The Ghost and the Graveyard

Chapter 13


My Ghost Comforts Me
I stumbled through the front door of my house and locked it behind me. Not that a deadbolt could stop anything I'd seen tonight. Or could it? I didn't know the rules of the game I was playing. Obviously, the unholy couldn't get through the gate, but was that because of the lock or because of Rick's magic?
"They can't come in uninvited," Logan said from the stairs.
I turned toward him, shaking so forcefully it was hard to form words. "Wha-What?"
"Prudence says in your last life you put a spell around this place. Nothing preternatural can come in without an invitation."
I hugged myself. "But what about you?"
"I'm natural, a human spirit. Still, I came through the portal in the attic. I'm not sure even I could walk through the front door."
He abruptly disappeared. Before I had a chance to ask where he'd gone, a plush blanket floated toward me from the family room and wrapped itself around my shoulders.
"Sit down, Grateful. Let me make you a cup of hot chocolate." Logan's disembodied voice came from the kitchen.
I pulled the blanket tighter around me and took a seat on a stool behind the island. "Is it true? All of it?"
"I'm not sure how to answer that. Without knowing what the caretaker told you, I can hardly say which parts are true. Plus, I've only been here a few months and the sole source of my knowledge is Prudence."
A pot on the stove filled itself with milk, cocoa, vanilla, and sugar. From the drawer on the left, a spoon floated to the pot and began stirring the mixture. There was no one holding the spoon. The animated utensil didn't scare me. I'd grown accustomed to Logan the way you do a hot bath, immersing yourself gradually. Now, his presence comforted me.
"Did Reverend Monk unleash the unholy on Red Grove?"
"Yes, I'm afraid so. He wanted to save his followers, but when you give the devil an inch, he takes a mile. Monk unknowingly opened a portal to the underworld. Every vile creature-vampires, zombies, ghouls, demons-all of them have access to our world at sunset. Only the caretaker and, of course, you when you've been here, keep the world safe from their menace."
"So you think I'm the Monk's Hill witch?"
"Oh, I'm certain of it."
"But I can't be. Prudence lived here before me. She must have been the witch."
"Prudence was never the witch, Grateful. It's always been you. You planned for your own reincarnation. You gave Prudence the power to maintain and protect this house because it is your seat of magic. The only trouble was, you couldn't foresee that Prudence would die two years before your time to come back."
"That doesn't make any sense. I knew Prudence when I was a baby. I couldn't have passed her any magic."
"No, I think she worked with the old you. You were both nurses at St. John's in your last life. That's how you met each other before you were born."
I tried to wrap my head around the idea of being alive before, of having a relationship with Prudence when she was a young woman. "What does the witch even do? I saw that thing Rick turns into. I hardly think he needs my help."
A mug floated down from the cupboard and the cocoa poured itself, releasing tendrils of steam that curled oddly against the force that was Logan. Once the pan was back on the stove, his body formed and hardened into a solid-looking version of himself.
He leaned his elbows on the counter. "Think of the cemetery as a prison for the unholy. The caretaker is law enforcement. The witch is the law. When a supernatural being steps out of line, she judges if they are guilty or innocent. If they're innocent, they walk. If they're guilty, she sentences them to the hellmouth. She decides. The caretaker enforces her decision."
I took a long, deep drink. I wasn't the judgmental type. Could I send someone's soul, vampire or not, to hell if I had to? I didn't think so.
"Rick said that when I was Isabella Lockhart I saved myself by storing a piece of my soul inside of him."
"Isabella made Rick the vessel to contain the immortal part of her outside of her human body."
I swallowed hard. "And Prudence has another part?"
"Not a part of your soul but of your magic. Think of Rick as the key and you as the lock and the house as the box that holds the magic. Prudence took care of the box."
I wasn't sure I followed his correlation, but I had a deeper question to ask. "But if a piece of my soul is in Rick and another part of who I was is in this house, what's left inside of me?" My voice gave out with the last words, but Logan seemed to understand anyway. Was I some kind of half person? Was I living my life with less of a soul than everyone else?
He cupped my face with his hand, a warm tingle registering on my cheek. "Oh Grateful, some part of you may be Isabella Lockhart but another is Grateful Knight, a new person with a new body, living in a new time. If you don't take up this burden, life will go on. The caretaker will make do, and the part of you that is the witch will transfer to another host. You have a choice. You don't have to accept the power back. You don't have to do this."
"I don't have to be the witch?"
I exhaled. The tension in my shoulders eased slightly, but a rogue thought niggled at the back of my brain. I was forgetting something. I sipped my cocoa and pretended my insides weren't writhing with unrest. It came to me with the rich chocolate aftertaste.
"What about you? Why are you in the witch's attic?"
He folded his arms across his chest. "The witch is the sorter."
I covered my mouth with my hand. "Get. Out. I am the sorter. Prudence was trying to tell me from the very beginning!"
"Sometimes people die unexpectedly, and their souls don't know where to go. The witch helps them. As the ruler of the hellmouth, she has the power to usher the supernatural between heaven and hell. She can do that for us ghosts too. She's the only one who can do it for us."
The implications of what Logan said weaseled into my brain. "So, I'm supposed to sort you."
He nodded with the woeful expression of someone breaking bad news.
"Do you want to be sorted?"
He shifted his hip against the counter. "It depends. I'd rather not end up in hell."
I scowled at the possibility. "But I could decide that. How do I sort you?"
"First you'd accept your power back from Rick and Prudence. Then you'd give me a name and command my soul in one direction or the other."
"I've already given you a name."
"It has to be my full name, and you have to accept the power first."
"Then how do I accept the power? How do I become the witch?" I asked.
My ghost looked at the floor. His body flickered between levels of transparency. He didn't answer me.
"What are you keeping from me, Logan?"
"I just don't think you should be forced into something you might not want to do."
I slapped my hand on the counter and asked again. "When you say I need to accept the power back from Rick and Prudence, what does that mean?"
Logan looked me in the eye. The thing about knowing a ghost is that you see straight through to their soul. Logan seemed to want nothing but the best for me.
"Please, Logan. Let it be my decision. Tell me."
"You have to have sex with the caretaker."
It took a moment for that to sink in. So that's why Logan had been so interested in my physical relationship with Rick; if I'd had sex with him, I might already be the witch. The thought of sex with the man who turned into that thing, that monster, made me nauseous. It must have shown on my face because Logan wrapped his hands around mine, a gesture that sent a soft vibration through my skin.
"You don't have to do it," he said again.
"Sex? That's the only way?"
"It's not just sex, Grateful. It's what the sex means. Because of what he is, he will take your blood. He will give you his. It's a lifetime commitment to this role, to this state of being."
I grimaced. "Blood? Why does he need my blood?"
"The caretaker is an immortal. He drinks blood, and drinking his blood will give you power."
"What, like a vampire?"
"No, vampires are from the underworld. They live on blood like leeches and are not nearly as powerful as a caretaker. Rick can feed on blood, or the undead, or sex. He will drink your blood to bind you to him, not for nourishment."
My body stiffened. I was chilled from the bones out. More than anything, I just wanted to go home, to my first, real home with my dad, where everything was safe and taken care of. I didn't want to be the Monk's Hill witch. I certainly didn't want to "do it" with a blood-sucking immortal who turned into a zombie-eating beast after dark. It was disgusting enough that I'd had oral sex with him.
I stared into my finished hot chocolate, but there were no answers at the bottom of the mug. "Is it true that I was married to Rick? In another life?"
"Yes. That is true. But you don't have to make the same commitment in this one. You don't have to make the same choices."
Logan's face was close enough to mine that his energy created a static charge that pulled me toward him. His expression was pure concern. Ghost or not, Logan was an honorable man.
I understood what he was saying. I even agreed to a certain extent. But I was a product of my upbringing, and I'd been taught not to shirk responsibility. I was in this mess because I'd decided not to file bankruptcy, to take full accountability for what happened with Gary. It wasn't in my nature to take the easy way out.
"Logan, what happens to you if you don't get sorted?"
He flickered in front of me but did not answer. The mug became much more interesting to him, and he refused to meet my eyes.
"Tell me."
"If I'm not sorted, I stay here forever. The longer I stay in this state, the more attached I become to this life. By the time a new witch comes, it may be too late."
"I'm so sorry, Logan. How horrible for you to be at the mercy of my choice."
"No, don't think that. I've enjoyed this time with you. It doesn't scare me anymore to think of spending more time here, especially if you are here."
"You'd sacrifice your soul, your eternal rest, for my happiness?"
"Yes, I would."
Sometimes in life there are easy decisions, where the right thing to do pops out at you. I had to decide between sex with a monster that would result in a lifetime of moonlighting as a witch, and living with the guilt of condemning the nicest soul I'd ever met to an eternity in my attic. As decisions went, this was one hell of a ding-dong.
"I've got to think. Logan, I need to talk to Prudence. She said to find the key and bring the vessel. Rick is the vessel. Do you know where the key is?"
"Are you sure? A good night's rest might make everything clear."
"I'm sure. Where is it?"
Logan walked over to the cabinet and opened the door. A silver canister engraved with the word coffee rested in front of the Tupperware. He waited. I pulled down the canister and opened the lid. The top of a key stuck out from the grounds.
"This is why you made my coffee every morning. You haven't wanted me to go up there. You've been trying to keep me from the truth!"
He hung his head.
"Why? Why would you do this?"
"For the same reason I told you to stay away from the caretaker. But you're right. It should be your decision, either way."
"Damn right it should. We are not finished with this conversation." I pointed at his ghostly form, grabbed the key and headed for the stairs.