The Ghost and the Graveyard

Chapter 26


Try, Try, Again
The door to my home was a welcome relief, a promise of sanctuary from this life that was quickly getting away from me. Although I felt the familiar weight of Logan's presence in the foyer, I did not greet him or call him out. I jogged up the stairs to my room and slammed the door behind me. I stripped out of my clothes, removing Nightshade and propping her in the corner of the bathroom. Then I stepped into the shower and turned on the water as hot as I could stand it. The spray ran off my body red and black, remnants of my first kills swirling the drain. I braced myself against the cool tile and sobbed.
When the hot water ran out, I slipped on my coziest flannel pajamas and flopped into bed. What day was it? Thursday. Days and nights had tangled together until nothing made sense anymore. Rick had used me as bait. Even though somewhere deep inside I thought he might have done the right thing, the logical thing, in my heart I felt betrayed. What did I expect? I had to learn somehow.
I drifted to sleep thinking about Gary. Fuck. Gary was a vampire. When had that happened? Was that why he disappeared? In my dreams, I asked him these questions, but I could never make out his answers.
I woke late and hurried downstairs where hot pancakes waited for me on the counter.
"Thanks, Logan," I said.
"You had a rough night."
"And today I have to work. Phone nurse."
His presence vanished from the room without saying goodbye.
"I'll see you tonight," I called toward the attic. He was still mad.
The buzz of my cell phone vibrating on the counter popped me out of my seat. I hit the answer button.
"It's Dad. I got your message. I'm showing a house on Sunday. Would you be up for dinner tonight?"
"Sure," I said, thinking of Logan. "Maybe we could make it an early one. I've got to catch up on some sleep."
"Valentine's?" he asked.
"Actually, I'm working from home today. Could you come here?"
"See you at six?"
"Sure," I said. "Bring food if you want to eat."
Dad laughed and said goodbye.
I logged into my cracked-screen laptop and started taking calls, thinking about the first time I'd done this here, the night Prudence had called and my life had spiraled out of control. But today there were no supernatural inquiries. Today, the routine of my work lulled me into a false sense of normalcy.
* * * * *
Dad arrived promptly at six with his arms full of Valentine's food. Roasted chicken and pasta salad with asparagus spears. I set the table in the dining room and doled out the food while Dad droned on about the uptick in the real estate market. I wasn't really listening until he said, "So how do you feel about that?"
"Sorry, I spaced for a minute. What were you saying?"
"How do you feel about moving to an apartment in the city? I have some folks who might be interested in this place."
"No!" I said too quickly. After all the nights I'd prayed for a way out of this house, out of my responsibilities here, suddenly the thought of losing it made me sweat. The house was my seat of magic. It was mine now and had to stay that way.
He grimaced. "I thought you hated this house! The dead people. The distance from work."
"Actually, it's kind of grown on me. I was thinking, maybe, I could buy it."
He shook his head. "Where is this coming from?"
"I'm not sure. I'm just really attached to the place. It feels like home to me."
The fork in my dad's hand dropped to his plate. "Well, I wasn't expecting this. I'll be honest, Grateful. I've got a buyer on the line. He's new in town and needs a place. Asked specifically to see this house even though it's currently not listed."
A chill ran through me, my intuition jumping up and down and waving her arms. "Do you remember the guy's name?"
Dad pulled a card from his pocket. "A Mr. Helleborine."
Helleborine was the herb Marcus had used to kill my last incarnation, Samantha. On reflex, I stood up and reached for Nightshade. She wasn't even on my back. I'd left her upstairs. "I will get the money, Dad. Please. Tell him the house isn't for sale. For me. I'll do anything."
Dad frowned. "I don't understand your sudden infatuation with this place, but okay. If you think you can get your financial situation together enough to put in an offer, do it. I'll give you six weeks. Otherwise, I gotta let it go."
Six weeks. Could I get a mortgage loan in six weeks? "Why? Don't you owe it to Prudence to keep it, after what she did for you?"
He rubbed his forehead. "Ah, I see. You're attached to this house because you connect it to your personal history. But Prudence isn't here anymore and neither is your mother." He placed his hands on mine. "It's time for both of us to move on."
I scrambled for what to say. "I want the house, Dad," I said, pulling my hands away. "I'll get the money. I will."
He nodded his head. "Okay."
We finished dinner in silence and said our goodbyes. After he left, I paced the foyer, feeling helpless. How would I ever get the money to buy this house? Could I trust Rick? Would I ever find a way to send Logan on? My body was exhausted, my mind a jumble of discontent. I paced while I thought about things. What I needed was a taste of success. I needed to scratch something off my list, to get my hands around one of these nebulous puzzle pieces. I needed to prove to myself, once and for all, that I was the witch. I had the power. I controlled my own destiny.
At midnight, I climbed the stairs to the attic, Nightshade in hand. I called for Logan. Reluctantly he materialized, crossing his arms in front of his chest.
"Don't block me, Logan. I feel strong tonight. This is happening."
"You mean you hope this will happen, so you won't have to deal with me anymore."
"We don't have time for this." I flipped through my spell book and found some notes on amplification of power. I opened the canister of salt from the night before and drew a large pentagram in the middle of the attic. Pentagrams are powerful symbols. I used to think they were evil but according to the Book of Light, they simply strengthened the power of the person using them. Since I wasn't evil, my pentagram wasn't evil.
I coaxed Logan into the center. He wasn't happy about it, but he followed my instructions. I picked up my bowl and blade. With a deep breath, I centered myself and threw my power into him. I was so strong, I bounced inside his head like light in a mirrored room. I saw everything, from images of what he ate for breakfast in the morning when he was alive to how many times a day he went to the bathroom. I saw what color underwear he had on the day the car hit his motorcycle and the darkness swallowed him. I saw everything, every moment. But every time I experienced a memory that included his name, it was obstructed. I could see every test he took in high school, but a black bar marred the top of the paper. When he earned his driver's license, the name was unreadable. I learned he was a chef, which explained his unbelievable cooking ability, but in my vision, his nametag was blank.
More than the missing name bothered me. The feeling that he was an unfinished soul was undeniable. I searched his life thoroughly, but unlike Prudence, the answer was nowhere to be found. I worked at it until fatigue caused my power to spill out of him. I'd failed him, again.
I leaned forward, catching myself on my knees, and allowed Nightshade to clatter to the floor. "I'm sorry, Logan. I don't know why, but I can't sort you. I can't find your name in any of your memories. It's like you're not supposed to move on." Inside my circle of power, I was suddenly powerless. Under Logan's scrutiny, I came apart. "This isn't supposed to happen. It's my job to send you on. If I can't do this, what does it say about me? How will I fight off Julius when I can't even sort a soul?"
He cocked his head to the side, his body so solid in the midnight power of the attic that he might have been human. "Maybe I was sent here for you the same way you were sent for Rick, to support you. Maybe it's not supposed to be the same this lifetime."
If I couldn't send him on, I was obligated to include Logan in my life. The thought was both comforting and suffocating. He was a good friend, but the crush he had on me would only get worse if I was his only social outlet. Logan needed to get his own life, a notion complicated by the fact we lived under the same roof, and he didn't have a body. Well, unless my dad sold this place. Then I'd have to move, and he'd be living with Mr. Helleborine. Ugh. I couldn't let that happen.
I ran my hands down the electrical charge of his arms. "I don't know why I can't sort you, but this isn't over. There has to be something in the book. I'm going to find a way to send you on."
Rick's beast howled beyond the attic walls. I scurried to the window, scattering the salt pentagram in the process. I couldn't see anything through the darkness. I lunged for Nightshade and sheathed her on my back.
"He might need me," I said. I was still licking my wounds about being used as bait, but I wasn't about to leave him alone out there.
"Of course. Go do your job," Logan whispered, shaking his head. "I'll be here when you get home."
I spilled out of the house into the night and made my way toward the cemetery. Rick's beast was circling above the gate but landed on the road in front of me as I neared. The oozing limb of a partially eaten zombie bounced from the corner of his mouth as he jogged toward me. I pointed toward the remains, and he flipped the chunk between his teeth, crunching the bones and licking up the black blood that leeched out from between his lips. When he was finished, he lowered his head to my level.
Close up, he looked so much like a large dog that I couldn't help but scratch the tuft of hair behind his ear. The beast closed its eyes and did that leg-thumping thing dogs do. I had to stop scratching to avoid damaging the pavement. Red Grove didn't need to deal with a pothole because of me.
One large black eye blinked in my direction before the beast's skin began to boil. The thing folded in on itself, bones cracking. Rick once said it didn't hurt when he shape-shifted, but as he unfolded himself, naked in the street, I thought he looked tired. I wondered if he'd made it out to be less than it was, for my sake.
He walked up to me, his face grim.
"Do you need my help?" I asked.
"It's taken care of," he said. His jaw clenched. He looked away from me.
"Is something wrong?"
"I can smell him on you, Grateful. You've come from Logan."
"I tried to send him on, but it didn't work. There's something blocking his name. I could see everything about him but his name. It's like I wasn't meant to see it."
"Or he's blocking you. Don't be naive. He wants to stay. He wants you."
My first impulse was to tell him he didn't know what he was talking about, to deny that Logan would do anything to avoid his final journey. But some part of me knew Rick was right. After all, Logan had admitted to me that he was afraid to be sorted.
I placed my hands on my hips and sighed. "So, how do I send him on if he's blocking?"
Relief passed over Rick's face. He took a step toward me until he was so close his chest almost brushed against my breasts. "There is another way. With your permission, I can force his soul to move on."
"I'm not going to let you make a snack of Logan," I said firmly.
"No. This is caretaker magic. It forces the soul in one direction or another."
"But I thought I needed to decide which direction he was supposed to go?"
"With this spell, the soul decides. It forces the soul to judge itself."
I thought about Logan, about the balance of his soul. I was certain this spell would end well for him. Logan's soul didn't seem finished, but his lifetime was. I couldn't sit back and watch the great forgetting take him memory by memory. Something had to be done.
"Yes, Rick. I think you should do it. I give you permission."
To his credit, Rick kept his happy dance on the inside, although our connection made it impossible for me not to notice his gleeful anticipation.
"I learned something else tonight." I placed my hands on my hips and looked out over the graveyard.
"I think a vampire is trying to buy my house."
Rick's skin began to bubble again, and his eyes turned black as coal. "Your house isn't for sale."
"A Mr. Helleborine contacted my father and asked to see my address. "
"Helleborine was what Marcus used to-"
"-Kill me. Yes, I know. And it doesn't grow in the cemetery which means someone on the outside was helping him."
"Someone who wants you to know, he isn't happy about Marcus's death."
"And isn't happy about my return. Do you think it was Julius?"
Rick shook his head. "I do not know. Julius is very old and very evil. But he could have killed you last night, and he didn't."
I narrowed my eyes. "Why didn't he?"
"That, I do not know, Mi Cielo."
That made two of us.