hey there, friend,” he said in a voice that creaked like an old door hinge.

“Hello?” I said. I wasn’t used to being acknowledged.

He put out his hand.

“The name’s Max. Max Pollander,” he said. I reached out to take his hand and found I could shake it.

“You’re not afraid of me?” I said, “You don’t find me offensive because I didn’t get in the Dead Sea?”

“Oh, that,” said Max, coughing slightly, “I haven’t been in there myself, so I don’t care. I’m a haunting ghost. Never been up to the spirit world, and won’t go either–not until my little grand-daughter is old enough to manage on her own.”

He regarded the whirling maelstrom above his dining room table.

“You’re welcome to use that portal, if you’ve a mind to,” he said, “It will be here as long as I am.”

I looked at it, swirling and full of what looked like black storm clouds.

“I came down one that dropped me in my house,” I said, “I followed a girl and a boy down. And this one will take me back up?”

Max gave a laugh that turned into a wheeze.

“That was my grand-daughter and her friend,” he said, “He met with an unfortunate accident that left him a half-ghost.”

He shook his head at the portal, his thin white hair sticking up and waving as he did so.

“These portals can act funny,” he said, “They can jump around, especially with you coming down and your house so near. Your desire to return might have led you to that spot. But it’s like I say–the portal will be here while I am, so you can always use it to go up and down.”

“Thank you,” I said, finally realizing he meant to do me a favor, “What’s a half-ghost?”

“Just like it sounds,” Max said, “He’s a ghost about half the time, and mortal the rest of the time. Other than that, we don’t know.”

“There certainly are stranger things in this world than I ever imagined,” I said, “But you’re able to talk to your grand-daughter? Why can’t I get my wife and kids to hear me?”

“I don’t know for sure,” said Max, “It’s a common complaint. But May–she might be special. Her parents could see ghosts too.”

At that moment, the knob of the front door rattled, and then the door slammed open and the blonde girl walked in.

“Hello there,” she said to me, then to Max, she said, “What’s he doing here? Johnny said he was trouble.”

“He’s all right,” said Max, “Just using the portal.”

Johnny walked through the door next, and I could see that he was mortal now, walking on the ground and completely solid, although he still wore his strange sheet cape.

“Hey!” he said, “He shouldn’t be here, Max!”

“Nonsense,” said Max, “He’s all right. You kids worry too much.”

“Sure, don’t listen to the seer,” said Johnny, “Just because I’m not as accurate as the esteemed Samhain d’Espers, just ignore all my insights.”

“Now, Johnny,” said Max, “Don’t take it like that.”

“Grandpa,” said May, “You know better. You’ve got to send this guy away!”

“Sometimes you kids are downright unfriendly,” said Max, but then he turned to me and said, “If you’re going to use the portal, you’d better go ahead. Otherwise, better be on your way.”

“Why?” I was devastated at losing the first friend I’d made since dying.

“Seers usually have good reasons for their visions, I’ve found. But listen,” he paused, and moved in closer to me, whispering now, “You can use the portal any time, okay? Just do it quick. Bye!”

He flickered in and out now until he was gone–invisible, I guess. I looked around. Johnny glared at me.

“Well?” he said, “Are you going?”

I nodded and gulped and eased myself up into the portal, where I spun and whirled and wondered what I’d done to forego all human and spirit contact.

Perhaps days later–who can tell, in ecto-time?–I began seeing the long shadow.

#

I had come down the portal, intending to return to my wood-paneled room. I instead found myself floating somewhere over the mountains outlying my town.

How did I wind up here? I thought, but I remembered Max’s words.

“Listen, Bub,” he’d whispered to me one night as I floated toward his dining room portal, “Be careful to always come down the same portal up there, got it? Some of those portals go terrible places.”

“I know,” I said, “I wound up in the garbage dump once.”

Max grinned.

“Yeah, I told you the portals can shift,” he said, “Sometimes it’s desire, or other ghosts in the area–or some other strong forces could do it. A spiritualist with strong abilities, for example.”

I nodded and went toward the portal, but Max stopped me, putting his hand on my arm.

“That’s not what I meant, though,” he said, giving me look that was dead serious, “You’ve got to be careful up there, in the spirit world. Some of those portals will reincarnate you–you’ll be reborn as a baby. There’s a few up there that go to a sort of spirit underworld. They call it the Underwood because it’s under the trees. You really don’t want to get stuck down there–you’ll never get out.”

I nodded, gulping. Just the other day I’d considered jumping down a large, smooth-edged hole in that flat gray plain.

“Grandpa?” It sounded like we had woken up May.

“Thanks, Max,” I said, and I quickly went up the portal.

So there must have been a reason–a force, a ghost–that the portal came out above the mountains that day. Something or someone drew me there. As I floated toward the town, I noticed a small trailer in the foothills, and a woman working outside in the garden. I felt a tingling when I looked at her–something was off. Something about her shadow. I squinted, moving up and down to see it better.

In the afterlife, there are no shadows. My wanderings throughout the realm have convinced me that they somehow become entangled in the portals. When I look down them, I see a well full of shifting shades, touched by blue lightning. Looking up from the mortal realm, however, they appear to be full of shifting gray sand and sometimes, black clouds.

Perhaps my fascination with shadows is the reason I stared so long, until finally I saw it. It was as though a veil fell away from my eyes, and now I saw the long, black, immobile shadow that struck out from her form, cutting everything behind her in half as it extended across the hillside.

I flew down to watch her as she went about her chores outside the small house–milking her goats, feeding her chickens, weeding her vegetables. She looked around once or twice as if she heard something, but she did not otherwise seem to feel my presence. Gliding through her, I could see that she was pregnant. I peered in at the baby, a little girl, who kicked at me. The shadow remained, whatever she did–long, black despite the sun, and though it followed her, it never mirrored her movements. It simply was.

After that, I began to see the long shadow in others–mortals, always mortals. A man here, a woman there. Young people–May had it. Johnny too, when he was mortal. Many of them in Portales Espirituales, the desert town where I’d lived and died.

I took to haunting the room in my mortal home, my old study, where I did my best solving. In my wood-paneled room, I stick pins in the walls to keep track of who had the long shadow, where they were. I ran strings between the pins and made patterns. Later the mortals–my wife and kids–would enter the room and wonder who has been sticking pins in the walls. They would yank out the pins and argue with each other, but I’d already gone.

Up the portal, across the flat gray field I would fly, into my room in Dead Town, just like the one I left below. The pins and patterns will already be waiting for me. I replicate above what I did below. I touch the pins and remember the names: Heather, Sam, Lily, Oskar, May, Johnny. These are the ones who cast a long shadow to my investigating eyes. Then here, and here–I see other names. So many names. There is the woman–I have learned her name is Jewel–about to have a baby. Will the baby cast a long shadow as well?

It is lonely work, never seen by my family, ignored by other spirits–all except Max. But at least I could concentrate on it fully, and that is how I learned about the spirits who disappear.

#

You know, it’s strange the things you find preserved in the desert. I lived in the town of Portales Espirituales for many mortal years, yet I never saw spirits. After I died, I began to learn about the town’s many spiritualists. Many, many people here can see spirits and interact with them. Many of these have the long shadow. Families, many of them quite old, preserved here in this simple desert town.

I was following a man with the long shadow when I discovered the next piece of the puzzle.

This man seemed drawn to Portales Espirituales like a magnet–he drove at top speed to get there, muttering about how he could hear the spirits. I rode with him, watching the telephone poles fly by the car with astonishing speed. We were just entering the town.

Oh, this place again, I was thinking, as he failed to slow down. He’s going awfully fast, I thought, and then in an instant, the car was upside down and I was sitting on top of it, watching his spirit waft up past me.

“Wait a minute!” I said, and then it disappeared. No portal, nothing. Into thin air!

I floated down through the car and saw the man’s body lying banged up, half in and half out of the window, but no spirit was present. The long shadow I had followed was gone.

“Where’d he go?” I said, but the body could tell me nothing.

I returned to the spirit world, where I searched for any evidence of the newly arrived spirit of the dead man. My surveillance on the portals showed no one new arriving. I even asked around, but of course no one would give me more than a short answer before disappearing or flying away. I had a suspicion that no new spirit had arrived in the last couple hours of ecto-time (the nearest I can figure, that means a few minutes of mortal time. I don’t really understand ecto-time, but I manifested a computer at spirit headquarters to figure out how it works. Sometimes the computer only flickers with blue light, though).

After losing the man in the car, I watched my other long shadows even more obsessively than before. Where did they go when they died? Then, passing through Max’s dining room, I saw him speaking to a mortal old man with a long shadow. They seemed to be old friends, but something about that old man made me tingle. I followed him, and when I saw the old man collapse in the street on his way home, his long shadow expanding out for miles behind him, I knew I’d found a way.

#

Darkness.

Clinging to his ectoplasm, inhabiting the newly dead spirit of the old man, I had followed him down.

We were siphoned out of mortal existence. Yet we were not in the spirit world either.

I found myself in a place that was dark and deep, deeper than the deepest pool, and felt ancient. This place I had arrived at felt as though it had no end. I had never investigated anything like this. I couldn’t find the limits of my body, nor could I tell if I was ectoplasmic or mortal. I could feel the other spirits there in the darkness with me–the spirit I had traveled in with was still with me. I detached from him, painfully, and floated off in the darkness by myself. Soon I was far away from the others, on my own again. I could sense someone else with me in the darkness, something that slithered and coiled around me. Strangely, I was comfortable inside the feeling of this thing surrounding me. I waited, seeing how close it would come. There was something like a sound, and I wondered if this being was physical, if it could make a sound.

                I am a being of pure thought, if you were wondering.

What was that? I was hearing voices in my mind now.

                Try to talk to me. Direct your thoughts to me, it said.

I concentrated, screwed up everything I had, and tried to communicate with the being.

                Are you here? Am I here?

I wanted to slap my hand against my forehead. What stupid questions to ask. Here I was, in a new plane of existence previously unknown and undiscovered, and I asked such stupid questions. My fellow investigators, special agents, and government men would be so disappointed in me.

I was ready to try again when the being answered.

Neither you nor I are here. Both you and I are here. That would be the closest truth. But all truths are plagued by lies which are just as valid.

                What?

Oh, that was weak, man. Weak! What was I doing? I should be interrogating it! Get it together, I told myself.

                I should introduce myself first. Isn’t that the paradigm you come from? Ek–is that your name?

I–I guess that is my name.

I couldn’t remember. I quite honestly couldn’t remember what my name was. Was it Ek?

Investigator Ek, I said, just to take some control over the situation.

So nice to meet you, Investigator Ek, it said, I am the Void.

                Nice to meet you, I said back. Ek, ek. Something was missing. Was that me? Am I Ek?

Just to more thoroughly answer your earlier question–so you won’t think I am being evasive–the reason we are both here and not here is that in the void, we not exist.

                You mean we don’t exist? Wait–I thought you were the Void.

                I am the Void, and we are in the void. The void not exists. Do you see? It’s a rather oblique stance, but you get used to it.

                Do you?

I felt nervous, but the environment was very calming somehow. No matter how weird things got, I seemed to feel better and better. This was not my usual sort of response, but I was beginning to like it nonetheless.

I’m changing, I said, Is that supposed to happen?

Hell if I know, said the Void, It’s not like there are rules to this place. But there is something you brought here that must not leave with you.

                What is that?

Oh, you’ll sort it out, said the Void, This place always does.

I wandered off after that, or maybe it did. I wafted–well, I wasn’t really wafting anymore, but I was moving or maybe everything around me was moving. The feeling was a bit like what I’d imagined being inside a nebula would be like. I whirled around, or maybe it did, or maybe we both did. I sensed the spirit I’d traveled in with, and we passed through one another. As that happened, I felt something tearing at me, like a rough burr scraping at me. Something had been scraped away and joined up with that spirit. Then another spirit, one I hadn’t sensed before, smashed through me. Again I felt that scraping and cutting. Another and another came crashing into me and I felt myself being cut to bits, and yet I was a cohesive whole and could still feel myself as one being. Again and again, forever and forever, they wore away at me like a rock in a sandstorm, crashing, scraping, slicing, cutting, knocking until I felt numb, cracked, crushed, broken, bisected, and completely destroyed.

I had no chance to respond to what was happening or to stop it. I had literally no control in this sandblasting whirlpool I was trapped in, trapped amidst so many spirits. In the end, I must have fallen out of the bottom, because suddenly it was deathly still and I was in the middle of a vast emptiness again, floating or sinking, flying or falling, and I knew one thing very, very clearly: I had no control.

These words entered my mind. The voice was my own:

                Control over the situation is only a illusion. Yet the imagination is free.

I was now doing the void equivalent of limping and licking my wounds. I had lost everything as far as my investigatory powers were concerned. I could no longer investigate anything, and yet I was still around to witness this. I no longer wanted to ask what I had just come through–I no longer even wanted to know. I knew I couldn’t do anything about it, and that was enough to break me. I was broken, I was broken, I was broken. Yet here I still was.

                Did you learn about it?

It was the Void again, speaking to me.

I gave a mental whimper, but didn’t answer. There didn’t seem to be any point.

                You did. Now you know what you can’t take from here. Yet the void has blessed you with the All’s wisdom. Many people have to go through many lifetimes before they get this much worn away from them. Before they get to their crux and realize the All’s truth.

                The All’s–what’s that?

                That is what you have just realized, Ek. You are now realizing the All’s truth. The illusion of control.

                I’ve lost everything, I cried–if crying is possible inside an endless void–I’m completely destroyed, and you call that blessed? Perhaps it is, if destruction is what you’re seeking.

                No, Ek. You’ll see. What is the second part of the words?

                Yet imagination . . . is free?

                I cast around in the darkness, reaching out.

                What does it mean? I asked.

                You will learn what it means.

                You mean you can’t tell me?

                No, I can tell you, but I’m not sure you’ll understand. Let me try though. “Control over the situation is only an illusion” means the best we can hope for is to manage the illusion. “Imagination is free” means–well, this is just a fancy way of saying that we should use our imaginations and make up more stuff.

I did not get it. I did not understand it. Using my imagination? When was the last time I did that?

                You do it every time you investigate.

                No! Investigation is scientific! It’s facts! Imagination is completely removed from investigation!

Now I could hear laughing. The sound of the Void laughing is a really interesting sound. It’s kind of like the sound of one hand clapping.

                What are you investigating, Ek? With no control, you could only be investigating your own imagination. You will return now.

                What?! I can’t return like this! I’m completely broken.

                Take this knowledge back to the mortal world. Finish your investigation.

                I can’t go back there, I protested, I don’t even belong there.

                Very well. Stay.

                Perhaps an hour passed, perhaps a day, a week, a month. Nothing happened. I floated in the vast darkness, unable to tell if I was moving, if I was anything.

                Is this it, then? I said at last, Is there no other way out of here?

                You can go up, or down. You may go out the top and back to the spirit world. You may fall out the bottom and reincarnate.

                I thought I had to take the knowledge back to the mortal world.

                It was merely a suggestion, said the Void, if you should reincarnate.

                I’m going up and out!

I swam upward, into the maelstrom I had come out of. It flung me around, just as before, but I struggled valiantly upward. I fought for control, clinging to the broken shards of my identity. Every inch gained gave me hope to piece them back together, heal myself. Without warning, a large spirit with a feel like sandpaper hit me and sent me bouncing toward the bottom. I bounced off several other spirits like a ping pong ball and rolled swiftly out the bottom of the gyre, down.

Down.

#

When I close my eyes, I hear the words in my head.

                Control over the situation is an illusion. Yet the imagination is free.

Giggling, I grab my paper dolls, Void and Ek, and play the game where Ek tries to ride the spinner. I tape Ek to my top, and he whirls round and round. He flies off and then I turn him over. On the other side is my picture, and he is me: Ek, Eugenia Krux.

I used to be an investigator, in another life, before I learned the words. But now I bear the long shadow, and I know the All’s wisdom.

My mother Jewel thinks the words are nonsense.

“Imagination doesn’t put food on the table,” she says, and she sends me to feed the chickens or weed the garden.

She’s angry because my father left through a hole in the sky, before I was born. She tells people he died, but I know he was already dead, because he was a ghost. And I am a ghost’s daughter.

After a long time of trying to tell my mother what I know, I started drawing and writing. I follow the words, and I feel the way imagination frees me. This place I’m living in never seems quite real to me. I feel a call upwards; I dream of other worlds. Someday, I hope to meet people who will understand these other worlds. Someday, I may know why I can sometimes shoot blue flames out of my fingertips, and why I sometimes see people who everyone else says are not there. I can’t really control it and I know better than to try. I have the wisdom of the All to guide me.

I don’t really know who the All is, but perhaps someday I will.

Welcome to my worlds.

A portal awaits.

This is a blog about siblings. This is a blog about the paranormal. This is a blog about the history of two worlds. This is a blog about power, and what it can do. This is a blog about two brothers. This is a blog about growing up. This is a blog about unusual relationships. This is a blog about a strange girl who lived in a junkyard, and who once went by the name of Heather Despair.

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