I knew I should never seek out places like this but I stepped up to the gate leading to the old wreck of a mansion despite my worries. Bad things had happened here. Even my family wouldn't talk about it.
When I was younger, I'd walked past the gate on the way to school. At eighteen I'd left home to get away from the darkness I felt here.
Now, at twenty-two, I came back because the place began haunting me a hundred miles away where I woke with an image of this place and Where is she? echoing in my mind. I'd never had this problem before. I intended to destroy the link.
I put a hand on the gate and stared into the weed-choked yard.
The ghost appeared, a wispy shape taking form as he neared, slowly coming into view.
I'd seen ghosts before. They didn't frighten me the way they had when I was six or repel me as they had in my teens when I simply wanted to be like the rest of the guys at school.
"So, you finally admit you see me?" the ghost asked, his voice a whisper of a breeze. He might have been nineteen or twenty. "Why bother? I'm used to being alone now."
"We're both here for a reason," I said. "Who are you?"
"I don't know," he admitted. "It's been a long time."
That explained why his face wasn't coming into focus and would make it harder to find answers.
"Do you know why you're still here?" I asked. I didn't cross the boundary -- the gate -- separating us. Sometimes the ghost was closer to the Other World than seemed, and I'd almost been pulled across once. I'd learned my lesson.
"Why should I leave?" I heard doubt in his voice as he looked over his shoulder. "This is home."
Things changed: the house wasn't a ruin, but a lovely place of color and fresh paint. I could see movement at the windows and thought I could hear someone singing --
The door opened in the ghost house; a man stepped out with something oddly glittering in his hand.
"Look at me!"
The ghost spun, shocked by the order. His face became clearer now, the eyes too large.
"Who are you?" I asked again.
"Daniel Michaelson," he answered, his voice less of a whisper. "I was in love with Betsy Kerr and my father didn't approve. Where is she?"
I could see the man on the veranda with the rifle. He swayed, clearly drunk.
"Betsy was Irish, you see. She'd sing me Irish ballads. My mother fired her, of course, as though what I felt was Betsy's fault. I took her to a lodging house and said I'd come the next day for her. I went back home. I thought about my choice all that night. The next day I packed and while my parents were entertaining that evening, I walked away."
But he hadn't gotten far. I could see the realization in his face while the man behind Daniel lifted the rifle and steadied himself. I had thought to save Daniel from the knowledge of what had happened, but in the last moment I realized the ghost was standing where he'd been when he was shot, with his back to the house . . . and he'd never known how he died.
He did now. Blood suddenly blossomed across his chest and he gave a cry of despair, feeling at least an echo of the original pain. I could see the bullet, a slow silver trail, hit the metal of the gate and bounce backward. Daniel didn't seem to notice when it pierced his arm.
"He shot me," he gasped, his hands going to his chest though the blood had disappeared. "I never saw her again, did I?"
"No, you didn't." I knew what had pulled me here now. "That was nearly a hundred years ago."
"So long? Then she's gone, too."
"Yes. The time has come for you to finally join Betsy, don't you think?"
"I don't know where she is," he whispered with growing despair. Tears ran down his face.
"My great-grandmother worked here for about half a year," I said. The man on the veranda lowered his rifle. "She left and later had a son she named Daniel --"
"Oh, my poor Betsy --"
"She never regretted. I heard the tales from my family. So now you can finish your promise and join her."
"Can't you hear her singing?"
I knew he could because I could hear her; a lilting voice with an accent so strong I couldn't understand the words. I looked to the right where she walked down the street as she must have for years afterwards, and she paused by the gate and bowed her head --
I pushed the gate open.
A dangerous move for me: She took hold of his hand in a swirl of cold, white mist, the psychic pull of their wants transcending real world lawas. They wanted to live and I was the life incarnate, close enough that they could feed off me. I had faced this before.
However, we were related, the three of us. I hadn't realized how dangerous a tie that would be. I tried to back away, but ice spread through my body and I fell.
I would die here, like Daniel.
The icy pain eased as they walked away from the house. She still sang. I never saw where ghosts went, but these two were happy. That was rare enough that I felt like I'd done something good, besides ending my own nightmares about this place.
I stood and waved to the cop when he drove by again. No trouble here.
And I hoped the rest of my ancestors had died quietly in bed.
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