Jaina got in the habit of leaving the radio on. In the kitchen. In the living room. At night in her bedroom. She tried static. She tried various FM and AM stations. But the noise and music and talk and commercials always flowed as they should--without interruption or interference.
By the third day, she was worried. Worried that Sylvanas had faded more than she'd thought, and that she didn't have enough energy to manipulate anymore.
But no, Jaina would know. She would feel it. She wasn't sure how, but she would. She was so sure.
And there was definitely still some sort of presence in the house, even if it felt like it was just listening and watching, rather than wailing and fighting. Sylvanas wasn’t trying to scare her anymore, but Jaina wasn’t sure if that was because she had given up on it, or for some other possibilities she refused to entertain.
Instead, she struggled with the why of it. Why this woman and her story--what precious little Jaina knew of it--compelled her so. Why she wanted to hear her speak. Why she wanted so badly to see her again.
Jaina decided to blame it on an old part of herself she thought she’d been rid of long ago. A young, bleeding heart of a witch, who thought that there were different ways to prove herself other than how much power she could hold within her. That magic was not the end goal, but the service it allowed her to provide. A fool. A fool who would believe just what she’d been told, rather than seeking out the answers on her own.
And Jaina hated her for coming back into her life again. So she took it out on herself by sanding down the nasty, flaking paint of the kitchen cabinets. By sweating and grunting through it, even if it would hardly tire her. She focused on painting them with a smooth new coat of white. Sleek was in, after all, and it looked better with the butcher block.
Home renovation was swiftly becoming a hobby. A hobby that was getting out of control, as with all things Jaina did. Control had never been one of her strong points.
Jaina was hanging the cabinet doors back up in the evening, caution to the wind. No salt circles. No heightened awareness. The front door open to the cool air outside. Even her hat was a thing forgotten, laid on the kitchen counter. Her braided hair, normally hidden beneath it, threatened escape from its confines with wisps and flyaways, flickering silver and streaks of gold. There was no need for caution. Not here. Not now. Not when Sylvanas seemed to have given up.
But there was no satisfaction in that. Jaina was used to conquering her foes and immediately reaping the benefits. She wasn’t sure how to feel now, as this latest one sulked, dejected, in the shadowed corners of this house that were beyond even her perception.
So Jaina took to being satisfied with the cabinets instead. With the door being hung straight and level. With the smooth white paint and how the painter’s tape pulled off the glass fronts, revealing neat corners and lines. Perhaps this was a better way to settle her eternal restlessness, rather than waiting with a book for things to happen.
As she stood back, admiring the last cabinet with her hands on her hips, the radio played on. As it had been for the last three days. Since she started taking this kitchen apart. Jaina had found a few local stations that were tolerable, or at least not filled with fire and brimstone preachers. The one she had tuned in now played oldies, though upon first listening to it, the very idea of an oldies station made Jaina frown. Things moved so fast these days. There was a time once, where she’d danced to some of these songs in Dalaran. When the world below wasn’t aware that their songs and their trends were starting to be consumed by a magical city they had no understanding of, but one that was starting to drop its hesitancy toward adopting their technology.
But that was long, long time ago. At least, for a relatively young witch.
Just as Jaina’s attention snapped back to the present, so did the music. A rush of garbled sound rolled past as the dial of the radio rolled with it. Into a song from not that long ago.
A wail of electric guitar, followed by a single phrase, then the same repeated: “Got a black magic woman.”
Jaina smiled. “Good evening, Sylvanas.”
The ghost didn’t respond. Jaina could feel her presence, though. Not like it had been before. Not in cold or in pressure or lack of oxygen. Almost a warmth, really. But one that had nothing to do with temperature.
Still, she took her hat back from its resting place on the counter and set it on her head. Still, she spread her awareness, just a little. Still, she planned routes to safety, even as she closed the front door. Couldn’t be too careful. Never such a thing as too careful.
Even if her ghost was singing for her now, in her own way.
Jaina found her footsteps falling in time with the beat as she made her way back to the kitchen again. She leaned on the counter, admiring her work yet again as she mused, “I like this song too.”
But it would be the only one Sylvanas would play for her that night.
She got one a day, at first. Songs about witches and wicked women, usually. About spells and secrets. Things that regular, mortal beings thought they understood enough to compose about.
A lot of them would make her laugh. Jaina would only talk to Sylvanas after the song had changed. When she knew she was listening.
“Witchy Woman” interrupted a commercial for the local auto body shop when Jaina was back at it again, this time putting up a new mirror in the upstairs bathroom. And this time, during the day.
“It’s all got very little to do with the moon, you know,” Jaina explained, setting the level on the frame of the new mirror. Her mouth twisted into a confused frown when the bubble didn’t center, but was still straying to the left.
It looked straight? Or maybe not.
“I can’t fly either, with or without a broom,” Jaina reported as she grabbed the corner of the mirror to nudge it along toward rightness. “Pretty bullshit, if you ask me.”
She was hanging curtain rods when the radio changed from a news report to “Season of the Witch”.
“This one has it right,” Jaina told Sylvanas. “To anyone else, I’m just a little strange. Enough in passing to shrug it off, but you’ll think about me hours later.”
She let that statement hang in the air a moment. Cool and heavy in the mid-September evening.
As Jaina climbed down from the stepladder, admiring the black and white checkered curtain that now bordered the sides of the kitchen window, she asked, “Do you think about me hours later, Sylvanas?”
There was no answer, yet again, but the following day, she started getting two songs.
And on one particular morning, when the chill of the night didn’t quite leave the air with the rising sun, she got three.
“Voodoo Child” at breakfast.
“Magic Man” when she was braiding up her hair again after a shower.
And then, “Dark Lady” just as she was about to switch off the radio and get ready to leave for town.
“That’s you, not me,” Jaina told Sylvanas, musing near the radio in the kitchen. This one seemed to be the one she tripped the most.
And strangely enough, it was the room that Jaina had changed the most. It was now unrecognizable from the dank, dirty and abandoned husk of a room that she’d first purchased.
“At least that’s what the coven of witches here call you,” Jaina went on. “I wonder what you did to them, to earn such a moniker?”
Sylvanas, as usual, had no response.
Jaina let the song play out, busying herself as she tidied up the room. She rinsed out a glass in the sink, put away a now dry pot. She pulled at the checked curtains until they lay flat against the wall in the way she wanted them to. Only when the song was over did she shut the radio off.
“I’m going into town. I’ll be back in a bit,” she said.
As if there were someone truly hearing her. As if they cared.
As if she might ask them if they wanted anything while she was out. The question was on the tip of her tongue. A reflex from a time long past. A time when she hadn’t been on her own.
Instead, she just breathed, “Goodbye, Sylvanas.”
The radio turned back on before she could close the door behind her. No song. Not this time. Probably just the same station it had left off on, this time playing a break with a male DJ droning on about something.
But it was enough to keep Jaina smiling all the way to the hardware store.
“Harlan, my favorite international man of mystery.”
“Miss,” he replied simply.
He had never asked for her name. Never tried to pry. Harlan’s curiosity, which she seldom mustered anymore, was purely of the physical kind. Puzzled looks. Picking up and examining all the strange things she bought and wondering at their purpose, but never questioning them aloud.
“Two questions for you,” she ventured as he started to ring up her latest collection of items.
“Shoot,” Harlan replied simply.
“First, do you have any recommendations for cleaning grout?”
Harlan puzzled that one over for a moment before offering a shrug. “We’ve got all kinds of stuff for that, but my ma always made me do it with bleach water and elbow grease. If you catch my drift, miss.”
“A woman after my own heart,” Jaina mused. “Okay then, second question. I’m not sure if you recall our last conversation about what you’d do about your crush giving you the silent treatment…”
“I do,” he told her with a little nod.
“Observant and knowledgeable about cleaning products. You really are the best catch in this town, aren’t you,” Jaina noted. “But as an addition to that question--say the object of your affection is warming up to you again. Maybe still a little mad, but will at least look you in the eye now. What do you do to seal the deal? Get her back into your arms?”
Harlan thought on this one longer. Even as his meaty hands busied themselves with tossing Jaina’s items into plastic bags, his eyes were far away.
“Probably just listen to her,” he told her, eventually. “If she’s mad at me, she’s got a reason to be. She’ll say it eventually, you know? Then I’ll know how to do better.”
“Tell me you’re not single,” Jaina demanded, taking the first of the two bags he was handing her.
“I don’t have time for a girl right now, miss,” Harlan told her. “No offense.”
“Oh. I’m not making a pass at you. You’re a nice boy, but you’re too young for me,” Jaina assured him. “I’m just letting you know that whenever you do have time for a girl, that she’ll be very lucky.”
Harlan smiled as he handed her the second bag. Not a store employee smile, no teeth and all muscle memory. No, a real, genuine smile.
“Thank you, miss.”
“Harlan, one last question, if you don’t mind?” Jaina asked, turning back around after she’d taken one step toward the door.
“Not at all, miss,” he replied, still grinning.
“Be honest. How old do you think I am?” Jaina questioned. “You don’t need to worry about offending me. I assure you that’s not possible.”
“It’s not right to ask a lady her age, but since you’re asking me, maybe twenty-five?” Harlan ventured, his expression dropping into confusion.
Jaina captured his grin, taking it for her own. Taking and taking, as was her specialty. “Thanks. Take care, Harlan.”
“You too, miss,” he replied with a little wave as Jaina finally turned and left the store.
So Jaina started listening a little harder. She never shut the radio off, and was sure to stay within earshot of one. Even as she replaced the door handles and hinges with new, shiny brass. Even as she scrubbed away at the blacked bathroom grout with a bucket of bleach water, a hard brush, and her own special brand of elbow grease.
And she realized that her version of listening included a lot of talking too. But that was fine. It was nice to talk to someone, even if they didn’t really reply.
“It feels good to make a change I can see,” she said as she got up from her knees.
Today, she’d opted to wear slacks, rolled up to mid-calf to avoid the bleach, but still shielding her knees from the hard floor of the hallway. A less than traditional choice, but still black to the white of her shirt. And far more practical for getting involved in all matters of home improvement.
“I’d say that ghosts don’t normally like to see their houses change, but you’ve been so calm lately. Did you think it was time for someone to come along and fix things up, or have you just given up on me, I wonder?” Jaina asked.
Sylvanas, as usual, had no response. Still, Jaina listened for it. This time, to a distant, crackly FM station broadcasting classical music. She found she liked working to it.
In fact, she found she liked working like this. Burning away at her boundless energy. Not actually sapping any of her precious magic reserves, of course, but making the eat at her patience less. It was better, at least, than the endless waiting.
Better still than contemplating what she was waiting for.
She had learned that Sylvanas took her time in responding. And that her responses didn’t necessarily make sense. If anything, they were maybe more to say that she was listening too. Noticing. Observing.
To anyone else, the constant feeling of being watched would have been just as frightening as objects flying around the room or haunted screams drifting down a darkened corridor. But not to Jaina.
No, it turned out she liked being listened to.
And that day, her acknowledgement came in the form of an interruption to a violin concerto. A rapid spin of the radio dial, then a persistent strum of electric guitars, and a man singing, “I put a spell on you, because you're mine.”
“Your old hippie is showing,” Jaina replied to that. “But no, I haven’t put any spells on you. You’re free to haunt as you choose. Even if it’s just to DJ for me.”
She kept scrubbing away, listening to the song as it finished up. She always let them play out before going back to change the station away again. And as Jaina stood to do so, she tried to remember where she’d found the classical station this time. Somewhere in the 107’s, maybe?
No matter what she did, she made sure to stay away from what they were now calling “classic” rock. Those were what Sylvanas would roll back to, always. Though why the rock was classic, Jaina was hardly sure. It felt like rock and roll had just started to get any radio play yesterday.
She knew that wasn’t the case. She knew it in her bones. But it was getting hard now. Time was blending together. Bending. Shaping to a mind that had not necessarily been meant to experience as much of it as it had. And Jaina was doing her best to bend along with it. To do it her own way, as she always had.
Jaina spun the dial away. She was still fine tuning it back to her place in another violin concerto when it spun back, still between her hovering fingers.
But this time not to a song. To the DJ giving the outro for the last song.
“Happy hump day, guys and gals. It’s your favorite morning DJ, Hound Dog Nate. And that was ‘I Put a Spell on You’ by Creedence Clearwater Revival,’” the man announced.
“Feeling mischievous again today, are we?” Jaina asked as she gripped the dial firmly again, and cranked it back away from the classic rock station. “Or was it because I called you out on being so calm?”
Her hand went cold in a shock. Like she’d dipped it in ice water. Or really, like she’d been bitten by a rat made of liquid nitrogen. Cold and sudden enough for Jaina to snatch her hand back as the dial spun back again.
Back to that annoying man, still talking, “--October Seventh. It’s a balmy sixty degrees and sunny here at 98.5 FM WRGR and--”
“Why?” was all Jaina could ask as she rubbed warmth back into her frozen fingers. “Why are you keeping it here? You didn’t have to be so nasty about it, you know. I thought we were developing an understanding.”
The volume knob moved this time, slowly upward, until the man’s voice was echoing off the newly cleaned tiles of the bathroom. “But that’s enough of me. Let’s get back to the music. You’re listening to the morning grind with Hound Dog Nate!” at this point, an awful sound effect of a barking dog played, “And I’ve got three more spooky Halloween tunes coming up for you right now.”
Jaina checked the station on the radio’s sliding display, and it was indeed 98.5 FM. Just below the frequency that she’d first heard Sylvanas sing at. Just where this very station would get lost to the static.
“Was this your station?” Jaina asked.
Which proved difficult, as “Werewolves of London” was now blaring at full volume.
“Sylvanas, please! Was this your station?” she shouted over the howling of the vocals.
The radio cut off entirely. Not breaking. Not flying apart in a shower of sparks. No, nothing that dramatic. Sylvanas had merely turned it off.
Jaina listened. She listened to the ringing in her ears, the echoes of the last note against the tiles, down the bathtub’s drain. She listened until there was nothing but her own breathing, and her heart, hammering against her ribs.
And it wasn’t until she’d calmed its beating that she muttered, “We have to come up with a better way of communicating, you and I.”
It only took another morning of listening to that infernal man and a phone book for Jaina to find what she needed. WRGR was indeed a local station, and had been in operation since the early seventies. Hound Dog Nate, whomever that was, ran the morning show. And Sylvanas was getting very insistent about tuning in to all of his broadcasts now. Not just particular songs.
She didn’t seem to care about any of the other DJs. Just this man.
“Were you lovers or something?” Jaina wondered.
“Was he your boss?” she asked when the previous question got no response.
It seemed as though Jaina would have to go to WRGR herself to ask. Because there wasn’t even a whisper. No words etched in ash on the walls. No screams. No sparks. Just a radio that always tuned itself to the same station every morning. A radio that always made her listen to a man who thought his soundboard of dog noises was the height of comedy, or coolness, or something.
And for some reason, she even felt the need to keep tuning in from her car as she drove out to the station. She’d thought it would be closer to town, but the road kept stretching on. On and into the woods, eventually. A rare bit of land not claimed by farming, surrounding the local river. Only then did she reach the end of the road, and the little wooden building that sat in a clearing at the end of it, next to a giant antenna that reached above the tops of the nearby trees. WRGR was painted in chipping white letters on the siding.
If it weren’t for that, and the antenna, the place could have been some hermit’s cabin. Just a little house in the woods.
Jaina wasn’t all that surprised to find the front door had been left unlocked. What she was surprised to find was that the only inhabitant of the building appeared to be an old hunting dog. Maybe a bloodhound. Jaina didn’t know. But he didn’t seem to take much notice of her. He sat up a little from his position on a well-worn couch in what would normally be the living room, and perked up one long ear, sniffing at her once or twice.
And then he laid back down. Just slowly enough for Jaina to catch a glint from his collar, a bone-shaped tag that read the word “Bo” in bold letters.
Jaina didn’t have the same enchanting effect on animals as she did on people, clearly. Either that, or this particular radio station employee was not feeling his job as security that morning.
It was only in the silence between her and the dog that she finally heard the music. It was coming from what would have been a bedroom. Well, what might still be, for all she knew.
And then, a familiar voice, “You made it to Friday, and you’re listening to Hound Dog Nate in the mornings with 98.5 WRGR, the Ranger! We’re about to kick off another set of today’s and yesterday’s rock hits. But first--you know I’ve gotta do it folks--you’re going to have to sit through some commercials.”
After a brief delay, sound switched over to yet another advertisement for the local gravel pit. Why the hell did they feel the need to advertise a gravel pit on the radio?
Jaina didn’t know why or really care. She just knew that Sylvanas seemed to center her efforts on this man, whoever he was.
She found the studio in a bedroom with an open door. Hound Dog Nate was a man in his forties or fifties, a story told by the grey in his beard and the paunch of his belly as he leaned back behind a desk strewn with radio equipment. Another old dog was at his feet, but this one at least did Jaina the honor of growling softly at her as she knocked on the door frame.
And Hound Dog Nate, for what it was worth, almost fell right out of his chair.
“Jesus!” he shouted as he tried to keep the headphones he was wearing steady on his ears as he righted himself in said chair. “Who the fuck are you?”
Jaina leaned on the door frame as she watched him collect himself. “A friend of a fan, I guess you could say. Jaina Proudmoore. I’m afraid I don’t know the etiquette of interrupting radio DJs, but a commercial break seemed as good a time as any.”
Nate seemed to recover himself enough at that. He let the headphones slide down around his neck, then bent to the dog at his feet, still growling. “Hush Bess, be nice to the lady,” he bade her. He then turned up to Jaina when the dog stopped growling. “Nathanos Marris, or Hound Dog Nate. Whatever you prefer. I’d get up to shake your hand or some bullshit, but I’ve got thirty seconds before I need to be on air again. So please take that time to tell me why you’re in my radio station in the middle of my show?”
“I am afraid that will require more than thirty seconds,” Jaina informed him.
Nathanos grumbled at this, casting one annoyed look at Jaina, as if it would make her go away or wither before him so he wouldn’t have to deal with her. When she didn’t budge, he sighed and said, “Then shut up for a minute.”
Jaina complied, watching as he fiddled with the control board in front of him and leaned up toward the mic, turning on his less gruff-sounding radio voice to say, “Enough of that! Let’s get back to the music. As a treat, not a trick, you guys can have another solid six song set. 98.5 WRGR FM.”
He fiddled with a few more controls, until the speakers that lined the room were playing some newer song Jaina wasn’t particularly familiar with.
Nathanos leaned back from the mic again with a glare in her direction. “You’ve got thirty minutes now. Is that enough?”
“Maybe,” Jaina replied with a grin. “Let me start with a question of my own. Did you know Sylvanas Windrunner?”
“Fuck,” was Nathanos’ reply to that.
He leaned back in his chair again, stretching a little. The dog at his feet stirred again, whining with a seeming concern for her master. Nathanos stared at the ceiling for a moment before he finally pushed the chair back and stood up. In all his glory, he reeked of a man who had once been something more. Something more than dirty jeans and the frayed cuffs of a dark green sweatshirt that bound his wrists.
“I’m gonna need a cup of coffee before I talk about her,” he finally said. “Mind if we take this to the kitchen?”
The kitchen was straight out of the seventies. Clearly not remodeled since the station’s inception. All brown and yellow and orange, colors clashing indifferent to one another. Even the mugs Nathanos was pouring the coffee into were a middling shade between brown and orange. He offered one to Jaina, not bothering to ask how she took it. He was already sipping his own black.
Jaina never understood how men with beards could stand to eat or drink. Hair in the way of their mouths. Foul. Disgusting.
She was very much hoping that her first theory about Sylvanas and this man being lovers was wrong. She could do so much better, her ghost.
“Nobody has said that name to me in a very long time,” Nathanos finally said as he put his own mug down on the counter.
“That’s generally what happens with dead people,” Jaina noted. “They tend to get forgotten after a while.”
She took a sip of the coffee and found it as disgusting as Nathanos’ overgrown beard was to her, and nearly as thick. Clearly, running the morning show required a special kind of fuel for this man. She did her best not to gag as she set her own cup down.
“I could never forget her,” Nathanos replied, shaking his head. “Despite what the cops wanted. I’m gonna guess you’re here because you know something about her, or all the shit that went down. But you’re so young. I don’t get it.”
“I bought her house,” Jaina told him. It had been made immediately clear to her that Nathanos was the type of man that didn’t need the lies other adults craved.He didn’t seem to have the time for them. And as disgusting as he and his beard and his coffee were, she found that fact, at least, refreshing. “And I’ve been finding out a bit here and there about the previous inhabitants. Someone told me she worked here.”
Nevermind that said someone was Sylvanas herself. Omission was not lying. It was tactful, really. And Jaina still wasn’t sure if that was even true.
“Worked here?” Nathanos asked with a chuckle. “She owned the station back then, and did the afternoon show. I worked for her.”
“Who owns it now?” Jaina ventured.
“Me,” Nathanos said. “She wouldn’t trust anyone else with it. I had to fight the courts for years, but it’s mine now. She didn’t have a will. And who would? She was so young.”
Nathanos sighed and took another deep sip from his mug of coffee sludge.
“Did that ‘someone’ tell you what happened to her?” he asked after a moment.
“Only that she died under mysterious circumstances. That and everyone thinks she’s haunting my house,” Jaina scoffed, looking to prod him to explain it on his own terms.
And prod she did. “Mysterious circumstances my ass. She was murdered! And the police covered it up.” Nathanos coughed out a breath that smelled of coffee and cigarettes. Delightful, really. “Of course everyone in town believes the bullshit and lies still. So is that what you came here for? To get crazy old Hound Dog’s story so you could laugh at me like them?”
Jaina shook her head. “Now, now, Nathanos, was it? I’m here to get the whole story. And only out of my own curiosity. If I’m to live with a ghost, then I should know about her, right?”
“There’s no such thing as ghosts,” Nathanos spat.
Jaina, who had the remains of at least a thousand ghosts swirling around inside of her at any given time, shrugged and replied, “Whatever you say. Even so. I’m just curious. I will listen to whatever story you have to tell.”
Nathanos grumbled at that, checking a watch that he revealed under one tattered sleeve. He craned his head, as if listening down the hall to the song that was still playing. “Come on back to the control room then, this might take a while.”
Jaina had a feeling he made this trip up and down the hall many times. The line of grey dirt in the burnt orange carpeting agreed with her. Coffee at one end, his clear and steadfast dedication to the radio station on the other end. A true parable of mortal life, really.
Nathanos returned to his chair without a word, flicking a few more switches and knobs on the control board as he sat. Another song queued up right after the last one, smooth as anything.
Jaina was left to find herself a seat on the only other chair in the room, a folding one across the desk that maybe served to act for guests. Maybe not. Maybe it had been a very long time since this station had seen any guests.
Just as she was about to ask a question, he ducked down and reached beneath the desk and the mountain of equipment that separated them. Jaina could hear a drawer slide on its rails. Nathanos pulled a piece of paper from its confines and handed it to her--over the sliders and buttons, but under the microphone and its mount.
“This was her. Sylvanas, that is,” he said in explanation.
Jaina took what she now realized was a photograph. She flipped it over to reveal a woman in an army uniform in black and white. A stunningly beautiful elven woman, with a gun in her hand and smirk on her face, but distant, sad eyes.
Just as beautiful as her ghost, really. Jaina couldn’t decide if this version was more or less terrifying. She hadn’t expected the army uniform.
“When was this?”
“Vietnam,” was all Nathanos answered, as if the singular word explained everything.
And it did. It explained him. It explained the power of Sylvanas’ lament and her destructive nature. It explained a lot, really. Maybe not everything, but a lot.
“We were Rangers,” Nathanos went on. “Sylv was an army brat who wanted to try her hand at the family career. I was just an idiot who got drafted.”
And yes, that had to be Nathanos sitting beneath her, offering his own tired smile. A smile too tired for a man so young. He barely even had any beard to speak of in the photo--really more of an overgrown mustache.
“When we came back, I had no place to go home to. My folks wanted nothing to do with me. So she had me come work for her here, when she started the station, along with a bunch of other people from our unit. She was a radio operator, and loved the stuff, so she used some savings to make it into a civilian job for herself. WRGR was the first FM station in the county,” Nathanos explained.
Jaina had nearly been too busy staring at the picture to notice that the old dog who’d growled at her before was now coming to sniff at her knees. Peacefully now. Curiously, maybe.
She wondered if she smelled good to animals too? What would a dog think of her? Kibble and cat poop? Steak and crotch?
Jaina didn’t want to entertain the thought, so she feigned disinterest in the beast. Nor did she want to think of how she smelled to Nathanos. No doubt a mirror of his own stench of coffee and cheap menthols.
Jaina handed the picture back over the controls. She could see the relief in Nathanos’ eyes when he placed it safely back in the drawer again.
Even Bess seemed calmed by this action, and returned to her place by her master’s feet, satisfied at her sniffing.
“Here I thought you were going to talk about how she died. I appreciate you taking the time to introduce me first, actually,” Jaina said as she sat back in the folding chair with a metallic squeak.
“It’s what you said before, Jaina,” Nathanos started before asking, “Is it okay if I call you that?”
“As long as you don’t expect me to call you Hound Dog in return,” she answered.
And that finally got a little chuckle from him. Blessedly. “Nah. That was just my old army nickname. We used to call Sylvanas the General, even if she was really just a sergeant. Bossy, that one was. Anyway--it’s like you said before. Dead people get forgotten. But now one more person will remember her, and that’s the best I can do for her these days.”
“A noble cause,” Jaina said with a nod. How dare this man make her like him all of the sudden?
“She did a lot for me, and for this town. And they’ve forgotten her for it,” Nathanos went on, anger creeping back into his tone again. He flipped a few more switches as the songs transitioned again, and Jaina found herself oddly admiring his ability to keep up with both a conversation and the flow of his work.
“Is that so?” Jaina prodded.
“I don’t know why, but she was proud of this piece of shit town. And she took care of people, you know? She kept living in that little rental you own now, even after she made decent money from the station. She coulda bought it from Menethil herself if she didn’t give every red cent she had to one cause or another. An animal shelter one day, some old widow the next, and a fellow vet the day after that,” Nathanos rambled.
“I’ve heard about him,” Jaina said, trying to be brief to lead him on some more.
“Fucker,” Nathanos spat. “He would have bought up the whole town if he could. Sold it for oil rights. At least that was his plan. Sylvanas and her family had been renting that land from the Menethils for a long time. They had no problem with his dad, but as soon as Arthas took over for him, he tried to kick her out. Any way he could, except to actually evict her. Rural evictions are a thing apparently, at least around here. Hell, they might still be in court if he tried that. But I know he killed her for it. I know he did, regardless of what the damn police say.”
“Why didn’t she just leave? Surely there were other houses or farms for rent?” Jaina asked.
Nathanos paused for a second, making a show of fiddling with the buttons on the controls again to buy time, even though the song wasn’t ready to change yet. He sighed, finally looking up at Jaina again as he said, “It wasn’t for her, really. I mean it was and it wasn’t. Her sister was over in Vietnam with us too, but she didn’t come back. She was taken as a POW. Sylvanas was so sure she’d come back looking for her one day. She wanted to be waiting right where Alleria could find her.”
“She waited a long time,” Jaina noted.
“She’d still be waiting today, if she was still alive. She loved her sisters. Vereesa skipped town and had a bunch of kids or something, so hoping for Alleria to come back was kind of all she had left. Otherwise, she probably would have moved to be by Vereesa, or not even bothered to come back here,” Nanthanos replied.
“So you think that’s what happened then? Menethil killed her when she wouldn’t leave?” Jaina pressed.
“Arthas always walked with a limp after that day. I’m pretty sure she gave it to him. She’d go down fighting, I know it. And she didn’t kill herself. That’s for fucking certain. She’d never do that,” Nathanos asserted, leaning back again with crossed arms.
Jaina knew as much. Even without knowing the woman. Still, every bit of knowledge she’d gained about her only supported that notion. “Why would the police say that then?” she asked.
“Because it was obviously Menethil, and he owned half the town. Daddy’s golden boy. You know the type, or at least you look like you do,” Nathanos offered with a shrug.
“I do,” Jaina assured him. “And I understand your suspicions. Still, you think someone would come forward? I understand the town turned on him. I hear he met his own violent end.”
“You’ll hear a thousand versions of it too. Everyone and their dog taking credit for it, no offense, Bess,” Nathanos said as he bent to ruffle the old hound’s ears. “I don’t know who killed him and I really don’t care. Bastard had it coming. Long story short was that he got the same treatment. Obviously murdered, but police somehow couldn’t find a killer. Usually, cold case hunters like you come looking for his story, not Sylvanas’.”
“I told you, that’s not what I’m here for. I don’t have any cameras or tape recorders. I assure you I’m not trying to make you part of any gruesome documentary,” Jaina told him, holding her empty hands up as proof.
“Yeah, I see that. But what the hell is a girl like you doing out here? Really?” Nathanos asked.
Jaina thought about her answer this time. So much so that she answered with only one word, “Changing.”
“Uh huh,” Nathanos said to that. He then seemed to listen to the music for a moment, and held up a finger to his lips. He leaned up to the microphone and moved some sliders on the board again before speaking in his radio voice. “Oh, hey there. That was a quick half an hour, wasn’t it? You’re listening to 98.5 WRGR, the Ranger, with Hound Dog Nate. How about we have a few more songs to power you up to five o’clock. You’ve earned it.”
Jaina waited for the music to fade back in before she asked, “Do you ever get tired of saying the same thing over and over?”
“We all say the same things over and over, even if no one is listening,” Nathanos told her. “I just pay my bills doing it. And keep my friend’s radio station alive.”
“You’re a good man, Nathanos,” Jaina told him. “And a busy one. I’ve taken enough of your time. Thank you for telling me about her.”
“If you ever want to chat without all this shit in the way,” Nathanos offered as he gestured to the bevy of equipment between them, “I’m usually drinking at the Brill Inn in the evenings. Though you don’t really look like much of a local bar kind of girl.”
On the contrary, Jaina loved local bars. They were full of ghost stories. And there was nothing like a few cheap beers to loosen lips about said ghost stories.
She stood, offering her hand out for Nathanos to shake. “I hear they have good food there. You might see me, if I get hungry.”
Nathanos raised one thick eyebrow at her, but didn’t remark otherwise, remaining neutral, if a bit snide in his tone as he said, “Well, see you around, Jaina.”
As Jaina drove away through the trees, the music playing over her car radio from WRGR faded out at the end of a song. A good man, if a little bit foul-smelling and unkempt, spoke up from the silence and said, “This next one goes out to someone who was kind enough to remind me that dead things don’t necessarily have to stay forgotten. Wherever you are, or wherever you go, thanks for that. Here’s ‘Zombie’, by the Cranberries.”
Jaina hadn’t heard this one yet. It was a newer song. At least, newer for her. She decided she liked it very much.
“Mister Anduin,” Jaina addressed the boy, who was on his bike, parallel to her slowing car as she was about to pull into her driveway.
“Miss Jaina,” he answered, breathless as he too slowed on his own commute, no doubt riding home from school.
Why his father thought it was a good idea for him to ride his bike nearly two miles was beyond Jaina. She wondered if she’d see him struggling through the snow in it in the winter time, and if he would accept a clandestined ride home in her car if that ever happened.
“You do Halloween around here, right?” she asked him. And when the boy nodded, she continued, “Tell me, what are you dressing up as for Halloween? Inquiring minds want to know.”
“I haven’t decided yet,” he informed her as he stopped the bike by standing up on it. “I was gonna be a mummy, because I really liked that book I told you about last time, but then my friends were being Power Rangers and needed a white Power Ranger. But my dad says that’s stupid. And my uncle said I should be a werewolf.”
Jaina had no idea what a Power Ranger was, but could speak to at least one of those things. “Werewolves are disgusting creatures, don’t listen to him,” she told him. “You should be whatever you want. Whatever scares you, but not too much. Just enough to be fun.”
Anduin beamed at that. “Miss Jaina?”
“Yes, Mister Anduin?”
“Are werewolves real?” Anduin asked.
“Why would you think that I would know that?” she asked back.
“You know a lot of things,” Anduin answered.
Jaina returned his smile. “I do. Maybe too many things. You should get home before your dad gets worried.”
“Right,” Anduin said with a nod. He sat back down and put his feet on the pedals. “I’m gonna be a mummy, I think,” he told her before he started back down the road again.
“Jaina? Jaina! Fuck! I thought you were dead! I’ve been wracking my brain trying to figure out the most polite way to ask your local coven to search for your body,” Modera shouted over the receiver.
“I never thought you the clingy type, Modera,” Jaina scolded her. “Do I need to call you nightly? Tuck you into bed with my stories?”
“Oh, fuck right off. I’m just glad you’re alive. I’d hate to have to explain this to your mother,” Modera countered.
“I did not call you to talk about my mother and you know it,” Jaina groaned. She was in the kitchen, leaned against the fresh white cabinets, twirling the cord on the new black wall phone she’d purchased for this room and installed herself earlier that week.
But yes, it had been a good while since she’d called Modera last. Two weeks? No, three. No, a month. Somehow, a whole month.
“Then what did you call me to talk about? Reporting your successful banshee kill?” Modera inquired.
“Nope,” Jaina answered.
“Well shit, did you give up on her? Now you’re going to have to sell a haunted house. What’s the word the kids say these days? Bummer?”
“No on that too,” Jaina informed her.
“What the hell are you doing then, Jaina?” Modera questioned.
A question she asked herself a lot, these days. One she didn’t really have the best answer for yet. So sarcasm would have to work. “Oh, you know, blending in with the locals. Raising my chickens. Drinking light beer. Watching NASCAR.”
“Horrific,” Modera said with a snort. “But really, what are you doing?”
“Modera,” Jaina started. “Have you ever had a ghost you wanted to keep around?”
On the other end of the line, Jaina could hear a heavy sigh, and a shuffling of papers as they made way for Modera’s head to rest against the surface of her desk. Maybe not so gently. “Are you kidding me? Are you seriously fucking with me right now?”
“I know there’s a ritual for it. I remember something from one of your lectures,” Jaina told her.
“No. I’m not doing this. You’re not doing this. You and I? We’re not doing this,” Modera informed her.
“Then hang up on me. Go ahead,” Jaina dared her. “I’ll find what I need one way or the other. You know that.”
Modera groaned again. “First off, do you even know if your ghost wants that?”
“Is that important?” Jaina asked.
“Of course it’s important,” Modera replied.
“I mean, is it necessary for the spell?” Jaina pressed.
“Jaina,” Modera breathed. “This isn’t about you anymore. If you want to do this, then these are things you have to know. Not for the spell. That doesn’t fucking matter. You need to know them for the sentient being you are going to allow to walk the world for a virtual eternity--bound forever to you. Don’t you care? Do you want to make yourself a prisoner?”
“Bound to me?”
Truth be told, her recollection of said lecture was fuzzy at best. There were times that Jaina wished she’d kept her notes from her days as a student in Dalaran. Days she wished she hadn’t forsaken everything that had come before her days of endless hunting. Well, everything but Modera. For some reason, she still always picked up the phone.
“No. I’m not buying into your prodding for more information with your innocent little one word questions. I’m not some mortal in a pub whose scary stories you can buy for the price of one of your now apparently beloved light beers,” Modera said. “I’m serious, Jaina. I won’t talk to you about this until you tell me that your ghost wants to continue to exist, and doesn’t mind doing so at your will and behest. And I don’t have to tell you that I’ll know you’re lying to me.”
“My dating options for a ghost are fairly limited, Modera,” Jaina countered, unphased by the ultimatum. “I can’t exactly take her to the movies. Or anywhere, really. She doesn’t leave the house.”
“You’re the worst,” Modera told her.
“Only sometimes,” Jaina replied. “Will you tell me, though, if I can get her to agree?”
“Do it before Samhain,” Modera warned. “You don’t have a lot of time.”
“But you’ll tell me?” Jaina insisted.
“Only because I’ve never heard you like this before. Why not just eat her? Get it over with?” Modera asked.
“Because she’s beautiful,” Jaina answered. “And because it would be a shame to let her end like that, or to fade away.”
“I’m not sure who you are and what you’ve done with Jaina Proudmoore. Honestly. Be quick then,” Modera told her. “You have to get her to at least talk to you.”
“Sylvanas Windrunner,” Jaina invoked.
She still very much liked that name, and how it rolled off her tongue. Maybe even a bit more now. Now that she could picture her in life, in army fatigues in some foreign jungle, or laughing in the wood paneled halls at WRGR, walking over the orange carpet before Nathanos had worn his nasty little trail in it.
But for all that, she didn’t know her. Modera was right. She knew next to nothing about this woman, and the spirit that she’d left behind. Next to nothing about her hopes and her dreams. Her desires. Her fears.
Jaina only knew how she died, and that she shouldn’t have.
This time, Jaina came into the back bedroom room with nothing. Just herself. No circles or pentagrams. No radios or wires. Just her arms stretched out, and her senses extending just beyond her finger tips. Exposed. Vulnerable. But ready.
“I’ve tried to talk to you. I’ve tried listening. But now, I think it’s time for you to hear me,” Jaina told her.
She could feel her. She could almost always feel her now. But Sylvanas was close. Close and watching.
“I know what happened to you,” Jaina stated. She let her eyes fall closed, despite the temptation to keep them open to see what this would evoke from the restless spirit. “I knew most of it already before I talked with Nathanos, but he helped me fill in the gaps. So thank you for that.”
That name brought with it just an edge of biting cold. As if the window had somehow managed to get itself unstuck and opened to the chill of the autumn night. Not freezing. Just cold. Just present. Very present.
“Your landlord, Arthas Menethil, came here, offering you yet another deal to get you to leave this place without him trying to take you to court. You turned him down, like you did every time,” Jaina started.
At that, a hiss echoed in the room. Something feral and raw, like the scratches on Jaina’s arms that had only just healed. An edge of madness, of rage so vast that there was nothing else left.
“And you shut the door behind him, thinking you were rid of him for the night. Then you went back up to this room to think it over. Like you always did. Because this wasn’t your room. It was your sister’s. This is Alleria’s room,” Jaina went on.
She tried to picture it in her mind. Not knowing the woman, of course, or her tastes. But she knew the leaves on the wallpaper. She knew the window that faced out to the backyard and the treeline beyond it. To the border of the little farm, a creek that separated it from a neighbor’s fields. She imagined it woodsy and full of plants. Plants that Sylvanas would water every day and think of her sister.
“You would wait for her by the window. Because she was the type of person that would come marching in from the trees, and not up to the front door,” Jaina said.
She ventured a peek then, enough to see the frost collecting in the corners of said window. Enough to see the fingerprints that streaked along it, disappearing as quickly as they came.
Jaina left her eyes open, but kept at it, “And he surprised you. He had a key, after all. It didn’t matter that you locked the door. He surprised you when you were lost in thought. But only just. Because he stabbed you through the heart, not in the back.”
Another hiss. Almost a restrained scream. Just a hint of pressure. A crisp of cold air. A frustration muted, contained. Contained because Sylvanas really did want to listen.
“You caught him, and you fought him,” Jaina said. “You fought like hell, just like you always had. But you were much smaller than him. He overpowered you. Not before you fucked up his knee. He never walked right after, if that helps.”
Was that a laugh? It was something. A noise that passed her ear like it was traveling through water. Wavering and unsteady. Drunk and incomplete.
But it was something.
“And he killed you here. He probably left you to bleed out alone, coward that he was, and only came back to clean up later when he was sure you’d be dead. Sometime between then and the end of the morning radio show, when he knew Nathanos would do something if you didn’t show up at the station,” Jaina told her. “He dragged you out to the barn and left you to rot there. He knew what he was doing and how to leave very little evidence behind. In fact, he’d probably done this before, hadn’t he?”
Another hiss. Definitely a hiss. Jaina was sure this time.
“What was it then? What made you decide to stay? Did you want to keep waiting for Alleria? Were you mad that he moved you out of this room and into the barn? Did you want to stop him from killing again?” Jaina asked.
She felt the pressure building again. What little light the moon cast into the room from the window seemed to dim, yet there were no clouds in the sky. Jaina’s nerves were alight as they prepared to resist and leech the blast of energy that was about to be delivered at her, or maybe just at the world in general.
But Jaina was going to give her a real reason to scream. Because if she was going to do this. If she was going to change, then she was going to change one thing first. No more lies. No more omissions. No, she was going to be honest. More white than black, for once. Well, once again.
She blazed her own inner energies, surrounding herself with the precious magic as shield. She would need it.
“He’s dead, Sylvanas. The town took its justice. I don’t know who killed him. I do know it happened over ten years ago. And I do know that there’s nothing left of him like there is of you. I can assure you of that,” Jaina declared.
And then the scream came. As justified as it was intense. Like a blast of winter. Like a thousand knives through a thousand hearts. Jaina blocked them with a thousand shields of her own making, but not before feeling the pain of each wound. The hopelessness of it all.
But that didn’t scare her. She wasn’t sure what would. But it wasn’t this.
Jaina shouted over that scream, straining. “Do you know what will happen to you? If you keep at this frenzy and furor? This violence, now that there’s no one left to face it? You’ll fade away forever, Sylvanas. There will be nothing left of you.”
Another scream, just as powerful as the last. Just as painful. Just as dangerous. Jaina ground her heels into the floor, and stood through it still.
“I’m not leaving. I’m not leaving because I don’t want you to fade away. I can help you. I can be a bridge,” Jaina roared over the din.
Sylvanas didn’t stop the scream, but she didn’t start another. She let it fade, like the sliders on a radio control board, cross fading one song into the next.
Jaina made sure that next song was hers. “Tell me. Is it so terrible, being a ghost? I can end your suffering too. If that’s what you want. Only if it’s what you want.”
Only then did Sylvanas ever speak her first full sentence to Jaina. A voice echoed from near the window. Soft. Defeated. “Is there no rest for me?”
“No,” Jaina answered. “Only oblivion.”
A banshee’s scream was different from a wail. The scream was an offensive action, designed to split mortal eardrums and render then mad, deaf, and defenseless. A wail, well, that was just what banshees did with their free time. A natural action, one that wasn’t designed for combat. Maybe relief? Jaina couldn’t be sure.
She hadn’t cared before. She hadn’t had a reason to care. So why did it hurt almost as much as the scream had when Sylvanas began to wail?
“I can’t give you rest,” Jaina told her. “I can’t give you peace or vengeance. All I can give you is a chance to continue on as you are now. To not fade away.”
“What are you?” Sylvanas asked through her wail, her voice a lilting song of woe.
Jaina ventured a step toward the window, then another. “I told you,” she said. “I’m a witch. I’m something like you. Not quite mortal. Not quite a dead or dying thing. Something in-between.”
She could see her now. Just an outline, so faint in the moonlight. Slender and graceful, but so fragile. Wisps of energy barely holding themselves together. A fading thing, close to dying its true death.
“Can we talk?” Jaina asked.
She held her hand out as she stepped up to the window. She wasn’t sure why. Maybe as a sign of good faith. An olive branch. Fuck. She was no good at this.
Outside, the night was dark, but there was just enough light to see the edge of the trees. Just past the backyard and into the night.
Jaina felt the cold before she realized what had happened. Before she realized she was holding a hand in hers. A flimsy, spectral hand, cold as ice, but with long, lithe fingers that sought to wrap themselves in hers. And for some reason, they were able to take hold of it. They did not pass through, but instead, held on.
She looked up to find a pair of haunting red eyes looking at her, not out into the night, as Sylvanas finally answered, “Okay. We can talk.”