Fade to Gray

by sharilyn

Song Lyrics from Fade to Gray by Jars of Clay


Oh, it's not hard to know what you're thinking
When you look down on me now
Your trance of love is seeking
To turn this world around
But in my state of blind confusion 
No god can pull me out
I see your love is willing
To turn me inside out...

It's morning. It's in my head, morning, and morning is the light, so bright, burning inside my eyes; it's the sound in my mind, yes, my own mind...what is MIND? I know this, I know it--! Mind is liquid, is NOW, is inside...HERE...No, no, there is only the NOTHING, the EMPTY, that's all, not real, nothing is real, it all went away, I made it go away. And Jim went, too, so far away. Easy, after that, to fall into the black, into nowhere.

But there is SOMETHING now, not NOTHING; nowhere has become HERE, and it is HERE that I feel it, feel the light, feel morning, know touch and sight and scent, as well...And this is me, isn't it; am I someone? Am I real again, in this moment? I don't like this, I don't like this at all, not one little bit...I remember FEAR and HURT and ALONE, from when the monster came--I know it came because it bit into my brain with its sharp, hurting teeth, and it covered my mouth with black velvet and no air, and everything died...Blair died and Jim died, and it was me, all me...oh did I do it, did I kill him?...Was I the monster, the sharp teeth ripping into Jim, tearing him apart? But Jim said NO--here, I'm still here, he said, he SCREAMED the words to me across the blackness--but the EMPTY came, anyway, and there is no coming back from that, no coming back, EVER...But now I'm waking up, now all that was gone is HERE, I am here and the mists inside my mind are clearing, fading, and all around the light is golden. And I think I'm coming back, I think--yes, I THINK...and I am. I AM back. I'm back in the safe place, back in the house, and within its walls much of the darkness that lives inside my skin oozes out through my pores, sliding silently back to the NOTHING. I can see and feel my body again, and sluggish thoughts tremble on the tip of my tongue.

I look down now, and in my hands I see a familiar object: a book, the binding worn and supple, with a soft leather cover in a faded shade of red that seems to radiate a strange warmth into my fingers where they clutch it.This is mine, I think dazedly, focusing on the small gold letters etched into the lower right-hand corner of the book. Blair. Blair Sandburg, that's what the letters spell; this is my journal--my own private thoughts permanently recorded between these oft-handled covers. But at this moment I find that I'm afraid to open it, afraid to thumb through its thick, cream-colored vellum pages and read...what?

I vaguely remember writing on these pages, can still hear inside my head the very faint scritching noise of pen against parchment, can rub my thumb at this instant against the rough callus on the third finger of my right hand, tracing the hard knob of accumulated skin created there over a lifetime of clutching an endless series of writing implements and scribbling, always scribbling--reams and reams of thoughts and notions, of facts and observations and far-flung speculations. And I wonder now, almost fearfully, if they are all here now, within this book, all the things I've ever thought and known and felt and suddenly can't remember. If I dare to open this journal to the first page--dare to drop my gaze to the lines of dark cursive meandering thickly down the length of each parchment leaf--will I then learn the TRUTH of all of this? Will I know why the NOTHING came and Jim went away and Time stopped and then...and then it started up again, just now, one sharp breath ago, here in this morning room, here in all this light and warmth--God, so warm...

I don't want to look, don't want to witness with my own eyes the merciless record of things I've apparently tried so very hard to forget; I don't want to remember the time that was THEN, to realize that yes, I am alone here and always will be, that no voice but my own will ever speak aloud again within these walls. I don't want to read, in my own familiar scrawl, the harsh syllables spelling out my damnation...and Jim's. Better just to toss the journal down, better to accept without question my sudden, startling reappearance here in this room on this sunny morning, my body--my soul?--somehow transported back here from the land of NOWHERE, from the great EMPTY.

Disoriented, shaking, I stand in a patch of buttery sunlight and argue with the voice inside my head, the one that's telling me to put the book down, to move over to the colorful, jumping figures on the...what is it called, dammit, I KNOW this!...the tv. Yes, the tv. Just put the book down and watch cartoons, the voice orders; don't ask questions, don't try to figure out where the darkness took you, who you were while you were gone or IF you were at all. This journal is not for you, never again for you, nothing but pain inside, nothing more than unremitting horror...

The taste of bread and honey lingers in my mouth, backed by the faintly acidic tang of some kind of fruit juice; I know of these things somehow, can recognize and categorize specific sensations still clinging to my tongue. I can THINK in words that are...complicated. I hear them in my head, in the place that still remembers Blair and knows that he is me. But I don't know what day it is, what YEAR it is; I don't know the names of many of the objects surrounding me here in this room, don't know how I got here or where I was for such a long time when I wasn't here. I've been away for so long, I think sadly now, the realization rattling loosely around in my brain before turning suddenly sharp and cold and bleakly terrifying. For eons I've wandered, lost and alone and trapped in the hopeless silence of the damned, of those who know no one can hear them, that there's no one left to listen or respond. I sense that my mind was different once upon a time; here in this morning place I can dimly grasp memories of light and life and of knowing--oh, so many things! I knew things, I did; I was all the way here, all the way me, all the time...and Jim was here. He was with me, warm and alive, and I could touch him, speak to him, feel his hands on me, feel him all around me, loving me...

No, that isn't right; it isn't true. He was never HERE, not in this morning room, not in this NOW place. Jim was BEFORE, he lives back there still, locked away somewhere in another room, back at the loft...yes, that's where he lives, where he's still waiting for me, but he doesn't know that he's dead NOW. He can't see it yet; he got left behind, and he can't be here in the NOW, can't cross that line because then he will die all over again, over and over again...If he opens the mystery door, if he tries to find me, his THEN will become NOW, and NOW he isn't here, not at all. I don't want this, don't want him all alone back in the THEN, waiting, grieving because I got lost; but I couldn't make it stop. The red ran from my ears, it streamed from my head and blinded my eyes that day, when the monster came and chewed a hole through my skull and most of me dribbled out, ran in a thin trickle down into the cracks between time until the EMPTY scooped up what was left and wouldn't let it end, wouldn't let me be all the way GONE. I'm a puzzle now with pieces missing, a corner lost here, an edge forever frayed and crumpled there; and the most important middle parts are scattered willy-nilly across TIME, chunks of me lost in the NOTHING and never to be found, ever...Only some of me is here now, just the parts that know morning and tv and the fragments that can remember the taste of bread and sorrow and the color of Jim's eyes. The rest of me is inside the monster, swallowed up by the DARK that never ends; and when the parts of me that are left look down now at the book in my hands, I try hard to think what might be inside and can only remember what it is to feel afraid.

Put it down-put it down-put it down!! the voice in my head hisses, and the book suddenly feels hot, red-hot and burning in my grasp; but I can't put it down, I can't uncurl my fingers from the binding or stop the low, sick noise that I know is coming from me only because I feel it in my throat, feel the pathetic, frightened creature that makes that sound trying to claw its way now, up and up from deep within my chest. I can feel my body vibrating in all its many parts from the force of that noise, and I am confused, wondering how my body can be here and yet how parts of me still feel GONE, still feel so broken...If I read the book I'll know, the book will show me how the monster caught me unaware and how I killed Jim because I couldn't let the monster have him, too...

No; you never killed him, that voice--that damned, LYING voice!--whispers in my mind, and it hurts, it's like a thousand white-hot needles in my brain, digging down through my skull into the soft pulp of my eyeballs; and I try to yell NO!, try to send the voice away, but the noise in my throat chokes me, fills me and echoes in the morning room so loud, so ugly...Jim died, Jim's gone, Jim's alive but not alive HERE. I kept him safe, back in the THEN, back at the loft, he's safe and it's morning HERE and morning tastes like oranges and feels like soft leather brushing against my hands...

Looking down, I see that my fingers have opened the journal when I wasn't paying attention, knuckles bending furtively to pry apart the pages, each digit moving so quietly beneath the sound snared in my throat that I barely realized any action was taking place. And now the rows of black words--so many, many words--glare up at me brazenly, crowding in cramped lines across a once-clean page...a page now ink-smudged by one guilty thumb. Suddenly the smudge is all I can see, the only thing my agitated mind can fasten on; like ebony blood smeared over bone-white skin, the messy trail of ink on the paper has blotted out fully half the words in one row, rendering them illegible and destroying the symmetry of the remaining lines of writing.

Unaccountably disturbed by my own act of accidental vandalism, I catch myself vigorously rubbing my ink-stained thumb against my thigh, desperate to wipe away the proof of my transgression; the hand still holding the journal begins to tremble uncontrollably, and I watch in helpless anguish as the book slides through my fingers to thud gracelessly to the carpeted floor.

No, I think hopelessly; no. Because I can already feel it leaving me now, this laboriously constructed zone of focus that might help me to decipher the words in that book and make some kind of sense of them. As my tortured gaze remains riveted on the sight of the journal lying on the rug, its spine jutting sharply up like the broken back of some small, hapless animal, I can feel the NOTHING closing in on me again, its ceaselessly whispering voice urging me back into the endless darkness, far from morning and tv and the sudden, confusing, false memory of eating breakfast in a sunny kitchen with Jim and...someone else.

No. Jim isn't HERE, I know that; no one else is HERE, either, no one but me. I know that this is MY house, MY refuge--this place protects me and watches over me, always welcoming me back from the NOTHING for as long as I can cling to the NOW. And I don't need a book to tell me what I know already, don't need to do anything now but sit near the tv and wait for the peace inside these walls to settle down around me, as gentle and as comforting as a warm blanket.

Yes, go to the tv. Cartoons are good, cartoons make light and noise and colors that mesmerize the mind...and sometimes there are ghosts of actual people on the screen in between, smiling ultra-white smiles and sharing tips for fresher breath and the relief of heartburn to all the empty, empty rooms where there's no one left to listen. And right now the voice in my head is speaking: Leave the journal lying there, its pages crumpled and forlorn; press two shaky fingers to the ache behind your eyes and make it all go away. You are only pieces, after all, just fragments, dull gray slivers of a broken thing edged all around with black, with nothing. And this house is an illusion, a fragile bubble of comforting light in an endless sea of darkness. Unlike the voice in my head, the house makes no judgments but merely folds itself around me now as my eyes slide furtively from my empty hands to the tv to that book...to that BOOK...the one still lying in the floor, mutely begging to be read, to be held as I have not been held in so very long. But I will not look at it again, will not pick it up; there are other things to think about, other sights to see. Easy things, calming things that don't make my heart jump and jitter and leave this sick, trembling emptiness to gnaw at my insides like a starving beast.

The sun feels warm on my face now, warm on my shoulders, too, and I realize that I am standing before the window, looking out--out onto the neat green lawn stretching away from the house, out into the blue, blue sky with no clouds. I wish I could share with someone how nice the view is and how good it makes me feel to see it, after being in the NOTHING for so long. I wish Jim was here with me, wish it so strongly that for a brief moment I can almost SEE him standing next to me, one arm thrown lazily across my shoulders and a faint grin on his face as he listens with amused patience to me waxing eloquent about the beauty of the world outside...Reflexively I slide my eyes to the side, my gaze moving away from the window to the empty space next to me; and even though I already know that Jim isn't here, the noiseless vacuum of his absence still tears at my soul, forming a cold, black void that seems to suck all the air from the room around me.

Suddenly I don't want to be here in this comfortable house, staring out on a world I am no longer a part of, hiding within a series of pleasant rooms made lifeless and sterile by the absence of everyone I've ever cared about. Nameless faces drift behind my eyes now as I close my gaze to the quiet room around me and try to concentrate--try until my head aches--to remember whose faces these are and how I once knew them. All of them were important to me, this much I know; but only two of the faces spinning and wavering so dizzily inside my mind now are still possessed of names, their ghosts still burdened with the semi-lucid roles they intermittently play in my swiss-cheesed memory. Only these two remain truly alive within the battered depths of my soul, their essences burned so thoroughly into the core of me that no force can ever remove them--or the numbing pain that crashes through me each time I realize what I've lost.

I will always know their names, will always carry within me some phantom portion of their souls; their features remain indelibly imprinted into the deep places in my brain that the monster couldn't reach. I know the face--the soul--of Naomi, my mother, and of Jim...oh, God, Jim. I don't want to think about him now, and almost eagerly I concentrate on calling up the beautiful visage of my mother, focusing on her life force, her energy still bubbling somewhere inside me. I misplace Naomi sometimes in the dusty corridors of my mind--for ages she's little more than a shadow whispering, holding stubbornly to that part of me that can never let her go. But then her face comes back to me, so clear, and in those moments I wonder what's happened to her, what terrible fate must have befallen her to keep her from coming to visit me. She was always going away, always somewhere else; but if ever I truly needed her, she was there for me. She loved me, I know she loved me. And so I think now that she must be dead, too, as dead and gone as Jim...and the realization that I've lost her and for so long didn't even remember it, fills my eyes with scalding tears.

Jim! I want to cry out now on a surge of guilt and anguish; Jim, why didn't you TELL me my mother is dead?! But Jim doesn't answer, Jim has gone with my mother to that Place of No Coming Back, behind the tall doors that shut me out and will not let me enter, not even just to leave a message...

A message. Suddenly my heart begins to pound inside my chest, every beat thudding loudly in my ears as I spin around and frantically scan the morning room with wild eyes, desperate to find it again. The book, the book...where is it? WHERE? It has to be here, still here in the NOW, still waiting for me to delve into its pages and discover all the knowledge my half-devoured brain gave up to the belly of the monster.

There; it's still there, lying just where I dropped it earlier, one page crumpled in mute testimony to my carelessness. With unsteady hands I retrieve the journal from the floor, gingerly trying to smooth the wrinkled, ink-smeared page as my eyes track the vaguely familiar penmanship scrawled across it. I need to read this, I think to myself with a growing sense of urgency, one finger tracing over the words that ripple before my eyes in mysteriously crafted curls of letters--letters that flow and merge to form sounds, words, meanings far beyond my fragmented brain's meager ability to comprehend. As I stare down at the foreign-looking symbols scribbled by a different Blair, by the one from the THEN, I can feel the bitter hopelessness of utter failure rising inside me at the dawning realization that I'm unable to access these words that might give me back the lost pieces of myself.

I can't read. Oh, God, I don't know how to read...The horror of it washes over me now, ripping apart the thin illusion of peace and warmth and safety that so often falls over me within these walls; and as my entire body begins to shake in the grip of the mounting terror inside my chest, I can hear the NOTHING howling triumphantly at my back, tugging with its icy fingers at the last, desperate dregs of hope and memory and self-awareness still floundering somewhere in my head.

No! I scream inside the prison of my mind, my hands stubbornly clutching the traitorous journal to my chest even as my soul shrieks at me to let it go, to let it fall again, to forget...No, no, no--I can read, I CAN, this is just a trick, just some sick joke I've unknowingly played on myself while being trapped here for so long, so all alone...Who can read it now, who can tell me what secrets lie inside this worn red cover? I'm the only one who KNEW, once upon a time, exactly what these indecipherable scratches signified.

But now the words mean nothing, reveal nothing; now this book is just another barrier set against me to keep me lost, to draw me back to unending darkness and the inevitable loss of the last, tattered pieces of myself. It would be so easy to let go and fall backwards into that last, final oblivion--easier by far to relinquish these broken bits of me and the life that ended long ago, than to continue struggling against the freezing current that wants to carry me away. Don't fight it, my soul murmurs wearily, pleading with the ruined, malfunctioning brain in my skull that refuses any and all orders to surrender, to give in to the EMPTY and just...end. Don't fight; let it all slide away, close your eyes, it will be all right...

"Doing a little reading this morning, Chief?"

His voice explodes into my consciousness without warning--so alive, so rich, so REAL--that I can't hold back the scream of awestruck terror that erupts from my throat. As every muscle in my body begins to twitch in violent, sympathetic horror, my eyes seal themselves tightly shut so that I can't look, can't conjure from the depths of my petrified imagination the unspeakable phantasm of Jim standing before me, dead and gone and yet here somehow nonetheless, tormenting me with the sound of a voice I thought never to hear again. The spine of my useless journal digs painfully into my chest as I squeeze the book so tightly my fingers throb in protest; instinctively I drop into a submissive crouch on the floor, my chin digging into my chest as I bow my head and begin to rock furtively back and forth, back and forth, willing Jim's voice to stop, willing the low, strangled cries sounding on the air in tandem with his words to fade into merciful silence. Shut up, shut up, can't you just SHUT UP! I want to screech at the inhuman demon making those noises; make it stop, oh please, Jim, make it stop!...

"Ah, Jesus, I'm sorry, Chief...God, Blair, please...it's all right, it's okay, nothing can hurt you here--" Jim's voice, low and gentle and unbearably anguished, murmurs just above me now, so close, too close, much much too close; refusing to open my eyes, trying hard not to listen, not to hear, I abandon the journal in favor of scuttling quickly backwards over the plush carpeting beneath me, eyes squeezed tightly closed, my hands and feet digging into the thick pile as I propel myself back and back until my spine cracks up against the unyielding surface of a wall. Trapped, I draw my knees up protectively against my chest, my arms going up to cover my head, elbows pressing in against my ears in a fruitless effort to block out that treacherous Jim voice, to muffle the guttural, moaning cries that sound so close I could almost believe they've arisen from my own raw throat.

No-no-no-noooo, I chant to myself in mindless silence; no Jim, no demons, no words that can't be read, nothing but the house, this room, the tv and cartoons and I need to go away now, need to go back to the NOTHING, to the void...I can't stop shaking, and now I'm cold, so cold. And the Jim wraith won't stop, Jim CAN'T be here, but this wraith who sounds just like the Jim from the THEN can't hear me screaming to him in the corridors of my broken mind, telling him that he has no place here in the NOW, that he just can't BE here...Real, he sounds so real, I can even FEEL him in the air around me, near me, hovering over me like some sorrowful, repentant fallen angel. Oh, God, go away, it hurts too much, I can almost remember ME now and it hurts, all the holes of Used-to-Be gaping wide to fill with blood and pain beneath the half-formed scars of Never-Again, of Forgetting.

"I know you're scared, babe; and God, I know I'm the reason why. And I'm sorry for that, so goddamned sorry...but you actually HEARD me just now, Blair! Jesus, you can HEAR me, baby, finally hear me, right here with you. Do you have ANY idea what you've done, how fucking FANTASTIC this is?..."

The voice is all around me, rough and shaky and so, so needy; and it pierces me through, stabs straight to the heart of all that is left of the Blair from the THEN. Jim's voice gathers up all the shattered remnants of that poor, lost boy and shuffles them mercilessly now in his hands, THAT Blair's skin flayed bloody by the sharp pieces of this NOW me that can never be fitted back together. Stop it, stop trying, stop BLEEDING for me! I want to howl at this Jim who doesn't belong here. Throw down these ruined Blair pieces, I want to beg him; grind them under your heel and let me go, let me finally go...

But he won't. He won't stop trying, won't rest those blood-slicked, slashed-to-ribbons fingers from the task that he's set himself; on and on his voice speaks to me, soothing and cajoling, murmuring endearments and imprecations and catching now and then on low, harsh rasps of tortured frustration as he struggles to put me back together again. Go back, Jim, I beg mutely, my spirit as torn as Jim's hands must be from clutching all my broken, jagged edges in an effort to keep what's left of me from spilling out all over the floor. Holding to my stubborn blindness as the sole defense I have left against the treacherously loving specter before me, I struggle to center my increasingly out-of-control thoughts onto the NOTHING, calling out for the peaceful darkness to descend and to cover and enfold me once again. I can't stay HERE, can't hear his voice inside my head and now OUTSIDE it, too, every word threatening the small, fragile zone of safety and awareness that remains to me.

If I open my eyes I'll fly apart; if I gaze directly on the illusion of his strong, beautiful face, the last of me will disintegrate into dust and ashes, effectively destroyed by the knowledge I'll surely surprise in his blue eyes. Oh, Jim, why can't you just rest in peace? Why can't you let ME rest, hidden here inside the safety of these walls? The house is real, only the house and the NOTHING beyond its boundaries; the past is but a murky shadow, and everyone and everything that dwelled there is gone now, lost to the same darkness that repeatedly consumes me and then spits me out again and again and again, leaving me savaged and mangled and only a tiny bit alive. Only shreds of me remain, and the noise of the THEN Jim's voice cannot be the magic that might knit me back together, solid and real and whole once more.

"Blair...please...open your eyes, look at me, SEE me...I know you're scared, I know how hard this is; but oh God, I've missed you so much, I still need you SO much!...Please, Chief, please show me those beautiful eyes, please let me come in there with you, inside that lonesome place where you've been hiding for so long..."

I ache for Jim, hurt with him, FEEL his agony and his love and the sickness in his soul at what I have become. And some part of me longs to reach out to him, yearns to let him know that I hurt just as he does, that I am made sickened and fearful myself by the ruined, rotting remains of all that I once was and can never be again. But the grief in his voice strikes me dumb, robbing me of the few meager vestiges of rational thought still floating hazily in my mind; it's so raw, his pain, so sharp and immediate and threatening that I know I cannot be HERE any longer, can't exist in such close proximity to the savage grief of the one soul I could never bear to lose...but lost nonetheless. He cannot BE at all now, in this place; the sheer impossibility of his presence with me now is a thing of terror and of madness, and I know I have to escape or die, die forever and for real.

Suddenly I remember what to do, remember how to make it all go away; in a flash of insight I understand that my wandering soul has briefly returned and taken over for my shattered mind, that some tiny, immutable force of spirit deep within me has temporarily wrested the reins of sanity and self-awareness from the wavering, faulty control of my damaged brain. It is this part of my essence that hears Jim's voice; it is this nameless core of all that I was, am, and will be that has stepped in from outside Time's relentless flow to struggle for my very survival. But I've been weak, so weak and wounded and much too traumatized to figure out how my untethered spirit might settle itself firmly back into this body and overcome its physical limitations and imperfections, how it might heal the corruptible flesh within which it once resided and thus restore me to wholeness, to life and light and...Jim. Jim, who died a horrible death inside my mind, but ONLY in my mind; for my spirit assures me he's here now, truly here and gloriously real, waiting just beyond the grasp of my tightly curled fists, just beyond the breathless, trembling flutter of my closed eyelids. All I have to do to step from darkness into daylight is to open my eyes; all I have to do is SEE him, touch him...

But I can't; I can't do it. I know what I've become, know the devastation and despair that I have brought into his life...and it's too much, it's all too much to take. My head hurts, oh God it hurts! My brain pulses and wavers and throbs inside my skull, trapped in an agony of blasted neurons and broken memories; and though my soul tries to fight, struggling grimly for control of the warped and cratered remnants of a mind half destroyed by a flash of searing heat, I know that the last of my spiritual strength is fading. I can't hear Jim clearly anymore; his quietly frantic voice is fading, fading, soon to be completely gone, and the sharp clarity of the Timeless consciousness that I dimly recognize as the REAL me is dulling, darkening, retreating back into the NOTHING, too weak still to pull me up from the abyss of my ruined mind.

Good-bye, Jim, I think with a sigh of resigned sorrow, observing as though from a great distance the swift dimming of awareness in my own mind; with vague surprise I note the heated dampness of tear tracks scalding grooves into my cheeks, and I know that I have a right to be sad, so very very sad for the precious gift held out to me for such a brief, shining moment before being snatched back by greedy, unseen hands. The monster's come again, I think fearfully to myself, wrapping shaking arms around my chest as a sudden, sharp pang of grief wrings a pained groan from my lips. The monster's been here, in the sanctity of my very own house, and it's taken Jim's ghost away with it, chewed his flailing phantom limbs into manageable, bite-sized pieces and swallowed them down, just as it did with his real body in another time and place. I couldn't save him then, and I cannot reach him now; he's gone, gone all the way like always, gone forever, and now the sun outside has hidden itself behind the clouds, leaving me huddled against the wall in miserable silence.

Time for tv, reminds the helpful voice that lives somewhere in my fuzzy head; time for cartoons and "The Price is Right" and then the house will feed me, then the house will show me to my bed, will tell me when to sleep. I climb slowly to my feet, flinching helplessly when my eyes seem to catch a glimpse of some dark shadow just beyond the reach of my arms; but of course there's nothing there, only a silly book lying in the floor. It's my book, the one with all the squiggles in it that the monster drew to trick me. But I've made the book my own since then; I know how to draw neat pictures in the back, and I reach eager fingers for it now, anxious to add a new sketch to the ones I've already done.

As I take my book and move over to the tv, I am already thinking of the large, happy sun I want to draw to remind myself that the suddenly cloudy day outside can't last forever. And as always I will dedicate my picture to Jim, to my friend, because he loved me and I killed him and I'm sorry I did that. With my book in my hands, I settle myself now into my favorite tv-watching chair and scrabble under the cushion for the little box that helps me change the channels on the tv; my pencil is there,too, wedged down into the inside seam of the chair, and when I've found the show I want and am sure that no more shadows are around, I begin to feel safe and calm again.

Nibbling on the eraser of my pencil, I open my book to an empty page with no squiggles and think very hard for a moment till the words come back to me and I remember how to write them down, just so: FOR JIM. I can't read the squiggles I just made, but I know that's what they say. The little voice inside my head tells me so. And I like how his name looks on the white page, how it makes me feel warm and loved and sad all at once; I remember his blue eyes, his smile, and for awhile I forget the sun picture and just write row after row of JIMs, over and over until my hand hurts and the show ends on tv and my head is filled with cotton. My stomach tells me it's almost time for lunch, and the house agrees. The house says it's okay to go to the kitchen, that the ghost I heard there before has gone away now. I hope there will be tuna for lunch, along with a big red apple and something cold to drink.

For a moment after I've turned off the tv, I imagine I can hear a voice somewhere in the room, saying something in a tone so sad and weary that it hurts my heart to listen. But I know it isn't real; there's no one HERE but me, and carefully I set my drawing book aside and let the house lead me to the kitchen, where my head goes soft and fuzzy again but it's okay; because in the kitchen I find tuna sandwiches and a bright red apple and no Jim, no Jim at all alongside the shiny silver reflection of Blair looking back from the stainless steel door of the big refrigerator.

...I'm still afraid of ghosts that can see me
They know my thoughts, they read my mind,
Beside myself I judge my condition
I close my eyes but can't go blind
I'm feeling all the heat, all the chaos
It's gotten underneath my skin
So far to go to reach absolution
My sanity, my soul runs thin...
---from "Rectifier" by Ra



And then I see you there
The lonely tears I cry
I wish they'd release me...
It's in despair that I find faith
Summon the night to bow down to day
When ignorance is bliss
Won't you save me from myself...

The koi are active today, flitting busily back and forth just beneath the surface of the pond; and as I sit on the deck in the afternoon sunshine, I find myself trailing my fingers in the pond's cool water, a slight smile curving my lips as several curious fish swim up to nibble inquiringly at my knuckles.

I think that maybe I was dreaming for awhile just now; I have dim images in my head of being inside the house, of feeling suddenly disoriented and upset and of imagining--not for the first time--that an intruder was lurking just down the hall or maybe in the next room over. I remember fighting the panicked feelings rising inside me, struggling to slow down the frenetic racing of my heart--so loud in my ears--as I stood frozen in one corner of the morning room and trained apprehensive eyes on the cryptic oblong of doorway leading to the hall just beyond. Someone was out there; I could sense it in every cell of my body, could feel the tiny hairs on the nape of my neck standing on end with the nervous awareness of a presence other than my own lurking close by. There's no one there, there's no one there, it's just your imagination, I remember chanting over and over to myself as I huddled in the corner like a frightened child, my palms sweating and my pulse racing with useless adrenaline on behalf of the nonexistent entity that was NOT lurking in the hallway, NOT waiting to pounce on me the instant I left the safe confines of the morning room to venture into the rest of the house.

It was only a dream, all just a dream, I try to convince myself now as I withdraw my fingers from the pond and absently rub them on my leg, leaving a faint trail of dampness on the denim material of my jeans. I was watching tv, and then I had tuna, I remember that; and the presence was something that happened in between, something not real because of course there's no one here but me--me and this house and these fish, swimming so happily in their placid pond. And now I'm beginning to wonder exactly when it was that the dream entity came into the house, into my mind; its presence seemed to manifest itself between one breath and the next, conjured out of nowhere and as formless as smoke but nonetheless SO real...

Was it today or yesterday when cartoons gave way to the blind terror of sensing watchful eyes trained on me, of imagining the merest whisper of a stealthy voice uttering incomprehensible syllables that filled me with a mixture of terrible dread and nameless longing all at once? Is it still today right now, or can it be that tv and tuna and 'Jim' inexplicably written over and over in my journal are all happenings from another day, glimpses into a time that isn't THIS time, that can never be NOW again? Am I recalling a me that isn't THIS me, some primitive doppelgänger that inhabits another level of awareness entirely separate from my own?

My head is beginning to ache, a familiar throbbing that starts up in both temples before transmitting ripples of anxious pain into the front of my skull; any time I try to THINK--try to figure out what day it is or just how long I was dreaming this time--or even which ME is doing the dreaming--the pain comes, like clockwork, and makes it so hard to put all the jumbled pieces of thoughts and memories in my brain back into the right order. So much easier just to let it all go, easier to sit alone as always in the quiet and feel it all sliding away from me, back into the soft, gray darkness of no whispering ghosts, no frighteningly intense blue eyes, no presence tormenting me in the guise of someone so familiar, someone trusted and beloved...Jim.

Jim isn't here, no he isn't here, never here, stop it stop it stop, I order myself fiercely, enraged and infuriated by the terrible, stabbing loneliness that sweeps over me now in breath-stealing waves. Jim...I put your name in my book, it's all I have left, the only way to remember that you ever lived, that you were real, that you were my friend. And more...so much more, so much deeper, but I was a man then, not just some broken thing, I could speak with you and touch you and help you, oh God I knew how to do wonderful things then, things to make your life easier, better!...But now it's all gone away, just like you went away when I killed you, when I made you dead...

No. Not dead. Not dead, Chief. I can hear the voice again, and this time the words are clear, this time I can UNDERSTAND what's being said, can feel meaning echoing in my brain no matter how I try to shut it out. But it can't be true, those words; if Jim wasn't dead, he'd be here, he'd find me, take me from this loneliness, fill my mind and my heart and my broken, empty soul with light and color and LIFE again...Jim loved me, he wouldn't leave me like this, wouldn't just go away, closing the door behind him and never looking back, never coming to see me, to save me...

Why don't you save yourself? a new voice hisses inside my mind now, low and coarse and angry, so very angry...and it's something so new, so raw, so HATEFUL, that I don't want to listen to it, don't want it rampaging round inside my brain, trampling on the few places that still feel alive and making it hard to breathe, hard to move, making my heart pound and tears of rage and fear flood into my eyes. Shut up, just shut up! I tell the new voice---this almost-Blair voice--squeezing my eyes tightly shut against the pain that's begun rolling in slow, sick-making waves in my gut and just behind my eyeballs. There's only me, me and the fish, and I want to go back inside, I want to be safe, I want to sleep...

But there is no sleep, nothing to pull me back down into comfortable darkness; instead there is warm sunlight and the polished wood of the deck under my bare feet and the bright, energetic bodies of the koi flitting back and forth just beneath the surface of the pond. And tuna was not today, my stomach growls and rolls emptily and tells me the tuna was another time, another day, and maybe today I forgot to eat; maybe the house has forgotten to tend to me, all because I dared to venture outside its protective walls to see blue sky and sun and to touch the water and think of Jim, of fishing and tents and laughing and loving together, always together...

Inside...I have to get back inside, back to the kitchen and food and then to my room and sleep, sleeping for days, weeks, months in my big, comfortable bed, all alone...But as I rise shakily to my feet and spin in a feverish half-circle back toward the big glass doors that will take me inside, I can feel it coming again, can sense a presence very close by, moving stealthily nearer...and God, I'm afraid! I want to drop to the deck and curl into a tight little ball and scream and scream till my throat bleeds and swells and closes forever, keeping all the fear, all the darkness and poison and death, so deep inside, so deep, never let it out again...

"Blair...Blair...not giving up...thorn in your side till you try...have to TRY; please, for me? Please, Chief, just open your eyes, just try to SEE me..." And then more words--mere, incomprehensible snippets of noise: "The mirror...you SAW me...days ago...going to see...doctor...help you..."

I imagine Jim's voice is the voice saying those words, words I can repeat verbatim though at this moment they seem to be mostly in a foreign language that holds little meaning for me. But the words don't matter, only the VOICE, so hauntingly familiar; and that voice is so beguiling, so like Jim's, so very...HUNGRY...that despite my intense fear I find I actually WANT to open my eyes, WANT to stir myself from my frozen position with my bare feet rooted to the deck and stare straight into the eyes of my own doom, into madness. But such lovely madness, to fall forever into the caress of Jim's softly anguished tones, to risk one last glance into the infinite blue of his gaze, summoning me to him across time and space and death...

"Where-are-you-where-are-you...WHEN are you, Jim?" I mutter to myself now, the words that seem so clear in my brain emerging on the crisp air as horrid, nonsensical grunts. The garbled sounds I make are frightening, but I can't seem to keep them trapped within my throat; and while my mouth forms its frustrated gibberish, some other part of me here deep inside my mind screams mutely for someone to come along and free me from this living hell. But my desperate plea seems to ricochet emptily within the ruined cradle of my skull, losing strength and focus on the way from my brain to my mouth; and as much as I'd like to, I just can't seem to hold on to the one small, tremulous flicker of daylight at the end of this long, impenetrably dark tunnel closing me in on all sides. There was a question, something I really wanted to know; but now I can't bring it back again, can't find the bits and pieces of the thoughts swirling lost and small inside my head. Instead there is only noise, this other, not-me noise that sounds like a voice from OUTSIDE, that rumbles and vibrates and feels like Jim who isn't HERE.

"Dammit, Blair, I'm not in the mood for this today...I KNOW you're in there somewhere, I know some part of you can hear me...can SEE me, if you'll only open your damned eyes and LOOK at me..."

Oh, Jim; Jim, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry you're mad at me still, still so angry with me for what happened. I don't understand what your words mean--I try and try to make sense of each syllable, to dredge up from the disused spaces inside my brain just what it is that you're saying to me...but it all keeps fading into the shadows, flitting in and out like the soft rush of moth wings in the darkness. I wish you could be at peace now; I wish you weren't so upset with me. If I could find all my missing pieces, if I could only put myself all the way back together again, then maybe I would understand; maybe then I'd know how to send your troubled ghost to the place where you can be free, where you can forget me and start again.

"Jim..." I murmur now, my voice thick with regret, so thick that the sound of his beloved name emerges more a garbled moan than anything understandable. But the presence hovering so near me has powers beyond the normal; it has the ability to read my thoughts, my heart, with the mere summoning of Jim's name, however distorted...and now I realize I am doomed, now I know there can be no escape, no hiding, as I FEEL the terrifying energy of its presence right in front of me, feel its terrible urgency and frustration as the thing that used to be Jim calls my name, over and over:

"Blair...Blair...look at me, Blair, come on, I know you can do it, I know you feel me...you said my NAME just now, for Christ's sake! Please, Chief...I KNOW you have to be sensing me on some level..."

Poor, poor Jim; poor, sad wraith, trying to touch the untouchable, grasping uselessly at both body and mind of this broken shell, this Blair who doesn't want to be here now, who doesn't want to remember, who CAN'T remember, can't be, not like he was before. Go away, I want to tell this haunting-haunted spirit, what's left of my soul tearing asunder deep within the core of me from the pain of pushing Jim away, of imploring his ghost to leave, to abandon all hope ye who enter here, never enter here again, you can't come in, go away...Oh, God, Jim, don't leave me here, DON'T GO!--

And then my eyes are open, opening without my permission, opening wide and wider and impossibly wider still and I see him there, so close, oh God so close I could reach out, could touch his face, could lean right in close and FEEL his breath on my cheek if only he still breathed...one miniscule shift toward him as he reaches for me now, and I know I can't really be feeling this shivery-soft rasp of his thumb along the sensitive skin of my lower lip...Ah, God, Jim, I miss you so much. Touch me; lift your cruelly realistic ghost fingers and touch me, just once, before everything goes, before this dream state fades and leaves me alone once again, forever...


His name is a hushed gasp on the somnolent air, vibrating up from my own chest and sounding familiar, so familiar, on my tongue; awe-filled, wondering, I watch my right hand lift, trembling violently, until the very tip of my index finger barely brushes along one side of my dead lover's jaw. Real, he feels SO real, so solid, so...good. God, so good, to touch him again, to watch in mute fascination the slow, grief-stricken contortion of his lean face from an expression of desperate hope into something unbearably shattered and tender and wanting. I never knew, Jim; I never knew that ghosts can cry, I think with dim interest as scalding tears fill Jim's beautiful eyes and roll, rapid and unashamed, down the sides of his face.

"Hello, Chief," he whispers to me now, this beautiful ghost-man with his eyes that see into my soul, with his slow, sweet smile that begins--through some strange, irresistible force--to melt something dark and hard and cold deep inside my mind. "Hello, sweetheart; I'm so glad...so glad you're here with me right now. Can you hear me, babe; are you with me?"

Yes, I long to say, my whole body beginning to quake and tremble with the intensity of my need; yes, I'm with you! Oh, God, I understand the words coming from your mouth, I SEE you, FEEL you!...But I can't say it, can't take the risk of pretending this is all real, pretending Jim is actually here, so warm and solid and precious to my sight; one blink, one gasp for air, and he'll be gone again, sucked away from me back into the NOTHING, back into emptiness and loss and the horrible abyss of loneliness and separation that has doomed us both to an eternity of dark hopelessness. I'm with you, Jim, I want to murmur against his lips; I hear you, across time and space I hear you...

But I won't say it, can't bring myself to shatter this beautiful, tormenting fantasy with a lie that just can't be. My throat is sealed against the evil power of the words that would send him away again, words that would expose the harsh reality waiting just beneath the unbelievably vivid illusion of his presence here with me on this sunny afternoon. I try to think how I can hold him here, how I can keep it all from fading away and keep my struggling, desperately floundering brain from splitting off into jagged, hurtful shards of disintegrating thoughts unable to retain any order, any meaning...For after all, he lives on only in my thoughts, in these echoing, nearly empty rooms inside my mind; and I don't want to let him go this time, don't want to blink and look again to find nothing there. Don't let go of me, don't leave me here, Jim! I want to scream aloud to him; and as my heart begins to pound furiously in my chest in tandem with the panicked tears in my eyes, Jim's ghost reaches for me once more, his expression tight with concern, his broad forehead lined with fear and anxiety and his own helpless, answering need. His lips begin to part, his throat working to produce speech, to ask of me something I'm unable to give; and I know I have to make him stop, have to preserve this holy silence between us.

No, no, don't speak, don't coax me, don't plead!...God, just...just BE, Jim. Just BE with me now, if only for one moment. Somehow you were able to transcend the boundary of time and death, able to come to me, to comfort me in my loneliness; I love you, I love you so fucking much!...Just touch me, hold me, help me remember again how you smell, how strong and yet how inexplicably gentle your arms feel wrapped around me, enfolding me, shutting out the whole damned universe and leaving only us, just us always and forever...

I can't help tempting fate now, can't stop myself from falling bonelessly forward into his embrace, trusting him to catch me, uncaring in this moment whether he's solid flesh or just some nebulous vapor that my body will pierce and pass through to end up crumpled and aching on the deck's hard surface. I don't care; I know I'll risk any degree of pain or injury just to FEEL his arms around me again, to press my head against the firm wall of his chest and listen to the beloved cadence of his heart beating strong and vital beneath my cheek...

"Blair," he whispers above me, his breath lightly stirring the curls at the crown of my head as his arms wind obligingly and so carefully around my torso. "Oh, Jesus, Blair..." And then I feel the silent shaking of his entire body as he clutches me to him and weeps brokenly against my neck, the heat of his anguished, gasping breaths scorching my skin as I cling to him, digging desperate fingers into his waist and holding on grimly, hanging on for dear life to the miraculous solidity of my soul mate's body, a body that FEELS so completely corporeal but just can't be...

"Blair..." And then he's whispering, his voice so low that Death can't hear it, so low that the demons who patrol the NOTHING won't become alert to his forbidden visit here and come swooping in to drag him away, back into their land of unending darkness. I can only stand locked in Jim's embrace, trying dimly to decipher the gentle, intriguing flow of words gliding like a wraith from his mouth to my listening ear, my legs trembling beneath me as his essence surrounds and enfolds me in its warm, glorious totality. He's speaking another language, I realize dimly as I struggle to recall where I've heard that tongue before, trying to place the oddly sensual syllables into some meaningful context within the sphere of my existence BEFORE, in the THEN. Incacha...the word flows into my consciousness, filling me with bewildering but strangely comforting images of half-naked men and writhing jungle vines and drums beating, calling seductively, insistently to something deep in my blood, something buried in my soul long ago for safekeeping, shades of mystery and power and the dark, alluring glare of panther eyes at dusk hovering tantalizingly at the edges of my mind...Jim is speaking love words to me, seducing my lost, deadened soul from the edge of the abyss, binding the remnants of my spirit to the phantom shade of his own as he strives to absorb my pain, my confusion, strives to hide me from the merciless gaze of the enemy that is my own shattered consciousness...

Kiss me, I long to beg the man holding me now as if he'll never, ever let me go again; take my face between your hands and kiss me and break this evil spell, shatter the layer upon layer of illusion and ruin and nothingness that holds me prisoner, that won't let me fully escape into either madness or death. Save me, Jim; oh, God, save me from myself, don't let me forget you as I've forgotten so much of me and all that I was...it hurts, Jim, it hurts my mind to think like this, to try to remember, to see past the veil to what is real, what is true...

And now the pain is growing inside my head, rising and building to a sick, shaky crescendo that has me swaying drunkenly against Jim's rock-solid form, keening and moaning and imploring him without words to help me, to hold onto me, to stay with me always...and I feel his hands slide up to the nape of my neck, so gentle but so persuasive, tilting my head back, my eyes sliding closed because I can't bear to look into his face again, to see all that I've lost and can never call back. And then I feel his thumbs stroking the sensitive spots just behind my ears, sliding up and forward to brush along the joint connecting my jaw to my skull, rubbing and caressing the ridge of bone on either side as I choke back a gasping sob and blindly lift my mouth for his kiss, desperate--so desperate--to taste him again, to be filled with the sweet savor of his essence as his lips descend over mine...Oh, God, hurry, hurry before it all goes away, before this agonizing torture in my head blows me apart, shreds what's left of my brain...

And Jim understands, Jim knows; even as wordless murmurs of concern leave his mouth--even as his hands cradle my broken head on the fragile stem of my neck in a futile effort to hold me together a bit longer--he knows what else I need, and I know he needs this, too; with the first, tentative brushing of his lips over mine, I feel to the depths of my soul just how desperately he's needed this, wanted this. And then his mouth becomes ALL that is, the hungry return thrust of my tongue against his lips persuading him to deepen the kiss, to open to me and let me come inside. The wet heat of his mouth, the unforgettably exquisite taste of him on my tongue and lips, has me whimpering with a mixture of lust and joy and almost unbearable sorrow for all that I've lost, for the heartbreaking remembrance of having loved him so intensely, so ravenously, and of missing him with such unremitting agony. But for now there is only craving this touch, this raw, heated melding, wanting so desperately to be whole again, to be back in the THEN when everything was good, when we were both safe and I was still Sandburg and Hairboy and something called anthropologist, which means I was smart...

But I can't hold onto it, can't hold on to the two of us together like this, solid and so real as our bodies push wildly, hungrily against each other's, trying without success to blend into one form, one skin, to merge and meld and never be apart again. My head hurts, oh it hurts hurts hurts SO DAMNED MUCH!, and I try I try I try but I can't stay here, can't be here, the NOTHING has found me, IT doesn't want me to kiss Jim, to want Jim...and he tries to hold onto me, pulls his mouth from mine to call out to me with quiet intensity, with the same longing I've dreamed so many times before within the solitary silence of the house; but it hurts it hurts it hurts and I know he feels it, too, feels my pain and my growing fear and the denial that this could be real, that he was ever here with me. And he whispers hoarsely against my mouth, breathing into himself my helpless gasps of pain and impending loss and assuring me it's okay, it's okay, babe, rest now, just rest...

"I'll come back," he murmurs into the shell of my ear, into the growing darkness in my mind. "I won't leave you here alone; I promise. Remember, babe, try to remember; SEE me again, please don't stop trying to SEE me..." And it's been such a nice dream, painful but oh, so nice; and I'd love to stay, but as the agony in my skull drives out the brief flash of insight that maybe this IS real, that maybe Jim really HAS come back somehow, all I can do is cling to the fading ripples of his voice against my ear as I spiral down and down into the greedy arms of the NOTHING once again.

It sounds like a whisper
It seems like a dream
It breaks and it falls
It tears at the seams

Suppose that it happens
Suppose that it's real
Supposing you're right
Supposing it won't heal forever

And I will get old and tired
And nothing will get to me
No one will want to have me
Begging to be set free

If only the sun would take me
If only the wind was on my side

I wish I could see you
I'm stuck in a fog
I wish I had patience
A virtue says God

I wish I had wishes
A gold magic charm
I'd wish for more time
I'd wish to go far away

And I can hear voices calling
And I can feel weight upon my mind
You'll hold my hand in your hand
And after I'm gone you'll still have
Time to figure out the things,
The things that left me empty inside.
---"On My Side," by Ra