First time reading? Start with Part 1 here.
Recap: Last time, the ghost began to remember more of her past, and she and Bea went to the library to research what happened to the ghost’s husband. Though they were interrupted by a creepy guy who seemed way too interested in Bea’s research, they eventually found an obituary…
I couldn’t turn my gaze from those small words wedged between two other obituaries. We’d found him. The pride of accomplishment should have surged through me, but I felt vaguely sick. Was this all that remained of Nate? He deserved so much more than a snippet of text in an old newspaper.
He’d been merely twenty-eight years old according to this. Grief scraped my soul like gravel against skin, an old and familiar pain. I’d wanted to grow old with him, to raise a family. Our life together had been just beginning. It wasn’t fair. We should’ve had more time.
And had his death truly been an accident? It didn’t seem right, but I couldn’t remember…
Bea’s gaze was gentle and full of concern. I couldn’t bear it.
“I… I suppose so.”
She brought up another page on the screen, covering the view of the newspaper. She typed the words “St. Matthew’s Cemetery,” and an address appeared along with a small map. I would have marveled at such technology if I hadn’t been aching with sorrow.
“It’s about a twenty-minute drive,” she said. “You might find him at his gravesite. They can be a conduit to the afterlife, especially this time of year.”
“This time of year?”
“All Hallows’ Eve is tomorrow.”
“You mean it’s true about the dead coming back on that night?” I didn’t know why I was surprised. I was dead, after all, but I hadn’t been superstitious during my life. Halloween had just been an excuse for mischief-making and merriment.
“The veil’s definitely thinner—in some Western countries anyway.” Bea leaned back in her chair, her gaze distant. “Depends on the culture. In Mexico, it’s Día de los Muertos. In Japan, it’s Obon.” She leaned suddenly forward, bringing the newspaper back into view on the machine. “Hmm.”
“What?” I asked.
“Look at his date of death.”
I did. It was October 31st, All Hallows’ Eve.
“What does it mean?” I whispered.
“Could just be a coincidence,” she said, though she didn’t sound convinced. She stood up, grabbing her jacket from where she’d hung it on the back of her chair. “Come on. Let’s go see his grave.”
She strode out the door, and I noticed the librarian staring after her from the reference desk. I hoped this was the last time we’d have to come to this library. There was something sinister afoot here.
I trailed after Bea to the parking lot, which was empty of other people and held only a few vehicles. Dead leaves tumbled across the pavement, pushed by the wind, and the sky was overcast and grim.
“Do you really think we might find Nate at his grave?” I asked.
Standing in front of the door to her van, she fumbled for her keys. “I think it’s possible, but try not to get your hopes up. There’s no—”
The crunch of a boot atop leaves was our only warning. Bea turned—too late. The man who’d tried to spy on her inside the library lunged forward, swinging a bat.
It struck Bea in the head.
Her body spun, hitting the side of the van before collapsing. The man kicked her, his boot immediately followed by that of a second man—and they didn’t stop.
It all happened so quickly. Bea was on the ground, their boots colliding with her brutally, and I—
Fear didn’t fuel my voice. No, it was raw, primal fury. The sound was ghastly, and it merged with howling wind, blasting away leaves and sending the men stumbling. They turned, and their mouths dropped.
The first man shrieked and scampered off like a startled swine. His companion remained frozen for another moment, his body shaking. Eyes locked onto me, he took one step back, and then a second. Finally, he spun around and raced away.
I went to Bea, kneeling beside her and reaching out. When I saw my hand, gray and transparent, wearing my favorite gloves with black lacings, I started. I looked down, seeing the rest of my body in a dress I’d once owned, the layers of skirts and petticoats spread out around me. I remembered the dress being brown, flowers embroidered on it in shades of yellow and pink, but now it was ashen, my whole body smoky and see-through.
Bea groaned, and her eyes fluttered open, focusing on my face. She gasped. Could she see me, too?
It was too much. My ghostly body dissolved like smoke in the wind, and I felt the same hazy disconnect with myself as I had for countless years.
“Are you alright?” I asked Bea.
“I… Uhnn.” She rubbed her head, wincing, and then spat a string of profanity that I shan’t repeat but nevertheless agreed with. Pulling herself up, she was shaking so much that it took her three tries to unlock the door of her van. She climbed inside, collapsed in the front seat, and locked the door firmly behind her.
She sat there for several minutes before starting the engine. Then she didn’t drive far, just to the nearest store, where she bought a bag of ice that she promptly pressed to her head. An ugly bump was forming on the left side of her forehead. She took two pills from a bottle in the cubby under her bed and then lay upon the mattress, eyes closed.
“You should see a physician,” I said. “You should go to the police.”
“Can’t afford a doctor, and I try to avoid the cops.” She kept her eyes closed. “But when I find those bastards, they’re in for a world of pain.”
“Who were they? What did they want?”
“No idea.” She opened her eyes, rolling slightly to face me. “I don’t know why anyone would want to stop me from looking into a guy who died a hundred and fifty years ago. Maybe it’s related to one of my other jobs. I piss off a lot of people.”
Would we be able to defend against those men without knowing what they wanted? I wished she’d go to the police for help. I didn’t know how to protect her. Yes, I’d frightened off the men once, but what if they returned? They’d eventually realize that I couldn’t lay a finger on them.
Or could I? I’d managed to shove the old shrew back at the house…
“So,” Bea said. “You didn’t tell me you were smoking hot.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Hot. Sexy. Attractive. I saw you when you went corporeal. You looked fierce as hell.”
“I wish I knew how I did that,” I admitted. “It would be useful if I could do it again…”
“It’s all about emotion.” Bea rolled over, closing her eyes. “Ghosts are always about emotion. Unless there’s a curse. Then they’re about curses.”
Her voice faded to a murmur, and I watched her in concern.
“Bea, I’m not sure if you should sleep. You could be concussed.”
She rolled onto her stomach and put the pillow over her head as if to block the sound of my voice.
She groaned, but then she sat up. “Shit, you’re probably right.” She rubbed her eyes. “I’m exhausted. Do me a favor and talk to me about something.”
“What do you wish to hear?”
“I dunno. Anything. Just keep me awake.” She walked gingerly to the device on the counter that made coffee. “Tell me about that mysterious Nate of yours. How’d you two lovebirds tie the knot?”
“In a church, of course.”
She poured a cup of water into the device. “Big ceremony? Fancy white dress? You should try to wear it next time you go corporeal. It’d be hella spooky.”
“Just a regular day dress and a few friends acting as witnesses,” I replied. “It was a small affair. My family didn’t approve of the match.”
“No kidding?” Bea pressed a button, and the device began to hum. “I’m sorry. That must have been rough.”
“Yes. We kept our courtship secret for as long as we could, but my father caught us…”
As I spoke, it came back to me. I’d kissed Nate goodbye in the woods behind my house one evening and made my way toward the back porch as usual. But when I’d approached the steps, my father had burst out from the door as if he’d been waiting for me.
“Where have you been?” he barked.
“Strolling,” I replied, trying to keep my voice steady. “As I told you earlier.”
He knew, I realized then, though I prayed I was mistaken. Feeling faint, I strove to keep my shock from showing on my face.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
He strode down the steps, grabbing me roughly by the arm. “Don’t play games with me, girl. Perry said he saw you keeping company with Nathaniel Breen.”
I opened my mouth to make an excuse, but my father’s gaze latched onto something behind me. I turned my head, seeing Nathan storming out of the woods, an expression of thunderous anger on his handsome face. Of course he wouldn’t stand idly by at my father’s treatment of me.
My father released my arm. “Ah, there’s the wastrel now.”
Nate tore his gaze from my father and quickly checked if I was alright.
“Don’t even look at her,” my father snarled. “You brazen smear of dirt. You have a ludicrously high opinion of yourself if you think you’re good enough for my daughter. Turn yourself around right now and march back to whatever hovel you call a home.”
“Father!” I gasped. “There’s no call for—”
“And you.” He rounded on me. “You wretched, ungrateful girl. Is this why you turned up your nose at all your suitors, why you barely had two words for Westbrook and Collingwood’s sons?”
My chest constricted at the fury in his eyes, and I had trouble taking a breath. “Yes,” I said finally. “I saw no reason to lead them on when I intend to marry Nate.”
“What a pack of nonsense. No, this foolish delusion of yours is over. You’re not seeing this worthless excuse of man ever again.”
“Enough!” he roared. “Go inside! And you!” He stomped aggressively towards Nate, who held his ground and raised his chin. The two men faced one another, their anger almost a palpable force, and I feared they would come to blows.
“Get out of my sight.” My father’s voice turned to a hiss. “If I catch you prowling around my daughter again, I’ll send for the police.”
I swallowed, and movement inside the house caught my eye. My mother stood in the doorway, motioning frantically for me to come inside. Part of me wanted to go to her, to hide from my father’s rage and the confrontation I’d created. I clenched my fists, my body feverishly hot beneath my dress. If I went inside, there was no telling when my father would let me out again.
I’d always known this would happen someday. Though I’d dreamed of my parents accepting Nate, of a cheery future full of understanding and respect between them, I’d understood it was just that: an idle dream. My father would never approve. He wanted me to marry upward, to consolidate his relationship with one of his wealthier business associates. I hadn’t liked to dwell on it, but neither had I lived in complete denial. I’d often thought about the choice I would make…
“I’m sorry, Father,” I said.
“Good,” he grunted, not taking his eyes from Nate. “We’ll speak more of this later.”
“No.” I took a deep breath. “I’m sorry because I won’t abandon Nate. I intend to marry him.”
My father turned, and for a short moment, his aged face seemed vulnerable and shaken. But anger soon clouded over any softer emotions. “If you want to remain my daughter, to live in my house, eat the food I provide, and buy all those pretty dresses and dainty little trinkets, then you’ll abide by my will.”
“I can’t accept those terms,” I said.
A muffled sob came from my mother, but she didn’t move from her place at the door. I gave her one long, last look. Then I went to Nate’s side, taking his hand.
Nate studied me closely, his eyes seeming to gleam like the stars just emerging in the dusky sky overhead. “Are you sure?” he whispered.
“I’ve never been surer.”
He beamed at me. Then he tipped his hat to my father, offered me his arm, and together, we marched to the street.
Shock silenced my father for perhaps half a minute. Then he shouted threats and curses at our backs.
My mother did nothing.
As Nate and I went arm-in-arm toward his apartment, no longer having to hide, I felt liberated, though I couldn’t stop shaking.
“It’ll be alright,” he promised softly.
“I know,” I said. “The worst part is over.”
But I’d been completely, terribly wrong.
I totally forgot to mention this earlier, but a huge thank-you to everyone who voted in the poll on Twitter to choose the cover for this story. I appreciate your input even if your choice didn’t end up winning.
In Halloween news, I’ve discovered the ULTIMATE HALLOWEEN HOUSE in my neighborhood. Their front yard is completely covered in decorations, from skeletons to creepy dolls to a werewolf wearing a football jersey. I haven’t amassed nearly so many decorations for my house yet, but now I have a goal to work toward.
Is there a house or apartment in your neighborhood that wins Halloween? Any theories on why Bea was attacked? Let me know in the comments!