I smiled at the barista, took my coffee, and very carefully avoided eye contact with the spirit hovering over her right shoulder. It’s hard to do – sure, they’re transparent, but they glow. And flicker. And make faces, apparently.
I ignored it and turned away.
He followed me out, trailing behind me as I crossed Broadway against the light. Even out of my line-of-sight, I knew he was there. I could feel him, a pocket of “cold” in my psychic awareness. Distracted, I nearly missed getting killed by a taxi cab, who slammed on his horn as he sped by. “Fuck off, asshole,” I muttered, too angry to be frightened.
“Now, Lizzie, don’t be like that.”
I sighed heavily. “Not talking to you, Henry.”
The hairs on my neck stood on end, as the cold-that-was-Henry drew closer. “I was not referring to the profanity, my dear.” His ghostly breath tickled my ear, and I flinched. He must be really agitated, if he could manifest that strongly in broad daylight, so far from his bones. “As delightful as I find your modern vocabulary, I have greater concerns.”
“And I said I’m not interested.” I spoke a little too loudly; two girls, arms full of textbook, gave me sidelong glances as they passed.
I stepped through the wrought iron gates and onto Columbia University’s campus. It was an oasis in the gritty, dirty, city, an elegant arrangement of red brick and marble. Perfectly manicured green lawns and copper roofs covered in verdegris provided a colorful contrast.
Henry came around in front of me, walking backwards. His image seemed clearer than usual, today. Why hadn’t I noticed it before? I could almost make out the pattern on his tie. I glanced around, worried. If he became any more solid, people would start to notice, and a man in a 19th century tailored suit stands out, even in New York.
“Elizabeth, you cannot afford not to be interested.”
I pulled out my phone, pretended to dial, and held it up to my ear. “Hello, Henry. No, I’m really busy.”
He grimaced. “Lizzie.”
“I’ve got an exam on Monday. I don’t have time for this. I’ve made it abundantly clear — to you, to everyone! — that I am officially out of the business.”
“I said no.” I ran up Low steps, dodging around students who sat to read or chat. Henry winked out behind me and appeared in front. He had barely opened his mouth before I ran through him.
Running through a manifestation is unpleasant for a person, but it’s worse for the ghost. I had hoped that the disruption would be enough to get rid of him, but Henry reappeared at my side, sputtering.
“That was absolutely uncalled for.”
I narrowed my eyes. “Leave me alone.”
I fell in behind the stream of students walking the brick path toward the north side of the campus, and glanced at my watch. Five minutes until class. Would Henry hound me all through my lecture?
“I’m calling in my favor!”
I stopped short, oblivious to the outraged cries of the people walking behind me. “You’re doing what?”
“I am calling in my favor. Need I remind you how much, exactly, you owe me?”
“I — no.”
“Then I, William Henry Turner, do charge thee, Elizabeth Marie Bell, to carry out this task, which shall discharge all formal obligation –”
“Okay, okay,” I whispered. “I’ll go see Father Thomas.”
Henry placed two insubstantial hands on my cheeks. I shivered.
“Thank you,” he said. Cold lips brushed my forehead, and he was gone.