A poltergeist is a mass of energy generally thought to be responsible for physical disturbances. A regular old ghost can be a collection of memories, doomed to act out a specific scene at a specific point in time, or it can be a malevolent spirit, bringing harm to whomever it haunts. It can even be your friendly neighborhood busybody, bringing gossip and telling everybody’s business. I wasn’t sure what the specter that rose in front of me was, and I was hoping I didn’t have to find out.
She was dressed like a Soul Train reject from 1976. Her clothes were loud, her breath was foul, and her language was worse than both. Her afro was lopsided, and whatever killed her must have died with her and continued to haunt her. She was tacky, terrible, and barely tolerable. I don’t know what we woke up, but she needed to go back to sleep.
“Hoo, chile! ‘Bout time somebody got me up outta that book. You don’t even wanna know what be goin’ on up in there.” She took a swig of something covered in a crumpled brown paper bag, manifested from I-don’t-even-know-where, and squinted down at us. “Hmph,” she grunted and sucked her teeth as she swiped the back of her hand across her lips. She walked down the air like it had invisible stairs in it, strutting and leaning to the side. Her cracked, brown leather, platform sole boots thunked to a stop in front of Kenzie. “You the one called me?”
Kenzie snorted. “Heck no!” Ze jerked hir head in my direction. “Try her. She’s the Boss Lady Person who cut me.” The kid looked down at hir injured hand again, and muttered, “Selfish ass. Didn’t even ask first or nuthin’.”
The ghost took another swig from her bag-covered bottle, then belched in Kenzie’s face. “Nope. It was you. Your blood, your call. Hang on, hang on, got some…” She rummaged around in her shirt, then pulled out a creased and stained scrap of paper. “Here we go. Ahem.” She cleared her throat, then read slowly. “Your blood has called to mine, to thine side I seek to…shine?” She paused, then chortled. “Who the hell wrote this piece of sh─”
“Thank you,” I interrupted our guest, “for coming. Now,” I said, clapping my hands together, “how do I get rid of you?”
“Only the blood summoner can banish my happy a─”
“Alrighty, then,” I said, cutting off another profanity laden tirade. “I cut the kid, but since it was the kid’s blood that woke you up, the kid has to do the spell. Gotcha. Thanks for your assistance. Kenzie, come here.”
“Nuh uh! I ain’t comin’ nowhere near you, Mister Lady.” Ze scrunched up hir face and gave the ghost the once over. “‘Sides, can’t be too bad to have my own personal spirit around. You got a name?”
“Jelly Bean,” the ghost answered swiftly.
“Jelly…Bean?” I pronounced carefully, fighting to keep a straight face.
The ghost stomped a foot and shook the floor. “You got a problem with my name? You makin’ fun of my mama? You wanna go?” Her bottle vanished, and she raised her fists in the air like a prizefighter. “Come git some, you uppity bit─”
“Whoa!” I lifted my hands in surrender, forgetting the letter opener still tucked in my fist. “Look, all I want is─”
“Oh, now you wanna threaten me?” Jelly Bean threw out, rolling her eyes and neck. “Gonna make me take my earrings off.”
Mentally, I slapped my hand upside my own head. How in the world did I get myself into these situations? I pressed my lips together to stifle the curse that almost slipped out. Inside of these walls, only Atlantia knew what kind of damage it could do, and I was not willing to take any chances. I glanced at the occupants of the room and cringed. Any more chances, I amended silently. I, being my mother’s daughter, stepped up to nip this new catastrophe in the bud─
“Spirit! I command you, yield to my voice!”
─and got royally smacked down for my efforts.
“Who the hell is you s’posed to be? Look at you, all high and mighty, actin’ like you summoned a sista.” Jelly Bean looked at Kenzie at gestured─quite rudely─to me. “You see this?”
I threw my hands up in exasperation. “I give up. I give up!” I yelled toward the back of the room, toward the doorway to led to Atlantia’s bedroom. “Do you hear me? I give up. You win, Mother!” A rush of cold air swirled around me, and I swore I heard my mother laugh. I slumped to the floor and cradled my head in my hands, nicking my cheek in the process. I froze when I felt the pain and something wet on my face. Sliding my fingers across my face, I touched the moisture, coated my index and middle fingers with it, and brought them around to my eyes to see. I nearly fainted when it dawned on me what was happening.
“I’m…bleeding?” I blinked. “I’m dead. Dead people don’t bleed!” Sami’s words came back to me then, and I whirled to face her. “I’m…flesh?” She dipped her head once, in acknowledgement and agreement.
“There’s sumthin’ strangely familiar ‘bout you,” Jelly Bean bellowed into my ear. I fell over trying to scramble away, annoyed and perturbed that she’d gotten that close to me without my notice.
“Were you a ninja when you were alive, or is this silent, creepy skill something new?” I asked her. She ignored me, and floated back to Kenzie’s side.
“I always wanted me a lil’ girl,” she murmured over Kenzie’s bowed head. “Had me a boy, though. His daddy took ‘em, named ‘em sumthin’ fancy and Biblical-like. Jacob, but not really.”
Kenzie stilled. “Yakov?”
Jelly Bean nodded. “Mmhmm. Sounds ‘bout right. Wonder what happened to him sometimes. Git a lotta time to think, all locked up in the dark like that.”
“That’s not possible,” Kenzie hissed to hirself. “It’s just a coincidence.”
“You say sumthin’, sugah boo?” Jelly Bean asked the kid. She patted herself on her ample chest. “Come, tell mama.” But Kenzie was slowly backing away, moaning softly and biting hir lip. Jelly Bean threw me an accusing look. “What you done did to the baby?”
My mouth dropped open, and I pointed at myself with a shaking, blood-smeared fingertip. “I didn’t─”
“What is this unearthly racket going on in my house?” my mother’s harsh, disembodied voice sliced through the rapidly growing chaos. A shimmer appeared just above me. It was a See-Through Spell, a spell that opened a window and allowed the user to peek into places from far away. “Kiera, why are you on the floor? And just who has been bleeding on my carpet?”
Jelly bean’s head snapped up and squinted at window. She staggered backward in surprise, then squealed. “LANTA?!”
“Jelly, girl, is that you?” My mother actually sounded…happy. Okay, it was official. I was dead. I was dead, and in some alternate universe where Hell was my mother’s smiling face.
“This can’t be real,” Kenzie remarked flatly. “There’s just no way.”
I didn’t see Atlantia, but I felt her shock, resignation, and poorly disguised despair. “I suppose it’s time I did explain a few things to you all.”
“Damn skippy,” I snorted.
“Kensington, child, come here. Meet Jelia Bean, your grandmother, and my blood-bonded sister.”
“That certainly explains a lot.” My head rang with Book’s laughter, but I found absolutely nothing funny. Not. One. Thing.