My task was simple.
I had to make it across an uncertain amount of the city, while pursued by nightmares, thinking happy thoughts the whole time, as I tried to keep myself from freaking out and falling apart completely.
My task was impossible.
Which didn’t mean I had the option of not doing it.
Running as a ghost was easier than running while I was alive. Ectoplasm weighs less than flesh and blood I guess, and without lungs that can ache for air or a heart that can beat too fast trying to pump blood through the body, there weren’t physical pains to hold me back.
That doesn’t mean running was easy though. The smoke and starlight that made up my body felt like it was fading with each step that I took away from Grandma Apples house. I was literally too scared to hold it together.
That much fear made part of me wanted to stay where I was. Grandma Apple’s house seemed like a safe place and if I waited long enough there was the chance that someone would come by to help me. Great Gran might even return once she was done with sleeping.
Of course, if I stayed I was also risking the Hungry Nightmares finding a path to reach me and the people who might help me. I didn’t know what they were capable of, but Great Gran’s depiction of them seemed to say that they’d be trouble for anyone who was around me for too long.Since I was likely to be dead for a long time, just shy of forever I guessed, it seemed like the smart play to not lose any potential friends to Hungry Nightmare mishaps.
The sensation of falling apart was the hardest temptation to fight against. It would be so easy to dissolve into a blowing cloud of mist and dust. I’d done it before when I was exhausted and it offered some real restoration. It was like sleep but without all the restless dreams and tossing and turning in the middle of the night. The problem was, having no idea what the Hungry Nightmares could do also meant I couldn’t be sure I wouldn’t wind up eaten if I tried that.. When I dissolved, I was out of it for hours. If the Nightmares could find me then and vacuum me up or something there would be nothing I could do about it.
So I ran.
And the Hungry Nightmares chased me.
“This is so unfair!” I screamed. “You can’t be here!”
We were racing through the Inbetween, or the dead lands. Nothing but ghosts and the ghostly reflections of things from the living world were supposed to be here. To be fair, Nightmares aren’t supposed to be real in either world, so it was unfair that I was being pursued by them at all.
Grandma Apples neighborhood was one that looked it had been crafted as a diorama for “North Eastern Suburb, Quaint”. The houses ranged from ones that wouldn’t have looked out of place with gingerbread walls, to old family homes from the early parts of the last century. Plenty of space around houses like that for shadows to hide and creep. Shadows that moved on their own without the light changing or the wind blowing.
I saw a pair of the shadows turning their toothy maws up to scent the air as they searched the foundations of an old cottage for cracks big enough to slip through. Like bloodhounds they snapped towards me the instant they noticed I was in the area.
“Why can’t I fly?” I complained, only to turn it into a serious question. “Yeah, why can’t I fly?
I knew I weighed virtually nothing. If I could propel myself by running without real legs, why couldn’t I propel myself through the air just as easily.
Knowing that a fall wouldn’t kill me (I was already dead after all) but failing to escape the Hungry Nightmares might be a fate worse than death, I decided to give it a try.
An old station wagon was parked facing me on the side of the street, so I ran toward it and jumped onto its hood.
My feet didn’t pass through, Which made sense I guess. I didn’t want them to and I seem to be as solid as I intend to be most of the time.
Without wasting time questioning that, let my momentum carry me to the roof of the car and then, with all my might, I leaped.
There’s something uniquely terrifying about the ground falling away below you when you don’t have an airplane seat underneath you. Hitting the ground wasn’t going to hurt me, but some part of my mind hadn’t been convinced of that yet.
When I stopped rising and started falling there was a brief moment of almost transcendent peace. It wasn’t enough to convince me to move on but I could see why people would.
That was quickly lost to a renewed terror though as the ground started to rush at me a lot faster than I was prepared for.
As luck would have it however, I’d jumped a lot higher than I would have been able to in the waking world. I wasn’t just above the top of the tallest cars. I was hurtling down from the sky from well above the top of the tallest houses!
I angled myself and managed to land on the downward slope of a roof and leapt again before I reached the house’s gutter.
Once again, I was soaring into the skies.
Behind me, I heard the howls of the Nightmares as they called to their fellow monsters to take up the hunt.
It didn’t matter. I couldn’t fly, but I could leap a tall building in a single bound and that was enough.
As fast as I traveled the Nightmares pursued me, but only as fast. When I was moving all out, they couldn’t catch me!
I traversed the length of city like that. Exhilarated by what I could do and terrified that it wasn’t going to be enough, until I landed at my destination. The place where I was going to find my mortal remains.
St. John’s Children Hospital.
Except the children’s hospital didn’t have a morgue?