Remembered Kisses: Chapter 7: Ghosts in the Attic
Sam didn’t have any classes on Wednesday afternoons, so he usually spent that day playing catch-up in his office. Talking to students, grading papers, handling all the bureaucratic details that came with his position at the college. Today was no different. He got to campus around mid morning, and spent a few hours at his cramped desk in the tiny glorified broom closet the school had assigned him. Morning passed into early afternoon, and when the growling of his stomach became too loud to ignore, he finally let himself take a break.
Donning his tweed coat, he locked his office and stepped out of the musty building into the early afternoon sunlight. It was a short walk down to the dining hall, and after he bought himself a gyro he decided to eat it outside.
He had just sat down to eat at one of the cement-and-steel picnic tables when Kennedy appeared out of the crowd, her toxic-green hair loose and wild. Her dark eyes had rings under them. It may have been a trick of the bright sun, but she also looked more tired than usual.
“Professor,” she said. “I was looking for you.” She was carrying a skateboard. It was a brilliant array of reds and oranges, with an intricate painting of a sword, gears, and vinyl records emblazoned on it.
“Miss Greenborough,” he said after swallowing. “You changed your hair.”
“It happens,” she said, kicking her skateboard under the table, and plopped down in front of him, crossing her legs. She was wearing hot pink tights.
Sam cleared his throat and dragged his eyes back up to hers. “Hunting me down at work now?”
“Jesus Christ, it’s not like I’m stalking you. I go to school here, Gandalf,” she said. “But I need you. I need you to come to my house tonight.”
He raised an eyebrow.
"Not for that. Men." She rolled her eyes. “No, it’s the ghosts. I’m starting to see them, now.”
“I remember recommending you to Professor Ling." He set his gyro down on the table and looked back up at her. "Have you spoken with her?”
“I have. She told me about ghosts, and how to identify them, but I don’t think she’s the type to make house calls.”
“No,” Sam said. “No, I see your point.” He sighed. Just another matter on my plate. But she seems spooked. With everything that’s going on, can I afford to ignore this? “I will make a deal with you,” he said carefully. “I’ll come to your house tonight and investigate. But tomorrow we’ll both go to Professor Ling, and see what she can tell us. She may be able to help more if I can give her a technical description.”
“Trade talk. No, I get it. You know the lingo.”
“Yes, well,” Sam said. “Something like that. Ghosts only come out after dark, typically, so… I’ll stop by at sunset?”
She nodded. “Want me to text you my address?”
He shook his head. “I have terrible luck with phones. Just write it down for me. I’ll find my way.” A smile finally broke through. “I know the city pretty well.”
Kennedy's house was in one of New Tamsbridge's older neighborhoods, in a part of town Sam hadn't been to for a few months. It was set on one of the smaller hills in New Tamsbridge, and most of the homes (almost all Queen Anne Victorians) would have had a decent view of the sea through their eastern windows before all the high-rises went up. Sam checked the address again as he stopped in front of one the homes. It looked a more little run-down than most of the others, but the yard was maintained well, and there was a small garage at the end of the driveway.
Sam took a moment to look more closely at it. There was certainly something eldritch about the old blue house, but that was true with most homes with enough age. Over time, consistent human inhabitation lent a little bit of magic to the setting. But there was not much of a threshold here. Sam didn’t feel any barriers to his power or any guardian spirits. That meant it probably wasn't an ancestral home; the Greenboroughs would be pretty new to it. Kennedy may be the only one with much of a magical gift, or at least any awareness of it. Any form of adept would have put up some kind of protection.
His stomach growled. "Damn it," he swore, and sighed. "I forgot my sandwich. Wasted money." He shook his head and walked up the stairs to the low porch, brushed some dirt off of his coat, and knocked on the door.
After a minute, Kennedy opened the door. “Come on in, Sam,” Kennedy said with a smile. She was still wearing her pink tights and a jean skirt, but a white crop top had replaced the black bodice. “My parents are out of town.”
Sam nodded, peering around. “They left you here by yourself? Is that normal?” He asked, as he crossed the threshold. There was a slight feeling of oddness as he did, an awareness that he had entered a home, but that was it. Practically defenseless. Anything can get in.
“Of course it’s normal. I’m not a kid,” she said with a smile that could almost have been coy. “I’m nineteen, Sam. It’s okay.”
He nodded, still nervous. “Yeah,” he said. “It’s just that... you know.”
She laughed. “Jesus Christ. Men and their egos. You’re nervous about being alone with a girl in her room, aren’t you? Listen, Gandalf,” She teased. “How old are you?”
“Nearly thirty,” he said, looking away.
“And I’m nearly twenty. Guess what that means?”
He didn’t say anything.
“It means you’re too old, Sam,” she said, laughing, and punched his shoulder. “Don’t worry about it. Just get over yourself.”
He laughed back, and the tension in the room dissolved as if it were never there. She poked her head out the door. “No car?” She asked. “What, did you walk?”
Sam shrugged. “That would be telling,” he said, teasing her back. “A man has his ways.”
“Right. His ways.” She rolled her eyes. “All right, strange, enigmatic man. Come upstairs. That’s where the magic happens.”
She led him up the first set of stairs and around a corner. He noticed that one of the doors was hanging slightly ajar and quietly closed it as he followed her. He glanced at some of the paintings that hung on the walls. A landscape here, a portrait there, a still life there. “Who’s the artist?” He asked.
“Me,” she said with a chuckle. “Can’t you tell from my fabulous taste in color? Well. Me and my sister.”
"Your sister? Is she here?"
"Nope. Kaitlyn's off with the parentals." At the end of the hall was another door. She opened it, leading to a narrow stair that turned back on itself, and to a final door.
“Lots of doors,” he said. “More than I expected, though I should have. Classic Victorian.”
“I like my privacy,” she said, and opened it to reveal the top room, a completely finished attic.
“So this is where the ghosts come from?” He asked. “This is where you see them?”
Kennedy nodded. “It is,” she said. “They should be here soon.”
Sam looked over at the attic’s only window. She was right. The New Tamsbridge sky was turning pink and orange, the sun already sinking below the summit of capitol hill.
“That is typical of them,” Sam said. “It is a rare and a powerful spirit that can manifest in the day light.” He swallowed. He could already feel some of the chill of the underworld seeping into him as he stood here. He blinked, glancing around his feet, and then at Kennedy. “This place. It has a a strange resonance. Very strange for attics, more common in basements… I wonder what did it? Could the harmonics be because of their presence, or is it in fact an oddity which attracted them? Classic serpent and the egg conundrum. Which came first?”
Kennedy blinked at him. “You’re not making any sense, Sam,” she said. “Dial it down, professor. Talk to me like a first-year, or something.”
Sam glanced back at her. “Just musing,” he said. “Hypothesizing. I’m really not sure exactly why this is such a hotspot. Or cold spot, as it were."
The sun continued to sink, and shadows grew in the room. Kennedy lit
a lamp, and a small flame flickered, casting shadows further across the room.
“Kerosene?” Sam asked, surprised.
“Nothing,” he said. “I just expected a desk lamp. Or candles.”
“Oh, candles don’t work,” she said. “Not for me, I mean. I’m not really a witch, you know.”
“I meant for light.”
“Oh. Well they don’t give off much of it, do they? And lamps… well… I don’t know. I like the ambiance better.” She grinned, her eyes dancing. “Lamplight has such a lovely ring to it, too. More poetic. Better for arting.”
“What?” She laughed. “Don’t worry. I’m not a Sylvia Plath fan. I’m more of a Chuck Palahniuk kind of girl.”
Sam let out a breath. Dial down the ego, Samuel, he thought. Not every teenage beauty queen is going to try to step in your pants. “Somehow I could have figured. I bet you like punk music on your compact disks, too.”
“Ew. Please. Vinyl only. 'Kay thanks.” She snickered.
Sam felt a stirring behind him, the hair on the back of his neck beginning to stand up.
“There's one behind me, isn't there?” He asked quietly, and Kennedy closed her big chocolate-brown eyes.
“Sam! Help!” Kennedy screamed as she threw herself onto the attic floor and rolled out of the way.
A ghostly shape swept past Sam, charging towards her. It was not what he expected. Ghosts so often looked like odd, washed-out versions of their former selves, even when manifested. This did not. It seemed like it was made partly of shadow and darkness, and its presence washed the room in cold and fear. It was not a ghost. It was a shade. Sam pulled power, drawing power from the Otherworld, sharpening it into a quick lance of will, and hurled it at the thing... to no effect. It passed right through it, splashing harmlessly against the walls of the bedroom.
Well, there was some effect. It drew its attention to Sam. As the impression of its gaze settled on him, Sam swallowed hard, tried to remember how to fight shades.
It screamed; and while its voice was not a sound at all, but a psychic impression, it still made the walls shake. And then it charged.
Sam threw his hand out, his fingers splayed, and he pulled power from a deep, secret place, and the shade collided into a wall of raw will that sparked with sudden green light. Sam felt a sudden chill as the wall flashed, the inexorable cold of the underworld sapping his strength. The smell of grave dirt filled the air, and the numbing grave-chill threatened to drag Sam down into the dark, but the wall held. Sam gritted his teeth and advanced on the shade, holding out that wall, drawing another stream of power from the underworld. He cast the new stream forward like a net. The invisible threads wrapped around the shade, and Sam drew his fist back to tighten them. It let out an another unearthly psychic scream, and there was an audible snap-crack that shattered all the glass in the room, and then the thing was gone, banished back to where it belonged.
Sam took a deep breath, and felt warmth returning to him. Only a little bit of power from the Plutoean realm, and it was almost too much. Thank the gods it was enough. I don’t think I could have handled much more.
Kennedy stared a him, her dark eyes wide. “What the Hell was that?” She asked, her voice strained and unbelieving.
“That was a shade,” Sam said. His head started spinning, but he took a deep breath and forced it back to normal. “A malevolent spirit that has escaped the underworld. It is more mindless than a ghost, and is often bent on doing harm to the living. It embodies... something like a bitter sense of jealousy and vengeance.”
“But why did it come here? What did I do?”
“Well, you speak with the dead. That’s a draw, for one. Like a beacon on a dark night, you will draw all the insects to you, seeking to harm or help.”
She shuddered. “You mean it’s going to happen again?”
“Shades are rare. Pluto guards his charges well. But it might. And this… timing.” He gestured. “It’s curious. Just as we’re beginning to look into what’s going on on the other side.”
“What are you saying?”
“It could have been summoned. It’s much easier for one to be stolen than to escape on its own." He looked thoughtful. "A powerful magus could do it.”
“Jesus Christ, a powerful magus?” Kennedy said, her voice still somewhat shrill. “There’s a powerful magus sending shades at me?”
“Well. Maybe not. It could be another ghost, too. They draw that sort of thing.”
“You’re not making it any better, Sam!”
Sam shrugged helplessly. “I wish I had better answers for you,” he said. “I’m just outlining possibilities.” He glanced around again. “But none of that helps you tonight.” He stood up. “Grab your things. You can crash at my place tonight, you’ll be safe there. Tomorrow we’ll go see Professor Ling together.”
“Are you sure?” She asked. He expected some quip, but her face was serious, and her tone worried.
“I’m sure,” he said. “I promised to help you.” He picked her backpack off the floor and tossed it over to her. “So hurry.”
Sam waited for her outside the house while she got ready, taking the chance to look at it more closely. He reached out with senses, confirming his initial impressions. It was an old house, but there wasn’t anything particularly eldritch about it. “So it’s not a beacon,” he murmured. “It must be her.” The door opened, and he swiveled, watching, his senses still open and there it was, he could sense it now. It was her. She shone. Not with the exact resonance of the underworld, but like a safe place. A haven. Tortured spirits would be drawn there. But there was something else. A twinge of malice, hooked to her spirit. Just a little, and clumsy. Too clumsy for him to actually detect what the purpose was. Maybe just a brush with something icky… but it might have been what drew the shade.
“Interesting,” he murmured.
“What?” She asked, laying her skateboard on the sidewalk and stepping onto it. He shook his head.
“Nothing,” he said. “Nothing I want to commit to right now, at least.”
She rolled her eyes and gestured at him with a sweeping motion of her hand. “There be Gandalf. He be mysterious. Jesus Christ, it’s not like we’re talking about my life or anything.”
He sighed and rubbed his fingers across his forehead. “I’ll tell you as soon as I know something. Come on.”
It was a long walk through the dark autumn night to the Dusty Covers, but nothing came out of the darkness to eat them. Sam unlocked the door, led her upstairs, and set Kennedy up in his room while he claimed a couch. She protested, but she was was too tired to put up much of a fight. The adrenaline crash had hit her hard. Sam made sure the magical defenses around the Covers were secure, and added another layer around the bedroom. He settled in on the couch with his fuzzy grey blanket and was asleep before his head hit the pillow..
Sleep was long in coming.
Chapter 8 can be found here.