Prologue _

I believe… or used to believe, anyway, that many of the significant events in our lives hinge on the choices we make. From the most unimportant act, to those that require several days of thought… after all, when you choose one thing, all the what-ifs of the other option, that other future, is lost forever.

It is, therefore, terminally annoying for me to think that the greatest event of my life, the one thing that changed me forever, was in the end, not really much of a choice. It just… happened to me, without forewarning or even a hint of a hint of a hint.

I was about 18 when it first started.

There's no word for it other than 'started'.

The doctors called it epilepsy. I suppose they thought they thought they had to call it something, and 'atypical epilepsy' sounded much better than 'who the hell knows?'

All I know is that my consciousness kept jumping ship.

I don't know where to, or why, or even when it would happen – which was the scariest part. I would just be there, doing something or other or just sitting still, when everything would take on a weird glow. Like there was a strobe-light shining out the back of my eyeballs or something. Everything would grow nearer, carpets would grow fuzzier, air became airier, if that even makes sense… and I would be gone. Just like that, like a bulb flashing off for five minutes and then simply switching on again, on autopilot.

Afterwards, people around me would say that I got this glazed look in my eyes, and that I didn't respond to words or touch – I just sat there. Like a robot with a flat battery. It would happen on a bus, in front of the TV at home, over at a friend's, in college, etc.

The most humiliating thing about it all was resurfacing into an atmosphere saturated with pity, with 'Oh-my-goodness-what-a-shame-poor-girl-what-suffering-so-brave…' ad nauseam. It made me burn inside my skin, hearing all that fake pathos hurled out of mouths desperate for something, ANYTHING, to say. It's pathetic, watching people grasping at straws and fumbling for words to stop feeling guilty about being so sickeningly healthy.

In the end, I told them not to bother. I cut off everyone but my parents, and that was only out of necessity. I hated that I imposed on them, forced them to drag me to the hospital every time I got sick. I tried to tell them they didn't have to, that they'd be better off just leaving me alone, but…

I don't know.

The words just died between us.

It took me about 2 years to adjust to these enforced trips out of my body. I had just barely resigned myself to the fact that this thing wouldn't stop ruining my life, when strange things began to happen. I mean, really, REALLY bizarre things.

Incident one:

On the eve of my 20th birthday, I 'jumped' for a minute while in front of the bathroom mirror – it was very sudden, much more so than the other trips I used to have. There was no glow, no ominous taste on my tongue, just a quick 'blip'!

When I, well, returned to the inside of my own skull, I noticed one of my eyes had changed colour. Normally, they were an unremarkable, almost black brown.

Now I could swear that my left eye appeared green.

"It's just the light," I whispered.

At my words, my iris turned red (for fuck's sake, RED!) almost as if to prove me wrong. I quickly covered it up with my hand.

"I'm losing it," I breathed.

Trembling, I removed my fingers and blinked –

Everything was normal. My eye was brown again!

Incident two:

A few days later, after a small evening nap – I'd been feeling drained all day – I woke up to discover blood under my fingernails and in my mouth, but nowhere else. I sniffed at it, and the strong, metallic scent of it invaded my nose. Somehow I was certain, dead sure that this blood was not mine. My bones hissed to me, 'This isn't human'. An inexplicable, electrical shock ran through me, straight to my core, and I hid in my closet for an hour, shivering.

It took me three days to get that blood out from under my fingernails.

Incident three:

One tense week later, as I was finally starting to relax again, it happened. I was reading this poem, 'And Death shall have no dominion', by Dylan Thomas. All I remember is the feeling that I was fading, as I read these lines:

'Though they go mad they shall be sane,

Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again…'

When I came to, I saw my hands clenched tight around something, holding it above the page with the poem. I felt cold, even though I had apparently been sweating madly, if my clothes were any indication. My fingers felt stiff and slightly numb, as if I had been clenching my hands for hours.

I didn't really want to know what it was I held.

Nevertheless, I dropped it on the table, where it fell with a light thud – and gagged. It was a tiny, blue, clearly dead bird.

I stared at my hands, stared at the bloodstains that reached my wrists.

I had killed the bird.

I'd squeezed it to death, then watched its blood dry and form crusts on my skin.

Stomach churning like mad, I managed to run to the bathroom just in time for my lunch to launch itself, rocket-like, into the toilet.

It took me a few hours to calm down, and think things into a sort of logical order. When my brain finally gave up the hysterics – thanks to a few well-placed prescriptions – I began to see certain… inconsistencies.

It was physically impossible for me to have caught this bird on my own. For one, little blue tropical birds didn't hang around big cities. Another thing was that I lived on the 15th floor of an apartment building, and the only green things nearby were the carefully trimmed bushes in front of the coffee shop on the corner, so I didn't even have the weak excuse of a garden to explain this bird's appearance. There were no pet stores close to my place. There's no way I could have caught it OR killed it. I'm too much of a slacker to be able to catch a small bird like this one without a net or some kind of machine.

So where had it come from?

I went back to the living room to get rid of the bird before my parents returned, and was relieved to see it was still there. Relieved… but disgusted. At least it was real. I don't know what I would have done if it had turned out to be just another hallucination.

I picked the bird up with a tissue paper, placed it in a cardboard box, and went to bury it in the park. It was a little far, but I thought the poor thing deserved a decent burial.

The sun was setting just as I had finished digging the hole with my trowel.

I sat down to contemplate the hole, wondering if the bird's spirit would be frightened of the dark earth. A stupid thought, I guess, but it just occurred to me. I mean, I wouldn't want to be stuck in some shoe-box till the end of time.

In the end, I decided to just place the bird in the ground and cover it all up with fallen leaves. The overall effect was slightly unsettling – but I think that's more because I knew there was a dead bird down there than anything else.

I said my goodbyes and left. Overhead, the last of the sun's pyrotechnics were fading from the sky, and dark began to settle over the park.

I noticed how quiet it was in the park – people usually flock to this place on a breezy autumn evening like this one. This was the way I liked it. I took my sweet time strolling through the park, watching the dusk softening the edges of the world. I loved this time of the day, the vagueness of the twilight and the quiet as the day slipped away into memory.

I started to think about how many twilights were left to me, how long I had before it was my time to die.

Like Ali…

It was then that 'it' appeared.

Like a demon darkness from hell, it tore out of the ground behind me, and the earth beneath my feet shook in outrage!

There was no way for me to tell what it was, nor did I stick around to find out.

I ran like hell!

All I can remember is that I was running, and how, so suddenly, the world went out like a light. I was haunted by the smell of tree-sap, wood fire, and the sound of rain.

/