“Can I help you?” the ghost whispered.
It drifted behind the dust-covered reference desk, an insubstantial wisp with a hint of long hair wrapped in an untidy bun and the barest glimpse of wire-rimmed spectacles. I tried not to stare. It had been decades since anyone had required corrective lenses. And, well, she was dead. She wasn’t supposed to exist at all.
I cleared my throat. The sound echoed in the library’s cavernous skeleton. “I’m, uh, looking for a book.”
“They found the body in the alley at the bottom of the fire escape.”
“The one outside my bedroom?” Henry rolled his wide eyes at his cousin. “You’re full of it.”
“All the witnesses said he jumped for the ladder three times before they caught him. He died still reaching up grabbing at anything that came in reach.”
A couch pillow hit Laveral hard enough to snap his head back and stop his story. Henry smiled at his mother. She didn’t notice. She glared at Laveral. He had all her attention.
Gusting face-freezing wind displaced Sister Wendy Riley’s bonnet, pushing it nearly off her dirty brown hair. No matter how many steps Wendy made toward Zion in the Great Salt Lake Valley, the wind seemed determine to blow her back to Liverpool. The annoying and ill timed gust that finally dislodged her bonnet came as she pulled her handcart up a rise. Releasing one hand from the crossbar to fix the errant bonnet meant losing the cart and her few belongings to the hill. With hair whipping her face, she prayed the tie string kept the bonnet around her neck until she reached flat ground ahead.
Wendy stood to one side while pulling the handcart, as though her husband still might join her on his side of the cart. She turned down offers, even from the Wilson boys, to help her pull the handcart. She did not want anyone in his spot. It was silly, but a week was still too soon.
The window is smashed but nobody is brave enough to go in and fix it. The town is not filled with cowards, just ordinary people, but ordinary people know better than to go inside. The house, as you are looking at it, stands by itself and was once a good house on a good street. Some hundred years have passed since then, and it is now an empty house on a bad street. It has a creaking mouth with rusty hinges, and a soot-black face and wrought-iron claws and, now, one broken glass eye. It watches you as you walk past. You think perhaps there is another way through this part of town but you never look for it. You are on a bad street, but that does not make it a bad house, after all. It is just empty, and while it is empty nothing bad can happen. Sometimes you walk past the house when the sky is dark and the streetlamps are on, and once you thought you saw a light in one of the windows—a light like a lit candle in a darkened room. You know you can’t have seen it because the house is empty.
Several cycles ago my wife Carpathia went to the market to gather supplies for the long, incumbent winter, but by nightfall she had not returned. By daybreak her side of the bed was still cold, and I feared the worst.
For many moons thereafter I searched the plains until my feet bled, and called her name until my throat hurt, but I neither saw her nor heard from her again.
The villagers were quick to blame the Beast for my misfortune as they did for every other disappearance in the land, but I did not share their conviction. My wife was gone, but I could not seriously lay her fate at the door of a ghost. I would rather admit she had abandoned me than accept I had lost her to a myth.
Even so, sometimes, despite my better judgement, I too cursed the Creature.
The worst had come to pass—