The room was already buzzing with the murmurings of the starched town constable, the sleepy inspector, and the ever-gloomy coroner. Looking around I caught sight of my parents, still in their coats and such, over in the corner. It just about broke my heart to see it: tears slipping down my strong, proud father's face, while my mother, grieving beyond tears, trembled in my father's arms. Once or twice she gave a wail of pure and absolute grief, then buried her face in my father's coat. Sarah, curled up next to my mother, practically howled, and Christopher stood contemplating the cruelty and sadness of it all.
I stood up from the bed, planning on going right up to him, but stopped. It probably wasn't the best idea to try and engage him in conversation amid other company, seeing as that company couldn't see or hear me. I had to distract him, get him to the kitchen perhaps, or even the side garden.
Timidly I picked my way around the edge of the room, trying my best not to go through anyone. Now wasn't the time to learn what would happen to both me and the other person if I did so. I approached the mourning group, hesitated, then tried to tap Christopher on the shoulder. It felt strange: I felt like I'd touched him, but my hand passed through, like touching water. He shivered, looking up slightly from the carpet. He must've caught sight of the hem of my dress, his eyes went wide.
Slowly he started to look up. I panicked a moment. "Christopher," I whispered, even though no one else could hear me. He froze. "Don't do anything out of the ordinary. Just excuse yourself, say you need to go for a walk or something. I need to talk to you."
Christopher, having gone white as a sheet, nodded discreetly. With a cracking voice he murmured something about needing some air, and keeping tight eye contact with the carpet he slipped out of the room, I right at his heels. He went down the stairs as if in a trance, then paused at the foot to look at me expectantly. I bit my lip; if I had issues walking what problems would I have with the stairs? Bravely and cautiously I lifted my foot, positioned it over the stair, and started to lower it. Unfortunately, my skirt was much longer than I remembered, and started to trip on it. I flailed in a fruitless attempt to catch myself, and promptly tumbled down the stairs.
This must be why ghosts' clothing is so tattered. They can't figure out basic locomotion and trip over their clothes constantly.
I opened my eyes to stand up again, and I was absolutely shocked to find it pitch black. Frantically I looked around, noticing the ceiling had gotten much lower and darker-- but then I realized I'd gone through the stairs. This was certainly new. Closing my eyes again, I tried floating up through the stairs again... and hit the stairs with my head. I had to make a few more attempts before sliding through the hard wood and plush carpeting again.
Even in his shock Christopher couldn't help but stifle a laugh. I rolled my eyes, dusted myself off, then drifted through rest of the stairs to his side. It felt weird not having my legs do anything and still get from point A to point B, but I could definitely get used to this whole floating business. I gestured to the door to suggest meandering outside, and nodding, wide-eyed, he obliged. He opened the door, but awkwardly hesitated. Was I going to use the door, or perhaps just float through it?
Shrugging I opted for using the door. Figuring out when I could go through solid objects, and when I couldn't, would take some time to figure out. We strolled down the gentle hill in silence bit-- or rather, I drifted and Christopher staggered along as if in a trance. Finally, when we were a distance from the house we stopped. I turned up my palms and shrugged my shoulders in my typical "Well, here I am" fashion.
Christopher managed to finally find his voice. "P-Penny?" he croaked, tempted to reach out to me. "Is... is that you?"
I nodded. "At least, I think so."
"Wha-? Wh-? Eh?" he sputtered before successfully speaking again. "What happened to you?"
"That's actually what I have to talk to you about. I'm not exactly sure."
"What do you mean you're not sure?"
"I know I was murdered. I saw myself before Sarah found me. But, according to the afterlife book keepers that's not good enough."
"Yep. I need to give them the who, how, and why before I'm properly passed over, or whatever the terminology is."
"Okay." I could tell he was having a hard time swallowing this; most likely not because what I was telling him was potentially earth-shattering, but probably because he thought he was going insane.
"But... what does that have to do with me?" he asked after a moment.
"That's the thing: I need your help."
"Yes." He had that figuring-calculating look on his face, giving the ground an intense sidelong glance. I shook my head; I'm all for intellectual stimulation, but sometimes I think he thought too much. "Listen, Christopher, I don't think there's too much you need to figure out for context. My body's dead, but I'm here, and I'm asking you to help me solve my murder. How it all works, I don't know, and I don't think either of us will any time soon. You're just going to have to trust me on this one."
Of course, he contemplated that for a moment or so. I couldn't resist letting him catch me roll my eyes again.
"Alright," he concluded, "there's absolutely nothing logical about it, but I suppose I just have to go with it."
"My situation exactly. Besides, I was planning on pestering you until you came to that conclusion. You're the only one who can see me right now."
"You're just liking double-syllable responses, aren't you?"
He tilted his head with a smirk. "I try."
"Apparently so," I laughed. "Yes, you are. Because I'm technically not properly passed on into the afterlife yet I have limitations on what I can and can't do. For instance, I can only appear outright to three people whom I choose, you being the first."
"So Sarah can't see you?"
"Neither Sarah, nor my parents. I can appear to them in dreams, mirrors, moving objects and so forth, but I can talk outright only to you. I figured you'd be willing, and able, to help me solve my murder." He thought about it, no surprise to me. "I certainly can't do it on my own, and you're good with figuring things out. Plus, I trust you. You can stick with problems like this, keep a cool head, all those wonderful things."
Christopher took a deep breath. "Alright, I'll do it. I'll help you."
I smiled, and attempted to throw my arms around him in a grateful embrace. I could hug him alright, but unfortunately for both of us he couldn't return it.
"I also need ideas about whom else I should choose to help," I added as we started back up to the house.
Christopher stopped dead in his tracks with another pensive expression. He grinned tentatively, biting his lip. "I think I might know someone," he said slowly.
He kept biting his lip, not wanting to meet my eyes quite yet. "I don't think you're going to like it, though..." He shook his head, then looked to me. "I think you need to pay Peter Henki a visit."