I run my fingers along the chilly glass, the tips leaving streaks on the perfect surface. She doesn’t see or hear me on the inside. That, or she pretends she doesn’t.
The warm light flowing from the other side of the glass burn my fingers a bit, but I don’t pull them away, not yet. It’s funny, not even the warmth of the sun hurts like the glow of a lived in home.
I let my fingers fall away. I don’t know why I don’t leave instead of staring into this home that isn’t mine every night.
Honestly, it’s just the place where I was murdered.
“Why are you still here?”
I glance up. A child looks down at me, black hair illuminated in a halo of that light I can never touch again.
With a sigh, I let myself drift up to the kid, staying far enough away that the light of the house that it’s like sitting too close to a hot fireplace. “You’re one of the ones who can see me, then.” Maybe a handful of the kids could see me in my years haunting the house. I used to scare them with how I couldn’t stop crying. Luckily, I don’t care about anything enough to cry anymore. Maybe that’s a part of dying.
“Yes, and I want to know why you’re here.” The child looks straight into my eyes, no fear anywhere to be found on their features. This one’s tough, even out of all the orphans that have been funneled into the house.
Well, the kid asked for it. “I’m here because the woman of this house killed me.”
Some color drains from their face, but not all of it. “On purpose?”
“That doesn’t explain why you can’t leave.”
A flutter of humor runs through my chest. The kid doesn’t care they’re in the same house as a murderer? They don’t care to know that the lady’s sharpening her knives downstairs as we speak? “I cannot leave as long as she lives here, murdering more kids.”
Their eyes narrow. “And how long have you been there?”
So many questions. “Two-hundred years. Give or take.”
Their mouth drops. Naturally, that’s the thing that gets a reaction. Always does
I take in a deep breath, regardless of not needing it. “Do you want to escape? I know how to do it, I’ve lead some other kids through the process.” No need to mention the first three died, and that’s the reason the house burns to enter now. “It should be fairly simple. You might even be able warn some other kids.”
Another emotion floats through my gut, warm like the inside of the house. Hope? Maybe no one else has to die this year.
The kid shakes their head. “But that isn’t fair to you.”
I blink. Fair. I remember thinking about how unfair it was when I was first murdered. That I hadn’t even had time to mourn my parents before the witch on the hill flayed me alive to keep herself young. But fairness is a concept that doesn’t apply when you’re dead. “Don’t worry about me, it’s not like anyone can do anything.”
“But you said that’s the woman tying you here.” A grin spreads across the child’s face. “I can help with that.”
Before I can utter another word, the kid turns and runs toward the door, slipping out into the hallway in a silence that only a child that has lived afraid could know how to achieve.
More emotion trickles into me, the stream getting stronger and stronger the more I stare into the empty room. What is that kid going to do? No one else should die here, especially not for me. I’m already dead. What if someone else ends up haunting here with me? I’ve always hoped only one could be stuck here, and that’s why I’ve never had a companion. But there’s always a chance.
I drop back to the first floor, just in time to catch a glimpse of the child peeking around the corner. And grinning at me as it starts to sneak across the floor. But no, their foot’s going to land right on the—!
The floorboards squeak. The woman pauses in sharpening her knife.
No, no, no!
I raise my fists and bang on the glass, screaming and yowling and making as much noise as I can, my hands burning and searing as they bathe in the light. It hurts so much I can practically smell the scorching flesh even though I have none.
The witch turns to look at me. She looks me in the eyes, and grins.
The emotions tumble out then. Tears burn at my eyes, though they’ll never fall. I scream and I bang so much the glass shatters. And I wish it would rip into my palms, I wish so much that I could still feel pain.
But I’m dead.
The child moves forward. The movement barely catches my eye.
But the witch notices my focus switching too, turning and blocking my view of the child.
“Run!” I sob and wail like the ghost that I am, reaching my arm through the gap in the window, searing my incorporeal skin black.
There’s stillness for a moment. No screaming from the child. No stabbing from the witch. And then the witch falls backwards, one of her freshly sharpened knives protruding from her stomach.
“But…” I whisper, everything draining from me in an instant.
The child bounds toward me, its grin the largest I’ve seen yet. “You’re free!”
Oh. I look down at myself. My feet have started to fade from existence. After two-hundred years, it only took one child. I’m actually free now? Truly?
“I…” I look up at the kid. “Thank you.”
Their smile softens, and they reach out like they’re going to take my hands, though they’ve already faded away too. “Don’t worry about it a bit! You just be on your way. It’s not like this is the first person I’ve murdered.”