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.

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