All Stories, General Fiction

A New Book of Numbers (Part I) by Leila Allison

5:50 A.M., 21 August 2017, New Town Cemetery, Charleston, WA

“Have you met yourself in a Legend yet, darling?” Emma says. Her Spirit and that of her love, Lewis Coughland, have just gathered-to, as always, in the oak, prior to daybreak.

“No,” he says. “But I did see my parents pull into Marine Bank while I was Allan Morgenstern. That happened two years before I was born. Does anything happen when you see yourself?”

“No, darling,” she says. “I have caught glimpses of myself hundreds of times over the years, and I’ve had conversations with myself–Oh–and get this,” Emma adds with a laugh, “I’ve even seen the Dow Lady on three occasions. And yet not even the sight of my own ghost can move my mind to react in the Legend.”

So it goes with Legend dipping. Legends are the recorded life histories of the persons buried at New Town Cemetery. Every one of them is complete and exist only in the (supposedly) immutable past; their lives are a library of virtual realities. Within, the Spirits become the Legend and relive both key and random events in that Legend’s life; upon exit they remember everything–sometimes they carry years of memories.

Other than Emma and Lewis (both had managed to pull off the unique trick of dying at New Town, thus within reach of Keeper), no Legend is an active presence in the Now.  Keeper sends the Spirits into Legends roughly eight minutes before sunrise, where they remain no longer than till the same amount of time before sunset. This slightly skewed day is known as sunswitch. Emma has been dipping since her death seventy-four years ago, Lewis has been at it since his demise at the foot of the oak, seven weeks back. Dipping doesn’t happen every day, nor even at a majority–one time in three is the average. Night belongs to the Spirits, who do as they please within Keepers small, perfect sphere of influence, whose center is the oak. During the nights, which pass differently for the sleepless dead, Emma and Lewis have fallen in love.

In an odd way, it’s all plain enough. But two unanswered questions always remain with the Spirits: Who or what is Keeper? And the big one that has been attached to the mysterious ways of the Ineffable since the invention of questions: Why?

Today, however,  will be a special day as far as the machinery of sunswitch goes: a total eclipse of the sun will occur late that morning. During a similar event which had taken place on 26 February 1979, Emma had “twinned” inside the Legend she had been compelled to dip that day for the duration of totality; her own mind had achieved awareness alongside the Legend, who showed no sign of knowing that Emma was along for the ride. Emma has spoken of little else for the last several hours.

“I hope the eclipse happens when my Legend is alone and drinking coffee and smoking a cigarette at daybreak,” Emma says wistfully. “That’s one of the little pleasures about life I still miss.”

“I once read that love is all-powerful, but, like life, it only has value if it can be lost,” Lewis says. “And the Bible says God is love…”

Emma laughs. “Still uncertain about our love, darling? Still trying to demote Keeper to God?”

“I know you love your little girl,” Lewis says, “but did you love your husband?” This is the first time Lewis has dared to make mention of Robert Wick, of whom Emma never speaks.

“At first and for awhile,” Emma says, “but it didn’t hold up–so it really couldn’t have been love. I married late, for my time, at twenty-seven, Mary was born when I was thirty-one; she died six years hence. There was a tremendous distance between what I feel for her and what I once had for him.” She cocks her head and eyes Lewis, “How about you, were you ever in love?”


So it goes with love on the Otherside. It seemed natural to the Spirits that they should fall in love even though they had been born in different centuries. Minus sexual hunger, the need for money, aging, boredom, love after death is of pure quality. Emma indulges Lewis with talk of the past because it had also taken her a while to move away from her own history, of which she only holds Mary in her secret heart of hearts. By and by he will understand that only the dead live in the moment.

Keeper sees distance, but it can do so without time. Even the words you read require some time to get to your eyes, even though the interval lies miles to the right of the decimal point. The separation of space and time shouldn’t be; but as science can tell you, the laws of physics break down deep within the sub-atomic Universe. Therein you’ll find Keeper.

How Keeper exists doesn’t mean much to anyone because such lies beyond the grasp of human understanding. Here we let the concept of sunswitch stand as the lone example. The Sun is roughly 93,000,000-miles from here, and speeding at 186,000-miles per-second it takes sunlight about eight minutes to get here. Keeper observes the Sun in the east eight minutes before we see it as well as nothing above the western horizon while lovers gaze dreamily into the sunset. As said, this means nothing to no one unless you are a Spirit in the service of Keeper.  Although the Sun has yet to rise over the Puget Sound, at the beginning of sunswitch, both Emma and Lewis know that they will dip that day.

“It looks like we’re about to punch in,” Lewis says,”I will think of you during the eclipse.”

“We often dip for stingy wages,” Emma says. Then she conveys rubbing her jaw. “Last time in I got into a fight with a small fellow with a nasty left hook. Keeper owes me a better.” She laughs and smiles in her endearingly good humored and unaffected way and shakes her fist skyward. “I better get a cigarette and coffee without any damn children yanking on my sleeves,” she yells at the sky.

Then she vanishes. Unbeknownst to either Spirit, after seventy-four long years, nine-thousand-plus dips spread unevenly across better than sixteen-hundred Legends, and after gleaning more than eleven-thousand years of life experience, which include the joys and horrors of the Legends, today will be Emma’s last dip. From her return just before sunset, and thereon out, she will remain a Spirit at New Town; her work will finally be done.

Emma’s departure doesn’t surprise Lewis. Often one will go and the other will remain and do whatever they please (watching television through close by neighborhood windows is a beloved daytime activity). But this is the first time he has felt the tug and has remained in the oak.

Lewis doesn’t have long to think about this.

“Down here, bozo,” a lightly accented female voice calls out from the foot of oak.

It takes plenty to startle a Spirit. Immortal, impervious beings who routinely live decades within hours tend to greet the impossible with a cynical shrug. Still, context has everything to do with the power of surprise; thus finding himself directly addressed by a stranger at dawn inside the cemetery was something that Lewis couldn’t blow off.

Spirits see perfectly well no matter the light. And in the early morning darkness Lewis beholds the shape of a young woman, whose features land somewhere between Japanese and Filipino. She’s wearing an expensive black Armani suit, white deck shoes, a Yu Gi Oh baseball cap, and has a Shopkins backpack slung casually over her left shoulder. But the truly telling thing about her is the fact that she is self-radiant. Live human beings reflect light; Spirits must utilize electricity if they are to be seen. Lewis can’t help but be impressed by this apparent Spirit’s vivacity. She’s like six-hundred thread fabric, while we are but a hundred, he thinks.

“Hello,” Lewis says. “My name is Lewis Coughland. I don’t mean to be rude, but who are you?”

She points to her head and says, “Vee-vee, Cszminoothe (which she pronounces, contrary to Torqwamni tradition, “KEEZ-ma-NEWT”).” She then offers Lewis a snarly smile and points at him and says, “Vee, bozo.”

“All right,” Lewis says. Then he remembers his Torqwamni history. “Holy hell, are you that Torqwamni queen, SEZ-muh-NOOT-thuh? You can’t be a Legend, you died a long, long time ago.”

Cszminoothe mutters something unkind about bozos while she effortlessly climbs the oak. She reaches Lewis and sits across from him on a branch that doesn’t look strong enough to hold a sparrow. She’s a fierce little thing who radiates great intelligence through her every feature. Lewis notes a crude tattoo of a crescent moon on the back of her right hand, and one of the sun on her left. Other than being female, she in no way resembles the standard artists’ depictions of her. Her face is Asian and delicate–not the noble, broad visage of a Native American. Moreover, what hair he could see that flowed from the Yu Gi Oh cap she has pulled to her eyebrows is light brown–not too many shades away than the darkest degree of blonde.

Although Lewis has been caught well off his guard, he holds his tongue and waits for this Cszminoothe-person to speak. The more he thinks about all that Keeper has done, the idea of meeting the legendary Torqwamni queen/goddess no longer seems unreasonable.

But she just keeps staring at him. This makes Lewis uncomfortable. For the sake of noise he asks, “Um, what does ‘vee-vee’ mean?”

She ignores him for a moment, but then she tilts her head and smiles. It’s a nice enough smile, oddly enhanced by a slight gap between her front teeth, which otherwise are in perfect condition. “Vee means I, and when one points to herself, she doubles it and you have I to I, or I am.  When you point at another, vee becomes you, twice is you to you? Brilliant, don’t you think, bozo?” Her accent is faint and matches none that Lewis has ever heard. The closest thing to it is French, which is found only in the slight oohing of certain syllables.

“I take it that bozo means ‘Lewis Coughland,’ and not somebody who piles out of a tiny car at the circus.”

“It means man and men, in a second-class sort of way,” Cszminoothe says.

“Dopey vee-vee,” Lewis replies, with a sarcastic point at  his head, “I forgot your society was a matriarchy.” Then something occurs to Lewis, and it is a something so big and obvious that he is embarrassed by not noticing it sooner. “Are you Keeper?”

An extreme light of joy explodes in Cszminoothe’s face, and she leaps to her feet, even though the twig she is on hasn’t gotten any thicker. Four thousand years ago, whenever she had reasoned out something big (like the diameter of the Earth, or the concept of the reduction gear) she would do a wild gesticulation best described as a  “Eureka dance.” It looks a lot like a jig, or something somebody who has had too much to drink at a club might perform. She does it now, but Lewis senses that her steps are positively dripping with sarcasm of her own. This is confirmed when she stops suddenly and just as quickly leans over and “grabs” him by the ears and “kisses” his forehead. “No,” she says. “I thought I had already told you my name.”

Lewis smiles, shrugs helplessly and says, “I don’t understand.”

“I know,” Czsminoothe says gently. And there’s something in her voice that sounds like the tone used by the Sheriff who had to tell twelve-year-old Lewis that he was now an orphan on account of a car accident on Highway 3. For whatever reason, an elderly driver had decided to pull a U-turn in front of his parents car at fifty-miles-per-hour. All six involved had died instantly. And in a very real way, Lewis had been the seventh victim; but he had lingered on for another twenty years.

“You were right, earlier,” Cszminoothe continues. “Like life, love only has value if it can be lost.”

She leans forward and whispers three secrets into Lewis’s ear. He swoons and awakens in November 1908, as Emma Wick. It’s the night she murders her husband.


Leila Allison

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2 thoughts on “A New Book of Numbers (Part I) by Leila Allison”

  1. Hi Leila,
    I have mentioned before that I am in awe of your writing brain.
    The clarity of the characters and situations comes across in abundance. And this is all the more impressive as the story-lines are complex.
    You are an absolute pleasure to have on the site!!


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