My God, it’s a library, Thommy thought on her way out of an anthology of dreams and into the early morning light. She lay in bed looking up at the ceiling, contemplating dreams that really weren’t dreams as much as they had been the opening of files, which had been uploaded into her mind by Keeper yesterday at New Town Cemetery. Emma’s right, I do remember everything.
As dawn broke, Thommy’s parakeet, Roy, began to warm up his pipes. He’s a cheerful, noisy little guy who consumes twice his weight in poppy-seed every day. Thommy had won Roy at the Torqwamni County Fair about three years back on the strength of her weight guessing skills. Alas, Roy’s singing has the weakness of Othello in it—for he is one who sings not musically, but makes a racket all too well.
A near death experience with cancer at sixteen had cost Thommy her right leg below the knee. But as it usually goes in life, the something lost had transformed into a something gained. Thommy doesn’t take herself seriously, nor does she sweat the small stuff; she’s always ready with a genuine smile or a quip, and she’s ingratiatingly blunt, fair, fearless, and possesses an insatiable curiosity and concern for the world and people around her. These qualities were already present prior to the onset of the disease, but they gained both substance and depth during her painful recovery. LIVE NOW. ASK QUESTIONS. LISTEN. LEARN. DO.
Thommy sky-dives, bungee jumps and once rowed a dingy out to photograph a pod of orcas in the Puget Sound. She also never dismisses people who claim to have seen UFOs or the Pacific Northwest version of the Yeti, Bigfoot, on general principle. I don’t know everything. This doesn’t mean that Thommy believes everything she hears (and being in the news business, seldom does she believe anything she reads). And now Thommy has reason to be glad that she isn’t someone who ridicules persons who make extraordinary claims minus the extraordinary evidence: for twice in the last twenty hours she had had personal dealings with ghosts.
Under normal circumstances, Miss Thommisina Lemolo isn’t exactly the most up and at ‘em morning person in the world. Cock a doodle screw you. She routinely stays abed to the last possible second until rising with a blaze of speed in which she attaches one of her six “pegs,” feeds, nuzzles, and teases Roy (“Maaan, all those poppy seeds…do they get you high? Do you need to go on methadone seeds? Good thing Mommy doesn’t UA her Roy-toy, now isn’t it?”), showers, dresses, stops to buy a mocha at the inaptly named Beaver Shot topless drive-thru espresso stand on Corson Avenue (she’s usually the only female patron in the queue—whatever, it’s on the way), and somehow enters the “city room” of her employer, The Torqwamni Sun, close enough to nine o’clock as to not attract too many smartass remarks from her boss, “Dick-Ed.” All the above is accomplished in a space of less than half an hour.
But today is different. Thommy keeps an extra-long wooden cane beside her bed for late night trips to the refrigerator and the bathroom. Years of practice with the cane allows her to walk perfectly naturally, although she admits that it must look odd. Her complete left leg and her upper right stride gracefully while the cane acts like a training wheel. There’s neither halting nor leaning in this process, and she is able to navigate her apartment as though she has both legs. Sometimes she remembers something a nurse (himself a fellow amputee due to a motorcycle accident) had told Thommy shortly after the operation: “On the bright side, kiddo, you’ll go through life stubbing only half as many toes.”
Thommy went to Roy’s roomy cage and lifted the curtain. Roy was happily surprised that “dawn” had come at least two hours earlier than normal. He chirruped twice and flew over to see her. Thommy opened the cage door and Roy flitted onto her extended left index finger. She held him to her face, and as always he nuzzled his beak against her nose. “Good morning, you little fiend,” she said. “Do you believe in ghosts, lover? Do ghost parakeets sing?”
Lewis Coughland exited the Legend of John Mallory at Sunswitch and incorporated high up in New Town Cemetery’s lone oak tree alongside the Spirit of Emma Wick. Mallory had been Lewis’s third Legend since the death of his body, and easily the most tragic.
“I have committed, caused and prevented suicide,” Emma said, speaking to Lewis as though she were thinking out loud. “I have raped and been raped; murdered and been murdered; been both a hero and a coward; drunkard and teetotaler; believed in God and the archest heretic. And yet the Legends contain great beauty, endless dreams and a stunning amount of hope and kindness.” She smiles at Lewis, “I recall committing Mallory’s suicide well. Keeper has a hard time understanding the destructive side of love. I imagine that you were sent in to give Keeper a second opinion.”
“I wonder if there really are such things as ghosts,” Lewis said without irony. “We are still alive because of Keeper, yet no matter how complete the Legends are, not a single one out there is conscious of the now.”
“I don’t know,” Emma said. “I don’t think that it is as simple as leaving your body and lingering on at where it died; nor do I believe that either of us would be as we are without Keeper, even though you and I are the only persons who have died in this cemetery. Still, the plain fact that we exist even though our bodies have died suggests possibilities.”
Emma paused and gazed at the stars, which did not twinkle in either Spirit’s eyes; they were steady points of colored light, seemingly an arm’s reach away. “I do know that time passes differently for us. And I also know that the average lifespan of the Legends is sixty-six years, seven months. Minus out sleep and the predawn of infancy and there remains at least forty dippable years per Legend—nearly one-hundred thousand years—yet in just seventy four I feel that I know them all intimately.”
“Yes,” Lewis said. And together the Spirits “sat” in silence and watched the night slowly fall over Torqwamni Hill. Lewis thought about how none of this was strange to him—not only that, but this second life seemed familiar and better rooted in reality than his mortal existence had been. Reality on the other side of death seemed thinner, in retrospect. And no matter what new experience Lewis discovered as a Spirit, it came to him as simply as a living thing breathes without considering the endless factors that figure into the natural action. Yet even as a being composed of nothing more than thought and electricity, the Spirits’ existence was driven by its own specific natural laws.
“Tell me, Emma,” Lewis said, “have you ever dipped your own Legend?”
“No,” she replied. “Nor have I dipped that of my daughter. We don’t choose who we become; you already know that,” she added, just a bit testily.
“My mistake, milady,” Lewis said, once again taking note of how Emma never mentioned her husband. And she was right, he did know. He knew that out of the 2,442 marked and unmarked gravesites inside the cemetery that there were 146 which were considered undippable. Although it didn’t matter to Keeper whether a body was partial or whole, intact or cremated, it did matter to Keeper whether the person had died in infancy or had been born with a cataclysmic mental disability. Lewis knew this as clearly as he understood that dipping involved becoming one of the dead at some point in that person’s life—subjectively—minus self-awareness. You dip a person and you become them, for a while, and then you remember the vignette completely when you exit. The process occurs between Sunswitches, and it doesn’t happen more than once a week. You will remember everything. Yet here their special circumstance is the same as it is for the living, and just as futile to ask: Why?
“You are one-hundred-forty-eight years old,” Lewis said. “But you don’t look a day over one-twenty,” Lewis said.
“How droll,” Emma replied. Then she cocked her ever-intelligent and humorous face in a sly manner. “Of all the years in my life I choose to present myself as I was at twenty-eight—for I like this face and shape best. You may do so also. I haven’t made mention of this before because you were new, and there was much for you to learn. Although you have only thirty-two years to pick from, may I suggest that you locate a part of your history when you were a touch—no, a great deal cleaner, weighed perhaps a stone heavier, and had access to a razor.”
“How droll,” Lewis said. But he thought it over. He had died emaciated, filthy and clad in a Motorhead tee-shirt, worn out blue jeans and mismatched tennis shoes. As a Spirit, he had a forgetless mind—total recall. He scrolled through his memory and thought-toward a better face. The new and improved Lewis who took shape in front of Emma was clean, fit, only a little younger, and he was wearing the smart charcoal suit he had worn to a friend’s wedding, six years back.
Emma smiled. That is so much better. Appearances matter no matter which side of the grave one is at.”
Lewis bowed his head respectfully. “Did you contact the girl while I was out putting the gun to Mallory’s temple?”
“Of course, I contacted the lady,” Emma said. “It took a lot of power to get across to her. But Keeper supplied the rest.”
“How did she take it?”
“Thommisina is the perfect person for contact,” Emma said. “She is intelligent, has insatiable curiosity, fine humor, and had nearly died young. People tend to react to surviving death in two ways: some spend the rest of their lives essentially hiding under the bed, halting at every little noise; others, like, Thommy, go after life correctly and live it the way it should be lived. She keeps an open mind; she trusts her instincts, and no matter how preposterous something may be, she will believe in it as long as it holds up to scrutiny.”
“Do you have any idea why Keeper wants us to communicate with her?” Lewis asked.
“Only guesswork and conjecture,” Emma said. “It might have something to do with my upcoming anniversary next month; on the twenty-third of August I will have been a Spirit for as long as I had been a living person. Moreover, even though Keeper can sustain you very long with the drops of blood that you spilled into the soil, I think that your remains must be brought here to the cemetery for you to remain indefinitely.”
These ideas didn’t bother the Spirits. They had faith in Keeper; they knew that if Keeper wanted something to be, it will be—after all, Keeper had informed Emma of Lewis’s arrival several days before it had occurred. Yet neither considered the super-intelligence a god. Emma had long since run all the possibilities of Keeper’s nature through her mind. Maybe it is a combined intellect, maybe it is from outer space—perhaps a machine. The last fancy never held in her mind because, whatever Keeper was, it felt of the Earth, as much as the land, the animals and the sky. Yes, Keeper was a living thing of some sort, and although it had ineffable powers, it had its limitations; for Keeper’s reach seemed very short when compared to a tom-cat’s territory. Ah, but does a tom-cat recreate the past, does a tom-cat remember everything?
“So what is there to do around here when we don’t have to dip a Legend?” Lewis said. Sunswitch had passed and neither Spirit had been compelled to dip; this was the first night in their two-week partnership in which they were together all night.
“Let’s haunt the kids,” Emma said cheerfully.
“The gray house?”
“Yes,” Emma laughed. “It’s expected of the Dow Lady. I wonder what erroneous name the cannabis smokers will pin on you.”
Thommy sat at her desk in the city room of The Torqwamni Sun, and pondered; this pondering was punctuated by brief moments of cogitation, and a ray or two of inspiration. As it goes at the paper, only muckety-mucks and would-be big shots get actual offices; out in “G-pop” there’s a random splay of desks at which associate writers and photographers and assorted peons nest. Her desk is perhaps the most nested of all; she has a parakeet coffee mug, a parakeet pencil holder, and a huge ceramic parakeet that she had bought at Goodwill and had to get out of the house because Roy had a conniption fit upon seeing it. In keeping with the modern day concept of corporate de-humanization, the paper has rules against desk personalization; but no one messes with Thommy’s stuff—“The healing parakeet is therapeutic for long term cancer survivors—don’t be a hater.” She knows that sometimes one has to combat stupidity with something even dumber.
Since Thommy and the mailroom kid, Joey (who has a sweet and not as secret as he thinks crush on Thommy), are the only employees at the Sun under fifty, they double as uncompensated tech support. This usually involves de-bungling filing errors that not even a kindergartener would make, and undoing a myriad of sub-moronic self-inflicted tech-atrocities, such as making certain that the goddam thing is plugged in.
“Joey,” Thommy said into the old-timey intercom system that the Sun held on to for a sense of nostalgia—even though Thommy, Joey, and the custodial staff were the only persons to use it, “if you’re down in the pit, come on up and see me.
Seven seconds later love-struck Joey arrived at Thommy’s desk. Thommy is twenty-seven, and worldly to the extent that she and her best friend Ren Stoker both took a year off college and travelled by foot and wit across Europe. Joey is nineteen, lives at home and has probably never been farther than fifty miles outside Toqwamni County without his parents. There are a bazillion other items than just going out into the world that distinguish Thommy from Joey—yet Joey and Ren (whom Thommy planned on consulting that night) were probably the best persons she knew to discuss an experience of a lifetime with. They listen and never overshare.
Thommy is an American rarity whose lineage is derived from two sources. Her father is second generation Norwegian, Momma was born in Naples but was adopted at the age of six days and raised in Seattle. The result of their union has produced a daughter who has that winning combination of blond hair and dark eyes, slightly olive skin and a strong chin, cheekbones and nose. And she has a smile that prevented her and Ren from getting arrested at Bulgarian border.
She smiles at Joey and has him sit down. For the first time ever they are about to have a conversation in which Thommy does not have absolute control.
“That Dow Lady thing,” she said,. “it’s not a goof, it’s real. No fooling.” Although he is inexperienced Joey knows when he see the truth in some one’s eyes. “I saw and spoke to her this time yesterday. Then last night, I dreamt of the strange worlds that she and Lewis Coughland now live in. And get this, they need my–our–help.”
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