This time I pinched myself first, right on the arm. It hurt. I wasn’t dreaming. Or, if I was, I had a resilient imagination that refused to let me wake up. Clara was there, and she was real, at least as real as my eyes were telling me.
She was floating above me, and once again her body was made up of light. She was there as I had pictured her in my head, overalls and all. Except there was that faint, pale yellow glow, like an aura, emanating from her body. She did not say a word, but instead looked down on me, with her sad, gray-brown eyes the color of acorns and treebark.
I remembered the way I had left my body the first time, and I knew what to do. I closed my eyes, and imagined that there was a second body inside my physical one; a body of light, insubstantial like Clara’s, buried just beneath the outer layer of flesh. I could feel it inside of me, thrumming with life. I knew that if I tried to move in bed then, I wouldn’t be able to, could already feel the stiffening of my body into a straight, and rigid plank.
I imagined myself as the thrumming light inside my body, and began retreating from my senses. The coolness of the sheets under and on top of me, the soft, feathery pillow, even the sensation of breathing I left behind, the flowing of moving air in my lungs, and back out, and that was the hardest of all to ignore.
What came next was as easy as opening your eyes in the morning. I simply let go. It was as if there was a little hook in my chest, and I was hanging on it, like a coat in a closet. All I had to do was open the door, and let myself out.
There was nothing holding me, or weighing me down, and I felt myself drifting up, slowly. I opened my eyes, and I was hovering in the air next to Clara. She raised an eyebrow at me.
“Nice,” she said. “Looks like you’re getting the hang of it.”
I lifted a hand, waved it in front of my face. It left a faint trail of glowing particles, that hung, and then faded into blackness, in the air. “Is this real?” I asked. “I thought last night was a dream.”
“It’s as real as you make it,” said Clara. I did not know what exactly that meant. It was not a very straightforward answer. “Now come on, and be quiet.” As she spoke, her body deconstructed into a dusty luminescence, and floated through the window, and outside.
I drifted over to the window, and stopped to think. I looked back down at my body, lying on the bed as if sleeping. If I had left my lump of skin and bones behind, why couldn’t I just pass through the wall, like a ghost? I reached a hand out, and touched the wall. I couldn’t feel it, not the texture, or temperature of it, but there was something there. It felt like I was resting my hand on the surface of a body of water, but it didn’t feel wet, and I couldn’t breach it. I pushed, and felt no give. Did that mean that this body was solid too? I frowned, confused.
Clara poked her head in the window. “Come on,” she said. “What’s the holdup?”
“Why can’t we just go through the walls. Aren’t we like ghosts?”
Clara shrugged. “You could,” she said. “But you run into a mental block. My way is easier. Just imagine that everything that’s holding you together broke off, and that the pieces you need are now on this side of the wall.”
“Is that it?”
I tried to do what she told me, and found it remarkably similar to the process of leaving my body. I closed my eyes again, and imagined all of my fingers and toes and strands of hair that were back on my body were actually still attached to me, and that they were like magnets. Then I imagined them falling off, one by one, and popping over the wall in a puff of smoke. I kept that image in my head, and I could feel myself being pulled over to them. I did not have to do anything else.
When I opened my eyes again, I was on the other side.
“See?” Clara said. “Told you so.” She was floating a couple feet above me, her naked feet at my eye level. “Gran told me what happened when she went over. Sorry.”
My voice raised unintentionally.“She didn’t do anything!” I said. A hot fire sparked inside. “And he just slammed the door in her face. I thought you could help me. I thought you would do something. Anything. Why can’t you just help me?”
Clara floated down until she was right beside me. “It’s not that simple,” she said quietly.
“Well it should be!” I was nearly shouting at her now. It wasn’t her fault, I knew, it was my own. For not knowing what to do.
“Do you think we’re not trying?” Clara snapped. “Do you think that we don’t care, or aren’t doing everything we can, thinking of how we can help? There are rules. Rules that we can’t break without consequences. You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Her words struck home, and I was hit with the force of them. She was right. I didn’t know at all what I was talking about. I didn’t know anything.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings. I just don’t know what to do. He made my mom hurt me, and locked me in my room, and chased me around the yard when I tried to escape and he’s going to buy locks for all the doors tomorrow and never let me leave. He says he wants us to be a family, but I think he’s trying to trick me.”
Clara’s face grew somber and thoughtful. She crossed her legs, and sat in the air, and chewed on her thumbnail. The wind whistled through the air, and rustled the leaves on the trees. A raccoon scuttled across the street, its fat body waddling. Then she spoke.
“I don’t think he’s trying to trick you, not necessarily,” she said. Her eyes were looking out into space, thumb resting on her mouth. “I think he’s trying to stay here. Now that he’s got a body, it’s like a foothold in this world. He must have been very sad, to want to leave everything he knew behind.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “Sad? He’s taking over my life! He’s and nasty and mean, and just wants to ruin everything. He isn’t sad. He’s evil. A monster.”
“Even monsters have stories. Everyone comes from somewhere.”
“Yeah, and his story is, he wants to do the same thing to me that he did to my uncle.” She sounded like she was on his side, now.
“That may be what he plans on doing, eventually. But it’s not his story. It’s not who he was before he came here. It’s what made him want to come in the first place.” Clara shook her head. “But that doesn’t matter as much now, you’re right. He’s made his choice. Now we have to find a way to get rid of him.”
“But how?” I asked. “I thought you said there were rules.”
Clara squeezed out a wry smile. “There are always loopholes. Gran’s working on something, I think. But she won’t tell me what.”
Hope welled up inside me, like a rising balloon. “Really? That’s great! Will she make him go away forever?”
Clara sighed. “I’m not sure. But that’s not what I came here to talk to you about. I’m leaving tomorrow. My mom is picking me up, and taking me back home.”
It was as if someone had taken a pin to the balloon of hope in my chest, and sent it spiraling through the air, and deflating to the ground. “You can’t go,” I said.
“I have to. I was only ever staying for two weeks anyway, while my mom was on her business trip.”
I found it difficult to imagine anyone related to Ms. Cleary and Clara doing something as normal and adult as going on a business trip.
“I just wanted to tell you, in case I didn’t get another chance to talk to you. I was planning on coming over tomorrow. To say goodbye, before I leave. I didn’t think he would let me, though. But I wanted to make sure you heard it from me, and I didn’t just disappear.”
“Thanks,” I said in a flat voice. “My mom should let me say goodbye when he’s out buying the locks. You can come by then.”
“Okay,” she said. “I’ll do that. She started moving then, slowly drifting back toward the hedge. “I should go. We both should get some rest.”
“That’s it?” I said. “That’s all you wanted to tell me?”
“Yes,” said Clara, and went away, through the walls of her house in a cloud of light, leaving me alone.
I stayed outside for a few minutes, taking in the night air. I thought about going back to the graveyard, and seeing if my father’s pale green light would be there again. But I did not want to go alone. I was afraid that if I did, I would not be able to come back. So instead, I went back inside, through the wall, using the same trick I had to leave. I lowered myself back down into my body, and as I did, I felt myself falling into a deep, and troubled sleep.