so here’s the first five pages of the 2nd draft of me book:
“Why did you kill me?” he asked, wisping around her as a planet around a star.
“You’re not going to follow me home, are you?” Mary asked. Her sword was sheathed behind her back. The blade was warm from the fight.
“Nowhere else to go.”
“Everyone went home. You need to die.” Mary didn’t look at it. Her eyes remained straight and that was the key to ridding oneself of a ghost. Just don’t look.
He twirled around so that his misty body floated in front of her. He was all faded grays, but the blood that circled his neck was red, fresh. “I tried to surrender.”
“They ordered a kill and I delivered.”
“Hey, Mary!” a man said. This man was alive. “Mary Gold!” The streets were crowded with walking people heading here or there, home or to their work or the market or the arena or elsewhere. This man’s voice boomed over the noises of the street.
Mary knew who he was. She stopped, although a certain part of her wanted to ignore the man.
The ghost glanced over at the shouting man and said, “Looks like someone you might want to be worried about.”
“Just another journalist,” Mary said. Annoyed people brushed past her on the street. “He won’t talk to you.”
“You’re a hard one to catch,” the robust man said, catching up to where Mary stood. He panted and wiped at his forehead. “I have a few questions. If you don’t mind.”
Mary said, “I’ve got some time.” She hoped the ghost would turn away from her and attach himself elsewhere if she took her time with an interview.
“I’m Al, Al Lichtenstein,” the man said. He extracted a tablet and a stylus from a bag that he carried.
“I know who you are, Albert,” Mary said. She shifted her weight to one leg. Passerby either grumbled or stared as they passed. “We’ve met a few times before.”
Albert said, “Ah, but you can never know with you gladiators. Excuse me, gladiatrices.” A walking man bumped into Albert. He ran a large hand through his wispy hair, glancing at the ghost. “Perhaps we can take this to a place with less crowds, eh?”
“Lead the way.”
Albert started walking. “There’s an excellent pub not so far from here, just a couple of streets down, I’d say.” His feet waddled, making circular motions.
The ghost said, “I know the place.” He swirled around through Al, who shivered at that moment, to face Mary. “It sucks, you should leave.”
Mary said, “You leave. Now.”
“Don’t talk to it,” Albert said, turning his head to look at Mary but obstructed by his large neck. “Talking only makes it stay longer.”
“Don’t whine, Albert. I have more experience than most with ghosts.” She followed as Albert led her across the street. Crowds parted for Albert, clearing the way for Mary, or maybe it was the ghost for whom they parted.
“Almost there now.” He pushed forward through the crowds with thirsty determination. “I’ve drank in this hole for years.”
“Years of drunkenness,” the ghost said. “That’s exactly what you want in a journalist. Might as well drown the lot of them.”
“Don’t be so fatalistic,” Mary said. She touched the hilt of her sword for assurance it was still there.
“I believe it’s within my rights.”
Albert said, “Shh. Shush.”
“You can’t shoo me way, no matter your size.”
“My first question,” Albert said, holding the pub door open for Mary. “You have a history of letting these pests follow you. Why do you insist upon recognizing their existence?”
Mary said nothing until they had sat down and found a spot, although there was much deliberation upon where they should sit. They settled for a corner table, the desired spot miraculously empty in the frenzy after an arena match.
“I don’t see the harm,” Mary finally answered after taking a seat.
“Indeed,” Albert said. “What is the harm of letting a fly go free within one’s home? A nuisance is but an inconvenience.”
Mary said nothing. A waiter arrived and asked what drinks everyone would be having. Al ordered wine, Mary ordered a brandy, and the ghost ordered an ale, but received nothing.
Albert said, “Well, then. On to my next question.” He cleared his throat and the noise was loud enough to warrant a few stares from strangers. “You’re aware of course, that the team you just defeated was the King’s team. Your quite offensive strategy is unusual given the history of–”
“Stop,” Mary said. I defeated the King’s team, she thought. “I was not aware.”
Al’s eyes opened wider as his brow drew down. “Surely, you research your opponents. It is the law that everyone has the right to know whom they are fighting in the arena, their records, their statistics. This is information given to every team, weeks before the match’s scheduled date.”
“My team.” Janice fell back behind a column. Two men, thirty feet ahead, guarded the stairs. Mary nodded at Janice and ran across to find cover behind a large marble block. They charged at Mary with their swords, while Janice fired arrows, true to her aim. “We train to adapt.”
“I see. That is certainly an interesting development.” He sipped his wine and wrote a quick note, wiping his forehead upon completion of each task. “The great Mary Gold refuses to research her opponents. Shocking, indeed.
“Now, back to my question, about your offensive strategy, I–”
Mary interrupted, “I have to go.” She swallowed the last of her brandy, while Albert had had only a few sips of his wine. Mary stood and started to walk away. “Thanks for the drink.”
“Wait! Just a few more questions.” Albert remained seated with his glass of wine, which he seemed unable to leave behind.
Mary weaved her way through the crowded pub and toward the door, bumping into strangers and causing grunts. Few would recognize her outside the arena, outside of her gear and without her helm. She opened the door into the still crowded streets, crowded with the throngs of people who had so recently cheered the deaths of others.
The ghost was absent. Must have finally died, Mary thought. I’ve been doing nothing, a ghost as well among the living. People who see their own purpose. And what is mine? The King Dragon’s team, defeated. There must be some other challenge.
She walked in the direction of her home, a good mile away. She could have taken the tram, but walking gave her a chance to reflect upon her actions in the arena. All this practice biding my time, and I’ve gotten too patient. Jesry would be around for the next match if I had ordered the charge to the final hold just a couple minutes earlier. It will be hard to replace him.
The King’s team…
Best to let it simmer, not think too much about it.
Ahead, Mary saw a crowd gathering around Andre Strong. He was large enough to make other gladiators appear as normal sized men. After Mary had faced him for the first time and his team had defeated her’s, he had asked her if he wanted his autograph.
“Andre, Andre!” the crowd was cheering. “Let me touch you! Just a bit of your sweat in this vial, a lock of your hair to keep. A drop of blood from that cut!”
Mary crossed the street to avoid meeting him, but he saw her. “Mary!” he called, his booming voice ever more boisterous than Albert’s. “Come, let us talk!”
His crowd was watching her, and probably wondering who this person was whom Andre called over by name? Somebody famous, no doubt, although none recognized her.
His presence didn’t leave her much of a choice. Best to just get it over with.
Mary said, “Andre, it’s been a while.” She held out her hand and tried to smile.
Andre ignored the hand and bear hugged her, his body sweat rubbing into her hair and skin. “Oh,” he said. “It’s been too long since we have last seen each other.” He finally released her from his grip.
“Well,” Mary said. “You know.”
“We have fought many battles. Yet we remain friends” Andre spoke as much for Mary as for the crowd, who gathered around him and listened to each dripping word. “Tell me, Mary Gold, how was your last match? I hear you defeated the King Dragon’s team. That’s quite an accomplishment, eh?”
“Yes, well, I do my best.” Mary shrugged and glanced in the direction of her home.
“Indeed, we must all do what we can, although I would pick my enemies more carefully.” He laughed and the crowd laughed with him. A joke. “And what is this, behind you? A pest!”
Mary turned and saw the ghost behind her, its neck still red. “Die, already.”
“Now, don’t speak to it. There’s a trick to these things. We must ignore them and they will go away.”
“Ignore me all you like,” the ghost said. “I will continue to speak. And Mary, I must speak with you.”
“Back, you!” Andre said. Mary recognized his pose as an attack position. “Let mother death take you into her arms.”
The ghost floated skyward. His sad eyes looked down on Mary. She looked away and said, “I really must be leaving.”
“Of course. I will not hold you any longer, my dear. Off you go, now.”
Mary never had a chance to say goodbye.
“And there goes the great Mary Gold, ladies and gentlemen,” Andre said to the crowd. “Remember that one well. One of the most unappreciated holders in the sport.”