I lie awake and listen to low rumbling voices by the window.
I hear them in the daytime, soft beneath the world, like the rocking ocean.
I creep to the edge of my bed and watch them come through the window
men all in red, women dressed in green, a procession of ghosts whose footsteps make no sound…
One of their number sees me, and reaches out to touch my forehead.
His hand is cooler than the moon-full windowpane.
“You must have such big eyes,” he teases me, “to see us passing.”
I am twelve years old and a ghost is keeping me company.
I am old for imaginary friends, but she is often with me.
I prowl through the empty corridors of my mother’s white-walled church
and listen, indulgently, to her questions of what everything means.
When I sit at the sanctuary piano and play songs only I have ever known
suddenly she is not alone. The world is full of people reaching for me
they all whisper, wanting to know: can I hear them?
Yes, I can.
I am fifteen years old and my first love is a dead man I want to someday become.
His eyes are the color of a summer storm and his hands tremble as he lights anxious cigarettes.
He is a soldier, and when he talks about how he died
he talks about a shadow that swallowed the whole world.
I pray every night that God lets him stay where I can hear him sweat poetry
and catch hold of his fingers as he fumbles for comfort in the margins of the world.
I am nineteen years old and have fallen in with a trickster.
His hair never stays flat but pokes up at odd angles
and his hands are rough with string-callouses and old scars.
He died far from home, searching for Heaven, barely twenty-five.
He sits in the archive next to me as I type words from old papers
and steals kisses that taste like the sea that roars in my bones.
I had not believed love would taste so much like tears.
I am twenty-five years old, and this knight calls me his lion.
He haunts me languidly. At his age, he is not afraid of anything.
But he grips me tight in holy fervor and prays when I touch his mouth
like I am the only god who has ever answered his summons.
He does not promise me anything, not that he will stay,
not that anything between the living and dead can last.
On my birthday, he asks if I want a leopard for my spectre’s kingdom
but I tell him I only want the company of the dead perpetually.
It is All Hallow’s Eve, and my ghosts play cards to pass the time to midnight.
I hear them just beyond seeing, as paper cards flutter in solid hands.
Tonight is my turn to scale the wall that keeps the living from the dead.
I gaze through my scrying glass at my august assembly of spirits
and light the incense that smells of a church where I have never prayed.
The bells are ringing somewhere in town and the wine is making dark mud beneath my feet.
I am always at the mercy of magic, but Death will not keep me out of his kingdom tonight.
When I sit down at the table, flushed with libations, and accept a hand,
everything is easy, and I am one with the dead who love me.
Lev Mirov lives with his wife and fellow writer, India Valentin, and their two cats outside of Washington DC. He recently finished a master’s thesis on folk magic as a spiritual expression in late medieval England at Goddard College and is now licensed to time-travel at will. When not buried in research for his next time-travel adventure or cooking, he can be found fervently scribbling speculative fiction, fantastical poetry, and gluten-free recipes from around the world. You can follow his adventures on twitter at https://twitter.com/thelionmachine.