Anathema - Part One of Three
"Let's play pretend."
One of my favorite games. I used to love playing pretend. For starters, it was the only way I ever found anything. If my keys were lost, I could spend all day searching for them, unless I played pretend. Asking myself, "If I were my keys, where would I hide?" guaranteed a maximum of five minutes' retrieval time. Back then, my life was easy and that game only made it easier.
Maybe I should take the time to introduce myself. My name is Anna. Well, the shortened version is. My full name is Analusia Paris, after two places my mother visited and loved. I'm eighteen years old, depending on how you look at it, and I hate the dark. I quit playing pretend two years ago. Two years and sixty-four days, seven hours and thirty-seven minutes.
Oh, and right now, we're pretending that I'm alive.
I'd say that's a respectable reason to resurrect the game, even if Sebastien and Ianthe don't agree with me. They sit as far away from each other as possible. Both are tense, wary, and Ianthe's fingers flutter nervously in her lap. Occasionally, she reaches up to tug those fingers through her long golden hair. Really, truly the color of pure gold. And I don't blame her for her nervous habits. I remember what it was like, trying to find something to do with my hands so they didn't betray my awkward anxiety, all the while thinking of words to fill that stifling silence.
In contrast to Ianthe's nervous fidgeting, Bastien sits stubbornly and defiantly still, as if daring us to notice. And, of course, we do. His melting chocolate eyes stare straight through me. Through transparent skin once the color of café au lait, through silky locks only a few shades darker, and through eyes spinning into an odd mixture of gold and green. Curiously, my eyes are the only opaque thing about me, and Bastien meets them with little reluctance.
He never did shy away from a challenge. I suppose, at this point, that is what I represent. We've always been close, Bastien and I. I could be egotistical here and tell you that he's always wanted me, always felt like there was a part of me I wasn't giving. I'm not really sure telling you that would serve any purpose, but it's too late anyway, isn't it?
He claims to be in love with me. But I'm dead. Nothing is going to change that. No matter how much Bastien wishes, hopes, pleads, and prays, I'm still buried under six feet of mud. I'm sure if he thought any chance rested in my cold veins, he'd be outside digging me up.
I've assured him it would be pointless.
Ianthe, it seems, is Bastien's soulmate. She's a witch. Neither she nor he has mentioned this little detail, but I can tell. All the signs are there, clearer than a funeral toll on a gloomy Monday morning, not to be morbid or maudlin. She's given up on pretending not to be nervous now, instead twisting the pendant around her neck this way and that. It gleams and spasms in the light.
Yes, let's play pretend. The silence has stretched long enough.
"Let's pretend I'm alive."
Interesting how Bastien flinches when I say that. He rubs his hand over short-cropped dark hair, tiny nubs of curls, lighter than his eyes but with more red in those strands. Only a few shades darker than his skin. Just like mine. Even though I see the subtle pain arch across his face, I continue.
"In our make-believe world, I'm eighteen and going off to college. Or, if we really feel like using our imaginations, we can pretend I got discovered by an exclusive modeling agency and hopped a plane to New York, where I became fabulously famous. If that's too much of a stretch, I'll understand." The look on Bastien's face says it isn't. "Wherever I am, it isn't here."
Ianthe's hands pause their nervous twisting, winding and unwinding the chain around her silver pentagram, frozen for just a second in endless time. Bastien has already told her he doesn't want her, several times, and once in front of me. If I was still alive, I would have slapped him.
Finally, he speaks up. He keeps his eyes trained on my wavering form, pointedly avoiding looking in Ianthe's direction. "I don't see any point to this."
He wouldn't. I'm sure Ianthe doesn't, either. Earlier, I noticed the confusion roiling over her features like a tumbling wave crashing against shore. I'm not sure she wants him any more than he wants her, though I am sure she doesn't know what to think.
First of all, to find out your soulmate is human. Second, that he's in love with a ghost. Of all the luck. If I was her, I would be praying to the Goddess as ferverently as possible, pleading to make this all a bad dream. But then, Ianthe doesn't seem all that bright, if you ignore the glare of her hair in the candlelight.
I close my eyes briefly, hoping for the strength to deal with his stubbornness. He isn't an easy case. "We're pretending, Bastien. Pretend you see one."
It's hard to keep the sharp tones out of my voice. I want so badly for him to realize that he can't keep me with him, even if he stays in this room for the rest of his life. I'm a myth, a fantasy, but I'm not real. At exactly seven o'clock every night, he can pretend that he and I are still together, but when he reaches to touch me, he grabs only empty air.
It's a hard realization for him to swallow. I know because he's told me, and because I can see his emotions wage war in those mahogany eyes. He doesn't seem to understand that I'm his anathema. I told him once, and after looking up the word, he laughed at me. In that moment, all I could think was how appropriate my nickname was, because it could be derived from this -- a word that truly modified me -- as easily as from the label my mother had given me.
And truly, I am his curse, such as the word "anathema" denotes. It can't be easy to have a love life when you've got a ghost floating through your curtains. Not that I would mind being circumspect. I could very easily make myself scarce while he and his soulmate did --
Well, those are things I don't want to think about. I have my own memories of Bastien without creating memories for another girl. Frankly, the thought disturbs me. I really don't want to be around for that, because it would mean that I'm wrong.
See, my theory is simple. If Bastien falls in love with someone else (and who better than his soulmate?), I get my Get Out of Jail Free card. I've been waiting for that privilege for two years and sixty-three days, seven hours and forty-six minutes. I had a one day grace period at the very beginning, while I raged and screamed and demanded to know what the hell was going on. It focused into sharp parameters once Bastien shakily informed me I was dead.
It's good to know these things sometimes. I thanked him politely for telling me, recommended a good shrink, and promptly floated through the door. When it occurred to me that moving through objects is not possible according to the laws of physics, I started to think he might be right.
Bastien hates to play pretend.
"I never liked that game." His voice is flat and uncompromising. What a shock. It's nearly impossible to get Bastien to do something he doesn't want to do. Right now he doesn't want to admit I'm dead. So why doesn't he want to pretend I'm alive?
He would have to let go.
I wish they made a greeting card for that. You know. Something like, "Sorry, I'm dead, but move on with your life before your soulmate thinks you're a necrophiliac." But I think that might overstep the bounds of decency. Even Hallmark has to draw the line somewhere.
I'd bet you ten dollars they could even make it rhyme, but I have little use for money anymore.
Pushing those thoughts aside for another time, I shrug. "Deal with it," I respond, and I'm sorry to say my voice is very unsympathetic. "I'm playing a damned game, and the least you can do is humor the dead girl."
His mouth snaps closed. I think that reminder might have done it, because he doesn't seem overtly anxious to say anything else. Oops. Chalk one up for insensitivity.
"The dead girl looks like Tyra Banks."
Suddenly I'm shocked into silence. It's not that I haven't heard that before or that the idea is something new, but this *is* the first time I've heard Ianthe speak. Her voice is quiet and cultured, like that of a princess who has spent her whole life locked away in a tower, with only her tutors to keep her company.
She and Bastien met today, for the first time, and she told Bastien they were soulmates. He sneered, from what I understand, and walked away from her. I think he told her he was already in love with someone, and she got angry enough that she followed. It's not surprising that she doesn't know what to expect.
"I can understand why Bastien would want you over me."
How do you respond to a statement like that? It isn't easy, especially not to a girl who is slim, beautiful, and most importantly, alive. Time to throw the cards down on the table. The sad thing is, I've only got a pair, and neither half is really mine.
I look away from her soulmate finally, ripping my gaze and my soul away at the same time. "Well, I can't."
She stares at her hands then, her lower lip trembling. Her skin is so flawless that even I am amazed at how it glows, like a lily petal with light streaming beneath it. Maybe the certainty behind my words refreshes her own doubts and dreams. Maybe it angers her. If I cared, it might make a difference.
But I don't.
Obviously, neither does Bastien.
"It's you I love, Anna." So much passion suffuses his voice. I want to tell him I'm not me to love, but I think I have a better chance of convincing a cat to leave the mouse alone. He's got about the same attention span.
My weightless shoulders shrug, the light playing oddly on my dark skin. You wouldn't think I would reflect light, me being dead and all, but apparently that doesn't make a difference. "You love a memory."
He doesn't like that answer any more than he liked playing pretend. And speaking of that...
"Let's pretend that I'm alive and gone." My voice is harsh. Sometimes you have to be brutal to the ones you love, or they will never fly free. I've never been one for keeping mine in cages, no matter how gilded the bars might be. It would hurt me almost as much as it would hurt them. "And let's pretend that I don't want to be with you. That I've told you that."
His face falls, while Ianthe looks merely perplexed. Neither seems to understand where I'm going with this. And here I thought I'd stated it rather blatantly only a few minutes ago. "I'm not yours anymore, Bastien. I belong--" I sigh and my voice trails off. I really don't want to hurt him, though if it's necessary, I will. "I belong where you can't go."
I should have expected the stubbornness that creeps across his face. One of the first things I learned about him is that you can't tell him that he can't do, have, want, etc. He's like an errant child in that respect. Forbidden fruit is his favorite food.
"I could go." Hushed, quiet tones. "I could join you right now."
Wonderful. I just love when he gets ambitious. "No, you couldn't," I reply. "Don't even think about it. There are no guarantees here, Bastien."
Ianthe is silent once again, but now she's shooting curious glances out of the corner of her eye. His statement must have aroused some uncertainty in her head. I don't know if it's interest in why someone would be willing to die to be with me or in what that tells her about his personality. I'm hoping it's the latter.
Interest is definitely a good thing. I hope she's reading more into the devotion aspect than anything else, because clearly, Bastien is devoted. We hardly need to prove that.
"It's worth the risk." He meets my eyes defiantly.
Maybe too devoted. Did I mention something about slapping him earlier? Oh, what I would do for a pair of hands...
I glare as well as I can from my wavering image. "It's *not* worth the risk! It's stupid to even consider that." I didn't realize it at first, but my skin has started glowing. I take a deep breath, ignore the distracting gold light, and stare him down to the best of my ability. It's not easy when you're not solid. "You have so many opportunities and so many things you could do. Do you really want to waste those experiences for me?"
"I don't think it would be a waste," he shrugs.
I want to scream in frustration, but Ianthe looks ready to bolt as it is. It's probably a good idea not to scare her, since she seems frightened enough. "I really don't care what you want," I snap instead, which probably isn't a good idea, either. Ianthe winces. I notice that the glowing has stopped.
"You don't care if I'm happy?" He sounds hurt. His dark brown eyes are crushed; his full mouth droops. When he sits back, his shoulders sag.
Trust him to take it out of context. Now the question is: do I pacify him or tell him to go to hell?
Definitely the former. Tact has always scored me more points in the past. Why would anything be different now? And I don't want to lie to him.
"Of course, I care." No matter what derisive comments I might make to myself, I really do. You can't spend seven years of your life with someone and be completely apathetic. You can be enraged, contemplate homicide, and consider therapy, but you still have to feel something. "But I'm more concerned with what's best for you than with how happy you are about it."
After all, his obsession with me is *not* healthy.
He glares. "You're a ghost. How do you know what will make me happy?"
Oh, goody. The question makes me itch to give him a brain transplant. I've been dead for two years and we're still fighting about his tastes. I hate how he insists on treating me just like he did when I was alive, because I'm not. Realizing you're dead really changes your perspective on things, let me tell you.
"I know you well enough to know what won't."
Bastien doesn't seem to know what to say to that. I decide to let silence reign while I stare out the window into the endless dark. How funny the three of us must look sitting here. Or, to anyone passing by, the two of us. Bastien and Ianthe really haven't moved from their self-exile on the couch and I can barely be seen at all. Just a whisper in the soft glow of the candles.
If anyone looked inside and paid attention for more than just a few seconds, they might be curious about those two, sitting like strangers. They might wonder why the boy talks, refusing to look at the girl as he does so, and why the girl doesn't answer. Why this one-sided conversation pains the two so much.
Or they might pass by without caring.
"Sebastien." He jumps when I use his full name. "Why would you want to die?"
He looks surprised. Again, nothing new. "I don't," he says, leaning forward to rest his elbows on his knees. "I just want to be with you."
He's just contradicted himself. The only way that will happen is if he's dead. Ianthe's pretty face has twisted into a scowl. Apparently, I'm not the only one to see the irony here.
The scowl morphs into a mask of annoyance. Perhaps she's tired of being silent, of letting her soulmate profess his love and pierce through her soul at the same time. Whatever happened, she's now riled up and ready for the attack.
"That's not what you just said," she murmurs, staring at him out of sky-blue eyes. Challenge sizzles in the air. She tilts her head, those hooded, jewel-like eyes still fixed on him, and asks, "Do you ever leave this apartment?"
"Of course," he scoffs, "I have a job."
She shakes her head, her long, blond hair rippling over her shoulders, while I fight not to roll my eyes. Really, the boy can be so dense sometimes. "I'm not asking about your job. After-- Anna, what time did you say you died?"
"After seven, do you ever go anywhere? Do anything?"
I can answer that question right now, and cheerfully would if it wouldn't make the situation worse. Instead, I keep my mouth shut. I think Ianthe is on my side now, which sends hope coursing through my non-existent veins. I can even allow myself to hope she might want him.
Bastien doesn't seem happy about the sudden switch. She hasn't said much and I think he assumed she was in agreement with him. His face turns even darker than usual, the smooth skin crinkling into angry lines. He wipes a hand over his face as if trying to clear his head.
"Well?" Ianthe seems to share my intolerance for hesitation.
It's a shame we share all the traits he hates, instead of the ones he loves.
"No, I never go anywhere." Unlike with my little game, he seems to know where this is leading. His shoulders tense in preparation. "I have no reason to."
I guess having a life isn't that important to him anymore, because he nearly *has* become a shut-in. I have no memories of being alone after seven o'clock at night. Like he says, he has no reason to be away. His unspoken comment -- that he has every reason to be here -- hangs heavy in the air. I don't know if Ianthe doesn't notice or if she ignores it. Either way, the effect is the same.
"You have no reason to live?" She's read into that statement and drawn her own conclusions. Bastien doesn't seem too keen on the idea of suicide, unless the thought is connected to being with me. I guess that's why he flushes angrily at her question.
"Did I say that?"
You didn't have to, I sing silently, but I force myself to stay out of this. Ianthe is working where I have failed. Besides, I've been arguing with Bastien for over seven years now. Maybe she's got something new up her sleeve that I don't.
"Did you?" she counters. Her blue eyes glitter like lapis, like sapphires. I had a star sapphire once. Her eyes remind me of it. If you look closely enough, at just the right angle, you can see the beauty buried inside, that tiny fracture of light that sunbursts into a star. Shame it comes from an impurity in the stone.
I wonder if that should tell me something about Ianthe.
She calls my name, so I shrug that thought aside. "What?" Being a ghost has not improved my attention span. I missed Bastien's answer to her question.
"I asked how you died." She leaned back again at some point, still crunched into her corner of the couch, still cowering away from Bastien. I don't know if she thinks he's going to bite her or what, but if he weren't here, I'd assure her he's human. In present circumstances, mentioning that in front of him wouldn't get a good reaction, I'm sure.
"Why?" Suddenly, I love these one-word answers. They give me time to stall.
She flicks her tongue nervously over her bottom lip and makes a vague gesture with her right hand. "I want to know. I mean, you died in this apartment, didn't you?"
So maybe she's a little brighter than I thought. Why else would I be haunting the place? It's not for the decor, trust me. The place is way too dark for my tastes, and more often than not, Bastien has only candles for light. I like candles. I even like candlelight. I do not like floating through every piece of furniture in the house because I can't see a damned thing.
"I did," I admit carefully, thinking of how I want to answer this question. No real mystery to what happened, but I would definitely give her a different version than I would give Bastien. After all, she is a witch. Besides the pentagram, the black dahlia gracing her finger flashes like a billboard. "It was nothing special."
The look she's giving me says she isn't stupid and she isn't buying it. "Were you murdered?"
I glance uneasily at Bastien. He's shaking his head sadly to refute her question. "No," I say slowly. "I had a heart attack."
She still doesn't look convinced. "Did you really?" she muses. Something in her blueberry eyes tells me she knows there's more to it than that. I'm not sure how she knows. It's easy to get a sense of a living person, but does a ghost really give off the same vibes?
"Hmm." I tilt my head, staring at that ring, each petal shaped and sculpted from some sort of black stone. Maybe onyx. "I really like your ring."
Blinking in surprise, she holds it up, looking at it like she's never seen it before. "Thank you. It's a family heirloom." She slides my patchy image a sly glance out of the corner of her eye. "It was my great-great-grandmother's."
I manage polite disinterest. "Really? How nice."
She nods, then she starts to cough. Great, big hacking coughs, like her lungs should join us in a very short amount of time. Not a pretty thought. Her body doubles over and she wheezes, taking gasping breaths of air in the few seconds she has to do so. Blond hair falling forward and obscuring her face.
Bastien doesn't seem to know what to do, whether to grab her or shrink away.
"Get her some water, Bastien!" I snap. He can be so useless during a crisis, if that's what this is.
He jumps up from his seat, racing down the stairs, his shoes clacking against the tile as he runs. Apparently the water from the adjacent bathroom isn't good enough. I waft closer to see if I can help.
Ianthe stops coughing abruptly. She sits back, her eyes bright and narrowed. "What do you know about my ring?"
I pause for a moment, my eyes widening like two growing saucers of light. It looks like Ianthe is a little more cunning than I thought. And now it's time to tell her what I know.