It is night; the air is cool with just a hint of a breeze, and a sprinkling of stars twinkles overhead. There is a calm, quiet air about the late October evening that soothes the mind into mellowness…

A straggle of students trickles sporadically through the gates of Alward University, the latecomers finally returning to their dorms- or to those of their mates'. Their demeanors vary- some are cheery and giggly from booze, clinging to arms of friends or lovers as they stumble unsteadily on their feet. Others seemed more exhausted, depressive, as though from a combination of too much studying and too little caffeine. Still more slunk through alone, quiet, almost wary, looking around as if still paranoid teens afraid of being caught sneaking in. But by and by, every person outside the university gates eventually passes through them to the inside… all except for one.

She stands beside the black iron spokes, not quite leaning against them, nor standing quite separate from them. Her hair is long and dark, hanging loose down her back. Her clothes are dark-colored, plain in description. All in all, she would blend into the darkness completely if it weren't for her pale face, and the sharply green eyes that looked out from it. She is thinnish, and from the look of her, around 35, a good bit older than the college students who walk past her. She watches them in silence, and none of them acknowledge her presence. To an outside observer, it would seem that they were quite accustomed to her presence, or that they simply did not notice her there at all. Whatever the case, not a single student passing by the gates so much as glanced at her. Her name is Adeline, she knows vaguely… and that is all. She does not know how she knows this, or why she seems to know nothing else about herself, her past…

Everything about her past, her even her present, seems in her mind to be a series of blanks… she cannot remember who she is, what it is she was once or now is. She does not know if she has a family or a home, or even if she ever has. She does not even remember when she first began to forget- or if her life has always been this way…

Standing now before the university, Adeline begins to wonder about this vaguely, as she has many nights before- how many, she cannot even begin to estimate. Time is strange to her- she does not even know her own age, let alone keep track of the days and weeks, the months and years. What point is there in keeping track of time that has no meaning?

Why is it, Adeline thinks to herself now as three young women trounce through the gates, talking and laughing loudly, that no one else seems to feel so blank inside, so empty? Everyone I see seems so full… full of something. Joy… fear, apprehension, cheeriness, even depression- but something. They seem to know who they are and what it is they are doing… they all have places to go and people to be with, even if they don't enjoy them. They have… they have life… why is it that they seem to possess knowledge of themselves, happy or not, when I do not?

For even though Adeline has been missing something, the vital knowledge that would make her become a full-fledged person, a woman, rather than the vague idea of one she feels herself to be now, for as long as she can remember, she knows that her position is not normal, that her mind and behavior are different, strange…

She never speaks to the kids that pass through the gates… but she does not need to to know that none of them are like her. They all know their full names, she is fairly certain without ever asking… they all have the memories of their childhood, their families, certainly their adult lives… they do not wander aimlessly throughout the day, knowing not where they are or whether they have somewhere to go. And they do not return nightly to stand before the gates of a university for reasons they cannot explain…

For Adeline does not know why she is standing before the university… she certainly does not know why she returns every night, standing silent and motionless as the students pass by… standing until the first strains of light break out across the sky. She knows only that she feels drawn to the place, urged by some force or being greater than herself and her fragile will to return to it again and again, night after night, for no reasons she can fathom or recall… every night she is sleepless, wondering, searching for something which she cannot find or name…

As more students pass Adeline on their way inside the gates, ignoring her as the others before them, she begins to wonder at their seeming oblivion in regard to her. Why do they not acknowledge her… why do they seem completely indifferent to her existence? Is it because she is older while they are young, barely more than teens, still preoccupied in their own self-centered universes? Are they purposely spiting her, purposely being rude? Do they know her- perhaps know something about who she is, who she once was before the blankness that overtook her? Could their knowledge of her explain their indifference to her presence? Who was she- and why did she no longer own this knowledge?

Sometimes Adeline wonders darkly if the college students can even see her at all… just the thought makes her shudder, an odd, creepy feeling run up and down her spine, and she tells herself quickly that she is being silly. Of course they see her- it is just that for whatever reason, beyond Adeline's comprehension, they do not acknowledge her…

As she thinks this, it occurs to her that this will be what she does tomorrow… in a few more hours she will be shuffling down the town streets, barely able to keep her eyes open, and yet unable to close them in sleep. Adeline can't remember the last time she slept, like so many other things about herself.

And then when the light of day begins to fade, when the sun sinks back down out of view, she will know she must return to the university, to stand in silence and watch the slow stream of students who do not so much as glance in direction…

Two more students trickle in, with one following a distance behind. Adeline's worry, ever present, yet ever untouchable, is suddenly sharpened considerably… for the first time that she can remember, strong emotion fills her, overwhelms her… emotion beyond her need to return to the university gates. She is suddenly afraid… why is she the way she is? Why do they ignore her? Are they afraid of her? Do they hate her? What could she have done to so earn their avoidance? She could be anyone who had done anything, and she would never know, never remember…

The more she begins to really dwell on her situation, the more she begins to grow anxious, even panicky… what has she done? Who is she, and why do they so pointedly avoid her? She has to ask, has to know, suddenly- finding out the secret of her past, her identity, seems exceedingly important for her to do- and right now, right this moment. She feels desperate to make someone, anyone, give her notice…one of them has to know her, one of them has to acknowledge her if she speaks to him. She has to connect with one of them. Adeline knows somehow if she doesn't, she will repeat today's actions again tomorrow, and again the next day, and the next, in an endless, motiveless cycle she will never break or understand…

Now, Adeline, she tells herself. You have to speak now. You have to..

She feels herself shudder from a rising wave of fear she forces down. Why should she be afraid to speak? She wants to know, she has to know who she is… and maybe, it will lead her to know why she is here, why she must come here night after night…

But what if you don't want to know…

Adeline tries to shake the dark voice which lingers in the back of her mind. Today, she knows, is different, in many ways… the first day she really wanders about herself and her actions, the first day she wonders about the college students… and the first day she feels a need to speak to them. Perhaps there is a reason… perhaps this is the day she will finally know what knowledge should be fixed in the gaping holes of her memory…

Taking strengthening breath, she turns to face the person coming upon the gate- a young man around 21 years old. He is perhaps 20 feet from her, his stride slow, mopy, his shoulders are hunched, hands gathered deep inside his pockets. No other students are in sight- this will be the one she must approach.

Adeline clears her throat, makes herself look the boy in the face as he draws closer.

" Hey," she calls out, but her voice is soft, tentive. The young man shuffles along, not responding.

Adeline tries again, raising her voice. " Hey- hey, can you come here a minute? I-I want to ask you something."

Again, the boy acknowledges not that she has spoken- indeed, does not even glance her way. He is almost passed through the gate now, will soon be past her, out of her sight… Adeline feels a stir of conflictions inside herself, a flicker of desperate hopelessness, fear- and anger. Predominantly she is angry… how could this boy walk past her as though she has not called out to him? How could person after person continue to be so self-absorbed, so downright rude to her! Now more than ever, she wants to know what is happening with them, with her…

Before she can even think about what she was doing, she finds that she is screaming. "HEY! Hey, look at me, I'm talking to you! Will you LOOK at me? LOOK at me, I need to talk to you!"

She waits, almost breathless with a combination of indignation and anticipation. But to her dismay, the young man ignores her still… even her shouts seem not to faze him. He is almost alongside her now, soon he will be passing through the gates without speaking to her.

Adeline's heart stops… she feels herself growing progressively more upset, more despairing… and more frantic. He did not hear her- he did not even so much as turn his head. What is happening to her? Is she crazy? Did not one see her, hear her- is that possible? Or has she really spoken aloud at all? Has she only imagined that she has said anything- has she spoken the words only in her own head?

As her doubts multiply, she begins to fear that she has concocted entirely not only her words, but the entire situation. Is she really here before the university at all? Is this man really here, or is this all only in her head, is she making it up, is she crazy? Is she completely insane?

" Please," she nearly whispers, her voice cracking, trembling badly. She feels the brief strength her frustration had lent her draining, feels herself sag, her body curving inward. " Someone, look at me… someone, talk to me… I need help. Someone please answer me…"

She can barely hear herself, hardly expects the young man to… but he pauses, turning his head in her direction. He has passed the gate entrance, but now he pivots slowly, retraces a few steps. He peers with narrowed eyes into the darkness.

" What was that?" he mutters, brow furrowed. " I thought I heard something… I don't see anything…"

Scarcely able to believe it- at last, someone hears her, someone has let on that she exists!- someone has assured her she is real!- Adeline gestures at the young man, her eyes widening with excitement and surprise.

" Yes- it was me, I called you! I'm right here! Look!"

The boy turned his head slowly, searching for the source of the voice he hears. His expression is suspicious; he is frowning, seeming to think that either what he hears is a prank or a figment of his imagination. Adeline cannot understand it- she is standing less than ten feet away from him. Why does he not see her? Does she blend in so well in the darkness?

Once more she calls out to him, her voice alight with hope.

" Here, I'm right here."

He is staring right at her… but his eyes are blank, they are not looking at her at all. Then in an instant, they seem to sharpen with a stunned clarity… his eyes fill with terror, a horror Adeline cannot comprehend, and his hands drift to his mouth involuntarily. He blanches, his mouth opening… Adeline knows he sees her now.

She does not understand. Why is he reacting to her in such a way? What is wrong- what does he know about her? Who is she, and what has she done to make him so fear her? She feels her stomach knotting in tension…

" I'm sorry," she stutters, uncertain now that she has not received the reaction she expected. " I-I didn't mean to startle you…but I felt so strange… I was afraid. No one seemed to see me, and I guess I panicked. You see…" and here she falters. She blushes, not wanting to tell this boy that she does not know who she is… for he is growing steadily whiter, seems unable to move from fear- fear of her… she does not want to scare him further, frighten him away, the one person who has responded to her.

" Are you all right?" she asks at last, timidly. " I'm sorry- I really didn't mean to scare you."

It is several more minutes before the boy budges at all. He opens his mouth, moves it several times before finally words emerge.

" W-what are you doing here?" he croaks. " What's going on? Is this a prank or something?" The fear on his face show that he knows this is not the case. Adeline's perplexity increases- why would he think her speaking to him is a prank?

"I- no," she says, her face wrinkling. " No, I'm not trying to trick you… I-I need your help…"

The boy is eyeing her with hooded eyes, seeming on the edge, still nervous, ready to leap away should she make a move toward him. Adeline stays still, wondering with discomfort if it is the boy, she, or both who is behaving strangely.

" I haven't been drinking," the boy mutters. " And I've never done LSD, not once. I only did pot once, and that was years ago… I must be crazy then!" His voice is rising in a pitch, he is speaking loudly, nearly hysterically. Adeline watches, fearing he will soon run from her- his body is tensed, poised to do so, and his jaw is working as though fighting back a scream. His eyes dart wildly, like a cornered animal's.

" You- are you really here?" he blurts out. " Are you real?"

Adeline flinches in shock at his words- he is echoing her earlier thoughts, as crazy as they had been. Now that he has voiced them, they come back to her, and she begins once more to wonder the same… is any of this really happening- is she really here?

" I-I thought so," she says slowly, hesitantly. " But- I don't know. I'm so confused…"

The young man stays firm in his distance from her, showing no signs of relaxing. His eyes squinch small as he fixes them apprehensively on her. The night seems to thrust their silence in all directions… no one else is coming, no one arrives to break the heavy tension of the scene.

Eventually the young man speaks again, his words halting, nearly whispered.

" You look real…" he mumbles, almost as if to himself. " This can't be right… I don't know what the hell's going on, what's wrong with me…"

Something lights up in his eyes suddenly, and he leans toward Adeline slowly, still cautiously, although his face has cleared out some of its petrification to one hovering on the edge of relief.

" Hey- you- you must have had a sister- right? A sister who worked here- maybe even a twin. Right?" His eyes are hopeful, nearly pleading her to reply in the affirmative. For some reason he desperately wants to believe his own theory.

Adeline is suddenly filled with excitement, hope, at the boy's words. He seems to think she has a sister….maybe he is right- maybe she does have a sister. Someone she's related to, someone with her blood, her background, someone who proves that she belongs somewhere to some people… someone to prove her existence.

Maybe he knows my sister, Adeline thinks excitedly. Maybe she even works here. Maybe that's why I come here every night, feel drawn to it, because I sense my sister is here…

But why have I forgotten? Why can't I remember my sister if I have one?

" I don't know," Adeline tells him softly, fighting down her excitement. " What is the name of the woman you are thinking of?"

The boy pauses, still staring at her with heavily guarded eyes. He has relaxed slightly, but is still alert, poised to run.

" Ms. Winthrop," he says at last. " Adeline Winthrop… was she your sister?"

Adeline's heart skips a beat. She gasps involuntarily, her shoulders jerking in stunned astonishment. That is her name the boy has spoken… she had not recalled her surname, but hearing it aloud, knows it is her own. Adeline Winthrop… her name is Adeline Winthrop… she has an identity, she truly is a person. This boy knows who she is…

Her cheeks flushing in delight, she turns more fully to the boy, words tumbling from her mouth excitedly.

" No, no, she's not my sister- I don't even know if I have a sister. Do I have a sister- do you know? You see, I don't remember who I am- well, I didn't. But I know now- that Adeline Winthrop- that's me. That's who I am- my name is Adeline Winthrop! Do you know me? Am I supposed to know you? I'm sorry, I can't remember you," she says apologetically. " Do I work here? Why didn't you recognize me- have I changed?"

The boy's face is growing whiter and whiter as she speaks, until she can no longer see a trace of human pallor remaining… his eyes bulge, and his body is so tight, tense, that he nearly looks as though he has turned to stone. Adeline stares at him in alarm. What is wrong with him, why is he so afraid? He can't be frightened of her- can he be?

He's frightened of me… she realizes. He is absolutely terrified of me…

" What's wrong?' she cries, her voice louder and shriller than she had intended. " What did I say- why are you afraid?"

It seems an eternity before the boy replies… his mouth opens, closes slowly, as if life is just returning to his body, and only just a few parts of it… his voice is a ragged whisper, so rough and yet so tiny she barely understands him.

" You- you're dead, Ms. Winthrop… you're supposed to be dead…"

Adeline feels her breathing stop. Her blood turns to icy water freezing her veins… she cannot move, as her mind scrambles numbly for sense to be made of the boy's words…

This cannot be…

This can't be… she cannot be dead! It isn't possible! She is alive, she is real… she can feel her skin, the way her heart beats, the vein pulsing in her throat from her strained emotions. She is alive- she has to be- isn't she?

But already she can feel the horrible gnawing sensation, the beginning of realization in her inner core. She instinctively feels inside that the words are true… it would explain so much…

Why else does no one see her, hear her as she calls to them? Why else does she not remember her own name or past? How else can she go so long, so many days, without eating, sleeping, with not a single person acknowledging her existence?

But… I feel alive, she thinks desperately, frantically. I feel alive…

Her hand comes up slowly to her chest, fumbles to feel for her heart beat… but to her astonishment, she can no longer feel it thumping beneath her fingers… her blood has gone still and silent in her veins… and as she exhales loudly, shakily, she waits, not inhaling again immediately… she waits and waits, but the urge- the need- to inhale again does not come… SHE DOES NOT NEED TO BREATHE…

Her voice is a hoarse croak as she speaks to the terrified young man before her. He remains still, like a small animal overwhelmed by a bright light to the extent his fear paralyzes his muscles.

" I… I really am dead," she nearly whispers, her voice raw with shock. " I'm not alive…"

" yeah…" the boy croaks. " Yeah…" his eyes are rooted to her face in increasing panic. She does not know whether his fear is caused simply because she is dead, or because he fears she may harm him.

" How can this be?" she asks, her voice cracking. " When did this happen- when did I die? How long have I been like this?"

" About a month ago," the boy croaks after a long hesitation. He is looking around nervously, as though to insure no one is watching him, watching him talk to a dead woman only he can apparently see… " You shouldn't be here, I know you're dead, they had a funeral…"

Adeline digests this slowly, unable to comprehend it. A month… a month she has been dead, a month she had roamed the earth with no purpose, no direction, no memory, no knowledge of what has happened… a month she has come here every night…

Why has this happened? Why has she not moved on, why has she not yet left the earth? If she is dead… why is she still here?

It hit her slowly… I'm a ghost. I'm a ghost… I am dead, and yet I walk the earth…

" What- what happened?" she asks the young man, and her voice is small, shaking. " How did I die?"

The man is trembling harder than ever, and she does not think he will speak at all. She is afraid he will fall over, unable to support himself on his shaking knees. She half-expected him to clutch his chest like an old man in a movie having a heart attack, and he was only around 22 years old.

Finally he answers her in a voice so raspy it cracks. " You were a professor here," he says haltingly, his eyes still skittish. " I didn't have you, but my girlfriend did. You always wore black. Like now-" his eyes scanned her length quickly.

" You- you were quiet," he stammers. " Didn't smile much… I guess you were depressed. I don't think anyone really knew you well…"

He pauses, taking a slow, shuddering breath. Even as Adeline listens, she is realizing that she has yet to feel the need to breathe.

" You killed yourself in your office," the boy nearly whispers, the words seeming pained in his mouth. He is very still- all except for his wildly shifting eyes. " They found you hanging from a rope from a rafter…"

Adeline's body flinches sharply at his words… she begins to cringe, shaking, as she begins to remember…

She remembers everything about her past, who she had been, what she had become…she remembers her pain, her depression, her intense shyness, but most of all, her desperate, overwhelming loneliness…

Shyness and intense self-criticism had gradually overtaken her life until they controlled nearly every aspect of her… numerous times she had felt so strongly about a man, but was too shy to speak to him. Then she had to watch in misery as another girl stepped up into his life… the few times she had dated had been so awkward and wrought with silences that none of them had been able to meet her eye, much less call her back…

She remembers how nervewracking it had become for her to teach as the years went on, how she could not stand to see the faces of her students, all turned to her… she had stammered, lost her train of thought often, blushed and mumbled, grew so nervous she sometimes had to excuse herself so she didn't have a panic attack. She remembers how she had been sure they were laughing at her, whispering, sure they all hated her…

She had had no family beyond the sister she had never gotten along with, her parents had died years ago… she had lived alone, with no one visiting, no one to keep her company…

She remembers how she had grown more and more depressed, emersing deeper and deeper into her own dark, self-loathing thoughts… she had become convinced she was despicable, unworthy, undeserving of all that others seemed to obtain so easily…

Even as she had become convinced of her own hatefulness, as she had withdrew further from others, she had still been reaching out subconsciously, pleading for others to notice her, her pain… Adeline had stood in the crowds, walked through the halls trying to make eye contact, trying to attract someone's attention… in her head she had begged for someone to look at her, meet her eyes… she had looked at people who passed her with eyes that pleaded for someone to speak to her, understand her… but no one had ever seemed to understand. No one had noticed, no one had seen… they had passed her by without even seeming to realize she was there.

Just like they were now…

It is all clear to her now… why she comes here, night after night, so drawn to this place… the place where she had been so unhappy, the site of her death… her suicide. She had been waiting… watching for someone who would at last notice, at last see her… Adeline sees the boy watching her in the same frightened unease. The first person who had ever took notice of her, who stopped to talk to her, acknowledge her… she does not remember him, but he remembered her…

She sees his mouth open, hears him distantly asking if she is okay, what she wants him to do… but she does not- cannot- respond. She feels a warmth spread thoughout her, a glow… a slow, delightful tingling that fills her gradually…

She begins to realize dimly that she is disappearing, each limb fading into the darkness… she is not frightened, does not wonder at it, for the delightful warmth leaves no room for anxiety… gradually all that is visible where she once stood is her eyes, glowing green as they fix with excitement on the shellshocked young man before her. She tries to convey with her eyes that she is okay, the sudden gratitude toward him that rushes through her… she doesn't know if he understands, but she hopes he will.

Then even her eyes are gone, and there is nothing left of her where she once had stood, nothing left of her at all… but in the vague distance of space where she finds herself slowly spreading, nothing seems to matter, and she feels so, so content…