“There are many kinds of ghosts,” Jessamine said, “but they tend to fall into three categories. You have mostly known ghosts like me, who are kind and beautiful and have wonderful personalities.”
Lucie almost snorted, but luckily Jessamine didn’t seem to notice. They were in the courtyard of the Institute, where Lucie was playing, and avoiding her family. Woolsey Scott was coming over for tea, and they were busy straightening up and putting away the silver — like all werewolves, he was allergic. Lucie didn’t mind Woolsey Scott, except that like most of the adults who visited the Institute he was tremendously boring, and also when he looked at her she felt that he was judging her for her untidiness and her ink-stained fingers. She had snuck off to play in the garden, and when nobody had come to fetch her, she decided she was safe.
Perhaps they assumed the coming rain would drive her back inside. The sky was thick with leaden clouds, and while the rain held off for now, the air contained that particular scent that meant it was inevitable.
She had made up a game to go with a story she had been composing recently. It was about a well-brought up young girl who was forced to become a pirate queen to save her kidnapped parents, and discovered she had quite a knack for it. She ran around the garden, weaving between bushes, imagining the she was a pirate queen whose sailors had whipped up a mutiny. The key was to look deeply distressed, extremely tragic, then spin around fast, stabbing out with the stick she was using as a sword.
She had stopped to decide whether the pirate queen should sport a silver mask or a black one when Jessamine, the Institute’s resident ghost, came floating down from an upper window like a torn page falling in a breeze. Lucie had known Jessamine her whole life, and understood that Jessamine had been friends with her parents when she was alive, though none of them had ever told her the full story. Lucie thought of Jessamine mostly as part of the furniture, a drifting presence that seemed content to wander through the halls of the Institute and occasionally criticize the place’s new modern décor and Lucie’s father’s choice of clothes.
“Hullo, Jessamine,” Lucie said now. She was disappointed; she had been enjoying her game. She hoped she would remember all the details of the pirate queen and the mutiny so she could write them down when she was back inside.
“Lucie,” Jessamine said, “I think it is time to speak with you about ghosts.”
“Now?” said Lucie in dismay.
Jessamine looked up at the sky. “It is the right weather for ghosts,” she said. “Now, listen.
“Some ghosts stay among the living because unfinished business holds them here. Some stay to protect those they love. And some stay because of hatred, malice, bitterness.” She ruffled Lucie’s hair; it felt like being brushed by a breeze. “You must learn to ignore that kind of ghost. Turn away from them. They feed off your fear. Without your fear they can do nothing to you.”
“I’ll remember,” Lucie murmured.
Jessamine cocked her head at Lucie. “Mind that you do,” she said, and vanished as suddenly as she’d appeared.
Lucie assumed that Jessamine had become a ghost in order to protect those she loved, but she was very strange regardless. A little more doubtful, she returned to her game. In the distance was a noise that might have been thunder or might have just been the bustle of London.
Her game took her out of the Institute’s courtyard and down the road a bit. The street was almost empty, but at one point Lucie whirled around to confront the boatswain who had pretended loyalty to her, while actually working for the mutinous first mate, and almost stabbed an actual person. She gasped, and took a step back. “I’m so sorry!” she cried. “I didn’t know you were there.”
The woman who stood before her wore a dark gray Victorian dress that gave her the look of an old-fashioned schoolteacher. In her gloved hand was a battered black valise. Her face was thin and pale and peaked, her hair straggling.
Lucie waited awkwardly, uncertain what to say. She should have remained on the Institute’s grounds, where glamour would have ensured no unexpected encounters with mundane humans. The woman considered her, and Lucie wondered if perhaps she wasn’t a mundane after all. But she had no runes, so she wasn’t a Shadowhunter. Could she be a Downworlder? She showed no outward signs of being a faerie or warlock or werewolf, and though she was pale, she was out in daylight, so she couldn’t be a vampire.
“I must ask something of you, little girl.” The woman’s voice was rough, as though she hadn’t spoken in a long time. “Are your parents looking for a governess? I am an excellent governess.”
She held out a paper—her credentials, perhaps, but Lucie’s attention was arrested by the woman’s hand.
It was no longer gloved. Now it was skeletal, the bone white as snow. Dark red blood was dripping from the ends of her fingers, soaking into the paper.
Lucie took a step back, breath catching in her throat. “You’re a ghost,” she said, almost without meaning to. But a ghost had never walked up to her on the street like this, certainly not one with skeletal hands. She looked back up at the ghost’s face. It was gaunt, slightly distorted, and it frightened her. “You can’t trick me,” Lucie said, trying to sound brave. “I can see you for what you are.”
“What a clever little girl,” The ghost’s raspy voice took on an unpleasant tone. “I don’t like clever little girls. I used to look after six of them. They played tricks on me and taunted me. One night I went up to their room and stabbed them, one at a time, all through their clever little hearts.”
Lucie’s blood ran cold. The ghost reached out, as if it were going to touch Lucie’s own heart, and she turned and ran full tilt in the direction of her home. She remembered what Jessamine had said, but how could she not be afraid? She could feel the presence of the ghost behind her, a prickling at the back of her neck. Lucie had just reached the gate when she stumbled over a loose stone and fell, scraping her knee on the path.
The ghost glided forward, reaching as though to help her up. “You could be my new pupil….”
Lucie scrambled away. “Stop! Get back!”
To her surprise, the ghost sprang away, looking startled. Perhaps little girls didn’t ordinarily yell at it. Lucie was about to scream for help, but help had already arrived.
Jessamine descended from the sky and stood between Lucie and the woman. But this was Jessamine as Lucie had never seen her: an avenging angel, looming above both Lucie and the ghost-woman, icy fury on her face. Lucie gasped in shock as Jessamine raised her hands, as if she were about to perform some terrifying incantation.
“No,” the ghost-woman moaned, her mouth yawning open horribly, showing a cavern of blackness. “I did not know this one was guarded. I did not know….”
“You will flee from here,” Jessamine commanded, and even her voice was different, deep and wild, like the crashing of waves. “You will leave this place, foul spirit!”
The ghost cowered for a moment, then vanished into nothingness.
Lucie lay on the garden path, staring up at Jessamine, who had shrunk down to her usual size. “Stop gaping, Lucie, it’ll give you wrinkles. Come on, up with you.” She had returned to her normal mien, pretty and dignified and distant.
“Thank you,” said Lucie faintly.
“Mind how you go,” Jessamine said sternly. “And heed what I’ve told you. There is more than one kind of ghost.” And she drifted up again and vanished.
The lesson stayed with Lucie for a long time. She never blamed Jessamine for not knowing there was a fourth kind of spirit. Even if Jessamine had known, she could not have prepared Lucie for the fact that meeting him would change her life forever.