I saw the girl sitting on the park bench, sunlight catching brown highlights in her black hair, a book open in her lap. There was no one else in the courtyard, and I stopped, looking. She seemed different, I felt it with the new parts of me that my father had awakened. I knew that she didn’t belong here.
“Hello?” I said, starting towards her.
The girl looked up, and I pegged her at twenty-three, maybe younger. Her eyes widened and she stood, the book falling to the ground, and then she turned and ran. I started after her, but before she had gone a few steps she had glimmered, paled and disappeared.
“What the hell?” I wondered out loud.
My father was perched on a kitchen counter, looking bored. “And what about this is strange, Annie? You know there are such things as ghosts.”
“Look,” I said, lifting the book she had dropped, “This stayed behind, and read the back cover.”
He took it from me and scanned the back, where the summary of the story was printed. His eyes widened just a tad, then he smiled, “I see. She was one of the real humans, then.”
“A real human? What do you mean?”
“There are druids for every level of earth, you know this.”
“Yes, you told me.”
“There is one level that is not governed by any of us, that is to remain untouched, clean, a virgin world. This is the one world where all worlds come from. We—all of the planes—have a trait of this main world. It is, for lack of a better word, a mother world. Our mother.”
“So she’s—what? A visitor?”
“Not exactly. She’s a gatherer, I have heard something about her from another place, where another me is governing. She had gathered from them, and the realm no longer exists.”
I blinked, “What do you mean the realm no longer exists? It died?”
“In as many words, yes.”
He just smiled and shook his head, “Not a story for today. You saw her, which means she’s gathering from this place. I think that she left this book accidentally, but it is proof that she has been here before, watching and taking from us.”
“Okay, stop, back up, and explain this to me without doing that whole ‘I’m high and mighty and know everything you don’t’ thing that you do.”
“She is one of the writers. There are many of them, but she delves in your story. She once took your Antonio and brought him into her plane for a while, her and I.”
“You went to her world? I thought you said you could not govern it, that no one could.”
“You jump to conclusions. I was there, and I was stripped of my powers. I was as a mortal, and if she had not let me go I would have died there, for I know no other way to live then the way I have now.”
“Was Antonio likewise? Human.”
“Not exactly, since he is earth bound he retained most of his abilities, but he did loose some of it.” Eros sighed and turned, brushing the curling hair out of his eyes. The hair was cut short today, but not too short, just barely past his ears. I thought it was nice, “How do I explain this to you, Annie? You would not understand. It is a place that is dangerous for all of us, the place where writers dwell, for they do not come here.”
“That’s not true, I know there are writers here, I’ve personally helped a few publish.”
“You don’t understand. There are copies here, shadows of the writers that are in that world. They may write the same books that the writers in the real realm do, but they are missing pieces, broken. The writers in that world are truly whole, complete. She lives here as she lives in many of my places. She experiences everything, that is how she records it, and her shadow bits come back to the real her and report and she learns and she writes and she lets our worlds grow. Can you possibly understand? They are observers, yes, but they are as the librarian in a great library, and if they weren’t around we would all fall into disrepair until there was no place to move or walk. They allow some worlds to die for others to live, it is what they are. They gather so that we can grow.”
“She’s mortal, though, isn’t she?”
“She will die, yes.”
“That’s not what I asked.” I had learned not to take chances with him.
He was silent for a moment, rubbing a knuckle on his left hand with his right, “I don’t know. No one knows.”
“Can I go there?”
He looked up, and there was something I had never seen there before, just lurking in the background, like a frightened child peeking around a corner. He was scared. “What in the world would you do that for?”
I saw her again nearly five weeks later, and I managed to touch her, make her whip around and look at me, scared, then vanish again. I decided it was time to take things into my own hands.
The road was gravel and filled with pot holes that were playing hell on my cars tires. Some of the way up they got so stuck in mud and stone that I couldn’t move, so I got out and walked. I had the feeling she was trying to keep me away.
My father said that they had shadows in all the worlds, and so I was looking for one, and I would find her whether she liked it or not.
The house was run-down, but cozy looking. There was peeling yellow and white paint on old but otherwise sturdy siding. Her garden was filled with yellow and white roses, with two flowering red tea roses close to her window. There was a rickety iron fence painted white surrounding the yard, and when I opened the gate it creaked, and I saw one lacy curtain fall back into place. She knew I was here.
I knocked on the door and heard a rustle inside, like rats scurrying around in the attic at my old home. The door was unlatched and an old but not too old woman opened the door. She looked in her early sixties, her hair mostly taken over by white and silver hairs, a streak here and there of the black I had seen before. She regarded me with blue gray eyes and smiled, “I wondered when you would be arriving.”
Her home was stacked with books and papers and shelves were lined with knickknacks that I had never glimpsed before. Mirrors were lining any spare part of the walls, but they did not reflect. Some of them seemed blackened by age, some of them gave views of swirling fog, and some of them showed scenes that I had only dreamed of. In one of them there was a quarrel at a tavern that looked straight out of old London. Then in another there was a scene of two young people, boy and girl, their bodies twined in a position that made me look away, more out of respect then anything.
“So, Annie Morgan, I am your appointed gatherer,” The woman smiled, and her teeth were yellow and ugly, but it gave a nonetheless pleasant look. She wore a faded black dress, covered here and there with dust. “Excuse the mess. They are manuscripts, I just haven’t gotten around to doing anything with them.”
I picked up the top paper on one of the stacks. The first line read: This diary is not about the one that wrote it, but the one he wrote about, not about a boy, but about a girl. There was more, but I didn’t read it.
“That’s very rude, reading something of mine without asking. I suppose you’re here because you want to know how to get to my real self, yes?”
“Sit down, then, and we’ll talk a moment, then I’ll decide if I want to tell you or not. You do look wonderful dear, I don’t think I’ve described you well enough.”
There had been no vampire attack, no accounts of a werewolf coven slaughtering nearly all of the east coast, no house where my house had been, no Haven, no Antonio. I felt lost.
The woman that had greeted me and talked with me had given me instructions on where to find the girl I sought, the girl that she had been a part of. I walked because I had no money, and no place to get any money that would be of any help, and my powers… I felt so weak, vulnerable, human. Eros had warned me that I would be stripped of them, but I hadn’t realized what he meant.
The apartment was one of those with a landscaped lawn and marble tiles in the reception hall and a man at the desk. I asked for her, and he put up a call with my name, and then said I could go up. I had no doubt that this place had luxury apartments up the ying yang.
I knocked on a door with the number 157 and she opened it, looking just as she had when I first saw her. She looked at me and smiled, then stepped forward and hugged me.
“I’m only doing this because I know that you can’t make me go poof,” she said, “I’m sorry that I made you come all this way. I should have talked to you earlier. Come in.”
Her apartment was large, a two bedroom, “One for me and one for my writing,” she said gleefully, giving me a tour, “I don’t make too much on this whole writing business, but I’m hoping that my documentary will go well with the people at the studio. I don’t know, maybe I’ll put my degree to work one day, but I doubt it.”
Her cat didn’t like me, and ran into her bedroom when I came in sight. “Don’t worry about him,” she said, and offered me a drink. I accepted.
“So you spoke to my shadow,” she said, “She’s an odd one, a little more extreme then others, and with all those creepy mirrors everywhere. I never liked visiting her, but she had a mean rose garden.” She smiled as she said it, “She comes to me usually.”
“Do all of you… shadows… know about you?”
“Oh no. I have no use for some of their stories, so I don’t bother with them. I’ve been in contact with hardly a dozen. Believe me, one of me is enough, the rest of them kind of creep me out. Like looking into a mirror of what I could be if I had done things different in my life. No thank you.”
“Are you mortal?”
“As far as I can tell.”
And there it ends. Cause I was getting way too... too much. So there's a brainstorm. A nothing