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April 2022 Contest Winner: By the Seashore

On the run -- always on the run. It feels like body jumping has been my entire life. But I know I had one before this -- before the day I sold my soul.


I must have been beautiful. So beautiful that I couldn’t imagine living without it. There was a traveling shaman staying in my kingdom. I knew he would be able to help. Under the cover of night, I remember coming to that dingy inn he was staying at. I asked him to make my beauty permanent.


I said I would do anything.


And he said he needed a soul for his collection.


I thought I would still be able to live in my body, to enjoy my beauty for all eternity, but as he wrenched my soul out with his black talons, I’ve never experienced such excruciating pain before. Like a babe ripped from the warm cradle of its mother’s arms, I was separated from myself. My body, as pretty as a doll, slipped on her cloak and left, leaving me -- the real me -- struggling in the shaman’s grasp.


I had sold myself away, but I would not become a prisoner. I broke free, flying into the cool night. Except I couldn’t feel that it was cool. My senses had left me along with my body. I had simply become a ghost. A soul on the run from her master. However, I soon realized that a soul cannot survive long without a body. Thus, other humans became my refuge.


All I have to do is pass through someone and then I find myself occupying their meat suit along with them. At first, their soul clamors and wails, begging me to give their body back. But their noise gradually fades away to a faint whisper as my presence sucks the life out the vessel.


Human souls that haven't been separated like mine cannot survive without their bodies. And the bodies cannot survive without their soul. This used to bother me. The gradual murder of another soul. Their constant pleas at the back of my mind as I live through their body. But it is either me or them. And over the centuries, I taught myself to choose me.


I’ve lived countless lives through my hosts. Some of them were lavish and reminiscent of my own, while other lives were quite the opposite. But I’ve always stuck to exclusively possessing women. I couldn’t imagine living with that thing that only men have.


But despite my good efforts, I knew that I couldn’t keep up this life forever.


 

It's another cool night, I know it in my heart. I drift across the tops of buildings, various neon signs and indoor lights shining up at me. I should be fervently searching for another host, but tonight I’m tired. I just want some time to be myself for once -- even if I’ll never truly be myself ever again without my body. The buildings gradually become shorter and shorter until they completely give way to the gentle slope of a beach. I foolishly touch down on the sand without checking my surroundings. I was too busy imagining how the thousands of fine grains would feel between my toes.


That’s when I heard it. A dog. Barking rapidly and barreling right towards me. While it was noisy, I didn’t pay it much attention, continuing to stare out at the ocean. The shaman never used animals to track me, what would make him start now?


As expected, the animal passed right through me. What I wasn’t expecting was its owner trailing right behind it.


They slammed right into me. I feel the breath get sucked out my chest before everything goes black. As I regain sight, my breath returned as well. I seize up as I smell the stinging saltiness of the ocean. The cool night air brushes against my bare arms. The warm sand carcasses my toes.


If my senses have returned, it can only mean one thing.


“What the heck was that...?” sounds in the back of my head.


“Oh no,” I say out loud, my voice now several octaves deeper. My hands instantly clamp over my mouth.


“Iggy! Iggy!” the body’s owner shouts in my mind. “Why can’t I move?! I need to catch her before she runs away!”


It’s not every day that a human runs into me on their own accord. Even though I didn’t want to possess a male body, I wasn’t about to waste time finding a new one. I begin to run after Iggy, who is now a dot on the other side of the beach. I hear the owner make a sound of relief.


Running down the beach, everything seemed to slow, my senses heightening. I heard the sand flying from under my feet -- the ocean lapping at the shore. My breath burned in my lungs -- an unfamiliar but exhilarating feeling.


Before I knew it, I had reached the small cove on the other side of the beach. Iggy was laying in the sand, her head resting on her crossed paws. Her dark pointed ears flick in my direction as I approached.


“Iggy!” the host greets warmly in my head. “You can’t run away from me like that! What if you got hurt or lost or...” he rambles on.


I tune him out, stopping a safe distance away from the dog. “Hey girl,” I say shakily.


“What the heck is going on?!” the suddenly host exclaims. “Why do I keep saying things I’m not thinking of saying and doing things I don’t want to do?!”


Iggy suddenly leaped to her feet, growling. She bares her canines at me and I hold up my hands like a caught criminal. Her deep brown eyes demand to know what I did with her owner. I was indifferent to animals when I was alive, but now I’ve grown to hate them. They can always tell when a person close to them is possessed.


Shut up, I can’t think! I growl out mentally.


The host lost his train of thought. “Huh?! Why is there someone else in my head?! Who are you?”


Tell me how to get your dog off of me!


I feel the alarm rising in his soul, sparking hot like firecrackers. “Not before you tell me who you are and what’s going on!”


I’ve possessed you. Or more like you possessed yourself by running into me...


“But you couldn’t have possessed me! Ghosts aren’t even real!”


Not a ghost, I snap back. Now how do I make your dog think it's just you?


“Can’t you just hand me back control or something?!”


This time, my train of thought stops. I didn’t know giving control back to the host was an option. I didn’t even know how to do that.


“You don’t know how to do that? What kind of a ghost are you?!”


My face heats up like an oven -- another strange feeling. “It doesn’t matter what I can or cannot do! Just tell me how to interact with your dog and I will copy what you think!” I screech out loud.


Iggy’s growling briefly stops as she becomes more confused than anything.


“Okay, okay!” he agrees. “Sheesh!”


I relax my host's body and open my mind to receive his input.


"Hey Iggy, everything's alright," he begins, his voice tender. His words echo in my head as I repeat them aloud, mirroring his tone.


We stretch forth an open hand. "It's just me, see?"


Iggy still kept her distance, eyeing me skeptically. At least it seems like she had calmed down at this point.


I feel him smiling, a gentle warmth like sunlight upon my soul. I tried to recreate it upon his face as best I could.


I must have done a good job, for Iggy finally came bounding over to me. She briefly licked my hand before standing on her hind legs and giving me a hug, showering my face with more kisses.


I let out an exclamation, not used to such a large dog throwing almost its entire weight into me. But my hands naturally find their way behind her ears, giving them a good scratch. Iggy’s fluffy brown tail wagged furiously in response.


"And here I thought you didn't like pets!" the host coos.


Huh? I think at him. I never said that...


"I can hear your thoughts, remember?"


Ugh...


Iggy finally gets off of me and pokes at her neglected leash in the sand with her nose. A dark wave of dread rises in my chest as I realize I would have to return to my host’s house. A strange man and his scary German Shepard.


“Excuse me, I am not strange!” shoots through my mind. “You won’t even have to go to my house if you un-possess me!”


I can’t... I think as I pick up the leash.


“Why not?”


I start to walk out from the cove, Iggy trailing behind me. I don’t need to explain myself to the likes of you. Now, where do you live?


“Do you really think I’m going to let some weird ghost walk my body back to my house?”


My eyebrows scrunch together. I said I’m not a ghost. Also, I don’t like this situation as much as you do...


I trudge up the shore towards the pier. The feeling of sand under my bare feet got old fast.


“I mean, I just want to know more about you.”


I stop on the spot, completely thrown off guard. Iggy looks up with an inquisitive head tilt.


“Ah, surprised you didn’t I?” he laughs. It was warm and bubbly, just like how his smile felt. “It’s kinda rude that none of your other hosts wanted to do the same, though.”


“Stop reading my thoughts!” I yell aloud, still not used to my deeper voice.


“Hey, I’m still getting used to this emotion and thought sharing stuff!” he says defensively.

I resume stomping up the beach.


“But who knew that anger feels like little pins and needles poking at you? That’s really something,” he says in an attempt to break the tension.


His nervousness came off in waves of ice-cold sheets, each of them jabbing uncomfortably under my ribs. I stop again, biting my lip. Iggy barks at me, tugging on her leash. I try to shed my annoyance -- my anger -- at this whole situation. I try to let my walls down.


Ugh, okay, I’ll tell you about -- I cut off my thought as something slips out my hand. I whirl around to find Iggy galloping down the beach again, barking all the way. This time, however, she veered off to the left.


“She’s leading you home,” the host chortles. “Follow her!”


I found my legs working once again as I chase after the dog under the moonlight, his laughter still bouncing around my head.


 

Thankfully, I didn’t have to run for long. I come across a quaint little beach house on stilts. Iggy runs up the steps to the house like she had been doing it for years. She paws at the front door, whining.


I jog up behind her, panting. I try the doorknob. It was locked.


Before I could even ask, the host said, “Left pants pocket.”


I shove my hand inside, and there were the keys. I fumble with them a moment before finally getting the door open. Iggy barked again and rushes past me inside. I shuffle in as well, closing the door behind me. Wooden floorboards creak under my feet as I walk through the dark room.


“The light switch is by the door...” echoes in my mind.


I don’t like bright lights, I drone. Where’s your bedroom?


“Woah now, what exactly are you planning on doing in there?” his words were smooth scarlet velvet laced with questionable implications.


“Nothing!” I whispered pointedly. “I must simply retire this body for the night. That is all!”


“What about Iggy though?” he shoots back. “You have to get her situated first.”


I swapped back to thinking. Well, how am I supposed to do that?


“I’ll guide you again.”


Several dog treats later, Iggy’s leash is removed and she’s as ready for bed as I am. I didn’t bother changing the clothes on this body, much to my host’s dismay, for fear of what I might see. I shuffle over a rug before dropping onto the nearest bed-like surface, instantly welcomed by pitch-black darkness.

 

My eyes blink open, now assaulted by the afternoon sun barging through my window. I stretch, yawning. My voice is back to its normal pitch. I throw back my covers and slide out of my canopied bed. I’m already dressed in a long black gown, every bit of my skin from my chin to my ankles wrapped in its fine silk. I pull on a pair of matching slippers and hurry out of my bedroom.


Why my dreams always bring me back to Charhelm Castle, I do not know. Even if my mind can’t conjure Charhelm perfectly, it’s still a mixture of nostalgia and torture as I walk the halls again. I pad down the stairs, my feet sinking into the red carpet draped over them. The world outside the stairwell’s narrow windows is nondescript -- simply an empty blue sky with a single yellow orb. How fitting for this hazy dream. As I reach the bottom of the stairs, I’m met with a large arching doorway. The throne room.


The room still managed to maintain its sense of majesty with its vaulted white stone ceilings and stained glass murals. Another red carpet running through the center of the room pulls my eyes to the pair of thrones at the back. One for the king and one for the queen, both of them of equal size unlike in other castles. Fond memories of my childhood attempt to rush back all at once. The nostalgia wraps around me like a warm blanket, comforting and crushing my heart simultaneously.


So caught up in my memories, I forget to notice the one thing that’s out of place. At the center of the room he stood, the man whose body I was occupying. He pulls at his almond brown hair, glancing around frantically. He had yet to notice me, for I was near the entrance behind him.


He exhales sharply past his teeth. “Where am I?” he says under his breath.


“This is a dream,” I say, my voice ringing throughout the room. “The only place where the soul is truly free.”


He lets out a screech, nearly jumping out of his skin. He spins to face me, forest green eyes as wide as saucers. “Y-you’re the ghost!”


“How many times do I have to tell you?” I stomp over to him. “I am a soul without a body. Not a ghost!” I stamp my foot.


“Same difference,” he scoffs, temporarily forgetting his fear. “I mean -- Please don’t hurt me, ahh!” he holds his hands up in defense.


It was my turn to scoff. I walk to my mother’s throne and take a seat. I allow myself to sink into the comfortable red cushion, finally fulfilling my childhood wish.


I cross my legs, feeling smug. “I have no reason to hurt you. In fact, I was just about to tell you my plans.”


"Your plans?" he echoes.


“Yes, my plans.” I stare down at him from the throne, relishing how confused he looked. “I’ve decided that I will use your body to find myself a suitable host. Meaning we will need to walk through crowds of people using your body. Once I find a new host, I shall leave your body and your life will return to normal. Do you understand?”


He scratches his head. “I guess so, yeah. But I just want to know who you are. Or who you were, I should say.”


I squint my eyes, “You’re joking.”


“Not at all! If we’re going to share a body for a bit, I would think that this would be obligatory,” he smiled. “I’m Aaron, by the way.”


I hesitated, unable to fully believe him. How come none of my other hosts were this friendly? “Your name suits you,” I finally mumble. “It means ‘strong.’”


“Thanks!” he says, beaming.


He suddenly bounds up the steps of the throne platform and sits in the seat next to me. He leans on a fake gold armrest, his eyes sparkling with excitement as he stares at me. “So, it’s your turn to share now.”


I rolled my eyes and looked away. “I was Wren, Wren Charhelm. The most

beautiful princess in all of Isimiteron.”


 

My eyes snap open as all the breath is knocked out of my chest. Before I have time to react further, my face is assaulted with something wet and slimy. The weight removes itself from me with a bark.


“Iggy...? Wha--?” I pant out in Aaron’s baritone.


I groggily sit up on the sofa. The afternoon sun reflects off the ocean waves past the patio windows, lighting up the tiny living room. Iggy barks at me again. She sat in front of the sofa, tail wagging. A silver dog food bowl rested between her paws.


My eyebrows scrunch together. I don’t know anything about feeding a dog.


Haha... Aaron, I need some help here... I think. As much as I dislike asking him, I

certainly needed his help.


The one time I reached out, there was no response from him. What could he possibly be doing? Normally, the host wakes up when the body wakes up.


Iggy barks again, this time, however, it wasn’t as friendly sounding. She probably thinks I’m an imposter again. I frantically scan the room, and I quickly spot a large sack resting against a cabinet in the kitchenette ahead of me. I try to calm Iggy by gently shushing her before walking toward the sack. My intuition served me well, for it was actually dog food.


I lift the bag up with no trouble and bring it back to Iggy’s bowl. Her furious barks simmer down to a continuous growl as I fill her bowl with food. When I finished, she had become completely silent, seeming to glance between me and the food.


Finally, she gave up her skepticism and dug in.


I crouch down and pat her head. “Even if I’m a ghost possessing your master’s body, I’ll still try my best to take care of you,” I say.


“You called yourself a ghost, wow,” echoed Aaron’s voice. His surprise and humor melded into a yellow blob with pink polka dots; a sticky but sweet feeling.


You’re simply insufferable... Where were you?


“I couldn’t tell you, to be honest. Everything was so hazy and weird...”


Hmph, you were probably still dreaming.


“So what’s the plan for today, chief?”


Body searching.


“You’re really lucky that I have this week off from work. It was supposed to be my vacation.” I saw a little explosion of light behind my eyes as if Aaron had just remembered something. “Make sure to take Iggy on a walk while you’re body snatching!”


“Fine,” I say out loud.


“Wait, also, you can’t have me going out in public smelling like this! I have a reputation to maintain!”


“There is no way that I am washing you -- I mean this body!” I shoot back.


I could tell that Aaron was pouting. “I don't wanna be a stinky man for an entire week! What if I get an infection of some kind?”


I stand, sighing heavily. Fine...


Iggy looked up from her food and gave my hand a comforting lick. Maybe animals aren’t so bad after all.


 

It’s now late afternoon, the time of day when everything is buzzing with activity. There seems to be a certain magic in the air with all the smiling shop owners and the laughter bubbling from their customers.


But that magic has no effect on me. I despondently shuffle down this city’s main street, desperately wishing that I could bleach my eyes. Iggy trots happily in front of me on her leash, unaware of my internal woes.


However, Aaron could hear them loud and clear. “It wasn’t that bad!” he tries to comfort me. “At least we smell good so you can do your ‘meet and greet.’”


I only grumbled in response.


“Oo, look over there!” Aaron suddenly exclaims. I stop walking as an unknown force gently nudges my head left. “I think that girl over there would be a good fit. She looks just like you!”


On the other side of the street, a woman sat outside a café. She wore a black business suit, her dark hair pulled back into a tight bun. She took a sip of her coffee with her pinky finger out and her back perfectly straight. Her face was narrow with elegant features; one might have considered her beautiful, but there was a certain bitterness underlying her outward appearance.


You think I look like that? I think, deadpan.


“Well, yeah,” he replies. “You’re constantly angry -- I can feel it now. You’re also very pretty.”


I scoff aloud and resume walking. Well, I’m not talking to that woman. She looks like she doesn’t want to be bothered.


“Your loss,” he shrugs. “I thought you wanted to leave my body as soon as possible, though.”


I do. But I have to ensure that the next person I’m possessing isn’t as annoying as you.


His outrage is bright orange triangles dancing across our souls. My lips -- well, Aaron’s lips -- tug into a smirk.


We continued to walk up and down that street until it was sunset. While I learned what an ice cream sundae tastes like, I still did not fi nd a suitable host. However, as I walked back to the beach house, that day felt like one of the most fulfilling ones I had in a long while. Iggy was happy, and so was Aaron. As I laid to rest on the couch again, there was a warmth in my soul.


Something I had never felt even when I still had my body...


 

My eyes flutter open and I find myself in my lavish bed at Charhelm Castle once again. I flip back the sheets, revealing a yellow sundress. My hair brushes against my bare shoulders before continuing to flow down my back in waves. Maybe my appearance mirrors how I feel. Dreams work in strange ways.


I pull on a pair of white slippers before beginning my trek down the stairs. When I arrived in the throne room, Aaron was waiting for me again, looking oh-so-very out of place in his shorts and sandals. He was closely examining one of the stained glass windows. At my approach, he started, but not quite as bad as our first dream encounter.


“Hi Wren,” he greeted. Suddenly he blinked rapidly, “Woah! You look way different now! What’s up with the new makeover? Didn’t feel like looking so sour anymore?”


I ignored him, opting instead to look at the window he was focusing on earlier. It depicted Aaron walking Iggy down a lively street.


“How did this get here?” I asked him.


“I dunno,” he shrugged. “It’s your dream, I thought you would know.”


I put a hand on my chin. It must be my memory... I thought.


“It’s pretty cool though,” Aaron added. He scratched his head. “But now what do we do?”


“What do you mean?”


“Like we’re just stuck in your dream in this throne room. We can’t just sit here the whole night, can we?”


I grab his hand and he looks at me with that stupid, surprised expression again. “Let’s see if I can imagine the royal gardens, shall we?” I smirk.


I didn’t exactly know what came over me at that moment. It was like my personality had changed along with my appearance. I thought I wanted to get as far away from this man as possible. Yet, when the throne room melted away and I saw his awestruck smile at the hundreds of roses in bloom now surrounding us, I couldn’t help but smile too.


 

For that whole week, I always woke up from my dreams smiling. I looked forward to getting my morning kisses from Iggy. And every day, we took a walk in the city. Sometimes we went to the beach afterward, like those early morning hours when I first met the pair. Every night, we returned to the beach house, exhausted but glad for it because it meant that we had a good day.


And every time I went to sleep, I got to visit Aaron again. We’d traveled the world in my dreams, learning more about each other in the process. But despite that, I still don’t know what makes him different from my other hosts. Maybe it's all those goofy expressions he makes. Or the way our emotions are so intertwined that it's like talking to a long-lost friend.


But one day, I was reminded of my cruel reality. I wake up with a scowl on my face and a pain in my chest. Iggy stares at me from the ground in front of the sofa, whining.


“It’s okay Igg--” I stop as I hear my real voice reverberate throughout the room.


My hands fly to my mouth. I flip my legs off the sofa and run to the bathroom. In the mirror, I see Aaron looking back at me, except his face is now sallow. His eyes hung in dark sockets in his head.


“No...” I whisper hoarsely. “No!”


The decay wasn’t supposed to start this early. It takes a month at least.


Aaron! Aaron! I call out in my mind. Where are you?!


Iggy had made her way to the bathroom door, still whining. I rush over and embrace her in a hug. I work hard to hold the tears in, but they still manage to creep out. I watch my transparent hands rise half an inch out of Aaron’s for a split second before they slip back in.


“I’m here,” came Aaron’s voice. He sounds so distant. “What’s happening...?”


I could tell his soul wasn’t burning as brightly anymore. More tears slide down my face as I connect the dots. Each emotion we shared, each memory we made, he opened his heart to mine. And every time I reciprocated the feeling -- or so I thought. In actuality, I reached into his heart and ripped out chunks of his soul, devouring them greedily and mistaking their sweetness for love.


This is what makes him different than my previous hosts. This is why he’s dying so fast. This is why it hurts so much.


“Aaron, Iggy, this is goodbye,” I say quietly. “I can’t use this body anymore without killing Aaron.”


Iggy let out a sad bark.


“Just possess someone else, Wren!” Aaron says. “Then live in her body with us!”


“I can’t... While these weeks with you have been some of the most fun I’ve had in both my lives, there’s no point for me to continue this broken existence...”


I give Iggy a final scratch behind the ears. “When I leave, you’ll finally get to have your body back, Aaron,” I laugh past the tears.


“I don’t want it back! I want you,” he says passionately.


Something inside me sparked. A flurry of colors flashed behind my eyes. Against my better judgment, I let my soul reach out to Aaron’s for the last time. His soul was so tiny now... All the more reason why I had to go.


“Please Wren, work out a way. Anything but this,” he pleads.


“I can’t...” I repeated. I hug Iggy a little tighter, burying my face in her fur. “Goodbye.”


I kick out of Aaron’s body and everything goes black. I can’t breathe. I can’t anything. But in the next second, I regain my senses. I’m looking down at Aaron’s body, supported by Iggy who was barking frantically. He must still be unconscious.


Unable to bear seeing him wake up, I float out of the beach house. I soon find myself standing on the beach again. Can’t feel the sand, or the sunlight, or the sea breeze. The ocean doesn’t sound quite the same either, but I could stare out at its sparkling blue waves forever. And that I will. Until I am caught by the shaman or until I fade away into nothingness. Either way, I’ll be content, for I have experienced something greater than eternal youth would have ever brought me.


 

Eggs, the winner of WriterVana's April 2022 writing contest, is a fiction, fantasy, and poetry writer.


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