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“Don’t be afraid!” the ghost said quickly, in a gentle voice, very unlike the violent tone he had used when he had last spoken to Matt.
For a moment Matt didn’t move, not sure whether to speak or run. But before he could decide, the ghost said, “I’m sorry if I frightened you earlier – I should not have been so… abrupt. But if you’ll give me a chance to explain, I think you’ll know why I did. It was a mistake.”
“Who are you?” Matt asked, not sure whether to try to sound cautious or firm, “Why are you here?”
He walked closer to Matt, who again noticed that his footsteps made no sound. But he was as vivid and real as any person, and his speech was clear, though he was now speaking low, almost in a whisper.
“My name is Nams Mourg, but you can just call me Mourg. I have only been here a short time, but I have been watching you.”
Matt’s expression must have betrayed his thoughts, because Mourg said, “Oh, don’t worry. I mean you no harm. In fact, I am a friend. I have only observed you enough to discover whether or not you could be trusted. I am now confident that you can.”
Matt didn’t know whether or not he could believe Mourg, but what was he supposed to believe? After all, he was speaking to a ghost, wasn’t he?
“You are here as… as a ghost, then?”
Mourg lowered his head. “I am a ghost, of sorts, but I am not completely dead, either. I’ll explain that in time, but yes, that is how I’ve been watching you.”
“Did you once live here? Why are you here?”
Mourg shook his head. He stared at Matt for a moment, as if deciding how much to tell him. Instead of speaking immediately, he turned toward the living room.
“Perhaps we should sit. We have a lot to talk about.”
“You are in great danger here,” Mourg said, sitting forward on the couch.
“Danger? What kind of danger.” Matt couldn’t help wondering how a ghost who walked through walls could sit on a chair without falling through. Then again, shouldn’t he fall through floors, too? He wanted to ask, but if ghosts were normally as sociable as this one, there was probably some kind of propriety issue involved with discussing what ghosts could and couldn’t do.
That thought made Matt wonder why ghosts seem to think it was acceptable to just come into people’s houses without invitation. Didn’t they consider it trespassing? But then, where would they go? Certainly ghost culture would be quite different from living human culture.
Mourg stared at him. His face was clear, and as Matt looked in his eyes, he felt an uncomfortable sensation. Mourg looked quickly away. “I hope you will come to trust me,” he said, “I know it must be strange for you to be talking to someone who… well, someone like me. I understand.”
“What kind of danger am I in?”
“I’m sure you’ve never heard of Ions before?” It was half statement, half question, and Mourg waited for a response.
“Only when you mentioned them earlier today.”
“They are pillagers. They are constantly causing havoc and trouble. But worse than that, they are organized and use strange magic to manipulate the world around them. They are evil, and dangerous.”
Matt wondered if these Ions were ordinary people or ghosts. They didn’t sound like a group Matt wanted to meet. “What do you mean? Who are they? Where did they come from?”
“They call themselves Ions, but my people call them marauders. They have a strange, twisted connection with animals, perhaps they are part animal. They are from a distant land – a very distant land. It would take some time to tell you everything, but know that they are both dangerous and powerful.”
“But what are they doing here?”
“I wish I knew for sure, but I can’t help thinking that you have something to do with it.”
“Me?” Matt asked, confused. “What connection would I have with them?”
At that moment there was a knock on the front door, and Mourg rolled back into the couch – IN to the couch. Seeing it made Matt’s stomach turn over, and he hoped this was all some mistake that would clear up soon so he could get back to normal life. Though completely out of site, Mourg’s voice was clear, “Remember, you’re in danger! Do not trust anyone! It could be Ion marauders, or a messenger. Be careful!”
Matt opened the door slowly, ready to press it closed again if necessary. When he recognized Alice from the library, he opened it further, but glanced behind his back. He didn’t want her to see Mourg, so he stepped out and pulled the door closed behind him.
“Hey!” he said, trying not to bump into Alice.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” she said, backing up and nearly stepping off the porch, “I didn’t mean to interrupt anything.”
“What, oh, no, I was just… no, it’s fine. How are you? It’s Alice, right?” He felt silly, though he wasn’t sure why.
She smiled, and nodded. “And you’re Matt. I hope it’s okay I stopped by. I found something I thought you might find interesting.”
“About my Uncle’s books?”
“And Nigel. I guess I could have waited until you returned, but I found something that I couldn’t wait to show you. Do you have Internet access at home?”
“Yeah, what did you – oh, uh, I mean, we had the Internet. It’s not offline, er, online – it’s down.” Why couldn’t he bring himself to tell her about the ghost? Was he just trying to protect her, or was he afraid of sounding stupid in front of her? He had already done that. What if she was an Ion? Mourg didn’t get the chance to tell Matt much about Ions before Alice came. His first time meeting her was this morning. Maybe she had been set there to get information from him, which he had just handed over.
But that didn’t make sense. First off, what would his uncle’s books have to do with Ions? Second, Alice had been at the library when he met her, and no one knew he was headed there. But then there was that whole thing about her acting like she already knew him.
“Oh, that’s okay, I’ll just tell you,” she said, “ I was looking at Google Maps, and I – what’s wrong?”
Matt didn’t look at her. He was staring across the street. Then in a low tone, he said, “Don’t turn around, but there’s someone watching us.”
But he said it too late. She had already turned, and the moment she moved, the figure ducked behind a bush.
“What? I don’t see anyone. Where?”
Because it was now sunset, Matt had only seen a silhouette, though Matt thought it had looked more like a boy than a man.
“Wait here, I’ll be right back.” He looked at her. Her face showed amusement. Did she think he was being silly? Of course she did, but what could he tell her? If he was being watched, followed, or pursued by someone, he didn’t want her in danger too. “It’s probably nothing, but Alice, if anything happens…”
Now her amusement turned to suppressed giggles.
She laughed out loud, “I’m sorry Matt, I couldn’t help it. You’re just acting so dramatic!” She leaned in, and with a playful tone, whispered, “Should I play along? I could act frightened if you want.”
He stared at her blankly. “What? No, I’m serious, Alice, we could be in danger!” If there really was a kid watching them, Matt wanted to be able to recognize him, and identify him. If it was just a neighbor kid, so be it, but if it was an Ion, how would he know it?
He looked at Alice, suddenly wishing she hadn’t come over, but not sure what to do with her now. At least if she saw Mourg, she would realize that Matt wasn’t just being paranoid. “I’ll be right back.”
He moved quickly from his yard into the street, thinking his best chance was to simply startle the kid and get a good look at him. Matt knew if he didn’t hurry, all chance of finding him would be gone. Was he a spy of some kind? Or perhaps a decoy? If so, then he’d better be careful, there could be others waiting. Barely had the thought formulated when a horn blazed and Matt turned in time to see headlights. There was a loud screech, and after a sudden momentary impact, everything went dark.
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