“So what, that’s it?” Will asks in a panicked voice. “I thought that thing was supposed to kill it!”
“It isn’t an ‘it,’” I say evenly. “It’s a man. Two men. And they’re already dead. This sends them where they need to be.”
The ghost comes at me now. I’ve gotten his attention, and I duck and pull back so easily, so swiftly, that none of his attempts to strike even come close. I slice off more of his arm as I duck underneath it, and the smoke dances around and disappears in the disturbance my body made.
“Every ghost goes differently,” I tell them. “Some die again like they think they’re still alive.” I duck another one of his attacks and land an elbow to the back of his head. “Others melt into puddles of blood. Others explode.” I look back at my friends, at their wide eyes paying rapt attention. “Some leave things behind—ashes, or stains. Some don’t.”
“Cas,” Thomas says, and points behind me, but I already know that the ghost is on his way back. I sidestep and slice through his rib cage. He goes down on one knee.
“Every time is different,” I say. “Except for this.” I look directly at Will, ready to go to work. It’s at that moment that I feel the ghost’s hands grip both of my ankles and pull me off of my feet.
Did you hear that? Both hands. Yet I distinctly remember cutting one of them off. This strikes me as very interesting just before my head bonks off of the chipboard floor.
The ghost lunges for my throat and I just barely hold him off. Looking at the hands, one is different. It’s slightly more tanned, and has a completely different shape: longer fingers, ragged nails. I hear Carmel yell at Thomas and Will that they should help me, and that’s the last thing I want. It would take the piss out of the whole thing.
Still, as I’m rolling around with my jaw clenched, trying to angle my knife toward the guy’s throat, I wish that I were built more like Will’s football-playing physique. My leanness makes me agile and quick, and I’m pretty wiry, but when it comes to this up-close-and-personal stuff, it’d be nice to be able to hurl someone across the room.
“I’m fine,” I say to Carmel. “I’m just figuring him out.” The words come out in an unconvincing, strained groan. They’re staring at me, wide-eyed, and Will takes a jerky step forward.
“Stay back!” I shout as I manage to get my foot into the guy’s stomach. “It’s just going to take more,” I explain. “There are two guys inside here, get it?” My breathing is heavier. Some sweat trickles into my hair. “No big deal … it just means I have to do everything twice.”
At least I hope so. It’s the only thing I can think of to try, and really it boils down to a desperate slice and dice. This isn’t what I had in mind when I suggested we go a-hunting. Where are the nice, easy ghosties when you need them?
I steel myself and kick out hard with my foot, heaving the cop/railroad worker back off of me. Scrambling up, I get a better grip on the athame and refocus. He’s set to charge, and when he does I start slicing and cutting like a human Cuisinart. I hope it looks a lot cooler than I think it does. My hair and clothes are moving in a breeze I can’t feel. Black smoke erupts from below me.
Before I’m finished—before he’s finished—I can hear two distinct voices, layered on top of each other, like some somber harmony. In the midst of my slicing, I find myself looking into two faces occupying the same space: two sets of teeth gnashing, and one blue eye, one brown. I’m glad I was able to do this. The uneasy, ambiguous feeling I had when we came in is gone. Whether or not this ghost has ever harmed anyone, it has surely harmed itself, and wherever I’m sending them has to be better than this, trapped in the same form with the person you hate, driving each other more and more mad with every day, week, year that passes.
In the end, I stand alone in the center of the room, curls of smoke fading and dispersing into the ceiling. Thomas, Carmel, and Will are standing in a huddle, staring at me. The cop and the railroad worker are gone. So is the gun.
“That was—” is all Thomas can muster.
“That was what I do,” I say simply, and wish I was less out of breath. “So no more arguments.”
* * *
Four days later I’m sitting on the counter in the kitchen, watching my mom wash some funny-looking roots, which she then shaves and chops to be added to the herbs we’ll wear around our necks tonight.
Tonight. It’s finally here. It seems like it’s taken forever, and I still wish I had one more day. I’ve found myself in Anna’s driveway every night, just standing there, unable to think of anything to say. And every night she comes to the window and stares out at me. I haven’t been sleeping much, though some of that is attributable to the nightmares.