Find an unoccupied house, make it yours, she said. Easier said than done. I thought longingly of my apartment—my old apartment—with its functional door, unbroken windows, and clean floors. Were those things too much to ask for on the dead side of town? Apparently, if the houses I was seeing were anything to judge by. And to top it all off, I could feel a headache coming on.
I stumbled over to the nearest house and slumped down against a wall shaded by a crumbling porch. What had happened to make this place such a mess? Someone must have put the effort into building the houses, but the people living here now clearly didn’t much care about maintenance. Didn’t they realise they would still need shelter when all the buildings fell apart from negligence?
The dead side of town, zombies, vampires, ghosts, estries, and whatever else I’d come across, it all seemed like some absurd nightmare. I mean, I couldn’t be a zombie. I was careful. I worked and lived in respectable places and had respectable friends. I didn’t drink, and I did not go anywhere near the dead side of town.
I reached up and ran my fingers over the raised ridges of my new caste mark. Picturing my face in my mind’s eye, I just couldn’t see it with a zombie caste mark. It didn’t make any sense. Maybe it was a nightmare. Maybe I’d wake up soon, and within a couple hours have forgotten about the whole thing.
“Oy! Get off my property!”
I stumbled as I jumped to my feet, scraping my palm against the wall as I tried to get my balance back. “Damn!”
“Did you hear me? I said get out!”
I pushed away from the wall, back on my feet, and looked up to see a transparent face glaring at me through a first floor window. A broken first floor window. “I was just sitting for a second,” I shouted back. “Touchy, much?” I added in a whisper.
“Oh yeah! Well, sit somewhere else!” The ghost (or phantom, or whatever its squiggly caste mark signified) bared its teeth at me like a guard dog warning intruders off. Given his attitude, I supposed that wasn’t an unreasonable comparison.
“What’s your problem, anyway? It’s not like I’m bothering anything.”
“Get out!” the ghost repeated. “Or I’ll scream.”
My eyebrows contracted in a frown. “Scream? What’s that supposed to do?”
The ghost’s grimace turned into a grin, and it opened its mouth wide. I was still staring at it, confused, when I heard a thin, high pitched noise not unlike a tea kettle. I remained confused as the sound grew, both in sound and, seemingly, number of pitches. At first it was just an irritant, but the sound grew, and grew, and kept growing, stabbing into my brain like a needle. I clapped my hands over my ears, but that made little difference. I had to get away. My head felt like it would explode if that noise continued for much longer. I groaned and trotted away drunkenly, desperation the only thing keeping me on my feet.
I stumbled along for about a block, hands covering my ears the whole time, before the sound finally stopped. I stopped moving and let my ears go. All I could hear now was the ringing it had left in my ears. A high pitched laugh drifted down the street towards me, and I decided to keep walking.