Megan was bored. It was raining, again, and cold, so how likely was it that anyone would sneak into the cemetery tonight? Lightning flashed bright in the sky, and a loud crash of thunder followed. Megan rolled her eyes. Being a ghost was super lame sometimes.
All she really wanted was someone to talk to, but every time she showed herself, people ran away screaming. Without fail. How was she ever supposed to gain her freedom if she couldn’t make it out of the stupid graveyard? Megan sighed, rubbing her ghostly arms. Not that she could feel the cold, or the rain.
Just then, she caught sight of a light bobbing up and down, fifty yards away.
“Yesssss,” Megan whispered to herself, floating back behind her headstone and peering over the top, trying to get a look at the interloper. It was a girl about her own age… or the age she’d been when she died, she thought morbidly, noting the inscription on her grave: Megan Breedlove, beloved daughter and friend. 1998-2015.
What are you doing out here alone? Megan said quietly to herself. Don’t you know there are ghosts...and worse?
The girl had on a bright red windbreaker and jeans, and was wiping off her glasses as she peered at a piece of sodden paper in her hand. “It should be ight…about...here,” she muttered, sweeping loose strands of black hair out of her face. She was just a few graves away from Megan’s.
Now or never, Megan thought. She floated up from behind her grave, and said, in a bright, cheery voice, “Can I help you?”
The girl looked up slowly from her paper, her hands trembling slightly. “You, you, you…” she chattered, unable to finish the sentence.
Megan felt emboldened. She hadn’t run away yet! This was progress. “I’m a ghost,” she said matter-of-factly. “But you don’t have to be afraid of me. I won’t hurt you.”
“It’s true, then,” the girl breathed, still trembling, but taking a step closer to Megan. “I’ve heard the stories, but I didn’t believe them. Can you help me?”
Taken aback, Megan was momentarily speechless. She was the one who needed help! How was she ever going to perform a heroic act and move on if she was stuck in the cemetery forever?
Megan crossed her arms. “How can I help you?” she asked.
The girl stuck out her hand. “My name’s Kim. Kim Austin.”
Megan looked at her hand, sighed, and shook it. "I'm Megan."
“Oooo! That’s cold,” Kim said. “Anyway…I’m here because I’ve been having this dream. The same dream, every night for a week. But each night I see a little more. I come to this cemetery, and it’s dark, and stormy, and I always go to the same grave. It looks really old, and it’s hard to read. Two nights ago, I could finally make out the name: Emily Augusta Dragon. But last night, I saw her name, and it disappeared. And my name appeared in its place!”
Kim gulped. She was really white now. “So, so I came out here tonight. To try and find it. I’m afraid to go to sleep, and I don’t want to die!”
Megan tried to keep from rolling her eyes. It would’ve been insensitive. “It’s understandable,” she said drily. “Nobody does.” She looked down at her ghostly white, insubstantial self. She was still wearing the Guns N' Roses t-shirt she’d died in.
Looking into Megan’s face, Kim took a deep breath. “I’m sorry. You were really young, weren’t you?”
“I was,” Megan agreed. “And that’s why I’ll help you. You’re too young to die. Just promise me one thing—let me leave the cemetery with you.”
Kim scrunched up her nose and wiped her glasses again. “Uh, sure. You can leave with me. You won’t, like, haunt me or anything, though, right?”
This time Megan gave in to a full-body eye roll. “Of course not! It’s just that I’m trapped in the cemetery unless a mortal gives me permission to leave. You have no idea how boring it is here. Everyone floats around and keeps to themselves. No one wants to talk with me.”
“That really sucks,” Kim said, looking around at the silent graves.
Megan paused, imagining her brother’s laugh, her mother’s smile. “Yeah. I’m really lonely.” Shaking herself slightly, she said briskly, “So, did you find the grave? Emily Dragon’s?”
“Yes! It’s right here,” Kim said, shining her flashlight and walking two rows over to a moldy-looking, crumbling headstone.
Together, they stared, one translucent head, one dark. The headstone was very difficult to decipher, but Kim traced her fingers on the letters: Emily Augusta Dragon. 1844-1888.
“Not a lot of info,” Megan said.
Kim gasped. “Look! It’s happening!!”
The letters of Emily’s name shone with a weird, greenish light. They flickered, and underneath, Megan saw “Kimberly Ann Austin.”
Kim glanced at her arms, which were shaking again. “Am I flickering or fading? I don’t feel anything. What’s happening?”
Megan was beginning to feel uneasy. She wasn’t sure this was in her league. “No. You’re solid.”
But even as she spoke, she watched Kim. Hadn’t her eyes been blue a second ago? Now they were black and flickered with malice. Megan blinked. Kim’s eyes were back to normal.
Okay. They were obviously dealing with some sort of possession/life swap attempt. Megan thought back to her ghost training, but she honestly hadn’t paid really close attention. She’d been too sad at a life cut short.
Emily Dragon, Emily Dragon…where had she heard the name before? Of course! “Emily Dragon murdered her family and was hanged in 1888. We learned about it in history class. They tried to tell local horror stories to keep our attention,” she told Kim. “You haven’t heard of her?”
“We just moved here a few weeks ago,” Kim said apologetically.
“Of course you did. Where do you live?”
“In an old house on the hill just across the street,” Kim said, pointing to the north as a particularly dramatic bolt of lightning shot across the sky, lighting up an old mansion.
“Of course you do,” Megan muttered. “That was her house. She’d probably haunting it and is feeding off your family’s energy. She’s decided to replace you.”
“Don’t worry! All we have to go is go in there and destroy her power source.”
“Her...what?” Kim asked in a whisper.
“Her power source. It could be anything. But we’ll know it when we see it,” Megan said more confidently than she felt. She was giddy at the thought of leaving the cemetery.
“Um…so, now?” Kim asked, shifting back and forth.
“Do you want to stay out here in this storm? It doesn’t bother me, but you’re pretty wet.”
Sighing, Kim squared her shoulders. “All right, let’s go.”
She walked, and Megan floated, out of the cemetery gates and up the hill to the foreboding Victorian mansion. All it needed was a loose window banging in the wind and a creaking front door to complete the stereotype.
They reached the front door, and Kim pulled out a key. “Everyone’s probably asleep,” she said. “We’ll have to be quiet."
The door emitted an enormous squeaking groan, and Megan rolled her eyes. “One down,” she said, as Kim looked at her with a furrowed brow. They stood in a hallway, with a staircase in front of them and doors on either side.
“Shhh!” Megan said, holding a finger to her lips. “What’s that sound?”
A dull, rhythmic thud was coming from the room to their right. BANG. BANG. BANG.
“I…I don’t know,” Kim said. “That’s the kitchen.”
They crept to the doorway and pushed the door open slightly, peering around the edge. A woman in a nightgown was slicing vegetables with an enormous butcher knife. BANG. A carrot flew into the sink. BANG. Celery skittered to the floor. She continued chopping, but her head swiveled entirely around in a sickening, unnatural way. Her eyes were red.
“Kimberly,” she said in a sing-song voice. “Where have you been? I was waiting for you.”
BANG. The knife flew at them, embedding itself in the doorway as they ran for it.
“That’s my mom!” Kim said, terrified. “What’s wrong with her?”
“Emily,” Megan said, feeling decidedly scared herself. “Where can we hide?”
“In the basement,” Kim said, pulling a door open and staring at the stairs.
“Not the basement!!” Megan protested. “I’m a ghost, and even I know we should stay away from there!”
“I’m sorry,” Kim panted, closing and bolting the door behind them. “Mom doesn’t like it down here, and none of the other doors on this floor lock from the inside.”
They crept down the stairs, Kim’s heart beating wildly. Megan’s would’ve been, too, except that she didn’t have a pulse anymore. It smelled of damp earth and something less pleasant. Off to their left was a dripping sound.
“So,” Megan whispered, “I hate to tell you this, but the basement is where they found the bodies of the Dragon family.”
“WHAT?” Kim asked, distraught. “WHY didn’t you say that before we came down here?”
“I forgot,” Megan said honestly. “They found everyone except Jebediah, her husband. His body was never found.”
The dripping sound was getting louder.
“Do you smell something weird?” asked Kim, sniffing the air. “It smells like metal.”
Megan walked to the source of the drip. It was an old pipe sticking out of the wall, and she had an unpleasant feeling that she knew what the smell was.
“Kim? Shine your flashlight over here.”
Kim aimed the light at the pipe, and they both leaned closer. The pipe gurgled, and a fountain of hot, metallic, sticky liquid shot out, covering them both.
“It’s…it’s blood!!” Kim gasped. “Let’s get out of here!”
The door at the top of the stairs rattled.
“Kimberly! I know you’re down there!” her mother called, pounding on the door.
“Is there another way out??” Megan asked, shaking off the last of the blood. She didn’t feel heroic at all.
“Yes! There’s a door that leads back to the kitchen at the other end!” Kim said, breaking into a run. She shrieked and fell, her flashlight tumbling out of sight and winking out.
“Kim! What’s wrong?”
“Oh, girls—I’m coming for you!”
“Nothing’s wrong, I just tripped. Can you find my flashlight?”
Megan groped around blindly in the direction she’d last seen the light. Then Kim screamed again, and this time, there was definitely something wrong.
“Megan. Megan! Something’s got me!”
“Just hold on! I’ll find it!”
“I can’t move! Oh God, what is it?”
“Here!” Megan found the light and clicked it on, shining it at Kim. A skeletal hand held her ankle, and another was creeping out of the dirt at their feet and trying to capture her other leg.
“I think we found Jebediah,” Megan said, floating over to Kim and bashing the hand with the flashlight. “Let! Her! Go!” The hand obeyed, but the dirt shifted under their feet, and they could see an angry skull peering up at them.
“Let’s get out of here before he does!” Kim said, running to the opposite end of the cellar. Megan followed, shining the light before them.
Kim sprinted up the stairs and wrenched open the door to the kitchen. She ran through it and up the stairs in the hallway, Megan close on her heels.
“We’ve got to find that power source!” Megan said urgently. “Do you know if there’s anything in this house that’s old enough to be hers?”
“I don’t know! We’ve only been here two weeks, and this house creeps me out! I spend as much time out of it as I can,” Kim said, and Megan saw the malevolent black eyes staring at her again.
They were running out of time.
“Kimberly! Megan! Come out, and I’ll make you something nice to eat,” Mrs. Austin’s voice floated up from downstairs.
They heard, slow, creaking footsteps coming up the stairs and knew that Jebediah wasn’t far behind.
“Wait! There’s a painting!” Kim said excitedly, and her eyes were her own again. “It’s of a creepy-looking woman. I bet it’s Emily!”
“Where is it?”
“It’s in the hallway outside me and my brother's rooms. Just around the corner here.”
She stopped. A small figure stood gazing up at the portrait.
“Andrew?” Kim said in a small voice. “Why aren’t you in bed?”
Andrew turned toward them, his eyes glowing red. In a horrible, low growl, he said, “I’m not tired. Emily says she’ll be a better sister to me than you’ve ever been.”
Megan saw a pocket knife clutched in his hand.
“Andrew! I love you. You know that,” Kim cried, taking a step towards him.
“Kim, no!” Megan said, as Andrew scuttled forward like a spider and slashed at Kim with the knife.
Kim stared at her arm, which was now dripping blood. Andrews smiled an evil smile and said, “Mother’s coming.”
Kim and Megan stared at the painting, which showed a handsome, cruel-looking woman in a high-necked black dress. She had the same cold, black eyes that Megan had seen looking out of Kim’s. She looked alive.
“Kim, this has to be the power source! It’s got to be completely destroyed. We’ll have to burn it.”
“You’ll burn nothing.”
This time the voice came from Kim’s throat, but it wasn’t Kim. It was a deep, throaty voice that sounded as if it was used to being obeyed.
Megan panicked. She was surrounded. Kim was in front of the painting, staring at it hungrily. Andrew stood behind her, his knife at the ready. Jebediah and Mrs. Austin were at the top of the stairs, moving slowly but irrevocably towards her.
“Kim! I can’t do it without you! Fight her off!" Megan pleaded. "Kim, I died too soon. I don’t want the same thing to happen to you.”
Kim turned to Megan, the black eyes furious. “You died too soon, foolish girl? I died at the height of my powers. I will have my revenge.” Her head shook slightly. “Megan! Help me!”
Hesitating, Megan thought for a moment. Then she dived at Kim’s heart, her translucent body disappearing. It was weird to be in someone else’s head. She’d never tried possessing anyone before. Emily’s extra presence made it even more confusing.
"Kim, together we can force her out," said Megan. "We’re stronger than her."
“You’ll never defeat me! I spent years learning things you’ve never even dreamed of,” cackled Emily.
“Megan? I feel like I’m losing myself.” Kim’s voice was very faint.
“Kim! Watch this!” And Megan poured out her life story, everything that she missed and loved about living: her family, her friends, her cat. Going to the movies, rainy Sundays, reading a good book. Goodnight kisses, hugs from her grandparents.
Then suddenly, she was back, back in her own body, such as it was, and Kim’s blue eyes were clear. Kim tore the painting from the wall and ripped the canvas from the frame. Grabbing a lighter out of her pocket, she held it to the edge of the canvas as Emily writhed with fear, the whites of her eyes showing.
Andrew took another swipe at Kim, but Megan swooped between them. His knife couldn’t hurt her.
As the painting smoked and curled, Emily’s screams echoed through the house. Andrew and Mrs. Austin blinked and rubbed their eyes.
“Why am I holding this knife?” Mrs. Austin asked, horrified.
“Mommy, I’m scared,” Andrew said, staring at his own knife, then at Megan.
Jebediah crumbled to dust behind them.
“Is that—is that a ghost?”
Megan blinked, afraid of being rejected again. But Kim just smiled and said, “Yes. But you don’t have to be afraid of her. She saved me.”