Vi caught a glimpse of her reflection in the next shop window. The pale figure before her had lived longer than the shadow-self she’d watched a few days prior, the sun and inner turmoil both doing their parts to etch lines on her face when she wasn’t looking. She hadn’t experienced any more flashes of memory since that night with the book. But she wheeled away from her reflection, suddenly felt self-conscious about how she’d changed, and how she still seemed to be changing.
Vi’s body relaxed and she rolled to face the wall to better welcome sleep. She breathed into the gentle dark for a few moments, then an alarm bell suddenly went off in her head. Without thinking, she quested outward with her extra sense to find the danger. A ghostly energy approached, and for a moment she thought it was just Peter remembering his promise to a little boy, but a wave of malice rippled through the air in greedy tendrils. Her senses touched it and recoiled, scurrying back to the safety of her skull like a whipped pup.
Pins and needles spread down her spine, an acid burn that singed deeper as the spirit approached. The angry blur came to their car and paused for a moment, as if scenting the air. The ghost moved again and came to a stop just on the other side of the wall. An old, childhood instinct squeezed her eyes shut. But her whether her extra senses or her imagination were to blame, she was sure the ghost raised its hand and rested it on the wall beside her head.
The ghost chuckled and leaned against the wall. “Got yourself some light fingers, eh kid?”
“I didn’t do it!” the little boy cried. “I swear!”
“We know you didn’t,” she assured him, then favored Peter with another glower.
“I was always getting blamed for things when I was your age, too. And you know what I did?” Peter whispered.
George leaned forward with rapt attention. “What?”
“I proved them right,” he said with a chuckle.
“Oh, excellent advice!” Vi interrupted.
The ghost just shrugged. “It’s true.”
“And look where it got you!” she spat.
“I thought I had you to thank for that.” His quiet words stunned her to silence even as he blazed clearer and darker before her, his pain manifesting in his spectral body. His sharp edges dissolved as he turned to the boy. “Anyway, Georgie. I figured as long as people were going to think the worst of me, I might as well live down to their expectations.”
“I figured it out,” Bonnie declared as she slid open the cabin door. George waited patiently in the hall, ready to tidy the room once the ladies left for the dining car.
Vi stood inside the cabin, doing a final check in the mirror of how much damage her sleepless night had done to her face. She gave her cheekbones a pinch to add color. “What did you figure out?” she asked eventually.
The other woman waited until she’d slipped out the door before answering. “Your secret,” she whispered mischievously.
“You’ll have to be a bit more specific than that. I’m a woman with many secrets,” Vi replied. She tried for a chuckle but it came out strained, her new and unpredictable ability weighing heavy on her mind.
Bonnie savored the moment as they passed to the next car. Once they’d shut out the rush of wind she smiled. “I know why you’re looking so grouchy.”
“Really. And why is that?” Vi asked levelly.
“Well, you keep trying to hide it, but I know the truth…” the little brunette trailed off suggestively, eyes shining. Finally, she announced, “Trains make you sick to your stomach!” Relief flooded Vi’s body, and she let out the breath she didn’t realize she’d been holding. Bonnie mistook it for admission of guilt. “Aha!”
“Yes. You’ve found me out,” Vi replied, applying just the right amount of remorse to her voice to sell it. Feigning motion-sickness was far more appealing than trying to explain the true source of her sleepless night. Bonnie may be proving more resilient than she first appeared, but there were limits.
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.
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.
She let loose a string of language so colorful it would give a rainbow a run for its money. It was one thing to destroy her furniture, but some of those mirrors were antiques. Her eyes narrowed as she searched for the culprit. While distracted by the further threat to her collection, two grappling figures rudely collided with her.
“Botheration!” Her fingers clenched into fists, adrenaline coursing through her body. She swung into a fighting stance to face the men who had dared run in to her. In theory, at least one of them was an enemy.
“Begging your pardon, ma’am,” a stubbly man cried, then dealt his opponent a jab to the teeth. “I’ll take care of him for you.”
Vi turned on the other man, glad to finally have someone to hit. But blood gushed from his face, his voice thick and pathetic as he groaned, “He’s the one who did it. I wouldn’t hurt a lady.”
“Liar!” the first man replied incredulously.
“It wasn’t my fault!”
She could only blink dumbly as the two men resumed punching one another. The scruffy one tripped toward the stage and the other followed, flashing his gap-toothed grin. She clucked in disgust, then resumed the search for a foe, and a chance to wreak a little destruction of her own.