I ran through the fields, wanting to put some distance between my self and the house. The tall grass whipped against my jeans, and my passage startled a handful of young crows. They took tho the air, cawing, and headed for the trees.
I was going that way myself, but not quite all the way to the woods. About three quarters of the way there, on a little rise between two former fields, a singled gnarled apple tree stood bent under the weight of its old, sturdy branches. Generations of Bell children had climbed its heights to perch, looking out over their kingdom while munching on its sweet fruit.
There was another reason we were drawn here, though; another reason I’d spent many a summer day out here running wild.
“Adelaide,” I called as I drew near.
A chill breeze swept past me, and there she was, standing under the apple tree: a fresh-faced young woman, about seventeen or eighteen in appearance, dressed in a simple button-down dress and solid boots. She looked like she’d just stepped off the pages of Little House on the Prairie. Except that she was transparent.
In death she was all-over a ghostly white, though I’d seen a painting and knew her long plait was the same reddish-brown as mine, and her eyes the same hazel.
“Lizzie,” she said, and despite the chill of her presence somehow imbued it with warmth. “I’ve missed you.”
“I’ve missed you too.”
Adelaide was my best friend growing up, by turns babysitter and playmate. Then she was my sister and confidante – it was to Adelaide that I confessed my first fumbling forays into romance. Now she was that and more; a mentor.
Oh, and my great-great-great-plus-a-few-more-for-good-measure grandmother. A very old ghost.
“Done with dinner already?” she asked.
Thanksgiving dinner in the Bell household started early; it was barely past five and though the sun was riding low in the sky, it wasn’t gone yet. I tilted my head back to bask in the golden-orange light.
I sighed. “I…may have aborted early.”
One ghostly eyebrow rose in an exquisite expression of non-surprise. “What tactless thing has your brother said this time?”
I shook my head. “Not Devon this time. I screwed up, Adelaide.”
She settled down under the tree, looking for all the world as if she was leaning against the trunk. Most ghosts couldn’t do that. Then again, most ghosts weren’t as old as Adelaide, or as strongly bound to a place. She broke the ‘rules’ in a lot of ways.
Adelaide’s transparent hand patted the ground beside her. “Tell me.”
I joined her. Slowly, at first, but then faster as the story poured out of me: Henry’s first approach, my reluctance, the favor, Father Thomas and the exorcism of Emily Lawlor, the missing Tony, the encounter in the movie theater and the discovery of the absent anchor. And I confessed to her something I hadn’t told anyone else.
“I’m scared.” I remembered that sudden, ice-bath chill and the sense of presence that had emanated from that awful creature. And the sick feeling I’d gotten when I heard it speak my name. “It knew my name, Adelaide. It was following me. Why?”
“That worries me,” Adelaide admitted. “The family, your parents — they’re well known in the world of the flesh and the world of the spirit. Devon, even, because of his teelvision program — that I could understand. But you?”
I’d always stayed out of the limelight. I’d always stayed on the fringes of the family business, too, treating it like a barely tolerable chore. It made my parents happy; it helped people; I was good at it. But I was good at other things too. I could help people in other ways — as a doctor, for example — and that wasn’t a life that was compatible with ghost-hunting.
So there was no reason for that ghost to know me.
“Unless…” Adelaide continued. “Could it be related to the old Parish Cemetary?”
That night in the old churchyard that I’d dreamed about on the train. The night that Henry saved my life.
“I don’t see how,” I said flatly.
Adelaide pursed her lips. “Then I don’t know.”
“So what do I do, Adelaide? I don’t think I can handle this one on my own.”
She set her mouth firmly and shook her head. “You can’t. Go inside, apologize to your parents –”
I made an involuntary noise.
“–apologize to your parents, and ask them for help. Devon too, if you can stand it. I’ll have a think, see if I remember anything that could help.”
Adelaide was the original hex-eye in the family. In the three-hundred-odd years she’d been around, she’d seen it all. She was an invaluable trove of information.
I looked out over the darkening fields. The sun was nearly gone, and the dusk painted the world in an indigo wash. “All right.”
But as I started toward the house, I suddenly remembered something. I turned back. “He knew you.”
“What?” Adelaide’s manifestation had nearly faded into nothingness; my words brought her abruptly back to visibility. “What do you mean?”
“When I exorcised Emily, the spirit said “Adelaide’s children” had always been of interest to it. It knew about you.”
“And you don’t know its name? Anything at all about it?”
I shrugged. “It was too clever to to give me its name. It called itself Malthas, though, to the little girl –”
I stopped. Adelaide had abruptly vanished, and my senses said she was really gone. The only chill in the air was that of the evening breeze. Still, I called out:
Nothing. What is she hiding?