Sometimes I wish Rose wasn’t dead, because then I could stab her. Do her in myself. It would beso satisfying on days like today. But unfortunately, she is dead—somebody beat me to the task, I don’t really know the details—so the best I can do is level my gaze at her, set my jaw, and say, “Excuse me, but not all of us can travel through walls. Some people—namely those of the livingvariety—have to use foul things like the subway.”
“You mean the tube,” says Rose. She crosses her transparent arms and stares right back at me in a way that would be disconcerting even if I didn’t know that dead people don’t have to blink, and therefore I am bound to lose this staring contest eventually. I shift further into the shadows and widen my eyes at her—a challenge. She gives a nearly imperceptible shake of her head, as if to say,You’re an idiot and I’m not going to force myself to blink just to make you feel better about it.
My concentration waivers as I try to think up a way to snarkily reply back without speaking, and I blink. Dang it.
“I don’t care what the subway’s called in London—I don’t even want to be Europe, let alone thiscity of all places, for crying out loud!” I say. “I just want to go home, but unfortunately the U.S. government’s got the CIA after me. I swear, you run over one measly diplomat and suddenly everybody’s acting like the whole bloody world is crashing down.”
“Foul? Bloody? Are you positive you came from across the pond?” Rose asks with a smirk.
“Shut up.” I finally take a step away from the wall and let the light wash over my face, and Rose shudders as my perfectly awful birthmark becomes visible. My lips twist up in a grin. Round two of this little competition tonight goes to me.
“Look, can you just tell me if you’ve heard anything more about the invasion?” I ask. Rose is still scowling at my birthmark so hard the expression might just become permanent. I imagine her having to look like that for the rest of eternity, and I hold back a snort. Before I met Rose this past Christmas, nobody had ever taken offense to my birthmark before. It’s nice to have this one thing to use against her. Who would have thought a ghost would take such an aversion to heart-shaped moles.
Rose steps away from me, her nose scrunched up and lips set into a scowl. The puddle she’s standing in doesn’t show a single ripple as she moves. Once she’s a sufficiently safe distance away from my birthmark, she answers in a cool, haughty tone, “Nothing. None of my sources have heard a thing.” Then, seeming to think any news is better than none, even if it is completely irrelevant, she adds, “Well, the police found a man floating in the Thames today.”
“A bit cold for a swim, isn’t it?”
“Shockingly enough, the dead don’t generally feel things like the temperature.”
“Was he killed by an alien?” I ask, getting impatient. I tap my fingers against the crook of my elbow.
“Why would an alien kill a man and then dump him in the Thames?”
“I don’t know,” I say. “You’re the ghost.”
“And you’re the assassin,” she reminds me.
“Is there anything else I can help you with this lovely midsummer evening?” She raises her eyebrows at the crumbling cement roof and water dripping down the walls.
“Not that I can think of,” I say. “See what else you can find out in the coming week, and then report back here again.”
“Will you be on time?” she asks. She shifts her face upwards so she can look down her nose at me. I look up at her and roll my eyes.
“It depends on the trains.”
“You’d better start paying me overtime if you keep showing up late.”
“I can’t believe I pay you at all. Do you even have to pay rent or taxes or anything?”
Rose doesn’t answer, either too insulted by my question or too far above it. Instead she steps through the nearest wall and vanishes from sight. A moment later there’s the sound of metal against metal; a sudden hot breath whooshing up the tunnel from the nearest train tracks. My ride is here.
I met Rose my first Christmas in Europe, right after my now infamous hit-and-run with the United States diplomat. He was supposed to be on business in England visiting with the Queen, but he never made it out of the airport parking lot. It was honestly just a great big botch on the part of the secret service in my opinion, but of course I’m the one they decided to blame for killing the man. For some reason the assassin is always the scapegoat in those sorts of situations. It’s not my fault the secret service were unorganized after the long flight from Washington DC to London, and while they were scrambling to call a limo to come take the man to afternoon tea I got to drive a red double-decker bus over him.
To tell you the truth, I didn’t even want to do it. I got the short straw when The People Who Namely Believe Evil is Bad End Righteously (or PWNBEIBER for short—nobody ever bothers to say our full name out loud, especially since Justin Bieber came around and it sounds like we’re pwning him whenever we say our acronym) handed out the missions that week. I might even have felt bad about it if it weren’t for the fact that the diplomat was a suspected alien. But of course now I’ve got the entire CIA on my tail and I haven’t been home in over a year. Darn PWNBEIBER giving me a mission like that.
But anyway, it was the Christmas right after the incident with the diplomat and the tourist bus that I met Rose. I was feeling lonely, wanting to go home to my family and my annual mound of presents, so I decided to go take a walk through a cemetery to look emo and like a hipster and feel generally miserable about my lack of ability to participate in American commercialism this holiday season. I had just taken a seat on the only headstone in the graveyard that wasn’t completely coated in bird poop, ready to start writing a forlorn poem that might be so depressing the U.S. would let me back in the country out of pity, when I saw something that was not supposed to exist: a ghost.
“Oh my gosh!” I screamed. “Please no, no, no, don’t let this be like A Christmas Carol! I haven’t done anything wrong! You know, outside of killing that one pesky diplomat, but the dude had it coming, and—please tell me you’re at least the ghost of Christmas Future, so you can tell me when the heck I’m ever going to finally get off this stupid island and go home?”
I’m not sure who was more surprised by the speech—Rose or me.
“Can you see me?” she asked, drifting across the graveyard towards me. “Can you hear me?” She almost sounded excited, or at least as excited as a ghost can ever sound.
“Unfortunately, yes,” I said, scooting away from her as she neared. Who knew what kind of creepy things a ghost could do? They weren’t even supposed to exist. I mean, so yes—aliens existed. As did grumpy CIA officials who couldn’t get over one stupid assassination. But ghosts? Not a chance. That was almost as likely as zombies.
“My name is Rose,” she said.
“Mary Hart,” I replied.
“What are you doing in the cemetery, Mary?” she asked.
I was about to tell her about my woes—no family, no presents—when there was a bright flash, blinding, and suddenly the ground heaved beneath me, sending both me and my new ghost acquaintance flying.