Over the past few weeks, Szófia and I patrolled the dense, eerie woods to the north of my town. There are usually plenty of spirits wandering since its a popular place for suicides and corpse-dumping. A warm breeze whirls past us while we meander through the same worn trails, stepping over the same brush and retracing our steps. “We really need a better method for doing this, Sofi,” I say, passing a familiar metal trashcan covered in a rash of rust. “We’ve literally traipsed through the same creepy trees and dirt paths at least four times this week. I really don’t want to spend my time outside of work playing superhero. We need to know where Őfelsége is and you need to die, but not at the expense of clothes getting washed, dishes getting done and all the other crap I have to do.” I shine my flashlight at a ghost shuffling through the trees, mumbling to himself. I glance around and examine the tree branches to see if one of them might be Őfelsége’s arm and she’s just hiding from us.
“There’s no use in being polite about it, Petra,” Szófia declares, confusing the hell out of me. Like, does she think that’s an adequate response? She stops and glares at me. Her eyes are watery. “I didn’t choose for this to happen to me. You can admit that I am some useless abomination. It’s one thing to be a spirit in this time, but to cook, shop and just exist in this… this phase of human existence… It’s hard for me, Petra. I’m trying, but sometimes, I don’t understand how you can think with the weather, being hungry, thirsty and still having to do other things to support this flesh,” Szófia shouts, crying as she pinches her skin. “I can’t fend for myself. I’m a grown woman and keep soiling myself. I just-I don’t know what to do! Why did this happen to me?” she screams, defeated and desperate. “You don’t have to help me. I understand if-“
I pause and grab Szófia’s hand. “We’re family. I can’t imagine what you went through, but don’t think for a second that I’m not here for you. I just don’t like how many things I still have to do before my next shift. It’s just like, oh my god, mountains of laundry, dishes, groceries, meal planning, exercising, making sure you don’t drown in the tub or crap the bed… It’s just overwhelming, Sofi. I’m just venting,” I share. Even though Szófia’s like my great, great, great aunt, or whatever, I feel like she’s my sister. I hug her. “It’s fine. Anyway, a sign of Őfelsége is bound to turn up. When we know where she is, then we can watch her while we learn how to kill her or whatever is supposed to happen.” Szófia and I walk through a congregation of spirits. They stand scattered between the trees, naked, with their mouths open as they stare and whisper incoherent sentences. We make our way back to the main trail and head back to the car. It’s almost like we’re chasing our tail. Őfelsége is an 8-foot-tall woman / tree demon. Even if we could spot signs of her, who knows how fast and how far she can move. It’s possible she isn’t even in Michigan.
Szófia and I drive home and it dawns on me. Now that, Őfelsége is gone, I can have people over. I can actually sleep with a man in my bed. I can spend the night wherever I want and I don’t have to carry a little jar around like a weirdo. “Sofi, when you died, you were pretty young, right?” I ask, driving down the dark main road leading into town. The dingy streetlights reflect through my semi-tinted window, bothering my eyes after our excursion in the pitch dark woods.
“Yes. I had just become a woman,” Szófia responds, like a depressed girl scout. She leans against the car window staring out at the blurred buildings, luminous lights and paranoid passersby walking around this late at night.
“Well. Okay. I, uh, think that you are old enough to date and party then. There’s no reason why we can’t have fun and live a little bit while we track Őfelsége, right? I mean, she hunts the souls of the wicked, or something like that. And, neither one of us is wicked. We don’t interact with wicked people that I know of. You being alive and immortal might be something positive. At least, for the time being.” I smile at Szófia. She smiles back, reluctant and crestfallen.
“I don’t know, Petra. I understand how inconvenient it is to have to keep an eye on me. If that will help you and feel fair, then I can’t refuse, but I don’t know what sorcery or power turned my non-corporeal being into a flesh and bone. It might have effects we aren’t prepared to handle,” Szófia says, nervous, but composed. She lets out a sigh of relief when I pull into the driveway. “I am not in a rush to die, but I feel that I’m ready to go. My time came a long time ago, and I don’t belong here. My life has no meaning.”
“I have an idea. Why don’t you volunteer at the hospital I work at?” I ask, feeling like this could be a great opportunity for both of us. “Obviously, there are a few things that we need to work on first, and then we have figure out how to get an ID for you, since you technically don’t exist.” We walk into the house and I start prepping the shower. “The ID should be easy to do though. It’s making sure you can actually stand for a long time and don’t have trouble around people. I think the best way to do that is to go on a double date.”
“With a man?” Szófia asks, annoyed. I get that she probably wants to jump into the fire with Őfelsége, but if I can show her that neither she nor I have lived, maybe we can just let it go. We chitchat as I shower and then dry myself off. Szófia hops in the shower and shuts the door, but even through the water I can hear her crying.
While the shower runs, I boil pasta and simmer marinara sauce with Italian sausage and meatballs in another pot. The aroma fills the kitchen and makes me think of the last date I went on with Brad. As Szófia gets dressed, I text back and forth with Brad and make us plans for next weekend. “Tomorrow, we’re going shopping with Cassie.” We could both use a break after everything that we went through. Besides, Brad’s a seasoned cop. If any bodies turn up, he might say something useful. My phone buzzes and my heart palpitates. “Scratch that, Sofi. We’re not going on a date next week. He just–” My phone buzzes again. I smile. “False alarm. He thought they might not be able to get off work next weekend.” I chuckle, then turn silent. The blood drains from my face when I read Brad’s texts.
“What?” Szófia asks, concerned. “What is it, Petra? You’re really frightening me.” She gives me a gentle shove.
“I think we might have a lead on Őfelsége. The guy I’m talking to, Brad, was just assigned to a homicide investigation. He said they found a body in the woods and it looked like the person was smashed to death with a log.”
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