To say Charlotte was haunting the halls of the Capitol would have drawn a giggle from her most days. Today it felt a little different. Raising the spirits of the dead of Federal City had filled her with joy, with horror, with adamant determination, with wonder … and now, while the crowds (mostly) outside celebrated, she was happy to have the chance to soak in the silence of these ancient halls.
The cobbled clomping of boots caught her attention. Someone disturbing the quiet, a soldier-guard (the distinction here seemed poorly made) moving with purpose. The garb of the troops here was dreadfully informal, but it was a hard land, and Charlotte knew better than her companions precisely how hard.
The guard stopped by a door down the corridor, his firearm drawn. Charlotte drifted down the hall, intrigued. He put his hand to the knob, softly turned it, then rushed in.
She felt the shadows around her, ready to move once she heard a shout, or a gunshot, or a tiny incremental increase in death in the proximate world.
Then the guard backed out of the room, on tip-toe, quietly closing the door behind him, muttering. “Silly slitch,” Charlotte caught, and “… disturbing the Son of Quill.”
Jason was in there? She waited until the guard stomped off, shaking his head. Then she slipped through the paneled door …
It wasn’t an important room – an antechamber for an office perhaps, rotting boxes of important papers stacked here and there, a scattering of furniture, double-doors beyond.
Looking at him, slumped in a large, comfortable, cracked leather chair, head lolled back, ratchet-choking sounds emanating from his throat, a line of drool draining down his cheek – she could only assume he had ducked in here to find some quiet when exhaustion overcame him.
She floated there, watching him with a silence only she could summon. She’d been so angry at him earlier – So, so male_, proud and analytical and obstinate and single-minded_ – ignoring what she’d said, what she’d observed, what she’d suggested. All because he’d been obsessed with that Alycia girl. He hadn’t needed Charlotte, clearly, so she’d left him when the battle over the city had forced Numina and that very interesting Rusty fellow to call for help.
She couldn’t keep a satisfied smile from her shadowed face. That had been a bold move she’d taken, and a triumph in fending off the Family forces.
Jason had been forced to a bold move of his own as well, defeating the dastard threatening the city defense, Achilles Chin, and at the same time taking a degree of vengeance upon his own father for the shabby way he’d been treated.
Such took a toll on a person, and Jason in particular had an odd frailty, a sickness unto death that she didn’t quite follow in the technological particulars, but which she knew was slowly consuming him.
Floating there, looking at Jason, she could sense that odor of mortality about him, stronger than before. She was glad that, at least for these few moments, he could rest away from the trials of the waking world.
The doorknob clicked behind her, and Charlotte faded into the shadows of the room.
A young lady, red of hair, slipped in, closing the door behind her, a broad predatory smile on her comely face.
The nerve! Even with the morals of this decadent age (and this decadent place), such behavior was unseemly – made worse by its clear focus on her comrade-in-arms who, despite his continued twitterpation over affairs of the heart, was not the sort she believed would welcome such unsought favors as this young lady (to use the term loosely, appropriate enough) seemed set on offering.
And, as well, he was asleep.
She considered for a brief moment directly confronting the interloper. To give this hotspur a tongue-lashing, or draw upon her uncanny mien to teach the minx a lesson.
Though that would, of course, reveal that Charlotte, too, had intruded into Jason’s resting place – though for only the most innocent of reasons, and surely of all people a ghost ought not be concerned about her reputation, the sentiment “I could just die” having been rendered moot.
Still, perhaps there was an easier – and more discreet – method.
The young woman had stopped, was watching Jason with a bit of apprehension, perhaps screwing her courage to the sticking place. That would be tested, Charlotte mused, smiling. The intruder undid the top button of her blouse, hesitated, then unbuttoned the next, and began walking across the room toward the sleeping Jason.
With each step, the air about her grew colder.
The woman stopped, shivered, looked around. There was a window, but it was closed and the glazing intact, nor was it that cold outside. She took another step, and Charlotte drained even more heat from around her – or, more properly (but less romantically) mentally stimulated the brain to feel that chill of the grave that all mortals fear.
The woman shivered, stepped back – and visibly felt better with each step.
She shook her head with a quick, vigorous motion, eyes darting around to spot where such an odd draft might be coming from. Then she bit her lip, and began prowling around the perimeter of the room, still eyeing the recumbent Jason.
Charlotte applied the pressure once more, slowly, with subtlety. No monstrous visage, or outright blast of horror was needful for this.
The woman paused, then continued to step forward, each movement slow, almost pained, but with a fierce determination on her face.
Well, perhaps something a little extra was needed, Charlotte thought.
The intruder suddenly stopped, eyes wide, looking about, as the barely audible whispers began. Again, it was simply a fine tuning of the fear Charlotte knew she could instill in others, plucking on a D string instead of an E.
The coquette had gumption, that was certain. She managed to get within seven feet of Jason, trembling and wild-eyed but still advancing, before Charlotte whispered in her ear –
The power, as the people of the modern day called it, of suggestion broke the young woman. To her credit, she didn’t utter more than a squeak of panic, but did dash out of the room at high speed.
Charlotte signed, smiling. Not quite on par with the afternoon’s performance, but still something to be satisfied with. Being a ghost could be, under the proper circumstances, quite enjoyable.
She gave Jason one more look, shook her head with a smile. Then she followed the young woman, closing the door softly behind her.
author: *** Dave H.