drawing fresh water from the sea – jack giaour

far wall sun-washed the gleaming white of a borrowed room

i’d wake in the

dark yet the coming sun would brighten the sky the world

is getting brighter though i rain

there wasn’t a lot of space between me and the squamish trees

but there were other people

 

but a part of me needs the sea so to drink

i’m rain and cloud and

the scariest moment between lightning bolt and thunder clap this

is when silence

appears behind the curtain of sound when memory appears behind the present and

then all my body’s waiting droplets

 

start marching back to my first sunrise in british columbia

smoke comes from the city

but that’s part of the appeal i dream of vancouver and it

turns out i dream of squamish

and sorrow in the months after i leave them behind

too big the

 

last postcard is a snowfield the last letter to canada

is volcanic my body

deserves to rain i am keeping too many lives there but

it’s for someone in vancouver

every tuesday that i drift down to the grainy flanks of the atlantic ocean even

in the winter

 

a new sunrise has made me need the sea again and

of course the atlantic satisfies

as long as i forget myself there

i had come to weep

over and over again i stretched my swollen body memories

in my skin raining over the

 

shimmering morning raining over the red city this was before leaving

it was before vancouver

set there in the sky my mind can wander listening to

woodpeckers hammering holes in the garage

the river’s grainy sides will be washed away as i rain

pouring fresh water into the sea

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The Dark, Incident Four – Mary Drover

what does darkness taste of?

 

                                                                                    does it sit heavy
on your tongue, warping
the little buds
until they are charred,
a jaw unhinged
to welcome the dark
into our blood—
does it feel like fire
in the throat, or
like ice igniting
through my veins,
for the dark
presses cold kisses
onto blue lips—

 

does it taste of love?

Griffith Park Walk – Jack Giaour

It was not sunny that day. We had been on the path for a while. We wore the air as halos.

He walked a dog that nosed the grass. I drank tea from a mug. He was made jealous by my sipping. His cupboards were full of travel mugs with missing or mismatched lids and usable only as house cups.

The aroma of tea went ribboning by as we crunched along. All of them now condemned me quietly for all my Adam’s appling and all that promiscuous vapor. Perhaps the squirrels chittered away their resentments by the time we got to that place. It was that place in the path that rose far above the road. It was that place that was high enough above the road that we could not hear the cars anymore.

It was just me and him now. We had left all the other walkers behind us, tugged along by his dog’s enthusiastic sniffing. We were in the only place in Los Angeles free of the sound of traffic, and we were Angelenos, and the silence was terrifying.

I had driven out into the desert many times, but the silence of Griffith Park, at least in that place, was very different from the silence of the desert because it wasn’t silence at all. The roar of the freeway didn’t penetrate this far into the park, but the wind followed us up here, and it didn’t sound like the wind should. There was no whistling, no whirring, no rushing. Instead, there was a continuous clicking and rustling all around, as each blade of grass, each leaf, every single twig and grain of dirt gently shifted and rubbed against one another with the movement of the air. He and I were not speaking, but the drone of insect life, the twittering of birds, the chittering of the squirrels roared around us.

I sipped at my tea, the tea that had provoked such disapproval from the walkers we had passed on our way up to this place above the road. It was green, and sensuous, and it burned green on my tongue and throat, green in my eyes and joints and deep, deep in my ears. All that green heat inside me did something to the way I heard the life of the park. The sounds began to shift, to soften and sharpen and slide together. The world was no longer a roar. The noise had become music, still deafening, but vitalizing. The green heat inside me was welling up with the music of the park. It passed easily through my skin, through my muscle and bone and the wiry black hairs all over my body, and I had never felt so much like a human being in my whole life.

He had let his dog off the leash, so that he could wander off the path. It made sense here. This place was not contained by the path. This place had no path. There was only a shifting in the dirt here, a shift from packed to loose, a shift from barren to swollen with the long roots of the plants. Now, he whistled to his dog to come back. It was time to turn around, to turn and return to the rest of the universe.

On the way up, he had been jealous of my tea because I could afford it. The walkers who passed us in the park had been jealous of my tea because I had it and they did not.

On the way down, there was no jealousy, and when we had gotten low enough to the ground that the static rush of the freeway came back to the edges of hearing, he began to speak. The green of the park was still in my ears, and so I couldn’t hear his words. I could only hear his tone, and his emotions, and the easy music of his voice, and the delicious tensing and moving of his vocal chords beneath the skin of his throat.

On the way up, we wore the air as halos. On the way down, we drank the air as a musky cup of green tea.  

60.14 AU – Mary Drover

Let us scatter stars across our bedroom
ceiling, to glow through the darkening
night and call to the moon above.

Let us paint our bodies with vibrant
hues of deep dark blue, galaxies
strewn across our longing skin.

Let us dance under the lightening
sky, and wonder after the sun’s
coming warmth, a golden kiss.

Let us pour over science words,
fingers dancing around the edges
of our orbiting giants and dwarves.

Let us uncover complex number systems
and aerodynamics, little steps
for humankind as NASA reopens for candidates.

Let us rifle through articles on Kepler
and Europa, position all scopes
to pay homage to Venus and Mars.

Let us lay crystals upon our altars
to worship the gods and goddesses
we have lain upon our worlds.

Let us love the dark irrevocably,
so vast that we are coming apart
at the seams, meteors bleeding through our veins.

jack giaour – dry season stream of consciousness – dreaming

of what i’d be

in feathers warm covered in

blue down delicate

i’m dreaming

summer

green and humid i’m tyring

something new and beginning

“i [should]could have”

i was

very

pale white spent

plenty of long

hours in

the sun i am

always listening for

the miner’s

dark truths i

knew the birds had

had enough sun with

the candle the beach

district flickers

the third

of a line

actual wattage is

depending on power

incandescence on

birds

falling there’s

light it’s falling

and settling

the tenement houses flicker

when he’s not home

not like them

across the street sleeping

with deeper sighs

Tea Leaves – Mary Drover

To boil water, it had to burn.  Even the slightest hint of a flame, and it would begin to catch, the surface rolling as it heated.  He knew this dance well, had brewed enough tea that those with the darkest souls jokingly called him master.  Occasionally, he heard the uneasy lilt in their voice that unraveled the fear—sometimes, it was not a joke.

Even now, one of them winced as he carelessly tossed a sprig of mint into the furious pot.  It had taken years to obtain carelessness around tea, but he had managed, and now, not even the Order spared him a second glance.  Out here, on the streets, it was death to appear too involved, and he had spent more than enough of his freedom behind wards.

“Is it done?” the wincing one asked, twitching closer.

Mason leveled him with a glare that Leia would have laughed at.  She had always been stronger than the rest, rolling her eyes at his antics and shoving him out of the way.  She didn’t burn when her fingers passed over his bare skin, but he was careful to always wear long sleeves and pants regardless.  The wincing one shrank back beneath the glare, curling in on himself.  He sighed.  He hated helping them.

“Stop that,” he spat, tossing another sprig in, “They’re going to see.”

“It won’t stop,” he said, holding out his trembling arms.  Scabs, old and new, puckered his forearms.  He made to scratch at his left with his right, and Mason sneered.  “This won’t do anything,” he said, and though he didn’t gesture to the tea, they all knew.  They always did.

“It does,” the wincing one implored.

Mason’s sneer turned into a hard frown again, and he turned his attention back to the brick wall beside him.  He despised brewing in alleyways—they were too open, too easily peered into—but the wincing one hadn’t had much by way of payment, and he hadn’t opened his shop to the severely dehydrated in months now.

His thoughts flickered briefly to Dhaval, covering the Madhouse in his absence.  Mason could easily picture him, skin dark as night with two yellow eyes peering up at him as he shouldered open the door—he shook his head.  Stop it, he thought fiercely.

There are people looking for you, Dhaval’s voice was crisp, as though he knelt next to Mason, chin hooked over his shoulder, breath eliciting goosebumps across his shaved head.

Frustration reared through his structured walls, and he snapped something incomprehensible at the wincing one as he crept closer again.  It was more of a snarl, really, and though his rising anger wouldn’t let him understand Dhaval’s voice in his head, his tone was clear.  The wincing one looked at him warily, and Mason let out his frustration in a loud sigh.

“Black currant, chased with mint, you ugly bastard,” Mason said two minutes later, tossing the steaming travel mug toward his customer before he began collecting his supplies.  “Don’t be an idiot,” Mason added when the wincing one lifted the mug to his mouth, “Let it cool, and then drown yourself.  Away from me,” he clarified when he still stood there.

The wincing once scampered away, and another one approached as Mason was dumping the last dredges of the boiled water onto the alley street.  “We have no business here,” Mason said without looking up.

“I can pay,” the new one said.

“For street corner tea?” Mason said wearily, shouldering his bag.

“I have more than enough, but they say you can’t just walk into Madhouse anymore.”

“They are correct.”  Mason finally looked up.  For a moment, he saw something that couldn’t be—the flash of a grin beneath a halo of dark curls—and then it cleared.  He paused.  He hadn’t had a vision of Lukas since he’d closed the Madhouse’s doors to the public, but an official motion had come down yesterday demanding a new, skyrocketing rent, and Mason had felt a little desperate when he woke this morning.  It was this, perhaps, that formed his words, “Follow me.”

 

 

 

As they approached Madhouse, Mason glanced at his new customer, his brow furrowing just enough that it wouldn’t call attention.  There was a masked man dressed in Order robes across the street, and he wouldn’t show anything but indifference in company.

“I thought you might have hidden it better,” the man said as he stopped, his gaze lingering on Mason’s hand near the handle of the door, which did not move.

“Even the Order drinks,” Mason said, looking at his face.  The man would not meet his gaze, and, from inside, Mason heard Dhaval’s quiet laugh.  He let out a short exhale, a burst of flame that shattered through the thick air and left black smoke trailing in its wake.  The man looked up.  The man across the street shifted, his masked eyes turning on them.  Mason’s fingers curled, tightening inward before spreading.  Blue fire leaked from between his fingers, unlocking Madhouse, as he asked, “Your poison?”

The door swung open, and the man swallowed down a swear that begged to be released.  They were always trying to catch him, though Mason would never admit he thought of it like a game.

“Anything chased with cinnamon,” he said.

Mason barked a laugh.  “How dull.”  He stepped inside Madhouse, letting the door hurtle back toward its frame, though the man caught it and stepped through.  Inside, the deception grew stronger.  Only true tea drinkers, those who frequented the shop every day, could see beyond the veil, could catch glimpses of skulls mounted and framed in mistletoe, thin trails of burning cedar wood whispering through faerie lights, and the snake coiled on the counter, its head rising in greeting.

One of the man’s eyebrows lifted as he looked around, as Mason stepped behind the counter and began sorting the supplies from his bag.  “It’s not much,” he said finally, coming up to the counter, “For all the fuss.”

“Hallucinogenic tea makes for strange stories,” Mason said.  There was the sound of porcelain shattering through the beaded doorway.  Mason frowned, turned, and found himself pinned against the counter.  The man had not moved, but the masked Order member from across the street was holding Mason’s throat.

He would not shout for Dhaval, vocally or mentally, would not risk him, as well, but it was for naught, as he watched another Order member drag Dhaval out of the backroom, the beads clattering around them.  His body was heavy, unconscious.

“What do you want?” Mason ground out, with less volatility than he had hoped for.  His windpipe was being crushed.

“You,” the man said easily, shrugging one shoulder, “You are hoarding an Undying, and you have embraced your becoming.”

“I don’t—” he choked as the Order member squeezed tighter.

“Save it,” the man said, “You brew tea for a living, and yet you don’t seem effected by its proximity to fire.  We know what you are, phoenix,” he spat the word as though it caused him offense, and really, Mason thought it might have.  Humans didn’t play well with myths.  “We have watched you fight, endlessly, constantly, every single day,” he paused even as his voice roared higher, and Mason tried to look at him only to have his throat crushed harder between gloved fingers.  “And then, just like that.”  He could sense the man shaking his head, and, with sudden clarity, he knew what was coming.  Perhaps, it was Dhaval, in his subconscious, reaching out on a thin tendril to alert him, but Mason heard it nonetheless, and he flipped one of his palms upright, let it spill hungry fire around him.

The Order member caught, and his screams echoed through Madhouse as Mason dropped to his knees and burned his other hand in quick strokes, ash staining his palm with a ten over a six.  He turned it to face away from him and closed his eyes.

He knew, like coming home, when Lukas saw him.  He opened his eyes, pale and pleading, his dark veins straining against his arms as his last cup of tea began to drain from him.  Lukas fell and scrambled backward, and though he knew it was useless, that Lukas would not hear him, Mason screamed for him.  Footsteps bore down without care on his hand-crafted floor, something he and Lukas had created together, even as he threw up wards with his free hand, his energy leeching out into the air around him.

Mason could hear a woman’s voice now, trying to cast him away, and he turned his gaze on her, sneering, furious.  He pushed against his magic, willed Lukas to open to him, and then it was just this—his voice, “I know where you are.”  Mason looked back him, saw Lukas staring at his palm.  “I know,” he said, gaze shifting from Mason’s palm to his face, and there was the shadow of a grin, “Ten over six, mad as a hatter.  I know where you are.”

Mason collapsed, throwing up a last image of him smiling fondly at Lukas before his wards broke, and rough hands wrapped around his wrists, locking them in iron.  It mattered not.  They were taking him where faerie blood burned slowly, and without tea, it would take the last of his energy.  He needed help.  He needed Lukas.

“You were always the strongest,” the man said, watching as Mason was jerked to his feet, grinning when he sagged against the wide man beneath the Order robes.  “Marian was not so lucky,” he said, “But it appears her death gave you life.”

“Marian isn’t dead,” he murmured, letting his eyes close.  He was so tired.  “That’s not something we do.”

“You’re mumbling, Mason.  Either speak up, or I’ll have your tongue ripped out.”

He dug deep, searching for any lingering sparks.  He found one, and then another, unraveled a small harvest of coals, and let them sit but for the first.  He inhaled until it ignited, and then he came roaring back, held only inches from the man’s face.  His breath was smoke, his eyes liquid molten as he said, “We’re not in the business of dying, but do your worst.”

5:19 – Jack Giaour

At 5:19pm on a late July afternoon, I met her. Everything had been normal up to that point. A clear blue sky. Sun.

My boyfriend was a gym regular. Sexy in his gym shorts (and sexier out of them) he woke up every morning at 6am to get there just as it opened. After years of working out, he looked much more like he belonged in West Hollywood than I did.

We were living together in the thickest part of town, where traffic was slowest, pollution heaviest, and sidewalks clogged with the most tourists. We had an adopted cat, a studio apartment, and a used car to share between the two of us.

6pm was always our dedicated hour together. Usually talk over a drink.

I met her in the living room at 5:19pm, unusual because we didn’t invite friends over until 7, after our designated couple time.

I meant to keep this relationship steady. Work on a screenplay, maybe take up photography and shoot my gorgeous partner in his underwear with the downtown skyline in the background. But outlaws have a way of finding each other, and at 2:54pm on a December afternoon, I found myself sitting on a Seattle-bound greyhound with her in the seat next to me.

I grinned at my faint reflection in cold, clear glass as we passed the San Francisco city limit.

We shuddered to a halt in the station lot, and she offered me a bite from one of the many protein she had stuffed into her backpack.  But I was watching myself starve, enamoured with the gaunt lines in my own reflection.  

One way or another, I should have known I would end up on the road again.

My legs seemed to have died already. And the driver called a twenty minute stopover, perfect for me to open my cramped muscles.

It was an old cinder-block building with two entrances to each side. Legs prickling as the circulation returned, I made my way to the men’s restroom, munching on one of her protein bars.

My boyfriend met her at the gym in WeHo. She was a giant of a trans woman, with a government administered neural block preventing her from entering the cities of Austin, Chicago, and the entire state of Louisiana. My own neural block only prevented me from returning to Anchorage, Alaska, and so, when we saw that the next Greyhound departing Los Angeles was headed for Seattle, we gladly bought the tickets.

Maybe they’ll find us. Maybe they won’t. Maybe we’ll get sick of each other by the time we reach Seattle. Maybe we won’t. But once an outlaw, always an outlaw, and the good thing about a lifetime of infamy is that you don’t much care where your own whims take you. At least I didn’t. Not then, anyway, peeing in the ‘Frisco Greyhound station with the taste of my lover’s protein bar still coating the inside of my mouth. My shrink would call this a relapse. I had a nice life, a nice boyfriend in a nice city with a nicely developing career. And that’s how I knew, when I saw her in the living room, that she had a past, and she knew that I had a past, and we both knew that the other was our only chance to escape the good life.

Hide – Mary Drover

The mountains were on fire.

Dima had roughly three seconds of warning before her blankets were being ripped from her bed, her skin erupting in goosebumps.  Her aunt’s whisper was still hanging in the air around her ears as she frowned at the sudden cold, the mountains are burning.

She waited for the whisper to settle before she pushed herself upright, looking through the darkness toward the window.  There, against the deep blue of space, was a single golden flicker.  “That’s—” though she didn’t finish her thought, instead lifting her hand to scrub messily through her hair.  She resented others who could describe their bedhead as sticking up in odd angles, for her mass of dark curls remained a halo around her head even while awake.

“Dima!” her aunt’s voice echoed shrilly from somewhere in the deep gloom of the little house.

Dima nodded sleepily, taking another moment to rouse herself before she clambered from her small bed and over to her closet.  It didn’t take long to select something—her aunt would later grimace at her red leather pants and oversized purple sweater—but when she looked out her window again, the flame had sprouted into something approaching danger.  Dima paused halfway into her pants, one hand coming forward to press against the glass as she watched a golden lick jump away from the ground, sparking against the night.

Dima!” her aunt was panicking now, and so Dima hurriedly jumped the rest of the way into her pants, running from her room.  She ducked through her doorway, grabbing her bag where it lay on the floor.

The jeep was already roaring in the front yard, and she could hear her aunt arguing furiously with Jae’s sister on the comms.  She tapped the one in her ear, clicked through to Jae’s frequency, and said, “Are you coming?”

“Dressed to impress,” he said, and she could almost feel his grin mirroring her own.

As she opened the front door into the airlock, she called over her shoulder, “May the end come quickly,” in case anyone else was listening.

“Dima, don’t—” but her aunt’s voice was cut off as the airlock closed, and Dima faced the darkness, eager.

 

 

 

Jae was lounging on his roof when she pulled up, bare feet dangling over the edge, near enough to the main window that it would stir fury in his sister.  As the jeep rumbled up their drive, his sister appeared in the window, glaring something awful at Dima while Jae leapt from the roof easily.  He was donned in dark colors, the better to hide, but his shock of pale hair and paler skin made him opaque in the night.

The passenger door was still open when Dima swerved away from his house, racing toward the growing fire.

As they drove, Jae upended the contents of Dima’s bag onto his lap, sorted his things from hers, and began mixing.  “Put some noise on,” Dima said, not taking her hands from the wheel as the speedometer crashed toward the red zone.  The black market engine roared once, loudly, and settled into a steady hum, carrying them through the night.  The jeep’s edges vibrated with their combined energy.

Jae flicked a hand toward the center of the jeep’s dash, and the radio spat blue bursts at them before it clattered to life.  Something low and deep crept through the jeep, and Dima’s next sigh was tinted orange.

“Why was your sister mad?” Dima asked as the flames grew closer.  They would be there in a few minutes, and while it wasn’t a lot of time, Jae’s hands were moving quickly, almost too fast to see clearly.

He plucked at different herbs and spices, rattled bones into a small bowl, pricked one of his fingers and shook out a few droplets of blood, but it was an old potion, one he had created many and more times, and so he shrugged and said, “She had a thing.”

“A feeling?”

Jae mocked gagging.  “Feelings are for spirits.  Something was—” his fingers twitch briefly by his temple, “—singing.”

“Heralding,” Dima corrected, easing off the gas, “Jae.”

“Do not,” Jae said, his energy levels spiking enough that the steering wheel snapped cold through Dima’s fingers.  He crushed three glacier shards under the heel of his palm and upended them into the bowl.  The potion immediately began to leap upward, blue dust particles escaping into the night, but Jae’s mouth whispered something strange, and it settled again.

He covered the bowl, put it between his feet, and turned to Dima, flicking her shoulder.  “Death is the next great adventure,” he said, giving her his best lopsided grin.

Dima rolled her eyes, but dropped her foot back onto the gas nonetheless.

 

 

 

They had reached the source of the flame before any of the spirits had arrived, and Jae let out a holler as he hauled himself out of the jeep, clutching his bowl against his chest.  Dima followed, leaving the engine grumbling as she stepped down and surveyed the damage.

It had spread farther than either of them had predicted—they would need more time.  Dima let her next exhale expunge some of her frustration before tapping knuckles with Jae and kicking into a run.  He stayed behind, close enough to the jeep that he could escape if necessary, but she headed straight for the fire, her smile growing as the heat danced against her dark skin, threatening to burn her.  Instead, she embraced it, plunging into its depths.

She looked to her left immediately, and found the source without difficulty.   A little girl was crouched close to the ground, curled around something.  She had long, dark hair, and the fire was starting to catch at the ends that rested against the ground.  She was darker even than Dima, and she did not look up as Dima approached.

“What have you got there?” Dima asked, carefully gathering the girl’s hair.  She patted out the edges and began to twist it into a knot as the girl’s shoulders shook, silent sobs stoking the fire around her.

“You have to control it,” Dima said, tying her hair off, “If you let it burn, they’ll take you.”

“Not me,” the girl said, and then she unfolded.  She had curled around a boy a few years younger than her, still a toddler, with the exact features as the girl.

“Your parents?” Dima asked, not taking her eyes from the boy.

“I killed them.”

Dima nodded.

Slowly, she reached out her hand and said, “Can I take some of your energy—douse this?”

“You can’t.”

“I have help,” Dima assured, trying for a smile.

As though he had heard, Jae crackled to life in her ear, “We have company.”

“Spirits?”

“And a beast.”

Morroca,” Dima swore.  Morroca had taken the shape of a snake the last time she had seen her, coiling tightly around the baby boy that had been offered at the full moon’s sacrifice.  Jae had been slouched in the backseat of the jeep, watching diligently while his fingers created something noxious in his bowl.  When Dima had drunk of it later, it tasted of lemons, and she knew what he had seen—Morroca’s gaze fixed on the jeep.

“Yeah,” came Jae’s voice, frustration fraying the edges.

“Take the jeep,” Dima said, and she only just made out the shape of his laugh before the girl took her hand.  The fire started to curve in toward them, and she heard a spirit’s high keen.

 

 

 

Dima’s aunt drank the blue tea Jae handed her without comment as she watched Dima lead the little girl and her sleep stumbling brother into her room.  When she returned, Jae had his head pillowed in his arms, and Dima’s aunt was watching him with one eyebrow raised.

“He’s fine,” Dima said, collapsing into the seat next to him.

Her aunt’s eyebrow quirked a little higher before she asked, “Why has the city been formally invited to attend the inauguration of the new High Council?”

Jae muttered into his elbow, “We may have killed the old one.”

The Jumper – Jack Giaour

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.

 

Camshewa

 

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.

 

Camshewa

 

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.

 

Camshewa

 

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

 

Disease…

 

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

 

We?

 

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.

 

No.

 

You loved him.

 

I did.

 

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.

 

He died

 

In an accident!

 

I don’t want to hear this.

 

He had spent his entire life carving and never even scratched himself

 

Bad luck

 

Loss of the life spark

 

NOT TRUE

 

Gujaaw moved on, Camshewa, now you have to move on too

 

Panic

 

I CAN’T

 

You can

 

How?

 

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.        

The Effects of Reading – Mary Drover

Yesterday, I ran along ley lines in Henrietta.

My veins were on fire, overwhelmed and exerted
by the haunt of a dead Welsh king, little tree
whispers to follow me into the night, deep up mountainsides
and through a ravenous pit of raven boys.

 

As the sun leaps closer to the ground, I am taken by Seeonee.

Great black paws pad along as I tumble from coils
of dead skin, shed and forgotten amongst the rubble,
even as a whistling tune twists the Law, and it’s
the bear necessities that carry me home.

 

My right leg is carved in ink with cliff faces and dead marshes,

where men chase horses through the winding hills,
and then shadows grow longer as eyes grow weary
from the war that was never fought, until a hobbit-
sized warrior held the weight of the world over a pit of fire.

 

When the room goes dark, and there is naught left but dreams,

I will wander in the halls of gods, where swords
gleam at the hips of men in a circle, where to follow
a leader is to put hope in a king who does not believe
in the power of magic.

 

My wildest thoughts are of lightning scars, flight upon wings.

To fight dragons, fell evil, and curse the night
that grows dark—this is where I roam, with common
bark warped by something more, and an army
of those who would die without blinking.

 

Tomorrow, I will follow the endless search for light.

Upon the stumbling desire of those too young
to hunt the shadows, though they will wield angel
blades and call it their duty, brothers in arms
to take me, once again, from the mundane.