ten rules for asking ghosts a favor
The first thing, of course, is to be fearless; and if you cannot manage fearless you must at least be brave. Ghosts will know the difference, but they may forgive you fear if you are willing to face it. They will overlook the tremor in your hand as long as it is a hand outstretched.
Ghosts in the mirror are closer than they appear. Remember this. They will look too big, black and glittering like clear things always are when you filter darkness through them. But it is only because the sky is dark, and they have swallowed the sky and are dark also.
Remember that there is no such thing as darkness, only places where light has not yet reached, and your eyes will adjust. Yours are the hungriest eyes in the forest. Get used to the bite of them. It does no good to pretend you are not also frightening, that you cannot also wound.
There is a hollow in your throat where puzzles sit. This is the gift and burden of the living, to be unfinished, a creature constantly in motion. Ghosts will pour themselves into whatever shapes can hold them, so you must keep your mouth shut and let them do the talking. They will tell you what they want you to know. It may not be what you were looking for, but when has the desire of the living ever mattered to the dead? What’s lost is lost. It is not coming back. Whatever you do, don’t ask for it.
If you slip and ask anyway, if the want builds in your throat in the form of an unbearable question that cannot be swallowed because it is not a solid mass but instead a lacuna of desire, if this hunger spills from you and gobbles up everything it touches, you must be ready. Ghosts will offer you the thing you are willing to die for, but only if you are willing to die for it. Only if you are willing to follow them to places you cannot return from. What’s lost is not coming back, but you can meet it in a new place, perhaps, if you are very brave and the ghosts are very kind.
You cannot look back. Not because you will turn to salt but because it will hurt. You cannot imagine how badly it will hurt, to see the sacrifice that you have made. If you are going to chase your hunger then you must chase it at the expense of all other things, until you are sated. There is a reason we have been taught to chew with closed mouths: it is because we cannot bear to see the wreckages we make with our teeth.
When you have been given what you asked for, look it over closely. Ghosts will lie to you for as long as they can get away with it. Ghosts will tell you what they think you want to hear. Ghosts are slippery things, human and not human, dead but still touched by the living. They will lie to keep you there. Take what they give you but do not accept it, not until you have run your thumbs along all its creases, poked your head into all its darkest corners. It will not be exactly how you remember it, this lost thing. You must know this. You must know this as deeply as your bones. If what they have given you is precisely how you lost it, then it is not what you have lost, only a replica. Give it back. Never take a thing that ghosts have made themselves.
When you have bargained with them, when they see that you are hungry and unafraid to use your teeth, they will hand it over, bruised. It will return to you a different thing then what you went looking for, and you must love it for these changes. You must love it enough to draw it close and kiss its bruises. You must love it enough to put it in your mouth and swallow.
Do not bite down. Carry it whole, without wounding. This is the only way, you see, that you can bring it back. It must be held in the place where puzzles sit, or it cannot be held at all.
Go back the way you came, if you can bear it. If you can’t – if you swallow it too completely, if it breaks between your teeth – then be kind. Be very, very kind. Forgive them the tremors in their outstretched hands, as long as they are outstretched.