Lady of shadows, keeper of changes, plant the seeds of faith within me, that I might grow and flourish, that I might find my way through danger and uncertainty to the safety of your garden. Let my roots grow strong and my skin grow thick, that I might stand fast against all who would destroy me. Grant to me your favor, grant to me your grace, and when my time is done, grant to me the wisdom to lay my burdens down and rest beside you, one more flower in a sea of blooms, where nothing shall ever trouble me again.
Rose Marshall died when she was sixteen years old and on her way to her high school prom. She hasn’t been resting easy since then—Bobby Cross, the man who killed her, got away clean after running her off the road, and she’s not the kind of girl who can let something like that slide. She’s been looking for a way to stop him since before they put her body in the ground.
But things have changed in the twilight world where the spirits of the restless dead continue their “lives.” The crossroads have been destroyed, and Bobby’s protections are gone. For the first time, it might be possible for Rose to defeat him.
Not alone, though. She’ll need every friend she’s managed to make and every favor she’s managed to add to her account if she wants to stand a chance…and this may be her last chance to be avenged, since what is Bobby Cross without the crossroads?
Everything Rose knows is about to change.
About the Author
You can visit her at www.seananmcguire.com.
Read an Excerpt
Rubber Meets the Road
Fuck Bobby Cross.
"Hey, asshole!" I shout over my shoulder as I run down the side of the highway, only half-present, the coat that had been loaning me flesh and material substance long since fallen away on the side of the road, one more skin to be discarded. I've shrugged off two bodies and more outerwear than a hundred years of New York Fashion Week, and I'm getting tired of it.
Normally, this is when I'd be dropping down into the twilight, the land of the dead nearest to the world of the living, but there are two big things stopping me. One, ever since my honorary niece, Antimony Price, decided to screw around with the crossroads, the twilight has been a little unpredictable. That's putting it nicely. The parts of the twilight that don't see a lot of regular use have been doing their best to recreate one of those fucked-up surrealist horror movies from the 1970s, the ones that replaced my good, dependable giant creature features with acid-trip hallucination sequences and gimmicky serial killers. Not wanting to spend another three days finding my way out of a maze made of mirrors, chainsaws, and disemboweled farm animals is a great incentive for playing haunted house a couple miles more, at least until I get to familiar ground.
The second big thing is a little more ordinary, by my definition of the word: I hate Bobby Cross more than I hate anything else, living or dead, in the entire universe. If I disappear, he'll turn around and go back to the restaurant where he found me, and there are people there I care about. I need him to follow me into the twilight, although even the chainsaw mirror mazes don't deserve to spend any more time with him than absolutely necessary, and once he follows me down, I need him to stay there. If I drop down in hostile territory, he'll just bounce straight back out again.
The third big thing that I don't want to admit as a factor is that as soon as I leave the daylight, he'll know he has me scared.
I'm tired of letting Bobby scare me. I'm tired of letting Bobby chase me. Really, I'm tired of Bobby, full stop.
My name is Rose Marshall. I'm both the first girl who dies in the horror movie and the one who refuses to stay buried once she's dead. I've been sixteen for more than sixty years, and I think I have some pretty good reasons to be pissed.
"Hey, asshole," I repeat, as I stop running and whip around to face the man who's been making a night out of chasing one pretty little dead girl down a stretch of deserted Alabama highway. I'm not winded in the least. One of the perks of being dead. "You know, when I come from, we have a word for creepy old guys who have a weird obsession with teenage girls."
I know he can hear me. That man never drives with the windows up if he can help it, and since he's basically immune to the laws of physics, he can always help it.
But he doesn't slow, and he doesn't swerve, just keeps barreling down the road toward me like I'm the finish line and he's running the Indy 500.
This seems like as good a time as any to get you caught up on the situation, since if we go much farther down this road, we won't have anyplace left to turn around. Yes, road metaphors. You're going to get a lot of them if you hang around here. Road metaphors are sort of where I exist-not where I live, because if the Òsixteen going on seventyÓ line up there didn't tip you off, I don't live anywhere anymore. I havenÕt lived anywhere since 1952, when a man named Bobby Cross decided to run me off the road on the way to my high school prom.
I was just a kid.
I was young and scared and not sure what was happening to me, just that I wanted it to stop; just that I had never done anything to deserve this. I stand by that feeling. I died in 1952, and after all these years of afterliving, I still say that the girl I was didn't deserve what happened to her. She was innocent. She'd never done anything truly wrong in her life. Oh, she'd lied, and she'd stolen little things from her parents and brothers, and she'd cheated on a couple of math tests, but none of those were crimes worth dying for. She should have had the chance to grow up and figure out who she was actually going to be. She should have had a life.
Instead, she got a short, brutal fall from Sparrow Hill Road, and when she woke up, she was me. A dead girl who didn't get to rest in peace, who had to keep on running for her life from a man named Bobby Cross, who thought other people only existed to make things easier for him. Rose Marshall died that night, and the Phantom Prom Date, the Walking Girl, the Angel of the Overpass, and the Girl in the Green Silk Gown all rose from her broken body, ready to carry on, ready to become the person she'd never been given the chance to be.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
This is a story about the dead. A ghost story, if you will, because any story with me at its center is inherently going to be a ghost story: I define my reality by my very presence. If you don't like ghost stories, if you don't like spending time with dead people, if you'd rather pretend life goes on forever and nothing ever goes wrong, you can still put this down and walk away. I'm not going to haunt you just because you don't feel like listening to the ramblings of an octogenarian teenager. There are always better reasons for a haunting.
But if you're still here, here's how it works: when people die with unfinished business weighing them down, sometimes they stick around for a while. Days or centuries, whatever it takes to accomplish what they're hoping to achieve. I've known ghosts who flickered through the twilight and vanished in a single evening, moving on to the next stage of existence as soon as they knew their organs were being donated according to their wishes, or as soon as the other person who'd been in the car with them breathed their last and caught up. I've also known ghosts who lingered for centuries. I'm somewhere in the middle at this point, established enough to be impressive to the new ghosts, new enough to be treated like a child by the old ghosts.
It used to bother me. Then I figured out that most old ghosts are homebodies, more interested in haunting whatever battlefield or descendant has caught their eye, and I'm . . . well . . . not. I'm what's called a road ghost: I died in an automobile accident, I died with no thoughts more prominent in my mind than "get away, get away, get away," and so I became a spirit whose entire existence is tied up in motion. Nothing pins me down. Not for long.
I know, this is a lot, and you're probably more interested in the man who's trying to run me down right now. But time is a funny thing for the dead. We exist permanently in the present tense, not quite clear on what's past or future, and everything I'm telling you now is something you need to understand if you want this story to make sense. I promise we'll get back to asshole Bobby in a second. There's nothing wrong with making a dick wait a little while.
Anyway, there are people who think it's not fair that the circumstances of your death will determine what kind of ghost you become, but I don't honestly see how it's any different than existence among the living. So many of the things about you are decided by who your parents are and where you're born, and if you can change some of your circumstances later, well, you can never change them all. Even if I haunt the twilight for another century, I'll always be the ghost of a poor girl from the bad part of town, a girl whose mother both mourned her and was silently, secretly relieved to have one less mouth to feed.
Life is determined by the way you enter it. So is death.
Road ghosts haunt roads and house ghosts haunt houses and family ghosts haunt families. There are countless forms of haunting, some more common than others. Some ghosts spend a lot of time in the lands of the living, while others are content to stay in the twilight until it's time to move on. For every ghost a living person sees, there are a hundred on the other side of the veil, dead haunting the dead, and most of them are incredibly talented when it comes to getting on my goddamn nerves.
But the twilight isn't just ghosts. The twilight is a kind of skin around our reality, protecting it from the big bad emptiness of eternity, and if it's the natural dwelling place of the dead, it's also a comfortable home for all kinds of other things. The routewitches build their bolt holes in the twilight, scattering them along the length of the Old Atlantic Highway, which time and the alchemy of distance have elevated into something barely shy of divinity-or maybe not shy at all. The Ocean Lady is their patron goddess, and they heed her will above all else, even when what she wants isn't precisely what they wanted to give her.
The world is full of witches and sorcerers and wanderers trying to find their way out of this daylight existence and into the twilight right next door. When physicists talk about the missing pieces of the universe, they're actually talking about the twilight, even if they don't know it. It's the balance to the scales, the shadow that proves the object exists, and without it, everything would fall to pieces. The dead are the immune system of the living. Even if they never see us, we keep them safe, and for the most part, all we ask in return is to be left alone. No exorcisms, please. Let us rest. And if that resting takes the form of hitchhiking to a diner in the middle of nowhere to enjoy a slice of strawberry rhubarb pie, that's our business.
But all that's the twilight. Below the twilight comes the starlight, which is stranger and deeper and harder to explain; it's where nonhuman intelligences tend to go when they die, seeking an afterlife that's a little less accessible to the sort of people who might have tormented them when they were alive. I've met dragons in the starlight, whiling away the happy hours of their afterlives in caverns filled with the memory of gold and the laughter of the hunted who have found themselves finally, mercifully safe. I've seen unicorns. I don't go there very often because it isn't for me, but part of me will always be grateful to know it exists-that somewhere, everyone gets to rest.
Below the starlight is the midnight, which houses those spirits who may never have been alive at all. I don't necessarily understand how that works, and I'm absolutely sure I don't want to: that's not my place, and trying to claim it wouldn't just be colonialist, it would potentially be deadly. The midnight doesn't care for intrusions. When I have to travel there-and I do have to, sometimes, to get to where I'm actually supposed to be-I always do it as quickly and as unobtrusively as I can. It doesn't do to linger. Not when you're so deep that even the memories of stars have burned out, leaving the sky as black as tar and twice as unforgiving.
And through them all, like a cold breeze working its way through the foundations of a manor house, run the ghostroads.
No one built them. They built themselves, coming together an inch at a time as people in the daylight carved roads into the body of the world. Distance is a kind of vitality, and gradually, those roads became living things. They followed the same cycle as everything that lives: they grew, strengthened, flourished, faded, and finally died.
But nothing that's really loved is ever totally forgotten, and when they lost their hold on the daylight, those roads solidified in the deeper levels, connecting all the layers of the afterlife, crisscrossing the twilight like the strands of a spider's web, keeping us tethered to the lands of the living. Every ride on the ghostroads is a katabasis of sorts, a journey from the land of the living to the lands of the dead, because the roads remember what it is to be alive and they know what it is to be dead and they keep us from forgetting where we come from.
I will never forget where I come from.
I know, I know, asshole with a muscle car trying to run me down back in the part of time that probably feels a lot more urgent to you, because you're alive. I'm not. Urgency isn't as big a deal for me, and these are all things you need to know if you want everything else to make sense. So be patient just a little longer, and you'll get to see a fucker get what's coming to him.
I'm originally from Buckley Township, Michigan, which isn't the sort of community that wants to draw attention to itself. Just a little town surrounded by woods, water, and the occasional monster. I could have grown up and old and died there if not for a teenage girl named Mary Dunlavy. She was before my time, but people who knew her said she was sweet, and kind, and gentle, and didn't deserve to disappear like she did, slipping out of sight shortly after her father passed away. He wasn't murdered; Benjamin Dunlavy was tired, and sick, and he died in his sleep. It happens sometimes.
Mary wasn't murdered either. She was just on the wrong road at the wrong time, and she met the business end of a Buick driven by someone who was going too fast and had maybe had a little too much to drink before climbing behind the wheel.
Here's where I got off better than Mary: I know who killed me. She never found out who was driving that car. They hit her and they moved on, off to the rest of their lives, while Mary choked to death on her own blood in the corn out by the Old Parrish Place. She was just a kid. She didn't want to die. She begged the universe not to let her die.