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It was morning, and the child was gone. Tenement halls and alleyways – empty. No sign of her, not even a whiff of her perfume like a ghost in the air.

The apartment was an afterthought, almost an accident. It wasn’t meant to be. It was built between the brownstones, the rowhouses, the three-story walk-ups. It was just enough for Millie and her mom when they moved, father long dead or so she’d been told. That little lie was enough for then. Later she’d learn the truth, when she was older and stronger. By then it would make more sense. But he would have to do the telling.

Had he left? Not really. He’d never been there at all, not as far as Nancy Malig knew. She’d had dreams of a lover for three days in a row, those 10 years back. Now she had a nine-year-old daughter and no husband to show for it.

It wasn’t easy raising a child without a father around, but few people raised an eyebrow. It was so common. Little did they know how uncommon this situation was. Or maybe it wasn’t. Maybe she wasn’t an anomaly. Maybe many others were ghost babies, dream children, and they just weren’t saying. Maybe they didn’t know, because maybe there was a guy around – a husband or boyfriend, a one night stand. He got the blame or the credit and there was nothing to it but to go along, like cuckoo bird.

But now Millie was missing. Had been since Tuesday. It was normal for her to spend time by herself, so it might’ve been hours that she’d been gone before Nancy noticed.

She was an unusual child, bright for her age. She seemed to know things without being taught. After a while her mother gave up and didn’t try to teach her anything because it was a waste of her time. But now she was missing. Now it was serious.

Little did Nancy realize that Millie was with her Dad, slipped between the dimensions, shoehorned in like their shotgun house. She was 1/2 ghost, 1/2 human, or fully both depending on her mood. Those times she’d not been noticed? She was there, in that space between the atoms. She’d done it all her life and never thought anything of it because that was her normal. Why would she? It was the same as you not thinking about breathing, or walking.

Millie was at home here in this in-between space, more at home than she’d ever been in her house. The space between was part of who she was, part of how she came to be. Her father had Seen this alleyway before it had been sealed in, and he knew down to his core the future of it. He could See in his mind’s eye the need for more housing than the city had space for. He could see the builders appealing to the codes department, changing zoning laws, density allowances. He knew before they knew. He always did when it came to buildings. That was his particular gift, specialty sight.

Some empaths could See it all and went mad with the knowledge. He was grateful, now, for his limited vision. He’d initially been frustrated, thinking he’d been cheated, short-changed. But instead he’d been spared. Limited vision is better than total when it came to sanity. Those who could see everything – the when, the why, the hows, the who – they didn’t last long. The mental hospitals were full of them – lives cut short by knowing everything, all the time. Some could barely keep up with the time, much less the day. “Alert and oriented x 4” was not a test they could pass. In the absence of family who could cover for them or friends who could take care of their daily needs, they were institutionalized.

Millie’s father knew the survival of his trait depended on him being free and remaining off the radar. He paid in cash everywhere he went. He owned very little. He took public transport. He was friendly enough to be nearly invisible. When he saw Nancy he knew she was ideal. She was strong, independent, and educated. He liked that in a woman. It was unfortunate he could never marry, but that was the price that had to be paid for talent like his.

He first saw her when she got on the bus to go to her job at the college. He smiled and made room for her on the bus bench. They made small talk. He learned she taught intro level college English classes. She was working on her PhD at the same college and needed income that was also a foot in the door to getting a “real” job there. They saw each other almost every day for two months on the bus route. On the last day he shook her hand, telling her he enjoyed getting to know her but it was time for him to move on. That touch, that skin to skin contact, was enough. He looked her in the eyes, squeezed her hand one last time and the deed was done.

It was after that Nancy started having her dreams. Every night in her dreams for three in a row she was embraced by a lover so completely that she regretted getting up in the morning. Every morning she hoped it was real.

What he’d done was all energy transfer. That was how Mary became pregnant with Jesus after all. Everybody had the ability to do this, they just didn’t believe hard enough. The radical thing was that they didn’t have to have sex to have children. But they thought they did, and they thought they wanted to, so they did. Sometimes they did it to the point of getting sick, emotionally, physically, spiritually.

A child was created at every joining – of every kind. Some were physical. Some were spiritual. The best were both.  Some were children in the usual sense. Some were inventions, collaborations of a different sort. All involved communication on the deepest level.

Some creations were intentional. Some weren’t. It was readily apparent which were which. True empaths knew this was why it was so important to have an intention before they joined with anyone, before they shared energy. You never knew what horrors could happen otherwise.

Millie was happy here with her Dad, but she knew she had to return home soon. It wouldn’t do to get her Mom worried more than she already was. But could she return? She’d been here in this between space longer than ever before. Slipping back into the material world was more painful, more difficult than ever this time. This far gone, could she return? Did she even want to?

The material world wasn’t all that. Sure, there were senses to delight – pumpkin muffins, avocado toast, hot chocolate – autumn leaves to see / hear / smell. But only in the spirit could she truly feel, with all of her senses, all at once, often overlapping. Colors had taste. Smells had sound. In the body it was one or the other and often so intense it was addictive. In the spirit it was just right – an unimaginable wholeness unparalleled in the body. She’d long wondered if people who were stuck in the web of addiction would benefit from a sideways trip into their soul – to be temporarily free of the immature needs / cravings of the body’s senses so they could gain some perspective, to feel home in their bodies, in the world. But that was impossible for most. Most were so convinced that the physical was all there was that they couldn’t imagine any other way. Stepping back and observing life instead of reflexively reacting to it – you might as well ask them to levitate.

And just like that, she was back. She had spent so long musing on other people’s problems that she fell out of the rhythm of her breath, the rhythm that allowed her to be in the moment. And just like that she remembered what it was to be in a body, the dull pressure of her soul inside her flesh. It was like a hand inside a puppet. Remove the hand and no life was present.

Millie suddenly felt the nagging needs of her body again, its hungers, its fears. It always wanted something. Even at her tender age she’d learned not to let it have its way all the time.

She could hear her mother outside calling for her, trying to find her. She opened the window and called down to her. Perhaps this was the afternoon she would have the talk with her mother, to tell her where she had come from.

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