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The Ghosting of Heineman Jubiladilia

        Heineman was tired when he went to bed. Tired? Exhausted. So it is not surprising that he ghosted in the night. Thanks to the activity of the metapsychic faultline, the good citizens of the islands of Chalakanesia are apt to ghost unless they exercise the most stringent self-control; and, while self-controlled adults rarely ghost when wide awake, self control sometimes fails during sleep. The resulting ghosting is the metapsychic equivalent of bedwetting.
        Having ghosted, Heineman slept on, and his ghost initially slept likewise. The ghosts of Chalakanesia are sometimes so heavy that iron cracks beneath their weight, but, more commonly, they are so light and insubstantial that they can float through walls. Heineman's ghost was of the insubstantial kind, and, at first, it occupied the very same space as his own body. Then ghost separated from flesh, drifted through the walls of the House Jubiladilia, and floated into the night beyond.
        Sleep-ghosting, Heineman's phantasmal alter ego drifted far from the House Jubiladilia. Most Chalakanesian ghosts are brief-lived in the extreme, but this one was more durable than most. Its identity was still unimpaired when it awakened, and found itself floating above above the docks of Eastport.
        - I'm dreaming.
        So thought Heineman's ghost.
        Thinking itself in bed and dreaming, the ghost tried to rouse itself to wakefulness. But could not.
        - A nightmare, then.
        Or was it? There was nothing nightmarish in sight, unless Harnok Chadlin qualified for such a description. And, while Heineman's childhood had sometimes been marred by nightmares about Chadlin, in adulthood he scarcely found that creature fearsome.
        Chadlin was the blind owner of that notorious hotel known as the Ik Mablis, a large and largely derelict dosshouse on Quisling Hok. This free-standing slum, despite its decreptitude, routinely earnt Harnok Chadlin enough money to debauch himself. Debauch himself he did, and he was notorious for his association with whores, who would tolerate him when no other woman would.
        Truth to tell, Harnok Chadlin took some tolerating, for his blindness was a deep-gouged ugliness. As a young boy, Heineman had often encountered the foul-mouthed Chadlin in the streets of Lexis, and had learnt not to look too closely on his face. For Chadlin wore no eye-patches, encumbered himself with no glass eyes, and so displayed to all the world those sockets of his which were so singular in their unpleasantness.
        The ghost-Heineman, then, knowing Chadlin to be blind, was hard put to reconcile this datum with the fact that Chadlin was now sitting at night with a lantern, fishing. Why the lantern, when the man was blind?
        - There's a lantern because I'm dreaming.
        The lantern was proof, if proof was required, that this was all a dream.
        So thought the ghost-Heineman, feeling sweet milky relief at this confirming datum. There was nothing to worry about. It was a dream, just an ordinary dream - not even a nightmare.
        But of course Heineman was not dreaming at all. His true flesh-and-blood body lay back in the House Jubiladilia, and it was his ghost which was cruising the docklands of Eastport. Still at least half-persuaded that it was dreaming, still refusing to acknowledge the truth of its condition, the ghost-Heineman left the Eastport dockside and drifted across the water until it came to the House Gorkindachina, the house at the northern end of Eastbeach.
        - It's a dream, so it won't matter if I go inside.
        So thinking, Heineman drifted inside, and explored through the shadows of the House Gorkindachina to the master bedroom, where the lord of the house slept naked on his sheets, sweating globules of yellow fat through his skin.
        Vignis Vo Gorkindachina had long been dogged by a singular medical peculiarity. His fat tended to congeal in little beads, teardrops, marbles and other singularities, which would then force their way out through his skin, leaving no trace of a scar behind them. The problem varied in its intensity. Tonight it was bad, very bad indeed.
        As Heineman gazed down on the sleeping merchant, Gorkindachina woke. He looked up at Heineman. Gorkindachina was not startled, for at first he too thought he must be dreaming. Then - and shall we here agree to switch the perspective from Heineman to Gorkindachina, exchanging eye for eye and skin for skin? - Gorkindachina realised it was not a dream after all.
        Gorkindachina's first suspicion was that Heineman had come to murder him.
        After all, their presidential campaign had grown so bitter that murder would hardly be a thing to be marvelled at. True, Heineman had no reputation for violence. But old man Zinjanthrop, Heineman's grandfather, was perfectly capable of hiring assassins, and perhaps, in extremis, Heineman had copied that role model.
        "What are you doing here?" said Gorkindachina, watching all the while for a knife.
        "I've come from the docks," said Heineman.
        "Oh," said Gorkindachina pleasantly. "And what did you see there?"
        "Harnok Chadlin. Fishing. With a lantern. But he's blind!"
        "The lantern is for fish," said Gorkindachina. "Light calls fish. Everyone knows that."
        "I didn't," said Heineman.
        A certain disconcerting vagueness about Heineman's speech was parallelled by an equally disconcerting vagueness about his appearance. His clothes seemed to be moulded out of his flesh. And his feet - ah, the feet! The feet were not quite touching the ground!
        "It seems you're a ghost," said Gorkindachina.
        "A ghost!" said Heineman. "I'm not a ghost! I'm dreaming!"
        "A dream, then," said Gorkindachina. "I won't argue it. Ghost or dream, you'll be dead by morning anyway."
        "No, no," said Heineman. "You don't understand. I'm not a part of your dream. You're a part of mine. You're the one who'll be dead. You see, you have no independent existence. You exist only inside my dream."
        Gorkindachina laughed.
        And, rebuffed by the laugh - for reasons which science has not yet been able to properly explain, the laughter of the living is peculiarly painful to ghosts - Heineman fled in a disorientated rush.
        When Heineman managed to orient himself, he was floating above the lawn of his family home, the House Jubiladilia. In the middle of the lawn lay a deck chair which had been pitched over onto its side. One of the zogo zalth hung above it, lit by a blue-green aura. As Heineman made his way across the lawn - walking, to his great distress, not on the grass but on the very air itself - the zogo zalth shied away.
        Then Heineman came to the swimming pool, and saw that there was a cat in the pool. It was paddling along in a methodical fashion, but he supposed it to be trapped, and hence doomed to drown. So he tried to lean down to retrieve it. But his body refused to cooperate. It hung in the air like a helium balloon.
        "Wake up!" said Heineman to himself. "Wake up!"
        But he could not wake. Worse, the kitten was the kind of detail which Heineman did not think himself capable of inventing, not even in a dream. It seemed, then, that this was not a dream. It was fact. And the fact was that he was not the true Heineman. He was - with something like dread he finally acknowledged it - he was a ghost. He was only a ghost, and couldn't even help a kitten - far less himself.
        - All ghosts are transient.
        The thought could not be suppressed.
        Knowing his doom, the ghost of Heineman Yakaskam Jubiladilia entered the House Jubiladilia, and made its way to the bed where the body of the true Heineman lay in blissful peace, nestled against the bulky blood and bone of his wife, Charlotte Sordalis Jubiladilia (ne Bloxum). Charlotte's hair was in curlers, and her false teeth were resting in a glass on her bedside table.
        The ghost-Heineman felt a pang of sorrow. He was doomed. For ghosts do not endure.
        Most ghosts perished in a day or less. A few exceptional phantasmal entities could last for as long as a week, and a very few - this rumour alleged, this documents suggested - as much as a month under special circumstances. But no ghost was granted the privilege of living out a normal human lifespan.
        The fate of a ghostly doppelganger generated by the interaction of the psyche with the metapsychic faultline was to endure a certain dissolution, which usually came without warning - and swiftly.
        Mourning for the lost certainties of his flesh, the ghost-Heineman looked down on the blood-and-bone Heineman, who looked as warm as a mug of bedtime chocolate. And the ghost-Heineman yearned for the hairy connubial warmth of the sheltering enfoldment of blankets, and so - without really thinking about it overmuch, for it seemed to most natural of things to do - conceived the conceit of sheltering himself in the Heineman flesh-body which lay beneath those blankets.
        There was no shelter for the ghost-Heineman, no comfort. But, nevertheless, the ghost whisped down. It seemed easy, somehow, perhaps because he had a million memories of entering this bed, he could do it by habit, could do it without having to think about it. He did it, entering the Heineman flesh-body by merging.
        It felt like sinking into a bath of liquid fudge. An all-enveloping warmth absorbed him, welcomed him, permitted him. In grateful release, he surrendered to that warmth: only to find himself shockingly cold, marooned on the sea-white starkness of an iceberg afloat on the deep, assailed by a wind which tore at his flesh like a pickage.
        The iceberg cracked, the sea-foam screamed, and he blundered amidst the battering fins of a billion penguins, crying with terror at the cold, till the cold damaged him into wakefulness.
        "Where?" cried Heineman, waking abruptly.
        Bed, that was where. He was in his bed in the House Jubiladilia. He had been dreaming of the frigid eternities of the Sea of Ice, of cold drifts of phosphorescent squid, of steaming whales and drifting icebergs, of merdog and harp seal, and of the Mer themselves in their realms of fishfin privacy. He had been dreaming by night, till his dream had dissolved into a nightmare of rupturing ice and penguin's wings. That had woken him.
        Now, free from the cold terror of his dream, Heineman lay warm in bed, lay warm against the humped heaping shadow-mound which was his wife. Charlotte lay in the darkness out of the moon's angle. The moon was high, an ice-bright moon shining, shining, and he remembered that moon from his dreams, remembered that moon and remembered his wife.
        The dreams of ice and penguins were fading fast, and memories of a set of alternative dreams seemed to be gaining strength. He remembered Eastport, Harnok Chadlin, something about worms. Then - Gorkindachina.
        The incoming memories were shadowy and distant. They were fainter than his recollection of his dreams. But they possessed a coherence which dreams lack. They told a complete story with beginning, middle and end. He had gone forth through the night; he had met Gorkindachina, who had accused him of being a ghost; he had returned to the House Jubiladilia, and, on failing to rescue a kitten from the swimming pool, had realised that he really was a ghost.
        And then?
        Heineman had a confused memory of fudge meeting iceberg. He had been dreaming of icebergs, yes. His ghost had regained the warmth of its true flesh-and-blood body, only to be shocked by the icy dreams of that body.
        "I was dreaming," said Heineman, "dreaming. Dreaming of ghosting and dreaming of icebergs. A dream in a dream."
        Heineman's wife muttered, murmered, shifted. How very like a whale. He rested her hand against her heat, reassured by her bulk, her weight, her obstinate inertia. He had been dreaming, that was all. Dreaming a ghost-dream inside a sea-dream.
        Dreaming two dreams simultaneously.
        He must have been.
        Certainly he could not have been ghosting (or so logic told him, though he was uneasily suspicious of that logic) for a ghost always dies and can never return to the body.
        "Everyone knows that," said Heineman.
        True, history told of saints who had mastered the art of sending out ghosts of themselves, then later reintegrating those ghosts with their flesh-and-blood bodies.
        "But I'm no saint," said Heineman.
        His wife, dreaming, laughed. She laughed entirely without malice, a high-scale girlish laugh out of keeping with her matronly milk-mass. She was the only person whom Heineman had ever heard laugh in her sleep. Perhaps he should write up the phenomenon for the benefit of medical science.
        "Stressed, then," said Heineman.
        In addition to saints, there were also documented cases (you could never trust documentation, though) of certain people who were said to have ghosted under extreme personal pressure, the ghosts later reintegrating themselves with the flesh.
        But -
        "I'm not so stressed," whispered Heineman.
        So. It was just a dream. Go outside. Prove it to yourself. The world outside will not be the world of your dream.
        So thinking, Heineman rose from his bed.
        On the back lawn, a deckchair lay on its side, abandoned. He remembered that chair from his dreams. And in the swimming pool was a small black cat, which swam to the poolside as if to greet him.
        "A kitten," said Heineman, fishing it out of the water.
        He was surprised that the animal struggled in his hand, struggled strongly, still vital with energetic life.
        "It's all right," said Heineman, trying to be soothing as he set the kitten-cat down beside the poolside. "You're all right now."
        Whereupon the cat shook itself with a vigorous athleticisim, then jumped straight back into the water.
        A real deckchair. A real kitten-cat. Plainly, Heineman really had generated a ghost of himself while sleeping, and that ghost had ventured forth, had encountered his rival Vignis Vo Gorkindachina, had discoursed with Gorkindachina, and then had returned to the House Jubiladilia, there to merge itself with Heineman's true body.
        A most unusual procedure!
        "Contrary to the established norms of social behaviour," said Heineman, mouthing a phrase often used in the courts during the official accusation of rapists and arsonists.
        To ghost was shameful enough in itself. But for the ghost to then breach convention yet again by merging with the original flesh - why, that was worse than embarrassing. In fact, Heineman was shocked at himself. And had an unaccustomed sense of being estranged from his own lawful identity. For who was he, truly, if he could split into two things and then become one again, memory merging with memory, dream with dream?
        He was two people. (Two at a minimum. Maybe more - though he didn't like to think about that). He was the trueflesh person who had lain in bed, dreaming of the Ocean of Light, and of icebergs and merdogs. Yet he was also the ghost.
        "And you are the person who was once not yet born, the person who will die," said Heineman, quoting Scripture to himself. "Go back to bed."
        Back in bed, Heineman found it difficult to sleep. He was reluctant to sleep, in fact. In case he work to find himself ghosting. Floating out over the sea as a ghost. Floating out over the reefs of moon coral, reefs glowing with blue-green radiance in the night. He imagined himself floating, floating, floating past the Spliars and the Vangelic Waxworks, floating on a web of spiders, a raft of penguin's beaks.
        In his dream - for he was asleep by now, regardless of intent, he was solidly asleep, though a part of him still imagined himself awake and resisting slumber - Heineman came upon Gorkindachina in the Gardens. Gorkindachina was awash with yellow wax, hot and burning wax which spurted from his body in torrents, and he embraced Heineman, and the yellow wax enveloped them, and scalded their skin, and welded them together, and made them one.

The End

This story, "The Ghosting of Heineman Jubiladilia" was first published in Hadrosaur Tales 9, 2000 (ed. David L. Summers) (Las Cruces, United States, ISBN 1-885093-16-0) (pp 141-149; 2,694 words) (fantasy). This story was first posted on the internet by Hugh Cook on 2003 March 13. Copyright © 2000, 2003 Hugh Cook. All rights reserved.

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