Anima

She sat in front of me with her legs crossed, mirroring my pose. As I stared into her eyes, I knew it was me looking back.

“So . . .” I began, trying to break the stalemate of silence that had taken hold.

“So.” Her reply did not provide a way forward.

“What do I do? Do I ask you questions? I don’t know how this works.”

Her smile was enigmatic. I found myself wondering if I was really this infuriating.

“Go ahead, ask questions if you like.”

Just like that, any question I might have had fled from my mind.

“Hmm . . .”

“You invited me. Invented me. I assume you had some reason. What is it?”

I had no answer to that. The truth was that I didn’t remember inviting her. I had been meditating in my own eclectic way when she just appeared. None of this was expected.

“Oh. I see.”

“What? What do you see?”

“You did not consciously summon me.”

“Can you read my thoughts?”

“I am your thoughts. Some of them, anyway. I am a part of you.”

“So you’re a voice in my head?”

“I suppose that’s one way to view it. I am the personification of one of the voices in your head. All of whom, by the way, are you.”

As I was trying to process that, an obvious question occurred to me.

“Wait. If you’re me, why are you a woman?”

Her rather mild expression became a scowl.

“Don’t be naive. You know better than that. No one is all one thing or another. We all have many pieces, many aspects. You identify compassion and wisdom with a more feminine energy. It should be obvious, then, why those aspects of yourself would manifest this way.”

“I . . . I think I knew that.”

“Of course you did. Otherwise I wouldn’t have known it.”

“But if you only know what I do, how could you possibly help me find answers?”

“We often don’t remember, or don’t want to remember, things we know. Knowledge can be painful, frightening. Giving it to one part of ourselves for safe-keeping, can insulate us from it. In order to recover the knowledge, we need to confront the part of ourselves which harbors it. Besides, you seem to do better learning from a teacher.”

“This is . . . a lot.”

Her smile returned.

“And yet, none of this is really a surprise to you.”

“No. I don’t suppose it is.”

We looked at one another for a bit, the silence less awkward this time.

“If I didn’t consciously summon you, why are you here?”

“As I said, you must have a reason. Perhaps it would help to think of me as a sounding board, someone to bounce ideas off of. Talk to me like you might to a friend you might seek advice from.”

“And you’ll be here when I meditate?”

“I’m always here. If meditation helps you focus, use it. But there’s no need for rituals. Wherever you go, I go. I am you.”

“Okay,” I said, without much conviction.

“It will be.”

The Curse

The thrum of blood pounded in his forehead. “I can’t take this anymore. Undo whatever you did. Take it back.” His head dropped into his hands, and he began to sob.

“You’re pathetic. Were you always so weak? I can’t remember.” Her tone was ice. “You wanted to know me better. I showed you, gave you everything you wanted. Now you are frightened by the world that has been opened to you.”

He looked up at her, the visage she wore was as cold and impassive as her voice. “I didn’t know it would be like this! Everyone I get close to goes insane or becomes just like . . .”

“So? Surround yourself with stronger people.”

“I don’t want to hurt anyone!”

“Then stay away from them. Do you really think you only hurt people after we met? Don’t be foolish.”

“Undo it!” The pressure in his veins was growing. He could feel the wildness rise within him.

“No.”

“Why not? What would it cost you?”

“Nothing. But it can’t be done. There is no way to reverse the change. This is what you are now. Learn to live with it. Or don’t. As you will.”

She began to turn away from, clearly done with the conversation. He grabbed her arm to stop her. Emotion showing on her face for the first time, she spun back. “Let. Me. Go.”

Fear momentarily swamped the inner storm, and he released her. Still, he pressed on. “What if I killed you? That would end this curse.”

Her laugh was cruel. “This is not some fairy tale, where if you kill the monster everyone else is released from its grip. If you were to kill me, I would be dead, and you would still be what I made you, what you wanted to be. Quit fighting yourself.”

“Why should I believe you?”

“Don’t. Try to kill me. My only regret if you were to succeed is that I could not relish the full bloom of your disappointment. But,” her withering stare nearly broke him, “do not make idle threats. I feel no loyalty to you, my creation. I will discard you without hesitation. That would end your torment. And your whining.” She held his gaze for one more beat before sweeping back around, his hope dying as she walked away.

The madness finally overwhelmed him.

Flying

“I’ve got to show you something.”

“Yeah?”

“Look! I’m flying!”

“Well, you’re not moving, so technically you’re floating.”

“I expected a little different reaction, but I can move. See? Flying.”

“Hahahahaha.”

“What’s so funny?”

“The way you lean forward and back to move . . . You look like you’re on one of those ‘hoverboards’ with wheels.”

“But I don’t need a board. And I can go higher.”

“Why are you moving so slowly?”

“It takes effort to do this, you know. It’s not as though it’s magic.”

“How fast can you go?”

“Vertical is slower than horizontal.”

“How fast?”

“I haven’t run time trials or anything.”

“How. Fast?”

“Horizontally, about a jog. Faster if I push it, but that starts to wear me out.”

“A jog? Let me see. Go to the end of the block and come back. As fast as you can go without pushing it.”

“Fine. . . . There.”

“You’re sweating a little.”

“Yeah. Maybe I pushed it a bit.”

“Why did you stay upright? If you were parallel to the ground, you’d have less resistance. Maybe you could go faster.”

“. . . I . . . I tried that.”

“And?”

“I fell, okay? Quit laughing.”

“You fell?”

“Yeah. To get off the ground, I sort of . . . push . . . with my legs.”

“Wait. You push? But you’re not standing on anything.”

“It feels like pushing. Or like I’m forcing energy down through my legs. I lean to direct the flow of energy in one direction or another. When I tried to get more parallel, I tumbled over.”

“Seriously?”

“I keep trying to figure out how to push from my torso, but it’s like trying to jump using your stomach while you are lying down. So I stay standing.”

“So you fly standing straight up, moving at a jog? Have you thought of a superhero name?”

“Shut up.”

“Maybe Somewhat-super Man?”

“Let’s see you fly.”

“No thanks. Sounds like a lot of work just to keep your shoes clean. Oh, hey. Have you thought of using a cape? Maybe you could use it like a sail to go faster.”

“Don’t.”

“You could be Kite Man!”

“I hate you.”

Other People

There was a knock at the door, and before she could react, it opened.

Her roommate stuck his head in. “You busy?”

“Sort of. I’m working on this paper.”

“Oh.”

“Do you need something?”

“I was going to ask if I could just sit in here for awhile. But now that I say it aloud, it sounds crazy. And I don’t want to bother you.” He started to close the door.

“Wait. You want to sit in here?”

“Yeah, but it’s okay.”

“Are you all right?”

He hesitated a moment before answering. “No.”

“Do you want to talk about it?”

“No.”

“So just sit?”

“Yeah.”

“Come in. Do you want me to sit with you?”

“No.”

“Okay.”

He walked in rather sheepishly and sat on the floor with his back against the wall. He had positioned himself so that he wasn’t facing her directly. She was acutely aware of his presence, but it was his absence that struck her the most. Wherever he was, it wasn’t in her room.

“Let me know if you need anything.”

“Yep.” And then he was gone again.

They had been roommates for the better part of a year, and friends for years before that. She knew he had spells where he spent a lot of time alone in his room, but he was a good roommate: always paid his share of the bills on time, helped with the housework, and was pretty quiet. This, though, was a new one. She really didn’t mind; it was just something he’d never done before.

He was being unobtrusive, though, so she turned her attention back to her computer and kept working. The work was engrossing, and before long, she forgot he was even there. After several more pages, she looked at the time in the corner of the screen. An hour had passed. She turned around to find him in the same position, still staring off, a million miles away.

She stood, walked over to him, and sat down by his side. Very lightly, she touched his arm. “Hey.”

Turning to her, his eyes held the vacant gaze for another beat before they focused on her. “Yeah?”

“What’s going on?”

He shook his head. “I’m sorry. I’m bugging you.”

“Actually, you’re not. I’ve made a lot of progress. I just wanted to check on you.”

“Sometimes, it’s just nice to be around other people. Don’t even need to interact. Just be around them. You know?”

“Yeah.”

“Thanks.” He rested his head lightly on her shoulder. She could feel tears start to soak through her shirt.

An Imperfect Solution

The door opened then closed. Several quiet footsteps indicated it was her attendant.

“Yes, Maire, what is it?”

“Excuse me, Miss. You have a visitor.”

“Who?”

“He refused to give me a name. Merely insisted I informed you of his presence.”

“Send him away. I am not here to be gawked at by anyone who decides to drop by.”

“Very well.”

A thought occurred to her, and she stopped Maire before she could leave. “What did he look like?”

“Miss?”

“His appearance. Describe it to me.”

“Older. His hair was unkempt and his face unshaven. A shabby overcoat. And I do not think he has had a bath in some time.”

“Very well. Bring him here, then leave us.”

“Miss, I must…”

“Just bring him, Maire. No arguments.”

It did not require sight to know that her attendant was glaring with disapproval, but Maire knew better than to voice it.

“As you say.”

Several minutes passed before the door opened again. The footsteps were slower and heavier this time.

“Why did you not give Maire your name? I almost refused your visit.”

“I prefer my comings and goings to be quieter than that. As you know.”

“Yes, well…”

“It is good seeing you again. How are you?”

“Was that a joke? Do not make me regret letting you in, engineer.”

“What? Oh, no. No joke. It is good to see you. I meant no offense. Indeed, it is your lack of sight that brings me today.”

“Is it? And why is that?”

“I may have a solution for you.”

“Do not toy with me. You work with machines. How could you solve my blindness?”

“Humor me. If it does not work, the only thing you have lost is a few minutes of your day.”

She thought for a moment, considering his reputation. “What does it involve? Describe it to me.”

“You only need to wear a special set of goggles I have constructed. They are connected to a box, which captures images and sends those images to the goggles. The goggles, in turn, stimulate the eyes, or the area around them. This should let you see the images.”

“And this works?”

“Yes. At least it should. It worked when I tested it, but I am not blind.”

“So you come to me to be your test subject.”

“I wanted to offer it to you, first.”

After another moment of consideration, she agreed. “Let us see how your contraption works, then.”

A sense of joy permeated the room as the engineer placed a pair of googles on her. She felt him adjust them and then listened to him throw switches, presumably on the box he mentioned.

“Are you ready?”

“Go ahead.”

“This may be disorienting for a moment.”

The first thing she noticed was tingling around the goggles. Then light seeped into her mind. She had nearly forgotten what it looked like. Slowly colors turned into shapes, and she could see her room. Her attention was drawn to her own body and the goggles strapped to her head.

“Oh!”

“Yes, disorienting. You are seeing from the vantage point of the box. It is not… ideal.”

“No, it is not. Still it works. You have given me quite a gift.”

“I am glad you think so.”

The engineer faced her – her body – and it was difficult to see his face from the perspective of the box.

“Is something wrong?”

“You cannot keep it.”

“I can afford to pay you for your efforts.” The thought of losing her sight, after reacquiring it, was difficult to bear.

“It is not a matter of payment. You know better than that.”

“Then what?”

“There are… imperfections in the device.”

“Such as?” Normally, it was impossible to stop him from talking for hours about his inventions. She was growing uneasy.

“For one, I need to make it all smaller. If I can get the mechanisms to take up less space, I can make it portable, fit on your head. That should minimize the perspective discrepancy.”

“But that is not the problem.”

“No.” He paused again. “My tests indicate that, over time, the machine will stop working for a given user. What remains of the sensitive powers of the eyes seem to burn out with too much exposure. In other words, this fix is temporary. And it would make your blindness immune to any other possible treatments. I am sorry.”

She laughed at that. “Sorry? My dear engineer, no other treatments have ever presented themselves. You rob me of nothing. And you have provided me at least one last opportunity to see the world around me.”

“I suppose that is true.”

“How long?”

“My best guess is six months.”

“Can I spread the time out by not using it continuously?”

“Perhaps. I believe so, but I cannot be certain.”

She chewed the inside of her cheek. When she saw how that made her face look, she immediately stopped and vowed never to do it again.

“Look at me.”

“I am looking at you.”

“No, engineer, look at the box, let me see your face.”

He bent down to the table where the box sat.

“Fix this device. Remove its imperfections. You have created something wonderful. Do better.”

“I will try…”

“No! You will. I demand it of you.”

A smile slowly spread across his face, and she knew he would satisfy her.

“Now, do you not have things to see to?”

He nodded, his face already half vacant for being lost in thought. “Indeed. If you will excuse me.”

“Of course.”

She watched him hurry out. With great reluctance, she removed the goggles. The returning darkness seemed deeper, more ominous. Under her breath, she whispered, “Hurry.”

Matthew Grimes

Matthew Grimes lived alone. His wife had passed away several years ago, and his children now had lives of their own. Still in his early sixties, Matthew had retired, though not entirely voluntarily, from a successful run as a museum curator. Now, most days, he found himself not just alone, but lonely.

One evening a knock at the door interrupted the empty silence of the house. Matthew opened the door on a man he did not know but who seemed vaguely familiar. His hair was short and well-kept, and his age was impossible to determine. He wore dark slacks and a matching sport coat, though his white shirt’s top two buttons were undone.

“Hello?”

“Good evening, Machali. Happy to see me?”

“I’m sorry, I think you must have the wrong house.” Matthew began to close the door, but the other man stopped him.”

“Pardon me. I apologize if I got your name wrong, but you are the person I need to speak with. May I come in?”

Matthew looked at him again, trying to decide whether he was a threat. There was really no reason to think so, but Matthew wasn’t sure what he should be looking for.

“What is this about?”

“I have some information for you, from an old friend. Something you need to know.”

“What information? What old friend?”

“Please, it’s best that I tell you inside. You may need to sit down.”

“Oh very well.” Matthew knew it was foolish to let a stranger in, but he found it difficult to care. His life had become a stagnant bore, so what did he really need to protect?

“Have a seat in the living room.” Matthew gestured to his right. “Would you like anything to drink?”

The other man nodded his appreciation as he walked through the doorway. “Some whiskey, if you have it.”

Matthew couldn’t contain a gruff chuckle. “Well, you’re straightforward. I’ll give you that.” He went into the kitchen and found two tumblers, into which he poured three fingers of his best bottle.

The man had taken a seat in one of a pair of armchairs. Matthew handed him one of the glasses and sat in the other chair.

“So. What do you have to tell me?”

“What name are you going by?”

“Going by? My name is Matthew. I don’t ‘go by’ any other names.”

“To start with, that’s not your name.”

“Of course it is.”

“No, it isn’t. You just think it is. In fact, you’re supposed to know all of this already. Unless I’ve got the date wrong.” The man shook his head to dismiss the thought. “This…” He gestured widely indicating the whole house. “… is all a facade. An identity you put on, to see how they lived. To understand them better. But you… You’re an immortal. And it’s time you woke up.”

“An immortal? You must be joking. Is this some sort of prank?”

“It’s no prank. You are Machali, one of the immortals. And you have been away from us long enough. I’ve come to bring you home.”

“This is insane. There are no such things as immortals. And even if there were, I am definitely not one of them.”

“I assure you, you are.”

“Well, if it’s all the same to you, I refuse. I don’t want to be one of your immortals. And I think it’s time for you to leave.”

“You misunderstand. I’m not offering immortality. And it doesn’t matter if you believe me or not. You are immortal. At some point, people around you are going to start noticing your failure to age. It’s better to end this now, before anyone starts asking questions.”

“No. Now please leave. I’ve listened to your tale. And you’re either crazy, or you think I am. I don’t want to have to call the police, but I will.”

“Fine, fine. I’ll go. But I will come back. You simply cannot stay forever.”

“Of course.”

After the man left, Matthew reflected on what he had to say. It obviously wasn’t true, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that he knew that man from somewhere.

He sighed. The visit had broken up the monotony of the evening, yet it was so ridiculous. Best to forget about it. Still, the idea tugged at the back of his mind the rest of the night.

Learn and Live

“I can’t believe he cut you off!”

The line at the coffee shop drive-thru was long and moving slowly. We had already been there ten minutes. The waiting cars had squeezed in wherever they could, making for a rather haphazard queue. In the barely controlled chaos, another car, which had just arrived, slipped in front of me when I didn’t pull forward fast enough.

I threw the car into park and opened my door.

“Where are you going? What are you doing?”

“Don’t worry. I’ll take care of it,” I said over my shoulder as I closed the door.

I walked over to the drive side of the dark grey SUV that had jumped the line. A man, a few years older than me, sat behind the wheel. At first, he pretended not to see me, so I knocked on his window.

He rolled it down and, in a gruff voice, said, “What?”

“You just cut in line.”

“You weren’t in line.”

“Yes, I was. And see all those cars, they were in line behind me.”

“So what? You can’t wait a few extra seconds to get your coffee?”

“That’s the point! I have been waiting. You just got here. You need to wait.”

“Forget it.” With that, he rolled his window back up.

“Back up!” I kicked his tire. He just stared straight ahead. I could feel my face getting hot as my anger grew, and I knocked on his window again. I must have hit it harder, though, because it shattered under my blows.

“Oh crap. I’m sorry…” I began. I looked up to see the end of the barrel of a gun pointed at me. “Okay, listen…” A gun shot interrupted me, and the world went black.

“Honey? Did you hear me?”

“What?” I tried to shake myself alert.

“I said, I can’t believe that guy just cut you off.”

“Yeah. People are assholes.”

“Aren’t you going to say something to him? At least honk?”

I thought about it only for a moment. “No. Not worth getting bent out of shape over something minor.”

“Hmm. That’s different for you.”

“Is it? Well, learn and live, I guess.”