Ms. Josephine’s, Deep Ellum.
3 very tense minutes later . . .
I have no words to describe her. The girl that haunts me. The girl that I have to save. I know that I feel something for her. I don’t want to say passion, because I’m not really sure what that means. In the same way I’m just learning about all of this Deadside stuff, I’m also learning how to be a person.
I know a lot of things, processes and social graces. But I have no memories. I know how to count and do math, but I can’t tell you why, or who taught me. Did I go to college? Was I a high school dropout? Good arguments could be made for both. Though, probably more for the latter.
I decide the brutal honesty is all I have to offer Ms. Josephine.
“I feel for her,” I said, perhaps admitting it to myself for the first time. This girl, I continue to explain, whoever she is, she’s gotten to me. I want to talk to her, to figure out where she fits in to my hidden past. I want to know why she needs me to help her.
“Do you tink dat you and dis girl were ever in love?” Ms. Josephine says, cutting right through my rationalizations and superfluous ramblings.
I shrug. “I don’t know. She’s beautiful,” I say.
Ricky is staring at me like I’m some creep. I raise my hands in surrender, explaining, I mean, obviously, she is dead. And that is not something that I’m attracted to. Although, for being dead, she is still captivating.
Ricky’s glances have turned from indignation, to something between pity and disgust.
“No,” I say. “What I mean to say is that she is the kind of girl who, if she was alive, I could find myself attracted to. She’s the type of woman I would find myself drawn to.”
I then propose the idea that she may have been my girlfriend; wife, even.
“She chose you,” Ms. Josephine said delicately. “And she ’as taken great risks to communicate wit you.”
“Risks,” Ricky echoed. “What risks? She’s a ghost. She’s already dead. What’s the worst that could happen?”
Ms. Josephine’s eyes seemed to narrow, not in anger, but in caution. “When somebody from da Deadside tries to communicate wit a person from da Earth plane, dere’s consequences.”
“Consequences,” I say. “Like what?”
Ms. Josephine looked bothered for the first time. Scared, even. “De screamers, da ones wit fire in deir eyes. Dey come whenever somebody from da Deadside tries to make contact. Dey’ve treatened me several times. And all I do is listen. Dem screamers, dey can’t come across to da Earth plane. But over dere, you don’t ’ave no protection.”
That’s a comforting thought.
“Dey can rip a soul apart,” she added, “. . . as if you didn’t never exist in da first place.”
“Wonderful,” I say. “Are there any other high-points we need to address before my soul gets ripped apart and the girl of my dreams gets eaten by things that have red eyes and scream for a living?”
“’Er name is Kristen,” Ms. Josephine said. And my heart, it definitely skips a beat or two. “She’s been asking about you for six months. Dat’s ’ow I knew to expect you. She found me, out of all da other channels. Searched me out. Dat girl, she ’ad traveled a great distance to contact you.”
“What does she want?” I asked. “How do I know her? Does she know me?”
Now I have about 2.3 million questions that need answering.
Ms. Josephine held up her hands, “I can’t tell you tings I don’t know. Da few times we’ve talked, da screamers were on ’er quickly. I tink dey’re ’unting ’er.”
“What do you mean, hunting her?” Ricky asked carefully.
Ms. Josephine took a moment to consider her words. Her eyes moved slowly to each of us, and then along the wall where all of the protective talisman and strange symbols were keeping us supposedly safe. She took several breaths.
“Channels, like me,” she said, “. . . dey call us watchers. We can listen, most of us. And a few of us can see into da Deadside. But all we can do is see and listen. Can’t none of us interact. And beyond dat, dere ’as not been a person who can walk between da Earth plane and da Deadside in several ’undred years.”
She took several more deep breaths, nervous as she continued, “But you see, if da lines of communication between dese two planes are maintained, dat would cause all sorts of problems for both worlds. We’re stacked on top of each other, already. Dese screamers, dey’ll stop at nothing to assure dat we cannot freely associate wit dem.
“. . . dis girl who’s been coming for you . . . she did somethin’ to make dem mad. I tink dey want to ’urt ’er.”
“Fire and brimstone kind of hurt?” Ricky asked.
“Or,” I added, “end of existence kind of hurt?”
“Somethin’ dramatic,” she replied, “. . . and permanent.”
“We don’t have much time, then,” I said. “I’m ready.”
She looked at me, considering our options. “Jack, you ‘aven’t been at dis very long. Dis is no game. You could die over dere. And if dey get you, you’re never comin’ back.”
“I’m prepared for that.”
“Think about what you’re saying, Jack,” Ricky said, trying to reason with me.
“I have,” I told them. “I woke-up nearly five months ago. Whatever happened before that is gone. There are two things I know for certain. One, that I have to do whatever it takes to find out who I am, and that means knowing who I was. Speculation won’t be enough. I need to know.
And two, this girl needs me. I’ve heard those screamers. Their calls are so traumatically frightening that I can only imagine how horrible they must be in the flesh. And if this girl, Kristen, if she searched me out, knowing that those things would be coming after her, then whatever she has to tell me . . . I’m damn sure going to listen.
I can’t sit here, being a tard-farmer, eating frozen pizza, while this girl is being hunted down for extermination by monsters. I don’t know much about the man I used to be, but the man I am now won’t stand by for that.”
Ms. Josephine considered my words, my thoughts. My conviction. She leaned back and nodded a few times. “Did you read da book?”
“Do you know what you’ll be up against?”
“As much as any other amnesia patient.”
“Are you willin’ to cross a line dat you can never return from?”
“I kind of already did.”
“Okay, den,” she said. I could see her strength gathering. Her posture, her face, they were stronger now. “Alright. You’re ready to cross over.”
“Wait, wait, wait,” Ricky pleaded, “. . . when is this going down?”
Ms. Josephine looked at both of us, standing from her chair. “Right now, boys. Right now.”
It was time to cross to the place between dogs and wolves . . . and sharks.