by Merran Jones
Each human had their own spectre. They trailed behind through shopping centres and down windswept crusts of beach. They hovered in operating theatres and classrooms. They slipped out into the world after each newborn, during the uncelebrated fourth stage of labour.
They weren’t shadows, those mimics of human form, subject to the strength and refraction of the sun.
No, spectres represented emotion. Not the superficial wisps of happy or sad seen beneath the skin in a flush of delight or a pallor of dread, but the deep pull of joy or despair that trailed back through one’s history. During the night, they floated upon sleep, reforming as each human’s hippocampus filed memories into the short- or long-term, or forgotten parts of mind.
Some spectres were pearlescent, like bubbles trapping the spectrum, their owners equally as bright. Others were mottled with worries carved into their human’s features.
Some people thought they resembled dogs with vague pockets of eyes, a snarl of teeth or a flick of tail; loping or hunting or haunting. But their legs didn’t quite brush the ground. And really, if one looked close enough, they didn’t resemble dogs at all. Humans have a way of humanizing the world—finding faces in buildings and pumpkins, giving names to canaries and cars.
Other people thought they were more like clouds—some thin and streaked with ice, others swollen with rain. Their owners, accordingly, sharp and chilly in manner, or slow and heavy with iniquity.
The day I saw the girl, I was in the city for a meeting. It started raining; a persistent London drizzle. I stood outside the office with folded arms and a cigarette, inhaling small moments of comfort. Behind me, my spectre bobbed—a smear of grey, translucent but not yet opaque. I’d like to say my spectre grinned at me.
The girl clipped past in a fawn trench coat and a pair of peep-toes that begged the cold to needle her feet. She held a newspaper—The Telegraph—over her head, trying to shield her greenstone eyes. From her bag, poked a portfolio of charcoals. Her nose blushed with the wind. Her features were soft—hewn from silk, not bone. She carried an unchanging air, as though she’d always be as lovely as she was in that moment. The girl was as intimate to me as if I’d counted every hair on her head.
Without realizing, I stopped her with an arm.
I offered my umbrella.
She stared. Her lips parted. A raindrop clung to her lashes.
She took the umbrella and hurried off.
It’s entirely possible I let out a small cry. Behind her prowled the blackest spectre I’d ever seen.