First time reading? Start with Part 1 here.
Recap: Last time, Bea and the ghost searched a graveyard but found no trace of the ghost’s husband’s soul. Then they followed a trail of sinister magic to the cellar of an old house.
The cellar must have been put to normal use throughout most of the year. Shelves on one side held canned food and bottles, and the other had old gardening tools and stacked boxes. Everything in the center of the room had been cleared away, however, to make way for an altar covered in black cloth. A woman lay upon it, bound by coarse rope, the light from dozens of candles reflecting off her tear-stained face.
Symbols on the cement floor looked ominously like they’d been painted in blood, and at the head of the altar on a small pedestal squatted a grotesque statue. It was a hideous, goat-like creature carved from gleaming black stone. A group of six men stood around the altar in a circle, all dressed in black robes like warlocks from an old story. They chanted in low tones until the one directly across from the stairs broke off with a shout, seeing Bea.
All the men turned. “You!” one of them cried, and it was the brute from the library. I barely paid him any mind, though, because of the man who’d first seen Bea. His hood had fallen, and I recognized his face.
He’d shaved his mustache, and his hair was more closely cropped, but it was him. He looked no older than fifty, the same as when he’d suddenly passed away.
Had I ever seen his corpse? I couldn’t recall.
“Hey, fellas. What’s up?” Bea hopped casually down the last few steps. “No, wait. Let me guess. You made a deal with a D-list demon—old goat-face over there.” She gestured at the statue. “And he throws a bit of wealth and power your way in exchange for a few souls. You’ve had it going for a while now, daddy and granddaddy doing it before you.”
“No,” I interrupted. “It’s been them all these years. That’s my father.”
Bea blinked at me and then gave the men a second look. “Unless the deal was for immortality and you’re all crazy old.” She made a face. “Shit. You’re probably going to shrivel into mummies when I mess this up for you. Man, that’s gonna be gross.”
“You’re dead,” said the brute from the library. “You won’t get away from us this time.”
“Aren’t you listening?” Bea clenched her fists and squared her shoulders. “I’m not going anywhere.”
The closest one lunged for her. I cried out in warning, but she didn’t need it. She wasn’t taken off guard this time, attacked from behind in the parking lot. She swung her fist, and it collided with the man’s jaw. He lurched back, and her other fist plunged into his gut. He staggered, wheezing, and she walloped him one last time, dropping him to the floor.
“Oh, well done!” I cried, but no sooner had I spoken than the other four men rushed her at once.
Fear shot through me. Four-against-one odds would bring down even the most skilled brawler. They would beat her as savagely as they had in the parking lot. She’d die in this dank cellar. This was all my doing. I’d dragged her into this, put her in danger, and now she—
She burned. Fire flared to life around her, and the men screamed. Two of them threw themselves to the floor, their ridiculous robes on fire. The others scrambled back. Bea strode towards the altar, her body enveloped in flames like some vengeful goddess. She raised her arms, and flames shot from her hands at the remaining men. I didn’t know how she did it. She’d said she wasn’t a witch, but if that was true, then just what was she? I’d traveled with her for weeks, and it suddenly struck me how little I really knew of her.
My father hadn’t joined the other men in their attack. He stood on the other side of the altar, looking as calm as when he’d sat at the breakfast table reading the newspaper. Closing his eyes, he bowed his head and muttered incomprehensible words that echoed uncannily through the room.
That awful cold grew ten times stronger. It snuffed out Bea’s flames like a bucket of water thrown on a campfire. She stumbled, gasping. The cold was painful now, the buzzing threatening to drown out all other sound. The shadows in the cellar lengthened, the walls themselves feeling malevolent. It was all coming from the statue. It seemed to grow bigger, dominating the room, its black eyes gleaming like a living thing’s.
Get out, clamored every fiber of my being. Get away from this place.
“Kill her quickly,” said my father. “We have to finish the ritual.”
Four of the five men pulled themselves off the ground. Bea shivered, her breaths rising in a fog, but when the first man came for her, she kicked him savagely in the stomach.
Then the coward from the library came at her from behind again. She spun—but didn’t quite avoid the blow. It glanced off her side, hitting the spot where, beneath her shirt, there was a still-healing gash under bandages. She cried out, dropping to one knee.
The men surrounded her. She surged up, punching and kicking, but there were too many of them. For every blow she landed, she took three or four of theirs. Their fists struck her back, her face. She stumbled into one of them, and he pushed her against another. She threw a punch, but it was sloppy and weak. Pain had addled her. How many times had she been hit?
I had to stop this. Could I frighten them again? Here in their domain, under the watchful eyes of that horrible demon statue, I didn’t think I could. But I had to do something. I couldn’t let them kill Bea. I—
The statue. It was the source of all this. If I could break it…
I rushed towards it, reaching out.
The statue might as well have been a hundred miles away. I couldn’t grasp it, couldn’t so much as feel it. My ghostly form didn’t even have hands. I hovered uselessly beside it, my father standing merely a foot away. He didn’t see me. I may as well not have existed. I couldn’t stop him, couldn’t save Bea or the woman sobbing wretchedly atop the altar. He was going to sacrifice them to extend his unnatural life, while Nate was…
He’d murdered Nate.
Deep in my heart, I’d always suspected it, but I’d wanted to believe that, for all his faults, my father wasn’t a killer. But there he stood, an expression of boredom on his face as his men pummeled Bea. He’d killed the man I loved, and now he was going to kill my only friend.
Bea had said ghosts were tied to emotion, and in that moment, I fully believed her. Rage coursed through me, bringing a power I could practically taste. I didn’t scream this time. No, my fury was cold and controlled and all the more dangerous for it.
My father jerked, and then his eyes bulged. I had no doubt he could see me. I could feel my hair billowing in the icy wind, and I took a deep breath, air filling my lungs.
“Edith?” he gasped.
So that was my name. I didn’t dwell on it. I seized the statue, lifted it over my head, and dashed it against the floor.
“No!” my father screamed, but it was too late. The statue shattered into a hundred pieces, and a crack like thunder shook the cellar. Lights burst from the shards of stone, darting around the room like fireflies freed from a broken jar. Spirits. Some were corporeal, dressed in every fashion imaginable, while others were glowing balls of light. They filled the room with warmth, and that terrible cold diminished.
The wind picked up, howling, and Bea burst again into flame. She staggered up, bloodied and bruised, but raised her fists to keep fighting. She needn’t have bothered. Her earlier supposition was right. My father—along with the other men—screamed horribly. Writhing and wailing, they decayed before my eyes, over a hundred years of aging passing in moments. Their withered corpses fell to the floor with muffled thuds.
Then there was peaceful, perfect silence. Some of the spirits danced around the room, while others faded like they were falling asleep after a very long day. Bea limped forward, bending down to pick up a ceremonial knife one of the men had dropped.
“I’m going to cut the ropes,” she gently told the woman tied to the altar. “I’m not going to hurt you.”
The woman nodded, her eyes wide. As soon as Bea cut her bonds, she jumped up and ran up the stairs and away.
“Well that…” Bea looked after her. “…was a pretty reasonable reaction, honestly.”
“You’re hurt,” I said, hardly able to count all her bruises.
“Eh, I’m pretty tough.” She shrugged. “You are, too. Nice work with the statue.” She gestured at something behind me. “I think someone else wants to thank you.”
My heart lurched upward, and my breath caught in my throat. Could it truly be…? Slowly, I turned around, afraid to hope, afraid that it would be just like the graveyard, my soul crushed under the disappointment of not finding him. But my fear was for naught.
There he stood, smokey and transparent like me but otherwise exactly as I remembered: his russet hair just a little mussed, his work clothes worn but fitting his strong frame perfectly. He met my eyes and smiled, and everything was right with the world.
“Edith,” he said.
I threw my arms around him, and a century of love and longing culminated in our kiss. I ran my fingers through his hair, savoring the feel of his lips. He smelled of fresh soap and a slight hint of oil, and his warmth chased away the last traces of chill from my soul.
When we finally pulled apart, my arms remained wrapped around his neck, and I rested my head on his chest.
“Are you ready?” he asked.
“Yes,” I murmured. I didn’t have to wait for him any longer, didn’t have to linger here, lost and alone. It was time to move on—together.
A loud sniff came from behind me, and I turned.
“Bea? Are you…weeping?”
“No!” She rubbed her eyes furiously.
I smiled at Nate and then went to her, clasping her hands in mine. Her skin was hot, her fingers calloused, and she clutched me tightly.
“Thank you,” I said. “You helped me when I’d lost all hope.”
She sniffed again, looking down. “It was nothing.”
“Will you do something else for me?”
She looked up, meeting my eyes. “Anything.”
“Find someone—for yourself.”
She smiled, but it was wry and humorless. “Oh, sure. Because that’s so easy. We’re not all lucky enough to get our own Nathaniel Breen, you know.”
“That’s true,” he agreed cheekily from behind me. “I’m one of a kind.”
“Braggart,” I teased. Then I turned back to Bea. “If not a lover, then a friend. Don’t go through life alone, Bea. It’s too short and sweet for that.”
She dropped her gaze for a moment but then pulled it back up to me. “I’ll try. You know I’m a weirdo.”
“You’re incredible, and anyone would be lucky to know you,” I said firmly. “Keep my necklace and remember me?”
I gave her hands one last squeeze. “Goodbye, my friend.”
I returned to Nate, giving him another short kiss. I felt solid, real again, and not sad in the slightest. We smiled at one another, and then, hand in hand, we walked into eternity.
And that wraps up The Memory of Ghosts! Thank you so much for reading. Edith’s story is over, but Bea will return in The Shadow Journals next year. Make sure to follow my blog if you aren’t already so you don’t miss her story.
I hope everyone has a safe and happy Halloween!