The Ghost and the Graveyard

Chapter 18


My Personal Crisis Intervention
Hot soapy water cures a multitude of ailments. Wine, the rest of them. I soaked in the bathtub, sipping Pinot noir since I'd polished off all the Shiraz, and tried to clear my mind. An image cut through the darkness. A thought. A dream. Maybe a memory.
Rick, in a bar, upside down. Wait, no, I was upside down, my red hair dragging on the floor below me. A grunge band rocked out in the background, and I was having trouble keeping my hockey jersey tucked into my pants in my inverted position.
The human pyramid suspending me chanted my name, Sam, Sam, Sam. I raised a shot of tequila to my lips, tossed it back and swallowed. The hot liquor coursed up to my stomach, the heat radiating to my toes.
"Whoa-oh-oooh," a man's voice said from behind me. I felt myself begin to tip, but it was hard to tell if it was gravity or the alcohol making my head swim. It was gravity. My human suspension system toppled like a deck of cards, arms and legs and bar stools flying. I reached out, prepared to handspring off the sticky mess of a bar floor to safety. I didn't have to. I landed in the cradle of Rick's arms. A cheer rose up from the bar behind us as the patrons realized they wouldn't need to call an ambulance after all.
"Upside-down shots?" Rick asked, eyebrow raised.
"It's the newest thing. You should try it."
He flashed his quirky half smile. "I think I'll pass. Looks dangerous."
"So do you." His eyes had bled to black, and he was staring at me like he was hungry. "Will you always be waiting to catch me when I fall?" I raised my hand to run my nails through the sides of his hair.
His eyes searched mine. "Always." Slowly, his lips lowered. I'd take care of that hunger.
"Take me home," I whispered into his kiss.
I startled awake in the tub, the vision passing like a thick fog. One word rattled like an echo through my brain. "Always."
* * * * *
Sufficiently pruney, I dressed and descended to the kitchen. I hadn't eaten since an early lunch and prayed that Logan hadn't trashed dinner even though I deserved as much.
Logan waited exactly where I'd left him, the roast covered on the stove. "I kept it warm for you," he said.
My heart melted, and I let it show in my smile. No sense letting it go to waste. I'd think more clearly on a full stomach. I needed all of the clarity I could get. "Thank you." I fixed myself a plate. "This looks too good to eat in here. Dining room?"
Logan agreed and followed me to the table.
"I'm sorry I was so hard on you earlier. This is great, Logan. Of all the ghosts I know, you are the best cook."
"I'm the only ghost you know."
"Not true. I know Prudence. But regardless, of all the people I know, you are the best cook. Whoever you were in life, you could cook."
"I wish I knew if that were true," Logan said.
The comment made me wonder, if I decided against being the witch, would Logan eventually forget how to cook? Just thinking about it made me eat slower and savor every bite.
"I'm sensing a change in you. Have you decided?"
"No, not yet."
"But you're considering it. You're considering being with him." A dark wave of smoke swirled through Logan, the jealousy rolling off him and filling the room with the scent of burnt toast.
"I don't like the idea of being with Rick. He lied to me and manipulated my memories to take advantage of me physically."
"Did he hurt you?" Logan fumed.
"No. But he did enough, and although I consented, I did so without understanding how our connection was influencing me. I don't know if I would have made the same choices without it."
"That bastard. I wouldn't do that to you, Grateful." Logan's green eyes smoldered.
"I know. You've always been completely honorable."
"So then, don't be with him."
"I'm beginning to see, there's no other way. The witch is in me, like it or not. When that demon attacked me tonight, it made me realize I can choose not to accept my power, but I can't choose not to be the witch. She's part of who I am."
"It doesn't have to be."
"Yes. It does. I can see people's souls, Logan. Not to mention, I can't let you stay in limbo forever. "
"If you sort me, we'll never see each other again. "
Just thinking about Logan gone for good was a red-hot poker directly though the chest. My heart was skewered, roasting over the thought. I rubbed the ache and was happy for my nurse's brain. It allowed me to see beyond the emotional pain to the logical argument. "If I remain human, I'll eventually die, but you could be here for eternity."
"I don't care. I'm willing."
"Until I die, another witch can't replace me. Red Grove will become a very dangerous place, for all of us."
He had no answer for that. His eyes closed against the words, squeezing them shut as if he could hide from the truth behind his nonexistent eyelids.
"And, there's something else. I'm not sure how I feel about you, Logan. I haven't known you long enough to know. Frankly, I think your feelings for me have more to do with who I was in my past life than you will admit. You can sense I'm the sorter. Your soul is drawn to my latent power. It may feel like more,'s not."
"But I am sure."
"How can you be when you don't even know who you are?"
He flashed against the wall, broke apart, and then came back together. "That was a low blow."
"I'm sorry. It needed to be said."
Time drifted by us as I finished my meal, gulping down the glass of cabernet he'd poured for me and thinking it was perfectly paired with the beef. I ate every bite to show I appreciated the effort Logan put into it. The meal was perfect, but I hardly tasted it. I was too concerned about the feelings of the ghost who watched me eat it. Something in Logan was dying tonight, some hope of clinging to what remained of this life.
I crossed my fork and knife on my plate. "Everything was perfect. The food was the most delicious I've ever had."
Logan disappeared. A moment later, a romantic ballad crooned from the speakers in the family room. Unforgettable by Natalie Cole. The choice wasn't lost on me. He reappeared next to my chair, so solid I would have guessed he was human if I hadn't known better. I didn't have to look at the clock to know it must be midnight.
"Will you dance with me?" he asked, extending his arm. "For one dance, let's pretend we both met when we had choices, when I was human, and you were carefree, and the world turned. Let's dance like there was no magic, just two human beings and the music."
I remembered how I'd danced with Rick and the ...results. The music was different, and so was the man. I would give Logan this. We would dance, and we would always have this memory. I took his arm and stood, smiling as if I lived in the pretend world he wanted for us. I placed one arm on his hip, the cool tingle letting me know where his molecules began, and held his hand with my other. It was more difficult than I expected. I couldn't lean into him like I might with a human dancer. But we swayed to the music, my arms growing sore from holding the position. I smiled, and he pretended, and then the song ended.
I dropped my hands to my sides. Logan ran his fingers up my outer arms, making the tiny hairs stand on end. He leaned forward and the focused current of air that was his kiss brushed my lips. When I opened my eyes, the look he gave me was soul crushing. Pure unrequited love.
"I should get some sleep," I said.
He nodded.
"Good night, Logan."
Halfway up the stairs I heard him say, "I love you." I pretended not to hear him and continued up the stairs. I never made it to the top.
Just then the door to the garage burst open. Michelle entered the kitchen, her arms full of Ben and Jerry's ice cream. "Grateful? Your garage door was open. I hope you don't mind, I let myself-" Michelle stopped at the entrance to the dining room. She stared at Logan, and her jaw dropped.
Logan was doing his best to appear normal. He focused his energy to look as solid as possible. I wasn't sure how long the illusion would last.
I jogged back down the stairs and placed myself between them. "Of course it's okay," I said, hugging her in such a way as to block her view of Logan. I spun her around toward the kitchen. "Come on. Let's get some bowls for the ice cream."
"Wait. Aren't you going to introduce me to your friend?" She pivoted toward Logan.
Had she turned inward, toward me, I would have been able to stop her with my body. I would have made some excuse as to why the man I was with was suddenly gone. But Michelle rotated outward, away from me, making it almost impossible to maneuver in front of her. Logan dissolved at the precise moment she turned. If I had to guess, I'd say he took the opportunity of her facing the kitchen to make his escape and then couldn't stop the process halfway. But it was also entirely possible that he ran out of energy. After all, he'd spent the entire evening making me dinner and holding his molecules together. This whole situation was more than stressful to the poor guy-I mean, ghost.
Whatever the reason, Logan went up in smoke right in front of Michelle.
"Michelle, I-" My attempted explanation fell on deaf ears.
Her mouth opened and a head-splitting scream sliced through the room. The ice cream toppled from her fingers. She scrambled for the door.
"Michelle, stop!" I called, but she'd totally freaked. She spilled into the street before I could stop her. There was only one place to go from my house if you were following the road-across the bridge and straight to Rick's.
Unfortunately, it was after midnight, and Rick was working. At the top of the bridge, I could see what Michelle had already seen. Rick was standing in front of his house, completely naked. She stopped in the middle of the road like a deer in headlights.
"Stop. Please," he said. He held out a hand toward her.
She shook her head and backed away from him. Unfortunately, that meant she was backing toward the graveyard.
"Michelle, stop. I can explain," I called. I jogged toward her with my hands out.
It was no use. She was in full-blown panic mode. I wasn't even sure she could hear me.
"What's going on?" she said in a shaky voice.
I started to answer her, but was distracted by the fog rolling in behind the gate. Fingers of thick, black mist filtered through the hedges, licking at the bars of the fence. If Michelle got any closer, the darkness would reach her.
"Michelle, move away from the gate," I said, voice trembling. I gestured with my hand for her to come to me.
Rick took a step forward.
She didn't move. "No. Tell me what's going on." She stepped backward.
The fog stretched for her.
"Please, trust me. Take a step toward me," I said. I wasn't sure what the fog was exactly, only that it was making Rick's skin bubble under the surface. His beast knew it was evil. Plus, nothing good came out of the hellmouth at night.
She did not move.
Rick glanced at me, and his thoughts were as clear as if he'd whispered in my ear. He wanted permission to take her by force.
I nodded. It had to be done.
Michelle's screams broke our connection. She was too close. Tendrils of fog wrapped themselves around her waist and slid her up the wrought iron spindles to the top of the gate. Rick was there in an instant but not fast enough. Michelle's legs followed her body over the top.
I started forward. Rick's hand shot out. "No, Grateful. You're not equipped for this. It will be of no use if they have you too. I will get her."
"Please, Rick. Hurry. She's my best friend."
His skin bubbled, violently. The smell that always clung to Rick-pine, holy water, and earth-grew stronger, surrounding me, filling me. I realized now what the scent was. It was the smell of a fresh grave. I watched his bones grow, bend, and reshape his body. His chin extended as he folded to the earth, his ears growing to a point on each side of his head. Claws sprouted from his knuckles. Scales and fur budded from his skin and over his backbone, which extended into a tail. Rick transformed into a monster, both reptilian and wolf-like. Two iridescent stretches of leathery flesh unfolded from his back. Wings.
The beast ran a few steps and took to the air.
Through the bars of the gate, I watched the fog channel itself into three forms. The redheaded vamp I'd seen my first night in the cemetery fleshed out and grinned at me, licking his lips. A vamp I'd never seen before, huge and bald like the strong man at the circus, formed next. But when the fog that held Michelle formed into muscled flesh with a black ponytail, my stomach twisted. Marcus.
In my head, I heard his voice. Come, girl. Come over the fence and we'll play a game. It'll be fun. He didn't recognize me. I guess that was the benefit of having a brand-new body.
I backed away from the gate.
Marcus frowned and narrowed his eyes. Rick swooped into the cemetery. The vamps scattered. Red-hair wasn't fast enough and Rick's beast flipped him into his mouth, sinking teeth through his abdomen. The sound of bones crunching made me gag, and blood sprayed across the pebble pathway. I swallowed rapidly, trying to keep my dinner down.
Michelle released a head splitting screech as more blood sprayed across her face. Marcus clamped a hand over her mouth, cutting off the scream. She collapsed in his arms, eyes rolling back and limbs going limp. "Michelle!" I screamed. Had he hurt her? Was she dead? Her chest rose and fell. No-she'd passed out. At least she wasn't panicking anymore. Now, the only one panicking was me.
Marcus ducked behind a monolith, dragging Michelle with him. I looked back toward the strongman and watched him break off a piece of a marble headstone. He hurled the sharp shard of stone at Rick.
"Rick, watch out!" I yelled.
The beast lunged to the side, but the granite sliced through his outer shoulder. The yelp Rick's beast emitted was somewhere between the howl of an oncoming tornado and the growl of a wolf. The sound was so loud it hurt. I covered my ears with my palms. Apparently, it had a similar effect on the vamps because the strongman was distracted long enough for Rick to swallow him whole. Then Rick turned toward Marcus.
"Watch your step, caretaker. One wrong move and the girl dies," Marcus hissed. "In fact, I think it might be safer for me on the inside." Marcus thrust his arm into Michelle's chest; her eyes popped open in terror.
"Stop! Get out of her," I screamed, racing to the gate and gripping the bars. The vamp slid into her body like he was putting on a coat.
Rick's beast howled and scratched the earth.
Michelle, possessed by Marcus, craned her neck and laughed. "Kill me and you kill the girl."
The beast charged but stopped short. He paced in front of Michelle, who had taken on an evil expression that didn't belong on my friend's face. I wanted in there. I wanted to bust Marcus' ass for what he'd done to her. Instead, I watched Michelle pass her hand in front of a grave, never taking her eyes off Rick. The ground broke open, revealing a stone stairway. My hands went to my heart. He was taking her to the underworld.
"No. No!" I picked up a stone and hurled it uselessly through the gate at Marcus.
Michelle's head snapped toward me, giving Rick enough time to shoot forward and snatch Michelle from the top step. He clutched her in his talons. I covered my mouth and looked away. I couldn't watch. Oh God, Michelle. Tears clouded my eyes. The sound of moving earth signaled the door to the underworld had closed. And then the smell of the grave told me Rick was changing. I braved a glance back. The talons around Michelle transformed into a human arm.
"Let me go," Marcus/Michelle said. Her head shook, and her grin said it all. Marcus was sure Rick would never hurt Michelle to get to him.
"How do we get him out?" I yelled.
"There is a spell."
"Then do it!" I paced helplessly.
"I'm not strong enough," he rasped.
Marcus laughed.
This was exactly what Prudence had warned me about. Rick was weakening, and it could have dire consequences. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. "If the Monk's Hill witch came back, could she do this?"
"Yes," he said. The tiny word was loaded with emotion.
"She's dead," Marcus said. "The Monk's Hill witch is dead, and you will never find another."
I balled my hands into fists and shot Marcus my sharpest stare. "Then let's go awaken the witch, Rick."
His eyes snapped to mine in surprise. "Are you sure?"
"Oh, absolutely. There is nothing I'd like better than to have the power to kick this vampire's ass."
"No," Marcus barked. "It's impossible!" He struggled against Rick's arm without success.
The good thing about having a mental connection with someone is that you feel the person smile before their expression actually changes. Rick smiled from the inside out and filled my brain with memories. I saw our first kiss and our second first kiss, along with the day we got married the first time. It was overwhelming and heartwarming all at once.
Even though I couldn't say for sure that I loved Rick in this life, I wanted to love him. I wanted to know if this supernova erupting in my chest was the product of the memories fed into my brain or my actual feelings. But more than anything, I wanted to become who I was supposed to be. Ready or not, becoming the witch was the only way to save Michelle and end Marcus.