She finished her shower, turning the water off suddenly. Shivering a bit in the chill air, she toweled herself off, avoiding looking in the mirror. Kate then got dressed in her t-shirt and shorts again, and headed back out to the living room, then the bedroom.
Kate debated sitting on the computer for a minute or two, surfing the internet, but she really was tired. Something had happened to her tonight, and she wasn’t sure what it was, what had left her in a state of panic earlier. It didn’t matter all that much, as whatever it was, it couldn’t have been that important.
It all came flooding back, the minute he sat next to her again. She stared at the young man in the black duster, who said, “I’m really sorry about what happened yesterday.”
Kate was on a different bus, at a different time of day. This time she was going to her morning class. Was this guy following her? He had been on the bus already, and sat down next to her a few minutes after she sat down. She started to get up again, to move somewhere else – she couldn’t be late for class.
“Wait, hear me out, please?” She could see his eyes, imploring her. His hand reached out, as if to take her by the arm, but he stopped himself. “Please?” he said again.
She huddled her backpack close and took her earbuds out, letting them dangle over one shoulder. “How do you know my name?”
“It came to a friend of mine in a dream, all right?”
“They some kind of psychic?”
“She is, yeah,” he replied, taking his hand back and giving her a small smile. “We’ve been waiting for you.”
“We?” This was freaky.
He looked around the bus, seemingly looking for something or someone, and then he leaned in close, closer than she would like. “Not here.” He leaned back. “Let’s get off at the next stop.”
“I have to go to class,” she said.
“You can catch the next bus in time for your class. It won’t take long, I promise you.”
Her senses were telling her no. She looked him over again. He was thin. She probably could put up a good fight. She had nails. And she had roughhoused with her brothers when she was younger, so she knew how to fight dirty against a boy. This was an early morning, and there were tons of people. So long as he didn’t drag her down a dark alley, she felt she could be safe in the crowd.
“Okay, I guess.” She looked outside, watching the stores go by and people walking. Yes, she would be safe in a crowd of people.
He pulled the cord that signaled to the driver to stop at the next stop. When the bus slowed down, he got up. Kate followed, her backpack over her shoulders to keep her hands free.
They got off the bus, heading up Commonwealth Avenue toward the campus. He stood close to her, and then took her elbow and guided her toward an empty storefront. He looked around again.
“I’m a mage,” he said quietly. “And you’re a Seer.”
Her first thought was that he was loony. He seemed so sincere about it though. Her heart flew in her throat. She noticed that he wasn’t crowding her, that she had room to run. “What does that mean…exactly?”
“You can see things no one else can see.”
“Like what?” She looked around too. She saw people, and stores, and vehicles – nothing out of the ordinary. “And you’re not answering my question – “
“Ghosts,” he said. “People’s souls.”
She stifled a near uncontrollable laugh. “I think you have the wrong person.”
“I know I have the right person. I’ll prove it to you.” He turned the door handle to the storefront, and it turned easily in his hand. “Trust me?”
“Are you kidding?” she said. “No, I don’t trust you.”
He nodded. “I really don’t blame you. Look, I’ll go first. You can leave the door open, too.” He stepped inside the darkened store. She looked around her, but no one seemed to be looking her way. Maybe if she left the door open, she could have room to run.
She stepped inside. The place looked like it had been a pawn shop or a jewelry store, with d cases still together in a large U leading out from the door, with the bottom part of the U on the opposite side of the door. Everything was in a diffused light, mostly coming from the front of the store. People walked by and the shadows flickered along the walls.
Kate looked at the opposite corner, diagonally across from her and could see a man there. But it wasn’t a man. He was in muted colors, as if m was a clothed store mannequin left out in the sun too long. It wasn’t a mannequin, either, if no one dressed a balding, short mannequin in a suit and tie.
“What do you see?” the young man asked, looking in the same direction she was.
“You don’t see that man over there?” Kate asked, pointing. The man stepped forward to the counter and looked like he was speaking to someone sitting at the counter. He pantomimed pulling out something from the display case, and offering it to the people there.
Then he stood up straight again, went back to his place against the wall. He stepped forward, speaking again, pulling out something.
“I don’t see that man over there,” said the young man, “but my friend sensed someone there a while back.”
“No, someone else.” The young man walked over to the counter, going around it. He had his hands outstretched, as if a blind man trying to find his way. “He’s around here, isn’t he?”
She watched the young man move, “You’re almost right on top of him,” she said. The man didn’t move, but seemed to shimmer, like someone had put a hand in a bowl of water and the reflection in that bowl rippled.
The young man nodded. “What is he doing?”
“It looks like he’s showing someone something. From the display case.”
The young man glanced into the display case and rummaged with his hand around inside. Kate looked out the door, then back at him. “What are you doing?”
“Ghosts are drawn to a certain place for a reason,” he said, and straightened. “There’s something over here that this ghost needs laid to rest.”
“Are you some sort of ghost hunter or something?”
“No,” said the young man, looking up. “You’d better catch the bus, you’ll be late for your class.”
“Are you a thief?”
He laughed. “I wish. I’d make more money that way.” He rummaged around some more. “Close the door, please. You’re either in or out.”
Class or this young mysterious man. School or finding out who “we” were. The first class of her major or finding out how he knew so much about ghosts.
She stepped outside and shut the door behind her. She ran back to the bus stop and waited about five very long, agonizing minutes. She kept glancing back at the store, to see if he would come out, but he didn’t.
He had to be some sort of thief. Maybe he was like that show with the pie man…she couldn’t think of the name of it. Her mother watched it once or twice. The bus came and she hopped on, glancing at her watch as she sat down. She had lost maybe ten, fifteen minutes, still enough time to get to class.
She watched the store go by, still looking uninhabited. She wondered why she didn’t go to the cops, to report this guy. But what was he doing? Breaking and entering, maybe. But he didn’t break in, the door opened for him. He just turned the handle, and it opened. Right?
Maybe he wasn’t supposed to be in that abandoned property. She didn’t feel right there.
Then it hit her. She had just seen a ghost.
A Seer, he called her. But Seers were fortune tellers, as far as she knew. They weren’t people who saw ghosts and spirits. She half-believed in ghosts, or in life after death – her parents were Methodist, so she was brought up in the faith – but she stopped going to church when she was fifteen. She believed there was something after death, there had to be. She also believed that ghosts were because someone had done something horribly wrong or horribly bad, that they were haunted.
This couldn’t have been a ghost. It was a mannequin, that’s it. She was overusing her imagination, and some guy had talked her into it. He was a mage, he said, so he could be using powers of illusion to create things that weren’t there, like David Copperfield. That was it, that had to be it. She was suckered by some guy, a guy she couldn’t remember quite right, but who gave her a sense of unease. She’d be able to pick him out in a line up. Maybe she should report him to the police. But how, if she couldn’t quite remember him.
She had an aha moment, and pulled out a notebook. On the back page she wrote “Black Duster” in big letters and stuffed the notebook back in her pack. There, now she would remember the most important part of him, the part that stuck in her mind even after he had taken her into the store. She would make a point to remember to open her notebook the minute she got to class, and she would look inside the back.
The bus pulled up to the campus, and most of the people on the bus got up. This was usually the end of the line for this bus, even though it hit three other stops before turning around in the campus and heading back to Commonwealth Avenue to restart the process all over again.
She got off at the second stop, looking at her watch again. Fifteen minutes to get two doors down and two flights up. Not a problem, so she walked, not ran like some of the other kids were doing. She didn’t know what their hurry was; she had all day.