With This Grace

"Death disappeared into the darkness a long time ago, falling into whatever Godforsaken disreality every other lost soul is banished to. But where there is Life there must always be Death so the cycle continues, and a little girl with a troubled soul and not enough time on her hands is born - a little girl who can see ghosts and just so happens to be the link between the dead and the living. See, Death isn't just an abstract concept anymore, because that design failed the universe and every creature whose bodies stopped breathing. Death is bubblegum and combat boots and the colour pink, and she just so happens to be the most powerful creature that's ever walked the face of the Earth."


2. Chapter One | Les Ombres


I’m never going to get used to this, she thought, trying not to wince as a woman only a few feet to her left began choking on her own blood. Learning to tune out the constant chatter of spirits lapping at the edges of reality that still, for whatever reason, walked among the living was easy enough, but she would never be able to ignore those that had moved on and left only the scene of their deaths as a testament to the days they spent alive.


“Wakey wakey, Wolf,” someone snickered, tugging her out of her depressing little reverie and into the present. When she glanced up, however, the eyes that met her gaze were not the hooded green of her best friend’s but the tell-tale bleached irises that belonged to someone who had been dead for a long time.


“Daniel? What the hell are you doing here?” Wolf hissed, irritation gnawing at the edge of her consciousness as she searched the crowd of afternoon shoppers for Ava, the friend she was supposed to be spending the day with. A lazy grin spread across the dead boy’s face, purple-blue lips creasing upwards along lead-grey skin as he watched Wolf with amused indifference.


“I thought I’d take a walk, get some fresh air, sufficiently annoy and embarrass you – the usual, I guess. Ava’s over there, by the way,” he smirked, nodding towards a busker surrounded by a few shoppers and tourists where an enraptured Ava stood, tapping her feet gently to whatever folk song the man was playing.


“You are such an ass, honestly. Go home, Daniel,” Wolf sighed, shouldering her way through a group of mildly drunk middle-aged men laughing at a pigeon in the gutter while simultaneously trying to catch her friend’s attention. Daniel grinned, the expression oddly crooked on his jaunty face, and began to follow Wolf through the crowd, pulling faces at everyone he passed.


“I can’t! It was destroyed about fifty years ago – they built a bakery on top of it! The baguettes look divine, though,” Daniel called, his eyes crinkling with amusement as he dodged artfully through the mass of people in an attempt to keep up with Wolf. She made a small sound that resembled being choked and weaved her way around two girls kissing, subtly sticking her middle finger up at Daniel when she was sure no-one was watching her.


“Hey! Ava, hey, there you are! I thought I’d lost you,” Wolf smiled, exhaling shakily and watching as her breath fogged out into a small cloud, sticking her frozen fingers deep into the pockets of her jeans. Ava grinned up at her, all slanted eyes and faded pink hair, before digging into her purse and throwing a fifty pence coin into the busker’s open guitar case.


“You seemed preoccupied, so I explored. I do wonder what goes on in that head of yours sometimes,” Ava said with an apologetic smile, her head titled slightly to the right as a cigarette materialised between her dark red lips, eyebrows already asking for a light.


“I forget how much this girl owns you,” Daniel quipped unhelpfully.


Wolf reached into her coat pocket and drew out a lighter obligingly, grumbling something about bad habits and dirty lungs that was just a little too quiet for anyone but her to understand. Ava shook her head fondly and leaned forwards, catching the flame that flickered beneath her with the paper that sat between her teeth.


“Where to next, oh great explorer?” Wolf asked, an easy grin spreading across her face as she fell into step beside her friend. Ava quirked a shoulder and blew a cloud of cigarette smoke out into the air before her, nodding towards a Starbucks at the end of the street.


“I don’t know about you but I could kill for a coffee,” she grinned, her voice muffled by the cigarette balanced precariously in the corner of her mouth. Daniel clapped his hands together and grinned, disappearing for a moment only to materialise a few steps in front of the girls. Wolf glared at him, the look brief but intense, Daniel retaliating easily with a sleepy-eyed grin and a wink. If the boy wasn’t already dead, Wolf definitely would have strangled him by now, she reckoned.


When they finally reached Starbucks and found a table, Wolf insisting on a two-seater and staring pointedly at a disgruntled Daniel, Ava scribbled both their orders down on a napkin and wandered off to join the midday swarm of shoppers queueing up behind the counter. Daniel tried a few times to make conversation from his precarious spot on the edge of the table but gave up after Wolf elbowed him in the ribs and then the shin respectively, making it clear that she wanted to be left along with her thoughts.


Wolf thought a lot about how she had been forced to become a perfect actor, never letting surprise or fear slip through the walls she built up when she was around other people. Ava had no idea that her best friend had seen someone get stabbed to death in the middle of the street, or watched a woman fall from the fifth floor of a bank, or just looked on as a teenage boy got run over by a truck. She would never have guessed that an entire world of conscious life existed all around her and that Wolf could see everything and speak with everyone, because she was alive and in love with the idea of the future and wouldn’t ever bother to look for anything more.


“… fifty-six and thousands too, painted black and painted blue, when the damned come marching through, a corpse is all that’s left of you,” hummed someone in Wolf’s immediate vicinity – someone who was definitely not Ava or Daniel.

“Holy shit!” Wolf hissed through clenched teeth, an anxious blush colouring her dark skin and creeping down the length of her neck. She twisted her head around only to find her face about four inches from a woman who appeared to be roughly two hundred years old and in a state of violent decay. There was a fetid, rotting gash the size of Wolf’s forearm marring the left side of her face, the side of her skull was partially caved in and Wolf only realised after a pregnant and awkwardly belated silence that she was probably already dead.


“Can I help you?” Wolf stammered, edging backwards in her seat and glancing helplessly at a grinning Daniel. The woman broke into a mostly toothless grin and leaned back on her heels, making a strange gurgling sound in the back of her throat that was probably supposed to be a laugh.


“Can you help me? My, if you could it would be a miracle, I’m sure! I’m sure of it! Magic girl with death in her eyes asks can she help me!” the woman cackled, clutching her chest with both skeletal hands and rocking backwards and forwards.


“Did you die here?” Daniel asked, his sober expression surprising Wolf considering the boy’s extraordinary immaturity. The woman sucked her gums and slid into the seat opposite Wolf, wincing at the sound of her bones cracking as she got comfortable.


“I might’ve done, young man, but I might not have. I can hardly recall, I say, I say. I’m not here for you, though – I’m here for the girl, I say. They’ve been whispering about her alright – they’ve been whispering and waiting and they’re keeping me up, I say,” she crowed, drumming her nails almost thoughtfully against the table top. Wolf’s attention had been on the dead woman for the past few minutes, but when she glanced up at Daniel and saw the look on his face the fear she’d been holding back began to creep into her mind and fill her stomach with dread.


“Who? Who’s been talking about me?” Wolf asked, her voice soft enough not to be overhead but laced with fiercely insistent undertone. The woman blinked, her filmy white eyes flitting around before settling on the girl sat in front of her.


“The shadows, of course, and the hands. The snakes and the horns and the black water somewhere else, in the other place. I can hear them whispering.”


Daniel sighed, the sound heavy and more of a groan than anything else, flashing the woman a smile that was just a hair from patronising. Wolf exhaled and leaned back in her chair, rubbing a trembling hand over her eyes in an attempt to calm her racing heart.


“Look, I wouldn’t be worried. She’s obviously not at all reliable and there’s no reason for any spirits to be talking about you, I promise,” Daniel murmured, never taking his eyes off the old woman. It was a good thing too, for if he had he might have spotted the shadow in the corner of the coffee shop that pulsed with an energy that wasn’t quite alive.


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