Since becoming a ghost, I didn’t feel like I was fully me. It felt like pieces were missing. I’d waved that thought off because it was pretty obvious which pieces those might be – all of them. Or at least all the physical bits.
If I looked at my hands, they still looked like they always did. Black skin and pink palms. The same hands I’d written journals and drawn terrible pictures with for years. But they weren’t. My real hands didn’t pass through walls like the wall was made out of smoke. My real body had weight and solidity. It anchored me down, but it kept me in the world too. Without it, I felt like a part of me was clinging desperately to the skin of the world as the Earth whipped around at thousands of miles per hour.
Losing my body hadn’t come as that much of a retroactive surprise though. I was a ghost. Obviously my body was past tense or I would still be inhabiting it. Discovering that I might have lost other parts of myself too, memories and maybe even more important intangible bits? That was terrifying.
“Why can’t I remember what I was looking for?” I asked. “I should be able to remember that!”
The outlines of Rosie’s room started to shimmer. As signs went, that was a bad one.
“Uh, you don’t look so good,” Betty said. “Hold it together and we can figure this out.”
I wanted to do what she said, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the missing pieces of my mind, and every empty space I poked with a thought just unsettled me further. It was like discovering you were a missing tooth in your mouth and trying to keep your tongue away from the unfamiliar space.
“There’s other things I can’t remember too,” I said. Rosie’s entire room started to shake and I felt an earthquake rumble through me.
“This isn’t good,” Betty said. “We need to help her.”
Because, of course, Rosie’s room wasn’t shaking. I was.
I could feel the Inbetween world pulling me away, but I didn’t want to leave the living world yet. Rosie and Betty had already freed me from the Underweb and helped me discover something I couldn’t have noticed on my own. If I faded back to the Inbetween world, I could get blown away again, or worse, before I made it back to them.
“Look at me,” Rosie said. She wheeled over to where I was sitting on top of one of her desks. “You’re ok here. My friend Penny and I have this house buried under so many protections that no Hungry Shadows can get to you.”
“I’ve been eaten though,” I said. I saw cracks start to fracture paths through my skin at the horror of that thought.
“But you’re still here,” Rosie said.
“Yeah, whatever happened, you survived it,” Betty said. “Well, sort of.”
I laughed, but it sounded a little crazy. I was a ghost. We’re not known for rating all that high on the “managed to survive something” scale.
“She’s right,” Rosie said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re dead or not, the point is, you’re still here, so you survived whatever it was that took your memories away.”
“Am I though?” I asked. Their words sounded true, but I couldn’t deny the sick feeling that radiated through me either. “I don’t know who I am. I may not be the ‘Heather’ that I think I was at all.”
“That’s not important,” Rosie said. “What matters is whether you can be the Heather you want to be.”
Maybe because she’s an enchanter, Rosie’s words hit me like a hammer hitting a bell. The world stopped shaking and I felt the parts of me that were flying away be drawn back into a solid ball in my chest. I might not have a heart anymore, but I had an idea inside me, and that was almost as good.
“I want to find out what they took from me,” I said after I had a minute or two to calm down. “I don’t even know if it matters, but it was mine, and whoever I was, the me I am now wants that stuff back.”
“We might be able to help you there,” Betty said. “Or we might know someone who could help you.”
“Grandma Apples?” Rosie asked.
“I know we go to her for a lot of stuff, but, well, she is kind of Grandma Apples,” Betty said, as though the name explained everything.
“Yeah, this seems like the kind of thing that we should ask her about,” Rosie said.
“Who’s Grandma Apples?” I asked.
“An old witch,” Betty said.
“And a friend,” Rosie said.
“She’s been dealing with this kind of stuff for a long time,” Betty said.
“She’ll either know how to help you out or who to talk to,” Rosie said.
Talking to someone who knew what was going on sounded pretty good, but there were things to worry about there too.
“I’m not ready to move on,” I said. “Some of the people that I talked to, the living ones who could see me, they kept trying to force me to move on and let go of the living world.”
“Sounds like you scared the hell out of them,” Betty said.
“I didn’t do anything to them though!” I said.
“You didn’t have to,” Betty said. “Just the fact that you are what are you was enough to freak them out. Freaked out people need control, so their next step is deciding that they know what’s best and trying to convince you that they understand what’s happening with you better than you do.”
“That sounds really dumb. Who are we talking about?” a Hungry Shadow said.
I’m not sure if my scream literally blasted me through the wall and out of Rosie’s house or if I flew out into the yard on my own. Whichever it was though, I fled, outracing the wind and abandoning all hope of finding safety anywhere I went.