My oldest brother died a couple months back.
Other brother took to drinking,
getting girls on their backs. Now he’s off
carousing and I’m left alone,
chasing ghosts down Sparrow Hill Road.
Second Hand Rose is trouble.
I squinted, trying to read Sal’s cramped handwriting. It used to be easier, I thought, back when I could ask him to make sense of his own mess. I never really did, but I could have, and that was the whole point. Now that he was gone, I second guessed everything I did, everything a month ago I had been so absolutely certain I knew.
I was looking for a ghost with a car, a pretty little dead girl in a coup de ville, drag racing boys straight to their deaths. I had a big old Shadow and a broken heart and maybe a little bit of a death wish myself.
Everyone said my other brother, Gabriel, took it the hardest, losing himself in drinking and fucking, that he’d lost his best friend and didn’t know what to do with himself and all we had to do was give him time.
But giving him time meant I was left holding the ball when it came to hunting ghosts. The only thing keeping me going was the fact that every time I swung my leg over my bike or got behind the wheel, every time I laid a circle and cast a spell and destroyed another killer dead asshole, every time I got a headache doing research, I heard Sal’s voice in the back of my head. I grew up on his stories, first about what our parents did and then the people he saved when he was allowed to join them and, finally, all the things I would do, all the adventures I would have and the big hero I would be when I was old enough.
I was old enough now, old enough to save the world, but I had to do it all alone.
Little Rosie Marshall, she’s daddy’s good little girl.
You stay away from Racing Rosie.
Sal crossed his arms over his chest whenever he gave me a warning like that. He was a big guy, six and a half feet tall and three hundred pounds, all flashing smiles and heavy muscles from fixing cars and fighting bad guys and a gruff voice from too many cigarettes. He'd always been bigger than the other kids his age -- and the kids a few years older. The first memory I had was of Sal swinging me up high so I could touch the piñata at a friend's party. I was two, maybe three, the piñata shaped like a big sun, and when Sal swooped me up, it felt like flying.
Life without him felt like flying, too, the kind of flying that happened after the engines failed and the plane went down, the kind of flying that was really falling instead.
Dad died when Sal was nineteen and I was eleven. Sal was out on a hunting trip with Gabriel, but they came home right quick. Gabriel and I never got along much. He thought I was a little kid and he didn’t really think girls should hunt anyway. Sal called him an idiot and taught me first to defend myself and then to fight, but that didn’t stop them from being best friends.
After Dad died, Sal stuck around a little more, only took jobs closer to home. He and Gabriel split up some then, because Gabriel thought they should be out taking care of business no matter what was going on at home.
But then Mom got hurt and couldn’t go out anymore and I started hunting with my brothers and then Sal died, and now Gabriel decided he’s got better things to do than save the world and I have Sal’s voice in the back of my mind reminding me to be careful and choose my opponents and not pick fights I wasn’t sure I would win.
But Rose Marshall was the only ghost I knew Sal stayed away from. Any time we got wind she might be around, he turned us the other way and got the hell out of town. I asked, but never did get him to admit why he didn’t want to take her on.
So death to sweet little Rosie Marshall, thumbing rides and racing boys to their deaths, became my battle cry. No matter what else I did or didn’t do with this life, no matter how close I followed in Sal’s footsteps, I was going to send sweet little Rosie Marshall to hell or die myself trying.
She didn’t kill Sal, I didn’t think, but I also didn’t know what actually did. Probably I would never know.
That didn’t matter anymore. Nothing did, really. I needed a quest to keep me going, and Rose Marshall killed boys who loved cars, just like Sal had. That was enough for me.
Now she’s a pretty little dead girl in a coup de ville,
And she’s looking for a drag race up on Dead Man’s Hill,
And if you want to live, boy, you’d better drive on by.
Because she doesn’t play by no natural laws --
Sure she’s a pretty little kitty, but this cat’s got claws,
And if you race with Rose, then you’re probably gonna die.
“Pretty Little Dead Girl” by Seanan McGuire
Prom Night, 2003
I took my Shadow up Sidewinder Ravine to Dead Man’s Hill, left my engine rumbling and my helmet on. If she was gonna show, this would be the time and place: Prom Night fifty years after little Rosie Marshal got restless, took her coup de ville out to race Dead Man’s Hill, and lost her life to -- well. That’s debatable. Some say she got clipped and spun off the road. Some say she drove straight across the curve, pretty little girl really too soft to control her car.
Whatever the reason meant less than nothing at all. She was young and dumb and forever dead, and she wanted to take the boys with her, pretty little dead prom dates who never scratched her itch. I slumped on my seat and watched the road, waiting.
Three hours past midnight, I figured it out: Little Rosie Marshall wasn’t gonna show. In Sal's old clothes, sports bra flattening my chest, and my hair hidden beneath my helmet, I might look like my brother, but that wasn't enough to fool a ghost.
I headed out slow, holding back my bike. It rumbled between my legs, shoving forward; she wanted to race as much as I did. I didn’t need much, just salt and chalk and fire, but what I sure as hell did need was a ghost.
The high school was dark, downtown empty. The dance was long over and if the after-parties still burned, I didn’t know where.
I pulled into the first open gas station I saw. I only meant to get gas and hit the road, but there was a little diner attached and the smell of fresh hamburgers leaked around doors and windows. My stomach grumbled.
Once the bike was fed, I parked it right out front and hooked my helmet over one of the handlebars and pulled the key out. Late as it was, there were a handful of diners inside, even one woman at the counter, wearing a leather jacket a couple sizes too big. As I watched, the guy behind the counter brought her a big burger and a frothing milkshake.
That sure as hell looked good. My back ached and my thigh twinged when I swung my leg over the bike. Michigan was much colder than I expected in May. Down south, summer had already set in, but here, it felt just a few days off of snow.
The smell was even better when I walked in the front door, a warm mix of all the scents I loved best in the world, chocolate pie and cheese melting on burgers and fresh salty French fries. I headed for the counter, already figuring out my plan. Quick dinner and then I’d head home for awhile and try to figure out what ghost to hunt next.
Maybe I’d try for little Rosie Marshall again next year. And maybe Sal’s voice wouldn’t linger in my thoughts like a ghost warning me away from all the things I thought I had to do.
Little dead girl races pretty boys down
Dead Man’s Hill. Brother’s gone away and
I’ll never get him back. My heart’s been broken
and I’m getting pretty old. But I’ll end
those deaths on Sparrow Hill Road.
After Sal died, any time I ate, the food went to ash in my mouth, or as good as. Nothing tasted the same and I ate only enough to give myself energy to keep riding, keep hunting, keep stopping dead things.
But the burger set in front of me was big and juicy and delicious. The French fries were crisp and came with creamy cold mayo without me even having to ask. My chest got tight when I took my first bite of chocolate pie, the flavor exploded so good across my tongue.
I ate until I was full, my stomach pressed tight against my jeans. I wiped my mouth with the cloth napkin, way softer than it looked, and let out a long sigh.
The girl in that too big leather jacket slurped the last of her shake. Her blonde hair glistened beneath the overhead lights. She was too young to be out this late, too naive to know what lurked in the darkness. I had never been like her, young and safe in the world. She caught me watching, and her mouth turned up into a sad little smile.
“Ride safe,” she said. I’d heard that from Sal a million times or more, and hearing her say it like it was something easy to say, something you gave strangers, made me want to cry.
I nodded a little, meaningless, left a crumpled twenty on the counter, and walked out into chilly air and a cold mist that stung my skin. I blinked hard and shoved my helmet on to hide my face.
Maybe it was time to go home and see Mom.
But little Rosie loved her car --
Used to fly through the night like a shooting star.
“Pretty Little Dead Girl” by Seanan McGuire
The mist turned to rain and the road got slick. I slowed but didn’t stop, and ignored the cold water that worked its way down the back of my neck. I was on my way home, and I was excited about it for the first time since Sal died.
I waited for the sky to clear when I left Michigan and Rose Marshall’s domain, but the gray clouds lingered. The road was empty, just the occasional eighteen wheeler running north. My headlight lit the slick road and deeper spots of water shone like diamonds, like stars fallen to the ground.
A car raced up behind me, engine rumbling. Though the road stretched behind me, straight and true, I hadn’t seen the lights in my mirrors until it was on top of me, sleek chrome and steam rising up from behind me like a dragon. The air tasted bitter and hot on my tongue, even though it’s so cold still my skin burned.
It’s the kind of car Sal would have loved, I thought. As if I conjured him, I saw a man by the side of the road, big and broad and reaching for me. Then the lights behind me flashed brighter still and the car was on top of me, red-hot engine slamming good old Detroit steel and chrome into my bike and I never had another living thought again.
SPOKEN (Rosette #3):
If that ghost talked to women, I’d tell her a thing or two. With a shotgun.
If you beat her in a race, well, she’ll give you her pink slip,
But if she beats you to the curve, then you’re in for a long trip,
‘Cause she's looking for a boyfriend who can dance the whole night through.
"Pretty Little Dead Girl" by Seanan McGuire
Sal stood on the side of the road, staring at something I couldn't really see. I smoothed my hands down the square-cut leather jacket I inherited from Sal back before he died, squared my shoulders, and walked closer, trying to see past his bulk.
My bike rumbled just behind him, beautiful and whole, though if I looked at her straight on, she sparked and faded. Sal didn’t look at me when I stopped next to him, but he sighed deep.
“Rosie Marshall only races boys.” He shifted his weight, balancing himself a little better over his spread feet.
My brother was dead and gone, but you wouldn’t have known it from the sound of his voice. “Did you race her?” I asked, not really expecting an answer. I dreamed of him sometimes, standing on the side of the road, watching cars die, and he never told me anything new.
Except tonight. “She tried to warn you.” His voice was heavy, the weight of the world on a dead man. “You could have listened.”
Something rumbled in the distance, the sound of a big car turning back. My bike roared in response and I spun to face her; she was solid and sturdy, fire from her pipes and hot metal steaming in the air. Whatever this was, it was time to go, and my girl and I both knew it.
“Hey little sister.” I glanced up and found Sal looking at me at last. “Wanna give me a ride?”