First time reading? Start with Part 1 here.
Recap: Last time, Bea and the ghost found the name of the cemetery where the ghost’s husband was buried. Then two mysterious men attacked Bea but were scared off by the ghost.
When Bea parked her van in front of the graveyard, I felt colder than ever. I had no body to produce heat, no clothing to shield me. My soul was naked and exposed to the chill, and I dreaded going any closer.
Bea climbed slowly down from vehicle, wincing from her injuries. She raised her keys to lock the door but paused when she realized I wasn’t following.
“Hey,” she said. “It’s gonna be okay.”
“What if we don’t find him?” I whispered.
“Then we’ll try something else. I’m not giving up anytime soon.”
Hesitantly, I followed her.
A wrought-iron fence surrounded the graveyard. I vaguely recognized it, though St. Matthew’s Church was no longer standing. The gate was locked, a weathered gray plaque beside it marking the area as a historical site. Bea leaned over the lock, pulled a pin from her pocket, and picked it like an expert thief. She tossed the lock and chain to the grass, and the rusty gate groaned as she pushed it open.
The headstones were cracked and discolored, the names upon them faded. There were trees interspaced among them, but only a few yellow-brown leaves clung to their branches this late in autumn, making them look as dead and withered as the graveyard’s occupants—some of whom stared balefully as we passed.
Most of the ghosts looked like I assumed I did: just glowing balls of misty light hovering in the air. But others kept something of a human form, though many were grotesque and desiccated, some showing the grisly wounds that had sent them to their graves. One, with a skeletal face and bony, too-long limbs, crawled crab-like toward us with a low growl.
“Back off,” Bea snapped.
Her eyes smoldered, and flames flickered to life around her, a painfully bright orange piercing the dull grayness of the dead world. The ghost hissed and scuttled back from her, and all around the graveyard, the other spirits shrank away.
I surged back from her too, alarmed by the heat and something more. There was a sense of wrongness—of danger—in those awful flames and the figure they surrounded. But they vanished as suddenly as they’d come, and it was just Bea again, the exasperating, incorrigible friend who didn’t own a pair of pants that weren’t torn and couldn’t be persuaded to see a doctor if a lion bit off her entire arm.
We moved methodically through the gravesites, searching the names on the headstones. I scanned the other ghosts as well, both hoping and fearing to see Nate. Would I recognize him if he was merely a ball of spiritual energy? Would he recognize me? The sun sank closer toward the horizon as we continued our work, and if I still possessed a body, I would have shivered. It was so terribly cold.
“There,” I whispered.
It was a small, simple marker. We hadn’t been able to afford anything more elaborate. The stone was greenish now, the edges worn, and a dark stain marred the bottom near the earth. I remembered when it had been new and gray, a fresh hole dug before it. I’d stood right over there as the priest spoke his words, my friend gripping my arm to keep me from collapsing as I’d cried. It had been a sunny day, warm and clear, when all I’d wanted was for the sky to storm and weep with me.
“He’s not here,” I said, staring at his name carved in the old stone.
Bea glanced over at the orange horizon. “Let’s wait until after sundown. Spirits get more active after dark.”
So we waited, and as the last traces of the sun vanished, more spirits appeared around us like candles being lit. They watched us as they moved among the headstones, but none of them approached Bea again. Nate’s grave, though, remained dark and empty. Nothing stirred above it, not even the briefest flicker of light. We remained there for over an hour before Bea finally gave in.
“Come on.” She gestured at the van. “We can come back tomorrow night. We might have better luck on All Hallows’ Eve.”
I followed her despondently, and it wasn’t until she’d driven all the way to the campsite and was eating dinner that I finally spoke.
“What else can we do?”
She put down her spoon. She’d been eating a bowl of soup, the broth filled with chicken, beans, and peppers. It must have filled the van with its spicy scent, but I couldn’t smell it.
“We could try a séance,” she said. “If his spirit is wandering, that might reach him.”
“And if he’s trapped somewhere?”
Her gaze turned sharp. “What makes you say that?”
“I…” I searched myself. “I’m not sure.”
She picked up her spoon again, but instead of eating, she tapped it against the table as she thought. “A clairvoyant might be able to find what happened to him, but…”
The tapping stopped. “But the only one I know charges a ridiculous amount of money, and I’ve already used up the favor they owe me.”
Nate, where are you? I wondered. Was he suffering? Did he feel as lost and lonely as I did? With no clues to his whereabouts, no reason to hope, my mind imagined the most awful fates for him. Was he like the ghosts in the graveyard, his face gaunt, his body still bearing the agonizing wounds that had killed him?
“Hey, now,” Bea said. “Don’t get all dim and depressed on me. We’ll figure this out. I’m not going to quit until I’ve brought Nathaniel and Wilhelmina Breen back together.”
“Wilhelmina?” I moaned. “That’s your best guess?”
“You’re right. It doesn’t really fit.” She snapped her fingers. “Hey. Maybe you’re a Beatrice.”
“Perish the thought.”
Her smile brought me a little cheer, but when she turned in for the night, leaving me alone with my thoughts, I fell back into despair. I could picture us hunting for Nate for years, Bea growing old and gray. She’d spend less and less time helping me between her jobs, giving up even if she wouldn’t admit it aloud. And when she died, I’d be alone again, no one to speak to, no idea what had happened to my Nate.
Another wave of coldness washed over me. I felt hollowed out, perfectly aware of the wrongness of my existence, that I was a soul with no body, that I shouldn’t be on this earthly plane. If I had skin, it would have filled with goosebumps, and the feeling would have sent a shudder through me. But I was denied even that small comfort. I wanted to crawl under the blankets with Bea and hide from the brutal chill.
Bea jerked up with a gasp, suddenly wide awake. She stared around the dark van, breathing heavily, and then leapt off her bunk. The blankets tangled around her legs, making her stumble, but she righted herself and flung open the back door.
Staggering outside, she looked around. There was nothing to see. The other tents and vehicles were dark, their occupants asleep, and the night was quiet and still. Clouds hid the stars, and there wasn’t even a cold wind to stir the trees.
“What is it?” I asked, hovering behind her.
“Can’t you feel it?” she whispered.
I could feel it: the bitter cold that seemed to suffocate me, the faint vibration like the buzzing of an insect. I’d just thought it was a product of my own misery.
Bea raced back into the van. She fumbled around in the dark for a moment, and then the screen of her small device lit up with the time: a little after three in the morning.
She swore. Then she became a storm of movement. She slammed the door closed, shoved on her pants, and started the van.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, as she drove rapidly through the campground.
“It’s witching hour,” she said.
“What does that mean?”
“The hour when black magic is the strongest.” She turned onto the main road and sped even faster. “And on All Hallows’ Eve, when the veil is the thinnest… Something really bad is about to happen, and I’ve got to stop it.”
I digested her words, the cold, uncanny feeling increasing as she drove into town.
“Nate,” she said suddenly. “The obituary said he died on the 31st.”
I couldn’t reply, anguish threatening to overwhelm me.
“It said it was an accident,” she pressed.
“It wasn’t.” I spoke the words without thinking, my very soul rejecting the idea.
And then I remembered.
“He didn’t come home from work one night,” I said. “I was frantic. I went to all his friends, and then I went to the police. They found him the next morning in the factory. They wouldn’t let me see him, but I heard— They said he was bloodied, his body mangled. They told me it was an accident with the machinery, but that didn’t make any sense. Nate had no reason to stay in the factory after his shift, and Jed—one of his friends—searched there earlier in the night when I went to him for help. He swore he saw nothing.”
“You think Nate was murdered.”
“Yes, but I couldn’t prove it.”
Bea’s hands were clenched tightly around the steering wheel, and she stared darkly ahead. “And they’ve been getting away with it for over a hundred years.”
“Who? And getting away with what?”
“I don’t know yet, but we’re gonna find out.”
As we raced toward town, I grew colder and colder, and the awful buzzing increased. Dread pressed against me until I wanted nothing more than to turn around and flee, but I stayed close to Bea. If this journey would reveal the fate of my husband, then I would simply have to summon my courage.
Bea slowed the car, turning onto a side street before reversing and going back the way she’d come. She drove this way and that, doubling back and trying road after road. From the campground, it had been easy to tell that the awful feeling emanated from the direction of the town. Now that we were here, it seemed to be everywhere.
Bea pulled over to the side of the road and hopped out of the car. She bent to the ground and traced symbols in the dirt with her finger, muttering under her breath.
“Bea…” I looked on. “Are you a witch?”
“No, but I’ve picked up a trick here and there.” She straightened up and pulled something out of her pocket. It was a small crystal hanging from a delicate silver chain. She held it out in front of her, the crystal dangling and motionless, and waited. But as the seconds ticked by, nothing happened.
“Damn it!” She kicked the dirt, smearing the symbols. “Come on. Let’s keep driving.”
She stomped toward the van, and I followed—but then stopped. It felt slightly less cold in that direction.
“You coming?” she asked.
I inched closer to the trees. “It’s…colder this way. Do you feel it?”
She came closer, frowning. “No, but I run hot. Do you feel close to the source?”
“I… I’m not sure.”
“Then let’s get back in the van. You navigate.”
I directed her toward the coldness, having her turn right and then left, until…
I looked out the window at the dark street. “This is…”
“Where I picked you up,” Bea finished. “Yeah.”
Most of the houses from my time still stood, grand old two and three-story structures with pointed roofs and cozy front porches. The one I’d lived in–and later haunted–lay ahead on the left, and it was one of the shabbier specimens. The paint was grimy and peeling, the roof discolored, and the lawn overgrown. Others had been kept in better repair, including the structure that was the source of that eerie chill.
“That one,” I said. “It’s the Westbrooks’ old house. They were friends of my father’s.”
Bea parked the car and got out, striding down the gravel path. She ignored the front door and headed around the side of the house to the back.
“What are you doing?” I hissed, trailing after her and hoping no one could see my ghostly glow. “What if someone sees you and calls the police?”
She looked over her shoulder with a grin. “Come on, Wilhelmina. You really think this is the first house I’ve broken into?”
She made for the back door but then paused. I heard it, too: low, muffled chanting. It was coming from our left somewhere, but—
Bea found the cellar doors lying at an angle under a window. She yanked them open, revealing wooden stairs leading downward. The chanting increased in volume, and flickering orange firelight came from the depths.
Bea paused, taking a deep breath.
“You don’t have to—” I began.
“Yeah, I do,” she replied, and started down.
What could I do but follow?
Get ready for a fight scene next week in the finale. I can’t believe this serial is almost over. Where did October go?
I’ve bought four bags of Halloween candy that total up to almost a thousand pieces–hopefully it’ll be enough. Like I said last week, my neighborhood gets a lot of trick or treaters.
What’s your favorite type of Halloween candy? Anything you hope is going to happen in the story next week? Let me know in the comments!