“I am on a case right this moment, I’ll have you know. And, no. What Pru studies and what I have gotten wrapped up in is nothing alike. She is not so…tender-hearted as yours truly,” Vi replied, reaching for the bottle. “And don’t forget. Pru seeks all of this out! If I could, I would wake up tomorrow and pretend this is all a bad dream.”
Peter leaned away, but he appeared more puzzled than hurt as he examined her face. She regretted saying the words as soon as she finished saying them, but they were also true. No point apologizing. She poured another drink.
“What happened to you? You are even more surly than usual.” The ghost rested his insubstantial elbows on the table and propped his chin against his fists. “Same side, remember?”
As she peered at him over the top of her glass, the gap in her resolve widened further. Even though death stripped his features of their color, it was still a face she could trust.
With one more gulp to fortify her, Vi confessed, “I seem to have developed a new…talent.”
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After he retrieved the loose pages, the sepia-colored Peter puffed up his cheeks and he blew out a low, appreciative whistle. Awe knocked the slur out of his voice as he surveyed the stack of deeds, titles, and other important papers he held in his hands. “This has to be one of the biggest scores of all time.”
“Big enough to get out of here and never look back, that’s for certain,” Vi confirmed, carefully tipping the heavy bottle over the narrow opening of her champagne flute. “To my new husband, and his very deep pockets,” she said with mock seriousness and raised her glass. Some of the golden liquid bubbled up over the brim and she giggled as it sloshed and dribbled over her fingers.
Peter captured the younger Vi’s hand in his. Before either of them realized it had happened, he pressed his lips against her fingers. He caught the ribbon of champagne before it dripped onto her dress, and for several heartbeats her shadow-self sat breathing into the moment.
The flesh and blood Vi knew what came next, but couldn’t drag her eyes away.
A figure suddenly burst out of the crowd in George’s path, but the little boy could not see or feel him as he passed right through. The ghost walked in a straight line with no mind to any would-be obstacle, the foggy material of his body swirling in response to the contact without hindering his speed. When she took in her former partner’s furrowed brow, she had a fleeting reminder of her vision. Her concern was short-lived; the ghost’s annoyed voice cutting through the crowd told her this Peter could see her.
“Why did you insist on bringing the kid? You know they just complicate matters,” the ghost harrumphed, crossing his insubstantial arms across his chest once he came to a stop. Vi blinked the picture of the living Peter’s dejected form out of her eyes as he continued. “Not to mention, he doesn’t know anything about your abilities, so you’ll have to be on guard all the time again.”
“I couldn’t leave him behind,” she murmured, allowing the sound of the busy station to cover her hushed words.
“Of course not,” Bonnie assured her, unaware of the ghost’s presence. Vi moved her free hand so the back of it touched the other woman’s skin and Bonnie let out a knowing “ah” as the ghost came into view. It was hard to believe this was the same woman who’d slapped Vi across the face for even implying she could talk to the dead when they’d first met.
Viola Thorne was not amused.
If the average person found herself in the middle of a blank, eternal void, she’d probably give panic at least a few moments of her time. But the relapsed grifter simply put fists to hips, and painted on her best surly glare.
“I know I wanted to get a clean start, but this is ridiculous,” she grumbled into the emptiness.
A light breeze suddenly kissed her cheek and gently tugged at her clothes. The force of the wind redoubled, the darkness rippling in its wake as the nothing began the process of becoming something.
To the untrained eye, the silver platter simply floated across the room. No strings held it aloft, and nothing supported it from below, yet it made slow and steady progress hovering across the polished wooden floor. A seated figure watched from the other end of the well-appointed room, patiently awaiting whatever lay at its center and smiling at the strange parody of King Solomon and his magic carpet.
“Very good,” he said. “You get stronger every day, Mary.”
The ghost held her mouth in a firm line as she took another deliberate step. “Thank you, sir.” A tremor traveled through the tray as she spoke, and she puffed up her cheeks as she focused her energy on her hand. The mirrored surface of the tray flashed as she crossed into the pool of candlelight and it crashed to the floor.
“One thing at a time,” the man scolded as he rose from his leather chair. “Remember, throwing something in a burst of energy is much easier than being steady enough to carry things. But you are making excellent progress. Just think! You died less than a year ago and you’ve already come so far.”
“I want to be ready,” she simpered. “When the time comes.”
“And I’m sure you will be,” the man replied before stooping to retrieve both the platter and the folded slip of paper. “Now, what is this you’ve brought me?”
Vi had just finished giving them the final instructions when a disheveled Bonnie leaned on her shoulder. She directed a puff of air at the stray hairs falling over her face. “Now what?”
“Now, we pack.” The grifter turned the corner and darted up the stairs, the widow following close behind.
Once they were safely through the door of her apartment, her friend wheezed, “What? We’re running away?”
“Are you sure there isn’t any way I can talk you out of this?” Peter walked out of the wall and into the conversation.
“Not running away, my friend!” She waved the younger woman to follow her into the bedroom. The steamer trunk at the foot of the bed beckoned. The stray bit of clothes and papers were shoved aside and she threw it open. “For the first time in my life, I think I’m running toward something.”
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Army of brass is the Collaborative Writing Challenge’s seventh novel. For the past few projects, they have also included short stories in the same genre as the project.
The deadline for submissions is just two days away! Get your stories, 2500-3500 words, submitted by Aug. 31 to make sure you are considered for the contest. First and second place winners have their stories showcased on the CWC website. First place also has their story edited and published in the pages of Army of Brass this fall.
Visit the CWC website for the guidelines, and GOOD LUCK!