(an excerpt from Nails Jane)
She didn’t listen to me. She never listened.
I tried to save her from walking into that house, but she was furiously stubborn. I stood on a tree stump as my long, black cloak moved in the wind. I stared at her with my cold, grey eyes.
“Don’t go in there,” I said. She ignored me.
Noki was determined to check out the house. She reminded me to keep quiet, and followed that up by telling me that I was a figment of her imagination. Noki was a human. I am not.
I visited with her quite often. I was smitten with her. That was something that rarely happened to me. I visited her room each night and sat by the edge of her bed. I watched her always. I tried to keep her out of harm’s way. Usually.
For the first time since I came to her, it was her time to End. But I could not end it. She had the face of an angel. Isn’t that how one describes their true love? She was beyond angelic. She was perfectly indescribable. Bewitching and superb.
…I was ghostly. I didn’t even belong there.
She was not afraid of me. Most of the time she was happy to see me, although she was convinced that I was a hallucination. When I snuck into her room on the first night, she screamed. I tried to hush her in time, but her parents stormed into the room, brandishing oil lanterns and shouting for her to tell them what was the matter. They calmed Noki and asked her what was wrong, but all she could do was sit straight up, screaming and pointing at where I once stood.
Disappearing acts were one of my specialties.
Her father, bold as he was, told her, “There’s nothing here.”
Noki sighed and assumed it must had been a very bad nightmare. When the lights went out and her parents left the room, I reappeared. Before she could let out another scream, I invoked within her a momentary Silence – rather than my gift, the eternal sort.
“I’m not here to hurt you Noki. I just wanted to see you, to talk to you.” I hoped my words would calm her, “I am lonely. That’s all it is. I mean you no harm.”
She was supposed to die. I was supposed to take her at that moment. But I couldn’t. I grew to love the girl. I never wanted her to die. I refused to take her hand and lead her into a place that would forever break her away from me. I was so lonely, you see. I never had a companion. I didn’t see the harm in keeping just one human from moving on.
Of course so many other problems surfaced because of that infatuation. People who needed my attention went ignored. People were laying in hospital beds somewhere, suffering, dying, wondering just where the Hell I was. They called out for me, and I was never there to answer them. I suppose, deep down, some part of me felt guilty for that. I tried to steal away when I could and escort the souls on my List. I tried every day, but I’m certain there were always one or two souls that I overlooked. In my love-stricken negligence, some souls went about life as Immortal as time itself – and yet they never knew it.
Noki, on the other hand, was a disaster that I had to prevent.
“Stay out of that rickety old house,” I told her. It wasn’t safe. She could fall. She will fall. I foresaw it. But she ignored me and went inside anyway. She told me that she was curious.
I followed her into the house.
“That’s enough,” she said to me. “You are not real, my love. I cherish you dearly, but you are merely a phantom. Please allow me to live my life.”
“No,” I told her, “I am no phantom. You will soon learn that I am Real.”
As she disappeared into the rickety old house, I turned away and covered my face with the hood of my cloak. I heard the creaking of a floor, a loud crash, and the thud of a soft body. I cringed. I walked into the direction of Noki’s fall. Looking down through the hole in the floor, I saw her lying there, bloody, but blinking up at me. I descended into the hole and knelt by her side.
“I…” she started, but I shushed her as I lifted her into my arms.
“You are safe now,” I told her. “But I can’t be with you anymore. You have to leave this place. You do not belong here now, little spirit. I am your Escort. I will take you where you need to go.”
Sadness washed over her.
“Now, now, little dove,” I said, “you were given extra time. All is well now. Now you are at peace.”
Her bloody hands and face stained the white tips of my fingers as I carried her out of the house. I reassured her that I would not forget her. As I carried her toward the light, scintillated with familiar, seraphic radiance – my heart broke into a thousand pieces.
I handed Noki over to her Guardian God. He thanked me and asked, “My dear friend, what troubles you?”
“You don’t know what you are taking from me,” I said, quietly.
He shot me a look of concern before turning back to his Realm and faded away.
Wrought with horrible feelings, feelings that I never knew existed on such a paramount level of endlessness, I stole away to the deepest, darkest place. It was a canyon, my listeners – it was a crack in the ground. A place consigned to oblivion. In that deep, dark place I met a creature – a terrifying Beast in the dark. This creature was once a man, and Death – yours truly – had overlooked this creature’s need for passing all because I was smitten for some time. Not dead, but the man no longer lived. Only the Beast remained.
It spoke to me.
“I seek the Guardian god,” it hissed through the darkness.
“What business have you with him?” I asked, ready to make my move. Ready to escort the Beast to the Hell where it belonged.
“He has something I want,” the Beast hissed.
In that selfish moment, I fell sympathetic towards the Beast. The Guardian god had something I wanted, as well. I knew how it felt. It felt wrong, betrayed. The Guardian had betrayed me. I felt so powerful in this world yet so weak beneath the crushing guise of the Guardian. A Guardian that guarded creatures neither like me nor this Beast – but simply used us to juggle smaller lives for its game. And what of our attachments to the smaller lives? What of our love – or hatred – for them? Are we, the Ancients, not worthy of emotions? Are we not worthy of attachment and loss?
Anger filled me with revenge.
I allowed the Beast to pass. I did not take him. I did not collect its deteriorated soul.
“You are just a Beast,” I said to it. “I can take you when I want. Until then, I will be down here waiting. Mourning my own loss – coveting what he has taken from my hands.”
The Beast said nothing and it disappeared into the world above.
Through weeping songs I murmured to myself, I curled up on the cold rocks and fell catatonic to my comforting thoughts.
I thought of Noki.