Ghost of a Chance
I'm a ghost, just like any ghost. A lost spirit, trapped between here and wherever it was I was suppose to go when Celesta tapped me on my shoulder and pointed the way to the underworld. The difference between your fate and mine, though, is I refused to pay Charon's fare. I was so damned mad when I was killed, that my rage trapped me here, in this castle -- my very own home. My home was the place where I was killed and now, it is my own private Hades.
In life, I was the brother of a King, the leader of an army, and a brilliant strategist, if I do say so myself. In death, I am just as good a ghost and this castle is proof of that. The halls are dark and dingy. Gates creak in disrepair, and the squeaky floorboards of the rotting wooden floors rarely feel the patter of footsteps upon them. The nearest town is only a league or so away, but the villagers steer clear of this gray castle, the creaky gate, the barren road leading to it and even the dank woods that surround it. All due to my good, hard work. If you are going to be dead and trapped in your own home, you make the best out of haunting it, that's what I say.
Yes, as a ghost, I must admit that I am one of the best or at least I was.
It all happened last night. A storm rolled in and it was a beauty, too. The rain fell as though sprites were emptying buckets of the gods' tears down upon all mortal heads and Zeus's roar protesting recent events shook even the sturdy granite of my castle to its foundation. I watched with glee as the god hurtled thunderbolts left and right through a shroud of black clouds that seemed to portend the end of the world.
It was more than a ghost like myself could ever hope for. The only thing missing was someone to haunt. Someone I could scare the living slouvaka out of.
No sooner had the thought crossed my mind than I heard a knock at the door. To be honest, the sudden echo of fist against wood scared me half to death. I jumped at the sound and would have hit my head on the window if I hadn't been a specter.
The booming knock came again and predictably, when no one answered, I heard the telltale groan of the large wooden front door slowly swinging open. It was music to my ears.
"Hello?" a sweet, high voice echoed into the empty foyer and bounced against cold stone to repeat itself down the hall. "Is anyone home?"
I didn't answer of course, but I did float off of the windowsill and drift toward the chamber door for a better listen. Would they dare to come in, I wondered, out of the storm?
"There's no one here," I heard the voice say. I surmised this statement was made to a companion.
"Then what are you waiting for? Let's get out of the rain," I heard a smooth, slightly deeper voice respond. That would be the companion, and they were both coming in. Two for the price of one, I chuckled. It was time for me to get to work.
I made triple sure that I was invisible and floated down to the middle of the long stairway for a good look at my two unsuspecting victims. They were slowly walking in through the door, tracking in dripping puddles of rain and a flash of lightning with them.
The tall one was dark and strong, and a warrior for certain. The long sword she held in her hands as she entered the castle and examined the empty entryway gave that away. I watched her as she checked the perimeter and evaluated all vulnerable points. She was an absolute beauty.
Her companion was no less breathtaking. She appeared to be a warrior as well, but there was something less threatening about her. She had a soft glow around the edges that didn't usually exist after a person had experienced the horror of battle. But she was well muscled and moved with the stealth and confidence in a way that made me certain she had faced her share of death in battle and had won.
I couldn't believe my luck. Two beautiful women had wandered into my castle on a dark, stormy night. Not only were they beautiful, but they appeared to be trained in the art of warfare. The challenge that offered made my breath quicken and my nonexistent heart beat faster.
My wife was a beautiful woman, too. Had I mentioned that I was doomed to wander the desolate halls of my own home because of my wife?
Heed my warning, and never marry for beauty.
And if you are a beautiful woman, heed another warning and never enter the deserted castle of a man who had been killed by his own beautiful wife.
In a flash red with rage I disappeared and withdrew to make my plans.
Xena's gaze snapped to the top of the stairs as a brief flash of color caught her attention.
"What was that?"
"What was what?" Gabrielle asked as she moved to her partner's side and looked up in the same direction.
"I thought I saw something."
"What was it?"
"If I knew, I wouldn't have called it 'something'."
Gabrielle lowered her sai. "Probably a flash of lightning."
Xena lifted a cautious eyebrow as she studied the long staircase. After a few moments of careful thought, she lowered her sword. "You're probably right."
"This castle looks deserted." Gabrielle flipped a long cobweb out of the way with the tip of her sai and walked through an archway. "Definitely deserted," she said as she waved her hand against the odor of must and mildew that filled the air.
Xena stepped up beside her and together they stared across the huge banquet hall to a cold, empty hearth at the end. There were no furnishings, no tapestries, nothing but a grand chamber that echoed the patter of every drop of rain splattering against the cobblestones outside.
"You think that hearth can still hold a fire?" Gabrielle's question echoed against the walls.
"As long as the vent isn't clogged." Xena took long steps across the hall. Using her sword to swipe away a curtain of cobwebs, she peered up into the fireplace. "See if you can find something to burn."
Gabrielle took a long look around. The glass windowpanes were edged with iron, the walls were bricks of granite, and the floors were solid wood. Other than that, there was not an object in the room.
"Right. Something to burn." She scratched the edge of a small frown and walked quickly out of the room to search.
I watched her leave the banquet hall and wander into the kitchen. If she was looking for wood to burn, she wasn't going to find it in there. Then again, she didn't know that. None of them ever did; they always ended up wandering into the kitchen. Divide and conquer was always a good initial strategy and I imagined this would be the best thing to do given that these two probably worked well together as a team.
I grinned malevolently as she walked right by me unaware, passing so close, I could have reached out and ruffled her hair. I resisted the temptation. Her stride was relaxed and less cautious, and though the golden one did not appear as intense as the dark woman, it would not do to underestimate her. There was an underlying confidence to this one and I wasn't about to let myself be lured into a false sense of security.
It was going to take more than a bump in the night to rattle this woman, but rattle her I would. I only hoped that I would be able to get her to scream. A good, gut-wrenching scream from this one would shatter the focus of her stronger, far more dangerous partner.
My wife hadn't screamed. No, she hadn't screamed at all. Not one little peep. Quite the contrary, she had laughed. She had laughed and laughed and laughed. When I returned from hunting to discover her in the arms of that field hand, she laughed at me.
Even when I lunged at them both, my eyes red with rage and my only thought death, my beautiful wife had not screamed. But she sure did laugh when the field hand sunk the sharp end of his sickle deep into my belly. I could still hear that laughter, even now.
None of the women who entered this castle after that ever laughed again and this little beauty wasn't going to either.
I floated up and whisked over to the cabinets, ready to begin the first wave of my attack.
Gabrielle wandered into the kitchen, the squish of soggy boots on marble announcing her arrival. She shivered against a sudden chill as she passed through the doorway and rubbed her arms against the cold. This place hadn't seen life in years, the bard thought to herself as she walked through the large room examining the counters and tabletops, which were empty of any cutlery.
She seriously began to doubt that she was going to be able to find a single stick of wood anywhere in this entire castle. Just as she was about to leave the kitchen, the squeak caused her to whirl around. She watched as a cabinet door groaned slowly open on its own. So, she stepped up and closed it.
Another squeak made her turn. Another cabinet door drifted ajar.
She stepped up and closed that one, too.
Then a third one opened. Gabrielle strode over and closed it quickly. A fourthAnd the bard stomped forward to slam it shut.
Gabrielle glanced suspiciously around the room, but there was not another soul with her. Everything was still.
That's odd, she thought and shrugged. Warped wood, no doubt.
Wood. Cabinets. A candle lit over her head. The cabinets were wood. The bard opened the nearest door and began the battle to rip it from its hinges.
"Come on," she groaned with a sharp tug. "Give it up." She scrunched her face and pulled. "Come to mama." A twist and a valiant yank and the wood at the hinge cracked, then the door broke free. Gabrielle stumbled backward into a counter, wincing at the impact, but the size of the wooden cabinet door in her hands brought a proud smile of success to her face. The wood was dry with age and would burn easily.
"Perfect!" she announced as she inspected her prize. She frowned at the thought of damaging someone else's property, but the place appeared to be deserted. When another cold chill tickled her skin, her mind was made up. "It's for a good cause. I'm sure the owner wouldn't mind at all."
A crash to her rear and the bard whirled around, almost dropping the door as she ducked to avoid the pan that was flying across the room. A second pan flew and Gabrielle tossed the door aside to dive for cover. She rolled across the kitchen floor and found shelter behind a table, cringing at the sound of pots and pans crashing against the walls and cabinets in her immediate area.
Slowly, she lifted her head up from behind the table for a peek. Eyes wide, she ducked just in time to avoid being struck by the very door that she had coveted just a moment ago.
"I guess somebody minds," she said to herself and sat with her back against the table, trying to think of who else was in the house and how she was going to get back to the banquet hall to warn Xena.
She listened intently to the silence of the kitchen, straining her ears to pick up any sound other than the incessant beating of raindrops against stone outside.
Except for the rain and an occasional roll of thunder, it was dead quiet.
There was no hint of anyone else in the room. No sound to give the bard some sense of the direction of the next attack.
Time to move, Gabrielle thought to herself and took a deep breath.
One, two, three, she counted and leapt to her feet.
The last thing she saw was a frying pan coming at her face.
She didn't have time to scream, not that she would have.
Xena adjusted her grip on the rusty handle and gave the stubborn, old flue another hard pull. Gritting her teeth, face turning red, she tugged with all of her considerable might and still the vent would not budge.
"Son of a bitch!" the warrior princess cursed as her breath expelled and hands slipped from the handle. She studied the fireplace with thoughtful eyes. What she needed was something to pry it open. She glanced around at the empty hall and sighed. Though she was loath to use her sword for fear of dulling the fine edge, it seemed to be the only option. With one deft motion, she pulled the sword from the sheath on her back, gave it a twirl and inserted the sharp tip into the space between iron and stone.
"Now, I got ya." She was just about to put her weight onto the handle when a loud bang from the direction of the kitchen stopped her cold.
"Gabrielle?" Xena called out apprehensively, quickly removing the sword and hefting it into fighting position in her hand. "Gabrielle, are you all right?"
The warrior took anxious steps forward to find her partner, stopping only when she heard the mumbled curses of a familiar voice coming from within the kitchen.
Xena listened to the unmistakable sound of splitting wood and smiled. "That's my girl. Rip the doors right off their hinges," she said with a grin and relaxed her stance. She was about to walk back to resume her task when some more crashing caused her to pause. "What are you doing, tearing the entire kitchen apart?" There were more loud bangs, a sickening thud, and then silence.
It was the silence that made the hairs on the back of the warrior's neck stand on end.
"Gabrielle!" Xena called out fearfully and took off at a run for the kitchen.
She dashed out of the banquet room, ran through the hall and entered the kitchen, sliding to a stop. Sword in hand, she glanced around anxiously searching for her partner. But the kitchen was empty with no sign that anyone had been in there at all.
"Gabrielle? Gabrielle, where are you?" Xena stepped forward cautiously. "Gabrielle!" The warrior's experienced eye studied the room, but there was not a trace of her partner to be seen. The countertops were clean, the sinks empty and all the cabinet doors were closed.
Hadn't she just heard the sound of Gabrielle's struggle to rip off a cabinet door? Then why was it that not a one was missing?
Xena twirled to check her rear and then turned again to be sure of the room.
Empty -- as though there had never been a living soul in here at all.
The corner of Xena's upper lip curled into a snarl.
So, the castle wasn't so deserted after all. Someone was in here and had just made their first move against them.
Xena backed out of the kitchen and into the foyer.
"Well, whoever you are, that was the wrong move," Xena stated to the empty hall, and then raised an eyebrow, "or should I say whatever you are."
I waited patiently for the golden one to return to consciousness. It didn't take long, as I knew it wouldn't. After all, I hadn't hit her that hard. I didn't want to kill her, at least not yet anyway. Besides, she still hadn't screamed and I was so looking forward to that. Especially since her cry from within this small, closed off room deep in the bowels of my castle would reverberate throughout its empty halls. It was one of the weird design flaws of the building that I happened upon a long time ago while I was still alive. I had often come here to listen to my wife's secrets being whispered elsewhere in our home. It worked both ways you see, and only I knew that.
This one's screams would echo off of the stone and granite, building itself into a horrifying crescendo that would send the dark warrior scurrying to find her companion in a blind panic. It worked before, and it would work now.
The room I had trapped the golden one in was dark and claustrophobic, and it would enhance the effect of my very favorite parlor trick -- a trick that I am proud to say I invented and have perfected to an art. Soon, this warrior would be screaming and her companion would be rushing through my dark halls searching frantically for her precious friend. The only thing the dark one was going to find, however, would be her first true taste of undiluted fear.
Fear. I loved to see fear in my victim's eyes. Oh, how I wanted to see fear in my wife's eyes. Heart-stopping, eye-widening, gut-wrenching fear that's what should have been there. Instead, the last thing my poor soul saw before it left my body was my wife's utter contempt for me.
Eyes get the nicest sparkle in them when they fill with fear. And those bright, blue eyes of the dark warrior were going to shine brilliantly once they were filled with it.
Gabrielle groaned and then sat up, gingerly touching the bump on her forehead. It felt like she had been hit in the head with a frying pan.
It took only a moment for the bard to remember that was exactly what had happened, and then she was up and searching the perimeter of her prison. She had been trapped in a small, dark room. There was one candle, a small light high in an upper most corner. Using her hands, she slowly traced along the wall looking for the portal in. It was hard to find, but there was a door and it was sealed tight.
Feeling the beginnings of claustrophobia, Gabrielle took a few deep breaths and backed away from the wall into the center of the room.
"Xena!" she called out, believing that her partner probably couldn't hear her, but needing to say her name anyway. "Xena! I'm in here!"
The shout seemed to bounce against stone and go nowhere.
The call echoed wildly. Gabrielle had to shield her ears from the
noise of her cry reverberating against itself. Then the room seemed to strangely suck up
the noise and spit it back out it a long, answering groan.
The walls all around her swelled outward and then relax, and then swelled outward again as though the room itself was breathing.
Gabrielle's eyes grew wide as the chamber groaned and breathed, groaned and breathed, a dark energy feeding upon itself and slowly building, building, building. She was trapped in the belly of a dark prison alive with hatred.
I was certain she was just about to let loose with a big, beautiful, gut-wrenching scream, when her eyebrows suddenly furrowed and she dropped her hands from her ears.
To my utter amazement, she looked not stricken with fear, but rather concerned.
"All right," I heard her call out. "Who are you and why are you still here?"
Who was she talking to? Was she talking to me? She couldn't be talking to me -- she didn't even know I was here! Of course, I didn't answer, but I did pick up the pace in earnest. The solid, stone walls swelled and deflated at a frantic rate, but it didn't seem to phase the woman one bit.
"I said, who are you and why is your soul still hanging around this castle?"
Her question caught me so by surprise that the walls ceased in mid-breath. The way she was acting, you'd think she knew all about what happened to a person once they've kicked the wooden bucket.
"This was your home, wasn't it?" I heard her say gently as she looked upward, apparently searching.
Exactly who was she looking for up there? For me? I was on the ground, standing right next to her.
I walked around to face her to get a better look. Compassionate green eyes were still searching the ceiling and the upper corners. I must admit, that was a good place to look being that a high corner was one of my favorite places to hang out.
"Why are you still here in your own home? You should have moved on," she continued.
I watched as she calmly walked the room, searching for me.
"There are angels waiting for you, you know. Waiting to take you on to a place that's a lot nicer than this empty, rundown castle."
Rundown? Did she just call my home rundown? It was NOT rundown! It was a beautiful castle! Besides, how would she know what was waiting for me or where I would be going? Did she say there were angels waiting for me?
I was so intrigued, I forgot all about making the walls breath. I took a step closer to her, so close I could have touched the soft skin of her cheek with my lips.
Angels, did she say?
She seemed to know I was right there in front of her because she smiled gently.
"Something happened to keep you here, didn't it?" she said softly, "Something that is holding your spirit captive. Whatever it was, you have to let it go if you want to move on."
I nearly tripped over my own ectoplasm as I retreated. Flustered, I actually bumped into the wall once before being able to pass through it. Still, I could hear her call out after me as I fled from the room.
"You have to let it go!" she urged loudly, "let go, so you can move on!"
I covered my ears in denial as I flew through the halls, heedless of the state of my visibility.
When I was far enough away so I could no longer hear that voice, I drifted up into the security of a familiar corner and hovered.
Gods, I hate the living.
At the sound of Gabrielle's cry, Xena dashed up the stairs, taking them two at a time. The staircase brought her onto a veranda that overlooked the foyer. Her eyebrows furrowed, as another call drifted from the hallway at the end of the terrace. Boots thumping along the balcony, she ran across the veranda through an ornate archway that led into a long, endless hallway of closed bedroom doors. Xena sprinted down the long passage, sword in hand, passing door after door as she ran. The cry, however, was just an echo and soon faded away. She came to a stop halfway down the hall to take stock in her situation.
"You want me chasing after Gabrielle's echo, don't ya?" the warrior spoke to her unknown adversary as she shifted the sword in her hand. "Wouldn't be a half-bad plan to have me running around this castle like a chicken with my head cut off looking everywhere for her." She tapped the flat end of her sword into the palm of her empty hand and ran her tongue along the inside of her mouth thoughtfully. "Well, I don't think I'm gonna let you play me like that."
Far better is the hunter than the hunted, Xena thought to herself as strode purposefully back the way she had come.
And hunting prey just happened to be one of her many skills.
Heavy boots stomped down the staircase, one step at a time, and when she reached the bottom, Xena strolled confidently across the foyer, tugged the large wooden door open and walked right out into the rain.
I don't know how long I floated in that corner, but a large clap of thunder and a flash of Zeus's lightning finally brought me back to my senses. I couldn't believe I let that pipsqueak of a warrior get to me. What kind of ghost was I, anyway? It was time to get back on track and haunt me down a tall, strong opponent. Hopefully, my second adversary would be a little less on the chatty side and more on the action side. I could deal with that.
Speaking of chatty, I didn't talk to my wife much, but gods she sure did like to talk to me. Yak, yak, yak, yak, yak, yak, yak a living person could never get a word in edgewise. Much to my surprise, I could feel the corners of my mouth lifting into a grin and quickly pushed the happy memory away. Thoughts of this type were fuzzy and warm. Revenge, however, was a dish best served cold.
I shook off the past and took off like a harpie out of Hades in search of my next meal.
The golden one's echo should have sent her partner running up the stairs and into the bedroom area of the castle. I streaked through the archway, gleefully expecting to find her searching through the myriad of doors for the source of the cry.
Not a warrior in sight, but there was something odd in the hallway. All of the bedroom doors were open.
You see, I kept all of the doors down this hall neatly closed. In this way, I - the haunter - could ascertain into which room my hauntee had wandered.
Making certain I was invisible, I drifted into the first room to take a look.
I floated over into the room across from that one.
It, too, was empty.
I drifted along the hallway looking for a sign of the tall woman. All the way down the hall, I floated, checking in every room one by one.
At the end of the hallway I hovered, more than a little confused. I had checked every room and there was not a sign of my prey. The last open door was the small closet and I took a peek into that, too, just in case.
No one was stirring, not even a mouse.
Been here and gone, I surmised. The warrior must have searched every room already and gone elsewhere. She was fast, that one. I left the closet, closing the door behind me and was about to begin to shut the rest, when I heard a noise that stopped me cold.
A rattling the like I'd never heard before started at the far end of the passage. It was coming from a room somewhere down at the end of the hall, but with all the room doors open, I couldn't tell from which. I knew one thing for certain, it wasn't me making that horrific clatter.
I froze where I was and stared down the long row of open doorways, listening. The rattling slowly increased to an ear-shattering level until it sounded like it was coming from all around me. I covered my ears, cringing and was about whisk away when the hideous noise suddenly stopped.
The silence that followed was almost worse.
I lowered my hands from my ears and floated tentatively forward.
Then, to my utter amazement, the open bedroom doors began to close -- one by one by one. Fear clutched my gut as I watched the doors slam shut, each in succession.
My wife, my mind screamed as I jumped with each and every bang, it's my wife! It had to be my wife because only another ghost could cause all the doors to close like this. My cursed wife was here and she was after a little revenge of her own.
The last door slammed closed and the unholy rattling began anew, rising again to its frightening crescendo. I quickly floated down the hall, cringing as the sound of windows breaking began to resound from within every room I passed.
She was tearing the place to pieces. And I was going to be next.
The squeal of nails scratching against granite came from behind me and I whirled around half expecting to see her hands reaching out to strangle me.
But the hall was empty.
I jumped at the crash as another window broke. And then another.
I reeled around in all directions, but there was no one there.
Another grating scrape sent my teeth on edge and without thought, I took off down the hall.
I was so unnerved that my true form began to coalesce. Invisibility took concentration, and all my concentration was centered on getting out of that hallway before my wife got to me.
I flew as quickly as I could, twirling with every crash and bang in an attempt to defend against attack. Bare inches from the exit, all noise stopped and the absence of the clamor caused me to halt in place.
I floated there, suspended in a quiet filled with dread, unsure of what to do. The noise was gone. Did that mean she gone, too?
A tiny creak in the silence caught my attention. My eyes drifted, searching for the source of the eerie, persistent squeak, until my gaze rested upon the handle of the very last door.
The door handle was very slowly turning up, and then just as slowly turning down. There was someone inside the last room and any moment they would be opening the door. My eyes widened in terror.
Face your enemy head on, the soldier in me advised, and before fear could turn me into a coward, I grabbed the rusty old handle and turned it.
I pushed the door and it flew open wide.
There she was, grinning maniacally at me.
The skeleton of my wife stood before me in all of her bony glory. More than a ghost, she was fresh from the grave. I could see moist soil on her skull and I watched in horror as a small worm crawled out of an empty eye socket, slid down a hollowed cheek, slipped, and dropped to the floor.
I was so frightened, I became completely visible. So terrified, not a wisp of me could move.
A knee creaked and she took a step forward. An aching groan and her arms slowly lifted, skinless fingers twitching as they reached for me. Ares forgive me, I screamed at the top of my lungs.
I backed out of that room as fast as I could and promptly bumped into the opposite wall. My dead wife followed me, taking awkward but deliberate steps, her lifeless skull smiling all the while.
I attempted to fly up, but crashed into the ceiling in panic.
She was standing in the doorway now, watching me, laughing, coming for me.
I took off, hitting the wall and then smacking against the edge of the arch before finally making it out of that cursed hallway and to the stairs. I tripped and tumbled down the staircase, forgetting completely how to float. I didn't even look to see if she was following, all I wanted to do was get to the safest place I could think of.
I ran at top speed to a hidden door at the back of the kitchen and pulled it open. The small staircase led down to the basement and at the back of the basement was another portal that was hard to find unless you knew it was there.
My wife never knew about this small room. I prayed to the gods that this was still true. If it was, I could hide there as long as I wanted, centuries if need be, until I was certain that her rotting skeleton had broken apart and turned to dust.
I ran down the stairs as fast as my semi-transparent feet could carry me, then scurried through the dark basement to the small room. In life, the room had been my sanctuary, now in death it would be my salvation. Too flustered to concentrate on passing through, I crashed into the wall once, then twice, finally punching on the secret brick which activated a switch and caused the cleverly hidden doorway to rotate open.
I stumbled through the opening and then slammed the door shut. Safe. I leaned against the hidden door for support, breathing heavily.
"There you are," a soft voice said from the darkness.
I jumped at the sound and crashed into the ceiling. It was not my dead wife, but the golden warrior. I had forgotten that I had left her in here. Floating to the ground, I rubbed my sore head and stared at her meekly.
"What's gotten you so rattled?" she asked me amicably as though we had been friends for centuries.
I looked behind me, fearful to answer lest the very mention of my cursed wife might allow her entrance into the room. "My w-w-w-ife "
Her eyebrows raised up, disappearing into blond bangs. "Your wife? Your wife is chasing you?" she asked, somewhat incredulously.
I nodded rapidly.
"Would your wife be dead or alive?"
"Dead," I replied, "very dead."
Oddly, she smirked with amusement. "So, you think it's your dead wife who's chasing you, huh?"
A pounding on the other side of the stone wall sent me cowering to a corner for cover.
My cellmate didn't seem worried at all. "Tell me, is your wife the reason you're still hanging around here scaring poor, unsuspecting travelers who are only looking for shelter from the rain?"
I stared guiltily at my feet. "I didn't really mean to scare you," I answered meekly.
"You didn't mean to scare me?" Her eyebrows lifted even higher. "You hit me in the head with a frying pan! I have the lump to prove it! Oww!" She had made the mistake of touching the bump in question.
"Sorry about that."
"You should be." She stared at me crossly until I lifted my eyes to meet her's and then her scowl turned into a warm smile. "I forgive you."
She nodded, "Sure. What's one lump between friends, right?"
I couldn't believe how affable she was being, and I suddenly felt totally guilt-ridden at the thought of what I had planned to do to her and her companion. Those very same plans had somehow completely turned against me. Where was the tall, dark one anyway?
Another bang right outside my secret door had me cowering again in the corner.
The golden-haired woman looked in the direction of my frightened stare. "What are you so afraid of?"
"My wife," I stammered in reply, "she's coming!"
Another amused smirk, "Don't you worry. Whoever's coming, I'll take care of her," she stated confidently.
"You will?" I suddenly wondered what secret power this warrior possessed.
"Sure, no problem. On one condition, though."
I nodded my willingness to listen to her terms.
"You tell me why you are still here. Why you haven't passed on."
I shimmered once and materialized fully, feeling amazingly comfortable in the presence of this woman. Only a short while ago, she had been a complete stranger to me - prey, really. Just another one of the living to haunt. I was coming to realize this woman was anything but that. I felt as though she was a kindred spirit. Until this moment, I hadn't realized how much I needed to tell my woes to a sympathetic ear.
"I died here, in my own home," I began, tears forming in my eyes.
She smiled compassionately. "I figured as much. Go on."
Just as I was about to begin my tale, the secret door swung open. A scream burst uncontrollably from my chest as I flattened myself against the back wall in terror.
Step by gruesome step, the horrible skeleton staggered awkwardly into the room. Its empty gaze was fixed on me and me alone as its eternal grimace widened into in a heinous smile.
There was nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. I tried to melt into the wall, turn to mist, disappear, anything, but it was as though I had lost all my ghostly skills. Rotting arms reached out and curling fingernails brushed against my face. I squeezed my eyes shut and prepared for oblivion.
"Gabrielle, are you all right?"
My eyes popped at the sound of the dark warrior's smooth voice. She was standing right behind the gruesome creature; I could see her through the skeleton's chest. The thing was still hovering in front of me, but the arms had dropped. I leaned around it cautiously to take a better look and found the warrior balancing a pair of branches, one in each hand. Connected to the branches were a series of vines that were, in turn, controlling the skeleton.
She had been working my wife like a master puppeteer.
With one strong heave, she threw the branches, skeleton and all, to a far corner. They crashed together in a heap of wood and bones.
My jaw had dropped open in disbelief and I could only watch as the tall woman stepped up and engulfed her smaller companion into a strong, heartfelt hung.
I didn't say a word until they were done kissing.
The dark woman lifted her head and regarded me coolly. "So, what do we have here?" she asked her partner.
"Xena," the golden one began, "this is I'm sorry, I didn't get your name?"
"Kosmo," I replied, dumbfounded.
"Kosmo," she repeated, with a nod. "Kosmo, this is Xena. Xena, this is Kosmo."
Xena lifted one eyebrow. The look was mildly intimidating.
"I'm Gabrielle, by the way," Gabrielle said, pointing to herself.
I nodded again, mutely, still unsure of my voice.
"Kosmo was just about to tell me why his soul is tied to this castle."
"Oh really? Well, it better be good enough to explain why he gave you that lump on your head," Xena said regarding me evenly before turning to her companion and inspecting the bruise. "Are you sure you're all right?"
Gabrielle winced at the probing touch and swatted the hand away. "I'm fine. Don't worry about me. Kosmo is the one with the problem. Let's see if we can help him, ok?"
Xena dropped her hand and grinned. "Whatever you say, Gabrielle."
"See?" Gabrielle beamed at me, "I told you I could handle whatever walked through the door."
I found myself relaxing in spite of what had just occurred. I looked at the pile of bones in the corner then back at up at the two of them.
"Anyone you know?" Xena asked, with an amused smirk.
"My wife?" I guessed.
She shook her head. "Nope. Doubt it. Pelvic bone too narrow," she answered and kicked a stray shin bone to the corner. "Probably just an in-law."
Gabrielle's warm smile and Xena's answering chuckle were enough to send me into a fit of laughter.
We laughed together, and let me tell you, it felt so good to laugh. I hadn't done it in I don't know how long.
A short time later, we were all up in the banquet hall. Xena had taken over the task of ripping up the kitchen cabinets for wood, and to tell you the truth, I didn't care one bit. They could burn the place down as far as I was concerned.
For the first time in years, a fire was crackling happily in the hearth. We sat on the floor before it. I, of course, couldn't feel the warmth, but I could tell that my guests were a lot more comfortable by the rosy blush of their skin.
Then again, that blush might have been caused by the fact that they were sitting right next to one another, Xena's arm draped comfortably around her partner's, and Gabrielle's hand idly played with the soft skin of Xena's inner thigh.
I sighed. Had I ever blushed so at the touch of warm skin against skin? I couldn't remember.
"So, Kosmo," Gabrielle said, resuming the conversation. "Not to bring up a sore subject, but how did you die? You seem awfully young to be haunting a castle."
I leaned my elbows on the knees of my crossed legs and shrugged. "I found my wife in the arms of another man," I stated simply.
"You didn't take your own life, did you?" Gabrielle asked in a quiet, concerned voice.
"No, not at all. I didn't want to kill myself, but I sure could have killed her. In fact, I was so angry, I wanted to kill them both. I rushed at them, but the bastard heard me coming and sank a sickle into my belly." I grimaced at remembered pain.
"Gut wound, huh?" Xena asked, biting nonchalantly on a broken nail. "Hard way to die."
"You got that right," I answered.
Gabrielle leaned forward. "What happened after that?"
"Next thing I knew I was floating above my bleeding body. My wife ran out of the room and so did the field hand. I never saw either of them again."
"And after that?"
"I went a little beserker, I guess," I replied with a shrug. "For awhile, I threw things, tore things up. Scared the servants. Frightened my in-laws. You get the picture."
Gabrielle nodded knowingly. "You were angry. You're still angry and your anger is keeping you here."
"I guess you're right about that. But, to be honest, I didn't know there was anywhere else to go."
"There is, you know," Gabrielle said with a soft smile. "There's peace and tranquility on the other side. Not to mention, your loved ones, who have probably been waiting for you all this time."
"You think so? I didn't know that."
"Well, it's true."
I squinted suspiciously. "How would you know what's waiting for me on the other side?"
Xena and Gabrielle gave one another a long, knowing look like they had been there and done that.
"Trust me," Gabrielle said, without taking her eyes away from her partner, "we know."
I had no reply for that one.
I bowed my head dejectedly. "My wife could be waiting for me on the other side, you know. Waiting to ambush me."
"Maybe she is waiting for you." Gabrielle stood up and walked over. Her legs bent at the knee and she squatted in front of me. "What happened to you was a terrible thing, Kosmo. I'm sorry."
I nodded sadly.
She reached out, thinking she could place a comforting hand on my shoulder, but knowing better, withdrew it. "You're a good man. You didn't deserve that."
"Were a good man."
"Still are, I think. Don't you?"
Again, I shrugged. "I'm a ghost, just like any ghost. If I ever was a good man, it doesn't matter now."
"Yes, it does. It matters now more than ever. What happened to you happened a long time ago, Kosmo. Don't you think it's time you let it go?"
"Easier said than done," I replied.
"Your wife is long gone. Her soul has already paid the price for whatever happened or didn't happen. The only one you are punishing now is yourself."
"Trust me, Kosmo," Xena suddenly spoke up, drawing my attention, "Revenge is an empty plate."
I looked at both of them. "I know you're right, but what can I do? I've been angry for so long. How do I let it go?"
This time Gabrielle did reach out and rest her hand on my shoulder. I didn't know if she felt it, but I sure did.
"Forgive your wife," she said softly, "Just forgive her. Let your anger go and it will set you free."
I heard her simple words, but it wasn't as simple as that - how could it be? I stood and strode away, thinking. I thought about my wife and the anger that I had coveted for so many years, I couldn't even remember what it was like to live without it.
But I wasn't living, was I? And if I held onto my anger, I would never really die, either. I was stuck in the middle of nowhere, angry at the dead and the living, but mostly just hating myself.
Why did I allow my anger to have such a hold one? My wife was long gone. She wasn't even the pile of bones that had chased me down these barren halls mere moments ago. She was dust and a bunch of empty memories. And here I was, in this cold, empty home with nothing but my anger to remember my life by.
Gabrielle was right, I had been a good man. I didn't deserve this.
"The storm has passed and the sun is rising," Xena said as she stood and walked to the door. The tall, dark warrior smiled at me, pulled at the rusty, wrought iron handle and swung the door wide. A stream of brilliant sunlight cascaded into the castle, stirring the cobwebs with its light breeze and chasing the shadows to the farthest corners of the room.
I turned and stepped into the light, my eyes wincing at the brightness so accustomed were they to shadow and dark. As speckles of dust danced around me in the sunlit, I looked anxiously back at Gabrielle.
She was smiling at me with encouragement in her eyes.
I could feel a smile creeping across my face, and I turned to the dark warrior. She held the door ajar and motioned with her head to what lay beyond.
"G'wan," she said, keeping to the shadows, "we'll catch up with you later."
I smiled, thinking she had made a joke, but now that I think about it, she was probably serious.
The smile fell from my face as the sound of a sweet voice floated in amongst the rays of light.
"Kosmo!" The plaintive cry was both dreaded and welcomed.
My rage should have flared up at the sound, but instead my heart leapt with unexpected joy.
"It's my wife," I whispered in wonder. I couldn't believe how happy I was to hear her voice.
"Melody!" I called out, "Melody!" With forgiveness in my heart, I stepped out of the castle door and into the sunshine for the first time in centuries.
They watched as Kosmos shimmered translucently in the soft rays of the morning sunlight. He seemed to hesitate briefly, but then a strange smile graced his face. With a brief look back to Gabrielle and a nod, he stepped over the door's threshhold and disappeared.
Xena stepped around the door and stood in the entryway, looking outside. It wasn't long before she felt the presence of her partner at her side. She placed her hand on the warm skin of Gabrielle's shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze.
"He's gone," Xena said, her eyes searching the rocky pathway and overgrowth that bordered it, but finding nothing.
When there was no comment from her companion, Xena glanced down to find Gabrielle sniffling and wiping at her eyes in an attempt to hide a few falling tears.
She quickly wrapped her arm around her bard and pulled her close. "Why are you crying?"
Gabrielle wiped her nose with the back of her hand and shrugged. "Kosmo and his wife they're together now." Another sniffle interrupted her words.
"And that's sad because ?"
"Well, I was thinking about us."
Xena looked down at the beautiful face now staring up at her, cheeks covered with tears. The corners of her mouth lifted into a grin. "Oh, that explains it." She gave the strong shoulders a hug and guided Gabrielle out of the gloomy darkness, into the sunlight of a brand new day.
"Gabrielle, of all the things that could possibly happen to us after this life, I promise you, we won't end up haunting a castle."
The bard snorted and gave Xena's ribs a soft rap with an elbow. "It's not funny and that's not why I'm crying."
Xena negotiated them around a rock in the path, never relinquishing the hold she had on her partner's shoulders. "Then why are you crying?"
"I don't care where we end up, Xena - Elysia, Hades, Heaven, Hell or even in other lives I don't care. Just so long as we end up together."
Xena halted and turned the bard gently to face her. With a gentle touch, she wiped the tears from Gabrielle's cheeks. "Don't you even worry about that, Gabrielle." She kissed her softly and then returned her arm to its place across Gabrielle's shoulders. "We're stuck together with karmic glue."
They continued down the path, the way the had come, together.
I stood in the sunshine, staring in wonder at the trees and shrubbery all around me. The years had been hard on my land. Manicured lawns were dense with overgrowth and I could barely make out the path for the rocks and weeds.
Taking a few steps away from the castle, I searched for the owner of the sweet voice who had called out to me from beyond. "Melody!" My voice echoed to the forest, "Melody!"
"KOSMO!" I watched in amazement as Melody stepped out from behind a tree, smiled in delight and skipped over to me. Before I could say anything, she had wrapped her arms around me and was kissing me all over my face. "Kosmo. Oh, Kosmo!"
I couldn't help but kiss her back. After all, I had loved her once more than life itself.
"I waited and waited for you," she said as I began to taste tears mix with the kisses. "Why did you take so long?
I pulled away and looked in her eyes. I couldn't believe what she was asking me. "What did you expect, Melody? You killed me."
I could clearly see the confusion on her face. "Kosmo, what are you talking about?"
"You killed me!" You and your lover killed me!" I shouted, attempting to pull away, but she was holding on tight.
"Kill you?" she asked, incredulously. "You think I killed you? And what are you talking about lover?"
"That stable hand! I saw what you were doing! I would have killed you both, if he hadn't killed me first."
"What we were doing? Kosmo, did you think we were lovers?"
I nodded fiercely, trying to pull away, but my wife wouldn't let me.
"He was RAPING me, Kosmo. While you were out hunting, he had come into the castle and attacked me! I tried to fight him, but he was just too strong. I was so happy when you rushed into the room, but then he took his sickle and killed you. Gods, I screamed and screamed."
Her tears were falling freely now, and I have to admit, I think I started crying, too.
"I ran from there to try to get help, but he chased me and then he and then he "
She couldn't talk anymore and so I wrapped her up in my arms. "What did he do?" I asked, almost afraid to know the answer.
"He killed me, too, Kosmo. He killed me, too."
I was a ghost, just like any ghost. But now, my haunting days are over. Gabrielle was right. There was an angel waiting for me - and the angel was my wife. All this time, she had waited, just outside of my castle door, waiting for me to take that one step passed my anger, away from the demons of my own making, and walk outside to join her. As the storm clouds parted and the sun began to fill the sky, she took my hand and all those years of pain just melted away. Now, I could feel that we were rising up, away from the ground and away from the castle. I took one last look over my shoulder at the two women who had given me back my heart and my soul.
Xena and Gabrielle had left the ruins of the dilapidated castle and were strolling down the path the way they had come as though what had just transpired this night was a normal occurrence in their everyday lives.
I laughed to myself, thinking that they had probably faced far worse than me and persevered. And I, pitiful excuse for a spirit that I was, thought I was going to scare the daylights out of them? Between the two of them, I didn't stand a ghost of a chance.
Happy Halloween, folks!
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