To Kiran, nothing had changed. One day she woke to a new world, one that she inexplicably always knew was there. It was more of an unveiling than a transformation. Sight, sound, taste, smell, and touch felt like one portion of the whole, but only one cog in the wheel, a sliver of reality presenting itself in the most rudimentary of ways, a cross section of a multidimensional plane. Everything felt more distant and detached, as though each location were a stage and each person were an actor in a massive tragicomedy.
She listlessly floated through this newfound waking life. There were things now where none had been before, or so she had thought. In the dark corners of nearly every room, gleaming eyes and shining teeth waited patiently, claws ready to pounce at her heels. But she saw them and when they made eye contact they would slink away into nothingness.
She wondered why their presence didn’t unnerve her. By any standard, they were nonsensical at best and grotesque at worst. Most were an indescribable amalgamation of body parts and a lack of a sensible understanding of anatomy.
She had never really had believed in any one particular religion; any brand of spirituality that relied on another layer of existence beyond the one she currently resided seemed far fetched. But now that she found herself here, she began to wonder how she had never known in the first place. Clearly demons existed; at least four of them ducked behind trees as she made her way to the library. Or were those nymphs? And if them, why not shapeshifters, imps, kappa, thale, chupacabra, satyrs?
Kiran shrugged it off as she pulled her hood over her head. Winter had settled quickly, thick flakes of snow danced to the earth and her breath puffed into neat little clouds. She hugged herself as she trudged through a poorly shoveled path. Even the facilities department neglected the entryway to the library.
The air inside was stale and brittle and smelled of musty decay. She retreated into a corner where a pile of books lay strewn about the floor. They were haphazardly organized by subject: spells (material), magic (immaterial), mystical beings (vampires, werewolves, pixies, etc.), angels (cherubs, seraphim), demons (nephilim, succubi, incubi), devils of all shapes and kinds, bodhisattvas, buddhas, gods from every corner of the universe.
Kiran plopped onto the thinly carpeted floor and picked up a book at random. She could sense their eyes peering at her.
“Oh shoo!” she shouted and wings fluttered across the air.
To everyone else, Duri especially, Kiran was falling apart. She hadn’t been to a class in months and was sure to be kicked out or expelled by the end of the semester. She hadn’t gone home over winter break, citing a phony sickness that wouldn’t allow her to safely make it through quick transport. Duri knew that Kiran would never use quick transport regardless and made a loud point about it. Kiran had scrunched up her nose and said “Oh, you know,” while staring into the hallway.
When Duri returned to the dorms in January she found Kiran splayed out in bed, her face pallid. She immediately called emergency and rejected Kiran’s pleas that she was just fine when the sirens began to wail throughout the hallways. In the medic’s office, Kiran staunchly rejected the help of any machine, declaring that she had grown up in a dead community and hoped to live there once again. The doctors complied and sent her back to the dorm with a diagnosis of exhaustion.
“Exhaustion?” Duri scoffed. “Really? All you do is sleep.”
Kiran stretched out in the top bunk. “Take it up with them,” she said. “They’re the professionals. They’re the ones you wanted me to talk to. I talked to them.”
Duri muttered and paced the room. “And what did you tell them? Did you tell them about how you think there are creatures darting between shadows?”
Kiran shuffled to the front of the bed and peered down. “Why would I tell them something everyone knows?”
“Not everyone thinks that!” Duri shouted.
“Well it’s not my fault they’re crazy!” Kiran shouted back. She jumped down to the ground, wrestled boots onto her feet, and laced them tight.
Duri stepped up to her and put her hand on Kiran’s shoulder, lightly. “Kiran, honestly, I’m worried about you.”
Kiran mumbled as she tossed a yellow scarf around her neck, “The feeling is mutual. I just don’t understand how so many of you are delusional. Just look,” she gestured outward, “they’re everywhere.”
Duri began to cry while Kiran zipped up her coat and then slammed the door behind her as she traversed campus toward the library.
As far as she could tell, the building was largely unstaffed. Kiran had made a makeshift camp in one of the far corners, a haven away from the rest of the world. She picked up a book about astral projection, read a few lines, and hurled it across the room.
“All you do is sleep,” Kiran mocked. She understood why it could look like that to the inexperienced. She felt bad, really, that everyone else did not know the wonders she saw during her travels at night, the ones that made her waking life a hollow shell in comparison.
“Ugh!” she screamed. She stood and paced the stacks, loudly airing any complaint she had with the rest of humanity to the empty room. She began to walk up and down the long rows and then turning between them, pulling books off of their shelves at random. She ignored the hissing from the corners. She stood tall. Up and down and then left and then up and down, she screamed how “fucking stupid everyone is.” She leapt up the stairs and dumped an entire medieval history shelf to the ground floor. She danced along wrought iron railing. “Come find me then!” she called out.
The room darkened. Clouds blotted out the sun that hung high in the sky, the library’s dirty glass windows muting the impact. Kiran spun and danced, her yellow scarf flicking the wind at every turn. Her vision whipped in circles. Her fingers wrapped around the cold railing and she huffed heavily, catching her breath. “You know what?” she spit outward. “Let’s see what you got.”
Kiran clutched the edges and heaved herself up to the uppermost beam, awkwardly shimmying back and forth until she thrust herself forward and jumped into nothingness. She rose and then fell, the sound of the room sucked into silence. She doubled over in pain.
The room was dark. She wiped the tears from her eyes as she gasped for breath. There was nothing in the shadows or the corners, no eyes or teeth staring, no claws reaching, no wings flapping. This place was devoid of them. But it was lived in. None of the furniture had clearly belonged here, all mismatched and broken, assembled from a multitude of locations.
Kiran coughed loudly and froze as someone on the far side of the room stirred. She crept forward, dodging a dining room table and waltzing with a couch. The room vibrated green.
And then she saw her, curled up on the floor. The woman from the fire, her curly green and purple hair traipsing along the floor, lit up in moonlight. Kiran rushed up to her, shaking her shoulders until she woke.
Fish jumped, shoving Kiran away until she could regain focus in her vision. She sat up and rubbed her eyes. “Oh thank god,” Fish wheezed. “I was just looking for you.”
by Dan Diehn