The blind ghost returned in the spring, and with her more nightmares. The days warmed, the magnolias opened and foreboding settled in like an unwelcome caller.
Night after night I lay in a dream-like state, worn out from the physical labor of my cemetery restorations, but too frightened to succumb to a deeper sleep because she would appear to me then. The lookalike specter that had followed me back from the other side. I wanted to believe she was merely my namesake, the ghost of some long-dead ancestor, but I very much feared she was a vision of my future self. A manifestation of the tortured woman I would one day become.
Discomforted by my thoughts, I glanced over at John Devlin, the Charleston police detective who lay sleeping beside me. His ghosts were gone now. His daughter, Shani, had finally been able to move on, thus breaking the tie that had kept her mother—Devlin’s dead wife—bound to him. In the ensuing months since Mariama’s departure, I’d allowed myself a glimmer of hope that Devlin and I might finally be together. We’d forged a strong bond since that fateful day. An unbreakable connection that neither ghost nor human could sever. Or so I wanted to believe.
But as the temperature climbed and the days lengthened, my blood only ran colder. A shift in the wind brought a whiff of something unnatural. Distorted shadows crept across my bedroom ceiling. As the pull from the other side grew stronger, I couldn’t help but obsess over my visitor’s ominous prophecy: What you are, I once was. What I am, you will someday become.
She’d only ever come to me in my dreams, but I was awake now and I could feel her presence stronger than ever. Careful not to rouse Devlin, I rose and tiptoed from the room, slipping down the hallway, through the kitchen and out to my office, which was located at the very back of the house. The long windows afforded a view of the garden where moonlight dappled the freesia. I stood there probing the shadows, the flutter of every leaf, the quiver of every limb spiking my pulse.
A draft seeped in through the windows, bringing the smell of dust and dried lavender. With quilling hair, I peered through the layers of moonlight and darkness until I found her. I didn’t outwardly react to her diaphanous form, but everything inside of me stilled as a terrible acceptance stole over me. She was here. Not just in my imagination, not just in my dreams, but here. And now I could no longer deny that I was being haunted.
She was dressed in a white lace frock suitable for a wedding or burial. Moonlight shone upon and through her so that I had no trouble distinguishing her all-too familiar features—the straight nose, the high cheekbones and the slightly parted lips. The same understated features that stared back at me from the mirror except for one notable exception. Her eyes were missing.
Levitating outside my window, she pressed a hand against the glass and a wintry chill shot through me, a bone frost that came only from the other side. The windows rimed and a film of ice formed in the corners of the panes. Miniscule fissions fanned out from her splayed fingers as the glass crackled beneath the pressure of her brittle cold.
Why are you here? I wanted to cry out. What do you want from me?
But I already knew the answer. She wanted my essence, my life force, my humanness. She wanted what every ghost craved—to be alive. That’s what made them so dangerous. That’s what made them so voracious.
No sound came from her moving lips, but I could hear her message clearly in my head: The key. It’s your only salvation. Find it!
Then she dissolved into the shadows as the rime on the windows vanished.
I might have jumped at the sound of my name, but after years of living with ghosts, I’d learned to quell my reflexes. Devlin moved up behind me. The power of his presence never failed to thrill me, but I could take no pleasure in his nearness at that moment.
“What are you doing?” he asked.
“I couldn’t sleep.”
“Nothing,” I lied.
He placed his hands on my shoulders. “My God, your skin is like ice.”
“It’s cold in here.”
“Come back to bed.” His fingers trailed down my arm. “I’ll keep you warm, Amelia.”
The way he drawled my name, even more than the lingering chill, drew a shiver. “In a minute.”
He rested his chin on my head with a sigh. “Something’s bothering you. What is it? Another nightmare?”
I hesitated, my gaze scanning the darkness. I wanted so much to confide in Devlin, lay all my cards on the table, but that would mean telling him about the ghosts. If he remembered anything of his near-death experience, perhaps he would have been more receptive to my gift. But he’d awakened from his coma without any memory of those moments before and after the shooting. As his wounds healed, his disdain for the supernatural returned stronger than ever, leaving me to brood about how he would react to such a confession.
After everything he’d been through with the malicious and now dead Mariama, an attachment to an unstable woman was the last thing he’d want. So I’d taken the cowardly way out and said nothing.
For most of my life, I’d been sequestered behind cemetery walls, protected from ghosts but isolated from human companionship by Papa’s rules. The loneliness of my adolescence and young adulthood justified the silence. Or so I told myself. I had a right to happiness, no matter how fleeting, and so I clung to my secrets as tenaciously as the ivy roots that I tugged from my forgotten graveyards.
“Tell me,” Devlin insisted.
“I thought I saw something in the garden.”
He was instantly alert. “Just now?”
“A few minutes ago.”
He turned me to face him. “Why didn’t you wake me?”
“Because it was probably nothing more than a shadow.” Why had I even mentioned it? Was I testing him? Prodding him to admit that he, too, could sense an otherworldly presence?
“I’ll take a look around,” he said.
“You’re wasting your time. You won’t find anything.”
His expression remained stoic, but I felt the same mixture of exhilaration and trepidation that I’d experienced upon our first meeting. I wondered if I would always be a little unsettled in his company. His charisma could be overwhelming at times, and yet his manner remained formal and reserved. He was a beguiling puzzle, John Devlin. An enigma to his very core.
“It’s not a waste if it puts your mind at ease,” he said, pressing his lips to my forehead. He disappeared into the kitchen and I heard the back door close behind him. A moment later, he was in the garden, the beam of his flashlight outing tree trunks and exposing dark corners.
Moonlight glinted in the new silver at his temples, a souvenir from his journey to the other side. My breath quickened as I watched him. Without ghosts feeding on his energy, he’d lost that gaunt, desolate look. His eyes were no longer sunken, his cheeks no longer hollow, but regardless of his physical wellbeing, he would always be tormented by memories. There would always be an empty space inside his heart that I could never fill.
He stood in my white garden, shoulders rigid as he lifted his face to the moon before turning—with a shudder, I could have sworn—back to the house.
“All clear,” he said as he came into my office. “Nothing to worry about.”
He moved back to the windows and we stood gazing out into the moonlit garden where the early yarrow gleamed like silver. Garlands of wild roses cascaded down from the tree branches, adding a touch of romance to the night as nothing else could.
Devlin wrapped his arms around my waist, pulling me against him once more. Safe within the sanctuary of his embrace, I tried not to think about the past or the future. The only certainty we could ever have was in the moment. I’d learned that lesson the hard way.
But even when he kissed me, I couldn’t shake the feeling of doom that had been building for weeks. Something was coming. The blind ghost’s visit was just the beginning.