My father always used to tell me that the number one difference between distance runners and sprinters is their leg length. "And you, Viv," he'd say, examining me as if it were the first time he was considering it, "are meant for distance running."

I'd always been proud of my stamina, but today as I run towards my building, I envy the sprinters. It's only two blocks, but by the time I charge through the main doors of my apartment building, it feels as though my lungs are burning.

"Hey Vivian!" I jump, embarrassed at how easily startled I am, but it is only Richard, the security guard for the building. "You okay?"

"Yeah," I lie, still gasping and temporarily debate telling him at least a partial truth, but silence myself. What could I possibly tell him that wouldn't sound crazy? "Just forgot something. See you later, Richard."

The single elevator is broken again, so I take the stairs, trying to convince my very unhappy body that I can run the full six flights up to my floor. I make it a quarter of the way up before the last of my endurance gives out, and I trudge the remaining way, refusing to let myself rest until I am home. Until I am safe.

"Oh Harold," I gasp, dropping to my knees almost as soon as the door to my little apartment shuts behind me.

My cat had been sleeping in the sun in the living room when I came in, and his dark coat is warm against my arms as I hold him against me. He purrs into my chest, and the fact that he is so calm reassures me that we are alone, and no one else has tried to get in my apartment. Relief hits me so hard, that I'm crying again, but it's a small cry this time, and instead of leaving me drained, it leaves me with purpose. I am safe here, at least for now.

I force my tired legs to walk again and carry Harold into my bedroom. "Vincent?" He has only occasionally come when I called him in the past, but I try anyway. "Vincent? Where are you? Something's wrong." I sit on my bed, knees drawn up and leaning against the cool, grey wall.

Harold busies himself by trying to insert his small body between my legs and my torso, clearly irritated that I am not providing him with a lap. "Oh fine," I say, and right as I let my legs drop away from my chest, Vincent appears. Another wave of relief hits me, and if it was possible for me to hug him, I would.

As it is, I flash him what I hope is an incredibly grateful smile, and breathe out his name again, unsure of what to do now that he's arrived. He stares at me. His nearly black eyes are turned down with what might pass as worry, if he looked like the type of man who was ever worried about anything. As always, he doesn't speak, but he is focused. Waiting.

"Did you hear me call you?" I ask, because somehow, this feels important to know. He nods, and for a moment, I am unsure of what to say next, because it never occurred to me until now that he might be able to hear me when he's not around. Finally I decide upon a simple, "thank you."

He gives me a small smile in recognition, and then spreads the fingers of both hands out before him. His question is clear, even without words. Why did you call me?

I tell him everything, detailing the man on the bus as much as I can, which is, of course, very little. He masks his concern about as poorly as I have masked my fear, but when I tell him about the man on my lunch break, he appears to be an odd mixture of curious, relieved, and furious.

I frown at Vincent, confused by his reaction. Maybe the man who grabbed me really was trying to help me, in some sort of terribly orchestrated way. "Do you think he really was a friend?" I ask.

He tilts his head to the left slightly. Clearly, he is as unsure about him as I am.

Harold makes a small chirruping sound, breaking the solid purr that he's been putting out until now. Vincent and I look down at the small cat in my lap, then follow his gaze out the bedroom to the front door.

At first, there is nothing, but then a thin, translucent hand emerges, fist risen as if trying to knock. It pauses as if startled, but a small moment later, the lost woman from the road tentatively walks through the door. Her eyes are large, and she's clearly shaken by her own actions.

Harold's eyes are huge black circles, and he chirrups again, leaping off my lap and stalking towards the woman.

She freezes, as if being caught in my cat's gaze has encased her shaking form in ice. I tentatively follow behind Harold, and Vincent bypasses the hall entirely, instead appearing in the far corner of the living room, slightly behind and left of the lost woman. She doesn't even notice him. Instead, her eyes remain locked on Harold, who by now is sitting exactly three feet in front of her. He swishes his tail twice, once to each side, inhales deeply, chirrups again, and breaks eyes contact with her in order to bathe his front right paw.

"I am so sorry," she immediately says, taking two steps away from Harold before noticing Vincent behind her and going completely still. "I am so, so sorry," she says again, and I feel a wave of pity for this woman. Not only has she been murdered by a... well, by something with really nice teeth, but so far her afterlife hasn't exactly been a peaceful one.

"Don't be," I say, and a look of absolute relief floods her face.

"Oh, you can hear me," she sighs, more than says. "I was so sure you did, but then, nobody else can, and this all is so strange and I don't know what happened. I followed you here because I thought you might be able to help, and I tried to knock, but then…" she gestures to her own hands, shrugging helplessly. "I guess things don't exactly work like they did before."

I smile, amused at her ability to find humor even while literally dead. "I'm glad you were able to find me," I say, digging past the fear of my own day. "I can help you, if you'd like."

"Oh excellent," she seems truly thrilled. More so than I expected, honestly. "I do so miss my body."

Ah.

"Ma'am –"

"Oh, don't call me ma'am, it makes me feel old. My name is Judith Seinfeld, but you may call me Judy." She waves one hand dismissively, as if introducing herself to a new servant.

I resist the urge to roll my eyes, and instead remind myself that I am talking to a woman who is dead, but clearly doesn't believe it. "Okay, nice to meet you Judy. My name is Vivian." She sticks out her hand, as if to shake before remembering that she can't. I see the terror wash over her face again, all pretense of control gone.

She glares at Harold, apparently deciding that lashing out on him is a much better idea than confronting the truth of her situation. "I don't like your cat. I don't know what he did to me just now, but it was very rude."

For his part, Harold seems unfazed by her insults, content to continue grooming.

Frankly, I have no idea what Harold did to Judy, but I have no intention of telling her that. Besides, if possible, I would really like to steer this conversation away from my cat, and back to the problem at hand: Her.

"Judy," I begin again, and her eyes leave Harold, returning to focus on me. Good. "I'm afraid you may be confused. Unfortunately, something has happened, an accident I'm sure, but I cannot…umm… put you back in your body, per se."

Her face is a battle between fact and denial, with a hefty dose of fear making a guest appearance. "Now you listen here, young lady–"

"Judy, please listen," I need to calm her down, but her mind is spiraling away from me. I am making a mess of things.

I look at Vincent for a moment. He nods, wordlessly assuring me that he will protect me should anything else follow Judy into my apartment. Bringing my attention back to Judy, who has now crumpled to a hyperventilating mass on my living room floor, I take a deep breath, close my eyes, and shift.

Shifting is not something I do very often, largely because I find it to be extremely nerve wracking and uncomfortable. In one moment, I am my normal self, breathing and touching and living. In the next moment, it is as if all the air has gone out from me. My lungs feel shriveled, yet simultaneously too large for my rib cage. My heart pounds too slowly, too loudly, and my veins feel stretched, full to bursting with my own blood. My sense of touch is completely gone.

"Judy," I say, and the shift in tone must be clear to her even in her terrified state, because all at once, she stops crying and looks up.

"How…."

Confusion is much easier to work with than fear.

"Judy," I say again. Long ago, I found that the lost react better when they hear their name repeated, and it is a technique I have continued to use to this day. "I know this is scary, and I'm sorry. I wish I had a better answer for you." I am infusing every word with an unyielding calm, using my own subconscious to infiltrate her own. Calm is the name of the game, because only in a state of absolute calm can a lost soul gain the ability to rest.

Because I have felt so much fear myself today, this is a particularly difficult task, but I am determined, and force my own shriveled lungs to take one long slow breath in, one long slow breath out.

Judy follows my example, her own empty chest rising and falling in time with mine. She does not break eye contact.

"Judy, I need to know if the thing with the teeth followed you here." This line of questioning will not help her, but this may be my only chance to ask.

"No, just me," she answers, voice monotone. Her pupils are fully dilated. "It just stood there laughing, like this is all a big joke. Like nothing's wrong, but oh, it's all wrong. It's all wrong!" Her voice cracks slightly, and her eyes dart away from mine. I will lose her, here and now if I'm not careful.

"Okay, good, okay. Thank you, Judy. Don't worry about that, you're safe here. Everything is okay. Everything is safe." Her eyes come back to me, and she begins to visibly calm. I continue my chant of "Everything is okay. Everything is safe," until she's swaying slightly in time with the rhythm of my words.

A small ball of golden light appears where her heart would be if she were alive, and I mentally breathe a sigh of relief, all the while maintaining my slow, steady chant. "Everything is okay. Everything is safe. Everything is okay. Everything is safe."

"Everything is okay. Everything is safe," she says along with me, and suddenly, her entire body is light. She stops swaying, and I stop speaking. A slow, content smile takes control of her features. "Thank you."

And then she's gone.

I fall back into my body, the force of it knocking me to the floor where I lay on my back, relishing the feel of actual lungs filling with actual air, moving my hands slowly along the carpet, thrilled with the ability to simply feel. "Goodbye, Judy," I say, staring at the ceiling.

Harold has apparently finished his bath, and although seemingly confused about why I'm lying on the floor instead of the couch or my bed, he climbs onto my chest anyway, head-butting me until I give in and begin to rub under his chin.

Vincent is still in the far corner of the room, watching me intently, almost worriedly. It's times like now when I am certain that his inability to speak is much more frustrating for him than it could ever be for me. I force myself to sit up, rolling a displeased Harold into my lap. "Judy said the thing with the teeth didn't follow me. I'm not sure if you heard or not."

Vincent nods.

"I think we're safe for now, although it did say it knew where to find me," I pause, pressing my thumbs against the space where my eyebrows try desperately to connect with my nose. My head is pounding and shifting has left me exhausted. It's only three o'clock, but I have been running at full steam all day, and my body is shaking, to say nothing of my mental state.

I awkwardly stand while trying to hold Harold, but he wiggles away from me, clearly irritated with how much I am moving and how little I am petting him. "Do you think it would be okay if I slept a little?" Although these are the words that come out of my mouth, this is not the question I want to ask. I try again. "Will you stay here? Will you protect me?" Vincent nods, and the last of my resilience leaves me, replaced by relief.