* * *

I’ve seen a lot of seasons change. When you’re not distracted by school and friends and what movie’s coming out next week, you’ve got time to look at the trees.

Thunder Bay’s autumn is prettier than most. There’s lots of color. Lots of rustle. But it’s also more volatile. Frigid and wet one day, with a side of gray clouds, and then days like today, where the sun looks as warm as July and the breeze is so light that the leaves just seem to glisten as they move in it.

I’ve got my mom’s car. I drove it up to Anna’s place after dropping Mom to do some shopping downtown. She said she’d get a lift home from a friend. I was glad to hear that she’d made some friends. She does it easily, being so open and easygoing. Not like me. I don’t think it was quite like my dad either, but I find that I can’t really remember, and that bothers me, so I don’t push my brain too hard. I’d rather believe that the memories are there, just under the surface, whether they really are or not.

As I walk up to the house, I think I see a shadow move on the west side. I blink it off as a trick of my too-tired eyes … until the shadow turns white and shows her pale skin.

“I haven’t wandered far,” Anna says as I walk up.

“You hid from me.”

“I wasn’t sure right away who you were. I have to be cautious. I don’t want to be seen by everyone. Just because I can leave my house now doesn’t mean I’m not still dead.” She shrugs. She’s so frank. She should be damaged by all of this, damaged beyond sanity. “I’m glad you came back.”

“I need to know,” I say. “If you’re still dangerous.”

“We should go inside,” she says, and I agree. It’s strange to see her outdoors, in the sunlight, looking for all the world like a girl out picking flowers on a bright afternoon. Except that anyone looking closely would realize she should be freezing out here wearing just that white dress.

She leads me into the house and closes the door behind like any good hostess. Something about the house has changed too. The gray light is gone. Plain old white sunshine streams through the windows, albeit with a hampering of dirt on the glass.

“What is it that you really want to know, Cas?” Anna asks. “Do you want to know if I’m going to kill more people? Or do you want to know if I can still do this?” She holds her hand up before her face, and dark veins snake up to the fingers. Her eyes go black and a dress of blood erupts through the white, more violently than before, splashing droplets everywhere.

I jump back. “Jesus, Anna!”

She hovers in the air, does a little twirl like something’s playing her favorite tune.

“It’s not pretty, is it?” She crinkles her nose. “There aren’t mirrors left here, but I could see myself in the window glass when the moonlight was bright enough.”

“You’re still like this,” I say, horrified. “Nothing’s changed.”

When I say that nothing’s changed, her eyes narrow, but then she exhales and tries to smile at me. It doesn’t quite work, what with her looking like goth-chick Pinhead.

“Cassio. Don’t you see? Everything’s changed!” She lets herself down to the ground, but the black eyes and writhing hair stay. “I won’t kill anyone. I never wanted to. But whatever this is, it’s what I am. I thought that it was the curse, and maybe it was, but—” She shakes her head. “I had to try to do this after you left. I had to know.” She looks me right in the eye. The inky dark seeps away, revealing the other Anna underneath. “The fight is over. I won. You made me win. I’m not two halves anymore. I know you must think it’s monstrous. But I feel—strong. I feel safe. Maybe I’m not making sense.”

It’s actually fairly easy to get. For someone who was murdered the way she was murdered, feeling safe is probably top priority.

“I get it,” I say softly. “The strength is what you hold on to. Kind of like me. When I walk through a haunted place with my athame in my hand, I feel strong. Untouchable. It’s heady. I don’t know if most people ever feel it.” I shuffle my feet. “And then I met you, and all that went down the shithole.”

She laughs.

“I come in all big and bad, and you use me for a game of handball.” I grin. “Makes a guy feel damn manly.”

She grins back. “It made me feel pretty manly.” Her smile falters. “You didn’t bring it with you today. Your knife. I can always feel it when it’s near.”

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