My name was Cornelius Stack, and I have been lost to the wind for over a hundred years. Or so I think.
I suppose I was once like you. I can remember the feel of skin, of my fingertips as they brushed against pieces of paper, played against the bark of a tree. I can remember what it was to feel. I believe I can.
I can remember her. I think I can.
The wind turns, and I turn with it. It carries me through a mountain pass and over a great dark forest. The owls ride by my side, beaks stained with the blood of their nightly conquests. I remember what it was to taste, to feel meat pull between my teeth. I remember her holding a goblet to my lips, and the way the wine would send cool fire coursing through my veins.
So much of that life feels odd to me. Like what I possess are not memories at all, but memories of memories, or memories of having had memories. Like secondhand dreams.
The wind carries me past a town sign. Hapsburg. I do not immediately recognize it, but this is meaningless. Once, I kept track of all the places that I passed. Once, I believed that I took a piece of each place with me and I left a piece of myself behind to stay. But there is no leaving, and there is no staying. Only one icy breath endlessly circling, endlessly devouring itself and me with it.
We were having a picnic. I believe I am sure of this. And I heard a noise, like a wailing cry. She told me not to go, but I went, and now I am gone. Forever gone.
The wind fades, so I walk without feet through the town, this place known as Hapsburg. I think this must be America but cannot guess the region. People are only beginning to wake. Invisible, I pass by their bleary trudge out of their homes to their cars, clutching papers and thermoses, fumbling for their keys.
I knock one man’s coffee from his hand for no reason other than meanness.
I was mean for a solid decade, somewhere in the middle. No real reason, other than that the novelty of being adrift within the wind lost its novelty after the first decade. For a time, I filled my days with little acts of kindness, bringing dollar bills to hungry hands, retrieving kites from grasping branches. The sort of petty good turns that do not immediately strike you as memorable but can alter the entire tenor of a day.
For a time, goodness was enough, its own reward. But the flutter of warmth and sense of accomplishment thinned, then vanished.
The first bit of meanness I ever indulged was way out to the west, somewhere in California. This old lady leaned on her walker, hollering some choice words at a father and mother and their two children, the victims’ only crime being the color of their skin. Now, more than a few words in the lady’s repertoire were well known to mine own lips, back when I had such things, but the loss of my skin had done much to dissuade me from attaching any importance to skin-tone as a measuring stick for a person’s worth.
As I hovered, the urge to shove her sent a shiver of anxiety through my non-existent gut.
The first thing I had felt in I cannot tell you how long.
I shoved her.
She went down. Hard. The sound of her skull against pavement gave me the most satisfying thrill of shame.
The afflicted father ran over to help her, but she shook him off and went right on hollering, even as blood trickled in a steady stream down her forehead. She took three steps away then staggered back down.
Before I could see how things fared from there, the wind pulled me away. It was the worst thing I’d ever done in my life, or in my afterlife, and I never learned what happened next.
An aspiring aspirer out of Massachusetts, Brendan Foley is the creator of the BLACK SUN DISPATCHES podcast. He offers nightmares at a very reduced price.”