Afterlife Page 50

“Essentially. If our murderers are caught, it provides some sense of justice. That helps many of us let go and ascend.” Christopher looked up above us longingly — still, after all this time, waiting for heaven. “But many are not caught, and for others, justice is not enough to heal the wounds. Those remain on earth forever, growing sicker and stranger, and sometimes dangerous. For many of them, there is no chance that they could ever be restored enough to come here. They become as evil as the forces that destroyed them.”

“I’ve heard of wraiths like that,” I said. “But the rest of you — everyone here — why aren’t they in heaven? Or whatever it is that follows this?”

“They remain anchored to the mortal world.”

“Anchored.” I’d been hearing that a lot lately. “What does that mean?”

Christopher led me around a fountain, ornate and elaborate, perhaps something from the Renaissance; instead of burbling merrily, the water inside was motionless and dank, overgrown with algae that slicked the stone. “An anchor is someone or something that ties you to the earth. The best anchors keep you sane and strong. They can be sources of deep, lasting love.” He glanced back at the soda shop where we’d left Maxie; I could just make her form out as she sat at the counter, drinking something out of a tall frosted glass. “Maxine was on the verge of leaving the mortal world behind entirely when the small boy in her house discovered her and began reading her stories.”

“Vic.”

“Yes. Her love for him has tethered her to the earth once more — much to her chagrin, I suspect.” For the first time, I heard a glint of humor in Christopher’s voice. “Although she will not admit this, she could let go of him at any time, and trust that his life will be happy and full. But she has already lingered eighty years after death; another decade, or several, will make little difference.”

“The best anchors, you said. There are other ones — bad ones?”

“Sometimes it is not love that binds us to our anchors, but obsession. Sickness. When that happens, the wraith becomes more twisted over time.” As Christopher spoke, I remembered the wraith that had haunted and tormented Raquel. No doubt this was an example of what he was talking about. “The danger of this is so great that even wraiths better anchored, such as Maxine and myself, consider any ties to the mortal world fundamentally unfortunate. Even we hope to move on someday, as hard as it will be to let our loved ones go.”

I started to ask him whether I was anchored, but I already knew that I was. Lucas, my parents, Balthazar, Vic, Ranulf, Patrice, Raquel — they kept me down — to — earth, so to speak. Even if I could let go of them, I didn’t want to. One thought occurred to me and made me frown. “Who is the ancient Egyptian guy hanging on to?”

Christopher smiled. “He helped to design the pyramids and remains rather proud of them. I believe he likes to return to Giza in the mornings 136 and watch the sun rise there.”

In the distant sky, darker clouds swirled, illuminated briefly by a flash that might have been lightning. “Okay, you guys really wanted me here,” I said. “What is it that makes me so powerful or special or whatever? Besides being able to form a body, I mean. Though that is pretty awesome.”

He faced me, serious once more. “You already know that you can travel within all our realms, and you can do so more easily than any of us — even me.”

“Maxie can do it.”

“At times, but not easily, save for when she is in your presence,” Christopher said. “You are able to sense other wraiths, something very few of us can do. Sometimes we are invisible to one another, particularly for those who remain lost and frightened in the mortal world. Once we have established communication with each other, it is easier, but it is never easy.”

I realized what he was getting at. “You want me to help you find those people. To make them let go of the sickness inside before they get permanently screwed up.”

“While they have a chance to come here and find restoration.”

“You want me to help ftnd every ghost in the whole world?”

He shook his head. “Most can fmd their way here eventually. But those who cannot — for their sakes, and the sakes of those they come to torment on earth — you have the power to reach them. To guide them. To help them ftnd their way here. You can travel between worlds, Bianca. You are a bridge between the worlds of the living and the dead.”

Those distant clouds weren’t so distant anymore; the entire sky seemed to me to be darkening, although sunlight shone down on everyone else.

The cool, damp breeze that rushed through my hair didn’t touch anybody else on the road. I realized that the skies above were, for each person here, a reflection of their spirit; as I grew more afraid and unsure, the storm came.

Christopher didn’t answer. “This work is important. It will demand much of you. But the good you could do is beyond measure.”

I agreed with him. It sounded worthwhile — more than worthwhile. Important. The kind of thing I’d wanted to spend my afterlife doing. But the 137 idea of letting go of the people I loved !held me back. “Why don’t you do it? You’re so super — powerful and everything, according to Maxie.”

“I was not born to the wraiths. I have not your natural power. My talents are meaner, and self — taught over time.”

“Why don’t you train everyone else here to do the same?”

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