Name: Jenny Perinovic
Genre: Young Adult Gothic Romance
Title: A Magic Dark and Bright
I hadn't seen the ghost who haunted the woods behind my house since the night she watched my brother die.
I used to catch glimpses of The Woman in White from my bedroom window. She glowed in the moonlight, a pale wraith in a white dress that curled around her ankles and twisted in an ancient breeze that didn't touch the pine trees around her.
I pressed my palm flat against the screen and waited, like I had almost every night since the accident. My brother, Mark, used to tease me about my interest in her. My overactive imagination, he called it. Or my delusional obsession, when he was being mean. "Watch out, Amelia," he'd say, throwing his hand to his chest. "She's going to lure you out into the woods and steal your soul."
But that was before. Now they were both gone.
"Come on," I whispered, like I could summon her with my words. I rested my head against the window frame and yawned as the big grandfather clock in the hallway chimed once. Nothing stirred outside--the row of trees that bordered our yard stood still under the light of the full moon, black branches stretched towards the sky. There wasn't even a breeze to flutter the gauzy curtains that hung around my windows. The woods were empty.
Everything was empty.
I slid out of bed. It was pointless to keep looking; if she hadn't shown up by one, she wasn't going to show up at all. Sometimes, in the middle of the night when the corners of my brain went fuzzy from exhaustion and the entire world around me was dark, I wondered if I wanted to see her too much, wondered if my wanting scared her away. And then I'd think how absurd that was, scaring away a ghost.
I made my way down to the kitchen carefully, avoiding the third step from the bottom of the stairs that always groaned underfoot. I made myself a glass of chocolate milk with the light turned off, moving from cabinet to refrigerator to sink by memory. I didn't want to wake my mom; she didn't need to know that I still wasn't sleeping. I may have told her--and Dr. Everhart, the therapist she and my uncle had forced me to see after the accident--that the nightmares had stopped. And they had, as long as I didn't let myself sleep.
I settled myself back into bed and picked up the remote. Nothing but infomercials and Seinfeld reruns would be on TV at this hour--I'd learned that the hard way. Luckily, I had an entire stack of Mark's movies to work my way through. Most of them were things I never would have watched before: slasher flicks and raunchy comedies, mostly, but they made me feel closer to him. I switched the TV on and paged through the menu until I found the place I'd left off the night before.
Outside, tires crunched on gravel and twin beams of light flashed in the window, momentarily blinding me. I frowned and set the remote down. Our street was a dead-end; it was rare enough that a car would drive by our house during the day. I crossed to the window over my desk, the one that overlooked the side of the house. I pushed aside the curtain and peered outside. Our driveway was dark. But there was a car pulling into Ms. MacAllister's driveway next door.
The porch light switched on at the same moment the driver killed the engine. Ms. MacAllister stepped outside. She ran a hand over her shoulder-length dyed blonde hair before she cast her gaze up, toward my window, like she could somehow sense that I was watching. My heart slammed against my ribs and I let out a squeak. I pressed myself to the wall next to the window, even though the room behind me was dark and I was almost positive she couldn't see me from where she stood. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath.
Sometimes it was easy to almost believe the stories that everyone in our tiny town of Asylum, Pennsylvania, had about Ms. MacAllister, who lived alone in the crumbling mansion next door and sold herbs and crystals and who knew what else from her shop along the riverfront.
You're too old for that stuff, I told myself. Ms. MacAllister wasn't a witch, anymore than I was.
Witches didn't exist.
Then again, ghosts weren't supposed to exist, either. And I'd seen the Woman in White enough times to know that people were wrong about that.
The sharp crack of a car door slamming echoed like a gunshot. Voices, one low and deep and one higher, carried across the still night, but they were too faint for me to understand what was being said. I gathered my courage and lifted the curtain again.
A guy, tall and thin, stood next to the car, a bag slung over his shoulder. Ms. MacAllister met him on the bottom step and wrapped her arms around him in a hug. He pressed a kiss to her cheek and laughed. He turned and gestured at the car, and for whatever reason I was surprised to see how young he was--maybe only a little bit older than me, with a mop of brown curls and thick, black framed glasses that glinted in the yellow light.
I watched them climb the stairs together, and I watched the door shut behind them and the porch light go out. I chewed on my lip and waited for a moment longer before I drew the blinds closed over that window. I turned back to my bed and reached for the cord for the window that faced the woods. I yanked the cord and scanned the trees one last time.
And there she was.
She flickered between the trees, her long white dress twisting in a non-existent breeze, her feet hovering over the ground.
I froze, almost afraid to breathe.
She was there.
And if she was there, maybe, just maybe…
Any thought I had in my head evaporated as she left the cover of the woods and floated above the grass along the tree line. She stopped, her entire being flickering like a projection of an old-time newsreel, moonlight dancing across pearl-white skin. She raised her arm and pointed. Pointed straight at the MacAllister House.
I clapped my hands to my mouth and the blinds crashed down over the window. By the time I had stopped trembling enough that I could lift them again, she was gone.