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“They speak to me.”
I glance up from my paperwork, skin tingling. Eyes wide. “What?”
Timothy casts me a sidelong stare from his slouched position, melting into the chair before my desk. His gaze is steel when regarding my tone, but I don’t dare shatter the newfound propinquity.
“The shadows. They whisper secrets to me,” he says, voice a sly monotone. “They indulge me.”
“Timothy,” I begin, calculating my words moments before they slip out, “I think you should take a moment to reflect on what you are trying to say. You can trust me. No more lies, alright? I’m here to help you, and I simply can’t do that if you won’t talk,” I explain, folding my hands in my lap and giving the boy a welcoming smile even as my nerves tingle.
He doesn’t so much as flinch. “I’m not lying. The shadows speak to me. They told me about you. Among other things.”
I raise an eyebrow, leaning back in my chair and crossing my arms. The smile grows more genuine. “Is that so? And what did your shadows say about me?”
“Not much,” he admits, stoic as ever, “But they did say that you were trying.”
His features darken, gaze slithering towards the ground and a frown tugging at his lips. “To fix me.”
The sigh barely escapes my lips before I catch myself, withholding it. Another accusation. Blaming me of my rashness to assume imperfection, where in truth, I just see humanity. “Tim, you don’t need fixing. Others just need help understanding.”
The boy’s eyes narrow, almost suspicious as they circle back to meet mine. A whirlpool of golden flecks and electric blue storm behind the supposed calmness held like treasure in his gaze. “They told me you would say that, too. That you would lie to me, but also be telling the truth.”
“Your shadows have a fetish for the mysterious?”
A smile dances across his features, if only for a moment. “It’s in their very nature.”
I watch the boy, my own countenance placid. What is he trying to say? I’ve had a number of patients before him, though none ever claimed to speak with ominous, prophesying shadows. Imaginary friends and hallucinations, sure, but never shadows.
“So,” I shatter the silence, “What books do you like to read?”
“None.” Not even a glimmer of surprise passes over his features at the sudden change of subject.
“None?” My mind slinks to my own novel, tucked away under stacks of paperwork in the drawers of my desk. The story forever incomplete and constantly under revision. I tell myself that I will find the time to finish it, one day. Part of me actually believes it, too. That when the only patient I have is my pen, the words will be fire across the page, telling the story of the only thing I know. The minds of madness.
“You like stories?” I prompt again.
A smile brushes my lips. “Your enthusiasm is breathtaking, Tim. Please try to restrain yourself just a little.”
His eyes glint, and I almost catch the glimpse of a smirk. “I don’t need to read. The shadows tell the stories for me.”
Another shrug. And then, “They like stories.”
I let the silence envelope us this time, mind churning. Leaning forwards on my chair, which squeaks in disapproval, I cradle my chin in my palm, fixating a bold gaze directly into Timothy’s. “What stories do they tell you? I’m in the mood for a good distraction.”
For a moment, Timothy only meets me with a glare. Still, there is a tinge of curiosity in that gaze, and it is one that I know he won’t - or perhaps can’t - ignore.
“They tell me about life,” he relents, words silk.
“Not this life. My… other lives. How I once was a soldier for the war, only to die a hero that was never remembered. How I am going to be one of the few colonizers who undertake the lifelong mission to reach another planet. That one hasn’t happened yet, but time isn’t really important.” He pauses, brow furrowed. “They tell me about my lives. They tell me about how they ended. And then… Then they tell me my names.”
I absorb every word, my own interest molding into awe. “Reincarnation,” I echo, words soft. It’s such an old idea, so much older than this era of transportation and reinvention, of a progress that races against itself. I’m shocked Timothy even knows what it is. Most people don’t think that way. Not anymore. It’s not that it is entirely forgotten, rather that they simply can’t afford to. Everything else gets in the way. There’s no time for belief or stories or pleasantries; only work. Only progress towards a salvation that will never arrive.
Timothy perks up at the word. “That’s what they called it. Reincarnation. The life of my soul.”
“Who are these shadows? Friends? Enemies?” The words come out urgently, although my mind is still numb with the concept I had forgotten for so long. “Why are they talking to you?”
A smile engulfs Timothy’s features, climbing to the peak of his gaze. The first real smile he had ever given me in our short time together. It’s a small victory, that smile, and it’s all I can do to return it.
“They are the angels. The ones who learned enough from life to rest a little longer elsewhere. They’re the victors of the game, until they forget and live again. The same souls - our souls - in the cycle of divinity, where time is a dream and reality is a lesson.”
“Why you?” The words are just a ghost of the whirlpool in my mind.
His eyes are glass, answer a triumph dancing in the air.
And finally, soul lifting, I understand.