After several days inside my new head, I was almost used to myself again. Almost.
I was almost used to the strange discomfort of floating memories. I had never really noticed before how memories are chained together, how you can move freely from a memory to the situation in which you gained that memory to the next situation. Even if you don't traverse the pathway, it's there. You could, at least in general, figure out where a memory came from. You could answer the question, "Why do I know this?" It's a thing I had always taken for granted, until my brain was invaded by all these memories, by all this information, that had no business there. Now I looked memories up in my own brain like in a telephone book or a dictionary. I just thought about a person, or saw them, and my brain rushed to all the details about them.
Well, not all the details. I didn't really know people, I just knew about them. I knew where they lived, where they came from, who their family members were, things like that. I could make small talk with everyone in this damn ghost town.
It wasn't all bad. There was something intriguing about getting to know strangers you already knew so much about. It was like filling in the blanks. At first people reacted strangely to me, but word spread pretty quickly in this town. By now it seemed everyone knew there was a new Sheriff. No one ever called me Al anymore, except Freddie and Dad. They knew.
In the past few days I had also almost gotten used to the constant chatter in my head of these damned birds. They were everywhere, watching everything. They reported in to each other constantly, keeping the whole group informed of what was happening all over town. And I got to listen in. I had my own, personal bird brain. "Alan Wayne Hall," they called me. "There is a disturbance at the house of Saul Moorin, Alan Wayne Hall. Please intervene." "You should greet newcomer Tingxiao Yang, Alan Wayne Hall." "The knights are harassing Romeo di Marti again, Alan Wayne Hall." Never a break from the birds calling my name, but I had learned to listen in the back of my head. I was sorting it all out. I was almost used to is all.
"You are required at Lifegate, Alan Wayne Hall."
"What was that?," I thought to myself. "Lifegate? What is Lifegate? Oh, right. Lifegate. Hmmm. Interesting."
It took a while to walk to Lifegate from the Twilight Zone. I didn't take the train because I could tell there was no real urgency. I wanted to see some of the places I knew about in my head, to connect more memories to something real and tangible. They were more palatable that way.
When I got near the Center, I entered the small, stone house that had sat empty for as long as anyone could remember. People called it "Gatehouse," though no one knew why. No one except me, that is. I had talked to Dad and Freddie and they both told me that all that disconnected knowledge goes away when you lost the job. I looked forward to that day.
I opened the back bedroom closet in Gatehouse and bent to lift the trap door in the floor. Propping, the trap door open, I lowered myself through the opening and, with my feet, found the top of the ladder on the wall below. I hopped down to the ladder and climbed down into the strangely familiar tunnel for the first time in my life. I knew the tunnel was about three hundred yards long and turned three times on the way to Lifegate. I felt my way along the wall in the dark. When I got close, I could hear people speaking softly up ahead.
"Hello?" I called into the darkness.
"We are hear, Alan Wayne Hall," came the unmistakable voice of a Dark Angel.
"And who are we?" I asked, but there was no reply. I made my way forward cautiously and came, at last, to the end of the dark passage.
"Be careful," said the Dark Angel, "the ceiling here is very low."
I reached slowly above my head and could feel the stone of the passage just a couple of inches above me. "You must be very crowded down here," I said to the Dark Angel.
"I am fine," he said. His voice was right beside my ear. He must have been on his knees. "You are the Keystone," he said. "You hold the keys to life and death."
"Right," I said. "You want me to open the gate?"
"Really? I seem to recall that this gate is never used," I said. "Are you sure?"
"It has been used before, but not many times," said the Dark Angel. "Please, Alan Wayne Hall, open the Lifegate."
"You're the boss," I said. I reached above my head and placed my hands flat upon the stone. In the way I knew though I knew not how I knew, I willed the stone away. Suddenly, there was a flood of light in the passage. I reached into my pocket for my shades and threw them on. "The Lightstone," I said, looking up into it.
"We are directly beneath it," said the Dark Angel. "Open the Lifegate."
I reached above me again and placed my hands on the cool, stone. I felt almost alive, like the surface was slithering away from my grasp. Again I willed, and the stone bulged and buckled inward above me, creating a dark circle just over out heads. I turned toward the Dark Angel and noticed for the first time the man standing beside him.
"Oh," I said. "It's you."
Here Ends Aphter, Part I: The Maker Song