“Why would they do that?”
“Because people are awful.”
“That was a long time ago… things are different now.”
“No, Seamus. You. Me. Everyone is awful. Me especially.” The girl’s head lolled to the side, looking past Seamus to Alabaster. “Do you think that creature had parents?”
Seamus shook his head. He didn’t understand what she was saying.
She looked at him, then, deep into her eyes. Her voice cracked so that at times it sounded human. And at times… not human. “Do you think they took that baby from its mother so that you could have a pet, Seamus Kready? Maybe if you got out of your mansion and talked to some real people, you’d know what the world was like. War, death, intolerance. It’s all around you. It just hasn’t arrived at your door yet. But it will.”
She stepped forward and Seamus found himself backing toward the door. It was as if she really was a spirit from the past. The Union Wars happened in his grandparents’ generation. There was peace now. People were happy.
“What are you…?” Seamus covered his eyes.
“Hey,” she said, a little raspy and tired. “Stop that. I’m trying to give you something.”
He uncovered his eyes. She was offering him the history book. “But I can’t just… we have shelves full of books.”
“I’m sure you do, but I’m loaning this to you. Every good citizen should know his country’s history.”
He grabbed it with trembling fingers. The book was heavy and old. Its binding shifted a little in his hands.
“Careful with that. It was my dad’s.”
For the first time, the intensity of her eyes softened somewhat. A smile curled on her dry, cracked lips. She smelled like dry leaves and moss. His heart leapt and he could feel all the little hairs on his arms.
“I will,” he said, feeling like the heroes in his books. “I’ll protect it with my life.”
She covered her mouth to stifle the snorting laughter. “Easy there, kid.” She wiped at the corner of her eye, still chuckling. “But yes. If you lose that book, I’ll see to it that you don’t live past your Passage.”
She stared him down, her eyes once again fierce and judging. He broke his gaze to look at the book cover. History and Lore of Quellamunga by Venyel Nosek.
“How do I give it back, though, when I’m done?”
“I know where you live, Seamus. But if you really want to go slumming and if your family will really allow you to walk freely after you begin your life path…”
“They will!” Of course he could. After Passage, after he was bound to his life path, he was allowed to go anywhere he pleased.
“…then you can find me in East Marca where all the little halfway houses are. Ask around for Sadie.”
She spun on her heel and disappeared slowly into the darkness, leaving the sound only cricket song and the sound of Seamus’s rapid heartbeat.
He opened the back entrance and quickly locked it behind him. A dumb grin tried to make its way onto his face, but he took a deep breath. It wasn’t every day one went toe to toe with a ghost story come to life.
“Sadie, huh? What do you think?” He turned the corner to the atrium…
…but Alabaster was not there.
Seamus kicked off his shoes, hugged the heavy book to his chest, and sprinted down the hall.