by Christine Angelsdotter
Ellie has a real imaginary friend.
She has one of those faces that make heads turn, even though she’s got no alterations. Her eyes are cat-like, green, above high cheekbones. Thin, arching brows answer full, curved lips, more exposed by her scraped-back ponytail which sways in light brown waves down to her waist. She carries, as always, the natural extension of her hands – her bright red camera. The only reason why she still lives.
She takes her last, solitary turn about the exhibition before it opens to the public. The echoing room is silent but for the clack of heels, the soft chafe of leather. She walks, unhurried, in crimson, thigh-high boots, her matching corset exposing the flesh between her breasts. Her powerful body, tall as a man’s, has served as canvas for countless tattoo artists. A river flows down her left inner-arm, elbow to wrist, covering a rough scar. Her fingernails are deeply bitten, the surrounding flesh wounded and sore, and nicotine has yellowed the index and middle fingers on her right hand.
And, above it all, there is the metal crown. It burrows directly into her flesh – a small socket next to each eye, a third boring into the wrinkle between her eyebrows, all connect to a fourth at the back of her head, just above her neck. These sockets, linking her brain to her psychometric lenses, have become the source of her art and fame.
A voice trembles behind her. She recognizes her agent, even before she turns. It’s funny how, after the twelve years they’ve worked together, Miriam still hesitates when talking to her. Miriam is in love with her, has been for all those years. But it has never been stated, only subtly hinted, so she pretends to be unaware of it. Ellie smiles and watches the effect on Miriam’s face. Her skin flushes, her pupils dilate. So easy. Always too easy. Almost always.
“What’s up?” she rasps. Years of substance abuse have left her voice permanently rough.
“Stu wants to know if the light’s okay.”
“It’ll do,” Ellie replies and turns her head back to the huge photographs, each lit by four corner spotlights. She doesn’t know how to feel about this exhibition, whether to be hopeful, fearful, agitated, expectant – or anything at all. She’s done this before, she’s exhibited her psychometric photos four times since she was nineteen, but not these ones. These she never expected to show, even though they’re the reason for everything.
She hears Miriam’s footsteps fall away and forgets about her in a moment. Walking slowly, with her eyes closed, she counts spots. One, two, five, twelve. That means she’s reached the beginning. She stands in front of the photograph and opens her eyes. Hand on the Window, that’s its name. There is a window. A transparent, small hand presses against it and, outside, heavy rain is falling. Between the thumb and the index finger, pouring water leaves a human-shaped gap. Ellie lifts her own hand and lays it on the childish hand of the photograph. She bends her body and cuddles on the glass with a tenderness she’s never shown towards another human being. She shuts her eyes and her breath clouds the window where the rain falls.
She was a little younger than four years old when she first saw him, and it happened while she slept.
“I made a new friend last night, Mommy. Ouch!” Ellie squawked as her mother dragged a brush through her golden-brown curls.
“Sorry, Puppet,” said her mother, absently stroking her hair.
“His name’s Danny,” Ellie continued, watching her mother’s face in the mirror. “He’s older than me. I think he’s really old, like six or seven. But his mommy left and now he’s sad. His dad says she went up to heaven. How did she get out of the ground and fly up, Mommy? Danny asked me, but I don’t know. He sits by the window and looks outside when it rains. Maybe she will fall down with the water, he says. But she doesn’t. Not yet. Mommy, why did Danny’s mom go to heaven? What’s up there?”
She turned round to look at her mother, who frowned at her, then took her to Granny.
Ellie repeated her story for Granny, who told her not to think about it anymore, but to thank the good fortune that allowed her to have both mother and father. Yes, but what about Danny? Ellie kept thinking, as she looked at the rain outside. She sat with her face pressed against the window, just in case Danny’s mom fell down in the wrong place. She was still there when Mommy came to pick her up in the afternoon. From the upstairs window, Ellie could hear her talking with Granny about Ellie’s new friend. Mommy told Granny to pay no attention to Puppet’s made-up stories and not to encourage her. Ellie tightened her lips and narrowed her green eyes in anger. She never spoke of her friend Danny again.
For over two months, they met every night in her dreams. Danny would cry and she would comfort him. She couldn’t see his face. It seemed strange, but she didn’t really mind. She would let him lie down with his head on her knees, and sing lullabies and tell stories – whatever he wanted. He talked about his mother, who smelled pretty and sang to him, and about his dad, who was almost a stranger now. He said that he hated going to school or playing with his friends. Then, one day, he was more upset than before – he had overheard his dad saying that his mom had died, and realized he had been lied to. Heaven wasn’t real. Ellie never talked about her own parents – she didn’t want to tell Danny that they were both alive. She didn’t want to say anything at all, just listen to him and sing to him, like his mommy used to.
Danny’s visits became fewer after those first few months, until she marked an entire month without him. For the first time in her life she felt alone, completely alone, as if she was the only one left in the entire world. She stopped laughing, talking, eating. Her heart felt tight in her chest. Her parents began to worry and tried to speak to her, but Ellie refused to tell them about Danny; she didn’t want to be scolded again for lying.
Finally, they took her to a strange-looking man with a soft voice – Alfred. He had bright pink hair and a socket over his right eye, inside which was a cylinder that resembled a small spyglass. Alfred asked her a lot of questions, which she didn’t like, and played a lot of games with her, which she did. Ellie talked to him about everything – except Danny. Her parents took her to play with Alfred many times and he put her in chairs that went up and down and back and front. He put helmets with lights and wires on her head, and made her press buttons and answer questions. He looked at her through his funny spyglass, and talked to her. But he never scolded her. She became fond of him. She wanted to ask about Danny, about how she could see him again, but she decided against it. She missed him so very cruelly that it caused her pain, but what if Alfred betrayed everything to her mother? Then she’d scold her for lying again.
During a cold evening, with snow falling endlessly past the window, she overheard her parents arguing in the kitchen. Father insisted that they should let Alfred “insert that bloody shit into his daughter”, while Mother screamed that she wouldn’t “let a shrink push sockets and wires in Puppet’s brain”. Ellie panicked. She couldn’t understand exactly what they were talking about, but figured it concerned her and something that Alfred wanted to do to her. It didn’t sound good at all. It sounded very, very bad. She ran upstairs to her room and put on her shoes. Her gloves and coat were in the kitchen, where her parents were still arguing, but she put her blue teddy-bear in her backpack, pushed her arms through the straps and climbed out the window, onto the huge ivy branch beyond. The snowy leaves froze her hands as she scrambled down, and she bit her lip to avoid yelling. Snow flakes piled up in her curls, soaked her shirt, gnawed her fingers. She was about half-way down when the ivy ripped under her feet and Ellie slipped, grasping and kicking viciously against the air as she fell. She fell onto her feet, but her ankle bent and shattered. Pain pierced her whole body. The world began to slip away, but she didn’t care. Inside the depths of her mind the pain, the cold, the adrenaline, all subdued – for a brief, sweet moment – her despair over the loss of Danny. She fainted.
Magnificent, exceptional, wonderful, wow!
Ellie can hear the crowds that have queued since early morning for a glimpse of her exhibition. They either whisper or openly express their awe – the long, meandering blue corridor, where her photographs hang, is crammed. She stands tall and watches people admiring her art. Ellie has not the slightest doubt that the exhibition will be praised to the skies by critics and audience alike but, truth be told, she couldn’t care less. She despises them all. She envies that their eyes devour her soul. If it wasn’t for Miriam’s constant pressure, she would have never exposed those particular photographs. It would never have even occurred to her. They are her treasure, her path and her destination in life. And now they are prey to everyone’s eyes. Those people, with their meaningless thoughts and memories – they will maim and twist that which is most sacred to her. She wants to get out – to smoke, to drink until she passes out. She wants them all to disappear, die on this very instant. She wants to die as well, to stab her eyeballs until she pierces her brain. She stands still and enjoys the intensity of her emotions. She breathes them, holds and presses them inside her until it hurts. It’s not enough, though. The pain is not strong enough. It never seems to be. But she knows what will help with that. That’s why she has decided to stand right here. She knows which photograph hangs behind her. Anticipating the anguish she’s about to experience – it tastes dark crimson, like bitter chocolate – she turns her body slowly. The photograph stares back at her. It’s a faceless, colorless, foggy body with female breast and male reproductive organs on a black background. On the left breast lies a red gap, at the place where the heart would be. Gap of love, that’s the photograph’s name. Ellie looks at it, focuses on the bloody center and allows the memory to smack her diaphragm, twist her stomach, pierce her heart. And she hopes that the pain will be strong enough.
Her parents had hoped that going to school would help. But Ellie took no interest. She was slow to learn her letters and they never held her attention. She was no better with numbers. As for friends, she neither made, nor cared in making. Everything seemed gray all the time. She kept visiting Alfred once a week for the last five years. They had tried introducing her to a different child-psychiatrist – it seemed that this was Alfred’s profession – but she was more negative towards Erica, John, Fanny, Fred and Kyle than she ever was towards Alfred, whom she liked for no good reason. She liked him enough to have confessed that she wasn’t clumsy. She didn’t accidentally fall in the playground or down the stairs, she didn’t stumble upon doors and furniture. She fell on them intentionally. She wanted to feel the pain. Why? Because there was a huge gap inside of her that only pain seemed able to fill. The stronger the pain, the better it numbed the void inside her – for a while. One day, she cried more violently than she had cried those last five years combined. And in the end, she bent and told Alfred everything about Danny. He only listened without interruptions, and not once did he question her honesty. What he told her was that he could install something inside her brain that would photograph her thoughts and dreams, everything that lay inside of her. She didn’t wait to hear the details. All she could think about was that she would be able to take pictures of Danny. She nodded violently, with tears spilling left and right, and accepted.
In less than two months, she had a socket at the center of her forehead and another at the back of her head, with a metallic ribbon connecting them. Next to the socket on her forehead lay a lens, like a magnifying glass. Alfred told her it was called a psychometric lens. She would use it to look inside her memories, her dreams, her thoughts and, if she connected it with a special camera, she would be able to photograph them as well. Such a camera was all she wanted and she asked her parents for one. She thought that it might take a lot of effort to persuade them, but she was surprised to be presented with her heart’s desire the very following day.
Three days later, her bedroom was full of all her memories of Danny, made solid at last. She didn’t feel satisfied, though. They were not exactly what she wanted. So she requested books for the first and last time in her life and read about photographing techniques. She spoke with Alfred – dear, darling Alfred – and he helped her learn how to manipulate her lens, how to focus it on what she wanted. He taught her all its secrets, even though she still hadn’t shown him any of Danny’s portraits or even mentioned him at all after that first confession. Ellie fell in love with that camera, slept with her hands locked around it and photographed anything that caught her attention, outside or within her, and in combinations. Less than a month afterwards, she managed to take the first picture that felt perfect: a transparent little hand on a window, waiting for Mother to fall with the rain. Danny’s hand. She took that one photograph and put it in a box by itself, separated from the hundreds of others she had taken. Behind it she wrote: the hand on the window.
It was a Saturday, nearing midsummer and her tenth birthday, when it happened again. She was kneeling down in the garden, trying to focus her lens on a rose bud, the sun setting behind it. She wanted to photograph the halo of the sun crowning the bud and, in the dark center of this à contre-lumière picture, she would add a small, flowery heart with her lens. Suddenly, she felt as if she was leaving her body and was surprised to realize that this was exactly what she’d done. She saw her back, the braids on either side of her head and the metallic ribbon between them, even a leaf stuck to her T-shirt. Then she felt the compulsion to turn round and her knees began to tremble. She saw a room, a blue room, with a single bed by the window. Someone was sitting on the bed, someone her heart recognized, pounding suddenly hard in her chest.
“Danny?” she whispered, hastily looking round in fear of being overheard. She saw herself behind her, focusing on the photograph, waiting for the perfect moment, and she knew that her physical self was still there. No one else could see Danny, or the room, or her other self. She took a few hesitant steps toward him, knelt and put her hand on his knee.
“Danny?” she asked again and he lifted his head to look at her. Well, almost look at her, as she was never able to see his face. But he was crying, she was sure of it.
“She doesn’t want me,” he said, and it broke her heart. She sat down next to him, hugging his shoulders. Danny laid his head on her lap and cried as if he were a small child and not a nearly-grown man.
In the following days he told her about Zoe, the blond girl he was in love with and saw in his sleep all the time. He had kissed her and caressed her breasts and had dreamed of doing so many more things with her. She had broken up with him, though, and didn’t want him anymore.
Ellie listened and, while she felt his pain, she was also happy to be with him again. She felt guilty for being happy, but there was nothing to be done about it. Danny filled her up to the darkest corners of her soul and it was the longing to see him again that got her through her days. However, she was old enough to understand that he only called for her when he needed her, that soon his infatuation with Zoe might pass and then she wouldn’t see him anymore. That made her furious.
“I want to be able to come to you too, when I feel like it,” she told him one day.
“I don’t know how,” he answered with a shrug.
“Then call for me when you’re happy, not only when you’re upset,” she insisted, stubbornly.
“I don’t call for you,” he said and turned his head to face her. “You just show up. I don’t bring your image in my head or anything. And I don’t know how or why you show up when you do. I don’t even know who you are, Ellie, or what you look like. It’s not that I don’t desire your presence. I do, I really do and I miss you when you’re not here. But I have no control over what’s happening. I don’t understand it.”
So she spoke of it no more. She counted days, hours, until she would leave her body and see him again. She took photographs, dreamed, lived to see him. Soon afterwards, when Danny ceased to appear anymore, Ellie realized that the world was crumbling around her.
“That … psychiatrist has turned her into a bloody zombie!” screamed her mother, waving her arms ferociously.
“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” answered her father, more calmly. “Look at her, she’s smiling! How long has it been since you last saw our daughter smile?”
“What of it? Is she smiling to you or to me? Or has she, by any chance, stopped flunking school and daydreaming? No! All she does is play with that darn thing, day in, day out, like an autist! And it’s me, me to blame! Me, for listening to you and that useless Alfred and agreeing to let you put those bloody things in her head!”
“And what would you rather do? Feed her drugs?”
“I’d rather you told her once and for all that this bastard she thinks is her best friend doesn’t exist! Be done with it! Why won’t Alfred tell her, for fuck’s sake? Why do we keep chasing our tails?”
“Why do you refuse to understand what the doctor tries to tell you, darn it?” Father rubbed his forehead. “She has to come to terms with it on her own. That’s the whole point. It’s Ellie who needs to understand and accept that Danny doesn’t exist, by herself.”
Ellie didn’t wait to hear more. She returned to her room, her camera, her photos. She looked at them, one by one. Not those she considered better, nor those that were just okay. She looked at those in the secret box. The most beautiful photographs she had taken of Danny. The hand on the Windo, Star in the San, Blu Teddybare, Gap of Love, Erth and Sky, Autom in the Attic. Her hands began to shake.
“You’re real,” she whispered, looking at the faceless form. “Everything else might be a lie, but you – you are real.”
She put the photos back in the box; she didn’t want to ruin them with her tears. She locked it, hid the key in a drawer and took some deep breaths. Alfred had betrayed her. Worse, he never believed her in the first place. All he had done was coddle her, lie to her. There was no one there for her. No one at all save for Danny, who had also disappeared now that he didn’t need her anymore. Ellie felt the pain inside her swelling, choking her. She walked to her parents’ bathroom and took her father’s razor blade. She returned to her room and sat in the bed.
“I’m not real,” she whispered and scratched at her left arm. It didn’t bleed or hurt much. It wasn’t even close to the anguish she felt inside. “I’m not real,” she said again and this time the blade cut deeper. Pain spilled inside her, filled her with its reality, but still it wasn’t enough.
“I’m not real!” she screamed. She pushed the tip of the blade deep into her wrist and pulled it all the way to the inside of the elbow. Blood sprang everywhere, on the walls, the sheets, the furniture. Ellie had barely a moment to enjoy the anguish before the door of her room slammed open.
After leaving the hospital, her parents announced that they were divorcing. She didn’t care much. She stayed with her mother at their house and never visited Alfred again. She went to other shrinks and her mother tried to get someone to remove the implant from her brain, but no one risked the procedure since there were no medical reasons for it. She would have killed them, had they tried. Naturally, none of them could put up with her for more than few weeks. In four years she went through more than two dozen doctors, but none seemed able to “help” her. She never spoke a word of Danny to any of them, but always dismissed the subject when they brought it up by saying that he was only her “imaginary friend”.
Truth be told, the comings and goings from armchair to armchair were merely a minor inconvenience. What was eating her alive was Danny’s absence. As a treat for her fourteenth birthday, she shaved her head and left only a blue stripe in the center, which cost her a slap and scolding from her mother. Neither bothered her much, but she decided to take off anyway. That night she nicked whatever expensive looking trinket she could lay her hands on, took her camera and left.
On that first night on the streets, she accepted the hospitality of two lesbians, and lost her virginity to a large strap-on while she tasted carpet. Both seemed to agree with her. Blood and pain were always a welcome sensation, and that couple initiated her to their lustful thirst for kink. She stayed with them for a few enlightening weeks, discovering handcuffs, whips and the simple fact that she attracted people’s eyes in many different ways. Being attractive wasn’t something she was interested in, but it was handy. A look could open doors and a pair of open legs brought cash. She had decided on that very first night that she would never screw with just one person – two or more or no deal. Until she reached adulthood, she was the recipient of money, beatings, gang-bangs, a couple of group rapes, half a dozen abortions and a generous amount of photographs. Money was the least of her concerns. She held tight to those things that made her feel alive for a while. Danny had not made a reappearance.
She spent the following couple of years couch-surfing here and there. She celebrated her sixteenth birthday with the purchase of a filthy, tiny basement flat and a night of orgy, where she counted at least fourteen visitors to her snatch. The following day she counted her money, enough to get her first tattoo: on her left breast, a bright red gap in the shape of a heart.
She was eighteen when she met the thirty-year-old Miriam. Back then her hair was completely shaved on one side, long to her waist on the other and dyed purple. Her favorite night club was Darkness Within, a decadent hole that played electropunk as loud as it got, and served alcohol and drugs. That night Quantum Suicide were on stage, and Ellie was obsessed with their music. She danced in the middle of the club, her high-heeled boots, tiny, black shorts and tight, bra-less, white top attracting everyone’s eye. She smoked and drank whatever people brought for her, sniffed this and that powder, let her crooked smile seduce and promise. She was considering who, and how many, she would take to her bed that night when she noticed Miriam coming towards her. Her altered eyes, huge, silver, shone in the darkness, her transparent skin begged to be touched. One look and Ellie decided that this woman would certainly be included in the company.
“Someday I want to be alone with you,” Miriam confessed three months later, her eyes shining like mercury. It was morning and they were drinking coffee alone, the third of the threesome having left a little earlier.
“You’re alone with me now,” answered Ellie and twisted a rolly. The ashtray was full, but she didn’t bother to empty it. Instead she smashed a passing cockroach with it, spreading ash all over the table.
“I mean at night… you and me.” Miriam tried to smile and her fingers wandered onto Ellie’s hand.
“I never fuck with less than two people,” Ellie pulled her hand back to light her rolly. “You know that, Miriam.”
“So don’t fuck, just this once. Make love with me.” Miriam’s voice sounded a little hurt.
“Yeah, well, I don’t do that either,” Ellie snapped behind the smoke and got up.
“And I’m definitely not sweetie,” she turned to look at her. “Enough with all the baby-talk, we’re not lovebirds! If you fancy fucking me, you’d better get romance and all that bollocks out of your bloody head, got it?”
Miriam never mentioned it again, although she discreetly tried and succeeded in gaining the position of permanent, if not exclusive, lover. The change in their relationship came when Miriam discovered Ellie’s photographs. Not the very special ones, the others. She had a good eye and good contacts and soon she talked her into exhibiting her art in a gallery. Ellie made a face when she heard the word.
“I don’t like blokes in suits and wannabe intellectuals. And if anyone asks me questions I don’t want to answer, they’ll have a taste of my boot in their face,” she said.
But the number of zeroes on the checks spoke louder, and finally Ellie swallowed her objections. In any case, Miriam would be the one to take care of all the procedures. All Ellie had to do was to give up her photos and be there when they were exhibited. There were no rules about eccentricity – in fact the more, the better.
Three years later, and Ellie had moved into a larger flat, free of roaches and rats, with her very own studio. She had a new camera, a couple more implants which had cost nearly as much as the flat, and more money and fame than she knew what to do with. She didn’t have to fuck for money any more, just for fun, but she missed her old life sometimes, with all the small, unexpected pains. Miriam tried to talk her into removing all the scars – the ones left from the beatings, the cuts and burns, the whipping. In time she removed them all, except one. She kept the scar inside her left arm, that first scar. It reminded her every day of why she lived and died. Instead, she became addicted to tattooing. The constant, piercing pain of this art was something she neither could, nor wanted to, resist. She didn’t care for other alterations. She didn’t change her features or insert pieces of carved metal in her skin for fashion. She was generally … content. It had taken her some time to begrudgingly accept that. And the only price she had to pay was the crowd that gathered to admire her art, and Miriam’s constant presence – her agent now and, admittedly, excellent at it. In twelve years, Ellie became unbelievably rich through her exhibitions – Death in Midsummer, Conflict of the Self, Eyes of Darkness, Pulse of Night.
“Ellie, I think it’s time for you to start talking with people,” whispers Miriam. She nods towards a Suit who, Ellie would bet coin, is a journalist. Art critics prefer to stand out. They dress better, to begin with, they wear fashionable corsets, have alterations and whatnot. This man is as indifferent as a doorknob, smiling with unjustified confidence and utterly oblivious to the dullness suppurating out of him.
“Simon Lanter,” he says and offers his hand.
“Ellie,” she replies, looking down at it without blinking, hands thrust deep in her pockets.
“Aha,” he coughs, after some moments. His hand goes to his hair, his gaze wanders here and there. He coughs again. “May I ask you a few questions?”
“Only about the exhibition,” Miriam interrupts, although Ellie is not at all sure she wants to answer questions concerning this exhibition.
“For what reason did you named it thusly?” he begins, with the posh posturing of imbecility.
“No reason,” Ellie replies, narrowly resisting the temptation to start tapping her foot. “I could have named it I shit you, I suppose, but it wouldn’t have been as catchy.”
She senses Miriam blushing, but feels no shame. Journalists should have learned by now that stupid questions receive insulting answers.
“Aha,” Simon coughs again. “Do you have a favorite among the photographs of this exhibition?”
Yet another moronic question. She doesn’t answer, only turns to look at Miriam.
“I would advise you to ask something a little more original, Mr. Lanter,” smiles the agent. “Ellie despises common questions.”
Simon doesn’t cough another aha. His smile fades and he looks Ellie straight in the eyes, despite being significantly shorter.
“The hand in The Shadow of My Heart. Is it yours?
She was in bed with Miriam and some nameless bloke when it happened. This time, she was pushed out of herself violently, as if somebody dragged her, as if she would never be able to get back to herself. She felt her heart pounding inside her body. She could see the guy taking her from behind, Miriam’s legs spread open in front of her. She tried to hold it together, not to turn, nor cry, nor – nor – nor … Everything inside betrayed her. Her body turned, as if it had a will of its own, and she saw him standing right in front of her. Right there, after nineteen, gut-wrenching years of loneliness.
“Danny?” She hesitated, and her voice trembled as much as her knees.
His form, perfectly familiar, looked straight at her, as faceless as ever. “Ellie?” he asked. His voice – changed, matured – fit perfectly inside her, healed her wounds, filled her, soothed her.
She shut her eyes to savor the peacefulness, and then opened them again. She could see more clearly now and what she saw turned her very soul to ice. There was a shadow behind Danny, attached to him. A black, thick mass that crept into his body and sucked greedily at him. She lifted her finger and pointed.
“There … there’s a shadow on your back”, she said and failed to recognize her own voice.
“I know,” he said softly and lowered his head to the floor.
“What is it? What the hell is it? It… it’s sucking at you, it’s eating you alive, it’s killing you!”
Danny shrugged and looked at her again. The eyes she couldn’t see, on the face she’d never seen, told her in a single moment more than Danny ever had. Everything. She walked slowly towards him and he backed away.
“Remove it,” she said.
“I can’t”, he replied after a moment. “Maybe I don’t want to, either.”
She walked closer to him, lifting her hands.
“What are you doing?” he asked, fear in his voice.
“What I always did for you. I’ll save you, and I’ll pay the price with your silence. I’ll cut it off.”
“But – I’ll lose you,” he whispered.
“You’ll find me.” She almost smiled. She didn’t know why. She didn’t believe that. She didn’t feel like smiling.
“Ellie, the shadow…”
“It’s me. I am the shadow”, she said in the same whispery voice. She raised her hand and touched his chest. “It’s always been me.”
“Why you?” he whispered back at her, as if they were not all alone in the whole world.
“It must be. No one else can see it. No one else can cut it off.”
“But, why?” he asked again, and this was a wholly different question. His voice was different.
“Because – I soul you,” said Ellie and her hand went through his flesh, as if it were liquid.
The pain, unbearable, unbelievable, stronger than all the combined pain she’d ever felt, clenched her throat, made her groan. But she didn’t pull her hand out. It burnt her. She felt the flesh melting away, the bones getting crushed, but on she went, deeper and deeper still, until she reached his heart, the place where the shadow was attached, and the pain, the pain brought unwilling tears, sobs even, it made her knees weak, black spots appear in front of her eyes. It numbed her, it pierced her brain. She would die. Her soul, her essence, would remain there forever, dead from the pain she’d been chasing all her life. Alone and dead. Without Danny.
Stubbornness filled her like cement. She screamed and pushed her other hand inside Danny’s body, quickly, before her better judgment prevented her. She grabbed his precious, beating heart with one hand, the shadow with the other, and pulled, wrenched, twisted. With all her strength, the shadow was severed. It snapped and coiled away like a snake.
Ellie saw it disappearing through goggled eyes. She knew now that everything was over, the bond between them was broken. Forever. She heard Danny saying he was sorry. She couldn’t answer. She couldn’t cry. She couldn’t die.
“Yes,” she finally answers and crosses her arms over her chest. “And that was your last question. Now, sod off.”
She turns her back on him and walks away. She can hear Miriam doing her job, selling excuses for her client’s behavior. She wants to be alone now. She needs it so bloody much. She didn’t cry then, when she woke up at the hospital. Now she wants to cry. She runs to the loo and splashes water on her face. She trembles. She doesn’t know why, but her whole body shivers. She cries. She can’t control it, no matter how hard she tries. Tears keep pouring down her face, making a mess of her makeup, blocking her nose, hurting her throat, becoming sobs. She tries to grab some paper, but her fingers rip only a tiny piece, hardly enough. And there’s no trace of her stubbornness anywhere, as if the source has gone dry.
She hears the door behind her open and she wants to disappear from the face of the earth, rather than be seen like that. Her legs, however, refuse to walk, her knees bend.
“This time I’m coming to you.” His voice is barely a whisper. “I did find you, after all.” She hears his laugh, so tiny and fragile, it could turn to a sob. “I can’t believe you gave that name to your exhibition. I Soul You?”
The voice is so familiar. She’s heard it before and dreamed it so often. She’s longed for it so much that it makes everything okay. It’s okay that she can’t stop crying. It’s okay that she trembles. It’s okay that it takes forever to stand up. It’s even okay if she falls. Ellie has no idea what will happen next, after the moment she turns around. She doesn’t know what, exactly, she’ll see. But it’s really okay. She has her soul in her eyes and all she has to do is look at him.
Christine Angelsdotter (born Christina Malapetsa) has been writing fiction since childhood, even though her writing has arguably improved. She has studied music, linguistics, psychology and cognitive neuroscience, because her curiosity is comparable to that of a nine-year-old. She resides in Stockholm, where she busies herself with research, writing, games, arts and crafts. She has published several short stories, as well as two novels. “I soul you” is a story inspired by a series of extraordinarily weird dreams and coincidences. In case of disappointment, please refer to the Dream Lord for compensation.