“You can run but you can’t hide,” said the Ghost in his most villainous, tunnel echo voice.
Maria was screaming at the top of her voice.
“Help me, somebody, please...! Help me...!”
“There’s no reason to scream though... nobody will hear you ... I’ve made everybody deaf to your screaming...” the Ghost laughed.
“HELP ME ... SOMEBODY ...!” Maria wailed!
“O, don’t be silly,” the Ghost yawned, his ethereal breath momentarily catching the on-earth dimension and appearing in the form of white vapor.
Maria suddenly stopped and opened her eyes.
“What do you want?” she inquired in a calm voice that surprised even the Ghost, now perched on the large table in the middle of the room, his booted legs crossed, his feathered hat worn at a rakish angle.
“I want nothing from you,” the Ghost said, still smiling at this sudden change of tone, “I just want you to move off the bed so that I can get to the trap door underneath it.”
Maria looked up incredulously.
“But you are a ghost,” she said, breathing normally “and ghosts can go through anything, they don’t need humans or walls to move, isn’t it so?”
“Well,” said the Ghost, a naughty smile painted on his whitish face, “we keep this to ourselves, but this is only partially true, we don’t publicize the facts, you see ... you understand, we have a reputation to protect... but when a human possesses the Aura, we can’t get past them, it is almost impossible...”
“The ‘Aura’?” Maria looked up again, puzzled.
“Yes, the Aura,” the Ghost said, coughing and covering his mouth with his gloved hand “... the halo humans cannot see but ghosts perceive when they run into your kind; the halo tells us who will be part of the Fraternity when they die -- who will be a Ghost!”
“That’s cool,” Maria said, her face returning to almost normal color. “How’s my halo? Bright? Nice?”
“Your halo is bright...’ the Ghost replied, swiftly bringing his other hand out from under his cape armed with a sharp Venetian stiletto “... because you’re about to die and come with ME ...!!”
[In the morning, servants found just an empty bed in Maria’s chambers. No sign of struggle, no sign of blood. But Maria had vanished.
The Duke mourned and mourned and declared a handsome ransom to anyone who would come to his gate with clues as to what had happened to Maria.
The gold remained unclaimed for years ... until one cold and blustery day in December when the Stranger appeared at the gate, wearing his feathered hat at a rakish angle].