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       The Girl in the Green Silk Gown, p.1
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           Seanan McGuire
The Girl in the Green Silk Gown


  Praise for Sparrow Hill Road by Seanan McGuire:

  “Hitchhiking ghosts, the unquiet dead, the gods of the old American roads—McGuire enters the company of Lindskold and Gaiman with this book, creating a wistful, funny, fascinating new mythology of diners, corn fields, and proms in this all-in-one-sitting read!”

  —Tamora Pierce, New York Times-bestselling author of Battle Magic and Bloodhound

  “Seanan McGuire doesn’t write stories, she gifts us with Myth—new Myths for a layered America that guide us off the twilight roads and lend us a pretty little dead girl to show us the way home.”

  —Tanya Huff, bestselling author of An Ancient Peace

  “The best ghost story I’ve read in a very long while.”

  —The Green Man Review

  “An evocative and profoundly creative work that instantly wraps around readers’ imaginations . . . this emotional, consistently surprising collection of adventures is also a striking testament to the power of American myths and memories.”

  —RT Book Reviews (top pick)

  “McGuire brings empathy, complexity, and a shivering excitement to this well-developed campfire tale. . . . A powerful blend of ghost story, love story, and murder mystery, wrapped in a perfectly neat package.”

  —Publishers Weekly (starred)

  “McGuire’s twilight America contains some strikingly strong mythic resonances.”

  —Tor.com

  “Unusual, sometimes dark, but rather lovely and even poignant.”

  —My Bookish Ways

  DAW Books presents the finest in urban fantasy from Seanan McGuire:

  InCryptid Novels

  DISCOUNT ARMAGEDDON

  MIDNIGHT BLUE-LIGHT SPECIAL

  HALF-OFF RAGNAROK

  POCKET APOCALYPSE

  CHAOS CHOREOGRAPHY

  MAGIC FOR NOTHING

  TRICKS FOR FREE

  The Ghost Roads

  SPARROW HILL ROAD

  THE GIRL IN THE GREEN SILK GOWN

  October Daye Novels

  ROSEMARY AND RUE

  A LOCAL HABITATION

  AN ARTIFICIAL NIGHT

  LATE ECLIPSES

  ONE SALT SEA

  ASHES OF HONOR

  CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT

  THE WINTER LONG

  A RED ROSE CHAIN

  ONCE BROKEN FAITH

  THE BRIGHTEST FELL

  NIGHT AND SILENCE

  Copyright © 2018 by Seanan McGuire.

  All Rights Reserved.

  Cover art and design by Amber Whitney.

  Additional cover design by G-Force Design.

  Interior dingbats created by Tara O’Shea.

  DAW Book Collectors No. 1793.

  Published by DAW Books, Inc.

  375 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014.

  All characters and events in this book are fictitious.

  Any resemblance to persons living or dead is strictly coincidental.

  The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal, and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage the electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.

  Nearly all the designs and trade names in this book are registered trademarks. All that are still in commercial use are protected by United States and international trademark law.

  Ebook ISBN 9780756413828

  DAW TRADEMARK REGISTERED

  U.S. PAT. AND TM. OFF. AND FOREIGN COUNTRIES

  —MARCA REGISTRADA

  HECHO EN U.S.A.

  Version_1

  For Amal.

  I will wait for you in the season of the hurricane.

  Contents

  Praise

  Also by Seanan McGuire

  Title Page

  Copyright

  Dedication

  Editor’s Note

  Book One: MysteriesChapter 1: A Girl and Her Car

  Chapter 2: Diamond Bobby, King of the Silver Screen

  Chapter 3: The Neon Lights of Home

  Book Two: SacrificesChapter 4: Bad Moon Rising

  Chapter 5: Candles and Consequences

  Chapter 6: Collect Calls from the Dead

  Chapter 7: Unlikely Bedfellows

  Chapter 8: Small Rooms Filled With Memories

  Book Three: RitualsChapter 9: Beware the Ocean Lady

  Chapter 10: Forbidden Fruit

  Chapter 11: The World’s Greatest Graveyard

  Chapter 12: A Rose By Any Other Flame

  Chapter 13: Sing Me a Song to Move the Stones

  Chapter 14: There Isn’t That Much Distance

  Book Four: ConsequencesChapter 15: All Ideas Are, to Someone, Terrible Ideas

  Chapter 16: My Spindrift Soul

  Chapter 17: My Driftglass Heart

  Book Five: JourneysChapter 18: The Spoils of Thievery

  Chapter 19: All Dogs Are Good Dogs

  Chapter 20: Everything Changes

  Chapter 21: Leave Your Body at the Door

  Chapter 22: Down Among the Dead Men

  Chapter 23: The Girl in the Green Silk Gown

  The Price Family Field Guide to the Twilight of North America: Ghostroad Edition

  Playlist

  Acknowledgments

  Editor’s Note:

  Many urban legends form around a small grain of truth, however misconstrued. In the case of Rose Marshall, more commonly known as “the Girl in the Green Silk Gown” or “the Phantom Prom Date,” we are well aware of the origins of the legend. It began on Sparrow Hill Road in Buckley Township, Michigan and has spread across North America, carried by people who heard and retold her story, changing it in ways both great and small.

  Like Rose herself, the story of the Girl in the Green Silk Gown is a hitchhiker, borrowing from those around it. . . . But still, this grain of truth remains: Rose Marshall lived. Rose Marshall died. And as of the time of this writing, Rose Marshall does not yet rest in peace.

  —Kevin and Evelyn Price, ed.

  Book One:

  Mysteries

  Homecomer, hitcher, phantom rider,

  White lady wants what’s been denied her.

  Gather-grim knows what you fear the most,

  But best keep away from the crossroads ghost.

  Talk to the poltergeist, talk to the haunt,

  Talk to the routewitch if it’s what you want.

  Reaper’s in the parlor, seizer’s in a host,

  But you’d best keep away from the crossroads ghost.

  —common clapping rhyme among the ever-lasters of the twilight

  The Phantom Prom Date is unique among the annals of American hitchhiking ghosts. While there are many reasons to grant her this distinction, the first and greatest is the contradiction she represents. By the side of the road, with her thumb out and her signature prom dress replaced by modern clothes, she is a positive figure, a guardian angel determined to save unwary travelers from the dangers they might otherwise face. In this incarnation, she listens, gives advice, and provides companionship, keeping truckers awa
ke on all-night shifts and protecting runaways from the consequences of their own actions. This version of the Phantom Prom Date is most often referred to as “the walking girl”—sometimes “the walking girl of Route 42”—or “Graveyard Rose.”

  (Author’s note: The “Graveyard Rose” moniker first appeared in Wisconsin in the late 1960s, and can be traced to a woman named Amy O’Malley, who claimed to have been rescued by the Phantom Prom Date herself three times before she turned eighteen.)

  Seated at a diner counter or seen outside a high school auditorium, however, the Phantom Prom Date becomes something different and much more menacing. These are the times when she is most likely to be wearing her eponymous green silk gown, her hair styled in curls that are decades out of date and bleached with lemon juice. This version of the legend is closely akin to New Hampshire’s Lonely John, and travelers who encounter her are, supposedly, often found dead or discovered to be the perpetrators of terrible crimes. In this incarnation, the Phantom Prom Date is more Fury than savior: she hunts the wicked, punishes the guilty, and kills the innocent unlucky enough to cross her path. She is a force of terrible destruction, and only the fact that she has the freedom of the entire open road has prevented her from wreaking havoc on any single community. Her victims are chosen carefully, and are rarely found in contiguous states.

  It is difficult to reconcile the two sides of the Phantom Prom Date, and some folklorists have chosen to separate them into individual stories, claiming the narratives became intermingled at some point. Examination of the earliest stories featuring the Phantom Prom Date, however, show this same dichotomy of motivation, this same incomprehensible tendency to be both a saver and a taker of lives. It is possible, then, that the original incident which inspired the story was something darker and more complicated than a simple hit-and-run. . . .

  —On the Trail of the Phantom Prom Date,

  Professor Laura Moorhead, University of Colorado.

  Chapter 1

  A Girl and Her Car

  THIS IS A GHOST STORY. If you’re not comfortable with that—if you like the lines between the living and the dead to be a little more cleanly drawn—this is your chance to bail. This is also a love story, in a sideways sort of way, and a story about second chances you never wanted and can’t refuse. It’s my story.

  My name is Rose.

  The living are never as far from the dead as they want to be, or as they need to believe they are. Tell someone a murder’s been committed in their house and the sale value goes through the floor. Tell them the field where they’re standing was the site of some brutal massacre or terrible battle and suddenly they’ll claim to have felt the bad vibes all along—and hell, for some of them, maybe that’s true. There have always been people who are more sensitive to the desires of the dead than others. But I’ll bet you most of them either wouldn’t have entered that field in the first place, or actively enjoy the company of hostile spirits.

  Who am I to judge? I’ve been known to enjoy the company of a hostile spirit or two.

  Regardless, since the world began, the living have walked on a shallow crust of mortality, balancing above the great chasms of the dead. We dig our own graves deeper and deeper, some of us out of a misplaced desire to give the living space, others because they hate what they don’t have, heartbeats and breath and an understanding of mortality that doesn’t take eternity into account. Dead folk like me, we occupy a level of the afterlife called the twilight, where the things the living love still are, just . . . twisted a little out of true, modified by the realization that physical reality isn’t all that big a deal. Dead folk in the twilight, for lack of a better way to put it, mostly want to go about our lives in peace. We want to work and play and get what we pay for and own what we build. Twilight ghosts can be malicious, sure, but for the most part, we aren’t out to cause trouble.

  For the most part. That makes it sound like some big, homogenous, weirdly sanitized version of a haunting, where all the ghosts are polite and all the rules are clearly posted at the city limits. The sort of place where the good stuff happens behind closed doors and the bad stuff happens in the town square under the guise of words like “morality” and “faith.” And those levels of the twilight exist, because see, we’re one little slice of what waits on the other side of living, but they’re a long way from the only thing that’s down there.

  The world of the dead is vast and deep and sprawling, and the only thing that matters is how far a body can dive before the pressure starts getting to them. So yeah, there are Elysian slices of the twilight. There are small towns that would make Ray Bradbury cream his chinos, places where it’s always Halloween and it never rains. For all I know, he’s the Mayor of one of those little places now, wiling away the endless hours as he lives out his own stories. If he is, that’s fine with me, for all that you’d never catch me in one of those tar pits of nostalgic sentimentality. Been there, done that, didn’t survive it the first time.

  Below the twilight you have the starlight, and under that you have the midnight, and if those seem like trite ways to label a place that isn’t a place, one that predates our current ideas about the living and the dead, remember that the dead are still people. We get to be trite and simplistic and weird. There are sublevels, slices where the light varies, where the ghosts of stars shine a little brighter or disappear altogether, but those are the big ones.

  And connecting them all, winding through them like a ribbon tangled in a dead girl’s hair, are the ghostroads.

  No one built them; no one had to. As long as there’s been life in this world, there have been roads, paths that were a sliver more convenient or easier to travel. Shortcuts became trails became highways, until they fell, for whatever reason, out of favor. But life isn’t as easy to categorize as some folks would like, and anything that’s used enough, loved enough, favored enough, will eventually find its own way of living. So when those trails stopped being used, when those roads were skipped over in order to build a new overpass, when the weeds grew through the concrete and erosion pulled the stones away, they came here.

  Only roads don’t want to build bucolic little towns and call them “Heaven.” Roads want to go. The ghostroads connect all the levels and lands of the dead, not only to each other, but to the lands of the living.

  That’s where I come in.

  I was born in 1936, third of three and the only girl in a house that seemed to consist more of draft than timber. Daddy made it eight years before the pressure got to be too much and he split. He’s got to be dead by now, one more phantom drifting somewhere out there in the void, and he must have heard that his darling girl went and made something of herself, me, Rosie Marshall, the Phantom Prom Date, the Girl in the Green Silk Gown. Me, Rosie Marshall, who broke every rule and somehow kept on going. If he’s impressed by what I grew up to be, he’s never cared enough to come and tell me about it. That’s all right. I got here without him. I sure don’t need him now.

  Me, I made it eight years further than my father. I stayed in Buckley Township until the day I died, sweet sixteen and dressed in a green silk gown I’d worked my fingers to the bone to afford. The man who ran me off the road should never have been there. I was an innocent, and he was a predator, and Bobby’s always liked them sweet and virginal and so damn young. Like I was.

  He doesn’t care much for me anymore. Not young enough, not innocent enough, not helpless enough by half. That’s all right. I don’t care much for him. Bobby Cross isn’t dead, but he’s going to wish he was when I finally catch up to him. He killed me once. I figure it’s only right for me to return the favor.

  There’s ways to put a spirit on the ghostroads, and one of the finest and fastest is dying behind the wheel. I was on the road when he ran me down, and I’ve been on the road ever since. I’m that girl you see walking down the highway median with my thumb cocked to the sun, inviting anyone who wants a little trouble to pick me up and find out where I
m going. I’m the runaway in the truck stop and the teenager playing on the rest stop swings with not a car in sight to get her wherever it is she might be going. I’m harmless, as long as you treat me kindly. I’m so long dead that I’ve got nothing left to fear.

  Folks can call me what they like. I’ve got my fans and my detractors, people who say I’m a menace and people who say I’m the ghost of a saint. It doesn’t bother me. Call me the walking girl of Route 42; call me the girl in the diner or the phantom prom date. I’ll still be Rose, just Rose, pretty Rose Marshall who died too young and refused to lie quiet in her grave. Like I’ve said and will keep on saying, I’m just one more girl who raced and lost in the hand of the forest, the shade of the hill, on the hairpin curves of that damned deadly road.

  People call me a lot of things these days. The ones who know me, though . . .

  The ones who know me call me Rose.

  * * *

  The neon sign in the window glows a steady green, painting the parking lot in shades of shamrock, glinting off the broken glass on the pavement and the intact windscreen of the lone car snuggled up to the curb. There’s always broken glass on the pavement in a parking lot like this one, even as far down into the twilight as I am right now. Where it comes from is a mystery a little bit above my pay grade, and so I leave it alone. It can be somebody else’s problem, if it’s a problem at all. Even broken things are beautiful when the light hits them the right way.

  “Order up,” calls Emma, and hits the press-top bell she keeps for just such occasions. She beams at me as she walks my white paper bag and insulated cup over, setting them down on the counter in front of me. “From my hands to yours, Rosie-my-girl, fresh and good as anything. How’s your boy?”

 
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