Flight from mayhem, p.13
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       Flight from Mayhem, p.13

           Yasmine Galenorn
 

  “I brought mine.” She let out a sigh. “But that’s not the only reason I came down, Shimmer. Hell, I could have just driven down to Bainbridge Island for the week, if I only wanted to get away. No, I have a problem, and I’m hoping you and Alex can help me figure out if I’m imagining things, or if I’m really being stalked.”

  I blinked. This was out of the blue. “What? You’re being stalked?”

  The tears dried as a look of wariness crossed her face. “I think I might be. I was hoping that I could talk to you and everybody at the agency. Maybe hire you guys to find out if this is just my imagination or if I really do have a problem.”

  I nodded, sobering. “Yes, I think you’d better. Stalking is a dangerous crime, and if you really do have some creep following you, we need to figure out what we can do about it. Do you know who it is?”

  She nodded. “Yeah, but I have never met him. I have no clue as to where he knows me from. I’ll tell you about it tonight at the office, if that’s all right?”

  “I’ll leave a note with Bette to schedule out the first hour for you so that she won’t book any appointments until after.” I pulled out my phone and texted Bette, then went back to my food.

  We finished eating in silence, with Tonya yawning her way through the meal. I glanced at the clock. Four A.M. “Why don’t you finish eating and then go to bed? The way you’re yawning, I’m afraid you’re going to keel over in your plate.”

  “Actually, I feel like I could, except that I’m also still hyper from the trip and my mind is whirling. Why don’t you show me your haunted house and then I’ll go to bed after that? You’re still awake, right?”

  I nodded. “Given my bedtime is around two o’clock and I wake up at six or seven, yeah, I’m up for a while.” I dug out a flashlight and strapped my dagger to my thigh, and, with Chai in tow, we headed across the street.

  As we approached, Mary’s house seemed so silent that my stomach lurched—too silent. Unnaturally silent. But the moment we stepped into the yard, the energy rose, whirling around us. The willow was restless—I could sense its wariness. A rustling through the undergrowth startled me, but when I closed my eyes, reaching out, I knew that neither human nor animal was responsible for the noise.

  Tonya’s tears had vanished, and she looked wide awake and alert. She glanced around the yard, pausing just past the gate. “There is so much going on here. I’ve never been in the Greenbelt Park District before, though it has a reputation with all the witches and psychics in the area. But the activity is amazing.” She turned to the swing and gasped. “There’s a child’s ghost here—on the swing.”

  Chai and I both turned to look. I could see a wispy outline. Beside me, Chai stiffened. I had the feeling that, regardless of whether he could see the same thing I was, he knew something was there.

  Another moment and he let out a long breath. “How young?”

  “Ten . . . maybe twelve?” Tonya tilted her head to the side, watching the mist. “I don’t know what you can see, but she’s wearing a dress that I’d place . . . oh, pre-1940. Brown hair, braids, sad look on her face. She looks lonely.”

  I frowned. The image felt heavy, would be the best way I could describe it. Dark with an outline of light. And the sadness went so deep that it threatened to swallow me up. There was something behind the sadness, though. Beneath the surface . . . close eyes, tune in, listen . . .

  A hunter. I jerked back as it flared, angry and hurt—like a wounded animal. As I jerked around, Tonya started forward. Her brown eyes were glassy, pools of coffee.

  “Stop! It’s not—”

  But Chai was faster. He had hold of her arm, dragging her back from the swirl of mist. It rose up like a snake, let out a long hiss, and then vanished. Tonya blinked.

  “What . . . crap!” She shook her head. “That thing got past my wards, and I thought they were pretty damned strong. What the hell?”

  “Don’t feel too bad. The Greenbelt Park District is a nest of strong spirits. More powerful people than you have been taken down here. I’ve heard some pretty frightening stories, and Alex has a few of his own.” I motioned toward the porch. “Let’s go find Mary. I hope that wasn’t her.”

  Tonya raised her eyebrows, grinning. “If it was, I’d say we’re in for a hell of a ride.” She swung around me and resolutely marched up the stairs. Shapely, she was fit but curvy. Tonya was wearing jeans and a pale blue tank top beneath a denim jacket. Her dark blond hair was braided back into the French braid she’d been wearing the first time I met her. But what really set her apart was her energy. When Tonya walked into a room, if she wanted to she could own the place and everyone in it. I’d seen her take control of situations on a magical level, and it was pretty damned dramatic.

  We followed her up the stairs, but Chai hit one of the soft spots at the top and his leg went straight through the boards. He let out a curse, but before we could get to him, he was out and on the porch proper, glaring at the broken wood.

  “Be cautious—this whole place could fall down around our heads.” He held out his hand and a soft glow of light emanated from his fingers. He blew on it and it grew to encompass the area around the door. “Let me check for weak spots before you go any farther.”

  “I was just here—”

  “No, Little Sister.” Most definitely a Shut up and let me do this tone. When Chai was determined, there was no stopping him. So I stood back as he examined the wood for any further weak spots. After a moment, he nodded to the door. “Now, you may.”

  I opened the door and entered the narrow hallway. Tonya and Chai followed. I pointed to my right. “Living room, I think, or parlor. Not much in there. Tonya, can you sense anything?”

  She peeked in, glancing around in the glow of Chai’s light. “Nope—nothing that seems willing to show itself.”

  “The kitchen was where I met Mary. And the basement is where she tried to shove me. The creature behind her supposedly forced her to do it, but now . . .” I fell silent as we entered the kitchen. One glance around told me Mary wasn’t around. Or at least, she wasn’t showing herself. But as Tonya entered, the floor began to shake as knickknacks rattled against the walls.

  “Earthquake?” Tonya turned to run back toward the door, but Chai caught hold of her.

  “No, this is something supernatural. Stay here—don’t get separated.”

  At that moment, the door to the basement swung open and out lurched the head of a giant anaconda, except that it was rumbling with a low roar. I then noticed its head also had a dragonlike look to it.

  “Oh, hell. What the—” My question was cut off as the creature rammed forward and, with a quick thrust, hit my stomach with its head. It was in midair, propelling along with no legs, and felt far more solid than any ghost had a right to be.

  It slammed me through the door, into the kitchen, lodging me against the corner of the range. The impact was so brutal that I couldn’t even scream. Hell, I could barely breathe. As the shock of the metal meeting my back registered, Chai lunged, grabbing the creature around the middle. It twisted and—like a cat whipping its tail—volleyed the djinn against the wall.

  At that moment, a noise from the front door took us all by surprise, the monster included.

  Alex stood there, eyes blazing crimson. He launched himself down the hall, leaping to land astride the serpent. The creature let out another rumble as Alex clung to it, swinging down to face its underbelly. It tried to shake him off but he hung tight, climbing along its length like he might climb across a bridge made of a single rope. Chai caught hold of its tail and tried to hold it steady.

  Tonya knelt beside me, helping me stand. The blow had been strong enough to knock the breath out of me, and my back had taken a beating when I hit the corner of the stove. I knew I was bleeding from where a sharp edge had cut me.

  As Tonya dragged me aside, Alex leaned his head back as his fangs descended and
he plunged them into the throat of the serpent. As he held on, his eyes blazing crimson, the creature tried to throw him, but Chai yanked on the tail—hard. He held up one hand and his scimitar appeared. I’d seen it once before, when we were in Port Townsend, when I had learned something disturbing about the djinn, but I hadn’t asked him about it because the subject definitely had Do not approach written all over it.

  Chai brought the huge blade down, slashing into the tail, and the serpent let out a loud hiss, struggling. But Alex held firm to the throat. As he pulled away, blood dripped down his chin, but it wasn’t red—it was a pale green liquid, and it had a neon glow to it.

  Tonya caught her breath. “Oh my Goddess . . .”

  Another slash from Chai, this time more toward the center of the creature, and the blade went completely through, severing it in half. The serpent let out another sound, like that of air escaping from tires, and vanished from sight, including all of its blood, or whatever it had been dripping.

  Alex landed on the floor and Chai reached down to give him a hand.

  “Alex, are you . . . what was that stuff?” I hobbled over to him, my side aching. If I had been human, I probably would be dead—or close to it.

  Alex answered by turning to the side. He doubled over, vomiting up the fluid that had apparently passed for blood. As he clutched his stomach, I landed on my knees beside him, wrapping my arm around his shoulders as he choked up the rest of it.

  Chai and Tonya approached, Chai keeping a close eye around us for any more surprise attacks. Tonya motioned for me to move to the side, and as I did, she placed a hand on the back of Alex’s neck, and one on his forehead.

  Clear the body, clear the blood,

  Clear the poison, clear the muck,

  Cleanse the aura, cleanse the air,

  Chase the toxins out of here.

  As her voice softened, Alex began to relax. One last cough and he hacked up a small ball—it was the same neon green as the serpent’s blood, but it looked like an egg. As we stared at it, the shell began to fracture and then cracked fully, releasing a miniature version of the serpent. With one swift motion, Alex smashed it flat and then leaned back against the wall, shaking his head.

  “You really have to be careful around here.” The voice startled all of us, but as I turned, I knew who was there. “You never know what’s going to pop up to take you off guard.”

  Mary, in all her ghostly flesh. She was smiling softly. “Thank you. I’ve been trying to evict that critter for some time, but I couldn’t get to it because it was dawdling along over in the astral realm, while I exist in the spirit realm.”

  I smiled weakly at her, praying she wasn’t going to go all psycho on us, but she just stood there, translucent and looking cheerful. I turned back to Alex. He pushed himself off the floor and pulled out a handkerchief, wiping his mouth.

  “I’d kiss you but . . .” Somehow, the thought of kissing him and getting some of that ectoplasmic goo in my mouth just didn’t do much for me.

  “Yeah, don’t sweat it. Boy, do I need some mouthwash to rinse my mouth out with. Or real blood to wash the taste of that crap out of my mouth.” He shook his head. “Wasn’t expecting that, tell you for certain.”

  “Why are you here?” Now that the immediate danger was over, it occurred to me that Alex hadn’t said a word about dropping over.

  “I had a feeling . . . call it intuition. Plus, you left your tablet and notes at the office and I thought you might need them. I decided to drop them off on my way home.” But his look told me there was another reason, one he didn’t want to talk about in front of the others.

  I nodded. “All right. But for now . . . this is Mary. She owned this house. I told you all about her.”

  As we turned to the ghost, she tilted her head to one side, smiling. She still looked like the welcoming, sweet old grandmother, but now I was wary. One: She still had tried to shove me down the stairs, even though she said it was the dark shadow that made her do it. And two: After that serpent? I didn’t trust anything in this house. But Tonya stepped forward, staring straight at her.

  “Mary,” she said. “That’s your name, isn’t it?”

  Mary nodded, staring at her as though she was surprised to be seen. “Yes, that’s my name. Who are you?”

  Tonya hesitated, a thoughtful look on her face, as though considering what to say. After a moment, she carefully edged a step closer to the ghost. “My name is Tonya. I’m a friend of Shimmer’s.” She pointed to the splatter of green plaid on the floor that Alex had upchucked. “Do you know what that creature was?”

  For a moment I thought Mary wasn’t going to answer, but after a long pause the ghost let out what sounded like a rustling sigh. “There are so many monsters in the area that it’s hard to count them all. I’ve seen this creature around, though until now it has never bothered me. But it crosses through the yard at night, and I know it feeds on small animals. Which is why, if you have a pet, you should always keep it inside if you live in the Greenbelt Park District.”

  “Mary, is it true that you are here to help guard against the negative entities that make this place their home?” Tanya was being blunt, all right. I wondered how Mary would take it, but the ghost simply smiled and gave a brisk bob of the head.

  “Oh yes, I consider it my civic duty.”

  Tonya turned to me. “Can we talk about this outside for a moment?”

  It seemed odd to me that she would say this in front of Mary, but as I looked at the ghost, there was no sign on Mary’s face that Tonya’s comment had registered in any way. I shrugged. “All right. Alex and Chai, can you come with us?” I really didn’t trust going out in the yard after dark, especially with what we had just encountered.

  Alex glanced at my back. “Can you walk okay?”

  I stretched gently, trying to ease the sharp ache under my shoulder blade. “I’ll be fine. Dra— I’m tough, I’ll heal up fast.”

  “If you’re sure. Just all of you, be careful on the porch, I noticed a large hole in the middle of it when I came up the steps.”

  Chai laughed. “Yeah, we found out on the way in—the hard way.” He led, followed by Tonya, then me, and lastly—Alex. When we were on the porch Tonya carefully shut the door behind us.

  “Mary is the real deal, except . . . there’s something wrong with her and she doesn’t know it. There’s a darker spirit behind her and I think it’s playing her. I think you’re right—she’s trapped. Whether it’s because she trapped herself, or whether this darker spirit is keeping her here, I’d like to set her free. She may think she’s a spiritual warrior, placed here to fight against darker entities, but honestly, I think that she’s the only one who believes that.”

  Alex cocked his eyebrow and looked at her, a quizzical expression on his face. “Do you mean that spirits can be . . . kidnapped?”

  Tonya bit her lip, then shook her head. “Not exactly, but . . . in a way. She’s not free to leave—something seems to be holding her here. It wasn’t that snake . . . dragon . . . whatever. But the creature was a manifestation of a darker evil that’s lurking in there. At first I thought Mary was being possessed by a walk-in, but now . . . I am pretty sure she isn’t being possessed by anything.”

  “Walk-in?” I had never heard the term before.

  “The term is commonly used when a spirit possesses a living being and affects their behavior. But it can also happen to other ghosts. Especially ones who feel like they never did enough in life, or who feel they must stay around to protect others. These guilt-ridden feelings make them vulnerable to attack—spiritual attack, that is.” Tonya cautiously walked over to the edge of the railing, avoiding soft spots in the porch. She leaned against one of the columns and stared out into the night. “Mary seems like a sweet person, so what could she have done that would make her feel guilty enough so that she felt she had to stay here?”

  Alex c
leared his throat. “We can do a little research and find out. After all, we are a PI firm.”

  “I’d like that, if we can.” I stood beside Tonya, also staring out into the vast yard. Across the street, my house glowed with ambient light from the aquariums inside. As I looked up the block, I began to realize just how isolated I was from other people. Few of the houses on my street were occupied, and I hadn’t bothered to get to know anyone who lived in my neighborhood even though I had been here for over five months.

  Tonya must have caught my mood, because she looked at me and placed a hand lightly on my shoulder. “This neighborhood feels so deserted. There aren’t many people around here, are there?”

  I shook my head. “No, but this is the only area of the city that I could afford to live in. And truly, it suits me in many ways. I like having friends, but it’s better if I keep to myself so that others don’t find out exactly what I am.” I knew what kind of trouble it would cause if word got out that I was a dragon. Better to let the neighbors—such as they were—think that I was Fae. I was working on building up my cover as a water sprite, although that seemed ludicrous given my size, but none of the humans had to know.

  Alex turned back to look at the door. “So what do we do about Mary? Do you need to perform some sort of exorcism? And if she is being restrained, whatever is keeping her here isn’t going to like having you try to break his . . . her . . . its hold, now are they?”

  Tonya laughed. It was one of the first real laughs I had heard from her since she arrived. “I need to think about this for a little bit. I’m actually not entirely sure how to go about it. But I know there has to be some way around this. I just have to figure it out.”

  “Mary is very adamant about having someone who loves the house here,” I said. “I wish we could clear it and find someone to live in it. But I don’t even know if the house is for sale. I found an old sign, but the print has worn away and the house was unlocked when I came over to check it out.” Pausing, I glanced at Tonya. “Do you think that Mary knows you’re a witch?”

 
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