He had not been sleeping well, which was unusual for him. Ever since he could remember he had slept like a rock, even sleeping through a minor earthquake during a family trip. He had woken up in the morning to nervous questions from his mother.
“Did you feel it? What did you think?”
“Feel what?” he had responded.
So the unease he was experiencing every night was all the more curious, an unease punctuated not by sweats and fitful dreams but the feeling that he was not alone, that he was being watched. On waking in the mornings he would lie in bed with his eyes open, processing the unease and trying to wrest every last moment of respite from the previous evening.
Throughout the workweek, when he had finally removed himself from his bed, he would make his way through the city, stepping on and off trams until he arrived at his office. The city was expansive, dotted with shops, restaurants, parks, and cafes. People were always about, running from one point to another, chatting amongst themselves, smiling, frowning, standing. He enjoyed the life of this landscape yet he somehow felt disconnected. Not only from the city but also from the world at large. It was all foreign to him in some way, making him feel like he did not entirely belong. He almost felt like a runner, as if he were constantly moving away from something rather than integrating with his surroundings.
“I miss you.”
The words were slightly muffled, almost imperceptible. He opened his eyes just enough to peer through his interlocked eyelashes but did not see anything. He lay there for a moment thinking of the words. They resounded clearly in his memory, surprisingly articulated, even for a dream. But anything was possible in those moments of deep sleep. He rolled over on to his side and took a deep breath then slowly worked his way out from under the covers.
I miss you. As the day continued it was unclear whether the words were a part of a memory or a dream, they drifting back and forth between the two states in his mind. But as the day drew to an end and the weeks went by he slowly forgot about the words. The constant rush of the city forced them out, replacing them with the corporeal needs of humanity. The modern lights rose then fell, the skies changed, the leaves rustled and transformed from greens to the festive colors of autumn. It all passed quickly and without note.
As the cold winds of winter began to blow in, the unease returned. Once again he found himself awake in bed at the cusp of dawn, the quiet words reverberating in his memory. I miss you. I miss you. He could not figure out why those words continued to fall on him while he slept, why they seemed so clear and why it all was so familiar. The voice was one of a woman, a voice that pierced him and made him long for a memory or a feeling he could not quite place.
“I miss you.”
He would sit up and gaze about his room but there was never anything there. It was almost as if he was perpetually late to arousing, and his frustration began to increase as each visit would go by.
“I miss you.”
He jolted awake. It was cold outside now that winter had fully set in. The lights of the city still shown at full force, not yet having been replaced by the burning of the sun. But something was different now. The room appeared misty, as if it had suddenly birthed a creek in a warm spring morning. Sitting in his bed he looked around trying to figure out if this was a dream or if he was really awake. It felt much too real, not in a frightening way but still slightly disconcerting. And then he noticed the figure by his side, although at first it was not clear what it was.
He could hardly make out details, but as he gazed at it he began to notice human-like characteristics. There were locks of ghostly hair draped lightly around what appeared to be a head and he could just make out the slim profile of arms and hands. The figure did not move much, if at all, and although he could not make out eyes he had the distinct feeling of being gazed upon.
“Why did you leave me?” came the soft words.
“What?” he blurted out, a rhetorical response yet full of confusion. Without responding the apparition dissipated, leaving him sitting in his bed.
After lunch that day he made his way to a small corner café and sat down to think about the morning’s visit. Those last words haunted him more than ever. Who was visiting him? What was she talking about? Nothing of what was occurring seemed rational to him, it all being beyond his normal range of experiences. His thoughts drifted to the idea of a spirit of a deceased acquaintance, maybe a family member or a lover. He had lost many members of his family but this did not seem to be something related to that. He had also had several girlfriends but none of them had died, at least not to his knowledge. Even if one had passed recently he could not think of one who would make a point of visiting him.
What struck him the most, however, was his lack of fear. In fact he could have sworn feeling a tiny bit of warmth emanating from himself while in her presence. Why did he feel so calm, so at home? Why was she so familiar?
It was not until the following spring was coming to a close that she visited him again in such an overt manner. During that time he had become consumed with the thoughts of her words, and everyday his world seemed to become less and less real. It was all far more foreign now, the structures, the people, the lights, all of it. Everything seemed at odds with him, somehow petty and without purpose. He would walk about during the day and gaze at his surroundings like a child reborn, trying to process everything that filled his senses. At times he would simply stand in place in semi-catatonia as the world moved about him. He almost felt like he was playing a game where nothing was true, where everything was just an expression of the imagination, fooling him for lord knew what reason.
Then one warm, spring evening he had been awoken by a soft breeze flowing through his room. He had an inkling that she had returned and he slowly sat up, immediately finding her by his bedside. She was still as ghostly as before.
“Why did you leave me?” She still seemed sad, her words flowing over him with the soft touch of a lover. He could only sit and look at her in wonderment, trying to make out the contours of her body through the ephemeral pulsing of her mist.
“Who are you?” he asked quietly.
There was silence, he sitting there looking at an outstretched hand.
“Please come back. I miss you.”