Your team-mates think that your sleeplessness is simply a matter of being distracted from rest by every passing fancy, but that’s not true. Neither is it true that the Imaginary world is as truly imaginary as they think. Even without any drink in you at all, without any fort, you can feel the drift and overlay of that other brightly-coloured world around you. You can hear the occasional comforting murmur from your ascended self in your ear, fond whispers about what he surveys, the brilliance and majesty of the world, slipping into your mind through the gossamer thin connection you still share.
Sometimes, too, that world – the Imaginary world – slides further into focus, and in the manner of a prism splitting white light into its hidden spectrum, you see the four colours lying behind all matter, and the Part-Pickles who became the universe itself. When it slides back out of focus, you try to forget that the thrumming in your bones is that of the universe itself, that on some level you are it, and it in turn is you. That every lovely and terrible thing there is in the world is part of you. You forget, and don’t pause at the grocery shop till in familiar epiphany. Often. You don’t think about part of your consciousness outliving everyone you know, or about the cold and lonely depths of eternity. If you can.
But those aren’t the only shards of you still left beyond, and that’s not the only voice you hear. Death’s hollow chattering sits itself in your brain like an icecube, a constant reminder of eventual mortality. It’s uncomfortable, although you can adjust to it. Tea – chamomile in the times when Death’s voice is too loud, too like your own – tea helps calm you. Helps soften edges of words like fleshless fingerbones that pluck at your comfort in the good things of the world. Helps stop you from thinking of the people newly welcomed to the afterlife, of imagining that you can see your friends’ apportioned time when you speak to them.
At night, though, it becomes especially difficult to ignore, when the sounds of bustle and commerce drop away. The baseline running beneath reality stands clear, with nothing to mask it.
Then not only can you feel Death’s voice in your mind like the discomfort of a loose tooth, dampened by camomile but far from banished, you can hear his charges too, through your connection. The newly-dead are rarely quiet. The angry ones shout and gibber and make a scene. They threaten, they upend Death’s game boards, they try to attack him. Every new impropriety is like the memory of a toothache, far-off but still potent enough to make you wince. You glimpse them out of the corner of your eyes sometimes, transparent and carrying their cause of death on their faces - bloodied, pristine, or barely recognisable as human anymore by turns.
They’re not the worst of the dead, though. They’re a torment, but one lessened by distance.
No, the ones that truly bother you are the crying ones. Whether they weep loudly or quietly, the effect is the same. It sets the hairs on the back of your neck to standing and sours your tongue with guilt.
You have a connection to Death, but you tell yourself you’re not him. Still, when the ghosts of those “taken before their time” stand before him and wring their hands and plead, it’s you who feels the gnawing guilt at not being able to reach out and just… Open the door.
The crying is unnerving, too. You find yourself checking and re-checking over your shoulder to make sure there’s no hunched over body in the corner of your room, weeping and wailing through incorporeal hands. That they haven’t somehow sensed you and followed you home. Even though you know they can’t. It’s irrational, but fears are irrational.
It gets very hard to sleep on the nights that Death has a crying guest.