Remembered Kisses: Chapter 8: The Ghost Professor
It seemed like he had barely been asleep at all when he was being shaken awake.“Sam?” Audrey asked. “Sam, what are you doing out here? Sam?”
He slowly opened his eyes. Audrey was there in her white nightgown and her pink bunny slippers and a worried expression on her face. Her stuffed shark was tucked under her arm. He rubbed his head. “What time is it?”
“Five-thirty, Sam. When I always get up to make our breakfast. Why are you in the living room?” Her eyes swiveled towards the door to his room, and they want wide. “Is there a monster in your bedroom? Is it going to try to eat me?”
He tried to focus. “Why… why do you sound excited by that?”
“Well nothing’s ever tried to eat me before, Sam. I might find it educational.”
“Aren’t you worried?”
“With you and Methuselah here? No, I don’t think so. Methuselah wouldn’t let anything hurt me, would he?”
No. He would not.
Two hours’ sleep was not enough to deal with that booming inside of his skull. Sam winced.
But I do not think the girl means to harm you, regardless, Audrey. And she is sound asleep.
“Girl! SAM! Did you bring one of your strumpets home? What about my moral upbringing! You’re setting a terrible example!”
“What? I… no. Audrey, no. It’s that Kennedy girl. The one with the green hair.”
Audrey gasped again. “Sam, no! She’s too young for you!”
“Nothing like that! By the crossroads, you’re a dirty mind for an eleven year old. Now she’s there for protection. She’s got some ghosts bothering her.”
“Oh. Well.” Audrey’s expression changed from shock to resolute in an instant. “Why didn’t you say so, Sam? Ghost trouble is entirely different.” She adjusted her nightgown and straightened up before looking back at the closed door. “Should I make her some breakfast, too? Of course. One must make sure that ones’ charges are properly cared for.”
“Ghosts, Sam,” Audrey said, her voice with just a note of pride. “This makes it a professional matter. The undead are Blackthorne business, after all. If she needs help with them, it is my duty to do so.”
“But… no… Audrey!”
She grinned at him, and gave him a firm nod of salute. “I appreciate you bringing this to my attention, Samuel,” she said. “And we will take it well in hand.” She turned and marched to the kitchen.
“Gods above,” Sam muttered, closing his eyes again. “Spare me.”
After breakfast, and after Audrey was on the bus to her school, Sam and Kennedy headed out to the college together. He walked, she cruised around on her skateboard. “So your, um, ward. Is she always that intense?”
“Hmm? Oh, Audrey?” He laughed. “Well, sometimes. She’s got a family history with undead things, so I think she took a professional interest in you. Like your problem is hers to fix.”
“Can she fix it?”
“Maybe,” Sam said. “She might have the talent, at least. She’s had little training for it. I’m trying to let her be a child first. The rest can come later.”
“I guess that makes sense.” She popped up onto a bike rack, turning the board sideways as she slid along it, then popped off with a twist. “So Professor Ling was kind of a cold fish when I spoke to her the first time. What makes you think she’ll be more helpful now?”
“She and I have always had a good relationship, for one,” Sam said. “And now I can talk a little bit about what we’re actually seeing. With more data she ought to be able to tell you more.”
“Okay. I think I get it. Talking about what I was hearing wasn’t enough?”
“It could have been. But sometimes she’s… skeptical. We all get a lot of people saying that they hear things, but she gets the most. So she might have screened you a little bit.”
She rolled her eyes. “Right. You ivory tower assholes don’t take anything seriously that doesn’t come out of your own little cloister. I get it. I think dad’s the same way when someone tries to go all crime-reporty on him.”
“Your father’s in the police?”
“Yeah,” she said. “Lieutenant, actually.”
“Lieutenant Greenborough… actually, I think I’ve heard of him. Haven’t run into him yet, but I’m sure I will.”
“Run into the cops a lot?”
“More often than I’d like,” he admitted. “But I understand them okay. I was a P.I. once upon a time. Here we are.”
Kennedy looked at the big clamshell-shaped structure skeptically. “She’s in the theatre?”
“We’re kind of spread all over campus,” Sam said ruefully. “We don’t exactly have our own wing. Come on.” He gestured and led her inside.
The professor’s office was surprisingly spacious for its tiny size. The professor had forgone the usual desk in favor of a simple chair and an easel. She was quietly\ painting as Sam and Kennedy walked in.
“Professor Lawrence,” she said, inclining her head.
“Jan,” he replied, smiling. “I believe you know Kennedy?”
“I do. She came by my office the other day, at your recommendation.” She flashed a smile, her teeth perfectly straight, her Oxford accent as precise as ever. “Have you come for instruction as well, Professor Lawrence?”
Sam chuckled and found a wall to lean against. “I can always use more instruction, Jan. Where better to find it than at the feet of an expert?”
“Flatterer.” She smiled anyway. “What can I tell you today, Miss Greenborough?”
Kennedy looked up from the vase she had been studying. “Hmm? What. Oh, right. The freeloaders in my attic. What do they want? I mean, last time we talked about the different kinds, and how to pick what’s what…”
“Well?” The professor interrupted. “Tell me then, what have you discovered?”
“Oh they’re definitely ghosts. I was pretty sure already, but I managed to figure out what they were saying. They want to communicate.”
“Good. If they were shades, you would probably already be dead. Or mad.”
The professor gave her a small smile. “Good. It is fascinating that you hear them at all, but. Well. The thing about Ghosts, Miss Greenborough,” Professor Ling said, still working on her painting. “Is that they are all bound, one way or the other. They are made when a simple condition is met: when the desire of a soul to remain is greater than the power of that spirit to cross over. The nature of a spirit is to cross, and at the time of death many wills accept that. They have to. The pull is immensely strong. But if the will is resolute enough -generally due to need, or some great bond- it can sometimes resist. Then it becomes a battle. Even then, the power of the spirit is usually greater than a newly-slain will, and it has enough to carry them to the boatman. But sometimes that is not enough. Sometimes, something has also weakened the spirit. Torture. Despair.” She raised an eyebrow. “Or something hungry. All of these things can weaken the spirit enough that it cannot cross between worlds to the boatman. That is why they call ghosts ‘those that wander.’ Time means little to them. Most quickly outlast whatever reason they have to stay, but no longer have the power to cross, and so they wander aimlessly.”
Kennedy listened intently. “So… what? There’s nothing I can do about it?”
“Sometimes, no. Sometimes fulfilling a bargain, or reaching an amends with whatever kept them here can provide the surge of power necessary to cross the final steps. But for those that have been drifting a long time… well, sometimes they just have to waste away. The true lonely ones. It is a tragic story.”
“But why are there ghosts in my attic?”
“I don’t know. That is a fine question. Maybe they’re drawn to something there. Maybe they’re drawn to you. They likely know you can hear them. I imagine you shine brighter in their eyes than many of the rest of us. Whether or not they want to believe it -and the new ones don’t, nor do the uneducated- they are beings that belong in the underworld, and they see things in metaphor and grades of life.” Professor Ling peered at Kennedy from over her horn-rimmed spectacles. “Have you shown any other gifts?”
The girl shook her head. “I… maybe. Sometimes I thought I heard voices, that seemed like what people around me might be thinking. But that was only when I was younger.”
“Around the time of your first blood?”
Kennedy actually blushed. Sam stared in surprise, but when she shot him a glare he turned back to studiously staring at the painting.
“Dear girl. Don’t be embarrassed. It is a natural thing, and all of that, and a clearer marking of the passage into adulthood than anything the males of our species manage.”
Kennedy nodded. “Yeah,” she said quietly. “It was.”
“Typical. And I assume that either you didn’t tell anyone, or that if you did, they ignored you or thought you were crazy.” She rapped her manicured fingers on her desk. “It is probable that you have at least some small psychic gift, child, that you have suppressed it. Do not be embarrassed about that. Many more have gifts than they realize. More are suppressed than even the Arcane Collegium, or any of the fine schools of magical knowledge across the world, want to admit.” She sighed. “One of our grand failings is that, by failing to penetrate the mainstream, we have lost so many potential learners. Worse yet, some are driven mad. So here we must strive for excellence. We focus on research, on teaching, and on spreading our knowledge. Being respectable members of the community. Not haring off on wild adventures without any certain goal or plan. That way lies our ruin.” She cast a long, knowing look at Sam. “Some, however, disagree.”
“Speaking of doing,” Kennedy said. “What should I do? How do I deal with this?”
Professor Ling turned back to her. She took off her glasses and began wiping them with a small white cloth as she spoke. “First, you learn to shield. To protect yourself from those voices, before they drive you mad. And they will. I would also suggest netting around your room. Many spirits will get caught in it, and many more will see them and back away, not wanting to fall prey to the trap themselves.”
“But shouldn’t I… help them some how?”
“My dear, this does help them. If they are focused on you, they’re not focused on doing what they should be doing." She put the cloth down and set the glasses back on her face. "And many others are beyond help.”
“Does that mean I should do nothing?”
“When there’s nothing to be done? Yes. Observe. Learn. Perhaps you can find some small amount of justice or vengeance for some, but it is uncertain. I would not waste your efforts. And if you like, I will see about enrolling you in our defensive discipline class, to help protect yourself in the future. Presuming you have not buried your gifts too far.”
“Geez. Thanks.” She turned and looked at Sam. “What do you think?”
Sam shrugged. “Professor Ling knows more about this than I do. It is her field. I’m just a bookseller.” He gave the other professor a look. “Prone to haring off on my own to chase after god knows what. Staying active in the world instead of watching, that sort of thing.”
“To each their own,” the Japanese woman responded. Her voice dripping with sarcasm. “Some people will continue along their own paths without ever paying heed to what it costs others. Human nature, I suppose.”
“Yes, well. Some people need protection outside of the college grounds.”
“I am aware, Samuel.” The woman said dryly. “That is why, at your insistence, we have all been so busy at night lately. But this girl, Professor Lawrence?” The woman asked. “Ghosts are harmless. I hope that your interest in her is appropriately… professional.”
Kennedy gasped, and turned red with fury. Sam put a hand on her shoulder before she could deliver the tirade he could see forming on her lips.
“There was a shade, Professor Ling,” he said quietly. “It could have killed her if I wasn’t there.”
The Professor stopped and watched him closely. “You are sure?”
“Yes. An escaped spirit from the underworld, just like the ones we have encountered near the arsenal. I dealt with it, but… it’s there.”
“They are wandering far,” she muttered. “Very well, Professor Lawrence. Thank you for bringing that to my attention. I will research this quickly and will inform you as soon as I have more information.”
Sam stared hard at her, then nodded. “Of course, Jan. Thank you for your time.” He squeezed Kennedy’s shoulder, gestured, and they walked out.
As soon as the door was shut, Kennedy exploded. “That stuck up bitch. Jesus Christ. So full of her own god-damned bullshit she can’t see what the hell’s going on.” She snarled. “She shouldn’t have insulted you like that. Also.” Kennedy made a face. “Ew. No offense.”
“There have been some professors to take advantage of students in the past. It’s insulting, but not without basis.”
She wheeled around to face him. “Have you?”
Lily. “No,” Sam said. “I find ethics to be something that one shouldn’t toy with. The line is there for a reason. Do you have any classes today?”
She shook her head. “But I don’t want to go home, either. I’m still a little creeped out.”
“Right. Well, I’d like to keep an eye on you, if that’s all right. You can sit in on my next class.”
"Thanks, Professor, but no. I think.." She shook her head. "I'll be okay. I'll go board around the quad a bit. I'll see you later."
He nodded. "All right," he said. "I'll see you.