In Shadows You Walk With Me
Kathy Kirby takes a swig from the half-full bottle of chartreuse, grimaces, wipes her mouth with the back of her hand, and hands the bottle to Geoffrey Nash. Another burst of tingly warmth blooms in her belly and runs sparkling through her veins like vines. She pops the plump silence between them with a short, sharp laugh and says, “Okay, tell me again about this Green Woman. You said you saw her last year, walking home from the ‘Ring in the Spring’ party at Chris and Andy’s, right?”
Geoffrey leans back on the steps and cracks a smile. “Yeah, that’s right.” He takes a modest sip of the piney liqueur and coughs. “Damn, this stuff is harsh! Smooth, but harsh. Like whiskey, if whiskey was made by hippie monks.”
“Shut up,” Kathy says. “You love it. And don’t change the subject. The Green Woman. You saw her last year.”
“That’s what I said.”
“It was the mushrooms, wasn’t it?” Kathy says, giving Geoffrey a suspicious look. “Didn’t you take ‘shrooms earlier at the party?”
“No!” Geoffrey says. “I mean, yes, I did, but that’s not the point. This wasn’t some psychedelic vision from my subconscious or anything. This was real. She saved my life!”
Kathy puts her hands up in defense. “Okay, okay! I’m not calling you a liar or anything. Just go on. You were at the party…”
“I was at the party,” Geoffrey says, nodding. The nodding makes the chartreuse swim around his head like an ocean. “Whoah! Why did I let you talk me into drinking this?” He catches Kathy giving him a drunken, fuzzy-eyed glare. “Right, the party. I’d taken ‘shrooms with Shannon and Jimmy earlier, but I was starting to come down from them, which was bringing back the thoughts of why I’d taken them in the first place.”
“Yeah, Ashanti. She’d dumped me a couple weeks before that and I was far from over it.”
“Oh, you so were,” Kathy says. “You were crazy about her.”
“I mean, crazy crazy.”
“I get it,” Geoffrey snaps, rolling his eyes. “I was there, right? I know how deeply I was into her. When she broke up with me, I was crushed. Crashed. Smashed. I was hiding in my room a lot, drunk and writing reams of truly horrible poetry. Chris and Andy wanted to snap me out of it, so they invited me to their spring party and got Shannon and Jimmy to give me the ol’ magic mushrooms. I guess they wanted me to trip my way out of heartbreak.” He shakes his head. “It didn’t work. I appreciated the sentiment, but as I was coming down from the trip, the sadness all came rushing back, and the last dregs of psilocybin just amplified it all. I didn’t want to break down in pathetic sobbing in the middle of the party, so I ducked out the back door and started the walk back to my place.”
“Through the old woods,” Kathy says, taking the bottle of chartreuse back.
“Yeah,” Geoffrey nods, “through the old woods. Which wasn’t my best idea, in retrospect.” He shrugs. “Anyway, the night was cool and crisp. The air was clearing my head, washing away the drugs. But then I started to feel like someone was watching me. Watching and following me.”
“And it wasn’t the ‘shrooms?” Kathy asks.
“I swear it wasn’t,” Geoffrey protests. “I know how it sounds, but I swear, the drugs had completely worn off by this point. The moonlight was streaking through the budding branches of the trees. It was gorgeous. But there was that sensation of being watched and followed. And the shadows. I noticed the shadows were behaving…strangely. Branching out and twisting past me, like they were trying to overtake me. An icy wind blew across my back. The hair on my neck and arms went to full attention. I stopped walking. Just froze where I was. I was going to turn around to see what–or who–was behind me, when I felt this stale, icy breath on the back of my neck. A chill raced through my bones and my chest got tight. There was this cold weight on my shoulders. It was death. I mean, it wasn’t the Grim Reaper or anything. At least, I don’t think it was. But it was this intense feeling of death coming up to me from behind. It was going to swallow me whole, swallow me into darkness.
“And just as suddenly as the cold and darkness swept up on me, this warmth and light came up in front of me. A green light, like someone shining a candle through an emerald. And just as suddenly there was a woman standing before me on the path. She was naked and had skin the color of a lime and long, jade hair. I could barely believe it, but there she was. She pointed at me–well, really, she pointed past me, at whatever I felt behind me, and she said, in a voice like a field of blooming flowers, ‘He is not for you. Though his heart may be beaten down, it is not defeated. His sorrow will wither, his pain will heal. Leave him be.’
“But I could still feel the cold, hooked into my back like talons. I just…I hurt so much. I felt like I had put so much into my relationship with Ashanti, and she had put so much into it as well. I didn’t understand how she could just end it and walk away the way she did. I didn’t get it. And…” Geoffrey takes a deep breath. Then another. And another. Kathy looks at him with open, caring eyes, not saying a word. Geoffrey looks down and continues, “Look, Kathy, I haven’t told anyone this part of the story, okay? I haven’t been ready to…the thing is…I left the party to go home and…kill myself. Okay? I was walking home with a plan to down a bottle of scotch and a couple of bottles of pills I’d managed to collect from different people.” Kathy reaches out and takes Geoffrey’s hand in hers. “I was going to end it all. And I felt fine about it. But then that cold came upon me from behind and I was…I was scared. Terrified. I didn’t want to die, not really, but I didn’t want to live either. I just wanted to stop feeling. Pain, heartbreak, sadness, love, happiness, everything. I wanted to stop feeling it all.
“And then there was this woman in front of me. This green-skinned, green-haired, beautiful woman, radiating warmth and light. And to be honest, she was just as terrifying as the cold. I figured I was having some sort of psychotic break, but if I thought that, was I really having a psychotic break? If you know you’re going crazy, doesn’t that mean you’re sane? But how could I be sane and seeing what I was seeing?
“So I just stood there, staring at her, my jaw tight like a vise, and the woman spoke again. ‘Geoffrey Nash,’ she said, ‘walk on, unafraid. I will keep this darkness off of you. You will not be claimed this night.’ The green light seemed to wrap around me, entangling me, and the icy cold melted away. I still felt overcome by sadness, I still felt tight in the chest, but that cold, that darkness, it all faded. And I ran. I took off like a cartoon character who’s seen a ghost, raced home. I was gasping for breath when I got to my door. I fumbled with my keys, stumbled inside, and just hurled my guts out into the toilet. Puked up everything. I mean, everything. When I was done, when I didn’t have anything left in me to puke up, I grabbed the bottles of pills and threw them out.”
“Damn,” Kathy whispers, giving Geoffrey’s hand a squeeze. “Listen, Geoff…”
“I’m okay. I am.” He gives her a crooked smile. “Now, I mean. I found a therapist soon after that and I’m okay now. And that night…” He gives another shrug. “I don’t know. It’s pretty dumb to think some magical green woman came and fought off some specter of death and depression to save my life, right? The symbolism of it all is a little too grandiose and a little too on the nose. But at the same time, I know I wasn’t dreaming it or hallucinating it. I know it really happened.”
“Wow,” Kathy whispers.
“Yeah,” Geoffrey says. He takes the bottle of chartreuse from her and takes a swig. “I saw Ashanti the other day, you know.”
“Yeah. She was with her fiancé.”
“Douglas,” Kathy says.
“Right. Douglas. And I wasn’t angry, I wasn’t sad, I wasn’t bitter. I wasn’t anything. I’ve got my own life now. I don’t feel anything for her. Nothing at all. I just hope she’s happy now, because she wasn’t with me. And I don’t think I was happy with her. Not at the end, anyway.” Geoffrey looks up and notices Kathy staring intently at him. “Um, Kathy? What’s up with the stare?”
“Haven’t you always had brown eyes?” she asks. “As long as I’ve known you, you’ve talked about your brown eyes, right?”
“Yeah,” Geoffrey says. “My eyes are brown, just like my parents. Why?”
“Geoffrey,” she says, “I just realized…your eyes are green.”
This story was inspired by this piece by Annick Gielens.