I remained on that small islet near The Shade for several hours, until I could wait no longer. I’d been struggling to see any light at the end of this tunnel, but something about the beauty of the dawn that morning had made me reconsider conceding entirely to a lifetime of misery… at least, not just yet. I decided that the first and only thing that I should do next was find out more about myself. About ghosts. I still knew hardly anything about them, other than what I had gleaned so far from my own brief experience as one.
This meant I needed to head back to the supernatural realm. Back to The Tavern. Back to Ernest. He was the only ghost I knew where to find. I’d met others in The Shade, but now that Jeramiah had left, they would be gone—back to their previous haunts, no doubt close to their old homes, or where they had departed from their bodies.
I would head back to The Tavern, seek out Ernest in that old guesthouse, and if I came across some other ghosts along the way, it would be a bonus.
Although I was feeling less pessimistic now compared to several hours ago, I still couldn’t allow myself to get my hopes up. Right now, for my own sanity, I needed to stop thinking more than a day or two ahead, and just focus on getting from point A to point B.
Drifting upward from the rocks, I ascended toward the bright sky. I gazed around me at the endless world of glistening waves. Behind me, and invisible, was The Shade, and stretched out in front of me was the direction I needed to head in. I figured that it made the most sense to return to the same gate—situated near Mount Logan, in Canada—that I’d used to pass into the human realm with the ogres. It would be a pain locating it again, but once I did, I would have much less work to do on the other end. That mountain portal was connected to an island near The Tavern.
There were other gates closer to where I hovered outside The Shade—like the one on the island Rose had once spent days on with Caleb and Annora, the one that led to the ogres’ realm. But I had absolutely no idea how to get from the ogres’ realm to The Tavern, or how far away the two locations were from each other. So I had no choice but to make my way to Canada.
I squinted as I eyed the horizon, still feeling like the last thing in the world I wanted to do was leave this spot. This spot, so close to my home. So close to my old life. I’d already procrastinated for hours, because just the thought of leaving hurt. But I had to keep moving.
I twisted around to face the invisible island. An island I wondered if I would ever return to.
I’d thought that it would be less painful to slip away quietly, both for myself and for those I loved. I didn’t want to reveal to them that I had died and become a ghost until I discovered more about my situation. But no matter how traumatic it would be, the thought of them still passing each day with hope that I was still alive hurt even more. It was only right that I give them at least some kind of explanation to tide them over until my return.
So, instead of heading east as I’d planned, I moved back toward The Shade.
Their security had been increased drastically, but as a ghost—an entity who barely even existed at all—I was able to drift through without obstruction. As the darkness of the island enshrouded me, my eyes fell on the achingly familiar sight of the Port.
Focus, Ben. Focus.
Now, I had to think of how I was going to get my message across to my family and River. I did not want to do it via a dream. I had already made a promise to myself that I would not enter another dream unless it was a life-threatening situation.
As I contemplated this obstacle while drifting closer to the Port, I glimpsed two figures taking a walk along the beach. It was Abby and Erik, walking hand in hand… and bounding in front of them was Shadow. I felt a swell of happiness for Abby that she had found what seemed to be a stable, loving relationship. Then my gaze fixed on the giant vampire-dog.
I’d had success possessing a dog’s body before. I wondered if Shadow could help me in this particular situation… I approached him as he splashed about and chased his tail in the waves. If I had managed to open the griffin’s padlock with the mouth of a pitbull terrier, I was sure that Shadow could assist me in accomplishing what I had to do. I glanced back at Abby and Erik, who were about twenty feet away. If I was going to try to possess the mutt, I needed to do it now. Hovering directly above him, I murmured, “Sorry about this, old boy.” Positioning my feet over his back, I seeped into him.
Occupying Shadow was quite a different experience than possessing the pitbull or the Great Dane. For one, his blood ran ice cold, and secondly, he was much larger. It took me by surprise how much of a strain it was just to lift his paws upward. But I didn’t have time to get used to it. Throwing Shadow’s head toward Abby and Erik, I verified that they were still a good distance from us. Then I propelled the dog’s legs forward, out of the water, and made a beeline for the forest. Beating up a sandstorm around his feet, I reached the border of trees as Erik shouted after me, “Hey, Shadow!”
Sorry, Erik. I’m taking over Shadow’s walk for a while…
Not wanting Abby and Erik to catch up with me, I scampered through the undergrowth as fast as Shadow’s legs could carry me. It would have been faster to take the forest path, but then I would be more likely to bump into someone—something I didn’t want to risk until I’d completed my mission.
I took a winding route until I reached the Residences. I gazed up at the treetops to see that my parents’ penthouse still had not been rebuilt. I guessed they would be staying in one of the treehouses nearby—the logical choice would have been my aunt and uncle’s. Arriving at the foot of Vivienne and Xavier’s tree, I looked down at the ground beneath Shadow’s paws. There had been a light rain overnight, and the soil was moist. Moldable. Extending one of Shadow’s claws, I began running it through the dirt, etching out a message. I stopped several times and erased what I’d written with a brush of Shadow’s paw until I was finally satisfied with what I’d written. I could hardly explain much by this method, but I’d communicated enough, at least for now.