Special Interlude XII {Part Two}: Bargaining with a Ghost


“Get out! Get out! Get out!!!” Each turbulent repetition of Maura’s shriek howled against Carina’s ears. She curled herself tightly against the wardrobe with hands pressed against her ears, trapped beneath the ghost’s unrelenting fury. “No, no! This was supposed to be mine! My turn to make them suffer! Why! Why are you here?!”

“I-I don’t know!” Carina protested through clenched teeth. “One minute I was about to be cut open, and then—I woke up here.”

Maura stared down at Carina with cold distrust. Carina looked back, equally terrified and fascinated by the girl’s transparent figure that seemed to emanate a certain chilling darkness.

“I don’t care how you got here! That body is mine! Get out!”

“I know—I’m sorry—I’m not sure how this happened—or how to get myself out,” Carina replied. The ghost’s howls had splintered the comforting numb haze of disbelief. At some point, Carina had decided that all of this must be an elaborate dream—the mind’s attempt to escape reality. Not being able to feel any pain had all but solidified this logic.

Whether the ghost was the real Maura or some part of her own subconscious attempting to wake her up—Carina wasn’t altogether sure she wanted to know the answer.

‘But if this was real—’

The illogical bubble of thought quickly shattered as the ghost grabbed Carina’s arm, pulled the girl to her feet, and dragged her forcibly towards the open bedroom window.

“We’re on the second floor,” Maura hissed grimly. “That should be enough.”

“Enough?” Carina balked as the ghost pushed her firmly towards the window. “Wait! Hold on a minute!”

“No! The sooner you’re gone, the sooner I can reclaim my body!”

“You want me to jump?!” The question tumbled out with mixed disbelief and humor.

“You need not do it voluntarily,” Maura growled. “Should I choke you instead?” The ghost raised both hands for good measure, and something about those long, black nails made Carina shudder.

“No! Just wait a moment, please!” Carina glanced from the window ledge beside her to the ghost who blocked any escape. “Look, I get that this is all very upsetting—but is pushing this body through a window to kill me the answer?”

“How else am I supposed to get rid of you?” the ghost retorted unsympathetically.

Carina pushed down a laugh of disbelief and contemplated just what sort of life this child had endured to become this ruthless. “Maybe we should consider other options? Even if falling did dislodge me from your body, the condition it’s in right now, you’d be lucky to get away with only a broken limb. And if you land on your head—well, that sort of result won’t be doing either of us any favors.”

The ghost’s beady black eyes trailed down the body Carina presently occupied as a look of grudging acknowledgment settled onto her spectral face.

“No,” Maura murmured. “Perhaps I should think of a better solution. Maybe poison?”

“Perhaps, but what if the poison ends up killing both of us?” Carina replied conversationally. She took advantage of the ghost’s distracted state to slide away from the window and further along the wall. Dream or not, the solid feeling of a firm barrier at her back provided a welcome sense of security. “Maybe we should think about why I’m here? That might help us sort this out.”

Maura’s perpetual scowl darkened as she stepped soundlessly towards Carina. “I thought you didn’t know?”

“How I got here? I don’t. I was referring to—how you—died?”

Black eyes that had once been blue moved from Carina towards the soiled bed. “Died? No, I—” The specter shook her head. “No! That’s impossible. It’s far too soon—I’m only eight years old now!”

“You were sick,” Carina replied soothingly, choosing to ignore the ghost’s odd phrasing and focus on keeping Maura calm. “I know I’ve only been here for a little while, but even I can tell the people in the house didn’t take very good care of you.”

“Why would they?” the specter replied bitterly. “They all hate me.”

“I’m sorry,” Carina murmured back only to receive another sinister scowl. “But my point is—if you died—can you—repossess your body?”

“So that’s your angle,” Maura’s scowl turned into a cold sneer. “You think you can pull one over on me, body snatcher?”

“No!” Carina raised her hands and slid further along the wall as the angry ghost loomed closer. “Look, I don’t know what happened here, okay? But the woman who came in here earlier, Joy. She said—she said that you were supposed to be dead! She brought in two gravediggers with shovels and everything.”

“And your point?!”

“Just that—I don’t think reclaiming your body will fix the current situation. Please just—think about it for a moment. If you kick me out and you can’t get back in—what happens to your body, then? What happens to both of us?”

“I—don’t know….” Maura froze in place. Her small ghostly hands trembled as they moved restlessly towards her throat. “But I wasn’t supposed to die this way.”

Carina allowed herself a moment to breathe as the ghost appeared to calm down.

Or so she thought.

Faster than she could blink, Maura flew at her with a ferocious howl. Cold nails bit into Carina’s neck as she was thrown down onto the floor. “No! If it’s now, I should still have a chance. I’ve only been dead a few minutes!”

‘Shit! Is this really it? First, I’m having my heart cut out. Now I’m being strangled by a ghost.’

Carina’s vision darkened as she struggled to grasp the specter’s wrist, but despite Maura’s firm grip around Carina’s neck, the specters limbs appeared to be formed of vapor. Once again, the sickening sensation of cold numbness trickled down through her limbs.

‘Why fight it? I was dead just a moment ago. Stealing someone else’s body—and their life. I don’t want that. But I—I don’t want to die. I don’t want to disappear completely!’

A strange sensation tickled within Carina’s chest as a bright light flickered through Maura’s transparent body. A tingle of cold electricity spread through Carina’s arms and hands.

“What?” Maura sputtered as fury turned to confusion. “You—”

Carina blinked as the ghost’s wrists solidified beneath her fingers. She latched on and steadily pried the specter’s grip loose. A trickle of hope slid through Carina’s clenched teeth and spilled down into her lungs as her vision cleared and she growled, “I’m—sorry—”

“No!” Maura’s gaze remained locked on the rays of blue light that seemed to be emanating from beneath Carina. “It can’t be!”

“But I’m not going to die—not without a fight,” Carina finished determinedly. She broke free of Maura’s grip and pushed the ghost away. The mystery light brightened, and then a blast of ice-cold wind spun wildly through the room. Beneath its chilling haze, Carina saw Maura slammed up against the bedroom ceiling, where the specter remained pinned in place by what appeared to be a sheet of ice.

‘What just—happened?’

Maura laughed. The bitter, haunting sound filled the room as Carina crouched beside the wall, massaging her throat while keeping a wary eye on the trapped ghost.

‘Where did all that ice come from?’

Maura panted, screamed furiously, then suddenly fell silent. After a few deep breaths, her black eyes returned to Carina. “You’re right,” the ghost muttered with a dangerous glint, “There is a reason you’re here.”


“You’ve only been inside my body for a few minutes, and yet you’ve already unlocked my witch blood’s power,” Maura continued with pained disbelief.

“Wait—I’m sorry!” Carina held up a hand as she leaned forward. “Did you say—witch power?”

Maura shook violently against her icy constraints and let out a spiteful snort. “What else would you call this if not magic.”

“But—you can’t mean—Wait, I did that?!”

Maura’s expression turned murderous.

Carina rubbed her neck nervously, once again noting the odd lack of pain, and decided to move the topic forward. “So, you’re saying—that I—no, you—are a witch?”

“Yes,” Maura snarled before closing her eyes and letting out a defeated sigh. “Unfortunately, I did not unlock my powers until later in life, but even then, they were not enough to save me.”

Carina moved her fingers cautiously up her cheek and through her hair towards the knot she had obtained after falling out of bed earlier. Despite the amount of abuse Carina had endured since waking up in this body—she couldn’t recall feeling even a flicker of pain. ‘Is that because I’m dreaming—or because I’m a witch?’

“Wait—later in life?” Carina echoed with a frown.

“I don’t know how you came to be here,” Maura replied bitterly as her head dipped towards the floor, the dark locks of her hair sliding forward to shroud her face. “But I have already died once. Then I returned to the beginning of my wretched life—and lived as I did before—up until this point.”

Carina scoffed quietly, then flinched as Maura’s head snapped up to glare in her direction. “Sorry, I—Well, I’m still not convinced this isn’t just some weird dream.”

‘Though that would only be comforting if my earlier abduction and experience as a forced organ donor were also a dream.’

“So you’re saying—” Carina continued, “—that you died before—and now you’ve died again. And somehow, I wound up in your body?”

Maura appeared to restrain her anger for a moment before offering a reluctant nod. “Yes—I don’t know why I’m already dead—this was supposed to be my second life.”


Carina found Maura’s story, which the ghost unfolded with punctuated resentment, all rather unbelievable. In fact, if she weren’t presently inside the unfortunate ghost’s body, Carina would have dismissed the ghost’s account as the bizarre plot of some absurd graphic novel.

“So, after the Queen was murdered—you and the rest of the ladies-in-waiting were framed and then executed. That’s how you died the first time?”

Maura gave a single but undeniable nod of confirmation.

“And then you—”

“I opened my eyes, and I was a baby again, trapped back in this hell hole,” Maura replied with a grimace. “I made up my mind to run away this time. Preferably before the incident with Lord Lennox—not to mention my face being horribly and permanently scarred.” The ghost touched the left side of her face absently, “But then—”

“You got sick,” Carina whispered sympathetically. “That didn’t happen in—before?”

Maura shook her head.

‘That still doesn’t explain what I’m doing here?’ Carina mused as she squirmed uncomfortably in the stiff, itchy nightgown. No sooner had her attention shifted than the ice holding Maura in place faded and then completely disappeared. The ghost scowled as she floated down to the floor but thankfully showed no desire to attack Carina again.

‘Still, not going to lower my guard around her any time soon.’

“How did you get sick?” Carina asked after a moment of contemplation.

“I—spoke out of turn,” Maura replied resentfully. “So Josiah had me locked up in the cellar with the turnips and potatoes.”

“Who’s Josiah?”

“You’ll have to call him Lord Josiah,” Maura corrected with a grimace. “And Lord Josiah Turnbell is the Master of Turnbell Manor. He’s the peddler nobleman who married my mother, Lady Helena.”

Carina nodded and thought back to Joy’s gossip and the drawings she had discovered earlier.

“After three days of sleeping in that cellar, I came down with a fever while performing my chores,” Maura continued mournfully. “I told Joy I wasn’t feeling well. She ran to Mother who had me punished for my laziness.”

Carina looked down at the swollen welts in her left hand and clenched her jaw.

“The next morning, I was too dizzy to climb the cellar stairs. When Joy finally arrived to yell at me, she realized how sick I really was. They brought me up to my room, but—then they barely remembered to bring me something to eat or drink.”

“What about medicine or a doctor?”

Maura snorted. “Lord Josiah doesn’t waste good coin on such luxuries for the staff.” The ghost’s eyes clouded over with resentment as she drew in a slow breath. “I’m not a servant, but—I was never a part of their family either.”

‘They wanted you to die?’ Carina shook her head incredulously. ‘Running away might have been the right idea—but at eight years old? In a world with magic and witches? Living on the street might be even more dangerous.’

“Is there anyone who might help you? A distant relative, perhaps?” Carina pressed hopefully.

Maura arched a brow as she floated over to the bed and sat down. The motion was oddly natural, and, despite her supernatural form, Carina could easily picture this room as Maura’s.

“There’s Lady Edith,” Maura answered thoughtfully. “She’s my mother’s aunt. She provides for Mother and the rest of us whenever Josiah’s business endeavors are struggling. Lady Edith has even given him a loan once or twice—not that Josiah has ever bothered to repay her.”

‘It sounds like this aunt is loaded. Probably a good place to start.’

“Would Lady Edith help us?” Carina asked hopefully.

Maura frowned and offered a weak shrug. “She comes by at least once a month. Mother keeps me locked up during those visits. Either because I’m “sick” or—because I’ve “misbehaved.” Edith gives Mother a monthly allowance to see to it we’re all properly dressed, fed, and educated, but—”

‘Somehow, I doubt much of that allowance went to you.’

“So, Lady Edith isn’t aware—of your current living conditions?” Carina asked cautiously.

“Even if she were, Lady Edith wouldn’t intervene,” Maura replied with a sullen tone. “No one wants the responsibility of raising a half-blood child. It’s much easier to give someone money rather than take responsibility for it yourself.”

“I see—” Carina frowned uncertainly. From what Maura had said and the gross mistreatment she had already witnessed from the staff and family—it seemed a bygone conclusion that Maura was a child born from an affair of some kind. “Still, if there’s no one else—”

“Well, perhaps you’ll have more luck with her than I did,” Maura replied with a sniff.

Carina blinked and glanced up at the ghost uncertainly. “Ah—what do you mean?”

“I mean that since you’ve stolen my body, you’re responsible for what happens to it now,” Maura retorted as she rose from the bed. “After all, if you happen to die—there’s nothing to stop me from taking it back the moment it becomes available, is there?”

“I suppose so,” Carina answered warily. “Sure, that makes sense, but—I’m going to need your help to survive here.”

Maura arched a brow. “Help from me? But I’m just a ghost, remember?”

“But you’ve lived this life—this timeline, if you will, already,” Carina pointed out. “How much has changed between them aside from you getting sick and—”

“Dying?” Maura finished cynically. “Well—not much, honestly,” she mused. “Small things here and there, but other than that, it’s been predictable—and not in a good way.”

“That’s interesting,” Carina murmured thoughtfully. “Depending on what you remember, we might be able to use those memories to our advantage.”

Maura narrowed her eyes as she floated across the carpet towards Carina. “How?”

Carina shrugged. “I can’t answer that until I know what sort of future we’re dealing with. Are there any significant events that I should know about ahead of time? Aside from the Queen’s murder—but that happens when you’re seventeen, right?”

Maura nodded, then stared at her in silence for a long, uncomfortable moment before answering. “There’s the death of the First Prince.”

Carina blinked, then let out a slow breath. ‘Right, if there are kings and queens, then obviously there will be princes. Still, getting involved with royalty is probably what led to Maura’s first death.’

“That certainly seems significant. How did the prince die?”

“Prince Tristan? In battle.”

Carina’s eagerness quickly dimmed. “Battle? What kind of battle?”

“A skirmish at the border between Lafeara and Tharyn.”

“A surprise attack?”

“No,” Maura shook her head. “Those pagans raid Lafeara’s borders pretty regularly.”

Carina crossed her arms and sighed. “So then, there’s not much I can do—”

“But I did hear a rumor in the palace that Prince Tristan was ambushed in those mountains.”

“Okay—do you know how?” Carina replied, not holding her breath.

“No,” Maura answered, sounding oddly amused. “But I do know that the prince wasn’t actually dead.”

“Wait—what?” Carina shook her head as she pushed against the wall and rose unsteadily to her feet. “What do you mean?”

“His death was faked,” Maura replied with a shrug. “I know because he turned up at the palace shortly before Queen Eleanora was murdered.”

Resisting the urge to ask why Maura hadn’t led with that bit of information, Carina leaned back against the wall with a sigh. “I suppose that might come in handy later. Anything else?”

Maura snorted. “Knowing the future might be helpful, but training my magic in the meantime would be better for your survival.”

“Right,” Carina looked down at her chest that had stopped glowing like some weird alien movie. “Exactly how do I do that?”

Maura grimaced and shrugged as she looked away. “As I said, I was never quite able to master it.”

Carina shook her head. “Well then, until I figure out how this magic business works, it’s probably best not to rely on it too much.”

“Alright.” Maura turned towards the door as if listening to something in the distance. “But you should be careful when and how you use it.”

“I should—why?”

The ghost turned back to face Carina with a malicious grin. “Because they burn witches in Lafeara.”

Carina exhaled as the sound of footsteps on the steps echoed in her direction. “Of course—they do.”


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