Saturday, January 16, 2010

Judith and the Ghost of Amanda MacIntosh

The good folks at Crossed Genres have called upon authors to Post a Story for Haiti, to encourage people to donate to the relief effort. Authors are posting short stories for free. In return, we ask you, our readers, to please consider making a donation to a reputable relief organization, such as the International Red Cross/Red Crescent, Doctors Without Borders, or the Rainbow World Fund. Or pick any other organization you know and trust. The United Methodist Committee on Relief is one of my longtime favorites.

I wrote this ghost story back in the 1990s. I didn't have any stories related to earthquake or disaster relief, but I wanted to offer something to this fundraiser. I hope you don't think it too horribly inappropriate.

If you enjoy my story, or any of the stories contributed by other authors, please show your appreciation by helping with the Haiti earthquake relief efforts. Thank you, and peace be with you.

Judith and the Ghost of Amanda MacIntosh

by Angela Kroeger

Judith stood in the center of the basement living room, watching the late night news. The reporter peered intently from the television screen, announcing the latest information on the brutal murder of the beloved actress Amanda MacIntosh. A portrait photograph of Amanda flashed onto the screen, a handsome, angular face framed in loose, sandy curls. A witness had given a thorough description of the killer to the police, and Judith's throat constricted at sight of the next image on the screen, a rough charcoal drawing of her own face.

Samuel Palmer, standing behind her, leaned over her shoulder to whisper in her ear. "I can't believe you were stupid enough to leave a witness."

"I didn't know anyone was there. I checked the area beforehand, and it was clear. Whoever it was came in later and didn't make a sound," Judith hissed, terror burning the corners of her eyes.

Palmer folded his arms, then unfolded them to adjust his tie and smooth the wrinkles out of his suit jacket. "Careless anyway. And what's with the tears? It's a little late for second thoughts."

Judith turned away, and Palmer spoke in a low, restrained voice. "You'd better not be thinking of backing out on me. You're in all the way. If you leave, it'll be as fertilizer." With that, he left her alone in the dimly lit den. Judith turned off the television and shuddered as she felt a cold breeze cross her back. She turned around abruptly. There were no windows or fans in this room.

"Sucks to be you, don't it?" said a familiar voice.

Judith paled and looked about frantically. "Amanda?"

The shadows in the corner coalesced into the vague outline of a tall woman. "Who else?"

Judith backed away. "You're here to haunt me?"

"No." Amanda stepped from the shadows, taking form until every hair on her head, every stitch of her clothing, and every detail of the jagged hole in her chest was clearly defined in shades of luminescent green. The apparition approached a few steps then paused, furrowing her transparent brow. Her voice, smooth as polished onyx in life, crackled like a worn out recording. "Well, yes, actually, in a way. I need your help, and I won't leave you alone until you give it."

Judith shivered and clutched her chest. "Help? Why me? I killed you!"

Amanda glided close and gripped Judith's shoulders. Even through the thick sweatshirt Judith wore, the coldness of the ghost's hands was painful at first touch, then numbing as her grip tightened. "That's exactly why you. In fact, you're the only one who can help me."

"Why?" Judith struggled to break free, but couldn't.

Amanda held her gaze with disconcertingly white eyes, completely devoid of iris and pupil. "Pay attention. I can taste your regret, and more importantly, someone else can taste it. This is your chance at redemption. Remember, the Spirit's capacity for forgiveness is infinite, and you are worth many sparrows. Yes, even one such as you."

Judith blinked, and sagged into the shade's grasp. "What do I have to do?"

"First, you must never kill again."

Palmer came back into the room. "Who are you talking to?" he demanded sternly, his ice blue eyes locking onto the girl's face.

Judith looked at Amanda, then back to Palmer. "You don't see her?"

"Her who?" He scowled and shook his head, his slick black bangs falling down to brush the tops of his glasses. "Damn it, Judy. You had better not snap on me. Amanda is dead. If you can't handle it, you'd best just kill yourself now and save me the trouble of having to do it later. Otherwise, pull yourself together. We have work to do, and it has to be done tonight. I can't do it with my partner in pieces." He stormed back up the stairs.

"Cheerful sort," Amanda said sardonically. "He hasn't changed. Well, yes he has. He's degenerated. There is no remorse in him. A person can't change if they don't want to change. He is a dangerous, evil man, and the world must be cleansed of him."

"But you just said that I was never supposed to kill again."

"Let him take his own life to the Devil. All you have to do is keep Mallory Guinness alive until she's safe, out of Sam's reach. She is the business for this evening to which he alluded. Now, will you help me?"

Judith supposed she didn't have a choice. "How?"

Amanda released her hold on the girl. "Come with me. We haven't got much time."

"If I just walk out the door, Sam will see," Judith protested.

"Just relax." Amanda embraced Judith, and Judith tried to cry out, but her voice failed her. Her whole body went numb, and she felt as if she were drifting. She could still see the room before her, but the colors all seemed faded, like an old photograph. She could not move. Her body did not respond to any of her thoughts. Her mind screamed as she floated through the wall and into the earth on the other side. Then she felt herself rise, and soon she saw roots, then air and grass, and she was standing on the lawn in the back yard. Amanda released the girl, and Judith crumpled to her knees, arms crossed tightly over her chest. Her throat was choked with dust. She coughed up mud.

"Get up. We need to get to Mallory."

Judith stopped whimpering and shakily hauled herself to her feet. "Where? How?"


"I don't have a car."

The ghost cocked an eyebrow. "Take Sam's."

"I don't have the keys."

Amanda shook her head. "Just lead me to his car."

Judith complied, and Amanda stuck her hand into the door. "Yet another sleek, slick little vehicle. He always picks these annoying tiny, studly sports cars. I hate them. I always did." Judith noticed the change in the spirit's tone of voice. Before, when she'd been speaking of the Spirit's capacity of forgiveness, she had sounded like she was running through a well-rehearsed speech. Now her manner was brusque and abrasive. But then, Amanda had always been temperamental and prone to being gracious one moment and irritable the next. Judith had noticed this early on, in the production of their first movie together. Of course, Amanda had been the star, and Judith had been the kid who brought the doughnuts and sandwiches. Judith snapped back to the present at the sound of the door popping open. The ghost stood aside and gestured grandly for Judith to take the driver's seat, which the girl did. Amanda passed through Judith to place herself in the passenger seat, then stuck her hand inside the steering column. "Sam taught me to hotwire cars. That was when we were teenagers. I grew out of that sort of thing. He didn't. He just grew into nastier, more concealable forms of it." With a little jerk, the car roared into life, and Judith pulled out onto the road.

Judith glanced sidelong at Amanda. "If someone recognizes me from the police sketch, I won't be able to do what you need me to."

"I'll worry about that if someone recognizes you."

"Why do you need me? You can obviously interact with things in this world. I mean, other than redeeming my soul or whatever, why do you need me? You seem pretty powerful as a ghost, even moreso than ghosts I've seen in movies and stuff. You should be able to protect Mallory yourself."

Amanda looked as if she would have sighed if she had lungs with which to do so. "This is necessary for both of us. This is to turn you away from the path of evil."

"And it's necessary for you because . . ."

"I can't protect her myself. I can only manipulate physical objects in this world if it directly influences you. Only you can see or hear or touch me. I have been bound to you until I can forgive you. I can't pass into whatever's waiting for me until I can let go of this." The luminescent green flared around the hole in Amanda's chest.

"Bound to me?"

"Eyes on the road. You're no use if you die before Mallory's safe."

Judith focused on her driving, glowering.

"Why are you angry? I'm the one who should be angry. I'm the one who's dead!" Amanda screeched.

Judith slammed on the brakes and pounded her hands on the steering wheel. "You think I'm not angry? You think I don't hate myself enough without you here to constantly remind me of what I did?" Her eyes fell to the glowing wound. "I saw that version of Macbeth you were in. That whole 'Out, damn'd spot' thing, that's how I've felt since--"

"You know what I've felt since then?" Amanda interrupted, her white eyes blazing, "Nothing! Nothing but cold and hate and anger. He told me I had to come back, that I had business I needed to finish. I thought He meant I was supposed to bring you to justice. I thought I was going to get to bring your death. No, He told me I'm supposed to give you back your life. It's not fair. You murdered me, and I'm supposed to keep you from going to Hell for it." The ghost flashed green, then vanished.

Judith waited for a few moments, then tentatively asked, "Amanda? Are you still here?" She waited a couple of minutes longer, then muttered, "Good riddance." She turned the car around and returned to Samuel Palmer's house.

The doors were all locked, and she did not have her keys. She went to the back porch and dug around underneath the steps for the spare. Inside, she pocketed the dirty key and walked to the foot of the staircase. The music from upstairs was loud. Judith swallowed hard, hoping that Palmer had not noticed her absence. She slowly climbed the steps, then crept down the hallway until she reached Palmer's study. Even with the volume of the stereo, she could hear his fingers beating on the keyboard of his computer. She pushed the partially open door wider and stuck her head in. "Sam?"

He looked up from the screen, his face a visage of malice. He took a deep breath then smiled at her. The smile could have fooled anyone except her, and perhaps Amanda. "Judy, are you feeling more yourself now? We have to leave soon."

Judith nodded stiffly.

Palmer left his computer to embrace her, stroking her hair with his finely sculpted hands. "I didn't mean what I said earlier about killing you . . . or you killing yourself. I was just upset. You have to know I love you, and I wouldn't do anything like that to you."

Judith nodded, "Yeah, I know." She realized he'd never loved her, not even at the beginning. He'd just needed a disposable nobody to do his dirty work.

He narrowed his eyes at her for the briefest of moments, then replaced the plastic mask and kissed her. "You're tired. Go rest for a little bit. It may take me a little while to pinpoint Miss Guinness's exact whereabouts. She's gone to great lengths to keep her address and phone number unlisted. I'm almost certain she's the witness. I can't imagine who else would have been at Amanda's house at that time of night. But like I said, this'll take me a bit, so why don't you go take a nap, and I'll wake you when it's time to go." He had said Mallory's name with a sneer, but otherwise maintained the sweet tone throughout his speech.

Judith nodded, then retreated to the bedroom. She could not sleep, instead laying in the dark, looking at the amorphous pattern cast onto the wall by streetlight filtering through the blinds. She watched the clock count off the time until 2:37 am, when Palmer entered the room and flicked on the overhead light.

"Is it time to go?" she asked sleepily, hoping he would believe she still trusted him enough to sleep in his bed.

"Yes, Judy. I have the information we need. We should do this tonight. I doubt Mallory's put two and two together yet, but I can't imagine it will take her much longer. And when she figures it out, she'll take it to the police or, worse, the reporters, and then, well, we just can't have that, now, can we?"

Judith wondered at the two and two reference. Mallory, and apparently the witness if it was someone other than Mallory, did not know Judith. However, the charcoal sketch would be enough for someone to ID her. And the fact that Judith was all but living with Amanda MacIntosh's ex-husband would very likely incriminate him. However, something in his tone indicated that this was not the two and two to which he had alluded. She kept her voice demure, "No, we can't." Judith had never hated Palmer so much before, and she fought hard to keep it out of her voice.

"Well, get up, girl. We have to go."

Judith's mind reeled. She would not commit another murder for this man. This conviction did not come from anything the ghost had said, but rather from Judith's own disgust with Palmer and with what he had helped her become. But she did not know what to do. She knew only that she needed to delay him, so she could try to warn Mallory Guinness. Smiling seductively, stretched and twisted her body in the way she knew he liked. "Can't even spare fifteen minutes? It might de-stress me. I'll do a better job if I'm not so nervous."

"It'll already be after three when we get there. I don't want to risk pushing it too close to sunrise."

"Ten minutes? Please?" She stood and approached him. She knew exactly what voice to use to arouse him. She knew exactly what moves to make, and she pressed her body close to his.

It worked. "Ten minutes. Then we go." He pushed her down into the bed and unfastened his pants. When his eyes were off of her, Judith grabbed the heavy, brass alarm clock and smashed it against his skull. He slumped off the edge of the bed and onto the floor, unmoving.

Judith replaced the clock onto the endtable, noting the fresh crack across the crystal face. "Ugly clock anyway." Then remembering what the ghost had said, she stooped to feel for Palmer's pulse. He was alive. She grabbed the map and floorplan printouts from the dresser, then ran to his study. His computer was on screen saver, with a password lock. She tried the password he'd given to her, but he'd changed it. "I don't have time for this." She opened the window and pulled in the screen. She unplugged all of the cables from the computer. The monitor flashed, "No input," and she smashed the screen on the corner of the desk so he couldn't use it. Then she hurled the computer through the window, enjoying to the satisfying crash as it went though the windshield of his little car.

She ran down the stairs, slipped on her leather bomber jacket, then grabbed pair of shears from the utility drawer by the phone. Going out through the front door, she looked around furtively. No one appeared to be watching, so she stabbed the scissors into the whitewalls of Palmer's precious car, one by one, just in case a broken windshield alone wasn't enough to stop him from driving.

Unchaining her bicycle from the porch's support post, she took off in the direction indicated by the map. The place was not far from the campus where she had until recently attended school. When she reached an empty, lonely park, she stopped just long enough to cut away her long curls of umber hair and her feathered bangs, so distinctive in the charcoal sketch. She used her bicycle's tiny rear-view mirror to guide her, and when satisfied that everything as even as she could make it with the light of a single streetlamp and scissors designed to cut paper, she threw the scissors and the larger clumps of hair into the sewer drain. Then she took her sunglasses from her jacket's inner pocket and knocked out the lenses. She tossed the lenses after the scissors, then put the empty wire frames on her face. Unless someone got close enough to notice that there was no glass, the glasses might help prevent people from immediately connecting her to the police sketch.

She checked the map again, then hopped back on her bicycle and surged onward to Mallory Guinness's unlisted residence. She was within three-quarters of a mile from the house when she saw the beam of light from an upcoming streetlamp take on a greenish cast and point to the right. Judith banked right at that intersection, running the stop sign and slowing her pace no more than necessary to keep from crashing. The green glare swooped beside her. "There were police ahead. We'll have to take another way."

"How long have you been back?" Judith asked, both irritated and relieved.

"Just now. What happened while I was gone?" Amanda took shape from the green mist and put one hand on Judith's shoulder. It didn't feel as uncomfortably cold as before.

"Sam was getting ready to strike. He wasn't going to send me alone this time. I guess he doesn't trust me anymore. Well, now he really doesn't. I took his printout with Mallory's address and floorplans."

Amanda was still worried. "Can't he just print it again?"

"Nah, I trashed his computer, and his little car, too."

Amanda smiled wistfully, "I wish I'd seen that. That was something I always wanted to do myself."

Judith slowed a little, so she could speak softly and still be heard. "So what's the deal? Sam always told me you left him for Mallory. What does she know that can hurt him?"

Amanda looked pained. "She rescued me from him. He was a bad publicist, a worse husband, and he was destroying me slowly in so many different ways. I met Mallory when we were doing Rhubarb Pi together. That was a movie I'd love to forget I had any part of, but at least some good came of it. Mallory and I became good friends, and when she got to know me better, she began to voice her concerns about my lifestyle. She directed me to a good therapist, but more importantly, she helped me find the desire to change and get well. You have to want it for it to work, not that wanting it makes it easy. Changing myself was the hardest thing I ever did.

"Getting well also required leaving Sam, who had no desire to change and no desire to allow me to change. That didn't fit into his plan. So I divorced him and threw him out of my house. After that, I was finally able to get a life."

Judith glanced over her shoulder and cocked an eyebrow at the bitter irony of that statement. Amanda looked very sad, and Judith spoke with a gentleness that surprised herself. "And Mallory?"

"I was never involved with her that way, although Sam believed differently. He never could accept that I'd left because of him. I didn't realize I had fallen in love with Mallory until long after I parted company with Sam. I never told her how I felt."

Judith glanced sidelong at the ghost. "I, ah, meant, what does Mallory know that makes Sam want to kill her? Does she know what you knew? He told me that you had evidence to connect him to . . . something. He didn't say what."

"No, he never says what." After a long pause, the ghost's demeanor changed sharply. "Stop here. You'll have to walk the rest of the way, off the roads and sidewalks."

Judith chained her bike to a lamppost, then followed Amanda across the campus green. Amanda said, "You don't seem to know what Sam did. Truthfully, neither do I. But in hindsight, I remember back when there was a bit of a flap on the news about seven years ago, about an undercover cop who was killed while investigating an embezzlement case. Sam watched the news every day. I guess that wasn't unusual in and of itself, but there was something about the intensity with which he followed the case. I forgot about it until after I threw Sam out of my house, when I found a stash of his stuff under the stairs. I don't mean stuff like drugs or guns or anything. I mean pants he couldn't fit into anymore and ugly shirts that used to be in style in one of our country's more tasteless decades. But with all that stuff was an envelope with newspaper clippings about the cop's death and his obituary."

"So you think Sam killed him?" Judith asked.

The ghost shrugged. "I can't imagine why else he'd have cut the stuff out of the paper. I always wondered how he got all his money. The actors he publicized, myself included, paid him well, but not that well."

"And Mallory knows about this?"

"Maybe. She was helping me clean out the stairwell. I didn't realize the significance of the clippings at first and threw them away. Then she and I went to dump all his ugly old clothes on his lawn. I realize now how stupid that was. It gave him a chance to remember what else he'd stuffed down there. Anyway, I dug the clippings out of the trash later, and I left them at Mallory's house. That was also stupid of me." Amanda frowned. "Even if God forgives me, if something happens to Mallory, I don't know that I'll be able to forgive myself."

Judith sighed, feeling very cold in the pit of her stomach. The guilt of her deed, spiced with hatred and anger toward Palmer and toward herself, felt tangible, like a charred crust lining the inside of her chest. Her voice quavered, "Okay. I understand now. Man, I knew he was a sleaze, but his was a rich and handsome sleaze, you know. I never thought he was into killing people." She looked uncomfortably at Amanda's chest and gestured lamely, "Until he convinced me to . . . uh . . ." She gulped and looked as if she wanted to blow away with the leaves.

Amanda faded slightly. "Why did you listen to him? I would have almost expected this from him directly. But you were a nice kid. You were always good about making sure I got my Bavarian cream roll every day."

Judith hung her head and walked on in silence.

Several blocks later, they stopped in front of a security gate. Judith hit the buzzer. When she got no response, she buzzed again. After the fifth buzz, she grew alarmed. Finally, a sleepy voice came over the intercom. "If you're not the most handsome man on the planet, I'm releasing the Dobermans."

Amanda smiled. Judith spoke up, "Ms. Guinness, I need to speak to you. It's very important and can't wait. It's about Amanda MacIntosh."

The voice, very serious now, murmured, "So speak."

"No, let me in. You're in danger." Judith pleaded.

"From you?"

"No! I'm . . ." Judith stopped short at the ghost's touch.

Amanda smiled faintly. "Ask her if she has any guacamole to go with the rhubarb pie."

Judith grimaced and whispered, "That's completely disgusting."

"It refers to an off camera incident between her and me. It's our password."

Warily, Judith asked, "Uh, do you have any guacamole for the rhubarb pie?"

Silence from the other end was followed by the electronic hum of the gate sliding open. Judith and the ghost approached the house and waited on the stoop. A trim redhead opened the door to allow Judith's entry. Judith could almost feel Amanda's sadness at her inability to communicate directly with her friend.

Closing the door, Mallory asked grimly, "How did you know about that?"

Judith swallowed hard, noticing that Mallory held one hand behind her back. "Amanda told me."

Mallory ground her teeth together and stared hard into the young woman's eyes. Suddenly, she gasped and stepped back. "You!" She swung the gun she'd held behind her around and trained it on Judith's face. "Are you here to kill me, too?"

Judith raised her hands to show that she was unarmed. "I'm here to stop someone else from killing you."

Mallory's hands shook with rage, and the gun wavered about. "Is that what you told her?"

"No. I didn't talk to her at all."

Mallory blanched, almost dropping the gun. She tried to speak but found herself unable to produce even a whisper. She gripped the gun with both hands and tried to steady her aim.

Judith continued haltingly, perspiration forming on her face and hands, "It was Sam Palmer who sent me to . . . to kill her. He wants you dead, too, but I won't help him again. I came to warn you that he is coming. Tonight. Call the police."

Mallory edged toward the phone, the gun shaking wildly.

Judith took a deep breath. "The newspaper clippings you and Amanda found in Sam's stuff, the ones Amanda left here with you--make sure you tell the police about those. Sam killed that cop. You need to make sure he goes to jail."

"What about you?" Mallory managed to choke.

"Call the police, already. Get them on their way here. I'll confess. I'll face up to what I did. My life isn't worth jack now anyway."

Amanda swooped over to Judith's side, flickering with agitation. "He's here!"

Judith whispered, "Where?"

"What?" Mallory demanded.

Amanda said, "He came in through the basement window. He's already upstairs. In the next room." She pointed behind Mallory.

"Sam's here! Get down!" Judith hissed.

Mallory did not budge. "I don't believe you."

"He's behind you, in the other room. Turn around!"

Mallory remained rooted in place and steadied her hands. Amanda floated beside her, putting her hand inside the gun. She looked at Judith pleadingly.

Judith charged forward, and Mallory pulled the trigger. The gun didn't fire. She pulled again, click click click. Judith ran past her into the next room. Palmer was nowhere to be seen.

"Where is he?" He must have heard her warn Mallory and gone around through another part of the house. The ghost swooped away, searching behind and beneath every piece of furniture, then glided through the wall. Judith ran back to Mallory.

Mallory pointed the gun impotently at the young woman, but did not pull the trigger again. Ignoring the weapon, Judith positioned herself right by the actress's side. Judith picked up the phone and dialed 911. "My name is Judith Stauski. I murdered Amanda MacIntosh. My partner Samuel Palmer and I are at the residence of Mallory Guinness. Why don't you see if you can make it here in time to save her." She gave the address, then hung up. She glanced at Mallory and shrugged. "You obviously weren't going to call them."

Palmer stepped into the room and trained his handgun on Judith. "Mallory, I'm so glad I got here in time. When I saw the police sketch on television, I was shocked. I was worried that she would come for you."

Mallory looked back and forth between the two, brow furrowed. "How did you get in here, Sam?"

"You and Amanda were so close, it was obvious that you would have been the witness. I knew she'd come for you."

"How was it obvious? Amanda had a lot of friends," Mallory asked suspiciously.

Palmer locked his eyes on Judith. "Judy, move away from Ms. Guinness."

Judith placed herself squarely in front of Mallory. "No, Sam. I won't let you use me anymore."

"Mallory, she's trying to trick you, trying to get you to trust her. Don't believe her. You saw what she did to Amanda. She's just trying to get you to lower your guard," Sam said in a low, tightly controlled voice.

Judith chilled as she felt the end of Mallory's gun pressing into the small of her back. Gritting her teeth and closing her eyes, she whispered, "Go ahead. I am guilty. But so is he. Protect yourself from him at all costs."

"What was that?" Palmer advanced slowly.

"He's here to kill you. Make no mistake," Judith said forcefully.

Sirens wailed faintly in the distance. Palmer shifted his stance, sweat dripping from his face. Judith remained like a stone. "They're coming to stop you, Sam."

"They're coming for you, Judy." His trigger finger contracted.

Judith kicked hard behind her, and Mallory toppled just as Sam fired. The bullet blasted through Judith's chest and out the other side. It would have pierced them both. Mallory crawled on her belly, keeping the couch between her and Palmer. The sirens drew closer. Palmer ran around the sofa and aimed the handgun at Mallory. Looking up through darkening eyes, Judith finally noticed his gloves. His fingerprints would not be found on the weapon or anything else. He grinned wickedly at Mallory. "The police will find that you and she shot each other. I'll be long gone."

Judith felt a simultaneous chill and warmth as Amanda slipped inside her. The ghost's power held Judith's body together, lending her strength. Judith slithered toward Palmer and flung her arms around his ankles. Startled, he looked down at her. Mallory used the distraction to scramble to her security controls, unlocking the driveway gate before fleeing into the yard. Palmer tried to pursue her, but Judith tightened her grip on his legs. With her chin, she pushed up his pantleg, then sank her teeth into his Achilles tendon.

Spitting curses, he aimed downward and pulled the trigger. Judith twisted her neck, and the bullet burned across her cheek and separated Palmer from one of his own toes.

Howling in pain, he kicked free of Judith, sending her spinning across the floor into the telephone stand. He limped out the door. Judith crawled after him, getting close enough to the open door to view the predawn lawnscape. No sign of Mallory. Only Palmer and three cars' worth of police officers fanning out and taking cover, hopping progressively closer to the house.

Mallory peeked up from behind one of the police cars. Palmer, apparently losing his last strand of rational thought, opened fire. The police returned the favor, and within seconds, Samuel Palmer lay dead in a dark red smear on the stoop of Mallory Guinness.

* * *

Numb from shock, Mallory was only dimly aware of the paramedics swarming over the downed police officer. She stepped across the bloody stoop to the doorway, where still more paramedics hovered over Judith, holding her down as she flailed about, screaming her confession to the murder of Amanda MacIntosh and something about justice. She pleaded with the paramedics not to save her, to let her die for her crime. Mallory tried to step closer, but a police officer caught her arm, holding her back.

As if aware of Mallory's presence, Judith's glazed eyes suddenly cleared and her body stopped thrashing. Calm and serious, she locked gazes with the actress. "Mallory . . . listen . . . Amanda . . . Amanda wants to . . . tell . . . you . . ." She fell silent for a moment as she caught her breath. "She . . . loves . . . you."

Mallory noticed the use of present tense and sagged against the wall. Tears fogged her vision. "Is she . . . here?"

Judith's gaze dulled, and her body fell limp. The paramedics attempted to revive her, but soon surrendered to the obvious.

Mallory slid down the wall, her face buried in her hands, tears running through the gaps between her fingers.

* * *

Judith looked down on her body. Strangely, she did not at all miss the sensation of being inside it. She placed one hand on Mallory's shoulder, then drew back when the actress shuddered, as if from a freezing wind.

Judith then walked out through the wall into the early morning light. She looked to the east, at the pink sky spangled with clouds of gilded fire. In moments, the sun would banish the last remnants of the night. Judith fully expected a demon to snatch her and pull her down through the layers of earth into Hell. Either that or the first rays of dawn would burn away her soul, leaving nothing.

Instead, she felt a presence by her side, other than the police officers who milled about, oblivious to her ghostly existence. She turned to Amanda, who also looked toward the bright horizon. The wound in Amanda's chest was gone. Curious, Judith looked down at herself and saw no trace of the injury that had ended her life.

Amanda smiled gently. "You have mended your spirit, in saving Mallory. You are already whole." She gestured to her own chest. "And you helped me mend myself. I have forgiven you and let go of this world." She held out her hand, very transparent in the growing light.

Smiling nervously, Judith took Amanda's hand. Warmth flowed between them. Judith had never felt so good in her life. She smirked to herself at that thought.

"What happens now?" Judith asked.

Amanda shrugged, almost giddy. "I have no idea."

The sun broke the horizon, and the two spirits faded away.


Helen Ginger said...

Good story. It about made me cry at the end!

Straight From Hel

Anj said...

Thank you kindly!