Fourteen

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Down the steps of the crypt, the silvery visage of a small girl descended with curly black hair, large brown eyes, and bare feet.

"Mama?" the girl said quietly in Romani.

Charlotte felt Jonathan tense and edged even closer, angling his body in front of her. But she knew he wouldn't be able to hear or see the little girl. He could hear the effects of the little girl's restlessness and nothing more.

"It's a spirit," Charlotte whispered.

Jonathan cast a look over his shoulder. "Where?"

"Right in front of you."

He stepped back, crowding against her. It was one thing to know the spirit of his wife was in the room. To realize an unknown spirit was only a few feet away and he couldn't see it must have been disconcerting.

Charlotte squeezed his arm and stepped past him, hand outstretched towards the little girl.

"Are you Elisabeta?" she said.

The little girl eyed her warily and glanced up the steps again.

"Mama?" she called, fear tightening her tone, causing her voice to rise in pitch until it cracked.

"What is she saying?" Jonathan said.

"She wants to know where her mother is."

Dead and gone a long time by now, Charlotte thought. Then what had caused Elisabeta to become so restless while her mother's spirit had passed on?

"I'll take you to her," Charlotte said.

Elisabeta stared. "You're lying."

The stone coffin to Charlotte's right slid towards her a threatening two inches. Not enough to pin her against the opposite wall. But it sent her scrambling back a few steps, heart racing.

The coffin stopped.

Even the most innocent spirit could turn hostile at a moment's notice when it encountered a living being. Especially a spirit like Elisabeta, trapped in a crypt for five hundred years. Those who visited the grave site to present their offerings at the makeshift altar outside wouldn't be able to communicate with her. She would see them, day in, day out, and remain alone in her silence and the cold of limbo.

Jonathan clamped his fingers around Charlotte's arm.

"We should leave," he said. "She doesn't seem interested in entertaining company."

"Wait, wait," Charlotte said. "I think she's...confused. If she wanted to hurt us, she would have crushed us with that coffin."

"That's still a possibility."

"It's not likely that she's encountered someone who can see her, let alone wishes to speak with her. Let me try." She turned her attention to Elisabeta. "If you tell me what keeps you here, I can help you."

For a minute or two, Elisabeta simply regarded Charlotte in silence. Charlotte braced herself for the coffin to advance again but it remained motionless.

Elisabeta was an old spirit, and small. Using magic against her wouldn't require much effort. But taking any amount of Charlotte's precious witchcraft reserves would be costly.

Then Elisabeta flickered out.

Charlotte twisted around, searching the crypt. But the room was empty.

"What happened?" Jonathan said.

"She disappeared."

"Is that good? Or bad?"

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