Authors: Audrey Claire
Tags: #Mystery: Paranormal - North Carolina
I first searched the park grounds for Monica and asked her to keep an eye out for Jake while I took a break. My best friend knew of my body challenges and supported me, although initially she had been worried about Jake’s care with a mother who couldn’t maintain her form for more than a minute. Monica had given me a week to figure out a solution, and together we looked after Jake. When the seven days passed, Monica didn’t say anything. I think she knew sending my son to live with his dad was not the best for Jake, and we would do all in our power to make the current situation work while continuing to look for the truth of what happened to my body. Even so, my time was running out. As Ian said, I might be tethered to life now, but the same couldn’t be said for tomorrow or the day after that. At any time, I could become a true ghost. I had to find my body one way or another.
I jogged past the port-a-potties toward Main Street, and a nostalgic feeling came over me. I missed exercising. Before I lost my body, I used to keep in shape by jogging in the evenings. The burn in my muscles, the winded sensation, and most of all the ability to zone out and let life and its problems pass by me. While I worked my body, I recharged my mind and let go of stress. Now, as a ghost, I could probably run for hours without getting tired, as long as I didn’t run out of the energy I lived off of in this form, energy I absorbed from living beings.
One of the good things about being a ghost is I could will myself wherever I wanted to be. If I stood in the park, I could will myself into the hardware store where I now worked, and I would be there in an instant. If I wanted to be home, no time would pass to arrive there. I did not understand the science behind this if there was any, but I didn’t need to understand in order to enjoy it. However, to keep up appearances, I stayed solid and traveled to the hardware store the old fashioned way.
When I stepped onto the sidewalk on the opposite side of the street, I paused and looked to my right then to my left. I did not carry objects on my person, such as keys. If anything ever happened and I winked out, I could lose the keys. Better not to risk it. I had hidden the keys to the hardware store in the dirt of a heavy potted plant in front of the store.
No one appeared to be headed my way from the right. When I glanced to the left, I paused, frowning. Sadie stood a half block down the road talking to Ken, the teenager who had worked for a short period as dispatcher at the police station. Clark had fired him for passing sensitive information to Sadie of all people.
The older woman waggled a finger at Ken, and he frowned. Even from a distance, I saw a stubborn set to his shoulders, and he turned his head as if ignoring what she said. Sadie reached out to grab his chin and force him to look at her. Were they related? I realized I didn’t know Ken’s last name, but of course he must have family in Summit’s Edge. Teenagers occasionally came to town to stay with relatives and work part-time jobs during the summer. Ken was one, but being caught up with my own issues, I hadn’t been listening to the local gossip to learn his situation.
I dismissed the two from mind and let myself into the shop. Sighing, I dropped the keys on the counter and let go of my solid form. My clothes thudded onto the floor.
“Oh, I forgot about that part,” I murmured, looking at them, and chuckled. The complications of being a ghost.
I spent several minutes just hovering in the shop, recalling the past two weeks then pushing it away. My energy wasn’t lacking with a park full of living people, but my concentration wasn’t always there. Sometimes, I needed to do nothing except exist. Unfortunately, even that came with its challenges. Every now and then, I drifted so much, I felt myself in danger of disappearing completely. During those times, I had heard Ian’s voice calling me. I don’t know much about the special bond we share, but I know it’s real. I guessed it had to do with Ian drinking my blood before I separated from my body. He didn’t like talking about himself, and what I did know, I had had to pry from him. Still, I knew little about myself and less about him.
Ian intrigued me. I didn’t know if I was attracted to him or depended on him because he understood where no one else did, and it made me feel less alone in the universe.
“Okay, Libby, getting maudlin. Snap out of it, and go back.”
I solidified, donned my clothing, and left the hardware store. After I locked up, I returned to the park and took the more scenic route along a line of booths back to Clark.
“Libby,” Sylvia Campbell shouted, “come and sample my pie. I know it’s a success if you say so.”
I froze. Sylvia Campbell was my ex-boss, principal at the elementary school where I used to work before I was forced to take a less stressful position that also didn’t include sapping energy from little ones to continue my existence. The problem right now was that no matter what I had learned over the last two weeks, I still couldn’t eat. Clothing pooling on the ground was not the same as…
Ew, not thinking of that, Libby Grace!
“Sylvia,” I chirped, turning toward her booth. “I haven’t seen you for a while. How are you?”
We chitchatted a little, but she insistently held out a small paper plate with a slice of pie on it. I resisted as long as I could and then had to take it as I saw offense and hurt come into her expression.
“It looks delicious,” I said, cutting a tiny piece with the plastic fork she had also handed to me.
“Doesn’t it? I’m sure your mama would agree it’s almost as good as hers.” Sylvia grinned and laid a humble hand across her chest. “I could never attain her level, of course, and I would never try to claim it with her gone from this world.”
I poo-pooed this notion and raised the fork to my mouth. The sliver of pie on the fork could hardly be classified as a taste, but Sylvia didn’t complain since a customer distracted her from watching me. While she was turned away, I mashed the bite across the plate and cut a bigger piece. A quick glance showed no one watching, and I flipped it into a napkin. I had become adept at appearing normal living with Jake and wanting to keep my secret from him.
“Mm, this is really good, Sylvia. I’m sorry, but I think Mama is weeping with jealousy in heaven.”
Sylvia colored with pleasure and thanked me before clumping two more slices onto my plate. I thanked her in kind and turned away as other patrons scrambled for the pie. I had thoughts of where to dispose of the dessert unseen and ran smack into Sadie Barnett.
“Who weeps in heaven?” she grumbled in disgust.
“You’ll never know, will you?” Monica said, walking up, and I gasped.
My friend nabbed the plate from my hands and started eating. Leave it to Monica to never bite her tongue. Some days I loved that woman more, and today was one of them. Monica never failed to be there for me, and I could kiss her for saving me from the pie.
“This is good, though,” she said, savoring the last piece.
Sadie sneered at Monica. “Libby isn’t fooling anyone. She’s not eating at all. What kind of diet are you on?” Her gaze raked me from head to toe. “I don’t think it’s working very well, dear.”
I put my hands on my hips. “Do you think because you’re older you can say anything, Sadie? You’re rude, and I’ll thank you to stay out of my business. My eating habits have nothing to do with you.”
A small crowd began to form around us. This was what Sadie wanted. She liked being the center of attention, but I was relieved when she turned the subject of our argument to the past.
“I haven’t forgotten what your mother did to me twenty years ago,” Sadie said.
I stared at her in disbelief. How could a person carry a grudge for their own wrongdoing? “My mother did nothing to you except enter a contest and win.”
“I was humiliated!”
“That’s not my problem, Sadie. Nor was it Mama’s. I will not rehash the past with you for the millionth time.”
“You’re all the same, you Graces. Deceivers!”
A cold chill raced over my spine. I was not trying to deceive anyone, and my mother was a simple woman living a quiet and happy life in our small town. She loved to cook and make people happy. I resented this woman, who had never been able to get enough attention, for throwing aspersions on my mother’s character.
“You take that back, Sadie Barnett,” I forced between gritted teeth. “You can say anything you want about me. I don’t care. You will not speak ill of my mama.”
“That’s not right,” someone else said in the crowd. “God rest that sweet woman’s soul. Not right at all, Sadie.”
Like a teapot boiling to eruption, the blood ran below Sadie’s neckline to her throat, across her face, and up into her hair. Her pale gaze darted about as if she searched for a friendly face among the crowd. Then she flung back spindly shoulders and raised her chin to scowl at me. A slow smile spread over her face. “I don’t have time for
, Libby. I have bigger fish.”
With those words, Sadie pushed through the crowd and disappeared. One of the women in the group shook her head with an expression of pity on her face. I recognized her as being a member of the Ladies in Summit’s Relief Association, an organization Mama dragged me into briefly as a child. “Sadie has been running behind the mayor all morning. I doubt Olivia will give her a moment of her time. She’s too busy making sure all the vendors are following the rules and the more influential of our tourists are happy.”
“Of course,” another said. “That won’t stop Sadie.”
I knew as well nothing would stop the woman. Leaving the others where they stood gossiping, I headed back to Clark. I had already kept him waiting long enough. At the end of this date, I wanted him to feel he had a good time with me at the very least. I wasn’t so sure I would accept another one, especially if it meant we would be alone. He had attempted to touch my face, and the prospect had both excited and unnerved me. I hadn’t been touched in any capacity by a man in a very long time, but it could not happen now.
“Clark, I’m sorry I kept you waiting,” I said and sat down. The welcome in his expression warmed me.
“You’re worth waiting for.”
I blushed like a schoolgirl. “Thanks. Let me fix you another plate.”
“No, it’s fine. You haven’t eaten anything. This time I’ll serve you.”
I almost groaned but let him fix a small plate anyway. One on one, I had plenty of tricks and used them with ease to keep him distracted while the food on my plate disappeared. We strolled side-by-side among the booths and played a couple games. I came to the conclusion I couldn’t hold my concentration and shoot a toy rifle at a target, but I could toss a ring around a jar better than Clark. To his credit, his male ego did not begrudge me winning the bigger stuffed animal, but I did make him carry both.
When I judged another break was in order, I excused myself from Clark again. I knew he was beginning to think I had bladder issues, or worse, but I tried not to let such thoughts get to me. If I dwelled on it, embarrassment would send me running for the safety of my home, and I might never leave it again.
Inside the shop, I hovered near the ceiling, listening to the festivities going on in Summit’s Edge. The high school band boomed an enthusiastic if a tad off key tune, and someone announced relay races. I hummed to myself, taking a visual inventory of the store from above. The discovery that I could float came to me a couple days ago, and I suspected I might even be able to fly. How weird was that? A flying ghost. I dared not check it out because I feared floating higher and higher until I left the atmosphere and ended up in space. I had no idea if my fears were justified or more of my unfounded paranoia. I already had a healthy fear of the dark since losing my body, especially since Ian had informed me there was such a being as Death, and he came to claim the dead.
After I had determined enough time had passed, and I still had lots to do to get the hardware store in order, I materialized on my feet and dressed. I put thoughts of the still chaotic shop records out of my head and started across the street to the park. For some reason, once again, I didn’t go straight back to Clark. I instead cut through a narrow row of cars, trucks, and RVs. Fewer people were over this side, except for the occasional giggling teenager, in the back of said vehicles. I had a mind to rouse them but decided against it. Something else drew me this way, but I couldn’t put my finger on what.
I rounded an RV that looked like it had seen better days, and a cold chill raced up and down my spine. This sensation would have been normal to anyone else, except as I’ve said, I never felt anything physical. The only person who gave off somewhat of a physical vibe to me was Ian, and I assumed it was because he wasn’t human. The only other time since losing my body I’d felt anything was when I had had possessed Clark. This “new” experience had me on edge. I imagined my heart beat racing and my throat dry if either could in this state. Licking my lips from nervous habit, I crept across the back of the RV and dreaded arriving on the other side. I wanted to turn back the way I came and find Clark, to pretend this foreboding was a figment of my imagination.
My feet continued forward against my will. Overhead, the sun shined brightly. Festival-goers laughed nearby. Yet, the area surrounding me seemed to close in. Shadows stretched close with menace, and in my fear I could almost see Death approach. Something
around the corner. I stopped cold, frozen to the spot. I took one step backward, and the dirt and rocks made no
beneath my feet. I swallowed, but silence reigned. Seconds passed, and then the heaviness lifted, and I was free. I strode forward and passed around to the side of the RV. That’s when I saw her, crumpled on the ground. I didn’t need to check her pulse to know Sadie Barnett was dead.
Human compassion drove me foreword to see if there was anything I could do. I dropped to my knees and took Sadie’s hand. Warmth permeated it, but it hung limp in my own, making me want to let go and put distance between us.