The breath of the dead

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Ameka stalked out of the manor, face flushed and hands clenched into fists. She’d had another fight with her stepmother. She was tired of Lady Raylene and her constant belittling. Ameka’s father did nothing to stop it. It seemed he encouraged it at times. It frustrated her to no end and she wondered what she’d done to earn both of their scorn.

She followed the garden paths without looking. Her body knew the way to her favorite spot even though her mind was far from her surroundings. The strong scent of spice and citrus drew her out of her thoughts for a moment and a smile flitted across her face. Her mother’s rose garden was her favorite place on the estate. It reminded her of Lady Kiran, a gentle and compassionate woman who’d died when Amika was a child.

Ameka sat down on the ornate padded wooden bench and returned to her ruminations. Her brothers didn’t come in for the same harassment she did from their stepmother, and her two half sisters were favored above her. She supposed it was because they were Raylene’s daughters, which didn’t surprise her. True born daughters of stepparents were often treated better than the stepchildren. Or so her best friend Oisin had told her before her father sent him away.

Tears slipped down her cheeks. Her mother, Oisin, her older sister Hella. Everyone who’d ever cared about her was gone. She stared down at her hands, noticing the clear drops as they fell.

She reached out and picked one of the red roses hanging near her hand. She brought it to her nose and breathed in the scent. It reminded her of her mother’s perfume. She curled in on herself as she remembered the smell of it burning, when her father destroyed everything that had belonged to her mother on the eve of his marriage to Lady Raylene.

Dosia, one of Ameka’s half sisters, found her in the rose garden a few hours later. “Our father wishes to speak to you,” she said, smirking. “Perhaps it is due to your disrespect for my mother.”

“I showed her no disrespect, though she deserves all she gets,” Ameka said. She brushed past the younger girl, who gaped at her, and returned to the manor.

Her father was in his study. “Ameka, when I summon you I expect you to come immediately,” Lord Ulises said, glaring at her.

“Considering I just received word of the summons, Father, I can hardly be tardy,” Ameka said.

“I required your presence two hours ago,” Lord Ulises said.

“Then blame Dosia, or whoever else you sent to look for me. You should know by now that after speaking to that woman I retreat to mother’s garden,” Ameka said.

“That’s one thing you and I need to discuss,” Lord Ulises said. “Or rather, you will listen and I will tell you what I’ve decided.” A cold lump settled in the pit of Ameka’s stomach. “Your mother’s rose garden will be uprooted so Raylene can put in an orchard. She enjoys peaches and plums, and you know how expensive they are. The mages will see to it that they produce immediately, and will keep them producing so we always have them.”

“You bastard,” Ameka snarled. Lord Ulises looked at her in shock. “You’d steal from me the last thing I have of her? You destroyed her belongings, even though as her daughters Hella and I should have gotten them. You took down her pictures and refused to let us keep the lockets she’d given us so we could remember her. It’s as if you wish to erase her very existence, though you swore to her on her deathbed that you wouldn’t do that. You’d let her memory live on with us.”

“Yes, well, I only said that to give your mother the peace she needed to pass into the next world and not come back to haunt us as a vengeful spirit,” Lord Ulises said. “Now, you will curb your attitude and hold your tongue. I should have done this long ago, but I’ve been holding off to give you some time to change your position with Raylene. Since you haven’t, I’m sending you away.”

“Where?” Ameka asked.

“To the Temple of the Fallen Sisters,” Lord Ulises said. “Since you and Oisin were so close, I’m sure the Sisters there will understand.”

“You’re saying I’m not a virgin? Call in one of your mages. They’ll confirm Oisin and I never did what you’re accusing us of,” Ameka said.

“Oh, it’s not what you and Oisin did,” Lord Ulises said. “It’s the fact that the two of you are closer than you imagine.” Ameka stared at him. “You and Oisin are brother and sister. Well, half brother and half sister.”

“What do you mean?” Ameka asked.

“Kiran was not a faithful wife at all,” Lord Ulises said. “Both you and Hella were sired by the Horsemaster.”

“Squire Gerulf is our father?” Ameka asked.

“So your mother claimed, once she learned she was dying,” Lord Ulises said.

“So why not send me to him?” Ameka asked.

“Because I don’t want him to know,” Lord Ulises said. “Kiran said she didn’t tell him, and I have no intention of doing that either. So, you will go to the Temple. I’ve already found a husband for Hella, so she’ll be well out of my hair.”

“If you send me away, I’ll use the powers of the Goddess and call mother’s spirit back. I’ll tell her what you’ve done. Her vengeful spirit will kill Lady Raylene and her daughters by the year’s end,” Ameka said.

“You can try,” Lord Ulises said. “I doubt you have the willpower to do that.”

Ameka turned and ran from the room, sobbing as she went. She dashed into the small chapel and slammed the door behind her. The entrance to the crypt was locked, but she slid the bolt out of its housing and descended into the darkness.

She knew where her mother’s stone coffin was. She’d spent a lot of time sitting at its feet when she was a child. She threw herself against it now, weeping and begging her mother for help. “Mother, he’s betrayed us all,” she sobbed. “Please, bring your curse on this house. Destroy his happiness as he has taken mine and Hella’s away from us.”

There was a cold breeze against her face and the smell of decaying roses filled the air. “It shall be as you wish, my lovely daughter.” The voice was nothing more than a whisper, but it was her mother’s voice. “His new wife and their children will be dead within the week. Your brothers will die before the harvest. He will die before Midwinter.”

“Why my brothers?” Ameka asked. “They have done nothing to harm me.”

“I was not the only one to seek solace in the arms of another,” Lady Kiran said. A faint glow surrounded her coffin. “Your brothers are the sons of the Horsemaster’s first wife. Ulises killed her so she wouldn’t reveal the secret to me, but I already knew. I claimed them as mine and raised them, but chose to have daughters with the Horsemaster because I knew he was a better father than Ulises.”

“What am I to do now? He would send me to the Temple of the Fallen Sisters,” Ameka said.

A ghostly caress brushed across her cheek. “Run to the stables. Speak to your true father. He knows who you are. He will help you.” The light faded and the smell was gone. Ameka didn’t stop to think. She ran for the stables, and her real father. She hoped he could help her. The thought of spending even one day in a place where torture was the routine of the day frightened her even more than death.

All time runs out

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Tick, tick, tick, tick.

Kevin glared at Stephen. “Your watch is loud,” he snapped.

“I’m aware of that,” Stephen said, completely unfazed by the other man’s irritation. “It’s not as if I can’t hear it too.”

“So why do you wear it?” Kevin asked.

“I like it,” Stephen said. “It’s a classic.”

Kevin rolled his eyes. Everything with his former business partner had to be a “classic.” From his suits to his cars to his girlfriends. It was all he wanted in life. He studied philosophers, literature, and science. He had several doctorates in things Kevin had no interest in. He was considered well educated and an expert in many fields. Kevin thought he was a bore.

The younger man preferred the fast life. He drove sports cars, attended parties, and dated super models and movie actresses. He had two children he was paying child support on, but it was a drop in the bucket of what he held in offshore accounts. Of course, he kept enough in the States that the government didn’t get too suspicious of his lifestyle being beyond his means. The offshore accounts were if things went south so he could leave and still be comfortable.

Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick.

“Do you have any idea why we’re in Zack’s lawyer’s office?” Kevin asked.

“I haven’t heard from Zachary Richardson in ten years, so getting the summons from his attorney was as much of a shock to me as I’m sure it was to you,” Stephen said. “We must be patient and wait to see what we’re needed for.”

Before Kevin could reply, the door opened and a tall, thin man appeared. “Mr. Williamson, Mr. Nichols, thank you for coming. Please follow me.” Kevin and Stephen stood and were led into a large conference room. A petite blond all in black with red rimmed eyes was sitting there with a young boy. She glowered at the two men.  They took the seats they were pointed to and waited.

“I can’t see why they have to be here,” the woman said. “They have nothing to do with Zack.”

“Actually Mrs. Richardson, your husband specifically named them in his will,” the attorney said. “So I am required by law to have them present for the reading.” The woman scowled but fell silent.

“Will?” Kevin asked. “You mean Zack’s dead?”

“Yes Mr. Nichols,” the attorney said. “He passed away a week ago.” Kevin couldn’t say anything else and waited. The attorney cleared his throat. “I won’t read all of the legalese. It would be boring and waste everyone’s time. All of his wealth, worldly possessions, and all but two of his properties are yours, Mrs. Richardson. The two remaining properties now belong to Mr. Williamson and Mr. Nichols.”

“Which properties belong to them?” Mrs. Richardson asked.

“Mr. Williamson, your estate is in Greece,” the attorney said. “It is in the classic Greek style, something Mr. Richardson knew you liked.” Stephen smiled, though tears trickled down his cheeks.

“And mine?” Kevin asked.

“Yours, Mr. Nichols, is – a graveyard.”

Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick.

Kevin stared at him in shock. “What kind of bad joke is this?” he demanded. “Stephen gets a Greek villa and I get a graveyard? What’s so special about that?”

“It’s where you’re buried, Mr. Nichols,” the attorney said with a peculiar smile.

“It’s what?” Kevin burst into laughter. “Don’t you mean it’s where Zack’s buried? He’s the dead one.”

The attorney shook his head. “Look around the room again, Mr. Nichols.”

Kevin did as he was told. There, sitting across the table, wasn’t the petite blond woman with the young boy. Instead it was a fiery red head with a pair of equally as red haired twin girls. The woman was pale, as if she was in shock. The girls were sobbing into the sleeves on a pair of jackets he recognized as the ones he’d given to his two daughters the year before.

He turned to look at Stephen. His old business partner seemed weighed down by grief. His normally stoic expression was twisted in a kind of agony Kevin remembered from the day when his own best friend had died in a seventeen car pile up on the freeway.

“What’s going on?” Kevin demanded.

Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick.

“You lived too fast a life, Mr. Nichols. It caught up with you. The mafia decided you were a threat and sent several of their people to try to force you to leave town. You argued with them and they opened fire. Your lady friend and your daughters were fine. You were hit multiple times. The doctors at JC Memorial worked heroically to save you, but three bullets to the chest and two to the head just isn’t something you wake up from,” the attorney said. He stood. “You have a choice, Mr. Nichols. You can remain in this room, watch the tormented faces of your loved ones for eternity. Or you can leave through that door and face whatever fate awaits you in the afterlife. It’s your decision.”

“What is my fate going to be?” Kevin asked.

The attorney shrugged. “I don’t know. No one does until they get there. Consider this a waypoint before your final journey.” He turned and left the room. Kevin looked at his sobbing daughters and his distraught girlfriend. Tearing his gaze away from then, he looked over at the nondescript gray door the attorney had pointed out. His feet shuffled as he crossed the faded carpet. His hand touched the knob.

Tick. Tick. Ti-

The dead do not lie

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Yun stood next to the river, her lantern in her hands. Her cousin Min stood next to her. “Yun, you do yourself more harm than good in this,” Min said.

“You are wrong, Min,” Yun said. “The lanterns carry messages to the dead. He will hear me and come.”

Min shook her head. She didn’t know if the lantern festival came from Old Earth or not, but her cousin clung to the hope that her deceased husband would return to speak to her. He’d died without telling her where their son was and Yun was desperate to find him.

There was a deep tone. Yun knelt beside the detha nadi and set the rose tinted lantern on the surface of the water. It was a moonless night and the many lanterns floating along were the brightest lights against the black. Min stood with her cousin until the last of the shimmering silk and paper creations drifted past.

“It is time to return to the house, Yun,” Min said, putting her hand on Yun’s shoulder.

“Yes, that is where Heng will come,” Yun said, rising to her feet. “We must hurry. He can only remain in the world of the living until dawn.”

The two women hurried along the glowing path back to Yun’s silver and turquoise home. As they walked in, they were greeted by the smell of rotting flesh. Min gagged but Yun clasped her hands in front of her chest.

“By the gods, what is that stench?” Min asked, covering her nose and mouth with her sleeve.

“It is Heng,” Yun said, pointing to her husband’s favorite chair.

Min looked and nearly fainted. There, sitting in his usual spot, was Yun’s dead husband. He looked exactly as he had in life, though he glowed a sickly green and you could see the pattern of the fabric on the chair through his body.

“You called me, Yun. What do you want?” Heng asked, his voice hollow and irritated.

“Heng, where is our son? Where is Jingyi?” Yun asked.

“You called me here for that? Jingyi is dead, foolish woman,” Heng said. “I drowned him in the river. Why else do you think I was executed? Someone saw me do it. Were you absent at my trial?”

Yun wailed and ran from the room. Min faced the man. “Why did you do it?” she asked.

“I was tired of having to support a useless mouth,” Heng said. “Jingyi would never be a productive member of society. He was unable to work in the fields, his hands were too weak to use tools, and his inability to speak made him worthless as an Elder. So I ended his life.”

Min nodded. “A pity the Elders and Yun see it as murder. I see it differently.”

Heng looked surprised. “You agree with what I did?”

Min glanced around, making sure Yun was well out of hearing range and that no one was listening outside the doors and windows. “I do. Yun refused to listen when I told her that the gods cursed Jingyi. He was helpless, with no capability to care for himself or others. There was no need for her to drain herself to the point of death caring for both you and him. There was a reason I stopped coming over for several months, Heng. She forbade me from visiting until I took back what I said. I refused.”

Heng nodded. “It is good to know that there is one person in this world who understands what I did.” He glanced outside. “I am grateful the ceremony took place so late tonight. The sun is rising and I am free to go.”

“Farewell, Heng,” Min said. “May the gods not prolong your punishment.”

“Thank you, Min. Care for Yun, and may she forgive me one day,” Heng said. He faded away as the first light of dawn entered the room. With his disappearance the smell vanished. Min sighed and went in search of her cousin.

The woman in the window

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Nick and Elsie looked around the interior of the condo with interest. They’d been house hunting for the past month and were beginning to believe that they’d never find something in town. Nick wanted to be close to work and with Elsie starting at the university in the fall, urban life was a necessity.

The realtor smiled at the young couple’s wide eyes. “This is the last place on today’s list, and I was saving the best for last. This is a two story unit, everything is new even though the building itself was built back in 2002. The first floor is great for entertaining, and the bedroom is on the second floor. The stairs are there, if you’d like to take a look?”

Nick and Elsie went up. Elsie gasped. “Nick, this is as big as our apartment out in the burbs,” she said.

“Elsie, don’t use that word. It makes you sound so uneducated,” Nick said, pulling on her braid. She giggled and swatted his hand away. The couple walked back downstairs. “How much do they want for it?”

“They’re asking one thirty for it,” the realtor said.

“What’s wrong with it?” Elsie asked.

“Elsie,” Nick began.

“Nick, we looked at the unit across the street two days ago. They’re asking two ten for the low end ones, which are worse than this one. I want to know what’s wrong with this unit that they’re selling it so cheap,” Elsie said.

The realtor hesitated, glancing down at her phone. She sighed. “I’m not supposed to tell you this. It could cost me my job if they find out I said anything. Two years ago, the last tenant of this condo was murdered by her boyfriend. They were arguing and he snapped. He beat her and then threw her through the window there.” She gestured at the huge plate glass window.

“That’s awful,” Elsie said.

“The company who manages the condos didn’t open the unit again until the beginning of this month. They’re desperate to fill it, but most people know what happened and won’t buy it,” the realtor said.

Nick and Elsie looked at each other. “Will they go down to one hundred even?” Nick asked.

The realtor looked surprised. “You’re still willing to offer? Even with what I told you?”

“It’s in the past. He’s not here. She’s gone. We need a place to live. If they’re willing to drop the price to keep us here, we’ll take it,” Nick said.

“Let me call down to the office.” The realtor dialed a number on her cell phone. She walked away from the couple, speaking quietly into the mouthpiece.

Elsie took Nick’s hand. “Are you okay with this, Elsie?” Nick whispered.

Elsie nodded. “It’s sad, but this place is perfect for us and we’re running out of time. It sucks it happened but it has nothing to do with us.”

The realtor returned. “The managers agree to your terms. They’re down in the office now, if you want to finalize today.”

“We’ll do it,” Nick said. “But we want to read all the rules first.”

“Right this way,” the realtor said, leading them out the door. Elsie glanced back over her shoulder and for a moment thought she saw a woman in the window. Shaking it off as just the reflection of her or the realtor, she turned her attention to the process she was now a part of.

Three weeks later, all of their furniture was in, the walls were decorated, and Elsie was in the process of cooking their first meal in their new home. Nick was reading the employee’s handbook for his new job as she brought him his plate.

“Thanks,” he said, smiling at her and putting the book away. Elsie grinned and stood up. She gasped, her own food falling to the floor.

“Elsie, what’s wrong?” Nick asked, turning to look. He gave a strangled cry of horror.

A woman with long, dark hair stared back at them from the window. Her image wavered as if she were an old movie being projected on the screen. Rain falling down made it look like she was crying.

She watched them for several long moments before vanishing. “Nick,” Elsie whispered.

“Do you think?” Nick asked. Elsie nodded. “I’ll start house hunting again.” Elsie nodded again. She didn’t mind the thought of roommates, but a ghost was not something she wanted in her home.

Magic enhances science

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Sophie glanced at the clock. She sighed and closed her book. It was almost time for her lesson. Just as she put the book on the shelf, she heard her mother’s voice. “Sophie, the Master is here.”

“Coming.” Sophie dragged herself off her bed and headed downstairs. She walked into the study. The Master – he’d never given either of them his true name – was a tall, gaunt man who appeared both young and old at the same time. His eyes shifted colors depending on his mood. They were the calm pale blue of a summer sky at the moment. That could – and probably would – change during the lesson.

“You seem reluctant,” the Master said, his voice sounding as if it were coming from the bottom of a well.

“I don’t understand why I need to know this. There’s no need for magic in this world. Science handles everything that magic can.”

“Can science put the  unquiet dead to rest? Can scientists read minds and know the thoughts and emotions of others? There is much that the logical side of nature can do, but there are still things that can only be done by those of us with the gift.”

“So what do you want me to do today?” Sophie asked.

“I want you to practice what we started during your last session,” the Master said.

Sophie scowled. “The last time I tried I ended up covered in rainbow colored slime that took me two days to wash off. I had to skip school so I wouldn’t draw attention to myself.”

“That is why I selected a Friday this time,” the Master said. “I anticipated you would need the time again.”

Sophie sighed and took the proper stance. Her mother hastily left the room. The Master moved back to lean up against the wall. Sophie began moving her hands in the proper pattern, summoning a multi-colored mist. It swirled around her. The mist was supposed to help identify invisible creatures and passive spells, something that Sophie had yet to encounter.

As she expected, she only managed to hold the spell for a few seconds before it exploded. She could feel the impact of the slime on her skin. “Yuck,” she muttered.

“Try again,” the Master said, his face impassive. Sophie did as he told. Again the spell failed to last more than a few seconds. “You aren’t concentrating, Sophie. You must focus your will, channel your mind into your spell. That is the only way you’re going to succeed.”

Sophie shook her head. “I don’t want to do this. I think it’s ridiculous. I’m going to be an astrophysicist. I don’t need magic.”

The Master gestured and Sophie screamed as pain wracked her body. She dropped to the floor, writhing in agony. He held her there for several minutes. When he released her, he moved to stand over her. “You will do as you are told. Regardless if you wish to follow a path into science, your magic will be trained. There will come a day when you must use it and you’ll be glad you have the knowledge.” He turned away. “I will return in one month. I expect you to practice every weekend until you have this spell right.” He swept out of the room.

Sophie stayed on the floor, drawing in ragged breaths. Her mother reentered the room a short while later. “Sophie, what happened?”

“I made him angry again,” Sophie said, her voice weak.

“You need to stop doing that. He killed me for my disobedience. Do you want to die as well? He’ll bind you to this plane of existence. You won’t be able to pass on until one of his students releases you, if he even allows it.”

Sophie slowly hauled herself to her feet. “I know. But I don’t want to do this.”

“You have to. You’re my only hope.”

Sophie looked at her mother’s pale form. There were terrible burns all over her body, where the Master had set her on fire with an eldritch flame that nothing Sophie had done could put out. “I know, mother. I’ll do better. I promise.”

Her mother smiled. “Thank you, Sophie. Now, you’d better go clean yourself up.” Sophie nodded and made her way painfully out of the study and up the stairs towards her bathroom.

Portrait of pride

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Bryan watched as his fiancee’s family laid out everything. “You guys take decorating seriously,” he said, half teasing.

“Of course we do. Most of what we put up has been passed down through many generations, so it’s very special to us,” Kenna’s mother said, giving a disapproving sniff. “Only the best families truly know how to celebrate Christmas.”

“Mom, knock it off,” Kenna said. “Just because Bryan’s family doesn’t do the same things we do, it doesn’t mean they’re not one of the best.” She gave Bryan an apologetic smile and mouthed “I’m sorry.” He winked at her.

“Phoebe, are you trying to prove you’re better than everyone again?” Kenna’s father asked, coming into the room with a tray full of steaming mugs. “It’s Christmas. Knock it off.” He didn’t seem to notice he was echoing his daughter.

“Nicolas, he didn’t even know that we have this tradition,” Phoebe said.

“Why would he? This is his first Christmas with us. Kenna usually goes home with him,” Nicolas said. “And you know I hate it when you use my full name.”

“It’s Christmas and you will use it, to show respect to our ancestors,” Phoebe said.

“I doubt they’ll mind me being called Nick, Phoebe.”

“Can we get the decorating over with?” Kenna asked. “I have to go to work soon, and Bryan promised to take his sister and her kids to see Santa this afternoon.”

Phoebe sniffed again. Nicolas glared at her. She subsided. The tree was already up and the lights strung. It lacked the baubles that were now sitting in carefully placed boxes. Phoebe handed one small box to Kenna. “Put these on in their proper places.”

“Yes Mom,” Kenna said. Bryan watched as the most exquisite crystal snowflakes were pulled out and hung with care on the uppermost branches.

For the next two hours, Kenna was forced to do all the work while her mother dictated where the ornaments were to go. Any time Nicolas tried to help, to speed up the work, Phoebe shrieked at him and he backed off. Finally the tree was decorated to Phoebe’s satisfaction. “There, that’s what it’s supposed to look like.”

“Mom, I’ve got an hour left before I have to change and go,” Kenna said. “You’ll have to set up the Nativity yourself. What else do you want me to do?”

“I can’t believe you didn’t take today off,” Phoebe said. “You know this is the day we always set up the tree.”

“I’m the most junior employee on the list, Mom. I don’t get to choose my days off this close to Christmas. The only reason I get Christmas Day off is because our GM decided to shut everything down this year,” Kenna said. “If he changes his mind, I’ll have to work then too.”

“Perhaps Bryan can help set up the Nativity,” Nicolas said.

“I’m taking Kenna to work, and then picking up my sister,” Bryan said. “I can’t stay either.”

“As I thought, completely unworthy,” Phoebe said.

“Mom, you are damned lucky I didn’t go home with Bryan this year. The only reason I’m here is because Dad called and said you were really depressed. If this is how you’re going to treat us, then I’m not coming back and we’ll celebrate with Bryan’s family again,” Kenna snapped.

“Your great-great-great-grandmother would be ashamed of you, Kenna,” Phoebe began.

“You’ve told me that every year since I was old enough to remember,” Kenna said. “I don’t care anymore.”

Phoebe got up. She pulled something that reminded Bryan of a good sized golden locket missing its front piece out of her pocket. She set it on the mantle. “Let’s just ask her then,” Phoebe said. She took a pin and poked her finger. She pressed it to the top of the frame.

Blood ran through a thin channel surrounding the portrait. It began to glow. Phoebe pulled back. The woman in the painting swiveled her head on her long neck, her dark curls bobbing in a light breeze. “I have not been woken up for some time,” she said, her voice strangely loud in the room. “What do you want?”

“Noble ancestor, my daughter Kenna has defied me. Tell her what a disappointment she is to you and the family,” Phoebe said.

The woman blinked. “Kenna? You mean the lovely young woman who put herself through college by working two jobs, maintaining a 4.0 GPA, and keeping up a healthy social life? The one who’s now engaged to a young man very close to getting his Masters in some computer thing which we don’t understand that she’s been engaged to for the past four years? The one who has a steady job now and is working towards a down payment on her dream house with her soon-to-be husband? Why would we be disappointed in her?” The head swiveled again. “You are the one we’re disappointed in, Phoebe. You prattle on about the purity of our blood, yet you squander what intelligence our line has given you. You are a vain, shallow woman and deserve nothing of our praise or our blessings.” The blood faded and the image became still again.

No one spoke for several moments. “I’m going to celebrate with Bryan’s family,” Kenna said finally. “Now and for the rest of my life. If my accomplishments mean so little to you, then I don’t think it’s worth coming back.” She looked at Bryan. “Let me get my stuff and we can get out of here.”

Phoebe was still in shock. “Let me help you,” Nicolas said. Bryan, still a little shocked himself, could only nod and join the two of them in their hurried packing.

Like father, like son

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“Okay dad, what is this?” Scott asked, looking over his father’s latest acquisition.

“It’s your grandad’s oldest car,” Michael said.

“What is it?” Scott asked.

“It’s a 1921 Hudson Phaeton,” Michael said. “It’s a classic.”

“I figured that,” Scott said with an amused smile. “What are you going to do with it?”

“I haven’t decided yet,” Michael said. “Your grandad left it to me in his will. Your damn uncle has been fighting me over it for the last two years. The judge finally told him to go fuck himself, in proper legalese of course, and I got it. As well as everything else left to me.”

Scott sighed. The animosity between Michael and his brother-in-law, Scott’s Uncle Nick, had been ongoing since the day Scott’s Aunt Sandra brought him home to meet her family nearly twenty five years earlier. “What did Uncle Nick have to say about that?”

“Nothing, though your aunt was begging me to give it all to her anyway,” Michael said. “I told her no, that she’d made her choice and had to live with it. She called me selfish and walked off with that asshole. I just signed the paperwork. The sheriff and several deputies went out yesterday and collected the physical stuff while all the bank accounts and other financial assets were remanded to me this morning.”

“Grandad will be happy,” Scott said.

“Yeah, he will,” Michael said, smiling softly. “You think he’ll come visit tonight?”

“It’s his birthday, isn’t it? He usually pops by to make sure we’re still celebrating it,” Scott said.

“Your mom should be by soon too. Our anniversary is in two weeks. What do you think I should do for that?” Michael asked.

“I don’t know. It’s hard to judge anymore with her,” Scott said. “She’s gotten so picky over the last five years.”

“That car crash really rattled her brains,” Michael said.

“It’s too bad she didn’t survive it. I think she’d have been amused by Uncle Nick’s stupidity,” Scott said.

Michael looked at him. “Do you realize how crazy we sound right now? Talking about your grandad and Elaine like they’re still alive?”

“Yeah, well, it’s your fault you know,” Scott said.

“How is it my fault?” Michael asked.

“You’re the one who inherited grandma’s ability to see and talk to the dead. You passed it along to me. Now we’re stuck with the ghosts of our family hanging around to keep us company for the rest of our lives,” Scott said.

“How are you going to explain that to your wife and kids?” Michael asked with a grin.

“How did you explain it to mom?” Scott countered, grinning back.

“I used that trick I taught you to make my mom visible to her so she could meet her,” Michael said, laughing.

“Then I guess I’ll do that with mom and my potential wife,” Scott said. “If she doesn’t run screaming I’ll know I’ve picked the right one.” Father and son laughed and went back to polishing the beautiful old car.