The Shades of Northwood, Book 4
Given that Katie had to die to become one, she finds that being a ghost isn't exactly what it's cracked up to be. It wasn't quite on her list of ambitions to start with. And, as if learning how to cope with not being alive anymore wasn't enough, one of her dead brothers is stalking her, intent on dragging her into the Dead World. A place where her boyfriend remains trapped after being dead for centuries. Even he is scared of something there...
"I don't care that it's ugly, I'm keeping it," said Jaye after a long silence. She rolled her sleeves up and held her right arm out, nodding slightly. "Yeah. I like it. It's symbolic, don't you think? It, like, ties us all together - a symbol of what we all did."
A harassed looking woman - Carol, who worked on reception - hurried past and threw a funny look at the girl with the silver scar who appeared to be talking to herself. Jaye glared back and Carol shook her head and moved on.
All I see, began her partner in conversation. All I see is a permanent reminder that you guys risked everything for me and I died anyway. You don't have to keep it... and you shouldn't.
"Most of the others won't get the choice, you know," she carried on as though Katie had never even spoken. Which she hadn't. At least, not in the physical sense. "Most of them'll scar eventually anyway but if they - hey, are you cold?"
No, I'm shivering for the fun of it. And then Katie realised that none of the snarky comebacks she wanted to answer stupid questions with were secret any more. She blushed - well, maybe she blushed. Her cheeks certainly warmed up but she wasn't sure she had any real blood to give them that rosy tint. Yes, I'm freezing.
"Might help if you put some clothes on then, babe."
Katie looked down at herself, long brown hair streaked with dried blood falling over her face - a thin hospital gown and a plastic band around her ankle with her name and medical number on it. No wonder she was cold. How?
"Just close your eyes and imagine them on you. One condition though... you have to physically own them. And if nothing you own fits, then somebody can buy you stuff and give it to you. Then it's truly yours and you can wear it. Get it?"
Katie nodded even though she wasn't sure at all.
"So, go on. Try it."
She hesitated. All kinds of things could go wrong. What if she imagined her hospital gown off but couldn't make anything replace it? What if she imagined herself into an outfit and couldn't get rid of it? What if her focus took a holiday and she imagined the whole town into Disney OTT-ness? What if she just thought about clothes and ended up wearing everything she owned? Oh God, this could go wrong in so many ways. The only consolation was that if she did mess up then Jaye was the only one around to see. With a final look at Jaye for encouragement, Katie screwed her eyes shut and tried to think herself into some proper clothes.
All the clothes she had at home, all the new things Marcie had made her buy just a couple of weeks ago, and the only one that stayed in the front of her mind was a white and pale blue outfit she didn't even own any longer. The pale blue sweats had been what she was wearing when the world first got ripped from underneath her. The tracksuit that had been torn to shreds and stained with blood and guilt and shame was the last thing she wanted to be wearing. Think of something else, anything else. Something was happening.
"I guess it's a start."
What? What have I done?
Katie followed a pointing finger down to her feet, now clad in thick soled but air light work boots. Laces snaked over the floor at the sides and Katie bent down to tie them up, feeling a restraining hand on her arm.
"Imagine them tied."
It took a few minutes and a few accidents but finally the boots were tied with the power of her mind. And she was exhausted.
"Do you remember what you had to do?" Katie frowned at her friend. "We tried to save you, keep you alive, but you said you had things to do. What things?"
Had she? Why would she say that? Why would she prevent the big-hearted girl saving her life and willingly dive into death? Maybe something had happened. I don't know. I can't remember much. Jaye, why can't I remember?Suddenly she was frightened. Behind Katie was a chaos of colour and sound, flashes and lightning strikes, whilst before her... she just didn't know. Couldn't even picture anything beyond this very moment.
"It'll come," Jaye assured her. "Dying's a very traumatic experience, you know."
But you knew right away. That you were dead, I mean. You knew that. Did you know how it happened?
"No. And I still don't. But I can take a pretty good guess." She stopped talking for a minute and rubbed her hands over face. "My ex boyfriend was lovely. Always looked out for me, always stood up for me. Until that night. We went to bed and then something happened. I think they said it was some undiagnosed heart problem or something, but I opened my eyes and I was... And he wasn't there either. He assumed he'd done something and then he took off before I knew how to tell him it wasn't his fault. He went off the rails after that. Mickey, his name was."
"Yeah, but I wouldn't wish it on anyone."
She remembered something Jaye had said not long after they had first met. You said he was in prison now. He didn't hurt you, did he?
"That's the story I heard. Millford. We lived there. I died there. And, no - to the other bit." Jaye smiled and sat back, her baby blues in a far away and happy place. "He never touched me in anger." A shadow clouded her gaze and was gone so fast Katie wondered if she had imagined it. "He was so sweet. So laidback. There were stories that he just snapped and... but he didn't. I'd know."
"Maybe," she shrugged. "I never visited him to find out."
Do you ever think you should? Just to let him know it wasn't his fault?
She shrugged. Jaye was still a kid - older than Katie, sure, but under that smiley veneer, she was still young and confused and... vulnerable. They had that in common. "The dead have issues with the living. Outside Northwood they do, anyway. There are rules." And how was Jaye meant to explain them to this girl when no-one had done the same for her?
I thought you said you died in Millford. So... how did you get to come back? It was my understanding that Northwood was the only place with that power.
"Remember when I said weird crap goes on in that town?" Jaye stood up and gestured to herself. "Say hello to the weird."
A hush fell over the pair as late afternoon faded into evening. Katie was trying to remember anything about the earlier part of the day. It didn't seem right that she was sitting her in a blood-spotted hospital gown and work boots when she had died just a handful of hours ago. The only thing she really clung to was that her friends had been there with her - where-ever there had been - had all willingly stepped into a circle and shared her pain. It had been dangerous and stupid. They had known what they were risking but they had believed in Katie - had faith that she was strong enough to survive anything. And how had she proved that faith? Katie stood up and held her hand out to Jaye who just stared at it with far away eyes. Sitting here moping was depressing. Katie felt Jaye put her hand in hers even if she couldn't feel it, and jerked her head back towards the hospital. There were people in there who needed a hug more than she did.
Although the medical building was only small, the corridors seemed longer this time around... silent and stretching. There was the steady thud and squeak of Jaye's platform shoes on over-polished tiles. That was the only sound echoing - the place felt abandoned even though there was always somebody here. Jaye stopped at the door with a discreet MORTUARY sign above it. Nobody wanted the place shoved in their faces. Through the frosted glass, a few bobbing heads were silhouetted against the fluorescent lights. Adam, Dina, Marcie... the only three who had been able to come to the hospital. It seemed pitiful that there should only be a handful of people mourning a girl who had touched all their hearts. The door opened and Adam stood there with one hand on the handle and one pressing the little white pad that controlled the lock. He just stood there, staring at Katie. The only sign that anything was wrong was shaggy blond hair that was messed up from having hands constantly dragged through it. He pulled his gaze away from Katie and came to rest on Jaye, holding the door open so that she could duck under his arm. Not that much ducking was needed with over a foot in height between them.