A Short Halloween Ghost Story (plus a bonus sneak preview of A Question of Fire)
Trace Handley hates social events of any kind, but she has reluctantly agreed to go to a Halloween party to deliver an important message. Before she can accomplish the mission, though, she has to identify the intended recipient despite costumes, her own shyness, and the dubious assistance of the source of the instruction, a ghost who wants her to get a message to the man accused of murdering him.
"Darling, what a clever outfit."
The speaker, who guarded the entrance to the party area, wore an expansive, red-velvet medieval gown. Her gigantic cone hat wobbled and threatened to topple over as she ran a dubious glance over Trace's costume, a hooded brown cloak with a mask that left nothing visible of her face but the eyes, outlined in glowing orange.
The woman mustered a smile that probably wasn't any more forced than the several hundred others she'd already conjured that evening. She studied Trace's invitation with almost insulting care before she touched Trace's arm and invited her to join the festivities. "Do come in and enjoy yourself."
Trace nodded, although enjoyment wasn't high on her agenda for the evening. She moved to the side of the room where she could scan the other guests. Her ghostly companion perched on a table beside her and crossed his legs.
'Darling, what a clever outfit,' the ghost mimicked. "Clever? I'll bet she hasn't seen Star Wars even once. Wouldn't know a Jawa if it bit her on the leg."
"I wonder what she made of him, then." Trace nodded toward a tall, well-built man in a Boba Fett suit and helmet. He was talking with an overweight Robin Hood.
"The knight in rusty armor's got a funny nose?" the ghost suggested, while checking out the room himself. In a ballroom crowded with a couple of hundred people that took a while. "Oh, oh, look over there," the ghost said. "That Little Red Riding Hood will have every big bad wolf in the place running for cover. Whoa, and check it out: Mr. Mayor and wife as Dorothy and the Tin Man. Watch out for flying monkey business."
"Enough," Trace said. The combined aromas of food, drinks and too many different, expensive fragrances rolled over her and made her dizzy. "Just point me toward this guy you want me to find and let's get this over with."
"Give me a break," the ghost pleaded. "I haven't been out in company for a while. Can't I enjoy myself a little?"
"You can enjoy yourself all you want—after we've delivered your message. You were the one said we wouldn't have much time, that he'd leave before the midnight unmasking. It's after ten now. So point this guy, Jeff, out to me."
"Can't do. And, hey, I'm not the one who made us late, the one that kept vacillating about coming."
"What do you mean, 'can't do?' You said we'd come here and find him, deliver the message and leave. I thought I made it clear how I feel about affairs like this."
"Something about shoveling out the barn with a tablespoon, as I recall," the ghost muttered. "Party pooper."
"Only when I get blackmailed into attending. Why can't you find him?"
The ghost slid out of the way of a woman preparing to set her drink down on the table. "A bit more observation, darling. Halloween party—costumes, masks..."