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Lori Titus
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The Nayjeed

By Lori Titus

 

We are called the Nayjeed.

You have never heard this word before, as it comes from a dead language that long predates Aramaic. It means, that which is lost forever. We were called the Souls by the outcasts who were wise enough to see beyond the veil, the shadows that cloister men and dog their dreams. But every living thing has a soul, and that is not the proper name for us, as I see it. So I refer to us by that ancient name, even though some of our kind find it a disgrace.

When one does not have a body, the name which you call yourself is very important.

There is a collective memory amongst our species that stretches back to elements and cooling lava flows and small animals that rose up from the sea. There are no measurements to calculate the weight or depth of our density, our memories, and our hungers. We are creatures of the spirit realm, and cannot be detected by heat signatures or carbon counts or any sort of computer program.

We are not ghosts. Though I could tell you with certainty that they do exist.  They are not spirits left behind in some loop, but actually, just the electricity and memory left as an imprint on a spot where a human experienced trauma. Like a recording of a singer’s voice, the sound and feeling resonates through the air, but the owner is no longer present, having left and moved onward to its next state of being. The voice knows nothing, experiences nothing, but can still be heard.

I am not here to talk to you about ghosts. They are of little consequence. What matters always is the living, sentient beings that fight for space. The human condition has not and will not change. You will always scramble for scarce resources. Give me what is mine and that is all I want from you. Let me experience what I can of this world and I will ask for no more.

Above all, we Nayjeed are jealous creatures.

We are neither demons nor angels, though the stories passed through our people would seem to insinuate that we are similar to them in the fact that they are also non corporeal. I have no evidence of this theory, but it’s what the Souls say. My mind being far more stubborn than others, I come to wonder if this likening of us to angels or demons is really false, but a way perhaps to make it seem that Nayjeed actually have a place in the universe. Are we to believe that we were created, or evolved, as humans once did? That we are a part of a plan, a greater thing, and that there is some reason for our existence, that we were not some random spark of energy created by a careless God? Are we less than the atoms and molecules which would set the sky and sea apart from each other, or turn them blue and not blood red?

One would think, that with all the killing, death and chaos on this planet that the oceans would run red with blood.

As much as I abhor death – the smell of it surrounds us as we walk our paths through your cities and streets- death is the thing we search for.

At the moment before death, as the human’s soul moves forward, a Nayjeed can enter the human’s skin, clawing its way in through the last breath and making the body its own.

The human’s soul goes on to its reward, and the Nayjeed inhabits the flesh.

Humans never fear us, because they believe that we are them. In the teeming nameless cities, we move amongst you. I have seen the spirits of many of my brothers and sisters staring back at me through their borrowed eyes, and I nod and smile at them from the mask of the borrowed skin I inhabited at the time.

Living within the humans lessens us.

I know this because I have experienced it. The lives of each skin, each body which we live in, takes something from us. The memories attached to the flesh invade us. No matter how long or short a time one inhabits a human body, it comes with the depth of all the memories and emotions of the former occupant. Like the grooves in an old record album, those memories make grooves into one’s being, scars that are permanent and cannot be wiped away. And though I carry the collective memory of my people, a consciousness that has bound us through eons, I feel it diminishing as I move from skin to skin.

On this very night, I live inside the skin of a young woman that died before her time.

I do not know who killed her. I rushed towards her when I felt the spirit beginning to separate from the body.  I was pulled inside, as hands pushed her beneath the water. The water was dark and murky; I could not see, but I felt her soul leave. She was screaming, and the psychic scream that pealed from her was louder than a train, though the pitiful gasps of her life being taken by the water and the clutching hands at her throat made her barely audible. With no way to escape, and the man holding her down, she did not stop fighting until the light opened and drew her inside. I had never seen it quite like that before, been so close to the human soul as it departed, and I felt the emotions that flooded her being. If I could have went with her into that light, I would have followed. But that bit of grace was meant only for her.

The killer must have fled when the body slipped from his grasp, because I was alone when I clawed my way up onto the shore, head spinning, vomiting up water. The trees swayed above. The stars kept their cold and silent vigil, the only witness to what I had not been able to see.

At night, I dream her dreams. Her name was Jessica. Months before her death, she had a recurring nightmare where she woke in bed, covered in yellow dust and the flailing wings of dying moths. They surrounded her, covered her in layers, their gray-yellow wings shivering like ancient paper in the breeze. And though she struggled to peel them back from her eyes, her mouth, her nose, they continued to layer her face and body.  I wake shivering, still feeling the tickle of dust, the phantom wings on my bare skin.

I have inherited her dislike of the rain that drenches the city. I am cold all the time, because her blood is thin, or her metabolism is low, because I am more sensitive to it in her body than any other I have lived in. In the back of my mind there is always the fear that whomever killed her was someone she knew, that he would come back to finish his work.  Jessica had not known who killed her, was shocked that anyone would want to harm her that night at the lake. She didn’t even see her assailant; he’d attacked her from behind.

Jessica had a friend named Ben, a brown haired man with kind blue eyes and a cocky grin. He’d come from a poor family, a point of contention between the two, as Jessica had come from money. They met in college, and became lovers shortly afterwards. Ben worked odd jobs on nights and weekends through school, until he was able to get his grades up enough to get scholarships. After graduation, he started his own construction company. She always told him that he should be proud of his success, the fact that he was his own boss. Jessica was more artist than business woman, a graphic designer who floated from company to company. She had never been interested in going independent. She liked being flexible, being on someone else’s payroll, and being able to up and leave when it suited her. As Ben pointed out during one of their nastier arguments, she didn’t have the desire to start her own business, because it wasn’t necessary when one had a good paycheck and a bank account fortified with Daddy’s trust fund money.

His insult was correct, and that did nothing to lessen the sting. Jessica didn’t speak to him for three weeks after that. He apologized to her, and after that, they pretended their argument never happened. This was a normal pattern for the two.  Through the years there had been fights, breakups, other people, but that they always went back to each other, their bodies craving the wholeness of the pure, animal comfort they found in each other.

Sometimes, at night when they held each other, Ben talked about his past, things that he missed, the dreams he had of buying a house for them on the seashore. Their children, and their names, and what they would look like. Always, Jessica sensed an undertone, a darkness, or sadness, something there that he could not talk about with her. She knew that he’d lost his mother young, and that his father had remained distant most of his life. But there were secrets, other things that he would not reveal. She knew it intuitively, and with a certainty. There were parts of him she could not touch, and though she wanted to know more, she thought it respectful not to ask. She wanted him to trust her with the things that burdened him.

Though Jessica came and went in his life, Ben sensed that something was different once I had taken residence of the body.

I invited him to dinner with candlelight, and when we made love, I felt more alive than I ever had before. When he touched me, I was trinity:  flesh, spirit and consciousness, all remembering the loving that had come before. Experiencing it anew. I could remember the first time he made love with her, how he had brought her to orgasm in the gentlest way, teasing her with his tongue and fingertips before he entered her.

Afterwards, he sat staring at me in the darkness while I pretended to sleep. He did not give a voice to the questions that must have been in his head, and I had no idea what I would say if he asked. An anxious week elapsed between that night and the day that he called me again, and I was relieved. Whatever doubts he had were erased by his need to see me again. He kept coming back, and each time I took every pleasure that he could give me.

For Nayjeed, death is not some long distant concept that lurks outside of daily reach. For us, it is possible every day, every other moment. Nor is it some respite, a darkness, nothingness with peace. It is being without flesh, adrift, able to see and understand all that happens around you, but not take part of it. And to know the flesh and to lose it, is a terrible fate. Many Nayjeed would willingly go to a true death than to know life again without a body. So we wait. And we take what we can.

It has been months in human time since that night when Jessica lost her life. Her photos stare back at me from her phone and from pictures stored in a shoebox at the back of the bedroom closet. Those eyes of hers, their gray brown shine, had a different sparkle then, some intangible that I don’t see when I stare back in the mirror. But I am her flesh, and her memories, and partially her experience. And yet, I am separate, clinging to this house of pleasure that I do not own but have been allowed to rest in. I constantly fear the day that someone might want to hurt her, or worse yet, that I meet with some tragic accident.

It’s always a challenge, the search for a new body. There is a restlessness that creeps in, a sort of unease that lets you know that it is time to move. Sometimes, the body becomes ill, or is a poor fit.

Many years ago, I lived inside the body of an elderly woman named Molly.  Her yoke of memories and bitterness nourished the beginning of what would have become cancer given enough time, the creeping tendrils of it present, even though it hadn’t been the thing that killed her in the end. On a sunny afternoon, she sat in her white ginger bread kitchen, staring out the window into her back yard, watching two stray cats chase each other through the grass. She’d sighed and thought, I could sleep for a while. And then, she was gone. Molly’s heart simply stopped beating.

When I lived inside her, I was assaulted by all the memories of her pain, which permeated each fiber of her being. I kept that body only a few weeks, unable to stand the barrage of images: the rape committed by her boyfriend one night in the back of his ’55 Chevy. A quick, forced marriage followed to protect her reputation and give a name to the child that she had become pregnant with.  Afternoons spent in quiet desperation, waiting for her husband to come home, bracing for his anger, and drinking too much red wine in the interim. The disappointed eyes of her twenty-four year old son on the day he told her that he was ashamed to have a mother that was a drunk, and that he would not be coming back to see her again until she got some help. I would wake each morning with the urge to drink, even though Molly had learned to control her addiction years before I came to her. Leaving Molly’s skin was a relief. I still hate the taste of red wine, and refuse to drink it.  The flavor reminds me of her, tears and sorrow concentrated in liquid form.

Once, I inhabited the body of a boy named Kayden (he’d only been five when he died and I took possession) after the child suffered a prolonged fever. His life sputtered past his lips deep in the night, without so much as a whisper to rouse his sleeping parents in the next room. During the summer that he would have turned seven years old, I stared out of his parent’s car window and saw a wrecked sedan on the opposite side of the highway.

Anyone could have told you that the occupants of that tangle of red metal had to be dead. But I knew it because I saw my people there.

It could not have been that my child’s eyes were clear enough to intuitively see what an adult should not have been able to. What I saw were four figures, their bodies diaphanous but full of streaming colors, their heads and limbs elongated, misshapen, like carnival mirror reflections of painted men. They moved slowly until their shapes disappeared into the metal, sinking into the bodies of the crash victims. That part I could not see, but felt. I was connected enough to my brethren to know what they felt. There is usually pain when we enter a body- whatever pain the human feels as they are leaving it, and this pain was fourfold, the death full of sound, glare, and confusion.

I tried to scream, opened my mouth, but no sound would come. There were no words.

I have never perceived my own people to look in such a way. I had always seen them before as having the same type of bodies as humans do, only wisp thin, as one would imagine a ghost.

Part of me wanted to believe that this was the child’s perception only. Didn’t human children turn everything into a monster? Monsters are easy to understand; they are evil and the world should be rid of them. The world of the adult mind- even that of humans, with their inability to see past their own dimension- was far more complicated.

And despite this rationalization, I feared that the child’s mind was simply pure enough to see Nayjeed as they really were, despite the fact that I was inside of him. Perhaps, after millennia of living inside the bodies of humans, we only imagined ourselves to look as they do. Perhaps even the oldest remaining of us did not know what a true Nayjeed would look like to other beings, or even to each other.

Have we recreated ourselves in the image of humankind so many times that no one remembers what we really are? And if so, does anyone care?

There will come a time when I will need to move from this body, and all that Jessica has known will be another tune, a fragment of my being that plays in my head at night, or behind my eyes when I close them. Perhaps we are the truest thieves of all nature, but there is a sort of loving that comes with hatred.

“I love you,” Ben whispered in my ear one night. His words made me both angry and happy. Angry that what he loves is probably the memory of the woman he knew, but pleased that I am in the body that he loves. I reached over and caressed his cheek, his neck. I even thought about killing him then, forcing him out of the skin. I have never actually killed one of them before, but I could. Once it was done, I could learn all of his secrets.  Unlock the truths that Jessica’s body had not been able to wring from him. It will be a new experience, a sensation, like a hot shower or the first taste of something sweet. A new routine to add to the repertoire. A variation in melody amongst the grooves on my old time music album.

 That time will come, eventually. It always does.

 

Lori Titus is the Managing Editor of Flashes in the Dark ezine. Her projects include two novellas and a novel, Hunting in Closed Spaces. She spends her time in a small California town where she dreams up new worlds for her characters. Her latest novel, The Bell House, is upcoming this year, along with several short stories and a third novel she co-authored. Connect with her as Loribeth215 on Twitter.



With Crystal Connor, Lori co-authored The Guardians of Man: Black Feathers Fell in the Foothills of Mt. Empyreal


<http://www.amazon.com/dp/1500347590/ref=cm_sw_r_fa_awdm_oUa5tb193MY1Z>.



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