Free at Last…

When I stepped outside, I stopped, just for a second, to appreciate the moment. No bars, no floodlights, no strange caste marks or suspicious paperwork, just me and the streets and the sky.

“Aren’t you going to—” I turned around and stopped talking when I realised I was addressing a closed door. “—going to make me drink the brains?” Where had the creepy woman gone? I looked around, but saw no one. “Well, I wasn’t going to drink it anyway!”

What was I supposed to do now? I turned back to stare at the doors. I could go back in, find that creepy woman, and demand answers. Or, I could not go back in the place where I’d been locked in a cell.

I walked away. Maybe there was a hotel I could check into, at least until I got this whole zombie thing sorted. I looked up to see if it was morning or afternoon, and instead was faced with a half moon and a sprinkling of stars. Weird. Only about half the streetlights appeared to be working, but I could still see as if it was midday.

Unfortunately, my ability to see did not make any helpful figures magically appear. The street was eerily empty, and aside from the police building, most buildings looked abandoned. Were all the clichès and scary stories about the dead side of town actually true?

I turned a corner and felt like someone had dumped a bucket of ice water over my head.

“Excuse you!” a voice snapped from behind me.

Jessica Emmas Post 9
Illustration by Jessica Emmas

I whirled around, shivering. The angry retort froze in the middle of my wide open mouth. The person—thing—that’d run into (through?) me was vaguely blue-ish and transparent. And floating several inches above the ground. It looked like a boy in its early teens, with all the attitude one would expect of that age.

“It’s rude to stare, y’know.”

“Are you a ghost?” It wasn’t the most intelligent question, but I was too surprised to think of anything else. And cold.

The creature heaved a great sigh. “Please. Doesn’t anyone know the difference?”

“The difference between what?”

“A ghost and a phantom! See?” It gestured at its caste mark: two squiggly lines running down the left side of its face.

“There’s a difference?” I wracked my brain, trying to remember the ghost caste mark, and came up blank. I could list a dozen or more living caste marks, but ghosts I’d always figured I’d identify by the fact that they were, well, transparent.

“Obviously!” It turned to leave.

“Wait!” I cried. It looked back over its shoulder. “Would you tell me where the local government’s office is? I want to lodge a complaint.”

It laughed, then stopped when I didn’t join in. “Right. Good luck with that.” Then it vanished.

“Are you kidding me?” I demanded of the now empty street. What was with these dead-side people and their complete inability to be helpful?

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