It rains almost every day in Vancouver. But then there are days when it’s like god pulls aside a curtain to flash you three minutes of sun. It was like that the day the library phoned to tell me that my copy of The Essays of Michel de Montaigne was a week overdue. I’d edited most of my own translation of Montaigne’s essays, had gotten hopelessly stuck, had wanted to see what other had done with the essays. I had only gotten halfway through “Apology for Raymond Sebond” before deciding that there was nothing new to be done with Montaigne, that the world didn’t need another English version of Montaigne because no one would read it even if I did finish my manuscript.
That was three weeks ago, the day I checked Montaigne out of the library, and while I was despairing of my year-long project to translate Montaigne from the French, I got a text from Matthew, my boyfriend. Got my jacket and took the stairs three at once, so eager was I to think about anything but Montaigne.
The water looks grey when it rains, darker than the sky, ashy and sullen. It was raining the day I checked Montaigne out of the library, because it rains almost every day in Vancouver, because I was rushing out to meet the boyfriend who had given me a black eye last week, because gay trans men don’t have a ton of options and I figured an abusive boyfriend was the best I was going to get.
It was raining that day, but it rains almost every day in Vancouver, so I stopped at the edge of the sidewalk and didn’t even notice the rain pouring over my face, plastering my long hair to my checks in wet curls, cleaving my skinny jeans to my legs.
I looked down at my feet and saw my toes at the edge of concrete, flush with the precipice that was the edge of the sidewalk. I was wearing flip flops, because six months in Vancouver had still not broken me of my LA habits, because the Angelino in me still thought it was was going to be sunny when he left the apartment.
I am still there, three weeks later, standing on the edge of the sidewalk in my flip flops, but today is a sunny day, today the library phoned to tell me that Montaigne is a week overdue, today I died very suddenly of a seizure brought on by the syphilis I didn’t know I had. I should have guessed that this would happen, I suppose. There was no shortage of warning signs, but I didn’t understand how bad things had actually gotten.
The library had sent an overdue notice the day after I failed to turn in The Essays of Michel de Montaigne. I had returned the letter to its envelope, set it down on the kitchen table, and promptly forgotten about it. By that point, Matthew had dumped me, my inbox was filled with e-mails from my editor demanding the Montaigne manuscript, and I was hearing voices at night; overdue library books were the least of my concerns.
I find the library notice exactly a week after the phone call, still sitting on the kitchen table, the corners singed where I had tried to burn it, because my envelopes had started talking to me too.
Only now do I really understand that I am dead. Amid all the commotion I have not had time to process anything. I have been rushing from place to place, from room to room, from my apartment to Matthew’s, my brain writhing in an urgent heat, bursting with the most important truths that were being imparted to me by the TV, by the toaster, by the mailbox itself: something about the sun, and that the trees were all drowning in the rain, and that Universal Love could be found on the edge of the sidewalk.
I’m standing there now, on the edge of the sidewalk in front of my apartment building, a soul severed from the body that is just now beginning to stiffen in #328.
And I just weep. Today is a sunny day, but I stand on the sidewalk and weep and weep because it rains almost every day in Vancouver, because this was a good body, and it had been burned away by shame and abuse, because it would probably be another week before the library got The Essays of Michel de Montaigne back.
I weep because, once again, I am a soul without a host, and I need to find a new body, or risk discovering what happens to souls when they move on.
The apartment complex hunkers down at the bottom of a steep hill named Ochoa Street. Usually the trees are heavy and dark with rain, but today is a sunny day. The leaves sway in the light, open and green. My soul still holds the shape of my host’s body, but the weak sunlight shines straight through it. I can see the sidewalk through my feet. I can see the trees through my hands when I hold them up in front of my face.
This host’s name had been Jensen Carter. Born in Los Angeles as Dorothy Carter, he had come out as transgendered his freshman year of college. When he was 23 years old, he had moved to Vancouver to get a graduate degree in French. After graduate school, he taught French at a community college, continuously fell in with the more manipulative and/or abusive members of Vancouver’s male homosexual population, and died suddenly at the age of 29.
After the death of my last host, I had been haunting the streets of Vancouver looking for a new body, and saw Jensen reading The Rime of the Ancient Mariner in a Starbucks a few blocks from his apartment. His eyes were a wide and moony grey, and he kept brushing his long, auburn hair out of his eyes, and I felt desperately in love. So I decided to share my soul with his. I jumped into his body, nestled my soul deep down into his core, and I became Jensen Carter, aged 24, just a few weeks from defending a French language graduate thesis.
But now Jensen is dead, his soul has moved on, and I am a ghost again, carrying the transparent imprint of his body, weeping on the streets of Vancouver.
The cause is so sad and so cruel that it is hard for me to leave the site of his death. The sunlight is abrasive, glowing through the outline of Jensen’s slender feet and fingers, filling the shape of his body with sullen sidewalk grey and the open green of the leaves. I moan and sob and rock back and forth. Jensen’s memories are flickering through my mind, playing one after another in my head, and my emotions riot through all of the hopes, dreams, passions, fears, joys and pains of this soul I have been torn from. It is terrible to be separated from a body like this, terrible to be fused to a soul that has been broken like this.
But I have to pull myself together. If I’m not careful, I will get stuck here. The police will hear me weeping when they come. My emotions will be so strong that the living will see Jensen’s imprint, and I will spend the rest of eternity in the mad loop of Jensen’s final hours.
The trees rustle in a sudden gust of wind, smearing green across my teary vision. I close my eyes, turn my face up to the sun, breathe deeply in her warmth. Jensen’s soul has moved on. Now it is my turn.
Eyes still closed, I let my consciousness expand. The reaches of my mind slowly unfurl, to touch and tremble in the heat of all the living minds it brushes up against. Jumping bodies is not as easy as it sounds, and though by now I have lived hundreds of lives, jumping from soul to soul, I still have to be careful. Whichever soul I choose to fuse with my own will leave an impression; a strand of their being will weave its way into the fabric of my own make-up, and so I don’t want to choose just anyone – or any thing, for that matter. I don’t have to jump into a human body, nor do I have to fuse with a human soul. But I like humans, and I want to stay with them. I also don’t have to stay in Vancouver, but I have spent my past two lives in Vancouver, and there’s something about this city that resonates deeply within my mind. I feel like I’ve been here before, lives and lives ago. My haunt of the city has not yet been quenched.
But the choosing of a soul is not as simple as me finding a consciousness that resonates with my own. When I jump, if I’m not gentle, instead of my soul fusing with the soul of my host, it will thrust the original soul from the body, and that soul will move on, and I will be the single inhabitant of the body. Often this means that I need to disappear, go into hiding, and assume a new identity elsewhere in the world, because the people close to the host will know immediately that something is wrong.
Some souls are extra sensitive to outside energies. They can feel the presence of my consciousness before I jump. They know that I’m there, and they tense up, stiffening their soul against my invasion, and I am unable to jump the body.
With the experience of hundreds of jumped bodies imprinted into my soul, I cast my ethereal net again, searching for the next consciousness whose energies sing in harmony with my own. One by one, I touch upon the souls of Vancouver. Every soul has its own texture, its own frequency at which it vibrates, and I wait, patiently tasting each one as I pass over it, for something to feel just right.
And suddenly, something does. I pause. I’ve never felt a soul like this before. Blazing and bright, it flickers on the other side of the city, singing and sighing in perfect rhythm with the fluctuations of my own existence.
Out of habit, I begin to walk up the street, drawn almost involuntarily to the beacon of this new, unknown consciousness. I stop. I am no longer a body, just the imprint of one. I don’t need to walk to traverse the length of the city. Gathering my soul up into itself, I let my existence be tugged across the city, hooked on the bright line of the presence that has captured my attention.
I am on the bay now, so close to the sea I can smell the low tide smell. The ocean remains steely silver, despite the bright blue overhead of the sky. This apartment complex used to be a hotel. It’s a square, two rows of studio and one-bedrooms wrapped around a greenish pool.
#221, in the corner of the second floor. It’s a studio, much nicer on the inside than the outside. Wooden floor, kitchenette, tiny bathroom. This new soul lives on his own, a man who looks to be in his early 40s. Black hair just beginning to streak grey. Narrow grey eyes. Glasses on the end of the nose. Hunched over a desk, typing away at a laptop, not an uncommon sight in this city.
I get as close to the body as I can. The pulse of his consciousness is bright and warm on my soul, thrumming against my mind the way blood pumps through the brains of the living. I must jump this body, must twine my soul with this one who so neatly seems to fit it.
This new host is all angles: hooked nose, sharp jaw. Pale, but that could mean anything in a city that never sees the sun. Young wrinkles, just beginning to dig their way into the places of emotion: behind the eyes, around the mouth, between the eyebrows. The skin is naturally inclined to be oily, but clean, despite the host’s rumpled appearance. The fingers are long and thin, the legs hairy and cramped under the desk.
I gather myself, prepar for the jump. Focusing my energy, I brush up against this man’s bright consciousness. There is no tension, no pulling away. The man sits up, stretches the kinks in his back, resumes his typing.
Very well, then.
I jump. I plunge deep into the soul, letting it wash over and surround my own. The body closes in around both of us. I stirr, feeling the pulse of the heart, the flickering of the brain, the basic muttering of the lungs, the liver, the bladder. I settle into these things one by one, until they each feel natural and comfortable. I stretch, reaching out to fill the body completely, to become fully and permanently entwined with the soul… and suddenly, that soul contracts around me. I am trapped, a fish in the net. I writhe and wriggle, trying to escape, but I have already rooted myself in the body. I am immobilized.
The other soul waits patiently for me to stop fighting. Trapped in the lower functions of his body, I finally cease to struggle, and when I do, he speaks.
I am not sure what this means. Another language? Language has become less and less of a barrier the more brains I inhabit, but I have not yet anchored myself into the higher cognitive functions of this body, and so have not yet acquired his linguistic capabilities.
He says it again, and this time I feel something. I do know that word from somewhere. It’s a fragment from a language that I have not spoken for lives and lives. Not a word, but a name. This man doesn’t know how to pronounce it correctly, is separated from my own memories of the language by culture and time, but the second time he says it, I understand what he is trying to say.
Not a word, but a name. My name, from my very first life, my very first body. Unbidden, fragments of memory start to float to the surface of my mind. I see a narrow longhouse, a man dying by the fire pit. I hear myself singing over the body, chanting in that language that is now slowly coming back to the surface of my mind. I hear the pounding of the rain on the wooden longhouse roof. It is always raining in these memories, because it always rains in Vancouver. This is where I lived, thousands of years ago. Camshewa was a member of the people indigenous to this land, and eventually my wandering soul has found its way back to its birthplace, to the land of its first lifetime on the planet earth. Long before the city of Vancouver had sprouted up around the bay, I had lived and died on this land.
I’m here to help
I am brought back to the body I was currently trapped in.
I’m here to help you to move on
Rage and panic surge to the surface, and I begin lashing out again, trying to free myself from the tethers of this man’s body, but his soul holds me fast, and eventually I am forced to quit again. I have not jumped hundreds of bodies, lived hundreds of lives on the earth, to be forced out like this, but this man’s grip on my soul is strong.
You cannot continue to jump bodies, Camshewa
The voice continues, steady and smooth.
Your invasions are parasitic
The hosts don’t even know I’m there!
Part of their life spark is spent hosting you
Not true! I merge with their souls! I give them my life spark, just as they give me theirs!
It diverts the natural course of their lives
I never interfere!
Your presence has an influence all the same
Maybe it’s a good influence!
None of your host bodies have died of natural causes
None of your host bodies have lived to their fullest potential
I think of Jensen. I have nothing to say to this.
I know that you are afraid to move on, but I am here to help you
His soul warms around me. I think of the sun this morning, warming my ghost on the sidewalk.
My name is Kelsey, I grew up with the Irish Celtic wisdom of spirits, you are not the first spirit I have helped
I am not sure that I trust this. What could this young, European soul know about me, an ancient spirit of the Americas?
How do you know my true name?
I am part of an organization dedicated to helping ghosts like you, we have been following you for quite some time
This does not answer my question.
Many of us banded together, and by combining research we were able to trace your soul back to its first life
Liar. My people did not write things down. We left no records.
We have other ways of doing research
This does not answer my question.
Souls leave energy signatures, imprints of their presence in places where they have experienced extreme emotion, we are able to follow these imprints, and the memories connected with those emotions
Yes, it has taken many of us to find your original lifespark, but we did find it, Camshewa
Each time he says my name I feel a tiny jolt of emotion. Brief flashes of memory flicker in the back of my head, the long silhouettes from a magic lantern, but they are dim and confused, too often intertwining with memories from other bodies.
Do you know the name Gujaaw?
I do, though I can’t say from where. There is no face, but there is an overwhelming surge of… what, I don’t know. If I had a body, I would burst into tears, maybe, or smash all of the furniture, or burst into song. Without a body, I do none of those things, though I can feel the lower functions of Kelsey’s body beginning to increase in their energy. I am making him jittery, but his soul remains solid and secure, anchoring me down in the lower functions.
You loved him.
He outlived you
His was the first body I jumped, in an attempt to remain connected to him after death. I remember now, vividly, the fear, the confusion, the joy at being meshed with him. I remember him when he was still alive, remember the bark of his laugh, the strong arc of his back. I see the wrinkles of old age, the bright eyes of a young boy. These memories come creeping up, slow and rusty, from hundreds of years ago, but the dim quality of the images does nothing to dull the intensity of emotion. I cannot remember the exact details of his face, but I can remember the anger, the joy, the love, the grief.
In an accident!
I don’t want to hear this.
He had spent his entire life carving and never even scratched himself
Loss of the life spark
Gujaaw moved on, Camshewa, now you have to move on too
The soul that held me captive began to warm again, to sing the song that had drawn me initially from all the way across the city.
I will help you.