“Roxanna. You’ve been sitting here since dinner finished. That was almost three hours ago.”“Has it really been that long?” I asked. As I finally looked down at my plate – which I hadn’t finished at dinner – Irealized Kathy was right. My turkey was starting to smell.I grimaced and picked up the plate, heading to the kitchen. Kathy followed me.
She leaned against the counter as I put the plate in the dishwasher. “You’re clearly not okay. What’s wrong?”I rubbed my forehead. “It’s complicated.”“Then uncomplicate it.”“I don’t think I can.”
“Well, whatever you’re doing isn’t working. You’ve been a mess for like a week.”“Is it that obvious?”“Dan and Anne both asked me if you were okay at work last night. Even Walter looked concerned when you barelyacknowledged him saying hello. There’s no way you’re getting enough sleep, the circles under your eyes are the sizeof freaking plums – and you’re not eating much either. What the hell is wrong with you?”I shook my head. “I don’t – I can’t talk about it.”
Kathy frowned. “You’ve been a mess since last Friday. Does this have something to do with having to cover myshift?” I flushed. “It does!”“No! No, not exactly. It – something happened, yes, but it has nothing to do with you or work or anyone else atwork or anything. I…I ran into someone on the way home who surprised me.” There. That was vague enough.
“Well, we have got to do something to shake you out of this funk you’re in.”I suddenly realized where she was going with this. “No, no, Kathy, I’m fine, you don’t have to–”“Nonsense,” she interrupted. “You need to cheer up, and the best way to do that is to go sing karaoke. A bunch ofus are meeting at Midnight Flows at 10, and you are coming.”I shook my head frantically. “I don’t do karaoke.”“You may not sing it, but you do watch it. Now hurry up, get dressed, you can’t go in the same bathrobe that youhave been wearing all day.”
And that was how I ended up at Midnight Flows, watching Kathy and her friends sing karaoke.
I slipped away as soon as I could.There was nothing wrong with Kathy or her friends, but they weren’t my friends, and karaoke was really not at allsomething I had any interest in whatsoever.So when they weren’t paying attention to me (and it didn’t take long, between the extensive karaoke list and thelarge amounts of alcohol) I slipped out of the club.
I took a deep breath of fresh air as soon as I was outside and out of the way of the doors. This was much morepleasant.I tipped the break dancer who was performing for the crowds waiting to get in, then sat down on a bench. She waspretty good – at least, by my standards of what was good break dancing, which I admit weren’t very high – but shecouldn’t hold my attention for long. Nothing could.My thoughts kept returning to what I’d seen at that old house on Mendoza Lane, no matter how much I tried toavoid thinking about it.If I looked far enough to the right, I could see it from here, which wasn’t helping.
I don’t know how much time passed while I sat there, lost in my thoughts, but I was startled out of them whenpeople sat down on either side of me.I looked up. “Lisa. Marcus. Hi. I didn’t know you’d be here.”“We were looking for you, actually,” Lisa said. “Shelly said Kathy dragged you out to karaoke night at MidnightFlows, so we came over. What a surprise it was to see you sitting out here, not even noticing us.”“Sorry. I was lost in thought.”
“What were you thinking about?” Marcus asked.I sighed. “It’s a long story.”“Roxanna,” Lisa said, “I know I promised not to push, but something has to give. You’ve been falling apart for overa week now.”
I rubbed my face and realized that my eyes were wet.I breathed in, trying to stay calm.It didn’t work.Suddenly I started sobbing as all of the pain – oh, Astraea – overwhelmed me.
Lisa and Marcus tried to comfort me, I think. I was beyond noticing.Instead I cried until I couldn’t cry any more. I hadn’t cried, not since the night Astraea died. Not since I learned shewouldn’t be returning to me.
Once I finally finished crying, I slumped bonelessly on the bench. I didn’t look at either Lisa or Marcus as I began totalk. If I looked at them, I wouldn’t be able to tell the truth…or, at least, most of the truth. They didn’t need toknow every detail.“My family is not exactly what you’d call normal,” I began. I tried to disassociate myself from my story, but someemotion leaked through anyway. “I’m sure you’ve noticed I’m part alien. I’m also part elf. I grew up with twomothers, a robotic father, a cat, a bird, and three siblings who were all the same age as I am. We’re not technicallyquadruplets. Our mom gave birth to me and–” I stumbled, but managed to finally say it, “Astraea. Our mum gavebirth to Seren and Ma’or. But we’re all the same age.”
“There’s a curse on my family. We’re compelled to leave our homes when we’re teenagers, to wander through theworld and find our own place, away from our family. We didn’t leave soon enough and Astraea…Astraea wasmurdered. Seren and Ma’or and I left our hometown, then I left Seren and Ma’or and came here.”
Marcus rubbed my shoulder. “I’m sorry,” he said.“This has been building for a while, hasn’t it?” Lisa asked. I nodded. “But something set it off. You were okay –well, sort of okay – but something happened last Friday.”I took a deep breath. “When elf and alien blood combine, they can have unusual effects.”“…How so?” Marcus asked.“People with both can develop powers. Seren and Ma’or are able to turn into animals, Astraea could turn invisible,and I see dead people.” I paused. “I just quoted that movie, didn’t I?” I laughed a bit hysterically.
Lisa raised an eyebrow. “So you see dead people.”“All around. They look completely normal except they don’t show up in mirrors. They have goals, purposes, wantsjust like the rest of us…though I guess somewhat different, considering they’re dead and all.”She shook her head. “What does this have to do with anything?” she asked.“You saw a ghost, didn’t you?” Marcus interjected. “Last Friday.”“I saw nine ghosts.”
“…Where the hell did you see nine ghosts?” Lisa asked. “Not that I’m totally sure I believe you, but…where did yousee nine ghosts?”I gestured to the right. “That old house, over on Mendoza Lane.”Marcus and Lisa exchanged a glance. “There are rumors about that old place,” he said. “The House of Fallen Trees,I think it’s called.”Lisa scoffed. “Spooky stories meant to terrify children.”“Possibly true spooky stories,” I said. “Tell me?”
“The house was built a long time ago by a man named Jon Smith,” Marcus began. “He built it for his bride as herwedding present. They had two daughters who both took their mother’s last name of Tricou, as she came from amatriarchal family. Both girls grew up and married, bringing their husbands into the family and into the house, forno one ever left the family – or the house. Each daughter had a child, the elder a son and the younger a daughter.Time passed. After that, it gets gruesome.” He paused, then went on. “The two teenagers died horribly – the talesvary on exactly how. Somehow, and again this varies, the rest of the family tried to bring them back to life. Theyfailed, dying in the process. After this, the tales go on to warn of what will happen if you disturb their graves – andmake no mistake, the house is as much their grave as the actual graves are.”“What do they warn of?”“Gruesome deaths and such. A number of the tales tell of a woman who moved into the house after all of the Tricoufamily was dead. She disturbed the ghosts, they killed her.”
I nodded slowly. That fit with what I’d seen.“You can’t seriously be believing this,” Lisa said. “It’s ghost stories, for freaking out little kids.”“I don’t know,” Marcus said. “No one’s lived in that house as long as I can remember, and I grew up in Sim City.”“You’re twenty five. You’re not exactly old.”“That’s still twenty years that I can remember of no one living there.”
I glanced over at the house, then interrupted Lisa and Marcus’s argument. “Guys. What time is it?”“Almost midnight, why?” Marcus said.“I think…I think I need to go back. And see if they’re still there.”“That’s a terrible idea,” Lisa said.“It does sound pretty dangerous.”I shook my head. “The ghosts don’t know I can see them, so as long as I don’t actually go into the house I shouldbe fine. I was fine last week.”
I stood up. “I’m going. You can come, or not, if you want.”“You promise you won’t go near the house?” Marcus asked.“I promise.”He stood. “Okay. I guess I’ll come.”Lisa rolled her eyes, but she stood as well. “Someone has to keep a shred of sanity on this fool’s errand.”
We walked over to the house and stood on the other side of the street, nowhere near even the fence, as I’dpromised Marcus.After about two minutes, Lisa, who had been shifting from foot to foot since we got there, spoke. “So…what exactlyare we looking for?”I was about to reply when I saw it.
The same woman as I’d seen before came running out of the house, through the wall and down the stairs, until shebegan banging on the gate again.“That,” I said.Lisa and Marcus exchanged a glance. “I’m not seeing anything,” Lisa said, her skepticism clear.“Well, no, you wouldn’t. You don’t see ghosts. But she’s there. And…”“And?”“Aha. And there are the others.”
Marcus’s eyes narrowed as I watched the eight ghosts drag the other one off. “I’m not seeing what you’re seeing,but there’s something undeniably creepy about that house.”Lisa shrugged. “It’s been unoccupied for ages, of course it’s creepy.”“No, it’s more than that.”
I ignored their conversation, instead watching the ghosts. The woman – the one who’d been running – was staringright at me again as the others dragged her off. Did she know I could see her?I was fairly certain the others didn’t, as they hadn’t paid any attention to me or Lisa and Marcus, or to the people I’dseen on the street the first time. They didn’t expect people to be able to see them, so they ignored us. The woman,though…she had hope that someone would see her.It didn’t look like she had much else. ***
After that night, I turned into a woman on a mission. I was determined to find out everything I could about thehouse and about the family who had lived there.For some reason (guilt? instinct?), I didn’t want anyone else to know how obsessed I was becoming.Therefore, I didn’t do my research at home. Instead, I spent a lot of time at Sims Gone Wired. They hadcomputers, some books, vending machines, and enough coffee to keep me awake for the next decade.Luckily, they also had very nice bathrooms.
I’ve never been all that interested in research, but when I put my mind to finding something out, I’m not bad at it. Iguess I learned more tricks from Katja than I thought.The story Marcus had told seemed to be fairly accurate as those stories went. The house had been built by JonSmith about 100 years before – there were building permits and land deeds that I’d been able to find. There wasalso a marriage license for Jon Smith to Jennicor Tricou, and birth announcements for their daughters andgrandchildren. I found old news articles in the Sim City Times’s online archives about both tragedies: the deaths ofthe teenagers, then the deaths of the rest of the family. No details were given in either case, but the dates on thearticles told me that the teenagers had died first.
Researching the property itself told me the name of the woman who had bought it after the deaths of the Tricoufamily: Rainelle Neengia.She had died barely a year after she’d bought the house, according to the Sim City Times. While the house hadbeen put on the market by the city after her death (despite the fact that her will had never been found), no one hadbought it.
After I found out what I could about the house, the Tricous, and Rainelle Neengia, I changed the direction of myresearch.It was time to move on to ghosts.
Unfortunately, there aren’t many facts about ghosts out there. Considering that I had never heard of anyone otherthan myself who’d actually been able to speak to ghosts, most everything I found was either conjecture or fiction.But I did find some information, and it was enough. ***
I knew this needed to be a secret.I had a feeling that Marcus and Lisa would both try to stop me if they knew what I was planning on doing, albeit fordifferent reasons – Marcus because he wanted to keep me safe, Lisa because she thought the whole thing was acrock. Luckily, while we all had Wednesday off, I had Saturday and they didn’t, and neither did Kathy, who mightalso try to stop me. Not because she had any idea what I was doing, of course, but because she had a tendency todrag me into going out with her friends whenever we had the same days off. I had fewer concerns about Shelly,Jean, Helen, and Terri, who I was less close to.Therefore, that Saturday night, I quietly walked out of my room.
“Going somewhere?” Shelly asked. She was standing in the exercise room, her hand on her door, about to enter herroom.“Shelly! Do you have the night off?”“Yeah, I switched shifts with Todd so he could take his girlfriend to dinner.”I smiled. “Cool.”“So what are you up to? Heading out?”
I bit my lip. “Oh, um, yeah. I just…I have some stuff to do.”She raised an eyebrow. “Well, have fun.” Then she headed into her room, locking the door behind her.I breathed a sigh of relief.
Then I carefully walked up the stairs, taking care to make as little noise as possible. I didn’t particularly want to runinto anyone else on my way out of the house.
Luck was not on my side. Jean, Helen, and Terri were sitting in the dining room having coffee when I came up thestairs. “Hello, Roxanna,” Jean called.I sighed and entered the dining room. “Hi.”“Would you like some coffee?” Terri asked.“No thanks.”
I shifted from foot to foot as I stood in front of the dining room table. I really did need to leave, and I really didn’twant to tell anyone what I was doing.“Heading out?” Helen asked.“Um, yes.”
The three women exchanged glances.“We have something for you,” Terri said.“A gift,” Helen added.“To protect you,” Jean finished.I blinked. What on earth? “Um, thank you?” I said hesitantly.
Jean handed me a delicate silver bracelet. It was absolutely gorgeous, and it couldn’t have been cheap. Why werethey giving this to me?I didn’t want to be rude, and I did want to leave, so I put the bracelet on my left wrist.“Good luck,” they said in unison.“Thanks,” I said, then turned and left the house.
Once I was outside, I held my wrist up and looked more closely at the bracelet. Why me? Why this bracelet? Whyhad Jean said it would protect me?I began to pull it off my wrist – I wasn’t certain I wanted to be wearing something that Jean, Helen, and Terri hadgiven me, especially when I wasn’t sure why – but it didn’t come off. I frowned and tugged harder. I still couldn’tpull it off. What the heck was with this bracelet?
No matter how I pulled, or moved my wrist, or tried to make my hand as small as possible, the bracelet simplywould not come off. I could turn it in any way around my wrist, and it moved up and down my wrist – it wasn’tliterally stuck to my wrist or anything – but it was not removable.I looked back at the house, considering whether to go in and ask them about the bracelet – whether they’d meant itto do this, what it was meant to do, why I couldn’t remove it. I couldn’t, though. I was on a schedule, and I wasn’tall that sure I wanted to ask them about it anyway.For now, I would just have to trust that it wouldn’t harm me. I took a deep breath, then continued walking.
I walked down 9th Street, then up Mendoza Lane. This time, I passed the House of Fallen Trees and continued on tothe cemetery next door: Gothier Green Lawns. According to my research, most of the members of the Tricou familyhad their graves there, with only the graves of the teenagers at the house itself.
As it was almost midnight, it was unsurprisingly empty. After all, who wants to spend time in a cemetery on aSaturday night when they could be doing something far more interesting?Well, me, I suppose. But I had a good reason to be here.
I took a deep breath, and began my preparations. There were six small buildings at the graveyard, and I headed forthe one in the back left corner. I’d scoped out the cemetery earlier in the week and found that this building wascompletely empty, unlike most of the others.I quickly lit four candles and put them in the four corners of the room.
Once the candles were lit, I sat down in the middle of the room and began to center myself, preparing myself forwhat I was about to do.
As I heard bells ring, I realized it was midnight. Perfect – if the ghosts had been reenacting the same scene at theHouse of Fallen Trees twice in the past few weeks, it was likely that they did something similar every night. Whichmeant that, as it was midnight, the ghosts would be otherwise occupied.I stood up and left the building.
Fortunately, the cemetery was just as empty when I left the building as when I’d entered it. I walked to the graveson my right, the ones belonging to Kiernan and Kvornan Tricou.I knelt down and sprinkled some herbs on Kiernan’s grave, then Kvornan’s grave – the herbs recommended by a fewof the websites and books that I’d found. I still wasn’t sure this would work, but there was nothing to do but to try.
I stepped back, making sure not to catch on fire myself. That wouldn’t be pretty. Or fun.Then I waited for the graves to burn. From what I’d found out, the only way to get rid of a ghost was to destroy itsgrave, its connection to this realm of existence – which made sense once I’d thought about it. As far as I knew,every single ghost I’d ever seen or spoken to had still had a grave.Astraea’s urn had been smashed and she’d never appeared.
Off in the distance, I heard a horrible scream. I looked around, but there was no one else there – I couldn’t usesomeone else’s reaction as a sign of whether that scream belonged to a living person or a ghost.A second scream joined it, and I was pretty sure it was the Tricous.I hoped it was, anyway.
The graves seemed to be burning well, so I crossed the graveyard and went to those of Jennail and Nylissit Tricou. Ibegan to sprinkle the herbs, but was interrupted by a burst of wind.I turned around and gulped. There were six ghosts coming towards me, and they were angry.I hastily finished sprinkling the herbs, then set the fires.
This time, I could see that the screams came from the two adult women, who must have been Jennail and NylissitTricou. They continued screaming as the gravestones burned, then, as the graves began to disintegrate, they fadedfrom view until they were gone.
My eyes widened, and so did the four remaining ghosts’. I’m sure it was obvious to them that I was the one who’dkilled their family members.We all stood frozen for a moment.Then I ran for the center of the graveyard and Jennicor and Jon Smith Tricou’s graves.
My hands shook as I tried to open the gate. It was locked…and the ghosts were coming ever closer, running throughthe trees and the buildings on their way to me.I gulped.
The gate wasn’t going to open, not fast enough. So I climbed over the hedge and the fence, falling onto the ground.I’m not exactly what you’d call an action hero.
I hastily sprinkled the herbs on the graves, then got ready to set them on fire. Unfortunately for me, the ghostswere not hampered by the locked gate as I had been; they simply came through it.“You killed my children,” the older woman – Jennicor, most likely – said. “You killed my daughters.”I looked up at her from my position by the graves. “They were already dead.”
All four ghosts stopped and stared at me, looks of shock on their faces. Most likely, they hadn’t expected me toactually be able to hear them.Then their faces turned angry. “You are dead,” Jennicor said.
They approached me quickly and reached out to grab me. As far as I knew, ghosts couldn’t actually touch me or anyother living person, but I also hadn’t known that ghosts could make objects solid to themselves or other ghosts –and the fence and gate around the House of Fallen Leaves had to be solid in some way if the young woman was ableto bang on it…or be trapped by it in the first place.I didn’t want to risk being grabbed by them, but I was surrounded by ghosts on all sides. There was nowhere to go.
Jennicor knelt in front of me as her husband and grandchildren stopped me from moving.“Oh, my dear,” she said as she reached to touch my face. “Welcome to our world.”
Her hand stopped an inch from my face and she frowned. She reached forward again, but once again her handstopped a mere inch away from me.“Is something wrong, darling?” Jon asked.“Possibly. Would you try to grab her, Jon, Fricorith, Gvaudoin?”
All three of them reached out for me, but just as had happened to Jennicor, they couldn’t touch me. They could getclose, but not actually touch me.“This shouldn’t be possible, should it, Grandmother?” Fricorith asked. “We’ve walked through the living before.”“We have,” Jennicor said. Her eyes narrowed. “Something is stopping us from touching her.”
As they all looked at me and tried to touch me, I realized slowly that they weren’t actually going to be able to hurtme. But what would happen when I moved?I tried, moving my hand as though to touch Jennicor. The inch of untouchable air between us stayed constant andshe was pushed backwards, out of my way.I smiled. “Looks like I’m not joining you yet.”
I quickly started fires at both of the graves, ignoring the ghosts as they began yelling at me. They couldn’t touchme, their words couldn’t hurt me – I didn’t need to fear them anymore.The yelling turned to screams from Jennicor and Jon as they slowly faded from view.
This left me with just Fricorith and Gvaudoin.Gvaudoin’s eyes narrowed. “You. Will. Pay.”I shook my head as I stood up – it was much easier to face them when I was taller than them, rather than kneelingat their feet. “It’s your own actions that brought you to this point. If you weren’t hurting other ghosts, I wouldn’thave looked for ways to destroy your graves.”“And why should we be nice to others? We are better than them.”“You’re stuck up is what you are.”
“How are you keeping yourself protected from us?” Fricorith asked. His voice sounded frustrated. “It shouldn’t bepossible.”“No one has ever been able to protect themselves from us before,” Gvaudoin added smugly. Then she scowled. “Sohow are you doing it?”“…How many people have you killed?” I asked.They both grinned at me. “Who knows?” Fricorith answered.“We’ve never kept track.”
“So…why her? Why that one ghost?” I asked. I had to admit I was curious, and with the knowledge that theteenage ghosts couldn’t do anything to hurt me…well, I indulged that curiosity a bit.“She lived in our house,” Fricorith said.“Threw out our mementoes,” Gvaudoin added.“Ignored our graves.”“Destroyed the remnants of our lives.”“She deserved to die.”“She deserves to be tortured.”
Gvaudoin glared at me. If looks could kill, I would be very very dead. “And so do you.”“How are you protecting yourself?” Fricorith asked again. “No one has ever been able to protect themselves fromGrandmother’s spells.”I shook my head. “I have no idea.”“And how can you see us anyway?” he added. “The living can’t see the dead. When we were dead and our parentsweren’t, we couldn’t communicate with them.”“That’s just me.”
I looked around. The six graves were all gone, leaving just me and the two teenage ghosts – as their graves werelocated at the House of Fallen Trees rather than Gothier Green Lawns.They continued asking me how I was protected, how I could see them, and all that sort of thing. I ignored them.Instead, I walked over to the gate and, having more time and not running in fear for my life, managed to force thelock open. Not having to climb over the fence and the hedge again was a good thing. And then? I left thegraveyard.
I didn’t go far – it was time to take care of the teenagers’ graves.The House of Fallen Trees looked exactly the same as it had both times I’d been there before: empty, old, and run-down.As I entered the gate (it had been locked, but it was easy enough to break), I saw the young woman’s ghost – mostlikely Rainelle Neengia, considering what Gvaudoin and Fricorith had said about her and what I’d learned from myresearch. She was sitting on the front porch, curled up into as tight a space as she could manage, her face buried inher hands, muttering to herself.
I didn’t have time to deal with her at the moment. Instead, I walked around the house, looking for the graves. Ifound them all the way in the back.There were three, and I looked at the names on them. One belonged to Rainelle Neengia, as I’d suspected, and Ileft that one alone. The other two belonged to Fricorith and Gvaudoin Tricou. Those I sprinkled herbs on, then seton fire.
As their parents and grandparents had, they faded from sight and from this plane of existence.
I returned to the front of the house. Rainelle Neengia was still sitting in her ball, muttering to herself. I movedclose enough to hear what she was saying.“Please don’t hurt me. Please don’t hurt me. Please don’t hurt me.”
I sat down next to her. “Don’t worry,” I said quietly, “there’s no one left to hurt you.”Her head jerked to face me. “You came,” she breathed. “I thought I’d imagined you. You looked right at me, likeyou could see me. No one’s been able to see me. And now…now you’re here.”“Yeah, I am.”“But how? And why?”“I can see and hear ghosts. I’ve been able to ever since I became a teen. I…well, I was trying to avoid all of thatwhen I came here, but I couldn’t ignore you. Not entirely. So I did some research and, well, hopefully I’ve sentthem on.”
“Thank you.”“You’re welcome.” I looked around. “So what are you going to do now that you’re free?”A look of wonder grew on her face. “Free,” she said. “I can’t…free. It’s been so long.” She counted on her fingers.“It’s been almost 30 years.”I grinned. “Well, now it’s over.”“It is!” She bounced up and twirled around. “It’s over.”
She hesitantly approached the fence – the fence that had blocked her in all of these years. She stepped forward,hands held out, ready to walk through it.
And then she bumped into it.Her face fell. “Oh no,” she whispered. “I know they did spells to keep me here, but they’re all gone…”I bit my lip. “Let me try.” Obviously, the fence would keep me in, but there was the gate. I opened it, holding itopen for her. “Come out,” I said.
She came to the gate and stepped through.Or, well, she tried to. An invisible wall stopped her from leaving, though I could pass through freely. Her facecrumpled and tears ran down her cheeks. She sank down onto the ground, her back against the fence.
I came back inside and sat down next to her. “I’m sorry,” I said. “Whatever they did must still be there.”She looked at me, her eyes wide. “I’ll be trapped here all alone forever.”“No, no, you – I mean, there’s always the option of destroying your grave. You could move on. Or another ghostcould come, or we’ll find a way to fix it, or there’s people who walk by, or…”“Or what? No one but you and other ghosts can even see me and other ghosts don’t have to stay. They can leave.And how would we fix it when we don’t even know what they did?”I shook my head. “I’m sorry,” I said. I didn’t know what else to say.
We sat in silence as she cried and I tried to think of some way to help.After a while, once her crying had slowed, I turned to her. “I’m sorry I couldn’t do more. I’m Roxanna, by the way.Roxanna Doran.”“Rainelle Neengia. I…thanks for trying.”“You’re welcome,” I said automatically.
Suddenly, she turned to me. “You could stay.”“What?”“You could stay! You could move in here and keep me company.”“But I’m not dead,” I said weakly.“But you can hear me and speak to me and I won’t be alone!”
“And how would I move in here? I’m barely affording my rent as it is, there’s no way I could buy a place like this.And on top of that, what if I don’t want to live here?”Her face fell. “I just…I thought…I mean–” She cut herself off. “I’m sorry.”
I stood up. “Look, I – I’ll come visit, okay? We can talk every once in a while. But give me some time to thinkabout all of this.”“Okay. I’ll see you soon?”She looked so pathetic that I nodded. “Soon.”“Do you promise?”I hesitated. “Yes.” ***
Luck was not at all on my side when it came to avoiding people that night.It was just after three by the time I got home…which meant that Marcus was dropping Lisa back at home on theirway back from work. Even though they weren’t dating anymore, our house was only one street out of the way fromthe gas station to his apartment, and he was chivalrous enough to make sure Lisa got home safely before goinghome himself.
I sighed when they noticed me. “Um, hi, guys.”They exchanged a glance. “Didn’t you have the night off?” Marcus asked. I nodded. “What were you doing out thislate?”I nervously tucked some hair behind my ear and Lisa shook her head. “You went to visit those stupid ghosts again,didn’t you?” She sighed. “What happened this time?”
“Um–” I said, then paused.They both looked at me expectantly.“I may have possibly destroyed the ghosts except for the young woman and tried to set her free?”“Tried?” Marcus asked.“The Tricous must have done some sort of magic on the fence and the gate. She’s not able to leave the property.But at least she’s not being tortured anymore.”
“What were you thinking?” Marcus asked. “You could have been killed! They could have hurt you!”“They tried. It didn’t work.”“But did you know it wouldn’t work before you went?”“Um…”“You didn’t. You went out there, with no protection, not even another person, and you killed those ghostscompletely on your own. There were eight of them and one of you! And how did you know the last one would befriendly?”
I crossed my arms. “Well excuse me for thinking I know quite a bit about ghosts! I did research. I knew what Iwas doing.”Marcus’s voice shook. “You could have been killed, Roxanna. We could have lost you.”“But I’m fine.”“But you might not have been. I don’t – Roxanna – if, I mean…” He shook his head. “I could have lost you.”I looked up at Marcus, confused. Why was he so upset about this? Being able to see the dead was my burden tobear, and there was nothing anyone could do to take that away from me, even if I wanted them to, which I didn’tknow if I did or not.
Lisa rolled her eyes. “What the idiot male here is trying to say is that he loves you, or at least likes you, and thethought of losing you filled him with horror. Which, by the way, he’s right about. Going after the ghosts alone was astupid idea, Roxanna. You couldn’t even call for help if anything happened.”As I looked at Lisa, I realized that her hands were shaking. She’d been scared too.“I’m sorry,” I said quietly.
“Don’t you dare do that again,” Marcus whispered. He hugged me tight, clinging to me, and I clung back. “Don’t bestupid and do things on your own.”“I won’t. Okay? I won’t. I promise.” I touched his face lightly, to reassure him, and he leaned down towards me.
We broke apart a few seconds later. I blinked a few times, my mouth open.“Whoa,” Marcus said.Suddenly, there was applause to my right, and we both looked over in unison. Lisa was grinning and clapping at us.“It’s about time!”Marcus rolled his eyes. “Oh, shut up.”She grinned even wider. “No way in hell.”
I looked back at Marcus, who was still hugging me. “Are we good?” I asked.“We’re good,” he said. “Don’t make me worry like that again.”“I’ll do my best.” ***
After that, Marcus formally asked me out and we started dating – without Lisa as a semi-chaperone, as she’d beenbefore. We still spent time with her, of course, as she was Marcus’s best friend and probably my closest friend, butwe also spent time alone, just the two of us.
Kathy was very excited when I told her that Marcus and I were now dating, to the point that she dragged me out toCold Issue Clothing to update my wardrobe.Her suggestions of appropriate lingerie to wear to bed were a bit premature. We’d barely started dating, let alonesleeping together.We’d actually decided to wait a bit before taking that step – his relationship with Lisa had been all about the woohoo,without much of anything else other than friendship, and he didn’t want ours to turn into the same thing. As for me,well, I’d never slept with anyone before. Going slow was probably a good idea.
Shelly didn’t seem to have much to say about me and Marcus, which was refreshing after Kathy’s exuberance.In fact, she didn’t seem to have much to say about anything, though she did look at my new bracelet a bit oddlywhen we talked the day after I’d destroyed the Tricou ghosts.
Speaking of that bracelet, Jean, Helen, and Terri continued to be a bit…elusive.Every time I tried to ask about it, whoever I was asking just smiled and steered the conversation in a differentdirection. It was frustrating.And I still couldn’t get it to come off.
“So what are you thinking about?” Marcus asked me one night when we were out to dinner, after we’d been datingfor a couple of weeks.“What?” I looked up from my plate. “Sorry, I was lost in thought.”He smiled. “I noticed. What thoughts were you lost in?”
I sighed. “What do you think?”“The ghosts again?”“The ghosts again.”“What about them this time?”
“I promised Rainelle – the one who’s still, well, sort of alive – that I would visit.”“You promised me that you wouldn’t go and do something stupid on your own.”“I know. And I meant it. But I promised her too.”
Marcus put his hand on mine. “This is important to you.”I nodded. “I – maybe I wouldn’t feel so bad if she were free. But as it is, I’m the only one who knows she’s trappedthere. At least, the only one who knows and who she can also talk to. I can’t imagine being locked in one place forthirty years, being tortured for those thirty years, and then, when you finally think you’re free, still being trappedthere. I can’t just abandon her, Marcus. I can’t.”
“If it’s that important, why haven’t you done anything about it yet?”“Because I promised you that I wouldn’t, and you’re important to me too.”He took a deep breath. “Okay.”“Okay?”“You – I still don’t want you going on your own. You need to be able to call for help, Roxanna.” I nodded. “But…I’llgo with you. That way, you can talk to her and I can make sure you’re safe.”
I smiled, slightly tearfully. “Thank you.” ***
We ended up going to the House of Fallen Trees late that same night, after we’d eaten dinner and gone dancing.As I opened the gate, a figure came bounding through the doors. “You came! I didn’t believe you’d actually come!”“I did promise.”She shrugged sadly. “Yeah. But…I didn’t really expect you to actually keep it.”
We all stood there rather awkwardly.“So, who’s he?” Rainelle asked eventually, finally breaking the silence.“This is Marcus. He’s my boyfriend. He can’t see or hear you.”He looked at me. “This is a very strange conversation, you know. It looks like you’re talking to thin air orsomething.”“I’m used to it. I used to get the weird looks from my siblings and parents all the time, once I realized that theghosts I was talking to were actually real and not just figments of my imagination.”
“Well, I can hear him just fine!” Rainelle said. “Come inside, sit down, we can talk somewhere where it’s notfreezing.”She was right about it being cold. Viper Canyon, where I’d grown up, was in the middle of a desert. It didn’t getcold there. When I’d moved to Sim City, it had been somewhat warm and had gotten warmer, but over the past twoweeks I’d noticed a slight chill in the air, especially at night. I didn’t mind much; it let me snuggle into Marcus whenwe were out together.“Can you actually feel the cold?” I asked, curious.“Not really. But the wind is noisy, and you’ve got goosebumps. I want you to be comfortable. Come inside.”
Rainelle walked into the house, once again going through the door, and I turned to Marcus. “Want to go inside?” Iasked. He looked around nervously, but he agreed.I had to break the lock so that we could get in. Unlike Rainelle, we couldn’t walk through the door or the walls.
The house…well, it looked as abandoned on the inside as it had on the outside. There was furniture, but it had falleninto disrepair over the last 30 years, and the lights had either broken or run out, or maybe the electricity had beenturned off. It also wasn’t much warmer inside than outside (the heat not having been turned on for those same 30years will do that), but at least there wasn’t any wind.Marcus and I sat awkwardly on the sofa while Rainelle took the loveseat.I still didn’t understand how ghosts could sit down – floors, stairs, furniture they sat on, all that sort of thing wassolid to them – but still be able to walk through walls and not be able to move other objects. Maybe they expectedthe floor to be solid, so it was? I’d never seen a ghost sink into the earth, anyway, though I suspected they could ifthey wanted to.
Rainelle and I talked for a while while Marcus watched both me and the door. It must have been weird for him, toonly be hearing half the conversation, but he seemed to be okay.“Have you thought more about moving in here?” Rainelle finally asked an hour or so later.“…No. I haven’t.”“Please?”
I bit my lip. Marcus looked at me, his eyes clearly asking what was wrong, though this time he didn’t say it out loud.“Rainelle wants me to move in here.”He raised his eyebrows. “How?”I shrugged. “I don’t know. It’s not like I could buy this place. I definitely don’t have the money for that.”
“My will!” Rainelle bounced up.“What?”“I made a will right before I died. I didn’t believe in ghosts at that point, right? But I had that feeling of somethingwalking over your grave, only not literally, because now people have walked over my grave, and it’s not quite thesame. So I made a will.”“But the Times said your will was never found.”She shook her head. “I think it fell from where I’d put it before I got killed.”
“And where was that?”“On the fireplace ledge in my bedroom. We can check if it’s still there!”“But what good would your will do? You couldn’t have left the house to me. I wasn’t even born when you died.”
She deflated. “Oh. I hadn’t thought of that.”
Marcus looked between me and Rainelle – or, where he seemed to assume Rainelle was, since he couldn’t actuallysee her. “Rainelle, would you mind if I talked privately with Roxanna for a moment?”She shrugged. “Okay.” Then she disappeared into another room.I turned to Marcus. “She’s gone. What did you want to talk about?”“Do you actually want to move in here? She’s clearly fixated on you as the solution to her problems, and she wantsthe company. But what do you want?”
I shook my head. “I don’t know. I like her, and it seems to be a very nice house – at least, now that there aren’tangry ghosts looking to kill anyone who lives here. I do like my room at Jean’s, but…”“But?”“Jean and Helen and Terri have been freaking me out for a few weeks now. I don’t know what’s going on with them,but they keep asking me weird questions and then not answering the questions I ask them. If I could afford aplace…yeah, it would be nice to move out. Whether I want to move in here is a different issue, but I don’t think Icould afford a place to myself, at least not a nice place, even with actually having a job.”
“Well, you have a few options. Move in here, if you can find a way to make the will problem work, stay where youare, or move out to a smaller place by yourself.”I noticed that Marcus didn’t invite me to move in with him. I wouldn’t have accepted even if he’d offered. I wasn’tready for that stage in a relationship yet, and we both knew it.“Why don’t we look around and look at the will, if she can find it?” I suggested. He nodded. “Rainelle?” I called.She promptly popped back into the room. “Will you show us around?”“Of course!”
We walked through the house, looking around. It had all fallen into disrepair, but it was nothing that couldn’t befixed with a lot of cleaning and a few small repairs (and some new lights). There were four bedrooms, one of whichhad been Rainelle’s, four bathrooms, a kitchen, an empty room which didn’t seem to have any specific purpose, andthe living room. There were also a few nice balconies and some open hallways.By the time we finished the tour (in Rainelle’s bedroom), I was already imagining what I would do with the house.
“Where was the will?” I asked Rainelle.She gestured to the fireplace. “I’d left it on the mantle. I think it fell, though.”Marcus and I both looked around, while Rainelle stuck her head into the fireplace to try and find it. I was the one tofind it, though, where it had fallen in a small gap between the fireplace and the wall. Marcus and I managed to fishit out.Then we took it downstairs to read it in the living room.
As wills went, it was fairly straightforward – I can’t pretend to understand legalese, but I actually understood most ofthis. It had been signed and witnessed, and left all of Rainelle’s worldly possessions to an animal shelter.When I asked her about that, she shrugged. “I didn’t have any family or anyone else to leave it to, so I figuredanimals can always use help. But…I’d rather you have it, now.”I frowned. “There are two problems with this. First off, you’ve already left everything to someone. Second, even ifyou hadn’t, I wasn’t born when this was written.”
“Hand me that?” I passed it over to Marcus. He flipped through the pages. “I hate to suggest it, but this could beeasily changed.”“How?”“See how all the signatures are on the second page?” I nodded. “The beneficiary is on the first page. We just typeup a new copy of the first page with your name listed there and hand over that and the real second page. And Idoubt anyone would dispute this. The law firm listed here doesn’t exist anymore – I think it closed about ten yearsago due to some embezzlement issues. That still doesn’t take care of the not being born issue, though.”“…Actually, I have an idea for that,” I said slowly. “My mothers left Viper Canyon soon after I did, or at least theywere planning to. We make one of them the recipient, and when it’s proven that they’re no longer there, I can claimeverything as their daughter.”
“So you’re willing to move in here?” Rainelle asked hopefully.I nodded slowly. “Yeah. Yeah, I am. It’s going to take some time to get it all worked out, though.”She grinned. “I can deal with time. I’ve got plenty of that.” ***
And so that’s how I ended up forging a will. I wouldn’t have done it if I hadn’t had Rainelle’s permission, as it wasstill technically her house – but she was there, and more than willing to change the beneficiary to me – she simplycouldn’t do so due to being dead.Unsurprisingly, it took a while to go through. They had to prove that the signatures were valid, that my mother wasmissing, that I was her daughter and therefore entitled to the property.
Not a whole lot happened during the month we waited for everything to go through.I continued to work at Londoste, I hung out with both Kathy and Lisa, and Marcus and I dated more. We still didn’tstay overnight at each other’s houses, but I did invite him into my room for some more thorough kisses a couple oftimes.
Finally, at the end of the month, I got the okay to move into the House of Fallen Trees. Rainelle, unsurprisingly, wasabsolutely ecstatic.
I said goodbye to everyone before I moved – I had the night off and planned to spend it getting settled in my newhouse.Kathy hugged me, told me that I’d better answer my phone and she would see me at work the next night, thendashed off as she was already running late.Lisa shook her head, saying “I still can’t believe you’re moving in with the ghost,” then went to get ready for work.Shelly simply waved at me, while Jean, Helen, and Terri watched me with sad eyes and told me they’d miss me.
So I left 34 King Street and carried my suitcase to the House of Fallen Trees. I didn’t have much stuff – I’d come toSim City with the clothes on my back and not a whole lot more, and while I’d acquired a few more outfits, as well asa few decorations for my room, it wasn’t enough to fill more than one suitcase.I arrived at the house to a very excited Rainelle, who was happily bouncing through the walls with joy. “I’m so gladyou’re moving in here! I’ll finally have someone to talk to, and, and, just, hang out and be friends and someonewho’s not torturing me!”I shook my head and laughed. “Let’s get my stuff upstairs, okay?”“Okay!”
I dragged my suitcase upstairs and dropped it in my new bedroom – the one that used to be Rainelle’s. It was themaster bedroom, and the one with the fewest things that needed fixing (though I did have plans to paint it as soonas I could find the time).I was a bit uncomfortable at sleeping in Rainelle’s bed, so one of the few things I’d bought (and had delivered thismorning) was a new one. Hers went into storage upstairs.As I unpacked, I realized I still had my keys from my old room. I needed to return those to Jean.
So I headed back to 34 King Street with my keys.When I entered I could hear voices in the dining room, which meant it was most likely Jean, Helen, and Terri –everyone else had work, so they were either already gone or still getting ready.
I was surprised to see four people in the dining room instead of three – Jean, Helen, and Terri had always been veryinsular, preferring to spend time as a group of three, or with everyone in the house as a larger group. They didn’toften bring in outsiders.But this person was one I didn’t recognize. She was dressed similarly to Jean, Helen, and Terri, but her skin…
“The answer is no,” Jean said firmly.“So you won’t help me?”“No, Barbara. Most definitely not.” Helen shook her head and Terri glared at the new woman with crossed arms.
I cleared my throat. All four women immediately turned to face me. Jean, Helen, and Terri suddenly lookedworried, while the new woman looked intrigued, which, when combined with the fact that she was a zombie…well,that scared me a little. My only experience with zombies before was the night that Astraea died, and I couldn’t helpbut flash back to that moment.“Um, I realized I forgot to return my keys, so I brought them back,” I said to Jean.She stood up and came over to me, holding out her hand for the keys. I handed them to her. “Thank you, dear.Now, we’re in the middle of an important discussion, so if you wouldn’t mind leaving, I’d appreciate it.”“Uh, sure. Have a good evening.”
As I left, I noticed the new woman looking at me with a calculating look. I shuddered. ***
Life didn’t change much after I moved to the House of Fallen Trees.I continued to work at Londoste as a bartender and an occasional substitute when multiple people needed the sameday off.
I got dragged out by Kathy and her friends for yet another karaoke night, this time at FM in a private room.I still didn’t get up and sing, but this time I actually stayed to watch.It’s not that I couldn’t sing – grow up with my mother and there’s no way you’ll avoid music lessons – it’s that Ididn’t enjoy singing in front of anyone who I wasn’t very close to. And while Kathy might have qualified, the rest ofher friends certainly didn’t.
I went to the spa with Lisa, which was a lot of fun.It was nice spending some time with just her, which I hadn’t done so much since I’d started dating Marcus. A girls’day out was just the thing.
And, speaking of Marcus, we continued to get closer. We went on dates whenever we could, which, with our workschedules, often ended up being during the day before we had to be at work.We visited the art museum, the parks, various restaurants, and a few of the clubs, and we always had a good time.
I even invited him to sleep over a few times – not for woohoo, but just to sleep together.Sharing a bed with him was slightly odd, but good, and I loved to kiss him right before falling asleep.
In fact, the most difficult part of that time was convincing Rainelle that I needed time apart from her.I think she was so starved for any affection at all that, now that she’d found me, she wasn’t willing to let go. Andwhile I was happy to spend time with her, I also needed time to myself, and time with my other friends – and timeat my job.When I was out of the house, it was fine, but when I was in the house, it sometimes got a bit problematic, and don’teven ask about how difficult it sometimes was to leave the house.
Eventually, we settled into a happy medium, where I spent a couple of hours with Rainelle every day – sometimesdoing something together, sometimes talking, sometimes just being in the same room. The rest of the time, I couldrequest privacy if I needed it, and if I had friends over, she left me alone.Marcus never stopped asking if she was in the room before kissing me, though. ***
“Ugh…”“Roxanna!”I rolled over and slapped at the person waking me. I didn’t connect.Not surprising, as Rainelle was a ghost.“ROXANNA!” she yelled again.“Huh, what?”
“Roxanna, you need to get up!”I finally managed to open my eyes enough to look at the clock on my bedside table. 6 am. “This had better beimportant,” I grumbled. “I only went to bed four hours ago.”She shifted nervously from foot to foot. “It is. It really really is.”
I groaned as I managed to force myself to sit up and rubbed my eyes. “What’s so important?”Rainelle twisted her hands. “There’s something in the garage. It’s something wrong.”“What do you mean, wrong? Like a rabid raccoon or something?”She shook her head. “No. Not an animal. I don’t know what it is, but it feels wrong. I was wandering aroundoutside and I went to the garage and I felt it before I went in so I came here and woke you up.”“You didn’t check out what it was? It’s not like most things can see you.”She shuddered. “No. It…it felt too scary.”
“Alright, fine. I’ll check it out. Just let me put on a robe, okay?”“Okay.”I threw on my bathrobe and rubbed my face, trying to force myself more awake. I couldn’t deal with whatever wasscaring Rainelle so badly if I was still half asleep.
I went down the stairs and out the front door (locking it behind me), then over to the garage. Rainelle followed menervously.I wasn’t sure what I expected to find, but whatever I was expecting…well, what I found wasn’t it.
Marcus was lying curled up on the floor of my garage.“Rainelle!” I said. “It’s just Marcus.” Then I looked down again. “…Though what he’s doing lying on the floor of mygarage, I have no idea. Didn’t you have work last night? I know we weren’t getting together until tonight.”
Rainelle shook her head and backed away. “He’s wrong.”“How is he wrong? He’s Marcus.” I looked at him again. It was hard to see in the not-well-lit garage, butsomething did seem off. “What happened?” I asked him.When he sat up, I realized what was wrong. His skin was paler than normal and his eyes were red.“What happened?” I asked again.
He leaned against the wall and shook his head. “I don’t…it’s all a little hazy. I was out with the guys after workended, we went to Crypt O’ Night Club. I had a couple of drinks and I think I was talking to a vampire. She…she bitme?” He reached up and touched his neck. “She bit me.”“She turned you into a vampire,” I said.“What? No, no, she couldn’t have…”“Look at your skin, Marcus. Your eyes are red. She turned you into a vampire.”He looked at himself, then put his head in his hands. “Fuck.”
“How did you end up here?” I coaxed, sitting down next to him. “After that, I mean.”He concentrated on trying to remember. “After she bit me…I was somewhere else. It was weird, and empty. Veryempty. I walked for a long time. It felt like forever, though it can’t have been.” As he spoke, it seemed to getclearer in his mind, because his words were getting firmer. “After I walked, I finally found the Reaper. He touchedme, and suddenly I was back in the club. The vampire, she told me to come to Crypt O’ Night Club again the nextnight and she’d tell me more. Then I stumbled away, I think. And…and I knew the sun was coming. I found theclosest place I knew would be safe and I ended up in your garage.”I smiled. “I’m glad you picked here.”
“I’m not.”I looked up at Rainelle and rolled my eyes. “He’s a vampire. It happens. He’s not wrong.”“Yes he is.”“No he’s not.”She shook her head. “Yes he is. It’s probably the vampire thing, but he feels…he feels broken. Like he’s not allthere. It’s terrifying.” Her voice trembled.
“What did she say?” Marcus asked. I repeated her words. “Guess that kills my chances of ever moving in with you,huh?”“It’s not up to Rainelle. I don’t find you terrifying.”He smiled sadly. “This is her house too, not just yours. I wouldn’t move in if she wasn’t comfortable.” His lipstwisted. “Not that we’ve even discussed that as a possibility.”He was right. We hadn’t. And now…now we never would.
“I’m not making you leave. Maybe you won’t live here, but I’m not making you leave.”“Thanks.”“Besides…the sun’s almost up. Can you be outside in the sun?”He shook his head. “I think it would burn. There’s a visceral fear of the sun that I never had before, but now I do.”I looked around. “This is no place to spend the next twelve hours. Come into the house.”Rainelle glared at me, half horrified, half angry. I glared back. He was my boyfriend, and vampire or not, he wasalways welcome in my house.
She wordlessly backed down, and I stood up, holding out my hand to Marcus. “Come on.”We left the garage and walked back to the house. The sun came over the horizon right as we reached the frontdoor, and Marcus jerked. “It does burn,” he said.I hastily unlocked the door and let him in, then closed it behind us. Rainelle came through the wall, fully angry now.
“Don’t say it,” I said.“What?” Marcus asked.“Not you. Rainelle.”“Oh.”Rainelle looked at me, then at him. “If I could leave, I would be gone right now, Roxanna. There is somethingbroken about vampires, and he just feels wrong to me. You can’t torture me again by letting him live here, lettinghim be here every day all day.” She had tears in her eyes by the end of her speech. “I can’t deal with that. Ican’t.”
I nodded slowly. “Okay. He won’t live here. I promise. But he needs to stay here today, because he’ll burn up ifhe’s outside. And he’ll visit some nights, but I’ll go to his apartment sometimes too, okay?”Rainelle bit her lip. “Okay.” Then she looked at Marcus. “If he’s going to be here all day, I am going to beelsewhere.” Then she walked to the back of the house and vanished through the wall, undoubtedly getting as far asshe could from the house within the limits of where she could go.“She’s gone,” I said quietly.“You made a deal?”“Yeah. If she could leave…well, I’d have pushed more. But she can’t, and she pointed out that I didn’t want totorture her. She’s right about that.”
Marcus nodded. “Of course you don’t. You’re too good a person for that.” He sighed. “I don’t want to torture hereither, but the sun’s too high for me to leave now. And I don’t want to abandon you. I love you, Roxanna.”My breath caught. It was the first time he’d told me that. “I love you too, Marcus. We’ll work this out. We will.”“I hope so.”
I caught his hand. “Come to bed.”“To bed?”“To bed. Not just to sleep.”“You’re ready?”“I’m ready.”
I closed the curtains in my bedroom so that Marcus could safely come in. Then we went to bed.
We slept when we were done, and when we woke up, it was midafternoon. We didn’t leave the bed except for thenecessities.But as sunset fell, Marcus stood up. “I have to go,” he said.“But why? We both have the night off.”He shook his head. “I can feel her – the vampire who bit me. She told me to meet her at Crypt O’ Night Clubtonight. I think I have to go.”
I came over to him. “I don’t want to lose you.”“You won’t. I swear you won’t. We’ll figure this out.”I nodded. “Okay. I trust you.”I leaned up and kissed him.
Then he got dressed and left.I sat down on the bed, head in my hands.
Rainelle came up the stairs a bit later. “Is he gone? He feels gone.”“Yeah. He’s gone.”She stood awkwardly in front of me. “I’m sorry. I don’t want to hurt you. But I can’t help my reaction.”“I know. I’m sorry I’m hurting you by having him here.”She bit her lip. “We’ll compromise. What you suggested, him being here some nights and you not being hereothers. We can work it.”I nodded. “We can.” ***
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