A body was found floating in the Thames River this morning among the litter. The local police say it’s nothing—a tourist who had too much to drink and a very poor ability to swim—but we locals know different. No man goes swimming at night, not with the bitter London chill and certainly not in the Thames. It’s only one step above swimming in sewage. At least, it is around here.
Some theorists say he floated down from Oxford, but it’s unlikely. He’s too ripely dead. His skin is pruned, not bloated and gray.
I walk past where the constable is standing on the dock and he tips his cap at a stout blond woman shuffling along behind me. He can’t see me, none of them can. I flip him the bird for good measure and continue walking, past the crowd of unabashed gawkers, and straight into the heart of central London. There’s a certain air about the town—an almost delightful repugnance—that makes the heart swell in recognition. Or so I’m told.
Of course, if I had a heart (and that heart was still beating) I should think that it would swell indeed. But, alas, I seem to have lost it. Or, more likely, misplaced it somewhere in the storm tunnels that run below the city. I have an awful habit of forgetting where I last placed an object, and it seems that this time is no different. Unless it was stolen during my sleep. But who am I kidding? I don’t do that either. Sleep, that is.
I can hear the fish mongers bellowing to passersby from their boats moored to the docks. I used to love fish but life at sea can make a person dreadfully tired of the same white meat. Not to mention the hunger brought on by the disease; a hunger that still frightens me to this day. A hunger for meat: fresh, raw, and bloody. I’m just glad I died when I did.
But such things are pretty heavy for a first introduction, so I’ll just go back to what I was saying before, about the dead guy and all.
Word on the street is that it was no accidental death, it was murder, and someone is trying to cover it up. They say the man was found with a brass pocket-watch that had a note tucked inside. The message was written on simple cream parchment; two words inscribed in deep crimson: Find Me.
That was all I could discover about the matter. Pirates can be so dreadfully selfish. The only payment they will accept is of the money variety. Well, money and one other thing: rum. They do love rum.
I suppose it was a good thing for me that when the disease finally made its way aboard our ship, it took the entire crew with it. Now we all parade about through the streets of London without a single man, woman, child, or old maid being the wiser. It’s ever so much fun to taunt them and to pick their pockets when they’re not looking. Although the old ones usually have nothing more than mothballs and peppermint sticks; very useful for a dead person. But the best part—and just my luck—is that pirates have the best ways of finding information. No one is sneakier than a pirate.
And no one is so inspired by a single gold coin.
I dip my head forward as I walk through the crowded streets, not because I don’t wish to be seen—dead people don’t need to worry about such things—but because the gazes of the living, the ones that peer straight through you, can make a ghost feel incredibly uncomfortable.
I round a bend, meeting face-first with the brick and mortar wall of a tavern, which I pass through with ease. It does not feel particularly pleasant to have ground-up stone graze through your stomach, but it’s certainly easier than trying to fiddle with doorknobs. You have to move your hand just right if you want the door to open and that can take upwards of an hour if you are not well-equipped with that particular skill. (The poltergeists just love to brag about it). So I am stuck walking through the walls like every other average ghost.
Once inside I am immediately confronted with the splotchy red faces of men deep in their cups and the drunken shouting of, “Bartender, bring me more beer!”
I roll my eyes and walk on. People these days have no class.
On the other side of the tavern is an empty lot where the carnival often parks. I try to avoid that place at all costs. Sometimes they bring a Gypsy woman along and I swear she can see me. Her silvery eyes stare straight at me like I’m some kind of prize and then she starts mumbling gibberish in another language. That’s when I bolt. I don’t need some kind of Gypsy curse to haunt me in my undead existence.
But now the lot is empty; left alone and ignored by the Londoners who travel past in their motor coaches—although I guess they’re called cars now—and I shudder to think what life would have been like if we’d had those in my day.
I catch a glimpse of myself in the windows that buzz past me as the men and women speed down the streets. My dress is tattered. The maroon sleeves are ripped, dangling limply from loose threads, and the wine-colored bodice is synched with black string across my stomach. The frilly white lace that lines my undershirt has become a muddied brown, and what used to be a black flourish of skirts has been cut away so the longest layer reaches just below my knees. My stockings still cling to my legs though there are runs up the sides and my black, patent shoes have seen better days. I haven’t changed much in the last two hundred and fifty years.
Brown curls fall down my back in waves and my face is smeared with soot and grime; another unpleasant side-effect of walking through walls. All-in-all I look exactly how I am: dead. But I suppose it could be worse. I could be Her.
Yes, I think, that would be much worse.
Our meeting place—an abandoned tunnel that branches off from the subway’s green line—is not difficult to find when walls aren’t an obstacle. It is damp and dark, and I am constantly affronted with the smell of rat dung and mildew. An unfortunate combination. One of the worst aspects of being a ghost is that you do not lose your sense of smell. One must wonder why, but no one ever bothers to answer the dead.
I pace as I wait for Her. Where my feet would have scuffed against the ground there is only a still pool of water.
“What are you doing, Rose?” she demands, her voice echoing loudly, and I jump. If a ghost can jump. She doesn’t step out of the shadows and I don’t move any closer.
“Waiting for you,” I snap. “And you’re late.”