"He'll kill her. Please, can't you help me?" The woman tried to tug on the doctor's white-coated arm, but her hands passed through him as if he were as insubstantial as air. She stared at him and then backed away, turning to the nurse.
"Why won't you listen to me?" she begged. "You have to find her."
Rose wrinkled her nose. She shouldn't have stopped in the emergency room. The noise and chaos had drawn her in, but she liked visiting the hospital to see the babies, not the people in pain.
And this poor woman seemed to be in agony. She hadn't even realized yet that she was dead.
Sirens in the distance grew louder. Another ambulance was arriving. Nearby voices sounded increasingly urgent, but the sounds didn't drown out the words of the begging woman. "I told her to run. I told her not to say a word. You have to look for her. Please, please, please listen to me."
Rose stepped forward, her feet moving as if disconnected from her brain. Her brain was telling her to leave, to go upstairs where she could coo over the little ones in peace.
"They can't hear you," she said instead.
The woman spun again, staring at Rose. She wasn't old, but her eyes held the weary look of one of life's punching bags and tired lines dragged down her mouth.
"He calls her the spawn of Satan," the woman said, her hands clenched into fists. "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live."
"He sounds like a jerk," Rose answered matter-of-factly. A man in green scrubs rushed through her and she stepped closer to the woman, moving out of the doorway and into the room where the medical staff labored over the woman's body.
The woman choked out a surprised laugh. "Can you save her?" she asked, her frantic voice calming.
Rose opened her mouth to answer honestly. She was a ghost herself. As the woman would surely soon discover, ghosts were practically helpless in the world of matter. Nothing either of them could do would make a difference to anyone still living. "Yes," she heard herself saying. "Yes, I can."
"Oh, bless you." The woman's shoulders sagged in relief. "Thank you so much, thank you—I can't tell you—it means so much—I'm so grateful." Tears shone in her eyes, but didn't spill over.
Oh, dear, Rose thought, feeling a tug in the center of her chest. What had she done?
Much later, tromping her way through Ocala National Forest, Rose tried to be philosophical about the whole thing. The tug felt sort of like needing to pee. Not that she'd had to use a bathroom any time in the past several decades, but she remembered the sensation. First, a subtle message, a gentle push that said perhaps it was time to get up and go somewhere. Then a more insistent awareness. Now a sense of pressure that was impossible to ignore.
She would have stayed far away from that emergency room if she'd had any idea what she was getting into. It was the holiday season and for the first time since her death, she wasn't trapped in the house where she'd died. She'd had plans. She wanted to be visiting her childhood church and listening to carols, wandering around town and admiring the decorations, dropping in on friends, ghostly and otherwise—not trudging through the woods.
If only that ghost had stuck around long enough to answer Rose's questions. But she'd faded away in the midst of showering Rose in profuse thanks. All she'd left behind was Rose's increasing sense of urgency, a pull that was tugging her farther and farther into the middle of nowhere.
And then it stopped.
Rose stopped, too. She looked around her. Dappled light drifted down through trees draped in gray, wispy Spanish moss. The dense forest might have felt primeval to a stranger, but Rose had grown up in the days when visiting the cool springs made summer bearable. It felt as much like home to her as her own backyard. But what was she doing here?
The brush next to her stirred and Rose stepped quickly away. Black bear? Coyote? A moment of panic faded as she remembered that she had nothing to fear from wildlife. Besides, the brown shape crawling out from the undergrowth didn't look like any wildlife she'd ever seen.
"Oh, my," Rose murmured. She took another step back and then a step closer. "Oh, dear."
The girl lifted a dirty, tear-streaked face. The pinched look of her face and the shadows under her eyes made Rose think she hadn't eaten in far too long, but the determined set of her chin said that she wasn't giving up. She wobbled as she pulled herself to her feet, staring directly at Rose, her eyes wide.
"Good morning," Rose said brightly. "I'm here to rescue you."
The little girl didn't answer. She blinked a couple of times, but her expression didn't change.
"Sadly, I don't know how," Rose admitted, opening her hands. Even as she said the words, though, the tug started again, pointing Rose deeper into the forest.
Rose touched her chest, feeling the softness of her pink sweater under her fingers. She wouldn't have thought that was the right direction to go at all. But the pull didn't feel like a sensation she wanted to ignore.
"All right," Rose said. "Off we go then."
She smiled at the girl and the girl stepped in her direction, her face awed, lips parted, eyes alight with wonder.
They were off to a good start, Rose thought with satisfaction.