Eliza Pendery held out her hand, linking her fingers through Jason’s. Together, they stared down at their cold bodies.
“Death is not attractive on either of us,” Jason said, frowning down at his corpse. “I am not a fan of this.”
“I can’t believe I’m dead,” Eliza murmured. “I’m too young to be dead— we both are. My sixteenth birthday is next week, Jason.”
“This is just great,” Jason snarled sarcastically. “We’re fucking dead. That’s just perfect.”
Eliza shrugged, squeezing her older brother’s hand harder. “Why are we still here, Jason?”
“Unfinished business, clearly.”
“We’re dead, Jason. How could we possibly solve whatever it is that’s keeping us behind.”
“Leave it to the police, Liza. They’ll catch our murderer and then our spirits can move on.”
“I can’t believe somebody would fucking kill us!” Jason shouted suddenly, his voice echoing in the empty apartment. But that was no help. Even if somebody alive was in the apartment, they wouldn’t have heard him. Jason stalked over to the wall and punched it as hard as he could, but instead of denting the plaster, he fell straight through the wall. “Bloody hell,” he muttered angrily.
“Jason, let’s be reasonable about this. We’re dead, okay? Let’s not go crazy. Stay calm. We can go looking for the man who did this.”
“I didn’t get a good look at him, but I bet it was Bob.”
Jason nodded, coming back into the room through the wall he’d fallen through.
“Why would you think that?”
“I don’t trust the guy.”
“Well, I know you two didn’t exactly get along, but do you really think he’d do this?”
“Jason, we’ve known Bob for years. He’s our neighbor. He may be a dick, but he’s not a murderer.”
“How do you know? Do you think the Son of Sam killer’s neighbors knew they were living next to a serial killer? Or Jeffrey Dahmer’s?”
“Well, Dahmer’s neighbors did report odd smells coming from his basement. So I think they at least suspected there was something off about that kid.”
Jason frowned. “I guess. But still. It’s usually the quiet, antisocial ones you’ve gotta watch out for.”
Eliza crossed her arms over her chest. “I was quiet and antisocial.”
Jason smiled, as if thinking of a fond memory. “Always at your books.”
“Well, how else was I supposed to escape reality, besides my books and shows?”
“Don’t forget your fanfictions.”
“Our parents died and you were all I had.”
Jason stared down at their pale bodies, their skin a sickly blue color. “I am going to make Bob pay for this. Nobody hurts my baby sister.”
Eliza placed a hand on Jason’s arm, surprised she didn’t go right through him. “At least we’re together.”
Jason glared mutinously at his sister’s limp cadaver. His anger boiled. Without a word to her, he turned and vanished.
Eliza waited, worrying, not sure where Jason had gone.
Suddenly Jason reappeared.
“Where did you go?”
“To teach Bob a lesson.”
Oh no. “Jason, I don’t think it was him…”
“Why not? Of course it was him.”
“Well, if he’s dead, then why are we still here?”
Jason frowned thoughtfully. “Well, even if he was innocent, I hated his guts anyway. The world is better off without him in it.”
“What? Don’t tell me you’re not a little bit glad the prick is gone.”
“You do realize that means he’s probably here with us?”
“You think he has unfinished business?”
“He was a douche to everybody. Of course he has unfinished business.”
“So his business is probably to make it right with everyone he screwed over.” Jason made a face. “That probably means he has to come here, even if we’re dead.”
Eliza nodded. “Most likely.”
Jason made another face. “Ew.”
Bob appeared in the apartment. Jason’s disgusted look deepened.
“You’re dead, too?” Bob’s ghost asked in surprise when he saw Eliza.
Eliza nodded. “Hello, Robert.”
Bob turned to Jason. “I wanted to apologize to you. Regardless of the fact that you murdered me, I’m sorry. I probably deserved that.” He turned to smile briefly at Eliza. “Sorry.” He vanished.
“He is such a repulsive man.” Jason stated once Bob was gone. “I don’t get how someone so young can be turned into such a bitter dick. I mean, he’s only a year older than me.”
“I’m fifteen and even I have seen too much death. Maybe someone close to him died? Maybe he was dumped? I’m sure he used to be nice once.”
“Yeah, once. A long, long, long, long, long, long, long time ago.”
Jason’s expression changed then, into something much darker. “Bob may think he deserved to die. He did. But I don’t deserve this, and neither do you. This isn’t right. How dare the bastard do this to us!”
“He will pay. I will personally make sure the culprit who took away your future is behind bars. I will make sure he’s good and dead.”
“Jason, it’s not your job to—”
“He is a repugnant, insipid douche bag.”
“It’s not your job to punish him, Jas—”
“Nobody— and I mean nobody— harms, let alone kills, my little sister!”
Jason stood in the middle of their apartment, over their corpses, fuming. “I will avenge us!”’
“Jason!” Eliza pleaded. “Please listen—”
Jason grabbed her arm and they disappeared from their apartment. Someone else would find their dead bodies and call it in.
They materialized downtown.
“Why are we here, Jason?” Eliza asked, looking up at the coffee shop sign.
“To avenge us. If we had to die so young, I am going to make sure as many people as possible go with us.”
“Jason, you’re scaring me.”
Jason eyed a woman walking past with a stroller, an infant cooing in the swathe of blankets. Reaching out, Jason snapped the mother’s neck.
Eliza watched, unable to stop him or force words through her stunned lips.
Jason picked up the baby from the front and placed her in the middle of the street just as a car turned the corner.
Eliza went into the coffee shop, unable to watch the bloody massacre Jason wanted.
Breathe, Eliza thought to herself. He’s just protecting you. He has every right to be angry. He’s just letting off steam. You can’t hold this against him.
Jason entered the shop, grinning manically. “This is wonderful, Eliza.”
“I feel so…”
“Alive?” Eliza guessed.
Jason nodded vigorously. “They shall pay. Don’t you see? They’re alive while we were murdered. You’re only fifteen, Liza— they have seen and committed and experienced more sin than you. Liza Marie Pendery should be alive. You should be attending school and getting asked to prom.”
“Jason.” Eliza said patiently. “Mass murder is not the answer. Shedding more blood will get us sent in the wrong direction once our unfinished business is solved.” Eliza pointed down, indicating Hell.
“My sweet baby.” Jason reached out and wrapped her in a hug. “How dare you be taken out of the world so young. My kind, loving, caring little sister.”
“I’m fifteen, Jason, not five.”
Jason hugged her tighter. When he pulled back, Eliza saw the maniacal glint in his translucent blue eyes.
“I’m just sad I didn’t get to see you grow up. You wanted to be a marine biologist when you were older. You used to want to be a ballerina. Then you wanted to be a lawyer, and then a vet. Then you got really into science, specifically biology and sea creatures.”
“We’re still together, Jason. Never to be parted again.”
“Did you really kill that baby?” Eliza asked him, afraid of the answer.
“It deserved to die, Liza.”
“It was too young to even know what sin means, Jason.”
“I needed something younger than you to be dead, Liza.”
Eliza glanced away.
“You understand that, right?”
Eliza didn’t answer right away. Finally, she said, “I understand. I mean, I get why you did it. I do. But it was wrong, Jason. It was an infant— as pure as the freshly fallen snow, as pure as a nun, as innocent as a virgin.”
Jason shrugged. “Sometimes innocence and purity gets tainted. The good die young, Liza. Sometimes the snow gets muddy, sometimes nuns stray, sometimes the virgin isn’t as ‘innocent’ as you think. Sometimes the ‘pure’ have the dirtiest minds.”
“It was a baby, Jason.”
“So are you!”
“Almost two years from being a legal adult,” Eliza argued.
“Well. At twenty-four I am older than you. Almost ten years older than you. Therefore I am wiser.”
“I don’t think it works that way.”
“Too bad.” Jason said. “Liza. I just… I needed someone younger than you to be dead.”
“Did it make you feel better?”
“A little, yeah.” Jason said. “It did.”
“Jason. You can’t just go around, killing people. We can’t leave a trail of bodies.”
“Well, it’s not like the police can catch us. We’re dead, remember?”
“As if I could forget.”
“I killed them for you, Eliza.” Jason leaned forward, his maniacal eyes pleading. “All for you, Liza.”
Eliza placed a hand on her brother’s cheek. She let it drop to his shoulder, gazing back sadly. “I know, Jason.”
Jason glanced back outside. Then his gaze fixed on the two men at the table opposite us. He got up and started drifting towards them.
“Jason!” Eliza begged.
It was too late for her brother, though. Hot blood shot in a stream from the guy closest to us as Jason manifested a knife in his hand and cut into the guy’s artery. Within minutes, the entire coffee shop was dead. Eliza dimly wondered where he’d gotten the knife.
Jason turned back toward Eliza, his ghost blade dripping still-warm blood. The floor and walls and ceiling were painted crimson. A few souls must have moved on, but a couple blinked open their eyes in confusion and stood, looking around. Some wailed in lament of their loss of life, a few just wandered aimlessly.
Jason smiled at Eliza.
“Jason, this is wrong.”
Jason shook his once dark-haired head. “This is my calling, Liza. I will avenge you.”
“I don’t want—”
Jason was suddenly directly in front of her, pressing a finger to her mouth. “Shh,” he said. “I will be your angel, Liza.”
“My guardian angel already failed, Jason.”
Jason shook his head again. “I’ll be our avenging angel.”
There was clearly no talking him out of this. He was a furious apparition on a mission. Eliza just wished he’d leave her out of it.
Jason took her hands. “You are my life, Liza. Who cares if we’re actually alive? Help me make our town a more beautiful place.”
“Death isn’t beautiful, Jason.”
“It’s poetic.” Jason argued. Dragging Eliza outside, he pointed to a woman walking her dog. Then he pointed to a teenage girl dressed in all black with bright pink hair. Then he pointed to an old man with a walker. “Are you telling me every single person on earth is happy with their life? We’re… helping them.”
“I’m sure some of those people in the coffee shop were happy with their lives.”
Jason shrugged. “We’re helping the unhappy ones, Liza.”
“I won’t help you on your killing spree, Jason. Even if they’re unhappy now doesn’t mean they won’t be happy in the future. Everyone deserves a chance at life.”
“We did, too,” Jason said quietly.
“If they stay strong, their lives will get better,” Eliza insisted. “But not if you murder them first. Even if they’re unhappy, that doesn’t mean they necessarily want to die.”
“Come on, Liza. You’re telling me goth girl over there hasn’t considered ending it?” He gestured back at the pink-haired girl dressed in black. She was holding an anthology of Edgar Allen Poe stories.
“I’m sure she has. Lots of people have.” Eliza said. “Though saying she has just based on the way she dresses is prejudiced and stereotyping.”
Jason shrugged. “I wasn’t basing it on that. I was basing it on the scars on her arms.”
Eliza looked back at the girl, noticing the scars for the first time. “They’re old, Jason. She’s stopped.”
“She may have stopped cutting, but that doesn’t mean she hasn’t stopped wishing and fantasizing.”
“But you don’t know.” Eliza persisted.
“What, do you want me to ask her before I kill her?” Jason snorted. “She can’t hear us, Liza. Nobody can see us. Nobody even knows we’re dead yet.”
“No more killing, Jason.” Eliza said sternly.
Jason laughed. “You’re not serious.”
“Yes. Yes, I am, Jason. Stop this madness.”
“You don’t mean that.”
“I do, Jason.”
“I’m sorry, Liza. The desire… the urge is just too strong.”
“The urge to kill?”
“The urge for revenge.” Jason disappeared.
“Stop the massacre, big brother,” Eliza said aloud.
Eliza turned the corner at the end of the street and stopped dead. Jason had left a trail of destruction in his wake. Car alarms blare and corpses lay, littered all over the sidewalk and street. Blood coated everything.
Eliza leaned down and picked up the lifeless body of a dog. She had always wanted a dog, but Jason had said they couldn’t afford one. The one in her arms now was long gone. It was young, only a puppy. A chowchow.
Eliza felt a tug at her pant leg. She looked down to see the puppy’s ghost. “Hey, little fellow,” Eliza said, placing its body back on the sidewalk. She picked up the ghost puppy instead. “What unfinished business could you have that’s keeping you here?”
The chowchow barked.
“Have you seen where your killer went?”
The ghost barked again and looked off down the street.
Eliza knew there was no use reasoning with her brother. She put the ghost dog back on the ground and headed off after her brother. Might as well follow him to keep him from massacring the entire planet.
Eliza found Jason three streets over. That street was laden with death, too. Jason was standing above a couple that was lying, pale in their death, on a bench outside a café.
Jason looked up, finally noticing Eliza. “Join me, sister.”
Eliza shook her head. “It’s time to stop, Jason.”
Jason’s eyes darkened. “Not until I am appeased.”
“Jason, I’m dead. There’s no way to avenge me. Leave these innocent people alone.”
“Not until I have gotten revenge on our untimely demises.”
“Then kill our murderer, not the innocent.”
“It’s too late, Eliza.”
Eliza narrowed her eyes, doing her best mom-voice impersonation. “Jason Spencer Pendery! Stop killing people at once or you’re grounded!”
Jason threw back his head and laughed. “You can’t ground me, Liza. You’re nine years younger than me. Mom’s dead. Mom and dad are gone and now we are, too. Come here, Liza. Come on. Just once tiny life… Here. Kill this cat.” Jason pointed to the orange tabby in the window of a house. “It’s marvelous.”
“It’s awful, Jason. Look at all this death. Look at all the blood.”
“There’s not enough blood. They haven’t learned their lesson yet.”
“Who? Who haven’t?”
“The people. The living people. The living, breathing, laughing people. We will never be able to do what they are doing again, Liza. You’ll never get to go to prom, meet a boy, get married, have children. I’ll never be an uncle. I’ll never see you happy again.”
“We’re together, Jason. Isn’t that enough?”
“I’m sorry, Liza. I wish I could stop. I wish I could just find our killer and move on. But the bloodlust is too much. This is something I have started and now I must finish.”
Jason shook his head. “I’m sorry, Eliza.” He disappeared.
Eliza cursed. “Jason! This is not the answer!”
The blood and carnage wouldn’t stop until Jason was satisfied their deaths were requited.
Eliza headed off again, in search of her brother, who had caved to his homicidal insanity.
This time, Eliza wasn’t sure she wanted to find Jason.
Finally, she caught up to him again, on another red and completely dead street.
This time, Jason looked more sad than crazy.
“Just one tiny cut.” Jason said. “And I’ll stop.”
“You’ll stop if I make one small cut on someone?”
Jason nodded. “If you don’t give in to the anger.”
Eliza nodded, cautious. “Okay. I’ll do it.”
Jason pointed to a mangled lump Eliza didn’t recognize immediately. “Cut him.”
Eliza drew closer and froze, recognition tearing through her. Her middle school bully. Anger ignited deep inside her. She backed away, pushing the fury down. “I can’t.”
Jason shrugged. “Then I’ll keep killing.”
“But Mark isn’t—”
“He’s alive. I save him especially for you, Liza. I knew you’d wanted to do the honors yourself. Kill him. You know he deserves to die.”
“He’ll die eventually. Of old age.”
“If you don’t kill him, I will.”
It would be nicer if Eliza killed him first, but she couldn’t move.
Jason handed Eliza his ghost blade. “Do it.”
“Eliza, you know he deserves it. You know you want to.”
Mark Newman raised his head, his eyes wide, his lip trembling.
“He can see us,” Jason said. “He’s halfway dead himself already. I want him to see me, so he can. I want to see the look in his eyes when you kill him.”
Eliza made herself visible to Mark. He gasped, tears streaking down his bloody, dirt-stained face.
“Please,” Mark begged. “Emma, I’m sorry—”
Eliza’s anger lit up again, blazing. “My name is Eliza,” she said carefully, then spelled it out for him. “E-L-I-Z-A. Eliza. Eliza Pendery. Eliza Marie Pendery. Eliza. We’ve been in the same school— same grade— since kindergarten. How do you still not know my name?”
Mark whimpered. “I-I’m s-so sorry.”
Eliza narrowed her eyes and in a moment of red vision and heat and thoughtlessness, she plunged the knife deep into Mark’s stomach. He screamed. She yanked the knife out and plunged it into his shoulder, then his back, then his leg, and then finally his chest. Kneeling down, she carved her name into his thigh so he’d never get it wrong again.
Jason stood back, grinning.
Eliza felt different when she finally stood up. She turned to her brother, smirking. “You’re right— this is more fun.”
Jason’s smile finally reached his dead eyes. He linked his arm through his sister, grasping her hand. “Ready to chase revenge?”
“Ready to make our killer suffer,” Eliza agreed.