Stuck in Between
As my view became clearer, I realized where I was. The dark ebony woodwork on the ceiling embedded with glittery tiles could only be a disastrous architectural choice unique to the one person who slept comfortably in front of me. What took a while to catch my eye was a movement next to the window. Summer had just begun; the light cold wind fluttered the grey curtains. After looking around, I moved closer towards the window only to pass through something that made me feel like being torn apart. I turned around to see the silhouette; a shadow that made its way to the bed. It stood next to the sleeping man; almost like it was hovering over him.
A criminal? A robber? A murderer? A psychopath? A ghost? Why here?
I had so many questions and so little answers. My screams seemed to go unheard and my presence was unnoticed. The shadow pulled back the hood revealing a familiar face, a hint of sadness mixed with the overwhelming desire to destroy whatever was in front of him. That was what I could make out of his expression.
I have to stop him. I have to stop him before he does anything foolish.
I immediately grabbed his hand, only to realize I couldn't touch him. I tried so many times but in vain. I turned around and hit the wall in frustration; the thud echoing through the room. I turned around at the rustling of the duvet.
What have I done? Elias, you should run for the window. Elias you should run!
I pushed him but in vain. Christopher, the man on the bed, sat up.
"I told you not to come here? You're making this difficult for the both of us!" Christopher spoke, a lot calmer than you would expect a person being threatened with a knife to their throat to be.
"You told me everything would be fine. It's not. I have nightmares", Elias said as he buried his face in Christopher's chest.
"Don't worry. I will sort everything out", he replied ruffling his hair.
There's no way Christopher and Elias...
I followed as the two immediately made their way out of the room. Christopher made sure the three doors in the living room were locked and opened the main door.
Christopher was a colleague of mine with an incomprehensible interest in my personal life.
The police officers stepped in, and shoved a warrant in Elias's face.
"You're under arrest on suspicion of murder and kidnapping", the officer said pulling out his handcuffs and walking to Elias.
No, not like this. It isn't over until...
I walked to the door to the basement and with whatever strength I had, I pushed it hard. The lock fell off, alerting the second officer, who held out his gun and rushed to the door. The other followed. I looked at the familiar environment, a faint smell of newly opened paint and grease covered the room. I moved to stand beside the commercial refridgerator in the corner. One of the officers was quick enough to catch up. They threw open the lid, pulling me out. This was why I was here. I have been here for way longer than just a few hours.
Elias was my lover.
"There's no pulse", the officer repeated over his walkie. Christopher had grabbed his hunting rifle from the garage and the officer had acted rather swiftly. He collapsed on the ground. Elias rushed to him. I glanced at the cold body on the floor one last time.
At least I was found.
I would not be exaggerating if I said I would give literally anything to turn back time and be normal again. Back when I was simply Rebecca Reyes, college drop out, part-time barista. Things were simpler then, more manageable, back when my life wasn’t complicated by my… abilities.
Oh sure, at first it was amazing, like a plot right out of a superhero movie, but then, the pressure of it all started to get to me. For one, it was insanely overwhelming, the sheer amount of information ready to grasp within my fingertips. All I had to do was close my eyes and focus on a place in my mind, and bam! Suddenly I had unrestricted access to all kinds of places and things I really shouldn’t be privy to. Let me tell you, I didn’t have nearly the amount of self-control needed to deal with that in any kind of moral or ethical manner. And yes, there was such a thing as knowing too much. You might think you want to know what your best friend was up to when she told you suspiciously vague plans that did not include you that weekend, or where your mother actually goes during the “yoga class” time slots marked on her calendar, or what your coworkers talk about when you’re not there, but no, trust me, you really don’t.
You see, astral projection is one of those things that theoretically would be awesome, but instead should really come with a big red warning label that says, “your life will never be the same and you will lose everyone you love and care for.”
Okay, at this point you’re probably wondering, why was I thinking so small? Here I was, gifted with a literal superpower and I was just using it to spy on my family and friends? Why not astrally project into bigger more important things, like say, the Pentagon or Area 51? Shit, I could walk into the CIA headquarters and name my price. I just have to open with, “Hey, you want to know what they’re talking about in Pyongyang right now? How about Moscow? Yeah, that’s right, I can find out almost anything you wish. Anytime, anywhere.”
Well, I did think about that, and I decided that in all likelihood my own government would probably freak the fuck out and lock me up to do experiments on so they could weaponize my newfound abilities. Yeah, I’ve seen Stranger Things. No thanks.
See, that’s one mistake I was determined not to make. Going big was too risky. With this kind of thing, it was usually best to stay under the radar. I may have superpowers but I was no hero. After a lot of soul searching I decided the riskiest thing I was willing to do was start a pseudo private investigator business. I needed the extra cash - I was still paying off student loans on my art degree I didn’t even finish - and, hey, it was better than serving coffee. Turns out, there was a lot of money to be made in the PI business. In only a few months I made a ridiculous amount of cash ratting out cheating husbands and thieving corporate employees. I even tracked down a few teenage runaways for good measure.
It was fun and lucrative. Until I started to see some really fucked up shit, that is.
Long story short, that was what led me here today, astrally projecting over Ashley Winchester’s sleeping body, wondering what in the world I should do.
You see, other than being my former cheer captain who made my high school life miserable and stole my boyfriend (screw you, Craig), Ashley Winchester was also, get this, a killer. Yeah, that’s right. Two months into my wildly successful PI business, I received an anonymous tip that All-American Ashley Winchester was involved in some shady activities. At first I thought somebody was messing with me, trying to get under my skin, but it didn’t really matter. It was a good enough reason for me to start investigating. And okay, maybe I also wanted to dig up some dirt on my high school nemesis. It always annoyed me when I scrolled through social media and occasionally stumbled upon Ashley’s ridiculously perfect instagram reel. Over the years Ashley had graduated from videos of tuck jumps in her cheer uniform to posting wine pictures in Napa Valley and her early morning runs. She was not all sunrise yoga and kombucha in real life. No way. So astrally project I went, hoping to find some dirt, assuming at worst Ashley’s “illegal activities” was financial fraud or tax evasion or some other white collar shit, but nope, instead I found out that she was a straight up murderer.
After two months of following Ashley around, I estimated she has killed no less than ten people in the last year.
No, I haven’t actually witnessed her kill anyone per se, that would have messed me right up. But I have witnessed enough correspondence to surmise what she had been up to.
Apparently, it was her job, and true to form her killing style was subtle. No loud guns or bloody machetes for Ashley, oh no. She preferred to kill with the most elegant and feminine weapon of all time: poison. She used different ones, a special one for every occasion, and apparently she was quite the chemist, choosing substances that evaded routine forensics.
You would think a hit woman would want to stay out of social media, but instead Ashley reveled in her online persona. She used it as the perfect cover, hiding in plain sight. She even had a reel about her gardening, no doubt some of the plants excluded from the feed being the poisonous ones.
Interestingly most of her victims were certified human scum and probably deserved to die anyway (we’re talking mass murderers and crime lords here), but surely that didn’t make her any less culpable? That was why I gave her safe house address to some questionable people looking for revenge. Somehow they tracked me down through my suspiciously effective PI service (in retrospect that wasn’t exactly laying low) and they pretty much threatened the information out of me. What was I supposed to do? Risk life or limb to protect a proven murderess? As I clarified earlier: I was not looking to be a hero.
Of course, predictably, now my stupid guilty conscience was eating me up.
It occurred to me that, just like me, Ashley probably had her own personal reasons for doing what she was doing. Maybe her family was being held hostage in some dark barn basement somewhere and the only way she could free them was to execute a certain number of hits. Maybe she was brainwashed as a young orphan to be a trained assassin like some sort of Black Widow. Maybe she was a soft-hearted serial killer who only killed bad people. Who knows? Also, not that it mattered now, but Craig turned out to be a cheating asshole anyway, so really she did me a favor in high school.
I looked at the alarm clock next to Ashley’s bed. It was almost two in the morning. If they were coming tonight, they would be coming around now.
Fuck, fuck, fuck.
I didn’t have time to research the people who threatened me about Ashley, but it didn’t take a rocket scientist to surmise they were probably part of some really nefarious shit. To my knowledge Ashley has only killed criminals like drug lords and sex offenders. It wasn’t like she was killing innocent children or anything like that. These people wanting to kill her were probably human traffickers or worse.
There was a small noise from Ashley’s back door. I didn’t have to astral project to know it was the same scary looking man who held a gun to my head earlier.
I focused all my mental energy on Ashley’s face. During astral projections I have absolutely no physical abilities whatsoever. I couldn’t make noise or even blow out a candle. What I did know was that certain people were more sensitive to my presence than others. Some would turn their head and look straight at me even though they couldn’t see me, sensing that they were being watched. Some would get goosebumps and shiver in my presence even in a warm room. It must be some kind of innate instinct some people have.
At first it freaked me out, but once I was certain that they really couldn’t see me, I got used to it.
As luck would have it, Ashley happened to be one of those people.
Right now, I was really hoping her heightened senses would wake her up.
I hovered over her, inches from her face, willing my astral body to project whatever power it had. I mentally screamed at her sleeping body.
Ashley, wake up! Wake up!
Another noise from the hallway. They were getting closer.
All of a sudden Ashley’s eyes fluttered open and I was looking right at her pale blue eyes. It felt as if she could see me as she seemed to hold my gaze for a few seconds. Then quickly she sat up and smoothly retrieved a small black handgun from a hidden compartment in her headboard. Her movements were automatic and practiced. She had the gun cocked and ready to shoot in seconds. She aimed it at her door with steady hands.
A man dressed in black stops at her doorway. He must have heard Ashley’s movements and is deciding what to do.
“I know you’re there.” Ashley said suddenly, her voice surprisingly soft and gentle. “You’ve been watching me.”
If I didn’t know any better I could swear she was talking to me.
The man kicked in the door and fired off multiple shots at the bed without hesitation. An explosion of pillow feathers filled the room. Ashley had rolled off the bed just in time and fired back. Her glass bedside table shattered in the midst of the chaos.
Suddenly there was a lot of red. Too much red.
If my astral body had a heart, it would have been racing. My physical body back in my bedroom has started sweating. I felt a familiar psychic tug trying to pull me back.
No, no. Not yet.
I resist the psychic pull. It was contracting like it always did when there was perceived danger. But I couldn’t leave, not yet.
The man was leaning against the wall, leaving a smear of blood behind him as he slid down to the floor. He was still alive but there was a swell of dark red wetness slowly enlarging on his dark shirt. His gun was a foot away and he was struggling to reach it.
Ashley was sprawled on the ground next to her bed. She was unconscious.
I went over her in a panic. To my relief I saw that her chest was rising and falling. Her eyes were closed and there was a trickle of blood down her scalp. She must have hit her head on the bedside table that lay in broken pieces around her.
The man grunted. He almost had his gun now. Shit.
I focused on Ashley. I didn’t really know how her senses worked, but it worked when I tried to wake her up earlier so I decided to try it again. I bombarded her with mental chatter: Ashley, damn it, you better wake up. I know you don’t like me and I don’t like you, but you better wake up or this guy is going to kill you and probably me too. Wake up, damn it!
Lo and behold Ashley started to stir awake. Slowly. Much too slowly. She looked confused. She blinked a few times while rubbing the back of her head and then squinted at me.
Ashley’s shoulder exploded in a splatter of red. The last thing I saw was Ashley’s terrified eyes before I was snapped back into my body.
No, no, no.
I woke up in my rented room in a pool of sweat. A quick glance at the clock told me it was two-twenty in the morning. Ashley’s safe house was only a fifteen minute drive away. I specifically chose a hotel close enough in case something like this were to happen. My link to my body was strongest when it was close. Also, hiding out in a room registered under a false name was probably better than being a sitting duck in my own house while I was astral projecting.
My plan was to get into my car and drive far far away in case things went south.
Instead though, once I was in my car, I found myself racing as fast as I could straight back to Ashley’s place.
I only had one thought that overpowered all the others at that moment.
I could still save her.
I don’t know how I knew it was time. For months I had poured over the tome in my hand, following its guidance. The astral plane holds many risks was a sentiment echoed across every chapter, not only penned by the author in their rigid script but inscribed in the margins by those who possessed the book before me. One must not travel too far without practice and conviction: I was certain I had both. For months I had wandered the confines of my home, observing the tether to my body as it lay slumped in the dark room clouded with incense, practicing manifestation, each minute fighting against the blooming curiosity in my chest. He’s only an hour’s drive away, I can remember thinking to myself, I could be there within minutes. Even as I did my best to focus, ears open for the clicking sound mentioned by the worried scribbles in the book, I couldn’t help but play and replay what he did to me, and how good the look on his face was going to be when I manifested in front of him, how dumbfounded he would be as I…
But I wasn’t ready back then. I don’t think I was ever ready, but somehow I knew it was time. Time to see him. I took my time with the ritual, preparing the circle with runes practiced by rote, hand shaking with anticipation. Images of him crept into my mind as I fetched the incense and candles from the sturdy wood dresser. He had me pressed up against this. “No one will believe you” he whispered. I hastened to get the matches. All around me were phylacteries of memories from that day, from that whole month: all opened at this moment, revived to fuel my hatred. I turned off the lights and knelt in the circle, my defense against the things which waited in the shadows. One by one I lit the candles, beacons of amber in the darkness. My compass through the void. Guided by dim light I started the incense, sandalwood smoke filling the air in a matter of moments. That’s my anchor. It took tremendous effort to get him out of my head, but I needed a clear mind to separate myself from my body. I am above a lake, perfectly still. My mind is like the lake. I envisioned myself, seeing my reflection in the water, pushing through into the unknown depths below the mirror like surface. The chill of the water in my vision was palpable, and with its cold touch I opened my eyes to see the back of my body sitting lifeless within the circle. A smile grew on my face, as it had each time I had succeeded, but behind the smile this time I could feel the sparks of anticipation.
It was finally time.
I took just a moment to check my tether and listen to my surroundings. Despite what shows will tell you everything looks normal when you’re projecting yourself: there’s no funny blurry effects or drowned colors or anything like that. But there are Shadow People. I could see them staring at me with curiosity, their figures only just visible as human shapes in the darkness of my room. The book said they were harmless: it was only time to leave if you heard the clicking. Tonight wasn't the time to think about that. Tonight I was going further than I had ever before. Like I had practiced I focused on something I wanted to go to. I pictured his face, the drooping brown hair that covered the left part of his forehead, his blue eyes with their feigned kindness, the toothy smile he always wore which I grew to hate. He was clearer than I had imagined him in months, and I lost time staring back into those eyes that had devoured me with such maligned intent. It took me a moment to realize the smell of incense was gone, and I found myself in an all too familiar room: it was still painted the same dull beige, covered by a mosaic of rock band posters. I could feel the rough carpet under my ethereal feet, could feel a gentle breeze from the opened window.
And I saw the bed, tucked in the corner, illuminated by only a streetlight. His back was to me, sleeping, curled into a loose ball like I remembered. His hair was still the same, cut just above the neck, and he still wore the same black nightshirt: it had more holes in it than last time. I found myself frozen, staring at him as his side raised and lowered with each breath. Old memories flooded my mind and clashed with my anger, memories of laughter and softness and tender moments. Those memories which pain and betrayal had soured. In the end those good memories had left deeper cuts than I ever gave myself. Does he even remember me? Does he think of our time together the same if he does? Should I even be here? The doubt hit me like a train, but like the astral projection I had practiced against that as well. I knew the answers to my questions. I remembered what he did and what he took away from me. I remembered how I felt after he left, remembered the tears on my parents faces after they found me at the hospital. I remembered the months of pain and doubt, I remembered how broken he left me.
And I knew this was right.
I approached him as he slept, rehearsing my lines one more time. Every one of my senses was alive and stronger than I had ever experienced, which is why I noticed the shadow grow behind me. I turned, and for the second time that evening froze as a figure crawled through the open window. Their features were indistinguishable with the pallid light behind them, but the glint of a knife was obvious. Fear clutched at my heart for a moment before I realized they couldn’t see me. I watched them peer around the room, eyes invisible but their focus obvious: they were looking at him. How could I know if they were a nervous thief or some nut looking to get an adrenaline rush? Scenarios bubbled into my head as time seemed to slow. I could feel panic climbing from my stomach to my head, the static buzz of anxiety beginning to simultaneously dull and heighten my senses.
The figure had made their way into the room completely before I was able to take control of myself, and I saw them turn to the dresser, eyes now fixed on the open laptop and the little box which kept spare change. Any noise from the thief… I thought to myself. I envisioned both their surprised looks, and imagined how that knife would look buried in my former lover’s chest. The vision lingered in my head, and I didn’t fight it. The thief was busy rummaging through my former lover’s things, and again the ember of rage burned bright, but this time paired with cold revelation. I remembered a passage in the book, one circled and annotated by countless other practitioners before. A feeling of joy began to creep upon me, and without hesitation I moved towards the thief. Not pausing to question the sensation I pushed my hands into them, feeling around for something to grab. The thief shivered as my grip solidified upon something, and with my greater presence of mind I ripped out their spirit and cut their tether, ignoring their garbled screams and the sound of clicking as I took their place in their own body. There was a momentary shudder before I felt the strain of the thief’s eyes in the darkness, before I felt the roughness of their clothes and the tightness of their boots and the weight of the knife in my hand. And I looked in the mirror and saw my own body. The toothsome grin across my face flashed for just a moment before I turned around in this borrowed body to mete out my justice.
The news reported it as a homicide, a man stabbed to death by a thief caught off guard. An autopsy was still in progress on the thief to identify the cause of death. The picture they included with the article was an old college photo of my former lover, smiling with that hateful smile. But I’ll always remember the look of recognition and fear on his face when he saw me that night, and I don’t think that will ever not make me smile.
It starts in small, indiscernible spurts. Little lapses of time where I have left my body and returned to it again, a flickering of a dream that’s forgotten the moment I wake. But I continue to practice, and soon I can leave and return more easily and for longer stretches, the memories of my experiences in the Second Space, as I have come to call it, growing less blurred around the edges.
The hands are always the starting point. I wiggle my fingers, moving them in rhythm the way a conductor swishes his wrists, until they come unstuck from my physical body. I feel them float above me without gravity, and then I move to my forearms and into the creases of my elbows, following the line of my shoulders and down through my back. The stomach is the hardest part to unstick (my theory is that it’s because of all the organs that must be left behind when one fully projects), so I usually skip it and move to my feet, up my legs and then my hips, until the stomach is the only thing left to separate. Sitting up is easy, but I have learned not to twist my spine and search behind me for my own body, still lying splayed out on my bed. The body does not like to be separate from the mind, and the disconnect is disorienting enough without the visual reminder.
There is always a moment, the Last Moment, where I can choose to resettle my astral form back into my body and abandon the project. It is the moment before I swing my astral feet over the side of the bed and fully untether myself, bound by only a single, invisible string to guide me back home. This Last Moment never gets less terrifying, but I broach it each and every time, because this is the way to get what I want.
I once saw a video of a stout that killed a rabbit ten times its size. “Stamina is not enough,” drawled the narrator in his lilting British accent. “It requires patience and a well-placed bite.”
He is easy to find, always walking the same corners of his small and filthy world, always filling up the space with too much of himself because no one has ever bothered to tell him that he can’t or shouldn’t, that what he is doesn’t deserve even an inch. I have been watching him for a long time, ever since I began this astral dance, so I know his habits. He is where he always is at this late hour: sleeping like the dead, wrapped in his high thread-count sheets and as still as a puddle frozen all the way through. I like to watch him like this. It only takes one well-placed stomp to shatter ice.
There’s a humming to this world, a vibration I wasn’t in tune with until I began to astral project. I have not skipped a day since I began, and I imagine that even after my initial goal in pursuing this practice is complete, I will not be able to stop. Once a bird learns to fly, it cannot hunt any other way.
Something shifts outside the window, a glint of silver caught in moonlight seeping in through half-closed curtains. I envy the way he can sleep so deeply without the full weight of the dark around him. Ever since the day his long arms wrapped too tightly around me, the dark is the only place where solace can reach me, and even then it is fleeting and sunken and the shadows move on the walls.
The glint outside the window is a knife, and the woman who wields it is a stranger to me. She searches along the sill with her fingers for a moment, intent on using the blade to unlock the window, but stops when she realizes it’s already open. The woman huffs, disbelieving. I mimic the sound unconsciously, watching as she opens the window inch by inch until it gapes wide enough for her to slip through. Men like him never think they can be touched.
She hasn’t bothered to wear a mask, perhaps hoping to get caught. Auburn hair curls around her shoulders in sleepy little ringlets. She draws closer to the bed, closer to him, and I know the look in her wild eyes. I am accosted with the same one each time I stare too long into the mirror.
The woman readjusts the knife in her hand, searching for the perfect way to plunge it into the sleeping man’s sternum.
I let my voice filter out from me like a breeze, a soft thing. The woman startles, her body coiled to spring. She waits. Slowly, gradually, I move the air around me, rearranging protons and neutrons like flecks of wet paint. I know the exact moment she sees my form begin to shimmer and solidify before her, and I watch her face morph from shock to terror to disbelief as her eyes meet mine, as she sees the easy way I hold my hands out to her, a call for peace.
“Who are you?” she whispers, redirecting her knife to point at my jugular, even from across the room.
I know what he’s done to you. He did it to me, too.
The woman’s face crumples, the air pressed out of her limbs. She almost sags. I move to catch her, even knowing that I can’t from where I am inside the Second Space. The woman steadies herself without my help, her spine realigning to stand taller than she was before. “If you know, you shouldn’t try to stop me,” she says finally, voice sharper than the knife grasped tight in her hand. The man in the bed rolls over in his sleep, as if sensing a threat in the room. But those born with the world at their feet never truly learn to walk through it, and he sighs deeply and is still once again.
I shake my head, now standing only a few feet away from the woman. “I don’t want to stop you,” I say. “But I hear that revenge is best when shared.”
The woman tilts her head at me, one of those lazy ringlets brushing against her cheek. She grins, toothy and cavernous. “I’m Iris,” she says.
“Lily,” I answer. We almost wake the sleeping man with our soft snickers. “Seems he has a type,” I say once we’ve recovered ourselves.
Iris says “Irises look pretty, but they’re poisonous.”
“Calla lilies make you vomit,” I counter.
I take Iris’s hand and she takes mine, and together we guide the knife home.
Valley of the Seahorses.
“To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour “
I took the serum, Nancy. You told me not to, but I did. You know me- ever the rebel.
I couldn’t bear the thought of the answer to all my questions, to my life-long research and years of toil, just stagnating in a vial in a lab, with no-one to test its efficacy. It would be a crime against humanity, a disservice to posterity, I reasoned. So one night, I crept into my own lab, like a thief in the night- even though it was my own lab and I had security clearance- and I injected the formula into my pre-frontal cortex.
I was foolish. I was naïve . I was damned naïve fool.
Needless to say: the serum works. It works too well. The human brain can now perceive different alternate realties that it would usually through a complex process of quantum mechanics, filter out and discard. Every second, every choice we make, every action, even the seemingly insignificant ones, lead to different destinations, like branches forking off from a tree. Now I can follow them and explore them all Nancy. I need not worry about “the road not taken.”
You won’t believe this but so far I have lived in 470 realities and counting. Every time I go to sleep I awaken in another version of myself. Dreams are the entrance way. They open the door to a widened perception and my serum keeps the door open, wide enough for a person to enter through and experience it whole.
Only the door never closes Nancy. It opened out to infinity and I have no idea how to shut it again.
You were right- we could synthesize a chemical compound using the Mandelbrot set equations. You always said, mathematics was the universe’s base code, the underlying pattern and chemistry was about weaving the fabric.
Remember the first night we met? After the conference, stranded in a hotel as the a storm raged outside? We talked for hours. First in the restaurant, then the bar, then my hotel room...
We talked about anything and everything. I still remember the passion in your eyes and the heat in your voice as we argued about Mandelbrot fractals. I loved how you described the awe of infinity , the beauty and elegance of mathematical patterns that could go on forever. Your favourite iteration was the Valley of the Seahorses- I remember that well because I googled the patterns afterwards (math was never my forte) little did I know I would be tumbling through it just a few months later.
You quoted a William Blake poem that night, with tears pooling in your eyes, and I recall taking a breath because I knew I was falling for you. Even though we had only just met and love was a notion so alien to me then -I knew I wanted to spend my life with you. But I was all science wasn’t I? Lived and breathed it, rarely found time for anything else much less a relationship.
I was wrong Nancy. I have lived so many different realities that I have drifted into the realm of madness. I can’t recall which one is which , they all blend together like living Jackson Pollock painting. But there’s one thing that I’m absolutely certain of: I only love the versions of reality with you in it.
And no matter how many choices I make and how many different lives I lead, I can never repeat that night in the hotel.
I have to explain myself. I have to write this down otherwise I will lose my true self completely, but I feel like a ghost, a fraudulent copy, an attenuated version of me . I float from one existence to another, unmoored, with no direction or purpose. Until last week when I heard that William Blake poem again in a podcast and I silently broke into pieces, crying under damp bedsheets like a new-born for two straight hours.
I tried to kill myself that night Nancy. I had hoped it would be some sort of reset switch. But I just awoke in a divergent timeline. I tried several times since then in actual fact. I have drowned myself at sea, I have thrown myself off a skyscraper, even laid down on train tracks only to wake up in a different reality, living as a train driver, desperately trying to hit the brakes before I hit a body on the tracks. It was insanity on a Mandelbrot loop.
That’s when I came to an epiphany. Well, more like an educated guess , but it was my anchor, something I could grab hold of ,something to guide me back to dry land and back to you.
You see my serum opened up the brain’s perception to space: multiple realities, multiple locations, divergent points in the universe etc. But what if it could be applied to Time?
If I could alter the equation and chemical compound to include the recursion of time- there may be a possibility I could experience a different past.
A past where, or more accurately, when- I didn’t take the serum. When I stayed at home, enjoyed dinner, snuggled on the sofa and watched you sleep instead.
So calculated and I developed and on another stormy night, which I saw as a benevolent omen, I injected the modified serum into my brain. Now that’s when Alice careered down the rabbit hole and disappeared forever.
All paths, past and present became like an open map to me. I could see it all. I could see where each branch splintered ,where each fork in the path led. I could choose my destination like ordering from a menu and appear there- alive and present- but just outside of my own body. I was in the ether. The astral field. Nirvana.
I felt God-like, superhuman, existing in a heightened, spiritual form and once again you were right- you always said “spirituality was just science we couldn’t understand yet.”
Well, I understand it now.
And thanks be to God , I found the version of me that led to you.
I saw myself six months ago, sleeping sweetly in that same hotel, after the first day of the conference. Unaware in blissful ignorance that not only would I meet the love of my life, of all my lives, the very next day, that I would also lose her a few months later, purely due to my own hubris. I wanted to shake him awake, to explain everything, to slap him in his arrogant face and scream don’t do it!
However, my theory included more drastic, more violent, measures.
I had to chop down the tree, as it were, before the branches splintered off , to cut if off right at the stem. Ergo, I would have to kill that version of me in order to reset completely. I didn’t know if this would work, it was all theoretical , all complete guesswork but the scientist in me reigned supreme and I knew I had to see it through.
The problem was, just as I was about to execute my plan, the curtain twitched. A dark silhouette formed at the window. The frame creaked and windowpane slowly rose- revealing a murky human form, which quietly climbed its way through into the room. I belatedly realised not only was it was a person but it was someone familiar to me, as I recognised the minutiae of movement.
With burgeoning clarity, I realised that person was me.
Another version of me.
He turned and looked directly at my “out of body” self. His eyes crazed, hair matted, lips cracked. He was an emaciated, shrunken, shell of a man and I knew that version of me had been to the nine circles of Dante’s hell and somehow back again, just to get here.
I mercifully hadn’t experienced his reality….yet… and just as I was about to attempt shouting, he swiftly lifted an axe, swung it with all his might and chopped down the tree trunk- killing the original version of me in my sleep.
It worked Nancy.
All versions of me coalesced! Right there and then in that hotel room. A gigantic wave of memories, experiences, emotions from hundreds of timelines engulfed me and I was so overcome, so overwhelmed and euphoric that I danced with the bloodied axe.
The serum worked and I had come back from the depths of infinity. It was a scientific marvel, a paradigm-shifting creation, I could chemically change the course of human history!
Unfortunately the police didn’t see it that way. They didn’t accept my explanation.
So, now I sit in this high-security institution ,imprisoned in a padded cell, staring at four white walls and I’m begging for your help Nancy. Please visit me. Please bring all my work from my lab.Help me tell my story Nancy.
Tell them about our night in the hotel waiting out a storm. Tell them all about the Mandelbrot set and the Valley of the Seahorses. Show them my serum. Only you hold the key.
Please come quickly. I need you Nancy.
The day was dying and John slowly opened his door, hearing the hinges scream for a glass of oil. He threw the keys in a purple bowl, and sighed loudly. His hands removed the sweat from his head, avoiding the mixing of it with his fresh blood. He entered his favorite room, the room where the soft buzzing of the refrigerator can be heard, the room where his belly won't suffer the pain of less, only the pleasure of more. He couldn't wait until the door opened, the light shone on his face, and all the products awaited his sweaty hands.
But before this would happen, he opened the cupboard and took the roll of bandages out. He put a little bit of disinfecting ointment, and made sure the bandages were tight enough.
An hour ago, it had happened. An hour ago, he was walking in the streets, as relaxed as a scared man could be. Something was wrong, he sensed it. A dark cloud was hiding the sun, almost making it night before dusk. A girl walked past him, a pretty girl that made him feel as if reality slipped between his fingers. It's all relative of course, but for a few seconds, it really felt as if the strings of this universe were loosening up, as if a universal pause had occured. Her brown eyes looked at him, and his tongue didn't move, only his breath was heard. Speech has always been hard.
The girl moved past the block, and he felt a hard push on his back. Almost tripping, he turned around. A man with a leather jacket was holding a bayonet in front of him. He nodded toward a small street, and pushed him toward it. Nothing would save him, he knew that for sure.
He held his hands above his head, and stuttered a few words. "Why... who?" "Shut up, you asshole.", he said in a loud voice. John tried to find words, but the man grew tired. His grey eyebrows moved closer toward his green eyes, and he focused himself on his prey. A big fist landed on the head of John, making him fall back. The man put his knee on the prey's neck, took his wallet. "Interesting,", he looked at the ID, "John. See, I really don't like guys who don't have cash with them." A psychopathic smile formed on the man's face. He placed his greying hair in the right direction, and pointed the bayonet between the eyes of his victim. "You're going to pay for wasting my time." Slowly, but steady, John felt an outburst of pain and blood streaming down into his eyes. The man relieved the pain, let him stand up. "See, so painful wasn't it, right?" John's nerves were ready to explode, and the hunter only smiled. "Get yourself some weed, it might relax you." He turned around, and left John, never to return.
Seeing after his wounds, he granted himself the gift of alcohol, with its soothing effect for the pain of his head. Slowly stumbling toward his bed, he drunk it. His pain disappeared as ounces of snow who meet the sunlight for the first time. Slowly the eyes closed and darkness embraced the hurt man.
Jonathan opened the door of his garage, and looked at the wallet of John. Why the fuck would a nerd like him have no money? Maybe he shouldn't be bothered by it, and just let it rest. He closed the door slowly, sat himself on the chair and drunk the last bit of the beer standing on the table before him. He leaned backwards, his eyes were covered by the lids and the worries ran faster out of his mind than water in the Congo river.
A weird feeling interrupted the silence. A feeling of eyes watching him, a feeling of not being alone. He quickly opened his eyes, looked around, but saw nothing. To be sure, he took his gun that hung under the table. The bullets placed themselves in the cylinder, the hammer was pulled over and he stood up.
Slowly, he walked toward the lever. The lights went out in the garage, and only the moon had her reflections on the floor. "If you're here, show me your fucking face!", he yelled. His voice echoed a bit.
John saw a man with a gun. The man was yelling in a garage, but reasons were unknown to him. He felt a cold breath in his neck, turned around and saw a man standing behind him. He jumped, fearful of what the man would do. The man clearly didn't see him, for no reaction came from him. Almost immediately, he understood what was happening. The man held a bayonet in his hand, and wanted to kill the other one.
What he could do, he didn't know. He looked in the fearless eyes of a psychopath, of a future murderer. The man, the victim, the prey, was familiar to John. He wore a leather jacket, and the greying hair was almost silver with the full moon. The man who cut him open, the man who delivered him more pain than possible, that man was about to be murdered, to be put six feet underground without anyone noticing. Immediately, John tried to do something, he waved his hand in front of the psychopath, trying to hold his attention. Nothing seemed to work, nothing made him look at John. The man advanced, walked "through" him. "Through" sounds about right, because the soon to be criminal crept in him, only to stand there as if John were a ghost without body mass. The scene continued, and John had to find something.
Suddenly, he saw a rope. It hung from the ceiling, almost looking like one of the lianas that his childhood hero used to swing from one tree to another. If I can use that rope to slinger a heavy object, I might take him out. This thought raced through his mind and he obeyed directly. A heavy object, what could be a heavy object? He searched through a few newspaper that laid scattered on the floor. "Bingo.", he whispered when he found a filled jar of dirt. Slowly, but steady it was moved by him and he made sure it hung on the rope. "Three...", the jar was lifted, "Two...", he held the jar with both hands, finger tops almost reaching each other, and pulled it toward his ear, "One!" The jar swung out of his hands.
The jar hit the person full in the face, making him fall backwards against the walls of the garage. "Yes", John thought and he stepped forward, trying to see the full scene he had created. He almost got a heart attack when he realized whom he saved. He looked at the man, the robber, the one who cut him. A realisation dawned upon him. Saving the life of a man, whom wouldn't have spared him. A smile formed on his face. "They can't see me", he yelled at the criminal. The man didn't react, and John's smile grew more and more. "They can't see nor hear me.", he stepped toward the invader, looking for his bayonet. "Now, I'll make him smile forever..."
Jonathan saw the body drop, jumped, and looked at it. Few bloodstrains came out of the wound, dirt was infecting the wound and several ants were already nestling themselves in the corpse. The darkness felt heavy, as if he were responsible for the man's death. He wasn't, for God's sake. He knew it bloody well. He tried to focus his thoughts on what to do next. He looked at the table, saw the little sacks filled with weed. "Might be good to relax ol' Jonathan.", he said in a soft voice. But still, the watching eyes were still there. He saw that the lights still weren't on, so he decided to pull the lever. Hearing the lights go on, he relaxed. It's over, was the first thought that filled his mind.
Suddenly, he saw the bayonet. But something was off, it was flying. Rubbing his eyes, reality didn't change a bit. "What the fuck?" Speechless, he stared at the moving knife, seeing it move toward, toward him. "Oh shit", he yelled out loud, while avoiding the knife. It missed his ear, but still his skin was gone nonetheless. Reacting as fast as he could, he took the chair, trying to use it as a shield.
"Don't defend yourself!", he took hold of the chair, and threw it against the wall. Death was visible in the eyes of the man. Seeing death, the thing that awaits everyone but has a taboo as large as ever, was a threatening sight. John stepped forward, saw Jonathan tripping and holding his hand in front of the knife. A tear formed under the dead man's left eye. The eternal darkness would soon fall upon his shoulders, being heavier than anything prior. Six feet under ground is what most say, but at the sight of this dying man, it could be sixty nine feet as well. What was he doing, in this blind rage? What was he thinking, holding this weapon? Why was he acting as evil as this man, who had humiliated many but befriended none? The ethical questions formed in his head, and were held hostage by his conscience. Why on earth would he save this man's life, why on earth would he take it? The contradictions would sound more and more as synonyms rather than antonyms, and he realized that he, a man, a creature created by nature, had no right to end or destroy life. Ending life would a betrayal to nature, a formed hole that could and would never heal.
He dropped the knife, heard the sharp sound of metal falling on concrete, and ran out of the garage. The night was old, the moon was already grieving her friend, the stars where gone, with only the polar star twinkling and enlighting his way. Somehow he knew he'd made the right choice, but moral axioma's such as these would only be proven over time. Time could heal, destroy and was seen as an ancient version of what we would call today a shrink.
He softly closed his eyes, felt a force pulling him back to the ground, and didn't consider to work against it. The soft matress of his bed met his back, and everything felt all right. As far as he knew, nothing had changed, but as we all know, saving one life, could lead to many, many different possibilities, who bore the burden to never be explored by a humble author.
The chamber in Castle Windfield
I drank the potion, strapped the dagger the Hermit Wizard gave me and lied down on the table as instructed by him. He then touched the center of my forehead the tips of his claw-like fingernails saying: "Now, think of this enemy of yours, try to see his face in your mind and say his name".
As I closed my eyes and saw the a pale fat bald face with a walrus-like mustache rosy cheeks and dark brown eyes laughing at me. My heart started to pound and my breathing quickened when I heard his laughter in my head.
"Lord Nasher." I said, trying to remain calm, but evoking his image brought with it feelings of impotence, anger and injustice. The memories of what he did to me and my family. I felt an uncontrollable urge to move, to raise my arms and grab him by the neck. I wanted to see his face turn purple and his eyes turn red. To slam his head against the wall again and again, each time hearing how his blood, spilling from the back of his skull, splashes louder and louder.
I could not resist any more, I was so restless, I had to stand up or I'd lose my mind. I was gasping for air, my heart was beating harder than ever and as I stood up I felt as if my entire body became unnaturally light.
"I do not think this is working" I said, but I heard no sound coming out of my mouth. When I turned towards the Hermit Wizard, I saw him still holding the tip of his finger against my forehead. I looked down and realized my legs weren't there, or at least not where I was "standing"neither was the rest of my body. I felt lighter, and I was still able to feel my body, It was almost as if I my soul was inside a different body while mine was resting in front of me. "Now, try reaching for your knife." said the Hermit.
I "reached" where I felt my knife. I felt as if it was there, strapped to my waist. I could feel the handle just out of its holster. I looked down but yet again, there was nothing but the dirt floor of the Wizards Cavern.
"Are you able to see me?" I tried asking even though no sound came out from my "mouth". "As long as I remain next to you I can 'hear' your thoughts. You are now in a different plane of existence that overlaps with ours." He snapped his finger and the the door that lead into this room started filling up with fog. "You have about half an hour before the time runs out and you snap back into your physical body, now go. Traverse the fog and it will take you to the door closest to your target."
I silently walked across the fog. The dirt floor suddenly turned into hardwood as I stepped into a spacious round room with a high ceiling, from the windows I saw that I was now in one of the towers of Windfield Castle. The room was completely dark, with only the light of the full moon illuminating it. In the room was a desk with a few small cabinets and drawers, a closet and a bed big enough for a family of six to sleep in it. Laying in bed, snoring with his huge belly spilling out of his clothes, laid Lord Nasher.
I turned around to see if there was anyone else in the room. The fog through which I came in had faded, leaving the actual door to Lord Nasher's chamber in its place. I was alone, I could just end his life right then and there, but then I though: I have more more than enough time to look around and savor my revenge.
Above his headboard was a painting of him, younger, with a head full of hair and a few dozen pounds lighter. Next to him were a boy and a girl whom I assumed were his children. This struck me as odd, nobody new anything about Lord Nasher's family ever since he got crowned as Lord of Windfield. "I did not know you have a family..." I muttered.
I continued looking around, on top of his desk was a letter addressed to him, no signature, just a seal in the form of a snake eating its tail at the bottom of the page. The letter read: "Lord of Windfield, your contributions have been dully noted and trust us you will have what is coming for you. The Grand Master expects you. Be on time."
I couldn't tell who this "Grand Master" is or what the meeting could be about. At the time I thought to myself that it was nothing more than a dirty politician making deals with underworld entities, like everyone else.
I opened his closet, underneath his clothes was a small wooden box that contained a doll and a notebook. One of the pages read: "My dearest Erika, you have no idea how I miss you and your brother. It has been years since you left my side, yet I can still smell your perfume in your doll. My heart aches every night since you left and I can hardly fall asleep." I skipped a couple pages: "I have met with someone who may help me. Soon I shall meet my sweet little children again."
I then remembered the day my brother died. How my mother cried and how my father barely held his tears as he laid his son to rest. I, not having children myself could not imagine how painful it can be to burry you very flesh and blood. I could imagine that if someone promised me a way to bring my child back from the dead I would do what it takes to make that a reality.
I turned towards Lord Nasher, had lived through the loss of not one but two of his children and continued to mourn them to this day. If he knew what that felt like, why did he do it then? Why did he bring the same pain and suffering to my family?
As I asked myself these questions, a slender shadow had climbed in through the window brandishing a long knife. Someone had come to do my work for me. The assassin stealthily climbed down the window into the tower. It was like watching a ghost manifest in a dark cloud floating a cross the room and standing right next to Lord Nasher.
This was it, I had nothing to worry about, the man was about to be slain and I did not have to get my hands dirty, and luckily there was still enough time for me to make sure Nasher died before the spell ended. The Grand Master was going to be disappointed. Then I realized, this man, Nasher, did what he did because he was promised something by the Grand Master. He's just a pawn. "Having second thoughts I see." said the Hermit.
I ran across the room as I drew the dagger given to me by the Hermit. I sliced the assassin's back, they flinched and grunted in pain. They then turned around to only to face the door to Lord Nasher's chamber.
I Then grabbed a chair right in front of them and threw it in the assailant's direction. The commotion must have alerted the guards, because I started to hear footsteps coming from all directions approaching the door.
"Ah, guards!" Lord Nasher screamed in terror as he reached for his sword which was next to his bed while in a drunken stupor. The assailant retreated, they climbed out of the window and disappeared. The guards finally broke into the room trying to investigate.
As Lord Nasher barked orders at his guards, I felt my self being pulled by the waist back towards the door. I thought I was going to hit the wall but all I felt was the cold hard limestone table of the Hermit's cavern. I could hear the his fireplace crackling and I saw him sitting next to me still holding his finger to my forehead.
"I hope this was as good for you as it was for me" Said the Wizard as I incorporated my self on the table. "I hope you now realize, what your true objective is."
How a Ghost Feels
Melvin said I wouldn't feel like a ghost, but I do. My toes hover inches above Stacy's fluffy rug, blond like the hair splayed across her pink pink pillows. "Okay," I mutter. "...Where's her computer?" I navigate over the minefield floor, thinking over Melvin's instructions. Hacking for beginners. I've got this.
A screeching noise. I turn to see a figure dive through the window. They're wearing a black cloak and a 'Scream' mask. We share an awkward stare before they pull out a knife. I cover my mouth to stifle a yelp.
They step forward. "I'm here for the same reason you are."
Whimpering, I shake my head.
"She's a bully. Nobody'll blame us."
"I was just changing her grades..."
"She deserves worse."
"No?" They raise the blade over their head.
Now I know Melvin was right. You don't know how a ghost feels until you actually are one.
The blade-wielding woman is already in the room. I watch her nonchalantly in my astral form. The aggressor of my aggressor.
How careful her prowl, and her prodding, methodical. It's just a matter of time, and I look as if in a glass box at the emotions competing for my attention. There is glee, a sick, vengeful kind I detest. Also reverence, for a new era, my life will change with this killing.
An odd place for a killing, this one. What kind of crazy kills in white, and with the lights on?
I chuckle at my own self-entertainment as the surgeon calls out and moves her scalpel into a specific spot in the opened head of my body. To think that just a few tiny cuts will cure my psychosis for good.
"Is this really it?" I see her hand poised to strike.
"It is." I'm about to be cured. All the pain of being confused and outcast is about to die with those brain cells.
"What is this?" And my astral form explodes with pain.
Snip. CRACK. Somehow I'm dissolving into nothing.
"Wait-- how much am I--"
This man is not going to be happy when he wakes up.
The last tethers of half sleep had slipped away, leaving me fully aware that I was dreaming. Lucidity in dreams seems a devilish trick. My clarity of mind was immediately at war with the impossibility of my situation. The room came into focus.
Shouldn’t I be awake by now?
I hadn’t lucid dreamed since childhood. Floating past my yelling parents on a cloudy pillow destined for an open window. A false fantasy I had multiple nights a week, but still one of my favorite memories. This felt far more intentional. I could almost feel a heavy hand on my shoulder rooting me to the floor. I was at the foot of a large bed, it’s weary occupant I did not recognize. The man slept heavily.
Someone else is here.
Had I always known we were not alone? In a dream, facts feel remembered rather than discovered. A second man was creeping through the window, cat-like movement betraying evil intent. I opened my mouth in warning. A toilet flushed. The bathroom door opened. I noticed the extra set of pillows. I remembered there was a third involved in this situation. A woman screamed, the situation before me entered its third act. I turned to the newcomer. I remembered her.
I had not seen her in decades. She looked old. Abandonment had rotted her place in my heart. She did it for some piece-of-shit home-wrecking mystery man according to my father. I stared at the man in bed, as he was startled in slow motion. No longer mysterious, my hate found a foothold in every laugh line on his face. I remembered shouting at the invader. A memory flashed of terror on his face as he jumped back through the window. I remembered turning to my mom and forcing her to look at the pictures of my dad right before the tumor staked claim to his liver. I remembered it all, and then I forgot it. I held my tongue. I knew a muzzle flashed three times. I knew silence followed. The stained carpet at my feet burned itself to my memory.
Forgive me Dad.
I awoke in tears. Guilt turned morning hunger into nausea. I knew it was foolish, but I still decided on staying away from the news for a while.