The kid had a nightlight on top of his cabinet, so the first room tonight wasn’t as dark as I’d hoped it would be. I think it was supposed to be Noah’s Ark. It glowed with a sickening orange light, and there was a ceramic giraffe on it that had one big glowing eye that shined right on the boy’s throat.
I slithered under the bed, curled my fingers around the electrical cord and tried to force it out of the socket. I figured that since I’d been able to do that easily when I was alive, I’d be able to figure it out. Guess my reasoning skills leave something to be desired.
With the light still shining, I crawled up the side of the bed and across the pillow in the half that was still in shadow. Thankfully, the kid’s head was untouched by the luminous giraffe, and I was able to press my fingers on his temple. I lowered my head and inhaled.
The smell of chocolate cake and burnt candles filled my mind. The boy was dreaming about a birthday. I sighed and sunk deeper. Wisps of his dream drifted across my vision. As they brushed against me, I drank in their warmth and brightness. When I’d had enough of the little bursts of happiness, I let myself drop fully into the dream.
For a moment I ignored the boy and stretched my limbs, relishing the feeling of depth in my fingers and toes. Eyes closed, head raised, I breathed in the bubbly emotions. I slid my eyelids open and smirked.
The birthday boy stiffened at the sudden appearance of a ghastly shadow figure in his dream. Before he could taint it with too much fear, I leapt forward and ripped the fresh dream from his body. Within seconds I’d consumed it and fled the boy’s mind.
I receded into the shadows, and he sat up in bed and screamed.
The remnants of his dream within me trickled out to my stretching fingers, but I still felt empty. This house was spent, so I drifted through the wall and out into the moonless night. I passed the next few houses, shying away from the light pouring out of their bedroom windows. Finally I reached one that was completely dark.
In the first bedroom on the second floor lay a little girl, no more than five years old. The covers bunched around her body appeared simply as splotches of navy blue and gray under the pale starlight peeking in through the window, but as I slid down the window ledge it I saw it was covered in superheroes, leaping and crouching in every available space on the fabric. Just below the girl’s chin, spider-man was slinging his web in my direction, clinging to a cartoon wall in a ridiculous and humanly-impossible position. I chuckled, then perched on top of the girl and considered the superhero for a moment longer before resting my palms against the child’s forehead.
As soon as I entered her mind I knew I’d be getting nothing good from her. The fragments of a nightmare hissed around me. I brushed the nightmare aside with one hand and prepared to slide away, out of the house, in search of better dreams.
In an instant, the girl’s eyes flew open and her hand snatched my outstretched arm.
We were too shocked to do anything but stare at each other for a silent second. I suppose I’d forgotten how much there is to see inside a person’s eyes, especially when they’re wide with terror. When I regained control of my thoughts, I decided to simply fly up through the ceiling as fast as I could; the girl’s grasp was making me lightheaded, which is a crazy sensation for someone without a physical head. I bunched up my energy and pushed myself off the child, but intense pain, the first pain I’d felt since my death, burst in my chest and sent me tumbling back.
I reluctantly looked back down at the child. Somehow she had a tight grip on a spot where I was pretty sure my heart would be if I were alive. If I weren’t so rattled I’d have appreciated the role reversal. I sighed as the warm, happy dreams inside me dripped down the girl’s arm; an entire week’s work was bleeding out of my body. When I felt I couldn’t give any more, I collapsed into a quivering shadow on her sheets.
The girl’s shadow passed through me as she sat up. I jerked my head up and saw her face peering down at me, and the bright twinkle in her eyes made me cringe. I frantically tried to figure out what that look meant. Was she relieved? Or maybe upset, enough to hurt me more? Was she some kind of angel, living on earth to protect children from lost souls like me?
Slowly, she reached out to place her hands on me, and I shut my eyes.
Guilt trickled into my body. I flinched as it spread to my head and made way for the fear and wariness that quickly followed. Faster and faster, melancholy mingled with glee and confusion with curiosity. With a screech, I pushed free of the girl and dove off the bed. I fell to the floor with a thud and rushed to the open window. Instead of taking off into the air, I crashed to the ground and lay in the bushes, hugging myself against the chaos that was swirling inside me.
I could feel dozens of emotions. They competed for my attention, pushing their way to my mind. I trembled as each new emotion surfaced. I felt anguish, pleasure, longing. I felt terrified. I felt a thousand points inside of me tugging and tearing me in a thousand directions.
But I didn’t feel empty.