As I spoke, her aura shifted toward me, as it always did. It had been undulating softly in sleep, and now suddenly crackled with energy. The red lapping flames flared up toward me before dissipating into puffs of fuchsia-tinted smoke.
I sat next to her. “Hi, baby,” I said. “You know I’m here, don’t you?”
Her aura shifted colors. The red was now interlaced with wisps of blue steel.
“What are you dreaming about?” I asked softly.
More blue wisps penetrated the red. She was awakening. The colors together were beautiful. A phantasmagoric rainbow, perhaps made more beautiful because they were emitting from my daughter. Either way, I could watch them all night, and sometimes I did.
“I don’t remember what I was dreaming about, Daddy,” she said sleepily.
The blue bands continued to weave through the red, and now there seemed to be some orange and yellow in there, too. The colors of her mood. She was excited. Her aura also retracted a little, quieting down, much the same way as an excited puppy will eventually calm down. As she lay there on her side, eyes closed, she appeared to be asleep, but the blue in her aura gave her away. The blue meant she was semiconscious. Or rather, a part of her was semiconscious and very much aware of me.
“You like Kobe, eh?” I said.
She giggled. “Yes! Everyone does!”
“Because he’s such a great basketball player?”
“No!” she said, laughing. “Because he’s so cute!”
“Oh, brother,” I said.
She giggled some more.
I said, “You’re too young to think boys are cute.”
“He’s not a boy. He’s a man.”
“Okay, you are definitely too young to think men are cute.”
“Oh, Dad. I know!”
We were quiet some more. The silver moonlight and reddish alarm clock light fused together to give her face a sort of pinkish glow, a face that was indeed losing some of its chubbiness. Her cheekbones were making an appearance. And thanks to her mother, she was going to be beautiful.
“Daddy needs your help,” I said.
Her aura flared immediately, snapping and crackling like a fire-breathing dragon. She shifted in her sleep, and her eyelids fluttered briefly, as if she might fully awaken. She spoke excitedly. “Anything for you, Daddy! What do you need?”
I paused. This was going to be hard. “Daddy needs his scarf back.”
“Your scarf?” she asked, confused.
Her aura receded like a blue-and-red tide. Some of the crimson in it flared to green, and I knew this was the color of her sadness. She loved that scarf and wore it all the time, even when the weather didn’t permit.
“Of course, Daddy,” she said. “I would give you anything. Are you cold?”
Daddy is always cold, I wanted to say. Instead, I said, “Yes, baby, a little.”
“You can have it, Daddy.”
“Thank you, angel.”
We were silent some more, and the dull green in her aura flashed brilliantly emerald and then was gone, replaced with something brown. I knew this to be the color of her resolve. Her strength.
“I don’t want you to be cold, Daddy.”
“You are a good girl.”
I told her exactly what I needed for her to do next, and she did what I asked, operating in a semihypnotic state. She pushed aside her covers, got up from the bed, and went over to her dresser. She pulled open the top drawer, rummaged through it briefly, and pulled out the red scarf, now well worn. It wasn’t socks, as Pauline had requested, but it would do. Next, she walked to her bedroom door, opened it, and stepped out into the hallway. I drifted through her room and followed her. She moved surprisingly fast for someone walking with her eyes shut. Then again, the muscle memory was there, and her aura reached out before her, guiding the way.
The spirit always knows the way.
She opened the front door to the apartment and wrapped the scarf around the doorknob, where Pauline would collect it early the next morning.
She shut the door again, locked it, and headed back to her bedroom, deftly avoiding the corner of the kitchen table. She shut the bedroom door and crawled back into bed. I could see the tears on her cheeks. She loved that scarf.
“You are a good girl,” I said.
“I don’t want you to be cold, Daddy.”
“I love you, baby. Now, get some sleep.”
I had good days in death, and I had bad days in death.
This was a bad day.
“Excuse me, sir,” I said. “Can you help me? I think I’m lost.”
But the man wearing the shabby seersucker coat ignored me. His head and shoulders were wet, and the umbrella he was carrying was dripping rainwater all over the polished marble floor. He was leaving a slippery—and dangerous—trail down the center of the hallway. Not only did he care little for others’ welfare, the bastard was also ignoring me.
I picked up my pace and tapped him on the shoulder. At least, I think I tapped him on the shoulder.
Sweet Jesus, did my finger just pass through his shoulder? Of course not. I’m seeing things.
“Excuse me, sir?” I said again.
But he kept moving briskly through the hallway. I moved briskly, too, directly behind him. His leather hiking boots squeaked along the floor. I didn’t squeak at all.
“Hey,” I said, “why won’t you—”
And then he stopped suddenly and I nearly ran into him. Actually, I did run into him. Or, rather, I should have run into him. Instead, I went through him.
Stunned, I stepped back. The man was shivering now, nearly uncontrollably. The hair on the back of his neck was standing on end.
“Excuse me,” I said again, completely shaken. “I think I’m lost.”
His back was still to me. He cocked his head to one side and appeared to be listening. Then slowly—very slowly—he turned around and looked straight at me.
Well, sort of.
Actually, his eyes had that sort of glazed, unfocused look that people get when they’re staring off into space.
Or looking through you.
“Sir?” I said again.
He continued staring through me for another beat or two, then frowned and turned and started squeaking down the hallway again.
I watched him go. He paused outside a door, fished for a bundle of keys in his pocket, sought one out, and inserted it into the lock. He opened the door and was gone in an instant, and I was left standing in the hallway alone.
What the hell?
I turned slowly. I realized, with some alarm, that nothing looked familiar. The hallway was covered in mirrors. I stopped turning and faced one such mirror.