#2140

They say to cross the Bridge of Ghosts you must wear a mask so the specters cannot recognize you and silver bells to disrupt their voices. If you do not wear a mask the spirits will take the form of those you love to lure you over the side. If you do not wear bells they will whisper lies in your ears until you take their words for truth and leap to your death. Even with these protections in place you must walk quickly and never stop until you reach safe earth on the other side. The mask and bells are no guarantee of protection.

No one crosses the Bridge of Ghosts without good reason. It spans a chasm high in the mountains where the wind wails and the cliff faces sharpen the gusts to knives. Nothing grows there. Nothing lives there. Nothing chooses to linger there longer than it must, for to linger is to tempt fate too boldly. Yet it is also said that if you cross the bridge successfully, never succumbing to the ghosts’ illusions or lies, you may at the other end ask them one question which they must answer truthfully. Such a reward has thus lead many, many fools to attempt the pass.

Someone stands now at one end of the bridge and the ghosts swirl hungrily in anticipation, appearing as a white mist which ascends from the valley far below to shroud the bridge and cliffs in wintry half-light. The traveler wears a finely wrought mask of silver with rays like the sun’s with bright little bells tinkling softly from each point. One foot moves to step out onto the bridge; the spirits take up their howling din. They cannot physically touch the man and so they seek to stop him with trickery, yet the mask and bells render the deceptions powerless.

The traveler thus passes through the fog with ease, never faltering, never fearing, and arrives safely at the other side of the bridge. As he removes the mask he speaks to the empty air, “Did you keep your promise?” Behind him a familiar voice answers, “Yes. I have waited long for you.” The traveler turns back to the bridge to find his lover standing upon it with arm extended. “I am here now,” he responds. He steps forward and they join hands; both disappear, leaving behind only the fallen mask.

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#2134

there’s this scream in my throat i’ve been swallowing for years and i used to be ashamed of it, you know, tried to hide it, to bide it, to bury it deep, but now i’m thinking maybe it’s here for a reason and i ought to embrace it, maybe i’m some sort of modern banshee for a modern world and i’ve come to tell everyone that we’re all gonna die, that the end is and has been extremely fucking nigh, and if so then i have a duty to let everyone know, a destiny to detail the destruction entailed, ’cause if you don’t think we’re there yet then oh man do i have a dirge to sing for you, come listen, friend, there’s no melody but i promise it’s a doozy

#2126

I could swear I was there. The distant glittering stars, the glassy black water, the last violin strains of Nearer My God to Thee hovering in the cold air – they are clear as memory. Was I just that weird child, obsessed with death and nature’s might? Am I just that weird adult, expecting the worst in every situation? Or is there something more? I never dream about water so cold it kills; I cannot claim evidence from past life readings or inexplicable historical knowledge. Yet something binds me to that place, to that night, to that terrible disaster so much it feels like a homecoming. Like I belong there. I read the names of those lost and think I know you, I remember you. I want to tell them it wasn’t your fault, you couldn’t have known, no one could have known. Do the Titanic’s wayward ghosts reach beyond their world to those they know will tell their stories or relieve their guilt by solving the nagging unknowns? Perhaps over the years the spirits of fifteen hundred people, at the mercy of trade winds and deep water currents, have scattered across the globe to wash up on far foreign shores. Maybe some small child collecting seashells and beach glass brought something bigger home with them. Or maybe those souls passed on and even in new bodies, even living new lives, that night’s chill remains in their blood and cries out for resolution.

#2115

it occurs to me that perhaps my life is just like The Others, you know, and – SPOILER ALERT – it turns out i was the ghost all along, what a fucking plot twist, no wonder all the things i tried to hold onto kept slipping away, no wonder all the times i tried to stop you from leaving you just passed right through me like i wasn’t even there – because i wasn’t there, was i, i wasn’t on your mind or even on your same fucking plane of existence, so yeah, maybe all these years ive been haunting you and not the other way around, wouldn’t that explain some things, and maybe you finally found some priest or medium to exorcise me so you can sleep at night without my chains rattling in the hallway, good job i guess, sweet dreams, but you know ill be back

#2089

I suppose I should not expect the Devil to stay close to home, should I? He was a wanderer from the very beginning, proud and independent, and certainly I have pined a thousand nights over his absence in the past. Yet here I am ten years later having learned nothing, still hunched over the cavern in my chest, still seeking proof of divinity in languages I cannot even speak. Do I doubt because he leaves? Does he leave because I doubt? I am an old hand at this and yet still it feels like punishment, like purgatory, like an eternity spent scrabbling in the dust. I thought myself passed this particular trial and yet, and yet, and yet here I am smearing ash on my skin and tearing at my hair once more. What a surprise.

#2039

“You must be Kaylie! Hi!” The grinning young woman who answered the door was not precisely what Kaylie had been expecting. The name Fox Hollow implied uniforms and scowling adults, maybe even servants or something, not some girl in a sweatshirt and yoga pants. “Um.” Kaylie shifted her backpack from one shoulder to the other and managed a wavering smile. “Hi?” She shook the girl’s extended hand and absolutely nothing weird or paranormal or scary happened. Kaylie didn’t know if she was disappointed or relieved.

“I’m Stephanie; I’ll be your group leader this year,” The girl released Kaylie’s hand and stepped back, opening the door wide so the eleven year old could enter. “Come on in. Welcome to Fox Hollow, we’re so excited you’ll be joining us.” As Kaylie stepped over the threshold the draft brought Stephanie’s scent to her and she froze. “Wait,” she did a double take as if Stephanie might have been switched with someone else, “you’re a werewolf?!” The older girl nodded and laughed. “Wow, you have a good nose on you! Yeah, there are five of us here – well, six now that you’re here.” With that she turned and gestured toward a staircase in the front entry of the house. “Come on, I’ll show you your room.”

As Kaylie followed Stephanie up to the third floor, she craned her neck to take in as much of her new home as possible. Each landing of the staircase entered into a sort of common room from which hallways full of doors branched. In the first common room two teenage girls were playing checkers while a third sat reading on the floor. None of them looked, well, weird, but Kaylie had to remind herself that she didn’t look weird on the outside either… except on full moons. The checkers girls didn’t look up as Stephanie and Kaylie passed, but the reader did; when she flashed them a smile, she had far more pointy teeth than most humans.

“Your room will be on the third floor,” Stephanie explained as they reached the landing. “You’ll have a roommate every year, but since you’re coming late in the season you’ve already been assigned someone. Her name is Maddy, she’s super nice. I think you guys will love each other.” They passed through the common room and headed down the hallway. Kaylie sneaked quick glances into any of the open doorways, eager to see more of the kids she would be living with. As she passed one open door, though, she caught the gaze of an older teenage girl. She was utterly beautiful – straight platinum hair, flawless pale skin, skinny and fit – but when she caught sight of Kaylie she scowled in disgust and turned away. “Eww,” she could be heard commenting to someone out of sight, “another werewolf? I swear they were way pickier about their students when my mom went here.”

Kaylie stopped dead in her tracks. Stephanie kept walking for a beat or two, then stopped and glanced back at the girl’s queasy face. She sighed and knelt down next to her. “Don’t let Amber get to you,” she said, quiet yet firm. “I promise not all the vampires here are so stuck up. She’s just… old blood. And wants to make sure everyone knows it.” She knuckled Kaylie gently on the arm. “Don’t worry, you’re gonna love it here.” She rose and held out her hand. Normally Kaylie would never hold an adult’s hand – she wasn’t a baby anymore! – but in that moment she needed the firm tether to keep her from falling into fear’s clutches. She gripped Stephanie’s hand and they walked the last stretch to a closed door.

“Maddy,” Stephanie called as she knocked, “your new roomie’s here!” She smiled reassuringly down at Kaylie. Somewhere within the room, a muffled voice called, “Come in!” and Stephanie opened the door. “Maddy,” she introduced them with a flourish, “this is Kaylie. Kaylie, this is Maddy; she’s been here a year now, so she can teach you all the tricks and tips.” She winked at the eager young girl standing in the center of the extremely tidy room. “Take good care of her. But don’t get so excited that you forget your homework, though, okay?”

“Okay, okaaaay,” Maddy bounced on the balls of her feet in anticipation. “Now go, I wanna show her everything!” Laughing, Stephanie gave them both a thumbs-up and headed back downstairs. Maddy turned her attention to Kaylie and tried for what she hoped was a friendly smile. “Hi! I’m so glad you’re finally here. It’ll be nice to have a roommate again.” She turned, then glanced back over her shoulder. “Oh, can you shut the door?”

“Sure,” Kaylie shut the door and followed Maddy into the room. She had always been taught to shake hands with someone you meet, as a sign of respect, so she held out her hand to the other girl. “It’s nice to meet you, Maddy. I’m Kaylie. Um, like Stephanie said, I guess.” Maddy stared down at her proffered hand and for a second Kaylie was sure the girl thought she was totally weird and a loser. Then Maddy held out her own hand – and passed it directly through Kaylie’s, with only a sudden cold shock as evidence of the contact. “Sorry, I can’t shake hands,” Maddy explained with an apologetic smile. “One of those awkward parts about being a ghost.”

“You’re a ghost?” Kaylie realized she had nearly yelled, and forced her voice back to an inside level. “That’s so cool, I’ve always wanted to meet a ghost!” Maddy shook her head. “No way, you’re a werewolf, that’s way cooler!” They argued back and forth until they were both overcome with a serious case of the giggles, and by then it was time for dinner.

#1919

In the end, money makes the whole thing almost embarrassingly easy. Money buys his housekeeper’s silence while she diligently washes away the red stains on carpet, bed, and walls. Money secures him a private jet and a wave through customs without so much as a glance into the bag on his shoulder. Money buys an opulent room in a pricey Parisian hotel just blocks from one of the catacomb entrances. And money averts the eyes of the security guard who lets him into the catacombs after dark and then takes a long, long break.

With only a flashlight for illumination, Tanim winds his way through the catacombs, seeking an area where even the bravest tour groups don’t dare explore. He finally comes to a dead-end chamber, its earthen floor untouched by footprints, and here he sets down the bag he has guarded so carefully on his journey.

“Catacombs? Really? That’s hardly creative; you could have just left me in a cemetery back home,” Tanim pointedly keeps his gaze lowered, refusing to glance in the direction of the lazy, mocking voice. Instead, he opens his bag and begins unloading its contents, setting each white bone on the ground with care. Over his shoulder he replies in a similarly mocking tone, “What better place to hide human bones than in plain sight among thousands of their fellows?” Withdrawing the last bone, a lovingly preserved skull, Tanim finally turns to his companion. “Besides, you’ll have company here. You can bother the other ghosts and scare tourists. I’m sure you’ll like that.”

From the entrance of the little chamber, Daren frowns and crosses his arms. “I much prefer haunting you, darling. These past few weeks have been quite enjoyable for me.”

“Yes,” Tanim sighs, setting down the skull, “so I know. But no more. If you won’t stay dead, you can at least stay away from me.” He glances around as if taking one last look at his lover’s final resting place. “I suppose this is goodbye for a second time, then.” He sneers at the specter. “And the last time.”

“Not so fast,” Daren holds up one white hand and takes a step into the chamber. His arrogant mouth curls in a sly smile, half teasing and half pouting. “Wouldn’t you like to stay a while? Reminisce about old times?”

“Not particularly,” Tanim scowls, impatient to be away but refusing to leave Daren with the last word. “I’ll be glad to leave those old times behind me – along with you, beloved.” The word is uttered like a curse or a slur, stripped of all the love and affection with which it was once spoken. Daren only laughs. “Oh, I don’t think so,” he taunts, grinning as another step brings him closer to Tanim. “See, because you took my life, I have the ability to haunt you, to torment you however I like – yet I can’t touch you. Incorporeality can be so frustrating. But this place…” He gestures to encompass the whole of the catacombs, arm outstretched as if to touch the walls themselves. “There’s more power in these tunnels than you can possibly imagine. Bringing me here was a very, very bad idea.” Daren’s fingers brush the brown bones cemented in the wall; dust and dirt crumble away at his touch, but Tanim doesn’t notice this crucial detail. “So won’t you stay a little longer, my love? Even for just one last kiss?”

The ghost closes the distance between them, one hand snaking around Tanim’s waist, the other cupping his face. Tanim tries to pull away but it’s too late, and Daren’s grip is like iron. Then the hand on his cheek slides into his hair and drags his head to the side, and the mouth that bends to his bared neck is very wide and full of teeth.

– – –

The body isn’t discovered for several days, not until the local cataphiles hold another rave deep within the tunnels. At first they mistake it for a prank; after all, you’re clearly supposed to think the skull with its wide red grin was the cause of the ragged hole in the dead man’s throat, and how exactly could that happen? On closer inspection, however, the body’s decomposition appears quite real and the skull is markedly fresher than the ones which shape the catacomb walls. Unfortunately, by the time the police are finally summoned the scene has been contaminated beyond recognition. There’s no way to tell which set of footprints belongs to the murderer, and the officers refuse to believe the drunk, spooked teenagers when they swear only one set of footprints led to the body, and none away.