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Shadow silence, p.13
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       Shadow Silence, p.13

           Yasmine Galenorn
 
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  “Where are Frith and Folly?” I looked around for Peggin’s ferrets.

  She frowned. “I’m boarding them for a couple of days until I make sure there aren’t any holes around the house for them to get out of. I want to set up a ferret room when we get there—probably one of the front parlors—so I have time to make certain there’s nothing they can get into. They’ll do fine once we have their toys and pens set up. But we’ll have to fix a screen door on the room, because a baby gate won’t work. They’ll climb right over it.”

  One thing I had learned from our friendship—ferrets were smart. They could figure out a host of obstacles. “Never underestimate a ferret,” Peggin had told me. “They’ll always prove you wrong.”

  I opened my mouth to ask her if she was sure she wanted to go through with it, but then stopped. Bryan was right. What else was she going to do, given the short amount of time she had in which to find a new place? Instead, I picked up one of the sandwiches and bit into it, closing my eyes as the flavor hit my tongue.

  “So, did you meet Veronica last night?” Peggin’s voice brought me out of my food-induced reverie.

  I nodded, swallowing. “Yeah, I did. Trust me, it was a lot scarier than meeting Penelope. I like Penelope. Veronica? Not quite so fond of. But she told me there are fifteen witch bottles out in the woods up on Timber Peak, and that’s how Magda’s summoning the Ankou away from Arawn. We have to find all the bottles and then Ivy, Oriel, and Ellia need to break their spell and destroy them.”

  Deev, who was actually sans his top hat for once, and wearing a slightly less flamboyant outfit—though now he looked a little Mad Max-meets steampunk—arched his eyebrows behind those goggle-like glasses.

  “Ankou? The Shadow People, right? I’ve met several through my life. I seem prone to drawing them in, unfortunately. I have several sculptures I made in an attempt to deal with the fear they inspire.”

  I stared at him. “I hope to hell those pieces never come to life. I don’t think I’d want one of them running around town.”

  “Trust me, I keep them locked away good and tight. If they do come to life, they’ll have to figure out how to get out of a padlocked barn cell.” He grinned then, his teeth so white they nearly blinded me.

  We chatted our way through breakfast, then got down to business. First run were the basics. Furniture, boxes of kitchen goods, anything that wasn’t too terribly breakable. As I dragged out a big bag of bedding, I almost ran into Deev, who was coming back from carrying a box of pots and pans.

  “Whoops! Watch out, don’t want to throw you off balance,” he said, stepping to the side. The man had a dexterity and grace that I found hard to pinpoint.

  “Yeah, that’s not hard to do.” I laughed, then stopped, staring at him. “Promise me something?”

  “I’ll watch over her as much as I can.” He stared at me, his grin falling away as well. “Kerris, you’re not her mother; you can’t bubble wrap all your friends.”

  I frowned. “That’s pretty much what Bryan said.”

  “One thing I’ve learned in my life—and maybe it’s because my creations are like children—is that you have to let things and people find their way in the world. Jokney, for example. I worry about the little guy every time he gets loose, but I can’t tie him up for good. He never hurts anybody, and so far, nobody’s ever hurt him. When he manages to get out and go wandering, I have to just trust that everything will be okay.”

  Whether it was his gentle tone of voice, or something in his demeanor, I relaxed. “Yeah, I can see that. I promise, I won’t crowd her.”

  “Good, because you’ll just piss her off if you do, and then I’ll have to deal with the consequences.” He laughed, heading back toward the house.

  As I shoved the unwieldy bag of bedding into the back of the truck, I reluctantly decided that both Deev and Bryan knew what they were talking about. If Peggin thought I was hovering, she’d be pissed off. It was natural to want to protect my friends, but even if something should happen, I was realizing that being a spirit shaman didn’t give me carte blanche to involve myself in everybody’s decisions. If Peggin had gotten herself involved with an abusive lover, I would have tried to stop her, but this was vastly different. Feeling both chastised and grumbly, I kicked the tire of the truck, then headed back for another load.

  By nine A.M., Bryan and Deev had managed to load a lot of the furniture, and we had stuffed as many boxes as we could in the truck, and in my SUV, and Peggin’s car. With Deev and Bryan commandeering the moving van, and the two of us following, we eased out of the drive to make the short jaunt down toward the lakeshore, to Peggin’s new house.

  * * *

  I expected it to be just as creepy as when I first saw it, but Peggin had hired a cleaning company to come in and scrub the place down. The windows were sparkling, the front yard had been mowed, and the porch steps had been patched.

  As we stared at the house from where we had parked, I let out a sigh. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad, after all. I could still sense spirits all over the place, but they were minding their own business, at least, and given the grime and cobwebs gone from the windowpanes, the house looked like—with some TLC—it might shape up to be rather pretty.

  “Okay, let’s start hauling things inside.” Peggin opened the door to her backseat, staring at the boxes. “How do we want to do this? Every box is labeled, by the way, for the room it goes in. I don’t know if you noticed that.”

  “Yes, we did, Miss Organization.” I grinned at her. “I have an idea. Why don’t the guys haul the boxes to the front porch, and then we can carry them in from there? And they can carry in the furniture. It might be easier than all of us trying to get through the door at once.” Actually, I just didn’t feel like lugging heavy boxes up the steps, and since both men were fit and strong, it seemed like a good division of labor.

  Bryan snorted. “You’re just being lazy. But I’m too much of a gentleman to point that out.”

  Peggin rolled her eyes. “Yes, you are so much the gentleman, however will we stand it?” She motioned to me. “Come on, let’s get ready for the big strong men.” Before the guys could say another word, she looped her arm through my elbow and we sauntered up the walk to the house.

  As we approached the house, I swallowed my doubts and threw myself into the task at hand. Peggin unlocked the front door and we went inside, leaving both the screen door and the front door propped wide open. It was cold, but at least there weren’t any mosquitoes or flies to let in.

  I stared at the gleaming floors. “You really did do a number on this place. The floors look good as new.”

  “No, they’ll still need to be refinished, but I swear, that cleaning company? Works wonders. They spent an entire day here. And yes, they told me there were spirits here. The owner was spooked as hell when I hired them to come clean, but they sent an entire crew and they were left alone, for the most part. Only a couple times did anything out of the ordinary happen—and that was mostly when one of the crew wandered away from the others.” She paused, then added, “Kerris, I know you don’t like this, but thanks. Thanks for supporting me.”

  I blushed. “I have to tell you something. I made Deev promise to keep an eye on you.”

  “He told me. Thanks for that, too.”

  And then we were busy, carrying in boxes from the porch where the guys left them. We sorted and stacked them by room. After the guys brought in the furniture, they volunteered to go back for the second load. Peggin and I stayed behind, and started carrying the boxes destined for the upper floors up the stairs. While we were up there, since the men had brought in the furniture for her bedroom and the guest room, we dug through until we found the boxes with her sheets, and the bag of bedding, and we made both beds and arranged the furniture the way she wanted it. I plugged in the lamps and then we headed down to the kitchen to start putting away dishes and pots and pans.

 
“I hate living out of boxes, so I sure appreciate you giving me a hand,” Peggin said.

  “Not a problem.” I was unwrapping plates and handing them to her as I sat at the kitchen table. “Are you going to buy a dining room table?”

  “I can’t afford to, unless I find one at the thrift store. I’d like to have a formal dining set, so maybe we can go bargain hunting next week. I actually need a lot of furniture to fill this house. I have enough for the living room, partial office, the kitchen, and my bedroom and guest room. Otherwise, I’m afraid it’s going to be rather empty until I’m able to figure out what I want—and need.” She grinned, placing the plates in the cupboard as I took the Bubble Wrap off each one. “So tell me, what was Veronica really like?”

  I told her what I could—about the throne of bones, and what Veronica looked like, and the creepy-ass twins who had guided us in.

  “Have you ever gone inside the Pest House?” Peggin glanced at me and I recognized the dare in her voice.

  “No, and I don’t plan on it.”

  “You should, don’t you think? As spirit shaman?” The taunt was unmistakable.

  I playfully glared at her. “Are you offering to go with me, then? You know that I’m not about to attempt it on my own. You want to go mucking about in that ramshackle old building? Hell, I think we should just get the town to tear the damned thing down. Why haven’t they?”

  “I think it’s some historical marker or something. There’s some reason the town council left it standing—that much I know. And no, I have no desire to go tromping through the place, but I’d love to hear about what’s inside.”

  We had finished with the plates and saucers, and moved on to putting away the glasses and silverware.

  “You just like supernatural gossip.”

  “Of course I do. What else is there in this town to talk about? Well, I do know a few things about the health issues of some of the members, but there’s that pesky confidentiality clause, you know.” She did laugh then. “Okay, time for pots and pans. By the time we finish, the men will be back with the rest of the boxes.”

  And they were right on schedule.

  By the time we put away the last sauté pan, Deev and Bryan drove up in the moving van. We headed out to the porch to help them. This time, it was a light load—mostly books and computer gear. These boxes were heavier and my back was starting to protest as we neared the end. I’d need a long hot bath tonight, that much was for sure.

  It was almost noon when I was in the living room, shoving boxes of books around to make room for more boxes, when I realized that I hadn’t seen Peggin for some time. At that moment, Bryan and Deev wandered into the house.

  “That’s it, the last of the boxes. Now the only thing we need is to have the cleaners come in and clean out the house over on Ravenwood Street. I told Peggin I’d pay for it as a housewarming gift.” Deev turned to Bryan. “Oh, by the way, I don’t know if she told you, but Peggin had the chimney guy come in—everything’s fine, and thanks to you, now clean as a whistle. The bricks do need shoring up on the roof, but he said we could use the fireplaces now, as long as we get them fixed soon. Peggin made an appointment to have him come back and replace the broken bricks and make sure everything is safe and snug.”

  “Good. Glad to hear it.” Bryan glanced around. “Where is Peggin?”

  I shrugged. “I think she went in the kitchen to fix lunch or something.” Although, now that I thought about it, I couldn’t really remember her saying anything like that. “Come on, let’s check.” I dusted my hands on my pants and headed toward the kitchen, the guys following me.

  As we entered the large room, I was struck by how silent it was. Everything felt hushed, as if waiting for something. A sliver of fear hit my stomach and I walked over to the sink, staring out the window. As I did, I could see a spirit standing in the yard. The spirit—a man—stared at me, then pointed toward the trees dividing the backyard from the lake. I caught my breath.

  “Hell, no—oh no!” I raced to the kitchen door, flinging it open as I ran out on the back porch and slammed down the steps to the yard. The spirit was still there, still pointing, a terrified look on his face. Behind me, the men were hot on my heels.

  Panicked, I raced toward the trees. “Peggin! Peggin! Where are you?”

  The men were right behind me, and Bryan caught up to me and passed by. “The lake?”

  I nodded, trying to keep my breathing even as I ran. Deev passed me by and I cursed the fact that I’d been too lazy to get myself to a gym. I struggled, urging myself to move faster.

  As I hit the tree line, I tried to follow the path Bryan and Deev were blazing. There was, in fact, a foot trail leading through the woods, but it was overgrown and I was struggling to avoid tree roots and rocks and boughs that now littered it. The thicket was dense, but I could see the glimmer of water ahead. It would have been easier to drive a short distance to reach the pier, but I knew that Peggin hadn’t done that. She had come this way—I could feel the swirl of siren song, the call that had lured her in. It was like a melody that promised peace and rest.

  Suddenly, I flashed back to my dream about Peggin and the Lady.

  “No!” I pushed harder, catching up to Deev, who was a little behind Bryan. Bryan broke through the trees to the shore and in another moment, Deev and I were behind him. I glanced around, frantic. There, a few hundred yards to the right, stood Fogwhistle Pier, and at the end of the pier, Peggin was leaning down, staring into the water.

  “Peggin!” My scream echoed through the air, and Peggin slowly raised her head, but she did not move. At that moment, an arm rose from the water, and then the figure of a woman clad in a long shroud, like a mummy in a cloak of muddy white. Vines draped around her neck, her arms, her waist, all trailing below the water, as though to anchor the Lady to her watery grave. Her eyes and head were covered with the white shroud, with only her mouth visible. She grabbed hold of Peggin’s ankle and Peggin screamed, suddenly seeming aware of where she was and what was going on.

  “Peggin!” Deev headed toward the pier, his voice thundering through the air. Bryan was by his side, and I was doing my best to catch up.

  Before we could reach the pier, Peggin struggled but the Lady began to disappear below the water and, with one final jerk, she toppled Peggin over the side.

  As Peggin hit the water, Bryan stripped off his sweatshirt and began unbuckling his boots, swearing as he did so. Deev ditched his coat and was untying his platform sneakers. I had it faster—I yanked down the zippers on my boots and hit the water, running.

  “Kerris!” Bryan’s voice echoed behind me as I dove beneath the freezing surface. Another moment and a ripple of waves told me he had joined me.

  It was difficult to see, but I could make out the sparkle of the Lady’s magic, and I followed the trail of glittering bubbles. I could see Peggin ahead; she was struggling against the pull of the Lady—whom I could no longer see. Bryan kicked past me and managed to reach Peggin before I did. He grabbed her arm and yanked. At that moment, Deev swam past me on the other side and caught hold of Peggin’s other arm. Together they pulled, trying to pry her away from the Lady.

  I couldn’t do much—I couldn’t say anything, not without surfacing, but I reached out, gathered all the energy I could, and aimed it at the Lady in one violent burst. A brilliant light flared around all of us as I did so, and suddenly, Bryan and Deev had hold of Peggin and were headed toward the surface. I followed on their heels, all too aware that the Lady could—and had—killed spirit shamans before.

  We struggled out of the water, back onto Fogwhistle Pier. Exhausted, but afraid that the Lady might come back, I helped Bryan and Deev carry Peggin back to land, where Deev started rescue breathing. A moment later, Peggin coughed up a lungful of water, and woozily sat up.

  I glanced back at the lake. The surface was silent, but the Lady was there, watching us. I could feel her pre
sence. Shivering and afraid, I motioned for the men to head back to the house. Bryan carried Peggin, Deev by his side.

  I gathered our boots and gear from the shore. With one last glance at the lake, I whispered, “You can’t have her. She belongs to us,” and followed them back to Peggin’s house.

  CHAPTER 9

  Deev built a fire in the fireplace as I hunted down a box with towels in it. Once we were dried off, I returned to the kitchen, where I started a pot of hot water and managed to find the tea. I set up a tray, found a half-eaten bag of chocolate chip cookies, and carried everything back to the living room.

  Peggin was huddled near the fire, shivering below the blanket. She hadn’t said a word since we brought her back to the house, and now she stared at the flames, her eyes haunted.

  I knelt beside her. “Are you . . . are you okay? Do you need to go see Corbin? How are your lungs? The lake water’s not the safest.” I was hovering, I knew it, but damn it—the Lady had almost dragged her away. Of course I was going to mother-hen her.

  She shook her head. “No, I think I’ll be all right.” She gazed into my eyes, a bleak, stark expression on her face. Then, a moment later, whatever composure she had left vanished and she fell forward into my arms, sobbing. “I thought I was dead. I thought I was going to die. She pulled on me. I could feel her pulling me out of my body, Kerris.”

  I held her tight, stroking her back. The smell of lake water was thick in her hair, and for a moment, I thought I caught a whiff of something else—decay, or brine . . . something not borne from fresh water. Shivering—the scent made me wary, as though there was something hidden in the room with us—I took hold of her shoulders and pushed her back.

 
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