There are rules, when you are a ghost. They are burned into our being with the same fire that lets us remain in the Grey Lands after we die. Obey the rules, and you can return to the land of the living rarely. Break them, and you can return more often – until the Wardens find you, or you run into an exorcist or something worse by far. But obey, and you can walk the world of the living as if you were flesh and blood for one night every year. And be far more than that as well.
The hallowed night. All Hallows Eve, when the shadows are holy and you can bring fear into the hearts of the living – or anything else you might desire to attempt. You can terrify, but you cannot kill. Kiss, but you cannot love. There are rules, after all, and some of them protect us as much as the living. We have power on this night that we do not have on other nights. I can do things I never could even at the heights of my mortal madness. I carry the cold of the grave about me, and the light that burns in my eyes is that of a hereafter.
Because I have no desire to fake being human. Because I am not in the mood for such things. I move, and humans think it a costume. I smile, and candy and drunkenness protect them against some of my power. I am remembered in death as I was not in life, and that is enough. I move through mirrors, flit through crowds. Create stories, give birth to new urban legends. The night is mine, and I am wild with it until I run into the boy.
He looks to be about eleven, all thin and pale with a white cane and dark glasses. I’d have taken him for human except his walk has no fear to it, and his smile – his smile is like nothing I’d ever seen, not even in a dream. I make a sound and he spins at the noise, and his grin strikes the air between us like the bells of a holy place that has found itself become sacred. Sacred places are terrifying, but there is nothing terrifying about his smile.
I know enough to know that should scare me, and draw about me the cold from places where the living cannot travel.
The boy moves, faster than human boys could, and collides with me to wrap his arms about me. For a moment, I think it an exorcism – that I have, somehow, breached the rules – and then I realize it is a hug as he let go, “Hello,” bursting out of him with exclamation marks behind it.
“Hello,” I manage.
“My name is Jay. What’s yours?”
“Alice. Red Alice of the Bloodied Hands,” I say.
“Oh. I’m just a Jay,” he says. “We hugged, right? It’s hard to tell because your bindings feel all kinds of weird you know.”
“We hugged, yes.”
“Good!” He flings out another grin like a careless offering. “This is the only night I can touch ghosts, since otherwise most of them poof and vanish except Dyer, but he was pretty tough even if he wasn’t tough like a Jay.”
I flinch, not meaning to. All ghosts know of Dyer. The ghost-eater who became a ghost on dying, was barred from the land of the dead – and eventually found a way back inside. Most powerful of all the Wardens who keep us in the Grey Lands, and this boy says his name with casual ease as though speaking of a friend.
“Can I help you?” I say, because such a power should not be shunned.
The boy blinks broken eyes. “Uhm! I think I’m okay, but we could play tag if you want?”
“You’re pretty fast, I bet, and the exercise would be fun!”
“You have a phone on you?” He nods. “Can you use it?”
“Of course,” he says with innocent pride.
“Look up my name.”
He asks his phone to look me up, and it turns the text it finds into speech. Jay listens for a good minute, then turns it off and looks up. “You killed lots of people?”
“I murdered them, yes.”
“Did they deserve it?”
“I have been a ghost for over two years years. I ... no, I do not think they did. No matter what was done to me, what I sought revenge for.”
“It was a really meany post on twitter,” he says, and I have no idea if I’m being rebuked or not.
“There was also a facebook post of me. They – used me, and I had revenge.”
“You could have something else. Like a friend,” he says happily, and insists we find a park and play tag.
I don’t have it in me to say no, even if I should. It turns out he is very fast, and ticklish despite everything else. We play tag for half an hour, Jay and I, and when it ends my hands are no longer bloodied at all.
“What have you done?” I demand, in the voice I destroyed Mo with.
“I didn’t do anything,” Jay says, staring up at me unafraid. “I let you make a choice, and you make a good one.” He smiles, and this smile is soft and a little strange, this night touching whatever he is as well. “You tried to use me and I think that meant I used you as well.”
And I think about death, and hallows, and holy nights. I wonder why the rules exist, for the first time, and what this night is meant to do. “I can pass on. Beyond the Grey Lands.”
“I think so, if you want to?” he offers. “I don’t know much about that stuff at all. Honcho says it’s not safe to look too deeply into how the universe works in case I find a fnord. Which I haven’t yet!”
I just nod, and thank him in a daze, and he offers up a huge grin before checking his phone, says he’s late for a party and vanishes somewhere else in the world between moments.
I am cleansed, and I am Alice, I am me and I am free – and yet I think it is for the best that I am not invited to whatever party the boy has gone to.
I keep walking, but this time I am silent. I wait for the dawn.
And I am not afraid.