Read Surrender Online

Authors: Lee Nichols

Surrender (4 page)

I opened my window, a smile on my face—then realized it wasn't him. It was another ghost, a woman in a long white nightgown. I didn't recognize her in the distance, but for some reason she reminded me of mad Ophelia in Shakespeare's
Hamlet
. Like when she got closer, I'd see flowers woven through her hair and a crazy look in her eyes.

Except as she shifted from the darkness of the maples into the moonlight, I realized who she was. “Rachel?” I gasped.

I thought I saw her smile faintly before she turned, her attention suddenly on the distant tower of Thatcher, peeking over the museum's walls.

Aunt Rachel
, I said, sputtering in surprise.
What … what are you—how are you—

She didn't answer. She drifted in the direction of Thatcher, then faded into the Beyond before she hit the old stone wall.

Rachel was dead. I'd seen her die. No, I'd done more than that: I'd killed the wraith inside of her, the only thing keeping her alive.

And she was a ghostkeeper. Ghostkeepers didn't become ghosts unless they killed themselves, like Neos had, and then they went insane. Seeing Rachel was impossible.

I ransacked the room until I found my phone and dialed Bennett. He was the only other person still alive who was there for her death.

“I just saw Rachel's ghost,” I blurted, as soon as he answered. “Out the window, she was here in the drive. She smiled at me and then went over the gates toward Thatcher.”

“What? You can't have. It must've been someone else.”

“Bennett, I think I'd know my own aunt.”

“Really? Because you've only seen her once in ten years and she was possessed by a wraith.”

Something about his tone set my back up. “I know what I saw.”

“Emma, it doesn't make any sense.”

“Maybe she didn't die.”

He didn't respond, but I could hear him breathing into the phone, not wanting to argue with me, but not agreeing with me, either.

“Okay,” I said, pacing the room. “She's dead. Then why did I see her ghost?”

“Because it wasn't Rachel. It has to be some other ghost.”

He was right, of course. “What if it's a new kind of ghost that can shape-shift? Do you think Neos sent it here, looking like Rachel, to mess with me?”

“I've never heard of shape-shifting ghosts,” he said.

“You'd never seen a wraith or a siren before you met me, either.”

“That's true.” He half laughed. “You really bring the fun, don't you?”

“Ouch,” I said. That had been a direct hit.

“You know I didn't mean it like that.”

“It's okay.” I sighed into the phone. “I miss you.”

“I know,” he answered. But he didn't say it back, or tell me he loved me, or that he wished he were here kissing me.

“You're not going to get all cold and weird on me again, are you?” I didn't think I could handle that.

“No, it's just a mess here, after all the … trouble. The survivors are still grieving, and in shock. They put Simon in charge, but they hate that he isn't Yoshiro. It's not his fault, but he isn't exactly commanding.”

“Give him a chance, Bennett. He's smart and he cares.”

“I know,” he said, with no conviction.

“You'll tell him about what I saw, right?”

“I'll tell him, but … there are a zillion more pressing things right now.”

“Fine,” I said. “I'll deal with it myself. I always do.”

“Emma—be careful. I wish I were there, instead of here. The only person I want to be protecting is you.” His voice changed. “Preferably under the covers with my lips pressed against yours.”

I shivered at that last part. “That sounds good,” I said softly into the phone. I lay down on the bed, imagining him beside me.

He started to say more when voices sounded in the background, calling his name, asking him something. “Em, I've got to go. If I were there, I'd kiss you good-bye. I guess I'll just have to say I love you.”

“I love you.”

After we hung up, I stared at the little clock on my iPhone: 10:58 p.m. Bennett had only been gone seven hours, but it felt like days—being separated from him was worse than ever.

3

After seeing Rachel's ghost—or whatever it was—and talking to Bennett, I barely slept. The next morning I stumbled downstairs into the kitchen, forgetting that the Sterns were in residence. Mr. Stern sat in the breakfast nook, looking fully rested, dressed, and composed, and eyed me with disfavor.

I'd tossed my gray silk robe over my red flannel pj's, only expecting to greet Anatole, waiting with a cup of tea. I'd grown used to his mustache twitching at the disheveled sight of me. Mr. Stern was another story.

I froze at the kitchen counter like a deer in headlights, hoping Natalie would suddenly appear to act as a buffer, but she was nowhere. Anatole and Celeste were on their best servant behavior and were lingering in the background.

“Good morning,” Mr. Stern said, though his tone said “bad morning.”

“Uh, I'm sorry.” I adjusted my robe. “I didn't expect to see anyone.” I tried for levity. “Well, except the ghosts.”

“Which he can't see,” Mrs. Stern said, entering the room from behind me. She smelled of expensive perfume and was dressed in a classic cream cashmere turtleneck over charcoal gray pants. Her expression was just as dour as his.

Crap. Of course; they were both ghostkeepers. He must've lost his powers to Mrs. Stern, and I'd just rubbed his face in it. Way to make another good impression. “I'm sorry. I should've—”

“You're sorry for a lot, aren't you?” Mr. Stern said. His clear blue eyes, so much like Bennett's, bored into me.

“Yeah, I—” I what? I didn't know what to tell them. How to say I was sorry about Olivia's death. That I didn't want Bennett to be taking Asarum any more than they did.

They were supposed to be my guardians, but they didn't exactly make it easy for me to ask for help. And I needed it. I didn't know what to do about the ghost I'd seen last night or how to find Neos. I longed for Simon, who was always such a great sounding board, but now was too busy with the Knell. I was back to feeling alone and unsure of myself, like when I'd first come to Echo Point.

“I'd better go,” I said, and fled the room. They didn't try to stop me.

No matter how much I worried about it, or willed her to reappear, I didn't see Rachel's ghost again. Maybe I should've been relieved, but I couldn't shake a sense of dread. She'd disappeared in the direction of Thatcher, and by the time
Christmas Eve day rolled around, I realized if I was going to deal with this, I needed to check out the school. It was my only hope.

Natalie and I had gone into the village and bought a last-minute amaryllis plant for Mrs. Stern and “hermits” for Mr. Stern, which were a kind of raisin cookie. Natalie swore she'd heard him mention he had a “fondness” for them. We sort of hoped gifts would make them like us better, but it was doubtful. Then while Natalie knotted Christmas bows around the flower pot and cookie box, I flopped onto her bed and called Harry.

“Vaile,” he answered. “Calling to wish me
felix dies Nativitatis
?”

“Oh. Sure. Merry Christmas.”

He laughed. “Your enthusiasm overwhelms.”

“How big's your tree?” I asked, wondering if they grew Christmas trees large enough to fill the great room in Harry's mansion.

“My tree is redwood big. You should come over and feel the spirit.”

“We are talking about your Christmas tree, right?” Leave it to Harry to take it in some deviant direction.

“Oh. That tree. Also redwood big.”


Anyway
,” I said, “I called because I want to know if there's a way to sneak into Thatcher. The gates are locked.” I'd walked up yesterday, just to take a look, and hadn't been able to get in.

“What makes you think I'd know?”

“Coby told me about the pig in the fireplace.”

“You should've been there for that.” He chuckled. “It was folkloric.”

“Folkloric?”

“Like ‘epic,' but on a smaller scale,” he explained. “All right. Walk around campus, by the lower field. The back door of the field house is easy to pop open. You cut through the boys' lockers—avert your eyes, young Emma—and out the front door. Then to get into the main hall—”

“No,” I stopped him. “That's enough. Thanks, Harry.”

“What're you planning? Secret ghostly things?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, if you decide to deck the halls with gay apparel, promise you'll invite me along.”

I smiled. “You'll be the first I call.”

“Namaste,” he said, which he'd been saying since he got out of rehab. It wasn't growing on me.

Natalie glanced up from her bow. “Did he say ‘namaste'? Tell him to namaste my ass.”

“Natalie says—”

“I heard,” he said. “Tell
her
anytime.”

I snorted and hung up. “He said—”

She held up her hand. “I don't want to know. What I
do
want to know is, what are we doing at Thatcher?”

I liked that “we,” but I said, “You don't have to go with me.”

“Does it involve wraiths?”

“Doubtful.”

“Ghasts?”

“Not that I know of.”

Natalie stared at me. “Then what is it, Em? I can tell you're worked up about something.”

I lay back on her bed. “Probably nothing,” I said to the ceiling.

“But …”

“I think I saw Rachel's ghost three nights ago.”

“Rachel, your aunt? I thought she was …”

“Yeah.” I explained the whole story. I hadn't told her before because I thought she needed a break: time to get over Simon and Bennett being gone without worrying about a new threat. I wasn't sure what Rachel's ghost meant, but I couldn't help feeling Neos had sent her. I needed Natalie's help. There was no one else. “Bennett says I should find out more before bothering Simon about it.”

“And you think she's at Thatcher?” Natalie asked.

“That's the direction she was heading.”

Natalie glanced out the window. “Let's go before it gets dark.”

“Good idea,” I said, popping up.

“And bring your dagger,” Natalie said.

“Deal.”

We popped the door at the field house, just like Harry said, and I wished we really were there to play a prank. I was getting sick of chasing ghosts and fighting wraiths—battling Neos will do that to you. And Natalie was acting nervous, which worried me. She was the gutsy one, rushing
headlong into danger, knowing I'd clean up the mess. But today, she held back.

Without anyone around, Thatcher felt weird, sort of sad. A heavy silence was broken only by the hollow rush of the wind. The day was bitter cold, and I couldn't tell if I was imagining an edge of malevolence in the air.

“I don't like this,” Natalie said. “This is the kind of thing that turns out nasty for us.”

“I know. Anytime we go looking for ghosts, wraiths or ghasts jump out at us. Maybe I imagined Rachel. It was late, and I was upset about Bennett leaving. Let's just do a little summoning and get out of here.”

She gave a short unhappy nod, and we wandered through the grounds together, but not too close. I think we both would've preferred to hold hands, but we'd tried that before and discovered our powers were completely different. We worked better apart.

But not today. Today neither of us could summon Rachel. Neither of us could summon anything other than the usual Thatcher ghosts. The campus used to belong to my ancestor Emma, who'd lived here over two hundred years ago, and I felt a connection to it, yet I couldn't detect any trace of Rachel. It was almost as though my ability was being blocked. I felt as though something was threatening us—I just couldn't figure out what it could be. If it were a ghost, I should be able to summon it.

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