This time I didn’t freak out. Okay, I did a little, but not with the mind numbing terror which sent me scrambling last time. Instead, I reacted with magic right away, my demon power crawling in between the echo and myself, holding his bitter cold at bay.
He winced as the amber flames licked at him, but didn’t run when they threatened.
“Give it back.” His anger was a heavy, tangible weight in the cold he brought with him.
I slipped the bracelet from my wrist and held it out to his ghost.
“I’m sorry,” I said, proud my voice only shook a very little. “Here you go.”
He scowled at me, ghostly form shuddering as he tried twice to take it. I was grateful for the heat from my demon, keeping him from sliding his hand through mine.
Frustrated, even more angry, he backed off, cold pouring from him, so much the edge of my shield misted up from the change in temperature.
“You do know you’re dead, right?” The words slipped out before I could think how heartless they sounded. But the young man’s echo stilled. Nodded. All of his anger seemed to drain from him as he sank into the chair beside my bed. Fascinated instead of fearful now, I wondered how he managed not to slide through the wing-back and onto the floor.
Even as a ghost, habits like sitting must stick.
“Of course I know that,” he said, voice falling into a more normal range, less empty and tin-edged and more robust. Almost like he spoke through a telephone receiver or bad speakers.
I have no idea how I went from scared and freaked to suddenly empathetic so fast, but the sad look on his pale face, the way he cupped his cheeks in his hands, elbows on his knees, broke the last of my anxiety and allowed me to see him, not as a threat, but as a person who used to be.
“I’m sorry you died.” Weak, but it elicited a head bob, a try at a smile from his lips. A shame. He really was attractive, especially now that he wasn’t throwing a fit.
“Thanks.” He sat back in the chair, sinking slightly through it before stopping himself. “Stupid accident.”
“I’m Syd.” I waved a little, bracelet still gripped in my left hand.
“Alex.” His eyes locked on the silver chain and sparkling charms. “I bought it for my grandmother.” Phantom tears rose in his eyes, trickled down his cheeks. “She raised me after my parents died.” Ah. Now I understood where the couple from the photos went. So tragic. “She’s my only family.” He paused. “Was.” Sighed. “I wanted to give it to her for her birthday, hid it away. But I never had the chance.”
“The last thing I remember,” he said, gesturing at my hand and the prize there, “just before the car hit me, was I had to make sure Nanny got her present.”
Which was why his echo was trapped in the piece.
His hollow eyes met mine. “The next thing I knew, I woke up here, in my room.” Alex looked around. “But your stuff was here, mine was gone. And you were wearing her bracelet.”
I wished I could pat his knee or something to make him feel better. “I didn’t know,” I said.
He bobbed a nod, ghostly hair waving around his face. “I get it,” he said. “I didn’t mean to scare you. I was just worried Nanny would never get her gift.”
I knew what I had to do. How to free him. But could I come up with a way to hand over the present, alert the recipient it was from Alex all without giving away the fact I was talking to his ghost?
Eep. Yeah, not likely.
Still, I had to try. It was the least I could do. Besides, I had a feeling if I didn’t, I’d end up having him follow me the rest of my life. Not so bad, I guess, except I really liked my privacy.
And his downcast expression would probably get depressing after a while.
“What’s her name?” At least I could find out if she was still alive or even in town. “Your Nanny?”
He perked immediately. “Evie Downs,” he said as my heart fell into my feet and slipped out onto the carpet to gasp a final beat before expiring.
Alex didn’t seem to notice my reaction, leaning eagerly forward with the first attempt at a smile I’d seen on his face. “Can you give it to her?” He reached out, trying to touch me. My demon magic snarled and repelled him, a cascade of sparks falling from our contact. “For me?” Eagerness filled his energy, a pulsing wave of expectation battering my wards. “I’ll be good,” he said. “I’ll go back in the bracelet. So when you find her, give it to her, I’ll be there.” He sagged. “I’ll be able to say goodbye.”
“I can’t.” My words came out in a moan of agony. “I’m not allowed to be even really talking to you. My family… I could get in a lot of trouble.” I really had to send him over. Not chat with him like he was still alive. The longer we talked, the closer I came to risking being accused of using necromancy, even though I knew in my heart that power had nothing to do with this.
Alex fell on his knees, hands clasped in front of him as his handsome face pleaded with me. “You can’t let me stay like this,” he said. “I have to give the bracelet to Nanny.” His face contorted softly, whole form shivering. “I feel it, Syd, like it’s my whole world, all I have left. Please.”
“I can’t just give this to Evie and tell her it’s from you,” I said, my own desperation rising. “She’ll start asking questions.”
Oops. I guess I hadn’t actually told him I knew her, had I? I thought he was anxious before. Now that he understood his goal was close at hand, the brightness of his outline sharpened, his form even more distinct.
“You can!” He writhed as though in pain. “You know her, you can take it to her. She thinks she’s psychic or something. She’ll totally believe you.”
That was the trouble, wasn’t it? I couldn’t stand out, had to keep myself as normal as possible. Or it would be all kinds of trouble I knew the coven would blame me for.
How much did this suck?
And yet, I couldn’t just leave him to suffer. Couldn’t.
I’d have to find a way.
“Okay,” I said, shoulders sagging as I slipped the bracelet back on my wrist and held it out to him. “Hop in. I’ll get it to her and make sure she knows it’s from you.” Ack. “Somehow.”
Alex didn’t hesitate, leaping forward in a rush of white. It took a lot of effort to restrain my demon fire from holding him off, but I managed, feeling him sink into the metal, the bracelet cold on my skin as he settled and went silent.
Part one, complete.
Now to figure out how to tell a woman who thought she was a witch I had a message and a gift for her from her dead grandson without raising all kinds of ruckus in the family.
What could possibly go wrong?
Family Magic by Patti Larsen is the 2014 winner of World’s Best Story launching August 6th 2015.
Stay tuned for Chapter eight of our exclusive prequel to Family Magic.