21 August 1902 and 2017
When the moon occluded the sun 42,005 days in the future, Lewis Coughland became self-aware in the Legend of Emma Wick. He had known that this would happen, but it was still a surprise to awaken in the mind of the great love of his afterlife as she stood on the deck of a ferry, clutching her sleeping two-year-old daughter, Mary, to her chest.
Lewis recognized the lay of the land as the sturdy vessel steamed its way west across the Puget Sound on its way from Seattle to the new town of Charleston. Mount Rainier, all 14,000-plus feet of it, stood proudly in the southeast, and the jagged blue Olympics lay ahead in the west. The only differences were the ephemeral constructions of people. The rugged, tree-lined beach of Bainbridge Island wasn’t thick with million-dollar houses, as it was when he had lived; and there was a wildness to the surrounding shores, which was interrupted only by occasional tell-tale curls of handmade smoke.
Although Lewis had achieved–or been had granted self-sentience for the duration of the far flung eclipse, he couldn’t affect Emma’s movements, nor in anyway did she give him an indication that she was aware of his existence. Moreover, Lewis no longer had privy to her deeper thoughts, other than those necessary to orient himself, as such had been the same as his own before he had twinned inside her mind. He’d tried to make her smile and wiggle her toes and had failed. Yet, even so, he felt the wind against her face, Mary sleeping heavily against her, and a vague need to urinate.
Before he had awoken in Emma’s Legend, he had been her twice in the nearer future. The first event was in 1908, when she had laid a pillow across the face of her mortally injured husband, Robert. He had been struck on the head by a large branch during a November gale as he had drunkenly staggered up Front Street. Two useless, equally snockered imbeciles had brought Robert home and suggested that she send for the doctor. Which Emma did, but only after she had stripped him of his wet clothing, dressed his wound the best she could, and administered a spoonful of laudanum and, of course, the pillow. Neither imbecile had realized that Robert’s skull had obviously been fractured by the branch; the right side of his head was severely dented. Emma hadn’t meant to lay the pillow over his mouth and nose until she had done it. Bitter tears of loss and remorse had accompanied this action, but they hadn’t fallen for Robert, they came, as always, for Mary.
Then it was eighteen months earlier. Emma was lying in bed beside Mary, who, at six, hadn’t much longer to live. Influenza had already carted off nearly a quarter of Charleston’s population, and it meant to have Mary as well.
Emma was extremely ill herself, and a mixture of sickness, fear, sadness and anger had driven her to the brink of losing her sanity. Yet a great curiosity had risen in her mind with the utterance of what would be Mary’s last words: “Goodness now, Mama, goodness now. I see the man from tomorrow…”
Although he had been Emma at both times, the memories were as good as his own, as they always were after he had dipped a Legend. And at the precise moment of the time-distant eclipse’s totality, Lewis fully bloomed in Emma’s mind and delivered the two glimpses of what lay in her alterable future. He spoke: “Very soon, you will remember everything.”
21 August 2017, 6:33 A.M.: Thommisina Lemolo’s apartment.
Roy has a thing for the Powerchord. In general, parakeets ignore human music and crank up their own. But Roy is an unusual little fellow who should have been born in the hash-oiled 1970s.
And as Thommy’s smartphone pumps out the classic rock her parents listen to, Roy is hanging in there with Deep Purple’s Smoke on the Water the best he can. Listening to a parakeet attempt “DANT-DUNT-DANT DUNT-DUNT-DAH-DAH-DANT” is one of life’s sweetest pleasures.
Thommy is lying face down in bed wearing a full-length Seattle Seahawks jersey and nothing else. The editor of her pushcart employer, The Torqwamni Sun, at which she is a photographer, has gotten Big Ideas regarding the coverage of the solar eclipse, which will be occurring around 10 A.M. Thommy has already set up the necessary equipment under a canopy on the Sun’s roof; it will take all of ten seconds to activate it. But nooo…. instead of arriving at a civilized hour, her boss Richard Edwards (“Dick-Ed”) requires her to be there at eight. Fucking eight. Eight! Even though every photographer at every pushcart newspaper from Portland, Oregon to Portland, Maine will be taking the exact same pictures of the exact same thing at the exact same goddam pushcart time, Dick-Ed acts as though there might be a scoop to be had. And what would that be? The ghost of Albert Einstein photobombing the eclipse?
It’s oh so pushcart.
Iron Man, by Black Sabbath comes on. Thommy smiles. She can hear Roy take in an eagle-sized suck of oxygen. “TWEET-tweet-TWEET-tweet-tweet/ TWEETYtwit-tweet-TWIT-Twaw-TWEET,”–or something close to all that comes from behind the cage cover.
“Vee vee eh-taha?” a high-pitched, seemingly delighted female voice says. The voice comes from the other side of bed–the very much unoccupied other side of the bed. Alas, a person can get used to almost anything. And it was surviving cancer and the amputation of her right leg below the knee at sixteen that has given Thommy the power of easy adjustment. Yet it has taken all of her ability to absorb the absurd to accept her recently opened connection to the Spirit World. Recently, the Spirits of Emma Wick and Lewis Coughland have been popping into Thommy’s apartment as though they were her roommates–for she is “lucky” enough to live at the very edge of their Keeper’s sphere. But neither have had the gall to gather-to in her bed; and this voice was definitely not Emma’s.
Thommy grabs her cane from its place against the night stand, and with remarkable speed she sits up and spins around and swings it within inches of the intruder’s face. Thommy relaxes when she sees that this intruder is both a Spirit and is as physically menacing as Pebbles Flintstone.
One needs not be gifted with special perception to divine a Spirit from the living. In their natural state Spirits are melon-sized orbs, essentially invisible except for the tell-tale lensing of whatever they pass in front of. Physical shapes are thought-toward and require electricity and the manipulation of dust particles to get-across. These shapes, however (or at least as far as those of Emma and Lewis go), are very wispy, two-dimensional, self-radiant, and are very much superimposed on the surface of reality. This little Spirit could almost pass. Although the Spirit was obviously self radiant and lacked the power to convey mass (the eye misses that when it is not there), she was three-dimensional, completely “filled in” and quite impressive.
“Who the fuck are you?” Thommy says.
“Cszminoothe,” [“KEYES-muh-NOOT”] the Spirit replies. “Where’s the rest of your leg?”
“I broke it off in the ass of the last Spirit who got into bed with me.”
Cszminoothe laughs. She touches the tip of the cane. “This isn’t necessary.”
“All right,” Thommy says and she returns the cane to its place and then turns off her smartphone. This was no loss to Roy, for it was playing a Rush song that he had no interest in.
Thommy assesses the little ghost sitting on her bed. She’s a small Asian woman whose specific nationality is as difficult to guess as her age—Japanese? Korean? Nineteen or thirty?
Who knows. In so many ways this Cszminoothe-person resembles any one of the roving herd of trendy girls who hang out at the mall. She’s wearing an expensive black suit, white tennies, and a Yu Gi Oh baseball cap pulled down to her almond-shaped dark green eyes. Long dark blonde hair flows down her back; if it is a dye job, it’s a damn good one. There are obviously home made tattoos on the back of her hands, a crescent moon on her left, a raying sun on her right. And she has, by the look of it, a Shopkins backpack lying beside her. Even though she is primarily a photographer, Thommy has natural reporter instincts. Everything about the ghost is self-radiant except the cap and her backpack… and that name, that name…
“Sez-muh-NOOT-thuh?” Thommy says. “I went to a middle school named that. Maaan, died hella long ago.”
Cszminoothe repeats the proper pronunciation of her name. She does so somewhat sarcastically. There’s a slight gap between her front teeth that humanfies her. Moreover, everything about her slightly accented speech and manner radiates a vast intelligence, a powerful mind that far surpasses the norm. Naturally, an obvious question pops into Thommy’s mind.
“Are you Keeper?”
A slight trace of annoyance flashes in the Spirit’s eyes. “No. I told you who I am. Would you be as kind to remove the shroud from the ev-taha’s cage. I love the little things so.”
“‘Ev-taha’? You mean Roy? All right, but I don’t want him getting used to this hour of the day too much.”
Thommy rises and uses her cane as good as a biped walks on two legs. She goes to Roy’s cage, with Cszminoothe right behind her. “Hello handsome,” she says as she removes his cover, “another ghost wants to meet you.”
Animals are quite accepting of Spirits. And it is a little known fact that the rugged parakeet has the fortitude to remain frosty in the face of the unknown. Cszminoothe does an endearing little dance at the sight of Roy and forgets her English. “Q’toth ev-taha.”
Thommy looks at the little Spirit thoughtfully. “History says that you are one of the smartest people ever to live,” she says. “Damn unlucky that you were born before the invention of the tampon–I would have refused being born into that kind of place.”
“You, no doubt, have dozens of questions for me,” Cszminoothe says, still enchanted by Roy, even though all he is doing is sitting on his perch, head cocked to the left, staring back at her.
“Ooooh, you do have a big old brain,” Thommy says. “Why I was just thinking all that.”
“Numbers,” Cszminoothe says. “The truth is always found in numbers.”
21 August 2017, 8:02 P.M., New Town Cemetery
Thommy has always found something mournful in the long shadows caused by the setting sun. The day, with its triumphs and tragedies, boredom and surprises, comings and goings dies, and all that had seemed to have been of such utter importance earlier becomes trivial and hardly worth all the fuss and bother. And this had been a double-mournful day for the same shadows had gathered during the total solar eclipse late that morning; and the stars had come out and it had become clear to all that only darkness is eternal.
It didn’t take much effort to do the things that the oddly charming Cszminoothe had asked of her. And now, on her way home she’s stopped by the cemetery to do something on her own. Thommy has dropped in to see a friend whom she figures might be a little down.
Even though New Town closes at dusk, Thommy now has keys to the grounds and a special pass which allows her to come and go as she pleases for the next sixty days. Ostensibly, she is working on a Sunday series for the paper which will run until Halloween celebrating seventy-five years of “The Dow Lady.” Thommy had to fudge on the truth here, for she had to invent a sighting in 1942 (the year before Emma’s death). Once upon a time, newspapers would never stoop to this sort of pop-culture nonsensical sort of thing, Sunday supplement or not, but there has always been a link between lowered standards and increased sales.
Thommy sits down on the bench across the path from the oak tree. And in a quiet, conversational voice she says, “Hello, Lewis, we need to talk.”
Lewis gathers-to beside her. “Where did you get the key?”
She tells him. He smiles and nods his head sadly. “Emma’s gone,” he says.
“I know,” Thommy says. “Your little friend told me all about it this morning.”
“Cszminoothe,” Lewis says softly. “She speaks when she should be quiet and is quiet when she should be speaking.”
“She will be back,” Thommy says. “According to Cszminoothe, Emma lived 27.155 days and on the twenty-third of this October she will return on the 27,155th day of her conscription by Keeper…By the way, you must have laid the hitch in Emma’s mind perfectly. If not, Emma would be here with us. I know that was a hard thing for you to do. I look at it as a perfect act of love–unconditional and completely anonymous.”
“The tiny genius told you much more than she told me,” Lewis says. “Did she tell you where Emma is?”
“Yes,” Thommy says. She waves her hand and says, “Out there among the sixteen-hundred plus Legends she has dipped over three-quarters of a century. A little piece of her mind is asleep within all of them. She hasn’t slept since the middle of World War II, she will sleep for the next two months. Then, something is going to happen. Cszminoothe didn’t tell me just what. I don’t think that even she knows for certain—Oh, another thing,” Thommy adds with a laugh, “If you happen to feel uncomfortably hot under the collar sometime in the next few days, you’ll have me to blame.”
“Cszminoothe has tasked me with fetching your body from the coroner and having it cremated and placed inside that knot hole in the oak on the day of Emma’s return,” she says. “I thought that would be hard, holding time and next of kin and all. But I am naive. The internet has proven that you haven’t a living relation, and as long as a responsible person who can document that the body will be disposed of properly, the pushcart county is happy to have it taken off its hands. And get this–Cszminoothe gave me the money to do it.”
“Money?” Lewis says, “how in the hell does she have money?”
“Everything about Cszminoothe is projected except for her backpack and baseball cap. She is so well constructed that she was able to buy both at the Temple of the Dow Lady. ‘People don’t look too hard at you when you have cash in your hand,’ she had told me. Even so, she can only get across in Keeper’s zone. That’s why she needs me to go get your body. And the dealer who sold you that last dose of heroin has–I mean had a stash of money hidden in a rockwall within the zone. Keeper knows all in its reach. That little woman has something like fourteen grand on her–minus one for the undertaker.”
“Where’s she at now?”
“Only Keeper knows for sure,” Thommy says. “When she left me this morning she said that she was going to spread the loot around before she ‘went home.’”
They sit together in silence for a moment. The night sky is slowly creeping in and the day is already a memory.
“Tell me, Lewis,” Thommy says at last, “how old were you when you died this summer?”
“Thirty-two,” he says.
“2049,” Thommy says with a whistle. “Damn, I’ll be fifty-nine.” She pulls out her phone. “I wonder when the next eclipse will happen around here.”
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