“I thought you should know what you’re dealing with.”
“What? Some bratty girl throwing a hissy fit in the kitchen?” I narrow my eyes. “You were trying to scare me off. That sad little display was supposed to send me running for the hills.”
“Sad little display?” she mocks me. “I bet you almost wet yourself.”
I open my mouth and quickly shut it. She almost made me laugh, and I’d still like to be pissed. Only not literally. Oh crap. I’m laughing.
Anna blinks and smiles, fleetingly. She’s trying not to laugh herself.
“I was…” She pauses. “I was angry with you.”
“For what?” I ask.
“For trying to kill me,” she says, and then we both do laugh.
“And after you tried so hard to not kill me.” I smile. “I guess it must’ve seemed pretty rude.” I’m laughing with her. We’re having a conversation. What is this, some kind of twisted Stockholm syndrome?
“Why are you here? Did you come to try to kill me again?”
“Oddly enough, no. I—I had a bad dream. I needed to talk to someone.” I ruffle my hand through my hair. It’s been ages since I’ve felt so awkward. Maybe I’ve never felt this awkward. “And I guess I just figured, well, Anna must be up. So here I am.”
She snorts a little. Then her brow furrows. “What could I say to you? What could we talk about? I’ve been out of the world for so long.”
I shrug. The next words leave my mouth before I know what’s happening. “Well, I was never really in the world in the first place, so.” I clench my jaw and look down at the floor. I can’t believe I’m being so emo. I’m complaining to a girl who was brutally murdered at sixteen. She’s trapped in this house of corpses and I get to go to school and be a Trojan; I get to eat my mom’s grilled peanut butter and Cheez Whiz sandwiches and—
“You walk with the dead,” she says gently. Her eyes are luminous and—I can’t believe it—sympathetic. “You’ve walked with us since…”
“Since my father died,” I say. “And before that he walked with you and I followed. Death is my world. Everything else, school and friends, they’re just things that get in the way of my next ghost.” I’ve never said this before. I’ve never allowed myself to think it for more than a second. I’ve kept myself focused, and in doing so have managed to not think too much about life either, about living, no matter how hard my mom pushed me to have fun, to go out, to apply to colleges.
“Were you never sad?” she asks.
“Not a lot. I had this higher power, you know? I had this purpose.” I reach into my back pocket and pull out my athame, drawing it from its leather. The blade shines in the gray light. Something in my blood, the blood of my father and his before him, makes it more than just a knife. “I’m the only one in the world who can do this. Doesn’t that mean it’s what I’m supposed to do?” As the words leave my mouth I resent them. They take away all of my choices. Anna crosses her pale arms. The tilt of her head sweeps her hair over her shoulder and it’s strange to see it lying there, just regular, dark strands. I’m waiting for it to twitch, to move into the air on that invisible current.
“Having no choice doesn’t seem fair,” she says, seeming to read my mind. “But having all of them isn’t really easier. When I was alive, I could never decide what I wanted to do, what I wanted to become. I loved to take pictures; I wanted to take pictures for a newspaper. I loved to cook; I wanted to move to Vancouver and open a restaurant. I had a million different dreams but none of them was stronger than the rest. In the end they probably would have paralyzed me. I would have ended up here, running the boarding house.”
“I don’t believe that.” She seems like such a force, this reasonable girl who kills with a turn of her fingers. She would have left all this behind, if she’d had the chance.
“I honestly don’t remember,” she sighs. “I don’t think I was strong in life. Now it seems like I loved every moment, that every breath was charmed and crisp.” She clasps her hands comically to her chest and breathes in deep through her nose, then blows it out in a huff. “I probably didn’t. For all my dreams and fancies, I don’t recall being … what would you call it? Perky.”
I smile and she does too, then tucks her hair behind her ear in a gesture that is so alive and human that it makes me forget what I was going to say.