Undead sublet, p.2
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       Undead Sublet, p.2

         Part #2. 5 of Half Moon Hollow series by Molly Harper  
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  “Sesame Street?” I suggested.

  “Yes, Sesame Street. ”

  “I don’t think Big Bird is a chicken,” I grumbled petulantly.

  “Yes, I’m so sorry. You clearly have the expertise in performing figments of one’s imagination. And sassy-mouthing your mentor. ”

  “You’re going to make me peel potatoes again, aren’t you?” I groaned.

  Chef Gamling did not, in fact, make me peel potatoes, as he would have when I made a stupid mistake in school. He gave me several Tupperware containers full of his special maultaschen, a German dumpling dish that he only made for me when I was sick in school.

  His eyes softened as I bobbled the containers. “I worry about you, süße. ” My throat caught at his rare use of a German endearment. He pinched my cheek gently, as if gauging how much weight I’d lost over the last year. “I don’t hear from you in months, and you show up at my door looking like this? Pale, skinny, big dark circles under your eyes. You look like you’re going to drop at any moment. And George is no good with first aid. ”

  “You wouldn’t be performing mouth-to-mouth on me in the ‘dropping’ scenario?” I asked, squinting up at him.

  He shook his head and hugged me fiercely. “I have heard the foul words that mouth is capable of producing. Lips that dirty shall never touch mine. ”

  “Hey, you were the one who told the female students that professional chefs ‘often season the food with salty language,’ so we couldn’t afford to become ladylike and offended. ”

  “Yes, but I didn’t expect you to embrace the concept so wholeheartedly. ” He sighed.

  And so I was instructed to go home, sleep, eat, and then sleep again. If I didn’t finish the maultaschen within three days, he was going to add malted milkshakes to my “regimen. ” Also, I was supposed to meet him at the HMH First Baptist Church the next Saturday. The last time I’d seen the inside of a church, a funeral was involved, so this was not a good sign.

  —

  George caught me on my way out of the house and gave me a tire-sized chunk of monkey bread to call my very own. I couldn’t help but accept it, because the gesture was so sweet. So very, very sweet.

  George was a veritable font of information about local quirks and perks. When he heard where I was staying, he’d clapped his hands together like a little kid and demanded to know all of the details. When I gave him nothing but a confused smile, he told me that “the Lassiter place” had quite a reputation. “Everybody knew” that the house was rife with ghostly lights and strange noises. Before Lindy’s husband bought the place, teenagers used to sneak out to the property and dare each other to knock on the door and call out for the original owner, John Lassiter.

  “You’re saying my house is haunted?” I asked.

  “More like cursed,” George told me. “Ever since poor John Lassiter built it for his wife-to-be in 1900. He was one of those confirmed bachelors who suddenly decide to get married in their fifties. His fiancée was young and fickle. Elizabeth Early didn’t really want to marry John, so she kept finding reasons that the house wasn’t ready. She wanted the kitchen to be east-facing, she wanted a water closet, she wanted gingerbread and bits of flotsam all over the eaves. Finally, her father put his foot down and told her to quit stalling and put poor John out of his misery. The morning of their wedding, they woke up to find Elizabeth had run off with a peddler. ”

  “Tacky. ”

  “But effective,” George conceded. “John never heard from her again. He died a few years later, alone in that little house. He could have sold it. There were plenty of young men who would have given him good money for a pretty house to offer their brides. But he wouldn’t budge. He didn’t want a happy couple living in his house when he was so alone. And ever since he died, any couple who has lived together in that place has either died or had a marriage so miserable they wished they were dead. ”

  “So there’s no such thing as divorce in backwoods ghost stories?” I deadpanned.

  “Laugh all you want, smartass. The only reason you’re renting the house is that Lindy Clemson’s husband died unexpectedly. It’s cursed, I tell you. ”

  “Lindy told me she was getting a divorce. ”

  George blanched, as if he regretted revealing the information. He cleared his throat. “Well, in her case, it’s a little bit of both. ”

  “How could it possibly be both?”

  “Things are different here, honey. This is Kentucky. ”

  “Oh, fine, so my house is cursed. ” I sighed. “What are the terms?”

  “Terms?”

  “Every curse has terms. You know, sleep a hundred years and kiss a prince, you’re in the clear, that sort of thing. So what did John want from the couples who lived in his house? How can they get back in his good graces?”

  “I don’t think he set any terms. ”

  I sniffed. “Well, then it’s more of a jinx than a curse. ”

  “Semantics. ”

  “I will try not to provoke the spirits of the epically lovelorn while I’m in town,” I promised.

  “See that you don’t, sweetie. ”

  The Travel Wok—When Pepper Spray Just Won’t Do

  2

  There it was again!

  The soft thump down the hall had me sitting up in bed, blinking into the black quiet of my room. My sleep-blurred brain tumbled to George, his stories about poor, lovelorn Mr. Lassiter, and the possibility that said deceased bachelor could be wandering around my house in spectral form.

  This was what I got for going to bed so early. My internal clock was all wonky. Thoroughly chastised and toting Tupperware and a bowling-ball-sized chunk of monkey bread, I’d found myself back in my house with nothing to do. No dishes to prep. Nothing to chop or sauté. No pans to wash. No knives to sharpen. The highlight of the evening was tripping and falling flat on my face as soon as I walked into the living room. The coffee table seemed… off. I remembered it being a little farther away from the couch. Then again, I was still adjusting to, well, everything, so who was I to think I’d already mentally mapped the living room?

  I settled for more sleep. It seemed the more I slept, the more I needed to sleep. My body had been running on fumes for so long it was as if it was soaking up all the rest it could because I couldn’t be trusted to sleep decently again when I went back to my life. The house was so quiet, a far cry from the traffic noises and sirens that bounced around my city apartment. I didn’t need a white-noise machine here. The silence of the house seemed to wrap around me like a sweet cocoon, helping me ignore my ailing stomach and table bruises.

  The only hitch in my “sleep the month away” plan was that the extreme quiet made every creak, every groan, of every board echo like a gunshot. I didn’t know much about old houses, but it seemed this one spent a lot of time settling. At times, it almost sounded like footsteps falling softly against the hardwood floors—ridiculous, as I’d triple-checked the locks myself, a habit I’d carried with me from Chicago.

  The Clemsons’ debris was strewn across the house like broken toys. Lindy left a bunch of men’s plaid flannels and Clemson Construction T-shirts in the closet. A manly bar of plain yellow Dial still occupied the little soap dish in the master bath. When I opened the coat closet, I had to dive out of the way to avoid the avalanche of blueprints and graph paper that came tumbling from the top shelf.

  And now, on top of these depressing relics, I had to deal with things that went bump in the night? I tilted my head, like a dog listening for its master, and it happened again. The weird noise echoed down the hall. It didn’t sound like the house creaking. This time, it really did sound like footsteps, distinct movements on the floor. As if someone was walking around in the kitchen.

  Slowly, my hand slid down the side of the mattress, reaching for the Louisville Slugger I kept under the bed in my apartment. But of course, it wasn’t there. Why would I bring a weapon to a nice, safe country cottage?

  Something in the other room hit the floor with a muted thud, sending a cold, watery flash through my belly. I’d seen Straw Dogs. I knew this scenario wouldn’t end well for the out-of-towner.

  I jumped out of bed, carefully moving to close the door with a soft click. I leaned against it, both palms pressed to the wood, as if my scrawny self could be any kind of barricade. Forcing myself to take slow, deep breaths, I stepped into my sneakers and a hoodie.

  Options! I barked at my brain. Give me options. You can panic later.

  I needed to call 911. But Lindy had taken all of the landline phones with her when she’d moved out. My cell phone? In my bag, on the TV table next to the front door. The front door, which was right by the kitchen. That was very poor planning on my part.

  I would kick myself later, I promised. OK, I couldn’t call for help. I couldn’t get to my car keys. Could I run? My nearest neighbors were three miles away, but if I cut across the cow pasture that bordered the property, I could make that distance pretty easily. I could run in my pajama pants. It would mean leaving my purse behind, but at this point, I was willing to live without my cell phone and the fourteen Chap-Sticks rattling around in my shoulder bag.

  I crept over to the window and tried to shove the sash up. Nothing. It didn’t budge a millimeter. Planting my feet, I tried again, shoving with all my might. Nothing. Being low to the ground gave me proper leverage, but I was also skinny, malnourished, with no weight-lifting regimen.

  I leaned closer to the sill. “What the hell?” I hissed. The windows had been nailed shut from the outside. “Who does that?”

  Were all of the windows nailed shut? Why would Lindy do that? I considered throwing my nightstand through the single-pane window and making a break for it, but having no idea who was in the house or why, I preferred to get away without calling attention to myself.

  I need more options, Brain!

  But Brain was ignoring me in favor of regurgitating random soup recipes. Because knowing the exact amount of mushrooms in the porcini bisque special from the previous week was super-useful at the moment. Stupid Brain.

  OK, the back door was near the kitchen, which was clearly not a viable route. If I was very quiet, I might be able to sneak past the kitchen, grab my purse, and get out through the front door, calling the cops while I ran for the neighbors’. It was better than cowering in my room, waiting for some unknown intruder to decide whether he wanted to add murder to his criminal résumé.

  I listened at the door, unable to hear anything on the other side. I touched the knob with shaking fingers, forcing myself to grasp it and turn. I could do this, I told myself. I was a city girl. And I would not let some hillbilly housebreaker intimidate me. I eased the door open. This was my house, damn it, however temporary. I didn’t let people intimidate me in my kitchen, much less my house. Giving up the relative safety of my room, I took a few resolute steps out into the hall.

  I was Tess Maitland, terror of junior line cooks everywhere. I wasn’t afraid of anything.

  Except for heights. And sharks. And backwoods burglars.

  My bravado deflated to nil as I neared the kitchen. If I could just sneak past unnoticed and slip out the front door… If I could grab my keys and make it to my car, all the better.

  My favorite wok—fourteen inches in diameter and carbon steel, nice and heavy—sat on top of a box full of kitchen supplies I’d left in the hallway. I slipped my fingers through the smooth wood handle. Now if he got in the way, the home intruder was going to get a nice, solid whack.

  From the kitchen, I could now hear the low hum of the microwave. My arms fell to my sides, wok bumping against my leg.

  Who the hell breaks into someone’s house to use their microwave?

  Believe it or not, this actually made me feel better. For one thing, someone who was warming up ramen in a stranger’s house probably wasn’t planning the dismemberment of said stranger. And the microwave had probably covered the sound of my approach. As long as I didn’t—
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