Exclusive excerpt: chapter 3 of Mur Lafferty's "Ghost Train to New Orleans" [Urban fantasy]

[Ed: Mur Lafferty's 2013 debut novel Shambling Guide to New York City was an outstanding work of urban fantasy and contributed to Mur's winning a much-deserved John W Campbell Award for Best New Writer at the 2013 Hugo Awards. Now, Mur's back with a sequel, Ghost Train to New Orleans, and she and her publishers, Orbit, were kind enough to give us an exclusive excerpt from the novel, along with Mur's introduction, below. -Cory]

Chapter 3 of Ghost Train to New Orleans has our hero, Zoë, and her writers aboard a ghost bullet train to write a travel book for monsters. Zoë and another human have just discovered the train is about to experience an old fashioned train robbery with cowboys and horses and everything. 

I love these cowboys. This is an example of the "iceberg" of fiction - you will see one scene with these cowboys and learn only a little about them. But I had to come up with why these cowboys wore business attire underneath their cowboy clothes, why they are so bad at their jobs, and how they died to become ghosts anyway. Their whole story doesn't appear in the book, but I know these people. I really want to tell their backstory in an upcoming short.

Ghosts are an interesting creature to use in urban fantasy. They always seem to have their own creation myth; if everyone who died turned into a ghost, there would be billions of ghosts wandering around the world, which would make them not so much scary, but an annoyance. If only some people turned into ghosts, who and why? And if vampire and zombie undead existed, why did the person's spirit leave the body instead of turning the proper undead? 

I got my inspiration from Gail Carriger's Soulless, where vampires sometimes fail in their attempts to turn humans. In Gail's world, the human dies. In mine, I decided, if a vampire os zombie fails, a ghost is created instead. Since vampires seem to have more fun than ghosts, and ghosts are failed vampires (or, in some cases, zombies) this makes the ghosts decidedly bitter as a whole. In the world of the Shambling Guides, ghosts are insubstantial all the time, and can do little with the physical world unless they possess a human, which is very difficult to do unless the human is weakened or willing. Ghosts love the ghost train, though, since that's where they can take physical form. The job market for work aboard the ghost train is highly competitive. 

As for New Orleans, I'd wanted to return there since I got my initial inspiration for the book in 2005 when I wrote an RPG supplement for a charity gaming book to benefit the Red Cross after Katrina. In my supplement, a zombie continued her job as a tour guide even after she had died because she loved her home so much. I took my first expansion of this idea to New York, but I'm excited to return this idea to New Orleans and her jazz and parties and beignets. 

Ghost Train to New Orleans


Zoë and Reynard looked out the window. Snow covered the fields, and the moon shone brightly over them. The train was going far too fast for anything to pace it, but something was. It was hard to tell through the ghostly windows, not to mention the darkness and the snow, but something white and insubstantial seemed to be keeping up with the train.

"Ghosts," Reynard said grimly.

Once he spoke, Zoë's eyes finally made sense of what she was seeing. Two men and one woman rode horses that thundered beside the bullet train. Their mounts were clearly straining, but managed to keep up. The men had pistols in their hands, while the woman was prepping a lasso. They were all hazy and white, like the train itself.

"This is a bullet train!" Zoë said. "How in the world are they robbing a bullet train? And train robberies went out with the century before last!"

"Which is why only ghosts attempt train robberies," Reynard said. "We need to head back to our car, now."

They left Deepu the vampire arguing with engineering, he trying to give them information, and they being irate about it considering that they knew they were being robbed thank you very much and that's why they were taking measures against it.

"I know this is a stupid question," Zoë asked as they slipped between the cars. "But why are we afraid of ghosts, beyond the normal reasons for fearing vampires, zombies, and the other coterie?"

"Ghosts don't want to consume us, or feed off us. They want to be us," Reynard said. "They want to inhabit us for our warmth, go joyriding by eating everything they can get our hands on, or fucking everything in sight. I knew one woman who was possessed who woke up nude in Macy's fur department, lying in a pile of sable coats, totally unaware of how she got there.

"Ghosts aren't official coterie, since they don't really form societies like the rest of us," he said, "and they can't be killed. To the nonhumans they're irritations, like memories that won't go away. To humans they can mean anything from embarrassment, to framing for crimes, to violent death."

"Death?" Zoë choked. They were hurrying through the zombie car, taking less care not to wake the undead. The train had begun to shudder with speed, but Zoë could see outside that the robbers were keeping perfect pace.

"Sure. Thrill-seekers, you know. They can take your body, go skydiving, rock-climbing. You've got to still have the adrenal glands to have an adrenaline rush. And if they slip or something goes wrong, they just casually exit your body as you go plummeting."

Zoë shuddered. They maneuvered around a zombie whose elbow stuck out in the aisle, who grunted at them, and hurried back to their car.

When they reached their seats, Reynard stopped and looked at Zoë. "But the real threat is when the other coterie find out ghosts are stopping us, they're going to want to throw us off to placate the ghosts."

"Oh, right. But wait—if the ghosts are insubstantial and all they do is hurt humans, why can't the engineer just keep driving? If all it's going to hurt is us, why do they care?"

Reynard sighed. "We are on a ghost train, Zoë," he said. "The ghosts are as substantial as the train. If they want to derail us, they can. If they want to get on board and start killing coterie, they can."

"So ghosts are insubstantial, and therefore untouchable, when they're off the train," Zoë mused. "And they can only act when they're on it."

Reynard ignored her and went to each of the sleeping zoëtists and gently shook her awake. "Ladies, I'm sorry to bother you but it looks like the train is being robbed."

An older, plump woman that Zoë had identified as the leader stirred in her sleep and grunted, " 'Sa bullet train. Can't be robbed." She waved Reynard away and settled back into her seat. Reynard's mouth twisted in annoyance.

"They're no help," he said, sitting down in his seat.

Zoë shook Arthur's arm. His eyelids fluttered but he remained asleep. Something worked loose in his hand, though. A squat white-and-pink bottle fell from it and rolled down his thigh. Zoë caught it.

"Benadryl? Are you kidding me?" she asked in a loud voice. Arthur didn't stir.

"OK. He's no help. The zoëtists are no help. What can we do?" Zoë asked. She couldn't remember anything Granny Good Mae had said about ghosts. She had given advice on how to fight many of the coterie, but every time Zoë thought she had them all covered, she was introduced to a new one to worry about.

"Hang on a second," she said. "If a ghost's main threat is its ability to possess us, they can only do that when they're off the train, right? What's the threat when they're on?"

Reynard thought for a moment. "They're as solid as we are, which means they can attack, use weapons, and worse," he said. "Right now they're a threat on or off the train."

"So we stay on the train. And if we have to fight, we do so." She glanced at the dozing zoëtists. "It would be nice if they made something that could help us fight."

"Come on," Reynard said. "I've got another idea."

"Where are we going?" Zoë asked. "We need to fight those guys. From what you said, none of the coterie here are going to fight for us."

Reynard grabbed her hand and pulled her to her feet. "There you go again, demanding to be in the middle of things," he said. "Let someone else fight the fight for once. It's not our train, not our problem."

Zoë glared at him and wrenched her hand free. "It's my problem if they attack me. And I'm not leaving Arthur." She reached into her computer bag on the seat and pulled out a short Filipino fighting stick. Granny Good Mae had just begun teaching her the finer points of Arnis, and Zoë loved it, the stick being a lighter weapon than a sword, but quite effective. Also easier to carry without getting too much attention.

She slid the rattan stick, about two feet long, into her belt, then crossed her arms. "Go if you have to. I'm staying here."

"So how am I going to fight ghosts?" Zoë muttered to herself.

It would be me that gets on a ghost train that somehow gets robbed, she thought after Reynard left to save his own ass. This shit doesn't happen to people like Stacy Bellingham. No, Stacy just goes to work, comes home, drinks beer, and watches reality cooking shows. I'm the one who met the weird dude who tells me about genocide and then expects me to leave my boyfriend behind.

She hadn't thought of Stacy Bellingham in years. Her friend from high school had had simple goals in life. Physical therapist, marriage, bunch of kids. Zoë was fairly sure that working for a vampire was not something Stacy would even consider. She would probably be insulted by the concept. Stacy had no vision. No sense of adventure.

Zoë was pretty sure Stacy was also not aboard a ghost train getting robbed.

Zoë hated Stacy right then. A small logical part of her mind wondered why she was wasting time hating Stacy instead of, say, the mysterious Reynard or the drugged-out Arthur or even the ghosts robbing the train. Or Kevin, who delighted in tormenting her so much. Or the bigots who hadn't let her sit with her coworkers. She'd have been safe there.

She realized with disgust that she was longing for the safety of vampires and gods instead of standing on her own, which was something Granny had hammered into her. No matter how nice they are to you, they are still coterie and they are always dangerous. Work with them, but don't count on them.

She didn't have to count on them, but she could use them.

Zoë got out her special coterie phone and looked up Kevin's number.

The train had not put out an alarm that it was being robbed. Only Zoë, Reynard, and the train personnel knew about the threat, as far as Zoë could tell. They and whoever was in the car Reynard was running to, she guessed.


While she waited for Kevin to receive the text and respond, she again poked Arthur, who made a face and turned away from her as best he could, considering he was hunched up against a window and a train seat. But it was pretty clear he was out of commission.

Zoë put her face right up to his. "We are going to talk about the wisdom of drugging yourself into a stupor when you are on a train with people who would eat you. Pencil me into your schedule when you fucking wake up."

Checking out entirely was unlike him, but she didn't have time to wonder about it.

She had expected a sardonic text from Kevin, or a flat-out refusal to come to the car, but as Zoë stood guard in the aisle, with the blank faces of mud golems facing her in an interested, alert manner, she heard a low voice behind her.

"This ought to be good," Kevin said.

"Wow, you really fell for it," Zoë said, and felt the train shake slightly again under her feet. She caught a flash of something out the window, a wispy white. "I didn't think you'd actually obey."

Kevin sneered at her. " ‘Obey,' nice word there. What do you want to do, fire me?" He leaned in close, and Zoë could smell blood on his breath. "Please fire me."

She smiled at him, a sweet smile. "Fire one of my best writers? I'd never do that. Besides, you're a big, strong vampire, and I'm only a little human. Phil would kill you deader than you already are if you laid a hand on me. Or allowed me to get hurt."

At that point the ghosts boarded. Being insubstantial, they just jumped from their horses and phased through the doors, where they landed physically on the steps leading to the human car. A couple of the zoëtists stirred, but everyone but Arthur and the thralls jumped when the lead ghost, a white man looking to be about forty-five, fired a shot in the air.

"This here's a robbery, everyone put your hands up!" he shouted.

Kevin's eyes went wide with alarm and he stared first at the ghosts and then at Zoë. "You knew about this."

"You know, if you liked me just a little more, you might actually respect the manipulation here," she said. "But yeah, I knew."

"You could have called anyone to your little-distressed-princess side, they would have jumped at the chance. Why did you fucking bother me?" he hissed in her ear as their hands went up.

"Because I wanted to reinforce that you have to do what I say, I'm your goddamned boss," she whispered back, keeping her eyes on the ghosts. "I have a plan but I need someone who can move faster than me."

"Yeah, the moving-faster-than-you is going to be me leaving this fucking car and going back to the first-class car. If they boarded here, they must want something that the humans have. It's not my problem."

The zoëtist women were awake and in various states of panic. The thralls, of course, simply sat in their seats and stared blankly at the new events. The younger women fumbled with their bags of dirt and mud, and one was concentrating on forming a small golem out of Zoë's half-full soda can. It twisted and stretched and little fissures opened, forcing Coke to dribble out onto the table. Four mud golems stood guarding the aisles. The woman Zoë had mentally named the Matriarch, the oldest, who looked to be in her sixties, was awake now, and glaring at the new people in the car.

The ghosts stood at the far end, grinning at them. Now that they were substantial, Zoë could see their clothing much better: the men's cowboy outfits fit poorly over khakis and tailored button-down shirts. Their chaps were stiff and light brown, and their hats clearly cheap fabric. The woman wore a smart business suit with a modest knee-length skirt that had been bunched up to allow the chaps to fit over them. The guns at their hips, however, were real.

"Who the hell are these guys?" Zoë asked out loud.

"Good evening," the head cowboy said, his accent much closer to New England than the American Southwest. "I'm sure you ladies know what an old-fashioned train robbery is." He smiled with very white teeth. "Now hand over your valuables. Hell notes, talismans, any magical items you may have. And when you're done with that, you can tell me which one of you is Reynard Arseneaux?"

"What are you going to do with our valuables?" the oldest zoëtist asked, smiling. "The moment you leave the train, they will be worthless to you. Are you going to go shop in the snack car with the money?"

"Hey, we have employers!" the woman said, sticking her chin out. She was maybe twenty-five, Hispanic, and very short.

"Shut up," the leader growled. "It's no matter to you what happens to us. We just want your stuff. And these bullets are plenty real on this train, so you'd best do what we say, y'hear?" The word sounded odd coming out of his mouth, as if he had a script.

Zoë stepped forward and was stopped by a golem. It held a goopy arm out to block her, and she held up her hands, trying to show she was not threatening. It refused to let her pass.

She raised her voice then. "What do you want with Reynard?"

"That ain't your bidness," said the third cowboy, a fat white man about the size of a refrigerator. He would have looked intimidating except that his Western garb was stretched tight over him, and he looked like a grown man who had raided his children's costume trunk. His hat was pulled over his face, and she could see only his mouth.

"I'll get the leader, you get the fat one," Zoë whispered to Kevin.

"You think I'm going to take fighting directions from a little editor?" he asked. "I'd rather drink holy water."

"Prove it. There's some holy water in my bag there," Zoë said, pointing at the bag on the floor.

Kevin whipped his head around to her. "You're not serious."

"No, the word you're looking for is ‘stupid,' I'm not stupid. Can we please focus on the ghosts with the real guns?"

"Fuck this," he said, and turned and ran out the door.

"Why is every guy I encounter on this train a complete coward?" she asked out loud.

Zoë tried to climb over the seat to her left, but the golem hit her with its suddenly very solid mud arm, smacking her into the wall. She grunted and fell, and the golem flowed around her feet, trapping her.

"Dammit, I'm not the threat, it's them! Go get the fake cowboys! I'm on your side!" she said, struggling to free herself from the insidious mud that trapped her. She stood, but the mud was still gluing her to the floor.

"We're not fake! We'll put a bullet in you!" shouted the woman, and Zoë snorted.

"What happened to you guys, anyway? Did you get killed while on some corporate dude ranch visit? Did something interrupt your team building?"

They looked at each other, uncertain. Zoë laughed. "I was kind of kidding. Are you serious? That's utterly tragic. So you're doomed for eternity to wear fake cowboy outfits? You must be in hell."

She actually pitied the cowboys for a moment. The zoëtists had noticed her at this point, and the Matriarch flicked a hand, and the mud fell away from Zoë's jeans and shoes, although she was still filthy. The golem stepped back and let her get up.

"No matter what we were in life, we're here in death, and we're robbing you," the woman said, stepping in front of the man. "And the costumes we died in may not be real, but the guns are."

Zoë nodded. "You said that. I'm sure they're very scary. Now what I'm interested in is who is your employer? And what do ghosts get out of employment? What could you need?"

The woman shook the gun as if worsening her aim would make her more threatening. "Hold it right there! And it's none of your damn business. Give me that talisman, and whatever hell notes you have, now!"

Zoë had been slowly inching forward, but still had two golems between her and the ghosts. She held up her hands to show she wasn't armed. "Hang on, Calamity Jane, I'm just curious. Can't I be curious?"

"You can be dead!" shouted Calamity Jane. Zoë stopped and waited for the inevitable violence. She didn't think the woman could hit her; her hand was shaking too much. But she didn't want to go hand to hand with the big guy.

When the woman didn't pull the trigger, someone snickered off to the side.

"You're really not very good at this," Zoë said, not unkindly. "Why don't you just step off the train in Charlotte and go watch some NASCAR, or something?"

The fat ghost, the one who hadn't spoken yet, lifted his head. He'd had his head down, the hat obscuring him, and he looked dreadful. While the other ghosts looked somewhat human, this one looked chewed on, as if by a zombie. Half his cheek and one eye were missing. Zoë winced.

"She's not good at it, but I am," he said, and took aim.

Granny Good Mae had taught Zoë an awful lot about intent, and how you could judge what someone would do based on the intent behind their movements. This was why she was confident the woman wouldn't shoot. But when she got a look at old rotting one-eye, she knew she was in trouble.

She dove behind a seat as the cowboy pulled the trigger, and heard a wet squelch as the shot hit the golem that had jumped in front of her.

"OK, real bullets. We're done with the mocking, I guess," she muttered.

She peeked over the seat back. The golems rushed forward to engage the ghosts, and the ghosts fired again, followed by the cry of one of the zoëtists. "Shit," Zoë said.

The ghosts now struggled under a torrent of mud. The door opened behind them and a zombie porter came through, along with the snack car vampire, Deepu, and a hulking demon with green skin and far too many teeth.

"There, Raoul," the vampire Deepu said, pointing to the ghosts. The demon grunted and picked two of the ghosts—the leader and the woman—up by the necks. He slammed them together as if he were clapping his hands, their heads clashing together. He dropped them and they crumpled. The porter opened the door and the wind roared into the car, picking up paper and trash and putting out the gaslights. In the darkness Zoë heard a grunt as the demon tossed the ghosts into the night, and the bodies faded as the ghosts went from corporeal to insubstantial again.

There was still one ghost left. Zoë crawled over another seat, able to see very little, but knowing the golems, the demon, the zombie, and the vampire could probably take the one remaining ghost.

But then something slammed into her shoulder and she flew forward, sprawled on a thrall's lap, thinking vaguely that it was a shame to bleed on the new ghost train. She heard another scuffle, another scream, and then her name being called.

"Oh. Hey, Kevin, what are you doing here?" she asked, and fainted.

When she came to, her head was pillowed on Eir's lap. The lights were back on, and Zoë could see mud and blood spattering the walls and windows. The zoëtists were crowded around one of their own. The train was still.

Zoë blinked and tried to sit up. Eir held her down gently. "I think one of the zoëtists got shot," Zoë said. "Did you help her?"

"Shhh, Zoë," Eir said. Zoë stared at her. A smile crossed the severe goddess's face. "Everyone is all right."

"I don't know about that. For one thing, you never call me Zoë; what the hell is wrong with you?" She pushed Eir's arm off her and sat up. Gwen and Reynard sat in the seats opposite them. Arthur still dozed in his seat.

"What happened?" Zoë asked.

"Kevin came to get us. When we got here, the ghosts were gone. You and one of the zoëtists had been shot. Eir healed you both, and now we're close to Charlotte." She glanced at Zoë's filthy feet. "What happened here?"

Zoë ran her hand over her shoulder. Her sweater was still ripped and sticky with blood, but she seemed just fine underneath. "Stepped in a golem," she said absently. "So you're saying Kevin came back for me?"

"Not exactly," Reynard said. "A vampire I sometimes deal with was on the train and I had time to work out a business deal." The "business deal" on his neck still leaked blood, but it didn't look serious. "He met up with your Kevin and, well, vampires don't like to look cowardly, so Kevin turned back around right away and came back here with us. Together they helped stop the third ghost. Unfortunately, they're both quite ill right now."


"Ghosts aren't real people. So what they drank wasn't real blood," Gwen said.

"Oh," Zoë said, and heard retching coming from the bathroom.

"So what happened after I left?" Reynard asked.

"Lame-ass ghosts from some sort of corporate team building stunt gone bad decided to be cowboys. Then they asked for you, then I got shot. I think some other things happened, but it was dark."

She glanced at Eir. "Uh, sorry I was rude before. Thanks for healing me. I just, well, you weren't acting like yourself."

Eir just smiled at her.

"And you still aren't," Zoë said. "Eir gets a hit of euphoria when she saves a life," Gwen said softly. "It's a lot like being high or drunk. She will come down soon. But she will remember how you treat her."

"Got it," Zoë said. She smiled widely at Eir. "Thanks again, so much. I love you, man."

Eir smothered her in a giant hug, and Zoë tried not to wince at the crushing embrace. "And I you, Zoë my editor. I am so glad you are not dead. We are truly heading on a great adventure!"

The train began to slow, and a zombie entered the car, shuffling through and moaning that the next stop was Charlotte.

"You said they were looking for me?" Reynard asked quietly, after Zoë had carefully removed herself from Eir's huge arms. His face grew a bit pale.

"If your last name is Arseneaux, then yeah, they asked for our valuables, but really wanted you."

"Then I think Charlotte is where I get off," he said. He stood abruptly and said, "I'd recommend the same to you, Zoë. If they find you're here, too, you will have nowhere to run."

"Wait, who's ‘they'? Why me?" Zoë asked. But the train had stopped, and Reynard had already left them after a short bow to the goddesses. He didn't even grab the trench coat he had left on the seat opposite Arthur.

"What is he talking about?" she asked Gwen, but her friend shrugged.

Zoë frowned. "Hey, why didn't you notice I was in trouble?" she asked. "You usually check in when shit goes down."

A flicker of irritation crossed Gwen's face. "I was concentrating on something else," she said. "I can't focus on your well-being all the time, Zoë. Kevin saw you got shot and came to find me and Eir. You're fine now."

Zoë frowned. Gwen's voice had a "the lady doth protest too much" tone to it, but it wasn't Zoë's style to argue with a death goddess.

"Yeah, totally, I'm great," Zoë said. "I'm going to go check on the zoëtists, OK?"

Gwen walked with her, leaving Eir leaning back in the seat, eyes half-lidded. "I'm not even going to pretend I know what's going on with her," Zoë said.

"That man. Reynard. Who is that?" Gwen asked.

"I really have no idea. I met him on the train. He's not a zoëtist but clearly knows a lot about coterie. Says he's doing work in New Orleans for his employer, but he ran when he found out the ghosts knew his name. He didn't tell me much else about himself. He apparently sells himself to vampires for protection." She shuddered. She didn't tell Gwen what she had found out about the genocide, or that Reynard was a citytalker. It would be something to worry about later.

The zoëtists fussed over their own, a young girl who was pale and confused, but healed fully. Her eyes met Zoë's and she tried to smile. "Thanks for fighting with us," she said.

"I'm not sure I did anything, truly, except piss them off," Zoë said. "They could have shot me in the head. Glad you're OK."

The train began to start up, and she and Gwen headed back to their seats.

A voice pushed at the edge of Zoë's consciousness.

Fuck, girl, what were you doin' cowering like that in your little chair? You gotta fight if you wanna get anywhere in this world! The voice was loud and bossy and more strident than New York had ever been.

"Charlotte?" she whispered. "Are you speaking to me?"

The voice was gone.

Gwen was looking at her curiously. Zoë said, "Uh, hey, about those ghosts. From what Reynard said, they're pretty scary, and you guys have never mentioned them. Especially since they seem to be on the train, too."

Gwen joined Eir at the table and motioned for Zoë to sit. "Now why do you think ghosts are scary?" Gwen asked.

"Reynard said—well." Zoë began to feel uncertain. "One of them shot me, for one thing!"

"Anything with a gun is scary, then. Give a gun to a harmless creature like a rabbit and it can be scary," Gwen said. "Why are ghosts frightening?"

"Rabbits don't have thumbs," Zoë said, but relented. "Reynard said that ghosts possess humans and then take them for a joyride, like stolen cars. That they want to live again." She didn't want to meet Gwen's fathomless eyes; she suddenly felt like a kid trying to explain why she was shaving a cat when her best friend had suggested it would be a fun idea.

Gwen shook her head. "I think your friend was embellishing to you, Zoë. Ghosts can possess you, but they can't take complete control over you unless you're unconscious. And there aren't a lot of ghosts; they're made when a vampire or zombie has tried to turn someone, but they messed up the job somehow."

"Why would he lie?" Zoë asked, face burning, this time from anger.

"I don't know," Gwen said. "Maybe he was trying to scare you, get you into the vampire car with him? But clearly he was going there for protection, and was planning on coming back. It doesn't make sense. But it does seem he purposefully tried to frighten you for no reason."

"He certainly was terrified when he jumped out at Charlotte. So there's something to be afraid of," Zoë said grimly. "That dude is way too mysterious, and he likes it that way."

She wished she knew who the "cowboys" were.

Someone was sitting in Reynard's abandoned seat when Zoë and Gwen got back to where Arthur was sleeping. A small woman, a girl, really, wearing a black maid's outfit and with her hair in a style that harkened back to the 1940s. She was black and short, a demure girl who shyly looked up at Zoë's face.

Zoë took a step back. She had been burned before by coterie who didn't look dangerous.

"Are you a ghost?" she asked, feeling rather stupid for saying it. "I mean, you look like one, but…"

The woman smiled and fixed her eyes on the ground at Zoë's feet. "Pardon, miss, but I'm a porter for this area of the train and I'm coming to check on your well-being. After the excitement, I mean." Her voice had a slight Irish lilt to it.

"So you're not going to attack me to get me off the train and then go joyriding in my body?" Zoë asked.

"I told you, that's very difficult to do," Gwen said.

The porter's eyes widened as she looked up at Zoë. "No, ma'am, of course not. I'd lose my job if I abused a passenger like that!"

Gwen gestured for Zoë to sit next to the ghost. She sat beside Arthur, who still dozed against the window. "Zoë, this is Anna. I convinced her to take her break with us so that she could teach you a bit about ghosts."

This was starting to feel like an after-school special. But Zoë realized the ghost train must be the best place in the world for ghosts to work, since they would have a corporeal body here. Step off the train and they're a wisp again.

"I'm—OK, we can talk. I mean, I believe Gwen over some stranger who told me a bunch of lies, but, I guess—" She stopped, realizing she was babbling.

"What do I need to know?" she asked simply.

"That man lied to you," Anna said.

Ghost Train to New Orleans