There’s a problem with running for your life. You never know if you’ve run far enough. Strangely that doesn’t change when you’re dead.
I was a mile or more away from Rosie’s house before I turned to look behind me and saw there was nothing there. It wasn’t a comforting sight. When you’re running from shadows it’s really hard to tell when you’ve gotten away from them and when you’ve already been surrounded.
The one thing I did know was that running away like this felt familiar. Much too familiar.
“What if they’re right?” I asked myself, because the world was already crazy, so I might as well join it.
“About what?” a Hungry Shadow asked.
Ghosts don’t have adrenaline. We don’t have a body to produce chemical jolts of power for us. In theory, we don’t have a survival instinct anymore either. There’s nothing to survive, we’re already done. Given that, I make a poor ghost it seemed, because I was back at a screaming run in less than a blink of an eye.
Without a body, you can run a lot faster it turns out. Also, with no lungs, you don’t get winded. From what other ghosts have told me though, if you exert yourself too long, you start to get a bit thin – like a picture that’s faded due to age. It’s not a permanent condition. Ghosts sleep too, and like everything else that sleeps, dreams restore us.
I hadn’t pushed myself so far that I’d experienced that kind of fading, so I wasn’t sure how bad it would be, but with Hungry Shadows chasing me I didn’t care. All that mattered was getting away from them and getting to a safe place.
Which was the heart of my immediate problem. I didn’t know where to go. Rosie had said her house was protected from the Shadows but that was a lie. I knew places that the Shadows didn’t seem to go. Places that harbored little bits of peace and tranquility. For a lot of ghosts their own graves seemed to fit that category.
We’re not connected to our mortal remains anymore. We can’t animate our old bodies or even notice what’s done with them. Once we leave them, bodies aren’t much more than tools that we’ve set aside. We might have some fondness for our corpse because we used it a lot, but it’s not us. It’s just some chemicals put together that we used to interact with the world. What we really are is something completely apart from that.
I say all that, and it’s true, but it’s also worth noting that as I ran I was faced with the fact that I had no idea where my body was. Whatever last remnants of shelter it had to offer me were out of my reach. Because even death is complicated sometimes.
“This is a great little run we’re having but if you could hold up a moment, I think there’s been a big misunderstanding,” a Hungry Shadow said. Or tried to say. Each pair of words was spit out in bursts as it appeared in front of me again and again and was left behind in my increasing panic.
Eventually my mind did knit together the whole sentence though. It wasn’t the kind of thing a Hungry Shadow would normally say. In fact, I struggled to recall Hungry Shadows ever speaking to me before. I presumed they could – everything else seemed to be able to – but they didn’t seem big on having conversations with their lunch. Usually they just swarmed around a hapless ghost and swallowed them up.
“I’m not going to eat you,” the Hungry Shadow said. “I’m not what you think I am.”
I slid to a stop on the sidewalk I was racing down. The Hungry Shadow, which looked a lot more like the silhouette of a young girl than a dark cloud of teeth and pain, stopped as well. I made sure I was on one side of the car we were near and she was on the other. I don’t know why I thought that would help. It wasn’t like I couldn’t walk right through the car, so I had to guess she could too. Thinking of things as solid is a habit of the living, but it seems like it’s one that stays with you.
“What are you?” I asked, keeping my eye on her and everything around me. Usually you’d expect to be able to listen for people creeping up on you. With Hungry Shadows though, listening isn’t so much of an option.
“A Shadow, but not the Hungry kind,” she said.
“So you’ve already eaten?” I asked. Talking felt like it was more dangerous than running but running didn’t seem to be working so I had to make do with the options that were available.
“No, I don’t work like that,” she said. “I’m not a monster. Or well, ok, we’re all monsters I suppose, but…listen, this isn’t really my forte. Seeming is much better at this, but short form; we should go back to Rosie’s. I don’t think it’s terribly dangerous here, but no one runs off like you did without there being something after you. Also, you scared the hell out of Rosie and Betty.”
“They said Rosie’s house was safe.” It was as much an accusation as an explanation.
“It is,” she said. “For reasonable values of safe.”
“What do you mean?” I asked. The Shadow sounded a lot more ‘brainy’ than I expected. Almost nerdy.
“Nothing’s ever really safe,” she said. “But Rosie’s place is safer that a lot of others.”
“She said it was protected against things like you,” I said.
“Things like me? Yes. Me specifically? No. I’m one of her friends. We don’t want to keep our friends out, that’s actually much less safe than the alternative.”
“Why is she friends with a Shadow?” I asked.
“Why don’t you come back and ask her yourself,” the Shadow said. “You can also help calm her down. Knowing Rosie, she’s building a PKE meter and some Proton Packs as we speak.”
Whoever the Shadow was, I was having a harder and harder time believing she could be one of the Hungry ones that I’d met before. That was embarrassing.
“Ok,” I said. “Do you know how to get there though? I think I got a little lost.”
“No problem,” she said. “I grew up around here. Umm, but maybe we should get moving sooner than later.”
“Why?” I asked.
“I’m not a Hungry Shadow, but I think those are right?”
I looked down the street behind me in the direction she was pointing and saw a familiar roiling cloud of teeth and empty maws rising from the pavement and slinking from around the houses.