The next few days were Quintless. Margo spent them alone in the house. It was big and old and too empty, and today it felt like it. So she explored.
Well, she called it exploring. In truth, she was looking for ghosts. She was afraid – of course she was. But she was also intrigued. She listened for wails in the orchard, and just heard a strange blue bird chirping. She looked for bloodstains on the attic walls, and just found some books left by the previous owners. Most of all though, she looked for Quint, and found nothing.
For a haunted house, Whitechapel was disappointing her. It just looked too unscary. Old: yes. Odd: yes. Ghastly: no.
To be honest, she didn’t feel afraid at all.
Then the police came.
She watched through the fence as the cars pulled up and the officers took photos of the cabin. The cabin hadn’t been on their property – the land had been divided decades before – so the police hadn’t come to speak to her family, but still. A man had died so close, and so soon after they’d move in. Yes, she was afraid. The dead didn’t scare her. Death did.
“You should be careful who you play with.”
The voice was like an arctic breeze. Margo turned away from the police, looking for its owner, but she stood alone in the garden. A second later, and she wasn’t sure she’d heard a voice at all.
It was a Saturday. Both Margo’s parents had gone to work, despite the fact that they’d said part of their reason for moving was that they could be at home more, but the bills wouldn’t pay themselves, Margo, and that attitude wasn’t going to help anything. Margo knew no one in the neighbourhood (with a pulse), so she had no friends to invite over, so she was alone. Margo liked being alone. Being alone meant listening to whatever music she wanted as loud as she wanted, painting without her mom offering unsolicited improvements, and thinking.
Margo made herself toast with peanut butter (peanut butter was one of Margo Comeau’s raisons d’etre), played rap music in her dad’s study, sketched an army of peanuts with Kalashnikovs then went to make herself more toast. As she walked into the kitchen she saw, through the window, the woman in white sitting beside the pond.
Splish: the sound toast with peanut butter makes when it hits the kitchen floor.
Margo moved closer to the window, trying to keep herself from getting scared. She saw a veil, and a train, and a bunch of flowers.
The woman was a bride.
The woman saw her.
The woman vanished.
They were subtle, the movements of ghosts. One second they could be there, and the next they were just moonlight, or mist, or the wind. You couldn’t even be certain you’d even seen them.
But Margo was.
“I saw you,” she said, brandishing the butter knife and walking out into the garden. She was excited. But also nervous. It was the feeling that preceded most of the defining moments of growing up.
Margo spun around. “Please come out,” she said, “I know you probably don’t want to talk to me, but I’d really love to talk to you.”
“I want to be friends. I know Quint. I’m not friends with him. Well, I am. But we’re kind of mean to each other sometimes. And he’s infuriating. And he just randomly vanishes at the most annoying times.”
“I like your dress.”
“It’s gorgeous, isn’t it?” said a female voice, the voice of a swan. The Bride stood at the far side of the garden, beside a rose bush. Against her dress, the roses looked like blood on snow.
“When I was little,” said Margo, “I dreamed of having a wedding dress just like that. I went through a wedding phase. Just after my rainbow phase and just before my grunge and rap phase. Which is currently ongoing.”
“Grunge,” said the ghost, trying the word out like an exotic food.
“Yeah. I don’t want to hurt you or anything,” Margo said quickly.
“Then why do you have a knife?”
“You are a ghost.”
“Good point,” said the bride. “You’re not dead.”
“You live here?”
“Are you afraid?” said the Bride.
“Should I be?”
The ghost laughed – it was a gentle sound. “You’re very strange for a living girl. Usually the people in the house see me and act like – well, like they’ve seen a ghost. What’s your name?”
“I don’t remember,” said the Bride. “Someone came to my grave once and called me ‘Nora’, but I don’t think I look like a Nora. Nora’s too boring.”
This ghost’s looks were the antithesis of boring. Her eyes were sapphires and her crooked smile suggested nymphs and adventure. It was a Quintian smile.
“Something glamourous would suit you more,” Margo said.
“Oh yes. Like Marilyn.”
“No. There’s a ghost named Marilyn who haunts the cellar. Total bitch.”
“Audrey,” Margo said.
“Audrey,” the Bride chewed on the name, “Yes. I like Audrey.”
There was an awkward silence; the kind that can only exist between the living and the dead. (And boyfriends and their girlfriends’ fathers.)
Margo said, “Would you like some peanut butter?”
“Thank you, but ghosts don’t eat,” the Bride said, pushing away the plate of peanut butter on toast. They sat at the little kitchen table against the bay windows.
“Ever?” said Margo, through a mouthful of toast.
“Newly dead ones can. Ones with lots of life in them.”
“Can you taste?”
The ghost shook her head.
“Dude, that sucks.”
“It is quite vacuous, yes.”
“Should I describe it to you?”
“What?” said the Bride.
“Peanut butter. Should I describe the taste to you?”
The ghost looked confused, then smiled. “Yes. Yes alright.”
Margo took a bite and pondered. “Peanut butter tastes like that feeling you get after a good long cry, when you know every thing’s gonna be okay.”
“I had that feeling just before my wedding.”
“I got feet so cold they were polar,” said the Bride, “I screamed and tried to climb out the window, but my bridesmaid pulled me back in by my heels.”
Margo laughed. “Did you go through with it?”
“Of course,” said the Bride, “I sobbed myself silly and then my sister gave me a swig of vodka, and I was ready to go. A long cry and stiff drink are the best cures for heartache.”
“Amen to that,” Margo said, clinking her mug (full) against the ghost’s (empty). “Although, the Disney movies never mentioned any heartache on your wedding day. Not the right guy?”
“I don’t remember my husband-to-be.”
“I have memories of him, but where he should be there’s a hole. Sometimes I think I can remember his face, but then it sorts of slips away from me. You forget a lot, being dead. That’s sort of what being dead is.”
Margo squirmed in her chair. She didn’t want to talk about sad things, especially since it was her first day with her new friend, but the ghost seemed quite happy. And Margo was curious.
Ignoring the feeling that she might regret it, she asked, “How did you die?”
The Bride said, quite chattily, “Murder.”
“We don’t have to talk about it,” said Margo.
“It’s alright. It doesn’t upset me much anymore,” said
the Bride, “I think it’s important to take ownership of your death. Get
closure. I was furious when I first woke up here. And heartbroken. But I don’t
even know who did it anymore or why. So there’s no point in being mad.”
“Where did it happen?” Margo said.
“In the little chapel. Not sure of the name. But it was beautiful. There was soot on the walls from a fire a hundred or so years earlier. I remember that. It’s funny what you remember and what you don’t. A man was playing the organ. My sister was there, and my best friend Sandra, and my sort of friend from work Rachel who I made a bridesmaid because it would’ve been a Cold War if I hadn’t. Then a man – except in my memories it’s just a sort of blur shaped like a man - came in with a gun. He shot the man playing the organ. And then he shot Rachel. And then he shot me.”
Margo studied the Bride. She could tell there was more to the story.
“The last thing I remember is the barrel pointing at my face, and then him saying ‘I’m not a bad man’. And then I woke up here,” said the ghost, brushing her veil away from her face.
“Are you happy here?”
“Happy? No. It’s alright though. As long as you keep away from certain people.”
“Do you miss being alive?”
The Bride thought for a moment. “Sometimes.”
“What do you miss?” Margo said.
“I miss not knowing what’s going to happen next.”
Margo didn’t know what to say.
Then the ghost laughed a little. “I’m being depressing. I guess I also miss my reflection. Not in a Narcissistic way, not really. But it’s just been a while.”
“Ghosts don’t have reflections?”
“Of course we do. When we want to. Ghosts are good at making themselves invisible, but we’re often abysmal when it comes to making ourselves seen. I had a mirror in my change room before my wedding. It belonged to my mom. And I hated it. I thought it was ugly, I thought my mom was trying to make me be like her. I was so silly. I wish I had the mirror back. I suppose one part of living I miss is that mirror. It sounded less dumb in my head.”
“Where is it?”
The Bride looked a bit startled. “The mirror? It’s here.”
“You’ve got it?” said Margo.
“No, but it’s on the property.”
“Why don’t you go get it?”
“You ask a lot of questions.”
“Yes,” said Margo.
The Bride sighed. “Because there’re some places I can’t go.”
“Like the mausoleum.”
“The mausoleum’s pretty damn cool,” Margo said. “When I saw it I was like, ‘aw yeah corpses on my property.’ So classy.”
The Bride didn’t laugh. “The mirror’s in there. I can’t get it because I can’t pass through the walls.”
“The land works in strange ways.”
The way she said it made Margo pause. It was as if she’d said it before.
“Have you tried to get the mirror?” Margo said.
“Yes. I asked one of the owners once. But he didn’t help me.”
“Then that settles it,” said Margo, standing up.
“What are you doing?” said the Bride.
“I’m getting your mirror.”
Margo fetched the large bunch of keys and made her way to the mausoleum. It was an old stone building, leaky and cracked, and there was a rusty padlock on the door. She selected an equally rusty key from the bunch, twisted it and opened the door.
The room was beautiful, in an old stony way.
She made her way through it, looking for any sign of a mirror.
It wasn’t her first time in the mausoleum. When she’d first come to the house with her parents, the estate agent had mentioned that the family that had built the house had erected a family crypt at the bottom of the garden (“All the remains were moved to a cemetery nearby about ten years ago, so it’s a lovely storage space.”) Margo had spent the whole afternoon in the crypt. It was nice in there – very quiet. Her mother hated it though (“As soon as we have the money we’re tearing this monstrosity down, Allen.”) Her dad disagreed, but he rarely won marital battles (“Your mother wants us to demolish it, I want us to keep it, so we’ve compromised by deciding to demolish it.”)
There were brass doors set in the walls with names carved on them. They had housed the bones of Whitechapel’s first family – the Bales. Although time had worn some of the crypts so much that the plaques claimed they housed Ales or Bals. They were all empty now, but Margo didn’t feel alone.
Opposite one of the plaques was a simple stone bench. They were called mourning benches. They were an old Celtic tradition, or so the estate agent had said. They were built for people to sit on while they mourned the dead.
At the end of the crypt was a door and a flight of steps leading down. The room beyond them had been renovated into a basement long ago, but it had once been a burial chamber. Margo made a mental note to explore it one day, and sat on the bench.
And she saw it.
There was a silver handheld mirror with blue gemstones – she couldn’t tell if they were real - in the handle. It was under the bench, in the corner, covered in dust. A forgotten thing.
She reached for it and her reflection reached back. She wiped it, blew off the dust and smiled at herself.
“Who’s there? Is it you?”
The voice came from behind the basement door.
Margo felt a presence behind it. It was weak, like a fading shadow, and full of pain. Whatever was behind the door, was wounded.
“I know you’re there.” It was a whisper, a noise like the rustle of leaves.
Margo didn’t know what sort of thing spoke with a voice like that, but she knew that no matter what, she couldn’t let it know she was there.
“Come to me,” said the voice, “open the door.”
Margo clutched the mirror tight. She wanted to run, but she seemed to have forgotten how.
And then the handle of the door began to turn.
Light filled the mausoleum. Quint stood in the entrance.
“What are you doing here?” he said.
And, like that, the presence was gone. The room felt empty again.
“What is that?” Margo whispered, going toward him, toward anywhere that wasn’t the basement.
“It’s nothing,” Quint said, “come on, let’s go somewhere less emo. You look so pale. I like being the better looking one of us, but don’t make it too easy.”
He led her away from the mausoleum, chatting, but Margo couldn’t help noticing him glance back at the basement door.
That night, Quint met with the council.
“There was something in the mausoleum,” he said, “It was talking to Margo.”
One of the Wren triplets shrugged. “An aging ghost.”
“No. This was different.”
One of the girls laughed. “Afraid are we, Quint?”
“Can’t handle a little bump in the night?”
“It sounded angry,” Quint said, ignoring them.
“So? This place is full of angry spirits, and none of them ever harm anyone.”
“This wasn’t just any spirit,” said Quint.
But the ghost council had already turned away from him, and begun to discuss relocating the banshee that dwelt in the well, since it was causing considerable flooding of the vegetable patch.