The room was spinning around me, colours mixing together until no one object was clearly distinguishable from another. I tried to stay upright for a few moments, holding myself in a sitting position with difficulty, before finally giving in and collapsing back into soft pillows, allowing my eyes to close and let the colours give way to a calming blackness.
My head hurt more than I would have thought possible. I would have screamed, but the pain was continuos and in the end I would have lost my voice. She knew. That was the first thing I had thought when I'd woken up. I could see her in her mind's eye saying "I'd blame it on the headaches." Hitting one hand with the other, in frustration. She hadn't meant to say it, she'd slipped up. She had expected this before it came.
Oh my head. It felt like someone had tried to bludgeon me to death with a cricket bat. What on earth was causing it to hurt so much? I'd never felt anything like it before. How had Araera known it was coming? Maybe she could see the future, to add to her other powers, I thought bitterly, but I knew what the real reason was likely to be.
Somehow, being around her caused the headaches. Whoever or whatever she was, seeing her was somehow harmful to me. Of course, it might a side effect of the hallucinations, but somehow I didn't think so.
Someone I had made up might see my thoughts, they were my thoughts, of course it was possible they could see them. Someone I had made up might not feel pain. Why should an illusion feel pain? Someone I had made up could probably follow me wherever I went. If they were in my mind, I couldn't escape from them. I couldn't hide from my own mind.
What someone I had made up shouldn't have been able to do was know things I didn't. I'd thought about it and I was sure. If I hadn't known yesterday I was going to wake up with this headache, no figment of my imagination should know either and there was no way I could have known. I'd been fine yesterday. Completely fine.
I didn't look at the floor, my eyelids were too heavy and I knew I could count on my vision to be too blurred to see anything clearly, but I knew she was still there. Last night I'd come home late after hours of talks with the head and other teachers, including Mr Green, my parents, the doctors in the hospital. As I'd climbed into bed she'd just appeared from nowhere in the doorway, slumped against the frame as if exhausted. She'd only had time to mumble "staying away drained me." Before she collapsed on the rug beside my bed.
I might have argued about her unannounced arrival in my room, but I was far too tired at the time. She really had looked drained. Huge dark circles had appeared under her eyes, coupled with a pale face and strained expression which transformed her from the healthy teenage girl I had seen earlier to a ghostly wreck. She'd looked like she hadn't slept in days, but it had been a matter of hours since I had last seen her. Hours. She'd said she could only give me a few minutes to myself. Whatever she'd done to keep herself away, it had taken its toll.
She'd stayed away before though, enduring far longer gaps in our meetings from Sunday to Monday and Monday to Tuesday. So what had changed? Whatever it was, it made staying away from me difficult for her and being in close proximity to each other painful for me.
More to the point, what was she? I'd decided at some point, I wasn't sure when, that I wasn't suffering from a mental illness. Araera was no hallucination. She was too keen to convince me that I had made her up. She wasn't normal certainly and if she existed in the ordinary sense of the word she would have died in the fall yesterday, but she was real in some way.
"I'd hoped it would take you longer to figure out," She said, still sounding half asleep, "but I suppose that was a bit too much to hope for. I've made too many mistakes."
"Originally you just wanted to seem normal, didn't you." I said, thinking everything through as I spoke. "Then you slipped up during our first meeting. You hit your head on the bridge and failed to flinch and you let slip you could see what I was thinking. You had to find a way to cover for that. You obviously couldn't be normal, so you pretended I'd made you up and took great pains to get me to believe you. It almost worked too, but then yesterday you talked about the headaches before they'd started. I realised if you came from my thoughts, the only knowledge you could have must come from my brain. You weren't really independent life. Except you are, aren't you. You knew what was going to happen when I didn't." A thought struck me. "You could do those maths questions too, I couldn't have finished them, or at least not that quickly. What exactly you are, because you aren't human, that's what I don't know."
It might have been quite an impressive speech, except that I spoke it with my eyes closed and let out a little whimper at the end, making me sound like a lost puppy. If I looked at Araera now, I thought, that familiar pitiful look in her eyes would be all too obvious.
"Do you believe in ghosts? Because you've met one. Hello." Her voice sounded slightly cracked, as if she was on the verge of tears, but she had no reason to cry.
Despite my throbbing temples and heavy eyelids, I risked a peak at her. She was staring at me with genuine concern. Even though this was her fault. "A ghost. Do you know how odd that sounds? The version where I made you up made more sense than that. Do you know what's even stranger? I believe you, first time. I suppose it explains everything. So tell me, what unfinished business did you leave when you died that made you come back to haunt me?" I did believe her. Completely.
Through my one half open eye I saw her shake her head. "That isn't how it works. You don't haunt people, well not exactly. More importantly, you don't come back to complete unfinished business. It's just that if you want to escape death enough, you don't die. It's simple really. It takes a lot of willpower but somehow if you want to enough, you carry on. You regret it later but you can. Don't ask me how it works because I don't know. It just does."
She'd been rehearsing that, I could tell from the way she said it all without stoping to think, like when an actor learns lines for a play so well, he forgets to pretend to the audience they've just occurred to him. She'd thought hard about the best ways to explain the incomprehensible. So she had been planning to tell me what was going on. Eventually.
"Where do I come in?" I'd already thought of several answers, ranging from the more optimistic view that she just wanted someone to chat to, to the prediction of my sacrifice to unseen gods so she could take my life for herself. Hopefully, the second one was just pessimism. The first one I knew was only wishful thinking.
"Honestly? No idea. Well, I had none at first. Every time I've seen you though, I've felt stronger. It made sense the opposite would happen to you. Headaches made sense, after all, so many illnesses start with headaches. I think you can help me. If you're here, then, in the end, I think you can help me back towards a normal life. I mean, people seeing me, talking to me." There was a strange, faraway smile on her face, before she jolted back to normal and replaced it with her usual grin. "It seems by staying around you, l can return to reality. Thanks for that." She looked awkward. There was a catch, there had to be a catch, but somehow from her face I didn't think it was going to apply to her. My head. I closed my eyes again.
"So. The headaches." I could here the scuffing of feet on the floorboards, uncomfortable shuffling.
"Possibly worse to come. It's actually quite likely to be worse. Sorry." She didn't sound particularly remorseful. She would use me to get her life back, never mind the consequences to me. "It might not do anything bad." She continued hurriedly, attempting to ease her guilty conscience. "You might even develop the powers I have now, or some of them. Immortality, can you imagine?" Yes, I could imagine. Imagine watching all my friends die as I carried on. It would drive me mad. It might actually be worse than death, the more likely outcome of Araera's presence.
"I don't want to kill you." She whispered. "Hopefully, I won't. I've just gone too long walking around with no one talking to me. I don't know why you can talk to me or how any of this is happening, but I know that however selfish it might be, I'm willing to risk you to get my life back."