Authors: Naomi Canale
The moment I try to shut the door, one of Dad’s loud snarfles makes me jump—he’s snoring already. That didn’t take long for Mr. Red Eyes to drift off. I reach behind the hiding place in my desk and pull out His Dark Ways. If Dad caught me with this thing, he’d be pissed and launch right into one of his sermons. I laugh to myself, “Then he would really start initiating all the advice his “perfect” parental Christian books have been giving him.” I don’t have to randomly pick a page for this book—it’s not as complex. It’s also not filled to the brim with rules that leave me feeling guilty.
“This is more like it. You’re right up my alley.” As I flip the pages of His Dark Ways open to Lost Spirits, Red starts dragging his bed toward the door. “What? You don’t want to sleep in here with me anymore?”
We’ve been BFF’s since he was a puppy and now he’s hurting my feelings as he paws at the door. When I get up to open it for him, his bed gets stuck in between the doorframe for a second and I whisper out, “Fine, I guess best friends need to have their first fight at some point in their lives.”
The wind kicks up and howls through a gap in the window frame. I peer out and there he is. Daniel. The blank expression in his eyes reminds me of a sleep walker and his less than perfect way of appearing out of nowhere drains the air out of my lungs. I pace my breathing as he begins to walk away.
I put His Dark Ways back in its hiding place, switch off the lights, and run out to the field.
Every time I call out he stops as if he’s searching for me and paces his steps toward the dried lake. Even though the veins in my body could probably break and bleed from an intense pulse, I try to suck in any fear until we reach part of the playa that’s even farther than the old stone house.
In the outskirts of the desert basin, the sole of my boot lightly sinks into soft mud. Daniel reaches out to me—we finally touch. “Savanna, is that you?”
I take his hand—trembling.
He sees me now. “You’re scared. Maybe I shouldn’t have come. I don’t want to trouble you.”
Now that I’m holding onto a warm hand, I’m comforted. “No, I wanted you to. Please, don’t go.”
His right cheek lifts into a smirk. “Really?”
It’s impossible for me to hold back a smile and I try to hide it by watching the tip of my boot as I draw a small line into the mud. “Yes, really.”
As I bring my head up, his eyes are already on mine. “There’s a fearlessness about you, I like that.” He reaches out and lightly curls the tip of my braid around the end of his finger. “And you’re beautiful.”
My cheeks warm as if the electricity that just surged through me is trying to escape. I want to tell him something similar, but I hesitate. He touches the black lace on my dress. “Is it still the twentieth century?”
I shake my head no. His question’s difficult even though I know the answer. If I had died in this little town, it would be hard to take in that my spirit’s been stuck here for the past hundred years. “It’s actually the twenty-first century.”
His fingers fiddle with mine, maybe he’s nervous too. “Fashion doesn’t seem to have changed much.”
I tilt my heels back and examine myself. “Actually, it has, I just don’t really fit in to what you would necessarily call the twenty-first century norm, I guess.”
“Then, I like you just the way you are.” In the distance toward the center of the playa, Daniel points out a large boulder being lit by the moon.
“Come. I want to show you something.”
He lets go of my hand and begins to fade as if my touch drains him of the energy that keeps him alive. It’s unsettling, and I want to hold onto him, to protect him.
Mud becomes firmer as I near the boulder. The desert has a way of playing tricks on you. From afar I could’ve sworn all that was out here was a lonesome boulder, but as I get closer there are rocks everywhere. Once you’ve climbed one desert rock, you’ve climbed them all. As I find a couple of hand holds and begin climbing, Daniel touches the outside of my hand—his flesh becomes perfectly clear. “Here, let me help you.”
Normally I’d say no, but it’s impossible for me to resist. I grip onto him harder. He’s beautiful in full flesh. I’m nearing obsession and try not to stare. The bottom of his wool trench coat kicks up heavily against the wind and his soldier boots are firm on sharp rocks. As we reach the opening in the boulder, I hesitate. Cold air emanates from its dark corners and only slivers of moonlight shine in—it looks deep, murky. He descends into it and lifts his arms out for me. Our eyes connect and I suddenly trust him, I let myself fall into his thick arms. My stomach collides against his chest and he lets me slide down his length until my feet touch the ground, and I find myself wishing that descent could have lasted longer.
“I found this place last night and thought it might help keep you sheltered from the cold better than an open desert.”
His warmth alone would, but he’s right, this cave-like rock is keeping the goose bumps minimal.
“Do you ever feel the cold?”
“Normally, the temperature in my little world is perfect, I can’t feel anything. Except when I touch you. Then I can feel everything, like I’m human again. The cold, fear—” He pauses and laughs. “Yeah.”
I know what he was about to say. The longer we hold onto each other the more I know about him. I wonder if he knows what’s going on in my head, my heart too. I try to get my mind on something else, just in case he can. From beyond his shoulder, I notice old petroglyphs surrounding us. The figures carved into the rock give off dark shadows and remind me of the engravings inside the metal lamps that hang in my favorite Mexican restaurant. As I rub my fingers in between the glyphs, a few pebbles fall from the lip of a triangular carving. “Have you seen anyone else since you died?”
“Anyone else? No.” He pauses and seems disturbed. “Anything else? Yes.”
“Thank you for saving me from that anything.”
“I would save you again.” He looks on into the night as his face grows serious. “It’s weird. The last time I remember being able to see a human was right after I died. I was standing near my body and reached down to touch the thick line of chalk that encircled me, and as I tried to feel the chalk in between my finger tips there was darkness. The chalk was gone, people were gone, and all I heard were voices. For the longest time I stumbled through these shadows thinking I just needed to find the afterlife, but all I found were monsters and I was positive I was cursed until I saw you—touched you.”
My mind is crowded with thoughts—ideas. I’m speechless because Daniel isn’t a monster or anything the Bible speaks of. God says once out of flesh, you’re with Him—to be judged, and Daniel’s drifting, a lost energy. This goes against everything Dad’s ever preached about and fits better with a well thought out physics theory—but this isn’t just a theory, it’s real.
“I’m sorry, I’m probably talking too much. It’s been a long time since I was able to talk to someone. It’s like I’m left, wandering, running in the darkness until you come close. You make the monsters disappear.”
I’m silenced and speak up when I notice him longingly looking at me. “You’re not talking too much.” I say, gently. “I’m sorry, I’m just trying to dig into my brain to help you find an answer.”
“Maybe Heaven finally sent me an angel.”
“No offense, but after all you’ve been through, you believe in the big man who lives in the sky? Angels?”
“Maybe your soul hasn’t found the right life for you yet—your new one?”
“Like a second chance?”
“Having you here feels like a second chance,” he says.
I hang my head to the right and slightly cover my hand over my face as I smile so hard my cheeks ache. With his knee touching mine, he lifts up both arms and glides a jacket over my back.
“It’s starting to get colder, I can feel it. It’s nice to feel again. You’re shivering.”
A ghost’s jacket is keeping me warm. Only days ago this would have been completely absurd to me. “I guess it is getting chilly.”
“So what do you believe in?”
“I’m not entirely sure.” I stare up at the constellations and fiddle with the telescope on my chain—it’s such a bad nervous tick I possess with the thing. “All I know is that I love it up there and I can never stop thinking about the greatest scientists that ever lived and their theories.”
“I used to fly in those stars.”
“You can fly?”
He gives me high eyebrows. “Of course, I’m a ghost, aren’t I? Nah, not the way you think. When I was alive I was a pilot stationed here. I could fly a P-51D Mustang with my eyes closed.”
Now that he’s grinning bigger, I notice a dimple crease into the side of his cheek. I bite my lip. “Nice, they fly those in the air races every year here at the end of summer. When I see them flying through the sky, I know fall is going to be just around the corner.” I sit down and rest my back against the rock. He follows and I notice how long his fingers are. “Were you a piano player?”
“How’d you guess that?”
“I come from a religious family obsessed with music. I know piano hands when I see them.”
“That must mean you play music too?”
“Not really, I sing a little, but I’ve been told I can play a mean violin.”
He pauses, and turns his eyes onto a different part of the sky—a weighty sigh slithers out of his lungs.
I nudge his shoulder with mine. “What? You can’t do that.”
His five o’ clock shadow smoothes out as he gets serious. “It’s just been a long time since I’ve heard any music.”
Music has been a big part of my life. I couldn’t imagine trying to breathe without it. “Besides church, I mostly sing in my truck with the windows rolled up.”
The urge to sing is trying to jump out of my throat, but I hesitate. Small town people are the only ones who have told me I sing great and seeing how they also say the same thing about their god has me questioning if I’ll embarrass myself or not. My heart insists I sing for him whether I want to or not. “Okay. But only if you promise to play the piano for me.”
“If you can find me one, I promise.”
All this thinking of death takes me back to the funerals I’ve sung at and the first song that comes to mind is Halleluiah. I know I’ll get the words right except for Lord. It’s a song I had to memorize backwards and forewords back in Vegas, during a music youth camp one year.
Bitter air reaches the bottom of my lungs as I begin the first few lyrics and hum Lord—I still can’t say God’s name. His eyes light up and remind me of an eight year old I met once who was thrilled to have received his first Christmas present. I continue and Daniel takes in life again by resting his head against the large granite rock supporting our backs and shuts his eyes. Just the sight of him is making it harder to sing, I turn my eyes to where his were in the sky. I try to pretend the stars are the only thing lighting me up on the inside.
His arm wraps around my shoulder and his warmth comforts me. He scoots me closer. “That was perfect.”
After the sun rose this morning, I had to watch Daniel fade into pieces of dust. All I can think is why. If God does exist, it’s nothing short of cruel—it’s torture. My stomach turns into one giant knot as I think about reaching out to him and not being able to grasp on anymore. As I grip my stomach, the lace overlapping my dress bundles into my palm and I rest my head on top of my desk. Two pieces of paper from last night are now touching the tip of my nose and I examine my chicken scratch. The dark shadow I’m casting over my paper gets the gears moving in my brain and I grab a pencil and write around the other ideas I jotted down.
Light hits the earth and reflects off space. Black holes are so dense that when light moves past it, light curves around. Looking into a black hole you can see yourself, in theory, and can possibly go back in time because of the light that was once on you.
But this would be the past, he’s in the future, or still living—somehow. My head is fogged—crowded. My grip gets firm around my pencil. Lead pieces crumble all over as I scribble down more ideas.
Quantum Theory - a particle traveling in
If it’s warped - gravitational field
Blank areas of paper run out, I grab more and continue pouring out ideas onto empty pages, they start falling to the floor in between clicks of my mechanical pencil.
Our landline rings on the nightstand behind me, breaking my focus, and I notice what I’m writing in large lettering. DANIEL. DANIEL. DANIEL. Both of my eyes are twitchy from lack of sleep or too much caffeine, I’m not sure which. It’s Amy. I don’t have time to answer, I must figure this out. “Hey you, Eric is going to pick me up this morning, so no worries. Call me when you get a chance.” She gives me a kiss and the dial tone is heard for a moment—I continue, but the phone starts up again.
This time it’s Mom. There’s scuffling coming from Dad’s room—his deep voice booms through the walls. I must be super tired, my senses are heightened and I feel sick like the time I partied too much at Lucky’s and woke up from a bad Bacardi hangover. I twirl my pencil around and another theory comes to mind—I write it down.
Two paper theory – one becomes wrinkled – it changes space, time
There’s a light knock on my door. “Savanna? Are you up?”
I keep quiet. But the knob jiggles anyway and he pokes his head in. Dad’s hair is thinning out lately and appears more prone to static electricity. Electricity, that’s it! I turn back toward my desk. Dad’s voice is raspy. “Sweetie, you okay?” When I turn around his hand is covering up the receiver. “Did you even sleep last night?”
There’s a tap on my shoulder. “Savanna?!”
Dad’s eyebrows are bent so far they are almost touching the top of his nose and appear to be gearing up for a ski jump. His intense eyes remind me of when Superman gets mad, like any moment he’ll burn a hole into the wall with a laser streaming from his pupils. Parts of my body don’t want to function. Time’s moving slow. I keep staring at him until he places the phone over my ear and does an emergency charade dance of “answer the damn phone!”