|India I: Yama
Author: Guede Mazaka
By definition, ghosts are dead that haunted the living. But could the living haunt the dead?
O-ren has never known much about her. Even when they were working on the same side, they didn't cross paths very often. Bill is a smart man, and he knew what he was doing, keeping O-ren away in the East and letting her work-sisters quarrel in the West. Using Elle and Vernita to chip the third's ice armor down to a manageable thickness, and making sure O-ren and Black Mamba almost never crossed paths. Too alike-something that she can feel, even now, trapped just shy of true death-they would have killed each other.
She still doesn't know the woman's real name. But it's better that way. Hold out anonymity like a dividing barrier, block out the creeping heat. And to be honest, O-ren never liked the extravagance of their code names. The Bride suited her opponent much better, because black the woman was not. Warning yellow, even less. She was red, down to the flecks of hatred in her eyes.
It's a game of time, whether that fire will sustain her through the rest of her vengeance or burn her out. It's a game-just a game-
O-ren has lost. To the victor go the spoils, says the vulgar expression, and so she hangs about, bound to this woman. Untouchable as she could ever want, having finally achieved that divorce of body and soul of which the old Buddhist texts had muttered.
She can't be seen. She can't be heard, even when she screams until her hair comes loose and webs across her mouth. She can't. Be. Touched.
But she can see. She can sit in corners and watch the Bride's stark efficiency in packing and unpacking, cleaning swords, binding wounds. She can drift through walls and be confronted with endless pale skin, scars like puckered silk on the tight robe that is the only thing binding the Bride to the world of the living. She can melt into silver glass and stare into wide eyes, trace each tear that escapes from the barb-wire eyelashes.
She sits on the Bride's chest at night and listens to the nightmares. She flows against the other woman during morning practice, serenity of the katas destroyed by the heat she can feel rising from the Bride's body. And O-ren clutches at that warmth, tries to fill herself up with it, but she's a broken vessel. No. She is not even any kind of vessel. She is simply a nothing.
That's a position in which she hasn't found herself for a very long time, and she hates the feeling of it. She leans down and shrieks her fury into the other woman's ear when the moon is shining through her, spears of chill and white, but it changes the Bride's moans and sighs not a bit. She flings her hands through chairs, windows, hoping that she will somehow discover the secret of the poltergeist, but it's all to no avail.
Very soon, O-ren is sick of it, but she can't run away, or fight. She can only huddle in a shadow and struggle against the wetness that only she knows is there, shaming her cheeks.
It gets no better when Vernita Green dies. One moment the spark of life is there, and the next, the woman is only another empty shell bleeding out on the floor. That's when O-ren realizes how lonely she is.
That's when she realizes how beautiful the Bride is, covered in lashings of blood, breathing unsteady, guilt burning through her every pore as she sits there in the truck and tries to forget about the little girl.
And that's when the Bride looks over at the passenger seat, and astonishment suddenly flares up in her eyes. She grabs her sword-
--and O-ren is real. Solid. Weight depressing the cushions, skull whole, mind dizzy and confused and filled with only one thing: the Bride.
"My God," the other woman says. It's ridiculous, in such a small space, but the blade is out and resheathed in O-ren's body before she can do more than open her mouth and lift a hand. It's agony, wrenching her nerves into screaming tangles, and then it's going higher, somewhere blinding and brilliant and almost not pain.
Then the Bride drops the sword, and O-ren is suddenly invisible again. Cold. Aching.
"What the hell…" The other woman stares as if she could still see O-ren, but it's obvious she can't. Her gaze flicks down to the sword, not even stained, like O-ren is no longer worthy of that. Very slowly, the Bride puts her hand on the hilt.
Frisson to reality, and this time, O-ren has learned. She's across the gearshift, straddling the other woman's lap and hungrily lapping at the life bursting from her, hands knotting in the gold hair. Trying to stay here, where it's warm and she can feel and be felt.
Cold, cold edge laying over her side, sliding up to part her hair and freeze the back of her neck. She stills.
"Hold sword, she's a person. Drop sword, she's a ghost." Lips pressing the words into her mouth. "Okay."
"Please don't let go." O-ren hasn't begged in years, and the action cuts her palms and tongue with rust. But she fears limbo more than she does her pride.
"Christ." The Bride pushes her against the wheel, sword starting to slice into her skin. Then the other woman looks out the window and snorts. "I can't hold this thing forever."
"A few minutes. That's all. I'll-I can do-"
"Shut up." When the blade swings down, O-ren sucks in a deep, ragged breath. When she doesn't disappear, she exhales with equal shakiness. The Bride shoves her back into the passenger seat, then starts the engine and pulls away from the curb, one-handed because the hilt is filling her other. "I have no idea why I'm doing this, so stay there and don't talk."
And O-ren does, greedily savoring every second of reprieve she's given.