The ghost of Yvette Alina Knight-West moved quickly towards Veronika, her appearance shifting in flickers as she closed the few meters that had seemed like such a distance just a heartbeat or two ago. Her proper dress spun outward into tatters, her face stretched out and her mouth elongated. Her teeth were long, sharp, and black and so were her fingers. Black ichor dripped from her mouth and hands.
“You cannot pass,” the creature hissed. Veronika, unwillingly and unintentionally, took a step backwards. She had – she had salt in her pocket. She dropped her hand down surreptitiously. She wouldn’t use it unless she had to; Amanana talked about this spectre like it was a friend of the family – of the institution – and salt could loosen spectres’ long-term hold on coherency. “You did not come bringing gifts.” The voice was no longer remotely human-sounding.
Gifts. Gifts. The thing swiped at Veronika. She dodged backwards, but the long claws caught her shoulder, rending her shirt and leaving a creeping cold numbness behind. Gifts.
“A moment, here, it’s my first day!” Veronika protested. That just made the thing hiss more. It grabbed a box of paperclips from the nearest file cabinet and flung it in her direction.
She snapped up a hand to catch it – or tried to. Her right arm wasn’t obeying her commands, no, her hand was and her lower arm was but her shoulder and upper arm were frozen solid.
The paper clips hit her on the chest and scattered over the floor before vanishing.
“Being new is no excuse!” The thing’s scream ripped at Veronika’s ears. The next time it opened its mouth, she could barely hear it. “The only good thing about you being new is that you are unlikely to bore me for eternity once I have ended you. The new ones never do.”
“Wait! Wait, I beg your pardon? I have full intention to stick around after my death, thank you very much! What sort of archivist – oh, no!” She dropped to the floor as the thing threw a glass paperweight at her head. It smashed into the window behind her, leaving the sound of tinkling glass everywhere. “Hey! You don’t really listen, do you? Weren’t you paying attention, Lady Knight-West?”
Oh, dear, that wasn’t a good lead-in when she didn’t know what was coming next. So… So what did she have? Gifts. Gifts.
“Excuse me? How dare you, you miserable little whelp of a new fish, say I don’t pay attention?”
The ghost kept the old records, right, old information about old places – she dodged a hissing jump from the creature and managed to not get hit this time, but tripped over a box on the floor. “What makes you think I wouldn’t bring gifts? I mean, you keep the most important records, don’t you? So you need birth and deaths for your files, yes?”
The ghost stopped. Slowly, Miss Knight-West straightened up, spectral hands smoothing down her dress’s tatters until hands and dress were back in place. “Birth and deaths records, mmm?”
“Yes. Now, I have one birth that was not recorded in the local papers or with the local file office, because of family tradition. We – they – the family, that is, believe in waiting a year and a day before filing any changes. Which of course can be maddening to records-keepers, and sometimes means that the family members are listed with the wrong dates of birth, death, marriage, or other such things…”
The ghost was leaning forward. “Those things are fascinating. The traditions, the reasons behind them, and the misdating, although that can lead to all sorts of filing errors…”
“The most interesting ones are when someone is filed twice. For instance, this family had an infant born in the hospital, because the mother was having trouble with the birth. But since the family almost always had children born at home, they didn’t realize that the hospital filed a birth certificate. So they, of course, a year and a day later, filed all the pertinent information – and it wasn’t until this person was twenty and going away to university that they learned that they existed twice in the government databases.” Veronika smiled. “This, of course, can be handy if one wants to do something with a different name for some reason, of course, but that’s… not so helpful to archivists.”
“No, it wouldn’t be, but I have found some very interesting examples of people with three or four files in the records here, because either of misunderstandings – their name was listed two different ways – or intentional deceit as you were describing, or something like that twice-filed issue. IT can be quite the challenge, making sure that you don’t, for instance, put two Joan Smythe files together unless they truly are the same Joan Smythe.”
Veronika let her smile grow. She didn’t turn to look at Amanana; she wasn’t entirely sure that the woman hadn’t set her up for this, and she wasn’t sure how she was going to handle that, darn it, she liked Amanana.
“Oh, exactly. And if one person filing assumes that Joan Smythe Windham Price has a middle name of Smythe and another assumes Smythe, Windham, and Price are all surnames, if one files the whole thing with a hyphen in one place and another files it in another place, well then, you do end up with a bit of a mess. It’s quite a challenge. So.” Veronika closed her eyes. “The child was born on August 28th of this year. A girl child, to all appearances, she was named Magdalena Gardenia Bellamy. Her parents were-“
She caught herself, and this time, she looked at Amanana. The woman raised her eyebrows and stepped back four steps. “Speak softly there and I will not hear.”
“Her biological parents were,” Veronika continued, “Veronika Hope Bellamy and Victor Claude Waterford-Teanth. She will be filed as the child of Susanna Patience Bellamy Love and her husband, Bradford Giles Rupert Bellamy, with the correct birthday. Victor Waterford-Teanth – with a hyphen between the two last names – is a junior archivist at the Fillion and has been for the past five years. His mother is a senior archivist at the same institution.”
The ghost had been writing this all down very quickly. Now she turned the card so Veronika could read the information. “I see.” The ghost looked Veronika up and down. “This is a very good gift indeed. I would say this is worth free passage for – for the child’s first year. Very well done, Veronika Hope Bellamy. Perhaps you’ll be a good archivist indeed.”
She turned to Amanana. “And you. And you, your gift – your gift has been paid for some time, hasn’t it? But it’s still polite to bring a token.”
There was a bit of darkness shading the spectre again. Veronika very politely took a step back. Her left arm still wasn’t listening to her, still felt alternately cold and numb. She did not want to risk that again. She took one more step back as the ghost reached out an arm with blackened fingers.