The Ethereal World

A blog whose sole purpose is for my story, The Ethereal World, to exist.

The Ethereal World: Part Four

            A mere second before your plummet to the ground incapacitates you once more you hear a yowl and your fall is greatly slowed. Not enough to keep you from crumpling into the grass when you land, but enough to keep you from paralyzed agony. This fortunate survival is due to the actions of a small winged creature that you can’t quite see, as it has yet to come in to your field of vision definitively, but that you can feel sitting on the top of your head, pulling at your hair.

            “Get up, kid! The Darklings are going to get you if you stay here! And trust me, you don’t want the Darklings to get you,” the creature says. It’s not very heavy, maybe ten or fifteen pounds, and evidently isn’t very strong, either, as it is now pulling at your sleeve and isn’t accomplishing anything in doing so. You struggle to your feet and feel it clamber up onto your shoulder, spurring you on with more encouraging words. Your stunned relief at having a chance of survival has taken a great toll on your intelligence, and you blindly stumble forwards, not bothering to think about what’s happening.

“You’re going to have to move faster than this if you want to survive. Come on. Run! I know you can do it, I saw you do it just up in that house and everything,” the creature says, and you snap out of your post-traumatic stupor and begin sprinting through the fields.

“Where do I go?” you ask urgently, tripping over mounds of dirt and rocks in your rush to be away from the monsters following you.

“The river, go to the river. The Darklings hate water. They hate it more than anything.”

You know where the river is. For although there are many twisted perversions in the world you once knew, the geography appears to be the same. As you break from the long stalks of wheat and out onto the dirt and stubbly grass on the flood plain, you hurry to the riverbank. The water, however, appears to be a slough of swirling liquid, Shadows intermingling with luminous light shades you have no name for. The presence of the Shadows in the water halts you at the bank, and your furry companion complains about your hesitation immediately.

“Why are you stopping, kid? You’re crazy, you know that? The Darklings are almost here; I can hear them behind you. Do you want to have your eye stolen? Or is there something wrong with the water? Because I assure you, that golden glowing stuff in it purifies all the Shadows. No reason to be afraid, Shadowseer. Just jump in already before you get caught by the Darklings.”

You look behind you and see a storm of wings and claws coming after you through the field of wheat. Looking back at the water, you decide to disregard the Shadows flowing through it and take your companion’s word that the “golden glowing stuff” makes it safe. It is only after you think this through that something about that phrase strikes a chord with you.

“You can see colors?” you ask, confused. You’d thought the world was a monochromatic place. Evidently you were wrong.

“What? You can’t? You have an awful lot of things wrong with you, don’t you?” your furry escort asks as you tentatively step into the river, the horde of Darklings at your back. You’re halfway in, struggling against the current, and up to your neck in water when they reach the riverbank, and for a moment you fear they’ll jump right in after you. But your companion is accurate in his assumption that they will cease their following of you at the water, and they remain on the other side, screeching in their harsh voices.

When you manage to struggle across the river and emerge onto the other bank, you notice that the little furry being on your shoulder was right about the Shadows– what hadn’t come off when you’d gotten the icky goo stuck on you earlier had remained in the river, cleansing you of the oily sludge. Terrified that the Darklings will suddenly change their minds and follow you across, you tear across the field on the other side of the river until they are far behind and you can run no more, at which point you collapse on the ground, panting.

Your companion leaps off of your shoulder and lands neatly on the grass before turning to face you, and you realize, astonished, that the furry creature is in fact a cat with light-colored wings sprouting from its shoulder blades. It appears to be white with grey– or tawny, you suppose– stripes. It’s an odd-looking creature, and stares at you with open eyes. For a minute you almost tell it that it isn’t real and that you must be dreaming, because cats can’t talk. But remembering the experiences you’d been put through in your short time here, you silence yourself.

“What on earth are you staring at me like that for? I just saved your life, and I don’t even get a word of thanks. How typical of you humans,” it complains, turning its back on you and wrapping its tail around itself poutily.

“I didn’t mean to offend you or anything,” you say softly, leaning your head back against the cool grass and closing your eyes. “I’m just a little confused, I guess.”

“What is there for you to be confused about?”

“I dunno. Why is everything in black and white?”

Your companion sighs and turns back to face you, curling up on the grass with its feline face leaning against its paws. “You’ve only just been born, right?” it asks.

“Yeah,” you respond, supposing “born” is a term for “death”.

“Well, can you remember your past life?” the cat inquires.

 You nod. Why shouldn’t you be able to? Forgetting your past life would mean forgetting Jack. Jack. Your purpose, finding him. It all crashes into you at once as you remember what you’d come to this strange other world for. You sit up, startled, and face your escort anxiously.

“Jack. Have you seen him? I have to find Jack,” you say, fidgeting as you eagerly await the cat’s answer.

“Hey now, calm down. Who’s this Jack you’re talking about? I haven’t seen any Jacks,” comes the reply. Your heart sinks and you lay back down.

“He’s my… best friend?” you try, your voice trailing off as you wonder how to define your love for him. It was beyond friendship, and yet it wasn’t. It was worship, on your part, and acceptance on his. It was everything you could hope for in someone, and yet… There were no words for the relationship. It was beyond description.

“How’d he die?” the cat asks, and you wince at the brunt brutality of the question.

“Influenza,” you say, pleased with yourself for remembering the word. The cat only nods in response.

“And you? How’d you die? Say, how’d you live, anyway, to get those messed up wings? And you got the curse, too. I thought it was only a legend, but I guess the Shadowseer really does exist, since you’re here.”

You hesitate, and then say, “I killed myself. I jumped off the watchtower.”

There’s a stunned silence that stretches between you and your inquisitive companion, and you’re scared of what the feline will say, until it stretches in catlike fashion and moves closer to you.

“Why’d you do it?”

You don’t know what to say that would explain it correctly. You only manage to come up with a feeble, “I did it so I could see Jack.”

The cat sighs and flexes its wings, hopping up onto your chest and nestling there, its face close to yours so that it can watch you with its deep, expressive eyes. “You must have really loved him, to do that. Guess that’s why you got that pretty white wing of yours. But that one, on the other hand,” the cat says, motioning to the bat wing with a lazy wave of its paw, “is the sort of wing you only see on the worst kinds of people. Worse than the Darklings, even. It’s for the sinners, the really, truly awful ones. You must have really hurt someone with your suicide act to be cursed with that. But suicide in and of itself’s a pretty bad crime, too. And as for that eye of yours–”

            “Eye?” you ask curiously. You hadn’t realized there was anything wrong with it.

            “Guess you wouldn’t have noticed, since you haven’t looked in a mirror or anything. And with that colorblindness of yours, you probably wouldn’t even see it, unless you looked really close. Actually, you probably would, since it looks so weird and all. See, kid, your eye’s purple. And it’s got this freaky no-pupil thing going on. All purple, the whole thing. And if you look close, you can almost see these odd little black flecks in it. That’s your Shadowseer eye. See, try closing the other one– I mean, the right one,” the cat says, and you comply, shutting your right eye. You are immediately immersed in a world of white, with nothing around you. This world is completely blank, devoid of anything. And it frightens you immensely. Startled by what you have seen, you open your eyes, and sit up abruptly, knocking the cat off your chest where it rolls on the ground before standing up and shaking, looking at you exasperatedly.

            “What was that?” you ask, ignoring the furry creature, your eyes flitting about as if trying to assure your mind that you are still in a physical world.

            “I don’t really know,” the cat says, its tone suddenly dropping to be more serious. “There’s this old legend about a Halfling who would someday appear. No definition was ever given for the term, but the Magistrate’s certainly theorized about it. Anyways, with those wings of yours, I’d say it’s supposed to be you. Not that I’m an expert or anything, but I’ve never heard of someone with mismatched wings before. And with that eye– I can’t help but think you’re the Shadowseer. And before you ask, the Shadowseer is the name for the Halfling who’s supposed to appear. Only the Shadowseer’s not supposed to be a hero, or a savior, or anything. The Shadowseer is cursed. They’ve got this ability to see the Shadows, which represent evil, like some kind of tangible aura or something, and ultimately, it’s supposed to drive the Seer crazy and make them die. Plus, that ability’s got a bunch of other unknown perks, which are supposed to be so useful the Magistrate’ll hunt you down for sure if they get the opportunity. I’d find yourself an eyepatch before word gets out. You don’t want to get hunted down by the Magistrate. Trust me on that.”

            “So the Magistrate– are they like the… government?” you ask, not really understanding what a government does in its entirety, but remembering your mother tell you that they make laws and things. The cat nods, and you continue. “The Magistrate’s this group of people who want to use me for my unknown special abilities which, if used, will drive me insane and kill me, so I should hide my wings and my eye and protect myself from myself and these Magistrate people. Right?” the cat nods again in response. “That’s fine. As long as I can find Jack, I’m fine with anything. I’ll be cursed or whatever, so long as I can find him. What were you saying about my memories earlier, by the way? I’m not supposed to have them?”

            “Not really, no,” the cat says. “There are some people who hold on to parts of their former lives when they die, who had excessively strong attachments. Those people haven’t accepted dying, and retain their memories. Unfortunately, this goes against the peace. The tension between the Whitelings and the Darklings is bad enough already, and memories of or grudges against the dead would only further the tension and cause war. Since no one here can die, as we are all already dead, this would be disastrous. So the Magistrate made this rule that you can’t keep your life memories here. They take the people who have their memories and remove those attachments to their past from their heads. And those people get one memory to live with, so that they’ll have some feel for their purpose. It’ll be the faces of lovers or friends or family or something, so they’ll recognize them when those people die. Even the peaceful dead retain that much, a sense of recognition and some sort of emotion. Anyways, the people who’ve accepted being dead and living here and moved past their life attachments can see in color. People like you, who can’t, are the ones who haven’t given up living yet.”

            “But I don’t care about being alive, I just care about finding Jack–” you try, but the cat cuts you off.

            “Who you knew in life. I mean, he’s probably here and all, but it’s unlikely he’ll feel anything but a faint sense of recognition if he sees you. And that’s if he didn’t let go of his memories. If he did, the Magistrate will have deleted all of them but one– and it might not even be of you. So don’t get your hopes up, kid. You’ve got enough reasons to have the Magistrate after you on that curse you’ve got. ‘Cause after all, other than you being able to see Shadows, no one has any clue as to what you’re capable of. You better not go telling anyone anything about your life– ‘cause if the Magistrate hears that, they’ll be onto you in a second,” said the cat.

            Something inside you breaks when you hear this. You had only wanted to see your Jack, your friend, your beloved, dearest acquaintance. And yet, it seemed as if your death had been for nothing. You should never have hoped for happiness through death. It had been a foolish, immature thing to do, and you would pay for it by ultimately failing in the sole thing that mattered to you.

            But you still don’t want to give up, and you tell this to the cat. It shakes its head and struts around for a moment, pacing as it thinks.

            “Say,” you say suddenly. “Have you got a name? I need something to call you by.”

            “Call me whatever you like,” it says in reply, giving you an odd look. You pause for a moment but can’t think of an appropriate name for your companion.

            “I’ll tell you when I think of one,” you say, eliciting an eye roll.

            There’s a soft silence that passes between you and the cat, and you, having caught your breath, take the opportunity to stand up and look around.

            “Where can I get a cloak and an eyepatch and stuff?” you ask, eager to start the task of finding Jack. Your companion sighs, flutters to your shoulder, and nods to the forest that stretches off into the horizon far across the fields. You begin walking across the stretch of land, thankful you don’t seem to get tired, and hope for the future in this strange, twisted universe. 

The Ethereal World: Part Three

You don’t know exactly what you had expected, but you know that whatever it was, it was not what actually happened. You know that there had been some fear of pain when you had jumped from the tower, some notion that this would not be an easy way to change worlds, but right as the panic had begun to settle in your heart, you felt a huge tug on your shoulder blades, and a rending pain as you passed to another realm. Only, the new world wasn’t entirely different than the one you had been in before. You could see the spot where you should have landed minutes before, the grass on the once-green hillside now a monotonous gray, the body that should have been there completely nonexistent, and then your feet, suspended above the spot of your death. That was when the realization that you were floating kicked in. You excitedly spun around, awkwardly attempting to maneuver one of the wings you could now feel in your shoulder blades into view. It took you a while to figure this out, and required an awful lot of uncomfortable falls to the ground and unfamiliar motions to be able to do something as simple as curl your wings into a viewable position. It occurred to you, as you looked over your left shoulder, that this entire world was in grayscale and monochrome. For when you looked at your arm, it did not have the pink, fleshy glow it once did, and the sky was not blue but a pale, ashy color. And the sun was not there, the sky instead a huge collection of dusty stars.

            Moving your gaze from your shoulder to your left wing, however, you noticed that it was a brilliant angel’s wing, a radiant white with the purest of feathers. It alone shone brighter than the sunless sky above, which harbored only millions of milky stars, with no moons or planets to guide them. Your right wing was an entirely different story. It was a bat’s wing, the wing of a devilish demon, a wing that was leathery and hideous, a mix of grays and blacks. You were two things at once, beautiful and ugly. Your physical body was still the same, as far as you could tell, but what you could see of your wings was frightening. Your left side was beautiful, the innocence that you had possessed before Jack’s death. The innocence you still possessed, and that you had always had in you but never given second thought to. You were only a child, after all. What could you do?

            But you had done it, you had killed yourself. You had committed the gravest of sins. And retribution would likely follow you. Your right wing would serve as a constant reminder of this fact.

            It couldn’t stop you, though. You would follow your goals and find Jack, no matter what it took. Even if you were followed by the darkest spirit in this strange, monochrome world, you would find Jack. If only to tell him how much you had missed him, how your heart had fallen apart after he left.

            Picking yourself up from the ground, you testily flexed your wings. Walking would likely be easier, but you wanted to know exactly where you were. The watch tower you had jumped from was still present, looming over you like a malevolent bit of memorabilia commemorating the one thing you’d ever done that had brought you the most sadness. Sadness, yes, but not regret.

            You climbed up the hill beside you, using only your grounded limbs. You still couldn’t move your wings correctly. You figured that if you ran and jumped from the hill, experimenting with the new muscles attached to your shoulder blades, you could get some lift. After all, it had to be natural for the denizens of this world.

            That thought made you halt your plan, however. For you had no proof there were any denizens in this strange parallel world at all. Perhaps you were completely alone, and you would not be able to find Jack. Perhaps he was not here.

            You shook your head at the thought. There was no way that you were entirely alone in this place. You would not give up hope.

            You finally managed to ascend to the top of the grassy hill and stood atop it feeling a new determination. Hope was not lost. You would reach your ultimate goal and find what you had lost. What had been stolen from you.

            You charged at the edge of the hill, leaping out from its surface as it began to curve downward, forcing the awkward new muscles in your back to cooperate. But your efforts made little difference, and you began to fall towards the ground. Thoughts of Icarus sprung into your head as you fell, and you felt a sudden connection with the mythological character. It was funny; you’d always thought of him as being an idiot, disregarding what was obviously well-intended advice from his father. But he had only wanted to set his goals higher. To do something that had never been done before. Perhaps you, like Icarus, had done too much, crossed the line one step too far, and were now going to die from your foolishness. In the spirit world, however, death was not to be had. You eventually just smacked into the ground, pain shooting through your legs, your wings crumpling beneath you as you fell onto the ground at the bottom of the hill. It was all you could do to keep from screaming as you lay for an immeasurable amount of time on the washed-out grass, feeling nothing but the sensation of pain while your body healed itself.

            You concluded that while you could not die here, you could still suffer injury. Thankfully, your body did manage to heal itself, though the process was similar to drowning in an ocean of fiery, burning pain.

            You also found out that spirits didn’t need sleep, and that you therefore could not escape the pain of reality by letting yourself fade into the realm of dreams. You would instead lay and endure the torture.

            After some time, you made the attempt to stand. Your useless wings were still as awkward as ever, with their opposite appearances. You took a while and forced them to fold against your back. Your legs were achy, but useable. You made the climb up the hill once more and looked back towards where your house would have been. If this world was truly as parallel as it seemed, then you would surely be able to find something there that would lead you to Jack. Perhaps he was there now, even, waiting for you to come home.

            With this idealistic but joyful thought in your mind, you began the trek to where your house ought to have stood. Every once in a while you would pause, thinking you had seen a stripe of motion blur through the grass. But whenever you stopped to look, there was no one beside you.

            The walk home was much shorter than the walk to the tower had been, it seemed, and you found yourself bounding through the rampant long stalks of grass that covered the fields behind the manor. When you reached your home, however, you immediately felt that it was different.

            For there were no servants attending to your mother, no dogs barking or carriage drivers delivering packages. Instead, there was only a twisted imitation of your house and the raucous laughter that emanated from within it. While your house had always been a prim, proper manor, with white-washed wooden walls and a large front porch with welcoming rocking chairs, the house you stood before now was dilapidated, with a gooey, black substance covering part of it, and the wooden boards rotting away. The wicker chairs on the front porch were missing cushions and had holes through their seats, and the mysterious, dark substance clinging to the boards of the house also dripped from the ceiling. Aside from all of that, the windows were broken, the shingles on the roof curling, and the front door had been replaced by the sort of door one might see in the entrance to a saloon, with the two wooden boards attached to hinges that creaked in the wind.

You cautiously push open the door, it eliciting a massive creak as you do so. The rowdy laughter ceased entirely as the sound of ancient hinges spread throughout the house. Upon entering, your footsteps echoed lightly in the perverse imitation of the front hallway, and you winced with each step you took in the oppressive silence. The parlor, as you found upon approaching it, was full of malicious-looking people sitting on barstools, playing some sort of game with cards covered in rune-like lettering. You found yourself pressing your wings against your back carefully as you looked over them, instinctively not wanting to show them to the frightening crowd. They sported different wings than yours, all of them a greasy black, feathery sort of wing one saw on vultures and buzzards, as if they had been drenched in the oily substance coating the walls. They froze as you looked at them, and then erupted into more laughter.

“Who are you, kid? You’re awful pretty, aren’t you? Did you get lost?” one of them asks, a man with scary eyes and a gaunt face. Alarmed, you step back only to slip in a puddle of the enigmatic liquid and fall to the ground, shaking.

“Aw, the kid’s scared,” a woman with an eyepatch says. Her long hair is as inky as her wings, and her voice deep and smooth. You struggle to stand up and try to wipe the black goo you’d fallen into off of your skin and clothes. It sticks to your hand and you shake it miserably, trying to release the shadowy material’s hold on you.

“Hey, what’re you shaking your hand like that for, kid? Don’t tell me…” yet another man begins, one sitting behind the bar, stout and muscular with a grizzly beard. When he moves his hand you see the oily substance sticking to the counter stick to it, and shake your hand harder in an attempt to get it off. The malevolent, curious people laugh at first but then get quiet as a cloaked man stands from a seat in the corner. His hood covers his face, and he is impossibly tall, huge wings showing behind him, dripping with the oily goo covering everything.

“You can see the Shadows?” he asks you, and you look at him quizzically, finally flinging your hand hard enough that most of the shadow-oil flies off of it.

“The blackness, child! You can see the blackness, yes?” he asks, and you reckon he is speaking of the shadowy slime everywhere. You tentatively nod, still keeping your wings pressed as close to your back as you can to prevent them from being seen.

Whispers erupt at your affirmation of the cloaked man’s statement, and you shudder. The vulture-winged people’s voices are shocked and amazed, but they seem to be uttered all at once, so you can’t distinguish words from the stream of raspy, hushed sentences.

The cloaked man holds up a hand, and the room falls silent. “You are the Shadowseer! You have the Curse! You are the Cursed One!” he proclaims. “Your eye… Give us your eye, child!” he screeches, and all of the winged people stand at once, their sharp fingernails dripping with the Shadows. They rush at you, a constant stream of greasy hair and feathers, and you turn tail and flee.

“The wings! The child has the wings!” the woman who spoke earlier yells, her once sensuous voice now a throaty growl. Someone pulls at your feet as you run up the stairs, the mass of vulture-people following you closely. You tug your leg away and desperately run faster, managing to evade your pursuers only because you know where you are going. Taking the stairs to the next floor, and finally the attic, you gain just enough time to realize, upon standing before the attic skylight, that you have approached a dead end.

Oh God no please please no Jack I have to find Jack I can’t stop here I can’t I can’t, you think as you spin around, the herd of twisted vulture-people storming up after you, growing ever closer by the millisecond. You panic, tears beginning to flow down your face. These creatures will end you, and they mean to. Even without the possibility of death looming before you, the pain they can chain you with is terrifying enough. At the last second, you take the one exit you have: the skylight.

Breaking through the glass hurts. Your arms tear, searing pain flying through them as you step out onto the roof. The curling shingles are covered in the Shadows, and you stumble and slip on them as you ascend to the peak of the house. Watching them come up from beneath you, surrounding you on all sides with their greasy feathers and sharp nails and leering grins is horrifying, and you whimper in fear as they approach. The only way out is to jump, and after your earlier experience with jumping from a great height, you know you will probably end up lying on the ground writhing in pain while the shadow-creatures take your eye and your wings. But they come ever closer every second, and you have no other option but to try. It’s your will to find Jack, to find him that saves you. It gives you the courage you need to jump, spread your wings, and force yourself to fall. You make it over the mass of your pursuers, but it is only an elongated jump; you hit the slippery Shadows on the roof and slide down, scrambling for a foothold until there is no more roof and only empty space below you. Your only thoughts as you begin your freefall are that in real life, your house was not nearly so tall as it is here, and that this parallel universe is more horrifying than you could ever have imagined.

The Ethereal World: Part Two

            You don’t know exactly what you had expected, but you know that whatever it was, it was not what actually happened. You know that there had been some fear of pain when you had jumped from the tower, some notion that this would not be an easy way to change worlds, but right as the panic had begun to settle in your heart, you felt a huge tug on your shoulder blades, and a rending pain as you passed to another realm. Only, the new world wasn’t entirely different than the one you had been in before. You could see the spot where you should have landed minutes before, the grass on the once-green hillside now a monotonous gray, the body that should have been there completely nonexistent, and then your feet, suspended above the spot of your death. That was when the realization that you were floating kicked in. You excitedly spun around, awkwardly attempting to maneuver one of the wings you could now feel in your shoulder blades into view. It took you a while to figure this out, and required an awful lot of uncomfortable falls to the ground and unfamiliar motions to be able to do something as simple as curl your wings into a viewable position. It occurred to you, as you looked over your left shoulder, that this entire world was in grayscale and monochrome. For when you looked at your arm, it did not have the pink, fleshy glow it once did, and the sky was not blue but a pale, ashy color. And the sun was not there, the sky instead a huge collection of dusty stars.

            Moving your gaze from your shoulder to your left wing, however, you noticed that it was a brilliant angel’s wing, a radiant white with the purest of feathers. It alone shone brighter than the sunless sky above, which harbored only millions of milky stars, with no moons or planets to guide them. Your right wing was an entirely different story. It was a bat’s wing, the wing of a devilish demon, a wing that was leathery and hideous, a mix of grays and blacks. You were two things at once, beautiful and ugly. Your physical body was still the same, as far as you could tell, but what you could see of your wings was frightening. Your left side was beautiful, the innocence that you had possessed before Jack’s death. The innocence you still possessed, and that you had always had in you but never given second thought to. You were only a child, after all. What could you do?

            But you had done it, you had killed yourself. You had committed the gravest of sins. And retribution would likely follow you. Your right wing would serve as a constant reminder of this fact.

            It couldn’t stop you, though. You would follow your goals and find Jack, no matter what it took. Even if you were followed by the darkest spirit in this strange, monochrome world, you would find Jack. If only to tell him how much you had missed him, how your heart had fallen apart after he left.

            Picking yourself up from the ground, you testily flexed your wings. Walking would likely be easier, but you wanted to know exactly where you were. The watch tower you had jumped from was still present, looming over you like a malevolent bit of memorabilia commemorating the one thing you’d ever done that had brought you the most sadness. Sadness, yes, but not regret.

            You climbed up the hill beside you, using only your grounded limbs. You still couldn’t move your wings correctly. You figured that if you ran and jumped from the hill, experimenting with the new muscles attached to your shoulder blades, you could get some lift. After all, it had to be natural for the denizens of this world.

            That thought made you halt your plan, however. For you had no proof there were any denizens in this strange parallel world at all. Perhaps you were completely alone, and you would not be able to find Jack. Perhaps he was not here.

            You shook your head at the thought. There was no way that you were entirely alone in this place. You would not give up hope.

            You finally managed to ascend to the top of the grassy hill and stood atop it feeling a new determination. Hope was not lost. You would reach your ultimate goal and find what you had lost. What had been stolen from you.

            You charged at the edge of the hill, leaping out from its surface as it began to curve downward, forcing the awkward new muscles in your back to cooperate. But your efforts made little difference, and you began to fall towards the ground. Thoughts of Icarus sprung into your head as you fell, and you felt a sudden connection with the mythological character. It was funny; you’d always thought of him as being an idiot, disregarding what was obviously well-intended advice from his father. But he had only wanted to set his goals higher. To do something that had never been done before. Perhaps you, like Icarus, had done too much, crossed the line one step too far, and were now going to die from your foolishness. In the spirit world, however, death was not to be had. You eventually just smacked into the ground, pain shooting through your legs, your wings crumpling beneath you as you fell onto the ground at the bottom of the hill. It was all you could do to keep from screaming as you lay for an immeasurable amount of time on the washed-out grass, feeling nothing but the sensation of pain while your body healed itself.

            You concluded that while you could not die here, you could still suffer injury. Thankfully, your body did manage to heal itself, though the process was similar to drowning in an ocean of fiery, burning pain.

            You also found out that spirits didn’t need sleep, and that you therefore could not escape the pain of reality by letting yourself fade into the realm of dreams. You would instead lay and endure the torture.

            After some time, you made the attempt to stand. Your useless wings were still as awkward as ever, with their opposite appearances. You took a while and forced them to fold against your back. Your legs were achy, but useable. You made the climb up the hill once more and looked back towards where your house would have been. If this world was truly as parallel as it seemed, then you would surely be able to find something there that would lead you to Jack. Perhaps he was there now, even, waiting for you to come home.

            With this idealistic but joyful thought in your mind, you began the trek to where your house ought to have stood. Every once in a while you would pause, thinking you had seen a stripe of motion blur through the grass. But whenever you stopped to look, there was no one beside you.

            The walk home was much shorter than the walk to the tower had been, it seemed, and you found yourself bounding through the rampant long stalks of grass that covered the fields behind the manor. When you reached your home, however, you immediately felt that it was different.

            For there were no servants attending to your mother, no dogs barking or carriage drivers delivering packages. Instead, there was only a twisted imitation of your house and the raucous laughter that emanated from within it. While your house had always been a prim, proper manor, with white-washed wooden walls and a large front porch with welcoming rocking chairs, the house you stood before now was dilapidated, with a gooey, black substance covering part of it, and the wooden boards rotting away. The wicker chairs on the front porch were missing cushions and had holes through their seats, and the mysterious, dark substance clinging to the boards of the house also dripped from the ceiling. Aside from all of that, the windows were broken, the shingles on the roof curling, and the front door had been replaced by the sort of door one might see in the entrance to a saloon, with the two wooden boards attached to hinges that creaked in the wind.

You cautiously push open the door, it eliciting a massive creak as you do so. The rowdy laughter ceased entirely as the sound of ancient hinges spread throughout the house. Upon entering, your footsteps echoed lightly in the perverse imitation of the front hallway, and you winced with each step you took in the oppressive silence. The parlor, as you found upon approaching it, was full of malicious-looking people sitting on barstools, playing some sort of game with cards covered in rune-like lettering. You found yourself pressing your wings against your back carefully as you looked over them, instinctively not wanting to show them to the frightening crowd. They sported different wings than yours, all of them a greasy black, feathery sort of wing one saw on vultures and buzzards, as if they had been drenched in the oily substance coating the walls. They froze as you looked at them, and then erupted into more laughter.

“Who are you, kid? You’re awful pretty, aren’t you? Did you get lost?” one of them asks, a man with scary eyes and a gaunt face. Alarmed, you step back only to slip in a puddle of the enigmatic liquid and fall to the ground, shaking.

“Aw, the kid’s scared,” a woman with an eyepatch says. Her long hair is as inky as her wings, and her voice deep and smooth. You struggle to stand up and try to wipe the black goo you’d fallen into off of your skin and clothes. It sticks to your hand and you shake it miserably, trying to release the shadowy material’s hold on you.

“Hey, what’re you shaking your hand like that for, kid? Don’t tell me…” yet another man begins, one sitting behind the bar, stout and muscular with a grizzly beard. When he moves his hand you see the oily substance sticking to the counter stick to it, and shake your hand harder in an attempt to get it off. The malevolent, curious people laugh at first but then get quiet as a cloaked man stands from a seat in the corner. His hood covers his face, and he is impossibly tall, huge wings showing behind him, dripping with the oily goo covering everything.

“You can see the Shadows?” he asks you, and you look at him quizzically, finally flinging your hand hard enough that most of the shadow-oil flies off of it.

“The blackness, child! You can see the blackness, yes?” he asks, and you reckon he is speaking of the shadowy slime everywhere. You tentatively nod, still keeping your wings pressed as close to your back as you can to prevent them from being seen.

Whispers erupt at your affirmation of the cloaked man’s statement, and you shudder. The vulture-winged people’s voices are shocked and amazed, but they seem to be uttered all at once, so you can’t distinguish words from the stream of raspy, hushed sentences.

The cloaked man holds up a hand, and the room falls silent. “You are the Shadowseer! You have the Curse! You are the Cursed One!” he proclaims. “Your eye… Give us your eye, child!” he screeches, and all of the winged people stand at once, their sharp fingernails dripping with the Shadows. They rush at you, a constant stream of greasy hair and feathers, and you turn tail and flee.

“The wings! The child has the wings!” the woman who spoke earlier yells, her once sensuous voice now a throaty growl. Someone pulls at your feet as you run up the stairs, the mass of vulture-people following you closely. You tug your leg away and desperately run faster, managing to evade your pursuers because you knew where you were going. Taking the stairs to the next floor, and finally the attic, you gained just enough time to realize, upon standing before the attic skylight, that you had approached a dead end.

Oh God no please please no Jack I have to find Jack I can’t stop here I can’t I can’t, you think as you spin around, the herd of twisted vulture-people storming up after you, growing ever closer by the millisecond. You panic, tears beginning to flow down your face. These creatures will end you, and they mean to. Even without the possibility of death looming before you, the pain they can chain you with is terrifying enough. At the last second, you take the one exit you have: the skylight.

Breaking through the glass hurts. Your arms tear, searing pain flying through them as you step out onto the roof. The curling shingles are covered in the Shadows, and you stumble and slip on them as you ascend to the peak of the house. Watching them come up from beneath you, surrounding you on all sides with their greasy feathers and sharp nails and leering grins is horrifying, and you whimper in fear as they approach. The only way out is to jump, and after your earlier experience with jumping from a great height, you know you will probably end up lying on the ground writhing in pain while the shadow-creatures take your eye and your wings. But they come ever closer every second, and you have no other option but to try. It’s your will to find Jack, to find him that saves you. It gives you the courage you need to jump, spread your wings, and force yourself to fall. You make it over the mass of your pursuers, but it is only an elongated jump; you hit the slippery Shadows on the roof and slide down, scrambling for a foothold until there is no more roof and only empty space below you. Your only thoughts as you begin your freefall are that in real life, your house was not nearly so tall as it is here, and that this parallel universe is more horrifying than you could ever have imagined.

The Ethereal World: Part One

 You lay on your bed in your sunlit, white room, the blankets warm beneath your back from the incessant stream of summer sun pouring through the window. The windows were opened, and the sheer curtains billowed with the breeze. The ceiling fan spun lazily around its axis, not really helping to cool your bedroom at all, instead just wasting the precious, expensive electricity. Not that it mattered. After all, you wouldn’t be using this room anymore. Not after you managed to do what you should have done when Jack first died.

            When you’d been told, you hadn’t believed it. Your mother had had to assure you as tears streamed down your face that it wasn’t a sick joke. That Jack– your precious Jack– had died. She said it had been Influenza that took him, coming to him in the day and swiftly stealing his soul away in the night. You had never heard of this ‘Influenza’, and had called her a liar as you ran from the room, not caring what the consequences of your audacity would be. For hours you had searched for him– for your Jack. You ran through the fields, searched the stables, questioned the servants, and finally stood on top of the hill overlooking the pastures and screamed, collapsing on the ground in a heap of innocent tears. He wasn’t supposed to be dead. Any minute now, Jack would come up behind you and look at you with his bright, lazy smile, asking you why you were so distressed.

            Needless to say, Jack had never come. When your eyes couldn’t cry any longer and you’d found the courage to speak with your mother once more, you had proceeded to do so. When she’s heard you enter the room she’d turned on you with the stony, silent glare that she had mastered and reserved for lectures. Upon seeing your face, red and blotchy from all the tears, however, she’d just pulled you to her, your face buried in her dress as you sobbed, your eyes somehow conjuring up more water to pour down your rounded cheeks.

            Finally you asked her, “Where has Jack gone? Where do I have to go to see him?”

            “You can’t see him. Not for a very long time, at least. He’s in heaven now, with Our Father, who will protect him,” your mother says. You once upon a time believed in God. You believed with all of your heart that he was a loving, caring deity who existed to protect those who had faith in him. You didn’t have the heart to believe in him anymore, but you didn’t have the heart to tell your mother this.

            “When I die, can I see him?” you ask your mother hopefully. She looks at you with her sad, worn eyes when you ask this.

            “We can all see our deceased loved ones after our own death. It is only a matter of time, and then we will all be with the Father in heaven,” she tells you, and you nod, knowing she is thinking of your father.

            After you walk away from her room you go outside, the summer breeze kissing your face and pulling at your hair. The smell of the fields, with the long stalks of wheat and grass, only bring back more memories of Jack. The time when you first met him, when you were six and he was older, maybe eight or nine, plays in your head as if it was only yesterday that it had happened. Your mother had been holding your hand, leading you up on top of the big hill where she wanted to sit, because it was a nice day and the sun shone while the wind blew. It had been a day very much like today was. And on top of the hill had stood Jack, with his windswept, messy chestnut hair and dark, wet eyes. He had a toothy grin, lazy and wide.

“Jack, is there a reason that you’re standing around on top of the hill and not doing your work?” your mother had asked.

            “I don’t have any work to do, ma’am. I already fed the horses this morning,” he replied. You remember hiding behind your mother’s skirts, looking at him abashedly with your wide, childish eyes.

            “I’m sure I could find something for you to do.” Your mother said, only half joking. You pulled on her skirts and pointed at the unfamiliar boy in earnest, hoping that your mother would tell you who he was.

            “Oh, you want to know who he is,” she guessed accurately. I suppose I’ll let him stay and eat with us, then. Is that alright?” she had asked, and you had nodded eagerly.

            “Jack, come here for a moment,” your mother had beckoned, and Jack had come up to her, walking with a lanky grace that didn’t fit his childish body.

            Your mother had deftly stepped behind you and pushed you towards the boy. “This is Jack. He’s the stable boy, but that doesn’t mean you get to order him around,” she had said. You remember bashfully looking at the ground, as if not wanting to show your face to the stranger, when Jack had squatted down so that his face was lower than yours was and flashed you one of his smiles. You recall being taken aback at his unconditional kindness– something you hadn’t ever gotten from the other servants– and smiling back, your face breaking into the cherubic smile that had been hidden ever since your father’s death. Your mother had, at that point, lifted the corners of her tightened lips in a smile as well, and had accepted, from that point on, that you and Jack would be inseparable.

            You had even gone so far as to slip out of your room to visit the stables where Jack slept in a pile of hay to visit him in the dead of night as you’d grown up and learned how to open the windows. Your mother had lectured you time and time again when she caught you on these excursions, sleeping next to the boy who had been the being your life revolved around ever since the earliest stages of your childhood.

            He had only been barely fourteen when the Influenza took him. And you, three years his junior, did not grasp the fact that he was truly gone.

            A dog barked in the distance, a loud, sharp sound, and you were awakened from your reverie. You brushed away the tears brimming in your eyes with a wet, salty, tear-coated hand and stood up. You were stronger than this. You would find a way to see Jack again.

            For the next few weeks you trudged through the slough of chores that lay ahead of you, taking care of the jobs that Jack had once done. You had accompanied him on these tasks many times, and you were well aware of the steps that needed to be taken to complete each and every tedious one. When Jack had been around to help you, they had not taken nearly so long. Now you were merely alone.

            And every night as you lay in your white bedroom, your mother’s words would ring in your head, saying that we can all see our deceased loved ones after our own death. You were aware of this; it had been taught to you in many a scripture, the concept of heaven. Of the place after death where everything was happy, and there was nothing to worry about. Your thoughts of Jack only brought more tears to your eyes. You had managed to convince yourself, during the daytime, that he was only on an extended vacation and would be back eventually. At nighttime, however, this façade fell to pieces and you were left crying on your bed. It was a painful thing to think of, the death of your best friend, your role model, the one person who you had always cared for more than any other, and you still hadn’t quite managed to wrap your head around it. Hence all the pretenses during the day. Because you knew that if your mother were to see that you were so weak as to stay up for nights on end crying over someone who, to her, had been nothing but a servant, you would be lectured, and more tears would be shed, and you did not want to shed tears for anyone but your dead friend.

            She had already given you the conversation that was supposed to have been comforting. She had said, in essence, that while you and Jack had been great friends in his lifetime, he was with God now and that you would see him in time. You knew that what she really meant was that if you didn’t get over his death you would be punished. But what stuck with you was the feeling of déjà-vu that her comment on how you would see him in time was so similar to her earlier comment, that we can all see our deceased loved ones after our own death. It was after this that you had begun to contemplate the possibility of dying. At first, it had been a small, nagging notion in the back of your head, a possibility, and nothing more. But after days had passed and Jack’s death had been left for a month, you found that the possibility grew bigger. For every day you spent without Jack tore the hole in your heart ever bigger.

            Eventually, it became almost unbearable. And so you began to formulate plans for your own death.

            You had heard before that killing yourself was called ‘suicide’ and was a sin, but you didn’t believe in God anyways and weren’t so affected by this. It was the mere notion that you could see Jack again that spurred you on. It was all you could think about, and soon your nightly remembrance sessions became the time when you would sit on the window-seat and think about how you would go about committing the sin that would reunite you with the one person who had ever truly cared for you.

            Your mind protested as you considered Jack as thus; for your mother cared for you, did she not? But after scanning your memories for some proof of this, you came up with nothing but the dull pain inside your heart that told you she had never cared for you, but only for your father, who you reminded her of. You would have no regrets for leaving her, because if she could tell you so easily to move on from your friend’s death, then surely she could force herself to do the same of your father’s death. It had always affected her, and perhaps if you were to really, truly die, she would be free from his haunting memory to smile again. Perhaps she would meet someone who could save her, as Jack had saved you.

            At the very least, you tried to convince yourself that your theory was reality. You were exceptionally good at lying to yourself, a skill that you had used time and time again as a way of getting out of hard times and bad memories. In fact, it was the very skill that had allowed you to carry on after Jack’s death for the month that you had. But you were going to end that pain. You were going to stop the lies, stop the pretending, and go to find him in the place souls went after life. With visions of Jack in your mind, you finally fell asleep on the window-seat, the servants berating you for it when morning came, spurring on your determination for suicide.

            It turned out to be far more difficult a thing to manage than you had thought, however. There were many ways you had read of to die– by water, by fire, by gunshot or being run over by a carriage, but none of these ways seemed exceptionally easy. You were afraid of the pain that any of these things would bring you. It took days more than you had planned to come up with something that you could feasibly do. And then it came to you: You would fall.

            Falling seemed effortless enough a way to go, giving yourself over to a rush of air to gently lay you to rest. Your young mind did not comprehend the scientific complexities of death by falling, and you had, as any child would, greatly sugarcoated what you knew would be painful. It was another fashion of a lie told to yourself, and you, as always, believed it.

            The problem then became where you would fall from, as even the roof of your house was not all too far from the ground. You went walking through the pastures and the fields idly dreaming up morbid possibilities until it finally came to you: The old watch tower.

            It was a tall, stone building, a crumbling staircase spiraling up it. The tower faced over the side of a hill, and the drop was exceedingly high. You had always been too terrified to climb it, even when Jack had showed it to you, but now your fears had dissipated. You would climb the ruined tower. You would fear nothing, and then you would be closer to Jack.

            After making it to the top of the tall tower, you paused, looking over the hugely long cliff, feeling the summer breeze urge you to jump, but as you looked down nausea overcame you– partially because of the dizzying distance between you and the ground, and partially because of your intense self-loathing for being afraid to do what had to be done in order to see Jack.

            After an hour of intense contemplation, the irrational fear of death drove you back home to your bedroom, where you lay on your bed, waiting for morning, so you could try again. You were awakened by the soft sunlight, and you silently bid good-bye to the place where you had spent your childhood. Your recent ponderings of death had matured you, your understanding of things you had previously been unaware of had aged you. You felt ready to take the challenge the watch tower proposed today.

            Before you left for the day’s adventures you had given your mother a hug, appreciative of her regardless of whether or not her love for you as an individual was real or not. She seemed to notice that something was off, that your kindness was tinged with sadness, but she held her tongue, a mite too trusting of you.

            And so, with no regrets to be had, you once again made your way out to the old, ruined stone tower, the sun beaming down onto your back, completely free from any cloud cover, with the summer breeze ruffling your hair. You looked over the dizzying downward drop that the watchtower portrayed before you, and, gathering up your courage and your pride, forced yourself to leap from the tower. Your clothes rippled as the air rushed past them in your descent, and you felt as if there were a huge weight on your chest, for though you tried to breathe, the air was too quickly gone for you to gather any of it in your throat. You manage to get one glimpse of the ground before you, one flash of life, of memories, that pass before your eyes, your mind resting on Jack’s face as you feel death approaching.