Afterlife Page 49

Maxie grinned as she snuggled into her coat. “Christopher, I brought Bianca here with me. Bianca, this is Christopher.”

“We’ve met,” I said, though that was inadequate to describe the strange ways in which our paths had crossed. When he had first begun appearing to me during my junior year at Evernight, he’d threatened me so fearsomely that I’d been terrified of him; he’d also prevented Charity’s tribe from murdering me and Lucas last summer. I started at the beginning: ‘Tm pretty sure you two tried to kill me once.”

Christopher didn’t deny it; he didn’t even seem fazed. “You had only so much life to live. Sooner or later, you would have become either a vampire or a wraith. We came to you at Evernight when you were drinking blood — becoming closer to your vampire self.”

“You guys wanted me for yourselves,” I said.

“And for your sake as well,” Christopher replied. “Becoming a vampire would have been less a sacrifice for you than for most, but so much less than you have the potential to become.”

“Besides, vampires are gross,” Maxie said. I glared at her, but she just shrugged. “No offense, but come on. They’re dead bodies. Walking around. Eww.”

“I assure you, that did not enter into my decision.” Christopher looked slightly pained at Maxie’s rudeness. “Bianca, as a vampire, you would have been merely one among many. As a wraith, you have powers beyond. almost any other of our kind, and abilities you have only begun to grasp.”

“That’s why you saved me and Lucas from Charity this summer. Just to stop me from being turned into a vampire. It’s never been — personal, for you. Killing me or saving me.”

He looked amused. “How could it be personal when we have only just met?” Apparently he could see how angry that made me, because he quickly added, “When you have been dead as long as I, your perspective is altered. But no Jess true.”

Great, I had centuries of undeath waiting for me before this was going to make sense. I decided there was no point in freaking out about it, though. I’d become a wraith, and I had to deal with that reality. Christopher was the only person who could help me through it.

Not the wraith leader, Maxie had said — apparently there was no such thing. But Christopher was the most powerful among the wraiths, for reasons I hadn’t yet learned. He not only had significant power oif his own, but he also seemed to suggest that I had greater powers still waiting to manifest. Discovering my own abilities, coming into my own as a wraith, meant accepting Christopher. I decided it was a smaJJ price to pay. “Okay. Let bygones be bygones, or whatever. I just want to understand.”

“Will you walk with me?”

“Sure.”

Taking the hint, Maxie waved good — bye to us, hurrying off to something that looked sort of like an old — fashioned soda shop. One of her shiny buckled shoes caught on the cobblestone path, making her stumble — even here, it appeared, you could fall — but she caught herself. That left Christopher and 1alone in this mysterious place. “If we ‘ re not in heaven,” I asked, “how did we get .. . here?”

“Those of us who have achieved clarity after death, who no longer need to haunt the mortal realms, bring that which we loved here with us.” Christopher’s wavy brown hair ruffled in a soft breeze that smelled like the seashore — simultaneously fresh and foul. On a hill in the distance ahead of us, I saw an Egyptian riding along the road in a chariot, just ahead of an old pickup truck that spewed exhaust from the tailpipe. “Not the people we loved, alas. Each individual’s soul is their possession alone. But the places that mattered to us, keepsakes of the best and worst of our lives — all of that finds us here, where everything lost can be found once again.”

The land of lost things, I thought. It seemed to be as good a name for it as anything else. “If ghosts can come here, why do they bother hanging around and haunting people? This beats lurking in somebody’s attic.”

“Not every wraith can come here.” His dark eyes could be unsettlingly intense, more so now that he was in his human form. “Most of us are created by murder. And only the foulest of murders, none committed in the heat of passion — but premeditated, selfish killings that arise from betrayal.”

Christopher’s voice grew rough, and I wondered what had happened to him, and to Maxie. To the many ghosts bustling around us on the road.

Composed again, he continued. “That kind of death is not easily overcome. Most of us awaken as wraith alone, unable to believe that we have passed away, that we have been so betrayed, or that heaven is delayed for us, perhaps forever. Sometimes we see those we thought loved us glorying in our demise. Is it any wonder that so many become — twisted? Sick inside?”

“I guess not.” The thought of it turned my stomach. “Did that happen to you? Somebody you loved — ”

“Friends,” he said quietly. “Men I thought faithful comrades had plotted against me. Of those I held dearest to me, only my beloved wife was true. And the worst fate awaited her.”

That sounded seriously bad. I wondered if the friends had killed her, too, or left her alone and broke to starve — back in those days, a woman on her own might not have been able to get a job, or maybe inherit money, though I Wasn’t sure about that. Or maybe one of the killers had insinuated himself into her life and married her, without her ever knowing that he was responsible for Christopher’s death. Any of those options seemed too terrible to contemplate, and I definitely Wasn’t going to pry further. I changed the subject, asking, “So, you’re telling me that most wraiths get stuck. They can’t get over their own murders, and it drives them crazy.”

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