The ghost of Mitchell Kallaher regarded me balefully. Or was it right to say that Mitchell Kallaher regarded me? Was there a difference between a person and their ghost? A shiver crept down my spine as I forced myself put those questions aside and meet it’s — his — gaze.
“You can see me,” Mister Kallaher said. He scowled, then seemed to collapse in on himself: sitting in place right over his own corpse. “Of course you can,” he muttered. “Do you ever get tired of being impossible?”
I quirked an eyebrow. “Not really. It’s a newer state of affairs than you might think. Now, since you’re a restless spirit, do you think you might want to, you know, tell me what happened here so I can tell someone who’ll hunt down your killer or something?”
Mister Kallaher nodded. “I don’t think being murdered really has much to do with why I’m still around, but yes: I don’t think I would mind a little old fashioned vengance. Hell, I’ll even take justice.”
Behind me, I heard John choke on a sentance: “He’s here? You can see Mitchell’s ghost?” I glanced over my shoulder and saw John pushing his way forward. “Where is he. How is he — who did this?!”
I slewed my gaze back forward. Mitchell grinned at John, even though John couldn’t see him. “He always was a good kid,” Mister Kallaher said. “Even though he’s older than me.” Mister Kallaher turned his spectral attention back on me. “I know they’re my murderers, but I don’t know how much help I can be. I never saw one that wasn’t masked, and I didn’t recognize any of their voices. But they knew who I was — not just that I was connected to the center, but that I am… was the head of my coven. Near as I can tell, that’s why they came after me.”
I swallowed and nodded for the ghost to continue. “They grabbed me from my home. They had a vampire. He bit me, but I didn’t get to see his face. While I was enthralled they told me that they had a spell already woven, but needed a stronger warlock to power it…” He swallowed. It was just an affection, since he was a spectre, but I understood the need. “…on acccount of how they’d had issues with their previous witch.”
Mister Kallaher looked away for a moment. “They told me that after I did what they wanted they would subject me to a geas to keep me from telling anyone anything about them, and then I would be free to go — that cutting me loose like that would be easier on them than trying to imprison an angry warlock.” He looked back up at me. “And they had Mrs. Fleisher’s corpse. She was the witch, you see. She’d been shot in the head.”
I took a step back. My eyes widened, and the blood drained from my face. Linda? No wonder Emma and Cassie couldn’t get ahold of her. “They were going to ‘rescue’ Director Lewellan,” I said as Kallaher’s story confirmed my speculations. “Did they say what happened with Linda?”
Mister Kallaher shook his head. “No. But it didn’t much matter, at that point. I… I regret to say that I gave in. At first I couldn’t help myself, but as the enthrallment wore off… I was afraid, and they’d already abducted me from my home,” he hastily tried to explain. “So when the enthrallment started to wear off I just kept pretending it hadn’t. I wasn’t even thinking about escaping or tripping them up or fighting back — I just didn’t want them to think I was going to make trouble. I didn’t want to get myself shot like Mrs. Fleisher had.”
Mister Kallaher sighed. “They stashed Mrs. Fliesher’s remains in one of my freezers, and they had me gather my coven’s ritual tools, and then they broght me here. By then I’d shaken free of their vampire’s enthrallment and realized what their intentions were — that they were going to break Director Lewellan out of custody, revive him, and use the geases you told me he was casting to keep my mouth shut.”
Mister Kallaher stood again. He refused to look at me as he shook his head at himself. “That actually made it easier,” he said. “I could believe I might just make it out of this — and if one of the Directors went missing everyone would be after them. My contribution to the pursuit — or rather, my inability to contribute — wouldn’t make much of a difference, ultimately. And I was channeling my coven’s resevour of ritual strength into their curse. I knew it was just a sleeping charm. No one was needed to get hurt.”
I swallowed and nodded. “Then what went wrong?” I asked.
Now Mister Kallaher looked up. His eyes blazed angrily — and literally, a fire sparking in their spectral manifestation. “You, Abigail. You showed up, and they started panicing.”
My breath caught. My heartbeat stopped, but everyone else’s hearts beat around me like the thudding drums of a leveled accusation. “I… I didn’t…”
“Know?” Kallaher’s ghost concluded my protest for me. “Of course not. But apparently you broke a geas that Director Lewellan had cast on you, and they were afraid the sleeping curse wouldn’t affect you. They prepared the assault so that they could strike while you were distracted rescuing people from the fires. I overheard that much. And that’s when I realized I had to do something, or people might die.”
The fire in Kallaher’s eyes died. I wobbled, and Ben caught me. At my other side, John grabbed my arm. “Abigail?” He asked desperately. “Abigail, what is it?”
“The fire is my fault,” I said without looking at him. “They set it to ‘distract’ me.” Pins and needles rushed through my arms as I recovered from the urge to faint. I hadn’t been immune to Kallaher’s sleeping curse.
We all could have died because the bad guys are overestimating what I can do now, I thought. Oh, fuck me.
I nodded for Mister Kallaher to continue.
“They had a wizard,” he said. “All theory and knowledge with no real power on his own. He had been watching me while I charged the curse he’d laid out, so I couldn’t be obvious about what I was doing. I tried to set up a like-to-like component to the curse, so that the effect of it falling on Director Salvatore’s house would be duiplicated here by leveraging that the curse was meant to affect a house full of people, and this was also a house Salvatore had owned.”
“So everyone here would be knocked out, too?” I asked.
Mister Kallaher nodded. “That was the plan,” he agreed. “If I jumped the gun and triggered the curse on both houses, there would be no sjots fired — and if you weren’t affected, their vampire would’ve been in for a nasty surprise. Unfortunately, their wizard possessed a sensitivity to magic that made up for his lack of direct power. He felt the wards around us respond to my efforts, and realized I had thrown off their enthrallment and was trying something. So he shot me, twice in the chest, and triggered the curse himself.”
I swallowed. Mister Kallaher knealt down and turned aside. He nrushed translucent fingers over the bullet holes in his corpse. “I was still alive. I knew I wouldn’t be for long, and it was too late to turn their own curse back on them. So I lashed out to the extent that I still could. I’d already brought the house into my focus, but I knew that as soon as I tried anything their wizard would put me down for good. So I ,pushed with my will as hard as I could. Their wizard felt it of course. He shot me in the head to stop me. But he was panicking, not thinking. So when that fucker killed me every explosive — every bullet, every grenade, every incindiary device — in this house died with me. All of it was left just as inert as my corpse.”
I stared at him in open shock. Mister Kallaher looked away from his body. Not at me, but at John.
“I could have tried to kill them with my final act of will,” Mister Kallaher admitted, “but it wouldn’t have gotten all of them. My coven’s strength had already been drained away, and while my life would have made a stronger like-to-like connection with theirs, a living person’s aura will protect itself from that sort of intrusion; attempt to resist an outside enchantment. Inanimate things, however, don’t have an aura — and I knew that ‘the ghoul’ and one of your friends were outside. Even though they had already torched the Director’s house, at least this way I could save Johnny from being gunned down. Or being immoliated when they torched the building to stop pursuit and eliminate anything that might lead back to them.”
Mister Kallaher’s eyes turned back to me. He met my gaze with a sour expression. “After that came… this.” He gestured at himself. “I’ve always been agnostic, bordering on atheist, so it wasn’t much surprise to me that my soul didn’t ‘move on’ or anything.” He chuckled. “I would have been more surprised if it had. As it is..? Well, they say that warlocks don’t retire: they just die. I guess now I finally get to travel. Can’t do much else when no one except you can see me.” He pursed his lips thoughtfully. “I’d haunt that fucking wizard, but he might actually be able to rig up a ward to do something about me. So I’ll leave ruining his life to you, and just work on my memoirs or something.” Mister Kallaher tapped one finger against his lips in sudden reconscideration. “Fuck it,” he abruptly decided. “Actually, I think I’ll just hang out at Disney World until the next Superbowl.”
I didn’t know how to process that. Any of it. So I turned away from Mister Kallaher’s ghost and looked over the rest of the room. Everyone else was watching me expectantly, which made my stomach tie itself in a knott. Fortunately, Megan saved me from fucking up sharing everything Mister Kallaher had just told me. I probably would have just started blathering about how unfair it was that warlocks got to go on vacation when they died, but when I died, I got to deal with all this shit instead.
Megan must have been looking into that space where ghosts live and faeries hide, because she began sharing Mister Kallaher’s recounting, for me. She kept it sucinct and to the point, without any of the babbling color commentary that I wouldn’t have been able to hold back. And it wasn’t until she got to the part about his final spell that Mister Kallaher interrupted her.
“Don’t tell Johnny that I knew I’d be saving his life, specifically,” Mister Kallaher said softly. “With two shots to the chest I wouldn’t have been able to hold on until help arrived, and I don’t want him to think I traded my life for his. I know he’d say he could have survived dying, but these guys would have incinerated his remains when they torched the house. And I don’t want him blaming himself for forcing me to make the decision I did, alright?”
Megan hesitated, but I don’t think anyone other than Emma and I noticed — and I was the only other one who knew why. When Megan continued, she told the ammended ending to Mister Kallaher’s tale — followed by his speculative plans for the next bit of his afterlife.
The mention of Disney World startled a laugh out of John. “I’ll drive,” he announced. “Just as soon as we make these bastards pay.”
“I’ll make sure Valerie is on her way here with some warlocks,” Ben said. “We have an entire building of things that could be turned into tracking tailismans and used to hunt them down.”
I nodded and freed myself from his steadying arm. “Yes,” I said. “You do that. You’re in charge of that now, Ben.” Then I turned to Elaine. “I need your car,” I told her. “And a driver,” I added to everyone else in hopes that someone would volounteer before I was forced to do it myself.
“I’ll drive,” Elaine said immediately. “Where are we going?”
I looked behind me, at Mister Kallaher’s ghost. “The funeral home,” I said. “I have more questions.” I swallowed back my anxiety over the prospect of riding in a car with John’s still possibly evil step-mom. Honestly: didn’t I have bigger things to worry about?! “And hopefully Linda’s ghost has the answers.”