Meeting The Dead
A Shade with a Purpose
He was certain that it had been decades, maybe longer. Whenever it was when he had handed in his mortal existence, he had no recollection of it. That was too long ago. One day he was just there in the form he now inhabited. There was no birth, no growing up. He just was. Being alone all the time is not a lot of fun. It is unfortunately the price you pay for being dead. You have to really like your own company.
He was exceedingly bored. He had long since forgotten who he was. He had even forgotten why he was who he was and what it was he was supposed to do. His mind was a blank. It is a common problem. Having nothing to do exacerbates the situation. No purpose is perhaps the greatest impetus for boredom.
The only thing which killed boredom was exercising the mind. To do that he had honed in on what he knew. He had one last piece of information stored deep in his psyche with which he could keep a tenuous hold on the physical world. He held onto the thought with all of his might. He had set himself the goal to constantly focus on it and to never forget. Without it he was completely lost. It was like a single star flickering on a moonless night. It was the last remaining spark he had which could reignite the rest of his memory. Once it was gone, the cogs of his mind would grind to a halt and everything would turn black.
What he knew hinged on one single detail: it was a she. She was of utmost importance. Who she was remained a mystery to him, yet it was the one solitary thing that kept him going. The knowledge that she existed gave him the purpose he needed. Without her he was incomplete. He was truly in the dark. Something had happened somewhere, which had driven them apart. He wasn’t sure who had been at fault for this. Possibly an outside force had played a hand in it. He could only hypothesise what had occurred. All he had were just loose snippets of information floating around his mind. He tried to connect them all together, but couldn’t. It was as if he was trying to join the dots without having first learnt to count.
She was the love of his life. This was the one piece of the puzzle he knew for sure. Except, she was more than that, love was usually merely a fleeting thing. The feeling he had went far beyond that. This love had staying power. Even in death it still called out to him. This was a love eternal. Something substantial had connected them. He didn’t know what it had been, yet it was incredibly strong. It pulled from the other side and was the one thing which kept him going. It was this love which drove him on. Because of it, he had no choice. He had to find her.
He had a picture of her in his head. It was just a sketch and not entirely clear. She had dark hair, she was certainly older than him now, but had been younger than him when he had lived. The whole age thing was a bit clouded. She was still one of the living. This was one thing he was absolutely certain of. The dead can’t solve their special problem if the problem itself is dead. He sensed that the whole reason that he was still around was because she was still one of the living. Otherwise his entire existence would be pointless.
Physically they were about the same height. He was sure that if he were to stand in front of her then he could look her straight in the eye. He was certain their features were somewhat similar. He looked once again at his reflection in the window, his real face. He ran his fingers around his chin. He had doubts. Maybe they weren’t the same. He didn’t know, he wasn’t sure. The constant uncertainty was irritating. He shut his eyes and tried to create a mental image of her. He knotted his forehead and squeezed his eyeballs with his lids. It only hurt his head. He couldn’t conjure a clear image, it had been too long ago. He could only rely on instinct. Somehow he knew that it would not fail him. Instinct was all he had left. He was certain that if he found her, he would know that she was the one.
He had tried to solve the mystery himself, but he couldn’t do it alone, he needed help. He had prowled the streets for what seemed an eternity. As his time whittled away, so did his memory. He felt the pressure, time was now of the essence. He was desperate. When he focussed on her it helped. Something told him there was perhaps more than one her. Maybe this other her was the bridge. The doorway he was looking for, the solution which could help him out of his predicament.
He had looked for this other her. He just didn’t realise that she needed to be a witch. The witch who could help him out of his situation. Right now, she was closer than he could possibly imagine.
The People Puzzle
Events and people get shuffled around like one of those throwaway games you used to get at Christmas. It’s a flat pad made up of tiles which have to be moved around and slotted into the right order to form a picture. They are called sliding puzzles. People and their actions follow similar principles.
As entities in a much bigger picture, we must keep shuffling our own stuff around until we find the right order. In the same way as the sliding puzzle, the pieces we have are already in play and can’t be lifted off the board, they are fixed to it. We have to shift them around until they make sense. They will have to find their natural place. It all boils down to patterns.
It’s not simply one thing randomly following after another. Although, there are innumerable ways to order a sequence of events. It’s complicated. Everything needs to be jostled around. At some stage all your pieces will need to be used. Each piece borders another and thus, all your individual components will have to move to solve the puzzle. Not only that, they will also have to move in a certain way, one specific element after another. If you wish to see the end result, the picture, you will need to find the correct sequence which puts everything in its place. It is the law of the universe.
Nobody can disobey the laws of the universe. They are above everything. You might think you can go through life doing whatever you want, this is not so. Everything happens for a purpose. One thing leads to another. Action and reaction. You have to follow a pattern and you have to take all of the steps. There are no short-cuts. In the beginning you have free reign of choice, it doesn’t matter which step you take, but later on your alternatives will become limited. If you want to find your end goal, your whole, if you want to see the big picture, you need to follow the law. You must find the right order. If not, then shit just doesn’t happen. The universe will not be happy. There will be no equilibrium, no balance.
And so it is that every occurrence in the universe has to happen. There’s no escaping it. If that wasn’t pressure enough, you must be aware that your time is limited. This is why we have the living and the dead. You get your chance to get it right while alive. Some of us have longer to do it than others, but if we don’t intervene there is time enough for all of us. A number of us will self-destruct before we get there. This manifests itself in various fashions. It doesn’t have to be as cut and dry as suicide. We all have choices. We all have a hand in our own mortality. Nobody gets off lightly. We all have to put in some semblance of effort. The universe doesn’t accept notes from your mum or other lame excuses. We all have to do the work.
For some, this is a serious problem. The universe won’t let you go until you have solved the puzzle. Eventually, every one of your pieces will need to be slotted in its place. If not, then you will be required to hang around until that happens.
Shades haven’t finished putting everything in place, they have one or two pieces that have to slot into position. Don’t think for a minute that being dead excuses you from your duties. No way. You’ve still got to do whatever it is you were meant to do. You have just made the job that much harder for yourself to achieve by going and getting yourself killed.
There is no hell, there is only unfinished business.
There was something about him which caught her attention. For some reason he was always hanging out in front of Kentucky Fried Chicken. If Anais thought about it, she realised she’d seen him there on numerous occasions. It was as if he had lost his way, well they all had, she knew that shades were just trying to find an open door to the next world. Some of them found it by themselves and some of them needed help.
One of the most important directives of The Organisation was that, wherever possible, all members were required to help shades find their way. Not being able to communicate directly with them made it somewhat of a chore. Therefore, it was one directive that was not intentionally neglected but did find its way slipping down the list of priorities. Some witches set it high on their agendas. There were the odd Mother Teresa’s of witchdom who made it their life’s work to care exclusively for shades. They were in the minority and most did not feel compelled to fulfil this obligation on a full-time basis. Anais fell into this group. She was still working her way through puberty and the needs of others was the furthest thing from her mind. And boy, puberty was taking a long time.
It really screwed with her head. She dreaded to think what it would be like when the rest of her body caught up and she would be lumped with all the physical transformations. The brain drain was enough. Mentally it was driving her to diversion. All she seemed to do was think about boys. She was obsessed with them. It was as if every teenager on the verge of growing facial hair grabbed her attention. She couldn’t keep her eyes off them.
That had been the primary drawing power of Kentucky Fried Chicken. It was full of boys. Most of the other hang-out options all involved hamburgers. Anais didn’t like hamburgers. Beyond that, witches and chickens had a special relationship.
Chickens were, after all, miniature dinosaurs. They had been around since the dawn of time. Witches had come along a little later on but for some reason the connection had remained and was unnaturally strong. As was the primordial urge to kill them. It woke something of the caveman in witches. It was one of the few associations made with them which was legitimate. Humans had put it down to the whole exercise of voodoo and blood letting. It wasn’t as complicated as all that. It was purely an ongoing urge to stay at the top of the food chain. Witches were drawn to kill chickens out of an inbuilt sense of self-preservation. It didn’t matter that the last dinosaurs on Earth were effectively harmless. Their pea-brains reduced to doing little else than triggering the urge to peck. Witches needed to maintain their superiority. For them their struggle for survival millions of years ago was as fresh as yesterday. It was unfortunate for them that the humble chicken had become such a cheap food source and was bred and farmed at an enormous rate. But then witches can not influence everything.
Why this particular shade was hanging around outside Kentucky Fried Chicken was a mystery to Anais. She didn’t sense any witch in him. He was as dead as they come. Perhaps it was the smell. Not of him, but rather of fried chicken. She sensed that maybe it was a lingering memory from his time as a mortal. It certainly wasn’t hunger, shades didn’t eat. Whatever it was she was concerned that his continued appearance in front of the display window would draw unnecessary attention. It could produce a sticky situation if the store manager, or even worse, the police or a security guard, were to try and communicate with him.
Regrettably she knew it was her duty to protect him. She decided to try and establish a line of communication.
‘Doo, do, do, do, dooo. Doo, do, do, do, dooo. Doo, do di do dooo.’
He didn’t seem to notice her standing there. She was used to that. She was sure she could stand there for hours and wouldn’t be noticed. He made her smile. He was funny. He was so preoccupied with what he was doing.
He stared at his reflection in the plate glass window. ‘Doo, do, do, do, dooo. Doo, do, do, do, dooo. Doo, do di do dooo.’
The dead can’t talk. It’s not that they can’t converse in any way at all. It’s more that you need to find other ways apart from the spoken word in order to establish a rapport. This can makes it a laborious task to try and get anything sensible out of them. Some of the dead are better at conversing than others. Finding one that is a good communicator is considered a godsend. It’s worthwhile having someone like that hanging around. They will be a keeper. It means that it will be some point to working on a relationship. If there is a hint that discourse is possible then there is already something of a foundation to build on. All relationships work the same way. In most of them you will encounter difficulties at some stage or other. Relationships between the living and the dead are no exception. Although they do come with their own special set of complications
He could sing, or at least hum a tune. It is a rare talent that some of the dead have. There are a few of them in every city. They are humming the whole day through and the living hear it. It is infectious. Everybody has the moment when some obscure hit song enters their psyche. Usually something incredibly simple and stupid, yet it sticks. As long as you are fixated on the tune it won’t leave you, it can be quite irritating. In most circumstances these pearls of songwriting are introduced by one of those rogue shades walking around humming it. It is one of the only ways they can influence the living. Thankfully the dead do not know the power they hold in their hands and have not taken advantage of it. Is if this were so, then the entire population of earth might be walking around with stupid songs in their heads. It would be a disaster. People would resort to anything in an attempt to get them out of their heads.
‘Doo, do, do, do, dooo. Doo, do, do, do, dooo. Doo, do di do dooo.’
Anais knew the tune. It was one of Nan’s favourite songs. She put it on all the time, usually to entertain Anais. There was the colour connection. Nan really loved Purple Rain, as did Anais.
Anais looked around her. Thankfully no one had noticed them, but it wouldn’t take long. She had to warn him that he was running the risk of attracting attention to himself. She could also see he was on the verge of breaking out into an air-guitar solo. That just wouldn’t do. She had to stop him.
He didn’t notice her. He was still staring blankly at his reflection in the window and singing to himself.
Anais raised her voice. ‘Hello!’
Her heard her and it made him jump. He looked down. He was clearly startled to see her looking up at him. She watched him look around to check if he really was the centre of attention. He was.
Anais eyeballed him.
’Hello,’ she said again.
Spoken words can say so much more. Without them you never really get the entire picture of a person. There is something special about the sound of another speaking voice. Once a person opens their mouth your whole perception of them can change, especially if you have had a long period of getting to know someone purely on an aesthetic level. It’s as if the statue or painting suddenly comes to life. Something that was once flat develops dimension and instantaneously has depth and character. Once you can communicate together in the same language you are able to come closer to knowing who someone really is. Not only that, it’s speeds everything up. With the spoken word you can get so much more done in a much shorter period of time.
No one had ever directly communicated with him. He looked around again. The street was busy but no one seemed to notice them. That was normal, though, no one ever paid attention to him. He ignored the street around him and concentrated on her. She stood her ground and looked up at him with sparkling eyes. Just looking at her made him feel better, she was a tiny beauty.
He had tried to talk to people over the years. No one heard him. He had screamed at the top of his lungs and people just didn’t respond. The division between his world and theirs was rock-solid. They saw one thing and it wasn’t the real him. He could pull faces or even stand on his head. It didn’t make any difference. The living only ever saw the shell. The disguise blocked everything. It was the most frustrating thing.
So how was it that she could see him? Was she not a mortal? Was she dead like him? He thought he had seen other dead before, but he wasn’t completely certain. He had sensed them. He thought he had seen their reflections but there was no way to communicate. What he had seen were also only fragments, usually out of the corner of his eye. He had seen the same familiar behaviour he himself portrayed being ignored by the rest of the world. They had also been jumping around in their skins. He had reached out to some of them but they never responded. It was as if they were all encased in glass boxes. You were allowed to look. You just couldn’t touch.
He doubted that anything he did would ever work. Long ago he had given up trying and resigned himself to his solitary existence. Trying was a waste of energy and had frustrated him no end. Even thinking about it depressed him.
There was something special about her, though. She could see him. She had tried to talk to him. He had to make an effort. He decide not to yell and scream. If she could hear him being too over-enthusiastic it might frighten her. He would just talk normally.
He spoke quietly and he heard his voice squeak. He hadn’t used it in such a long time. He cleared his throat but what came out was still a croak, ‘Hello yourself.’
Now it was her turn to be surprised. She stepped back away from him. ‘Say that again?’
His eyes darted from side to side in uncertainty. He wet his lips and heard his chest creak as he filled his dormant lungs. ‘Hello yourself.’
She beamed and shook her fists in jubilation. ‘I can hear you!’
He was pleased and shocked all at once. This was truly exciting. He tried to maintain his composure. He didn’t want to scare her away. Not that she could read his face anyway. Or could she do that too?
‘Yes, in here.’ She tapped the side of her skull with the tips of her fingers.
‘Who are you?’
‘Anais. And you?’
‘I honestly don’t know.’
‘Oh, that’s a shame. Do you know what I am?’
‘I’m a witch.’ She proudly puffed up her chest. ‘I’ve been told I can do this, you know, communicate with you guys and all, but I’ve never been successful at it. Nan tells me it’s what I’m meant to do. Wow! Nobody ever responded to me before. It’s as if they couldn’t see me.’
‘I know the feeling, I’ve had a similar experience,’ he said flatly.
Suddenly he was overcome with emotion. He leant forward, supporting his weight with his hands on his knees. Tears welled up in his eyes and a single teardrop escaped and ran down his cheek. She saw it and reached up to brush it away. He felt a spark jump off her hand when she touched him and a trill ran through his body. He felt weak at the knees and crouched down beside her. He looked her square in the eye.
‘I’ve never been able to do this before, actually talk to someone. Nobody ever hears me. You’re the first.’ He sniffed and dried his face with his sleeve. ‘You don’t know how much I appreciate this. Thank you for listening. It’s been hell not being able to communicate with anyone.’
‘It’s ok, there’s no need to say thank you. It’s a first for me as well.’ She was so excited she couldn’t stand still. She shuffled on the spot. ‘Oooh, it’s so cool.’ She glowed at him. ‘I need to call you something. You must have a name, what is it?’
He shook his head. ‘A name? I don’t know, I never had any use for one before.’
‘Oh, that’s a shame, we’ll have to do something about that.’ Anais thought for a minute. ‘I know, let’s give you one. Do you have any ideas?’
She mimicked him and then her face lit up. ‘You were humming something before.’
‘Really, you could hear that?’
‘Yes, it’s strange. I can’t hear you speaking out loud, but I did hear that. I think you were humming a song, Purple Rain. It’s one of my favourites. You see, I really, really, like purple.’ She screwed up her face. ‘Do you know Prince?’
‘Yes, I know him, not personally you know. He’s an okay musician. I like music. If I didn’t have music to listen to I don’t know what I would do.’
She put her hands on her hips. ‘Well, then it’s settled. We’ll just call you that.’
‘What? Purple Rain?’
‘No, don’t be silly.’ Anais laughed at him. ‘We’ll call you Prince.’
He grinned. She grinned back at him.
It was strange to think that he finally had an identity. Years of wandering aimlessly had brought nothing. He had lost all sense of time. He had resigned himself to his pointless existence. But that was now over, he had an identity. Sure, it was borrowed, but it was better than nothing. It was a gift, the best gift he could ever recall being given. In fact it was the only gift he could remember receiving. Not only that, he now had someone to talk to. He struggled to form the words.
‘Thank you,’ he said.
She smiled broadly at him and as she did he felt a new energy course through his body. It was a wondrous day.