Saturday, November 11
Dawn was very disappointed that her friends had managed to actually get Alice’s full story without her present. When Roe managed to get in touch with Otis Atkins, she insisted that they all had to be there when Alice got to speak to him. Link had given Otis Roe’s phone number, and Roe had given Otis the basics of the situation, but they needed him to talk to Alice himself. Between his schedule, Lin’s, and everyone’s classes, it had taken them a few weeks to schedule something.
Finally, though, they all crowded into Annie’s room one more time and watched Lin sit in the chair and brace herself. She waited a moment, then frowned, her eyebrows drawing together quizzically. Dawn would have thought it was Alice who was confused, except this still seemed to be Lin’s expression. Was Alice somehow failing to show up?
Lin’s eyebrows lifted. “It’s okay,” she said softly. “I came here today to help you. I won’t come into this building unless it’s to help you.”
Then she gasped, closing her eyes, and when they opened again it was Alice who looked through them. She looked around. “Is it time? Really?”
“It’s time,” Annie said, smiling.
Roe took out her phone and dialed, setting it to speaker so they could all hear it ring. Then a male voice on the other side said, “Hello? Roe?”
“Hi, Mr. Atkins,” Roe said. “We have someone who wants to talk to you. Will you identify yourself?”
“Yes, of course. My name is Otis Atkins. I’m named after my grandfather, who was named after his father. I have an aunt named Alice Norburn. She was named after her great-aunt, Alice Atkins, who died while she was attending Chatoyant College.”
Alice gave another gasp and began to cry. “I’m Alice Atkins.”
“I know,” Otis said. “It’s amazing to be able to speak to you. I wish my grandfather could be here to witness this.”
“Your father is my brother Otis’s son?”
“Yes. He never knew you, of course, but he grew up hearing stories of his brilliant aunt.”
Alice cried harder. “I’m not brilliant. If I was, I wouldn’t have… I would have found a way to learn the spell I needed, instead of having it blow up in my face. I would have returned to help my family.”
Dawn felt sorry for Alice in her obvious difficulty of thinking of herself as dead. It made sense—she was here and talking to them, wasn’t she? And yet, of course, if she weren’t dead, she wouldn’t be a ghost forced to possess a medium in order to communicate. From what Dawn had learned about attitudes toward death in her sociology class, she couldn’t be sure that she wouldn’t feel the same way as Alice after she died. Though, of course, she hoped she wouldn’t be forced to become a ghost.
“But from what my grandfather told me, Otis was very proud of you,” Otis said. “He was so impressed that you had worked hard enough to be able to go to college, and to not even have to pay for it. He never went to college himself, but you inspired him to work hard. Do you remember where he was working when you went to college?”
“Yes, of course. He was an assistant at Nickelson’s Shoe Store.”
“Well, that store went on to be the Atkins Shoe Store.” Otis’s voice was warm.
Alice swallowed hard. “Really?”
“Yes. My great-grandfather owned that store. My grandfather turned it into a franchise—seven stores throughout the state. My father inherited the franchise and ran it well, but decided to send me to college. To the same college you attended. I learned so much here, but I never imagined that the ghost I heard about, haunting the girls’ dorm—Mary Thomas was all girls then—was actually my great-aunt.”
“So my family… they did all right without me?”
“Yes, from what I know. Otis worked hard all his life, but his children never wanted for anything. I don’t know exactly what happened with your sister Grace, but she married and had seven children, so I assume she was happy, too.”
Alice gave a watery chuckle, but her tears seemed to have stopped. “Grace always doted on children. I’m glad she got what she wanted. What about my father?”
“I’m afraid I don’t know. My grandfather never spoke about his own grandfather. But the family didn’t fall into ruin. All his descendants have happy lives.”
“Your life is happy?”
“Very much so. I retired a few years ago from my job as a lawyer. My father sold the shoe stores, and the money was divided between my three daughters. I have two grandchildren now and another on the way. Maybe if it’s a girl, I’ll ask them to name her Alice.”
“Oh, no, you don’t have to do that,” Alice said quickly. “I’m so happy to hear you’re all doing well. It’s… it’s all I could ever ask for.”
“Would you like me to come visit you?” Otis asked. “Perhaps when the students here are on a break?”
“I… no. You don’t have to do that.” It was plain from Alice’s face that she didn’t like the idea of her great-grandnephew visiting her. Dawn agreed that it was a strange thought. If she had lived, they would have never met unless she had lived a very long time indeed. “You won’t be able to see me, after all, and I can’t ask for any more of this medium’s time.”
“Oh. Yes, that makes sense. Still, it’s good to know that you’re there.”
“Thank you so much for speaking to me, Otis,” Alice said.
“Thank you for speaking to me,” he said.
“Can I ask a question?” Corrie put in.
“Certainly,” Otis said politely.
“When you went here, you heard stories about the ghost, right? How come you never investigated?”
“I, well—“ He gave a little cough. “I did, once. A friend and I, along with our girlfriends, who were living in Mary Thomas, tried to have a little seance. But the ghost tipped over our candles. Nearly set Mary Lou’s dress aflame.”
Alice’s hands flew to her mouth. “Oh, I’m so sorry.”
“No worries. I didn’t think much of it, really. I didn’t know who you were, and you obviously didn’t know who I was.”
“No, I… suppose not.”
There was a moment of silence. Then Roe spoke. “Mr. Atkins, do you have anything else to say to Alice?”
“Ah, just that she should feel free to get in touch with me at any time. You have my phone number?”
“Yes, I do. And Alice knows how to get in touch with me. Thank you.”
“Goodbye, Otis,” Alice whispered. She covered her face with her hands for a moment, then when the hands lowered, it was Lin’s face looking out at them once more.
Edie raised her eyebrows and looked at Corrie. Was she thinking what Edie was now thinking? If Alice could learn what she did wrong with her spell, maybe she would be able to stop haunting Annie.
“Corrie, do you think Lin would be okay with it if Alice used her body to leave?” Corrie said.
Roe nodded. “If she doesn’t like it, she can just expel her, remember.”
“Is that what happened?” Alice touched her shoulder. “This is a medium… yes, I remember learning about them. That makes sense. I didn’t like being shoved out… but when the space returned, I had to enter. It was half a compulsion, half desperation to make someone actually understand me.”
Edie bit her lip. No wonder Lin didn’t like being around ghosts, if they were even in part compelled to enter her body and use it. That fit with what they had seen, too. If Alice had been given free choice as to whether to possess Lin—well, the ghost they had tried to communicate with a few weeks ago wouldn’t have done it, not when she could just continue scaring people.
“Do you want to try it?” Annie asked. “If you want to stay in the building, that’s perfectly understandable. You’re safe here. But you’re safe out on campus, too. The worst that will happen to you is Lin—the medium—expelling you again.”
Alice took a deep, shuddering breath. “Let’s try it. What do I have to lose?”
She stood and took a step forward. She seemed unsteady on her feet, and Roe held an arm out. Alice took the arm and balanced herself, then moved forward to the door.
Edie quickly got up to follow, as did Annie and Corrie. They made an odd little procession as Alice, moving like a decrepit old woman, walked down the hall on Roe’s arm, with the other three following close behind.
Alice stumbled on the steps, but by the time she’d reached the bottom, she seemed to have regained her balance. By the time they reached the front door, she hardly seemed to need Roe’s arm anymore. She reached out for the handle, but pulled her hand back, hesitating.
“Here,” Annie said. She stepped forward and opened the door.
Alice let go of Roe’s arm and took a step through the door. Her right side, then her left, moved out into the reddish light of the setting sun. She turned to face them, smiling, her hands spread wide. “Here I am.”
Edie couldn’t help grinning. It was a surprisingly beautiful sight. But suddenly Alice gasped, put her hand to her forehead—and then she was Lin again.
“What happened?” asked Annie, running forward. “Did she get pulled back into the building?”
“No,” Lin said, shaking her head and taking a step back. Roe held her hand out, but Lin made a gesture as though to ward her off, and Roe stepped back as well. “I expelled her. I was tired of it. I didn’t want to be moved around.”
“I’m sorry,” Corrie said, walking out of the building as well. Edie followed. “I thought it was worth a try, and that you would expel her if you didn’t like it.”
“And I did,” Lin said, holding her hand out now to stop Corrie. She took a deep breath. “It’s all right. I felt the ghost use my body to stand up, and I chose to let it happen. It just went far enough. I’m going now. I’ll talk to you later, Roe.”
They watched in silence for a moment as Lin walked away, then glanced at each other uncertainly. “Well, it doesn’t sound like she hates you for dragging her into this,” Annie said to Roe.
Roe grinned. “No, I guess not. At least she learned something!”
“I wonder if Alice will talk to us now,” Corrie said thoughtfully. “I mean, using tarot cards or something. We might not have to go through Lin.”
“Let’s try it,” Edie said.
Corrie looked around. “Do you think she’s out here still?”
“If she’s not, then she’s probably back in my room,” Annie said. “And I have tarot cards there. Let’s see… didn’t you say she did some knocking when you were first trying to talk to her?”
“That’s right,” Corrie said. “Alice, if you can hear us, please knock on the door once.”
They were silent for a moment. All Edie could hear was someone shrieking with laughter on the other side of the building.
“Back inside, then,” Annie said, leading the way.
They headed back in to Annie’s room and shut the door. “Alice,” Annie said clearly, “if you can hear us, please knock once.”
They were silent. This time Edie heard a very distinct knock. They all grinned at each other.
“Alice,” Corrie said, “if you know any other way to communicate with us, please knock once.”
This time they were answered with silence. Annie rummaged through her drawer and came out with a box of tarot cards. She shook the cards out into her hand and spread them onto the bed. “Alice, if you can, please pick out a tarot card to communicate with us.”
The cards rustled, as though in a strong breeze. Several of them flipped over, and then they sprayed in every direction—similar to how they had swirled the first time Corrie had tried to communicate with the ghost, but without as much force, so even though a few of them hit Annie, they fell down harmlessly.
Edie took a deep breath. “Alice, are you frustrated? Please knock once for yes, twice for no.”
There was a knock. Edie nodded. “You’re having trouble controlling the cards?”
“That’s what I thought,” Edie said. “This must be very frustrating for you. I’m sorry. We’ll try to come up with another way to communicate with you.”
There was a pause, then another knock, and the girls all laughed.
“Alice, while we’re thinking, do you want to try one other small thing?” Corrie asked. She paused, but there was no response. “I was thinking that you could follow us to our dorm—me and Edie, that is.” She gestured at Edie. “If you are able to leave the building without the medium, you can let us know once we’re there, and then we’ll know you can move around campus on your own.”
Edie held her breath for a moment. Alice knocked. She grinned.
“Great!” Corrie said. “Let’s go!”
She led the way back down the stairs and out of the building; Annie and Roe came with them, too, plainly curious. They didn’t go quickly, in case Alice couldn’t move quickly without a body. Inside Sayer, they went up the stairs and into Corrie and Edie’s room.
Dawn looked up from her desk when they entered. “Hey, there you are,” she said. “Where have you been?”
“Shh,” Edie said.
Corrie closed the door carefully behind them and looked around. “Alice?” she said. “Are you here?”
For a moment Edie thought they had failed. Then there was a knock.
Edie and Annie cheered. Corrie and Roe high-fived. Dawn stared at all of them. “What the heck did I miss?”
Edie looked at Corrie, and all of them started to laugh.
Wednesday, October 18
Edie truly meant to talk to Annie, but it wasn’t easy to get her alone. They didn’t have any classes together, and when they met for meals, they were always with their other friends. With the ghost hanging around, Edie didn’t want to just show up at Annie’s dorm room, so she hoped that the opportunity would come up naturally.
However, it didn’t come up before Wednesday, when Lin met them for dinner to say that she was ready to work with the ghost again. No one wanted to take any more breaks than they had to from talking to the ghost, so after dinner they all headed to Annie’s room. Corrie had suggested waiting for Dawn to finish her shift at work, but Lin didn’t want to stay up that late. Corrie tried calling Dawn to see if she had any updates about the newspapers she’d been looking at, but she didn’t answer—no surprise, if she was working—and they decided it would be okay if they didn’t wait for her.
Lin set herself up in the same way as the last two times and, as before, it was easy to see once the ghost entered her. Alice looked around with wide eyes. “You’re here again. You really want to talk to me?”
“We’ve wanted to talk to you for a while,” Annie said. “A lot of people have.” They’d all agreed to let her be the one to talk to the ghost unless it was necessary for someone else to say something; she seemed to have the best way with Alice, upsetting her the least.
“I didn’t know that.”
“A few weeks ago, my friends tried to talk to you,” Annie said, speaking slowly and carefully, as though thinking through her words as she came up with them. “You seemed to get really upset. You threw their cards at them and, when they followed you out into the hall, you made an illusion so they thought they were going to fall through the floor.”
“I—“ Alice covered her face with her hands. “I’m so ashamed.”
“It’s okay,” Annie said gently. “You can tell us about it. We won’t judge you.”
“You won’t be angry?”
“Definitely not.” Annie looked around at the others.
“No, I won’t be angry,” Edie said. Corrie and Roe agreed with her.
Alice lowered her hands into her lap and twisted her fingers together. “I used to try to talk to people. But they couldn’t hear me, or they couldn’t understand me. There didn’t seem to be any way to make them understand me. This is the first time I’ve been able to have a real conversation with someone. This…” She waved one hand in front of her face. “I don’t know what is happening right now, but I’m grateful that it is. But I started to get really upset when people tried to talk to me, because I couldn’t, and I’m so angry with myself.” Her last few words were half-lost in a wail.
“That’s perfectly understandable,” Annie said. “It must be stressful to be unable to talk to people when you just want them to understand you.”
“That’s not it,” Alice said. “I’m angry with myself for messing up. I reached too far. I wanted more than I was ready for, and I lost everything.”
Edie was pretty sure Alice was referring to how she had died—but she couldn’t be certain. In their last two conversations, Alice had seemed to get upset at the idea that she was dead, so Edie didn’t even know if she understood that she was a ghost. But what did she think was going on, if she couldn’t accept the idea that she was dead?
“I ruined everything for my family,” Alice continued bleakly. “And I can’t do anything to fix it.”
“What happened?” Annie asked. The whole room seemed hushed. “Maybe we can help you fix it.”
“You can’t reverse the process. You can’t…” Alice put her head in her hands. “I know there’s no magic that does that.”
Maybe she did understand that she was dead, but couldn’t bring herself to say it. Edie hoped Annie would be able to keep talking around it. It was a little confusing.
Annie shook her head. “I know that. But maybe we can help you fix the mistake you made.”
“How can anyone do that?”
“I don’t know, but I have no chance of figuring it out if I don’t know what happened.”
“All right. All right.” Alice seemed to shake herself, straightening up. “I needed to graduate. I needed to do a final project. I had to prove myself to the magic professors, to show them that I knew everything I needed to know. I found a spell in a book that I thought would be perfect, but of course I had to test it myself and be sure I understood all the parts before I could perform it in front of them.”
“That makes sense,” Annie said.
Alice nodded. “So I gathered all the components in my room, here.” She gestured at the room. “Juniper branches, candles, agate and amethyst crystals. I arranged them in the prescribed circle.”
Edie hurried to take a seat; Dawn, the last to enter, hastily pulled the door shut behind them. Lin had adopted the same tense, stiff posture she’d had yesterday when the ghost entered her. This time it had happened much more quickly, though. Could it be that the ghost actually wanted to talk to them?
“Alice,” Annie said. “Thank you for returning to speak to us again.”
Alice turned her head and nodded at Annie. “What do you want?”
“That’s our question for you,” Corrie said.
“But we can take our time to figure that out,” Annie said quickly. “We want to know more about you. You lived—you live here in this dorm room. What is the dorm called?”
“Mary Thomas,” Alice said. “Just like the scholarship.”
Edie raised her eyebrows and wrote that down—she was glad she always carried a notebook with her. She’d never heard of a Mary Thomas scholarship.
“Are you here on that scholarship?” Annie asked.
“Yes.” Alice swallowed and looked down at my hands. “I was lucky to find this place. My family—I want to support them, make life easier for them. If I can learn magic, then I’m sure I can find a way to make money.”
“It will definitely help,” Dawn said. “That’s a great idea. My aunt knows magic and it helps her support herself as a single woman.”
Edie wondered if, like Pru, Alice had gone through a doomed romance with a faerie. Or just a doomed romance with a human student, like the story Sam had told—though, now that she thought about it, there was nothing in that story that made it impossible that the ghost’s lover had been a faerie. He had refused to marry her, even though they loved each other, like Tom had refused to be with Pru.
Was Annie trying to find out whether Sam’s story was true? It certainly matched so far. She was a scholarship student trying to make life better for her family.
“Thank you,” Alice said, but her voice was soft and she looked down at her hands, twisting her fingers.
“Is that what you want to do?” Edie asked. “Support yourself as a single woman?”
“There isn’t anyone you want to marry?”
“Me?” Alice looked up, shaking her head. “No, no. I’m much too focused on my work. I don’t have the time to get to know any men.”
At least she wasn’t getting upset. Edie realized belatedly that it had been a risky question—if she had truly killed herself over a man, thinking of him would likely be distressing. But it seemed that Sam’s story wasn’t quite accurate.
Annie seemed to want to press the point. “Not even a fellow student? You haven’t worked with any young men in your magic classes?”
“I suppose.” Alice shrugged. “I’m friendly with some of the others. But we don’t really speak outside of class. Sometimes I work with the professors. I have been working with them recently, since there’s a big project I want to do.”
“Tell us about that,” Annie said. “Is it an independent study?”
“Yes, it’s the last thing I need to do before graduating,” Alice said. “I need to graduate and return home—my father is ill. The professors agreed that I could graduate early if I was able to prove my mastery of the magical disciplines, but…” Her voice faded.
“Yes?” Annie pressed her. “Tell us about that. It sounds very difficult. How do you prove your mastery? It’s more than taking an exam?”
“No… no…” Alice’s voice was faint. Suddenly Lin went limp again, though this time she didn’t collapse like she had yesterday, but caught herself on the sides of the chair.
She pushed herself upright, smiling faintly. “Sorry if that was a bad time to end the conversation,” she said. “The ghost was getting distressed again, and I didn’t want to risk it freaking out like yesterday.”
“That’s okay,” Roe said. “We don’t want you to overtax yourself. Thank you again for helping. It looks like you’re dealing with it well.”
Lin stood up and stretched, her smile widening. “It’s so freeing to know that I can eject a ghost anytime I want to. Doing it a second time proved that it wasn’t just a fluke. I hope I can keep them out when I don’t want them, too, though I won’t test it with this ghost until we’re done. Do you guys want to try another session later?”
“Yes,” Annie said quickly. “If you don’t mind. We still haven’t figured out how she died or why she’s haunting… or, crap, when she lived. I got distracted with the scholarship conversation. I was going to ask her what year she thought it was.”
“Next time,” Lin said. “I’ll be in touch. Right now I’m going to go have a nap.” She opened the door and left quietly.
“Well, that was a lot more illuminating than our last session,” Edie said, looking down at her notes. “We’ll have to see what we can find out about this Mary Thomas scholarship.”
“That might help us narrow down the timeline, too, if it only existed for a little while,” Dawn said. “Then we won’t have to ask her about the year. Though I guess we should still ask her about Otis Atkins.” They hadn’t been able to find Alice Atkins in the yearbooks at all. They’d come to the conclusion that since the first yearbook they could find was from 1910, she must have lived earlier than that; there was certainly plenty of Chatoyant College history to go through.
Sunday, October 15
Edie was not sure she was entirely awake, but Corrie had dragged her and Dawn to breakfast anyway. She’d done an extra long run and was starving, and somehow couldn’t bring herself to eat alone. She’d promised to let Edie sit down while she got breakfast for both of them.
So she was confused when the person who sat down across from her with a bowl of cereal and a huge smile was not Corrie, but Roe. Annie sat down next to her with her own bowl of cereal, also looking cheerful. Edie blinked blearily at them.
“Are Corrie and Dawn coming, too?” Roe asked.
“Um, yeah,” Edie said. “They’re just getting breakfast.”
“Are you okay?” Annie asked, peering at her.
Edie tried unsuccessfully to suppress a yawn. She covered her mouth. “Corrie made me get up,” she said. “I guess I was up late reading.”
“Must have been a good book.”
Edie nodded, but before she could tell Annie about the fantasy novel she was reading, Corrie and Dawn returned. Corrie had two plates and put one down in front of Edie. “I figured chocolate chip banana bread would cheer you up.”
“And a glass of milk,” Dawn added, putting it next to the plate.
Edie grinned and picked up her fork. “I guess that’s worth getting up in the morning for.” Just the smell of the banana bread made her feel a little more awake.
“Hi, guys!” Corrie said to Roe and Annie as she and Dawn sat down. “I didn’t know you were joining us.”
“We’re just glad you’re here,” Roe said, grinning widely again. “Guess what?”
Dawn stopped with her fork in her omelette. “Did you find something about Alice Atkins?”
“Better,” Roe said. “Lin wants to help some more. She said after a good night’s sleep she actually wants to face a ghost again. She’ll try to let this session be longer, but she’s mostly looking forward to being able to expel the ghost when she wants to, so we have to try not to upset the ghost like we did yesterday.”
“That’s great!” Corrie said.
Between the food and the good news, Edie was starting to feel human. She took a swig of milk to wash down the banana bread. “I guess we have to try not to ask the ghost about being dead again. When are we meeting Lin?”
“I’m supposed to call her when we’re done having breakfast and she’ll meet us in Mary Thomas,” Roe said.
“So hurry up,” Annie said with a laugh. She’d already shoveled down her bowl of cereal.
“I’ll do my best, but it’s hard not to slow down and savor this banana bread,” Edie said, taking another forkful.
“I’ll help it go faster.” Annie leaned forward with her spoon and scooped off a piece of Edie’s second slice of banana bread. They all laughed, but Edie thought she saw Corrie and Dawn give each other a significant look.
The banana bread became a lump in Edie’s throat and she looked down at her plate, working hard to swallow. She still owed Annie an answer, and she hadn’t exactly been spending a lot of time thinking about it. She’d been distracted by school and the ghost… and every time she tried to think about giving Annie an answer, any answer, her brain shied away from it. She didn’t want to tell her no and hurt her. But she found it hard to tell her yes when every time she noticed a new tree that was starting to change the colors of its leaves, she thought of Leila and how she’d vanished at the end of last fall.
She didn’t think she was afraid the same thing would happen with Annie. Her friend had been around since the beginning of their freshman year, and—barring the time she had been kidnapped by faeries—had never shown any signs of disappearing, and she was certainly never dishonest. Unlike Leila.
But there was the undeniable fact that Edie had never thought Leila was hiding anything, being dishonest, or likely to disappear, until she actually did.
She ate as much banana bread as she could manage. She was the last to finish breakfast, and they all gathered up their dishes and returned them to the dishwashing area. As they walked out of the dining hall, Roe made a phone call, and by the time they reached Mary Thomas, Lin was waiting for them in the front hall.
Annie smiled at her. “Thanks for doing this again.”
Lin nodded. “I’m excited but I’m also pretty nervous, so let’s get started as quickly as possible.”
“Do you think the ghost will actually return?” Corrie asked Lin as they climbed the stairs. “What if she’s mad about the way you kicked her out?”
“I don’t know,” Lin said. “I’ve never been able to do that before, so this is all new territory to me. How was the haunting last night?”
“It was actually fine,” Annie said. “I slept through the night.”
“Me, too,” Roe said. “But I guess that doesn’t mean she wasn’t out bothering other people.”
“It doesn’t seem likely that she got so upset that she left the building,” Dawn said.
“If she hadn’t gotten that mad before,” Annie said, taking out her key and unlocking her door, “then I doubt it’s even possible.” Edie shivered.
“I don’t think they can leave the buildings or locations they’re tied to,” Lin said, going in and sitting down on Annie’s desk chair again. “I guess that’s one of the problems with being a ghost. You’re trapped. Oh—I think she’s here.”
Corrie took two quick steps forward, then stopped, uncertain. How did one comfort a ghost, even one who was inhabiting someone else’s body? Did she even want comfort? Corrie didn’t want to touch Lin’s shoulder to comfort Alice. But she didn’t want someone coming to investigate the scream and freaking the ghost out further, either.
The scream suddenly ended in a gasp. Alice’s shoulders jerked, then she suddenly flopped over in the middle, like a marionette whose strings had been cut. Her arms dangled nearly down to her ankles.
Roe rushed forward. “Lin! Are you okay?”
Alice—or Lin—took Roe’s outstretched arm and used it to pull herself upright again. She was grinning wildly.
“I’m better than okay,” Lin said. “I did it! I expelled the ghost! I forced her out of my body!”
Annie stared at her. “But we’ve hardly gotten any information out of her.”
“I couldn’t hear the conversation,” Lin said. “I could just tell she was getting distressed, and…” She shook her head and wrapped her arms around herself. “But the important thing is, I can do it! I can remove ghosts at will!”
“That’s great, Lin!” Roe said, grinning. She and Lin seemed to be the only ones pleased with this development.
Corrie was really confused. “I’m glad that it went well for you, but… that wasn’t very helpful. We didn’t get far in our conversation.”
“We found out that her name is—“ Dawn started.
Lin held up her hand. “No, I don’t want to hear any of the details. This is information for you to use, not me.” She took a deep breath and stood up. “I’m going back to my own room now. We can try again another time. Now that I know I can expel the ghost, I think I’ll be more comfortable with letting it in, but right now I’m exhausted.”
“Do you need anything?” Edie asked. “Help getting back, or some food?”
Lin shook her head. “I’d rather just get back to my room. I’ll get in touch with Roe when I’m ready to try again.”
She left, shutting the door quietly behind her. Annie sat back on the bed, looking stunned.
Corrie took a deep breath. “Well, we’ve made some progress, right? We can look up Alice Atkins. If she was a student, we might be able to find her in a yearbook. We can search online, too. Maybe someone will have some information about her life or death.”
“It’s a start,” Dawn agreed. “When she was saying no at the end, do you guys think that meant she didn’t die here, or was she just objecting to the idea that she died?”
“I think she was just freaking out,” Roe said. “Maybe she just doesn’t like to think about having died.”
“But we have to find out how she died to find out how to appease her, don’t we?” Annie asked.
“It might not have anything to do with that,” Dawn said. “Maybe it was just an accident, and if we find out more about her life we’ll know more about how to help her. Or get rid of her. It could be that there’s some magic tying her here.”
“What if we’ve just made everything worse?” Annie asked. Her face was pinched with worry. “She got so upset, and then Lin kicked her out, so she couldn’t even continue talking to us.”
Corrie could touch Annie’s shoulder to comfort her, so she stepped closer and did that. “Maybe we’ve made things better. Now that we’ve made some real progress in talking to the ghost, she might feel like someone actually cares, and bother you less.”
“If you want to stay in our dorm again, you’re welcome to,” Dawn said.
Annie shook her head. “I’ll think about it.”
“Let’s go to the library,” Edie said, standing up and closing her notebook. “It’s not busy right now, right, Dawn? We can look at the old yearbooks and see if we find any more information.”
“Good idea,” Corrie said. “Better than sitting around doing nothing while we wait for Lin.” She held her hand out to Annie.
Annie half-smiled and took Corrie’s hand. “Yeah, okay. I just hope we can find something.”
A few minutes later, they had all gathered in Annie’s room. The room was small and narrow, so it was a bit crowded with all of them there, but they weren’t quite packed in like sardines. Annie and Edie sat on Annie’s bed with a few inches of space between them; Corrie, Roe, and Dawn stood between Annie’s bed and the wall; Lin had taken Annie’s desk chair, sitting on her own.
“Is there anything we need to do?” Annie asked, clutching the notebook in her lap until her knuckles turned white. “To call the ghost or something like that?”
Lin shook her head and closed her eyes. “It will show up.” Her voice was shaking slightly. “It’s… they’re drawn to my presence, and if this is where the ghost spends most of its time, then it shouldn’t take long at all.”
“Unless it hates me, Edie, and Dawn now because we tried to talk to it earlier,” Corrie muttered. She hoped she hadn’t made everything worse by trying so hard to communicate with the ghost. Scratch that, she knew she had—she just hoped it wasn’t something Lin couldn’t fix.
“We just need to wait a few minutes,” Lin said.
“You can’t tell where the ghost is?” Roe asked.
“Just that it’s in this building,” Lin said. “They don’t necessarily take up physical space, it’s more like—oh.” She let out a breath, then took one in sharply, a loud gasp. She was suddenly sitting ramrod straight in the chair, her shoulders so stiff they almost looked pointed.
“You,” she said. It was Lin’s voice, and yet it wasn’t. Corrie could not figure out the difference between now and a moment ago, other than the fury in the voice that definitely hadn’t been there before.
Lin—no, the ghost—glared around at all five of them. “What are you doing here? Leave me alone.”
“We just want to talk to you,” Corrie said quickly.
“If you don’t want to talk,” Roe said, “we don’t have to. You can leave the medium.”
The ghost looked down at Lin’s hands, stiff in her lap, and lifted the fingers to flex them. It was clear that she didn’t want to leave Lin’s body; she was probably enjoying corporeality for the first time in centuries.
“What do you want?” Annie asked. “Why are you haunting this dorm?”
The ghost covered her face with her hands—Lin’s face with Lin’s hands—Corrie didn’t know what to think, except that she was pretty sure Lin had nothing to do with anything her body was doing right now.
No wonder Lin didn’t like telling people she was a medium. It must be incredibly disconcerting to find yourself in a situation in which you have no control over your own body, but something else does. How had she even found out what she could do? “Could do” wasn’t even the right phrase here—it didn’t seem like she had a choice about whether or not to let ghosts in, they just showed up when she came close enough.
“I just want to be left alone,” the ghost said.
“But there must be a reason you’re haunting this dorm,” Annie said. “Did you die here? Did you kill yourself over a man?”
“Is your name Mary Thomas?” Dawn asked.
“No! No! Leave me alone!”
“You’re welcome to leave at any time,” Roe said patiently.
“My name is Edie,” Edie said. Her voice was soft but determined. “What can we call you?”
The ghost swallowed visibly and lowered her hands. “My name was—is—Alice Atkins.”
“I’m Corrie Vine,” Corrie said, since obviously Edie had the right idea and they should all introduce themselves to the ghost. Maybe making a connection to her got her to open up a little bit more.
They all introduced themselves. Annie went last. “I’m Annie McGillan, and you’ve been haunting my room all semester,” Annie said. “Why me?”
Alice looked around. “This is my room!”
“Well, that’s one reason,” Annie muttered.
“So you lived in this room, when you were alive?” Edie asked. “Did you die here, Alice?”
Alice covered her face again. “No! No! No!” The last “no” spiraled into a scream, higher and higher in pitch.
Lin took a deep breath, looking down at her hands. Corrie felt bad for her, with the five of them staring at her as though she were about to do some kind of performance, but there wasn’t really any other way to do this.
Finally, Lin spoke. “Roe assured me that all of you can keep secrets, so I’m trusting you to keep mine. The reason I’m at Chatoyant College is because I’m a natural medium and I needed to learn some control over my ability.”
Corrie gasped, her thoughts already running ahead. Lin must be able to help them communicate with the ghost where nothing else would work.
“I’ve learned a lot,” she continued, “but since I haven’t been able to take lessons with an actual medium—it’s a very rare power—I am still missing some control. And, well, Roe told me that you’re having a ghost problem. I’ve avoided Mary Thomas the entire time I’ve been here because I heard about the ghost, but I guess this is the time to face my fears.” She brought her hands up to rub her eyes with the heels of them, then finally looked up. “So if you want, I’m here to help you talk to the ghost.”
“That would be amazing,” Annie said quickly, leaning so far forward she was nearly toppling off of Corrie’s bed. “Is there anything you need?”
“I don’t ever want to be alone with the ghost,” Lin said, turning to Annie. “And I may need other people there to help the communication along.”
“We’ll go with you,” Corrie said. “As many of us as you want. Is all of us too many?”
“No.” Lin looked around the room. “We’ll just all need to fit into the room.”
“We can all squeeze in,” Annie said.
Corrie could see Lin’s shoulders relaxing and gave her an encouraging smile. She obviously hated telling people she was a medium, though Corrie couldn’t understand why. Maybe she’d had some bad experiences before coming to Chatoyant College. “We’re really grateful for your help.”
Dawn nodded. “We’ve tried to communicate with the ghost, but it didn’t go very well.”
Lin nodded. “I’ve heard stories. But if she can use me to speak… oh, that reminds me, you should bring notebooks so you can write things down. Sometime ghosts say things that don’t make sense until later.”
“Got it,” Edie said, getting off her bed and opening her desk drawer.
Lin looked around at them. “So none of you are going to beg me to look for your great-grandmother or try to get in touch with the ghost of Albert Einstein?”
Edie snorted, straightening up with two notebooks in her hands. “Pretty sure you couldn’t get in touch with my great-grandmother.”
Corrie laughed. Edie’s great-grandmother—at least one of them—was allegedly still alive, since she was a faerie living somewhere in a mountain lake. “I guess I’m not really interested in getting in touch with dead people unless they’re making my life difficult.”
“Is that why you don’t like telling people that you’re a medium?” Dawn asked.
Lin nodded. “That’s part of it, people wanting me to get in touch with a particular ghost, and they don’t like it when I explain that it doesn’t work that way—I mean, it should with the Mary Thomas ghost, but if I can’t go to a location that a ghost is haunting, I can’t really connect to that specific ghost.”
“I think we’re all pretty focused on you connecting to that one specific ghost,” Annie said. “Are you ready tonight or do you need some time?”
Lin stood up. “I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.”
“Let’s all make sure we have our stuff and head over to Annie’s room, then,” Corrie said, standing up as well.
“I need to talk to Rico, but I’ll meet you there,” Dawn said.
“I’ll show you where it is, Lin,” Annie said, leading Lin out of the room.
Saturday, October 14
Annie had laid her head on the table between her arms. “I think I failed all my midterms. This sucks. I can’t concentrate without any sleep.”
Corrie reached out and patted her arm, hastily chewing her salad so she could speak. “I’m sure you didn’t fail every single midterm.”
“You’re really smart, Annie,” Edie said. “You did a better job than you think.”
“If nothing else,” Dawn said, “at least Ritual Magic doesn’t have a midterm. So you only have four midterms to have failed.”
That made Corrie and Edie laugh, and Corrie thought a weak chuckle emerged from Annie. After a moment, she straightened up. “I’m going to get some of that chocolate cake.”
“Good idea,” Edie said. “If nothing else, you can take your mind off your stress.”
Edie looked down as Annie walked off. Corrie looked between them, then at Dawn. Dawn gave her a tiny shrug. Corrie had noticed awkwardness growing between her two friends, and she didn’t like it. Had Annie confessed her crush on Edie and Edie turned her down? That would be terrible. They would make such a great couple—she wanted to see them both happy, as happy as she was with Charlie. No, happier than that—as happy as Dawn was with Rico. And she thought they could make each other happy.
If that had happened, though, at least they didn’t seem to have let it interfere with their friendship. Corrie wished Edie would tell her and Dawn about it, though. Maybe she was still confused.
Dawn sat up straighter and waved. Edie turned to see who Dawn was waving at, and caught sight of Roe entering the cafeteria. She waved, too, and Roe waved back at both of them.
Roe arrived at the table before Annie returned. “Hey, is that seat taken?” she asked. There was someone Corrie vaguely recognized behind her. Corrie would never have noticed the other girl if she hadn’t stopped at the same time as Roe—she saw her around often enough that she was just another student in the dining hall.
“Annie’s going to be back any minute,” Dawn said.
“Perfect,” Roe said, taking the seat on the other side of Annie’s. “Guys, this is Lin. Mind if she sits next to you, Corrie?”
“Of course not,” Corrie said, turning to her left. That explained the vague familiarity. “Hi, Lin, how are you?”
“I’m okay,” Lin said. “Corrie, right? And Edie.” She nodded at both of them—they’d had a few magic classes together by now.
Dawn smiled and gave Lin a little wave. “Hi, I’m Dawn. You’re Celeste’s roommate?”
“Um, yeah,” Lin said, raising her eyebrows. “You know her?”
“She’s in Ritual Magic with me and Annie,” Dawn said, gesturing as Annie sat down with two slices of chocolate cake and a glass of milk.
Lin’s eyebrows went up even higher. “Oh. This is the girl who set herself on fire, isn’t it?”
Annie’s cheeks went pink. “Uh, that’s me. Does everyone know about that?”
“Everyone Celeste knows might have heard about it,” Lin said apologetically. “It was a dramatic story. You’re okay now, right?”
“Yeah, Ginny fixed me up.” Annie touched her chest lightly.
“Lin is going to help us,” Roe said. “Or try to, anyway.”
Annie turned to her with a slight frown. “Really? How?”
“I’d rather wait to discuss that until we can go somewhere more private,” Lin said. “In the meantime, now that I’ve met all of you, I’m getting something to eat. Be right back.”
There was a brief silence after she left. “This is very exciting,” Corrie said, hoping to break the awkwardness. “And mysterious.”
“Yeah, sorry about that,” Roe said. “I’d better get something to eat, too. This is going to be a long night. Unless any of you had plans tonight? We don’t have to do this tonight.”
Corrie shrugged. Edie and Annie both looked down at their plates. “Well, I was going to go over to Rico’s,” Dawn said. “But if this is about helping Annie, he won’t be upset. In fact, he’ll tell me this is more important. It’s not like I never see him.” She smiled.
“Okay, good,” Roe said. “Be back soon.” She jumped up from her seat and headed the same way Lin had gone, toward the food.
Annie sighed, poking morosely at her cake with her fork. “This ridiculous school. Does everything here run on drama?”
“Maybe drama is just another word for magic,” Edie said. “And you can’t tell me you don’t thrive on it, just a little bit. You wouldn’t be back otherwise.”
Annie looked up and laughed. “You’re probably right about that.” Finally, she started to actually eat her cake.
When Roe and Lin returned, they kept the conversation light and superficial, mostly discussing their magic classes. Lin had heard from Celeste about Mardalan, the new faerie professor. She didn’t seem nearly as bothered by Mardalan as the rest of them, but of course, she didn’t have the history they did. Corrie was still baffled by Mardalan teaching. Hadn’t she wanted to get away from Chatoyant College? Why didn’t she do so, now that she could? But none of them could make any sense of it.
Finally, as Corrie’s curiosity about Lin’s potential assistance began to burn, everyone finished their dinners and they headed outside, into the cool evening. Students were still streaming in and out of the dining hall, as well as the dorms. Lin looked around with a frown. “Let’s go somewhere we won’t be overheard. Not inside Mary Thomas.”
“I know a good place,” Edie said.
Corrie shook her head. “Why don’t we all just go back to our room? It’s big enough to hold the six of us.”
“Yeah, that sounds good,” Dawn said quickly. Corrie was pretty sure they both thought that Edie was talking about the orchard kept by the environmental co-op students, but after all the time Edie had spent there with Leila last year, Corrie didn’t want to set foot near the place.
They all trooped up to the room. It was dim until Corrie flipped on the lights and pulled out her desk chair for Lin, who sat gingerly in it. The rest of them sat on Corrie’s and Edie’s beds, looking at Lin.