I wasn’t supposed to be having one. I said I was going to stop. No more, it’s the last one, never again. But the itch was becoming unbearable. I glanced back at the little white box again. It sat on the table, mocking me and my desire. I was mad: dumb anger, the kind of anger that makes you do stupid things, filled my vision. I fiddled with my phone, opening, closing, and re-opening Twitter. Twitter retweets were good, but a cig was even better.


I desperately grabbed the box and pulled one from the stash. Before I really knew it, I had it lit and was pulling a drag, eyes closed. Coherence left me: my mind was beautifully blank, only replicable during those precious few post-cum seconds where nothing exists. I sat there leaning back, eyes closed, soaking it into my soul. Eventually, the anger receded, and the smallest bits of consciousness wormed their way back into my brain. I let loose my grip on the breath, letting it go and waft away into the ether.

“Better?” asked a faint voice.

My eyes popped open as I fell backwards in my chair. I was alone, or so I had thought. I fumbled my way back onto my feet, desperately glancing around to find who the voice belonged to. It was faint, but familiar. I saw the flannel shirt first, the one he wore when he was about to head out on the job again. I saw his beard next, slightly unkempt, a little longer than it should be. His eyes glistened with what seemed to be tears welling in the corners. The major problem with this all was that my father was dead, and had been for twelve years now, but here he sat. Well, there his form sat. I backed away towards the doorframe into the living room.

“It’s been a while,” he said as he cracked a smile.

I stared at the form until I was able to pull it together enough to get out a single word: “How?”

He pointed at the box of cigs.

“Those little bastards. I bet someone gave you those, didn’t they?”

I kept looking around, eyes flashing back and forth between him and the rest of the kitchen, trying to figure out if I was being tricked.

“Dammit son, I ain’t gonna hurt ya. Sit down.”

I looked at him apprehensively for a few seconds and finally agreed. I pulled the chair back towards me and sat down, still ready to fight.

“What do you mean the cigarettes did this?”

“Someone gave you those, right?”

Oh, shit. I began wondering what they were laced with to cause me to hallucinate like this.

“…Yea. One of the guys I see at the soup kitchen gave it to me. Said he wanted to thank me for helping him while he was ‘in this wretched plane’…I just thought he was being weird. We get a lot of weirdos, but I like them.”

My dad rested his hand on my table and cracked a smile.

“I’ll have to say thanks whenever I come across him, whoever he was. You ain’t gonna see him again.”

“Why not?” I asked.

“That was a vagabond. They’re nomadic, always traveling, sometimes even between worlds. Dunno how they do that. Sometimes they do get stuck, though. Sounds like what happened to your friend…got stuck here and couldn’t get back for a while.”

“Huh, yea. Sorry dad, but I’m still confused about the cigs.”

“Oh, right. Well, not only can they travel between worlds, but they can make objects with the ability to let the users of those things do the same, for a small bit of time. Sounds like he was grateful for your help and gave you the gift of seeing us again.”

That caught my attention. “Us?” I asked.

“Yea, that’s how it works. Whoever you’re missing most when you smoke one of those will show back up, unless, well…unless they choose not to. How many you got left?”

My fingers fumbled against the lid as I opened it to check.

“Only two.”

“Well, shit. Guess you’ll have to make them count. Don’t even try to think of multiple people when you do it, you’ll only pull in fragments of them, and that’s painful for both you and us.”

I watched his lips move and I heard his voice, and then I noticed myself becoming intensely self-aware.

“I’ve gone insane,” I muttered to myself. “I’ve lost my goddamn mind.”

“Well, you always were a bit imaginative, even as a kid. But this time you’re not imagining it.”

We sat in silence for several seconds, just looking at one another.

Dad finally broke the silence. “Good God, I’ve missed you.”

“I’ve missed you too, Papa.”

I felt it coming on and, being unable to stop myself, I simply tried to stifle it, but the tears came nevertheless. I don’t think I ever let myself realize just how badly I missed him since he passed, and I felt that all coming down on me at once as I stared into his face once more. He sat there, letting me take my time to recompose myself and calm down.

“How long do we have?” I managed to get out between breaths.

“We’re almost out of time already, unfortunately,” he said with a frown. “I’m slowly losing my grasp on this plane. It happens slowly at first, and then all at once.”

“Can I see you or Mom again?”

“Not without a vagabond or some other means, and they’re notoriously unreliable. Sometimes they’re nice and helpful, and sometimes they cause you to summon demons. Shifty little shits.”

I teared up again as I realized I wouldn’t be able to see him again. It was like watching him die all over again.

“Hey there, bubba, don’t cry. I’m so happy I got to see you again. I tried for years when I first passed to get through to you. The others told me it couldn’t be done, and they’re right. Through normal means, I can’t break through that barrier. If I knew how the vagabonds did it, I’d keep trying, but they’re something else entirely. Not quite human. Somehow, they know the key.”

“If I can’t see you again, is there anything I can do to help you or Momma?”

“Just remember us. We have to fight against the darkness all the time. There’s no rest here. But when people remember us, we grow stronger and can fight back against the darkness easier. When we’re forgotten, we lose our strength to fight it and we get pulled into it. Those flowers at our grave, your prayers for us, the times you think about us as you’re going about your day…those things give me and Momma strength. Fight for us so that we can fight for you, because if the darkness wins over us who’ve gone on, there’s nothing to stop it from coming for you.”

I wiped the tears from my eyes and face, and resolved myself to remembering and honoring friends and family members who have disappeared beyond the veil.

“I will, Papa. I love you and Momma so much. I’ll remember you both. Tell Momma I’ll see her soon; I’m going to save these last two for a few years and space them out, but I’ll never forget you both. I’ll tell my wife and son and have them keep the fight long after I’m gone.”

His face began to burn bright and he smiled bigger than damn near anything I’d ever seen before and ask, almost hesitantly, questioningly, “I’m a grandpa?”

I smiled and pulled a photo from my wallet and put it on the table for him to see.

“His name’s Theodore.”

As my father’s form faded away, I saw him shed a tear and heard him whisper, “Now that’s something worth fighting for.”