But isn’t that what everyone does? Make excuses to mitigate what they’ve done to other people? What makes my reason any more just or right than those I betrayed? I guess that’s why they have judges, which is as good a system as any, I suppose, but sometimes things slip through the cracks. Things that never should.
Through a gap in my curtains, the ruddy orange glow of the streetlights streamed through, and I leaned my head over to take a quick peek. The sidewalk was empty of life, while the gusts of wind whipped leaves, sticks, and the occasional bit of garbage. Not that I expected anyone of flesh and blood to show up at my door; these things were never that simple.
I moved away from the window and shivered, though if it was from the chill of January creeping into the house, now devoid of heat, or from the looming shadows created by the stacks of boxes, who could tell? Certainly not my jangled nerves, and really, did it matter? I pulled the cobalt, cable-knit blanket tighter around my shoulders and arms, cold despite the long-sleeved, pearl grey thermal top, and sighed. Daybreak couldn’t come soon enough, and with it the moving van to pack all my things away. My business concluded, it was time to move on if I could manage it. Though a thought crept in the back of my mind, like sludge given life and form, and whispered, you don’t deserve another sunrise.
I’d dressed for bed even though I had no plans to sleep despite how my eyes burned for it, and even if I’d had the inclination my sheets and comforter were packed up along with everything else, anyway. The bottoms were a pale grey with penguins having a snowball fight, and were men’s pajama jogger pants. Guy pajamas were more comfortable, but I hated having the pants bottoms’ underfoot, so the jogger style was perfect. The print seemed absurd in light of the situation, like people playing hide and seek at a full military honors funeral.
I let out a choking laugh at the imagery, even though it wasn’t funny, and then my watch beeped with the announcement of a new hour. This time, however, wasn’t going to be like the others. Midnight–the hour of between. Yesterday and tomorrow, then and now, but most importantly, life and death.
A presence filled the room, creeping like smoke in a burning house, slow at first, and then gaining momentum. Then the presence split, once, twice, five, eight times, and more. I lost count after a while. With so many in the room in combination with the boxes, you’d think it’d be physically crowded, but of course ghosts don’t work that way. It was more a mental crowding than anything.
“I won’t do it,” I said, weary in more ways than just a physical sense.
You promised. The words echoed in the tight space, rebounding painfully off the inside of my skull, and I flinched.
“And you didn’t tell me the truth of what you wanted,” I countered, the argument now rote, but I was at the end of the line. There was no more running, hiding, arguing, or bargaining.
They hurt us! Then nothing was done! The voices howled, their rage burning along my skin as though I was caught in a windstorm full of embers.
“I did my best.” The words were lame, even to my ears, despite their truth. What solace was my best when they were dead, and their killers walked free?
You swore to get us vengeance, the voices hissed, carrying out the final syllable like pit of irate snakes.
“No,” I said, the word shaky as a fine tremble took over my body, “I promised I would try to get you justice.”
Vengeance. Justice. They are the same.
“They aren’t, and I won’t do it: I won’t kill them.”
They deserve to die a thousand deaths for what was done to us. The ghosts were becoming visible on the spectrum, like wavering heat mirages off asphalt in the summer.
“Maybe they do, but it’s not my place to judge and punish them. That power is beyond what is granted to me.”
It wasn’t what they wanted to hear, but I could offer them nothing more than what I’d already done. I went to the authorities, and like most mediums I was met with skepticism; until I showed them to the bodies buried on the grounds of the old hospital, of course. Once they determined I’d been unable to commit the murders–I’d been five at the time of the most recent ones–they started following leads. They’d determined that a doctor and a nurse were responsible, a serial killer duo, but they’d been unable to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the kids had died from more than natural causes. The authorities had found maybe fifteen bodies, but from the number of dead surrounding me that was only the tip of the iceberg. It had been a big hospital servicing multiple cities, and many transient kids had used the clinic there. Kids that wouldn’t be missed.
A wail went up from the group. Traitor!
“Traitor, but not a murderer,” I whispered the words, and they were snatched away by the storm of converging souls.
Someone must pay, the voices growled as one, coming together to form one entity, large and looming. Eyes like pits of melted slag burned through my mind, and I gasped from the pain and dropped to my knees, cradling my head in my hands.
“I know.” I barely managed to squeeze the words out through my constricting throat, trying to let them know I understood. There was so much anger, and someone had to pay. I’d failed to get them justice, and refused to give them vengeance, so why not me?
I tilted my head up to meet the gaze of the amalgamation of bitter, frenzied ghosts; driven to madness from the torture they’d experienced before death, and the injustice they’d been handed in the afterlife. I managed a small, watery smile as they roared and surged over my kneeling form, and then darkness washed over and through me like a tsunami.