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Shadow silence, p.14
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       Shadow Silence, p.14

           Yasmine Galenorn
 
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  “I want you to remember everything you can about what happened. So few ever escape the Lady . . . the more information we have, the better off we are. Maybe someday we can fully put a stop to her attacks.” I knew it sounded like a pipe dream. The Lady had been around Whisper Hollow since long before the first settlers had come in. But if we could untangle some of the spirits who had been bound to her, perhaps it would give us an even playing field on which to stand.

  Peggin shivered. “I just want a hot bath first. And to be honest, I want to go home—to my other house. But I can’t.”

  I glanced up at Bryan, feeling hopeless.

  Deev spoke up. “Kerris will draw you a bubble bath. Meanwhile, I’m going to go look at that furnace and see if we can’t get it to crank out some heat.”

  “It’s new, so it should be working well. But I’m not certain where it is, or where the thermostat is.” I answered for Peggin, who was leaning her head against the chair, wincing.

  “Well then, we’ll just have to find it.” He motioned to Bryan. “Come with me?”

  Bryan shifted to his feet. “Sure thing. Kerris, why don’t you get Peggin into a hot bath? After she’s had a soak, and washed her hair, we’ll go out for a late lunch. My treat.”

  More grateful to the guys than I could express, I wrapped my arms around Peggin and helped her stand. She was still shaky, no wonder, given the circumstances. As I led her to the stairs, the men headed down into the basement.

  Peggin undressed in her bedroom, shivering as I took the cold, clammy clothes from her and dropped them in a laundry basket. Grateful we’d thought to make her bed already, I started to wrap her in a throw but she shook her head.

  “No, I don’t want the Lady’s stench on it. I can smell her, Kerris. I can still smell her. The scent of rotting bodies and long-dead fish . . .”

  “I think her scent got caught in your hair. We’ll wash it away, don’t worry.” I drew the bath, filling the tub with the first bath wash I could lay my hands on—warm vanilla. The fragrant aroma filled the bathroom and I shut the door behind us to keep the warm steam in.

  “I’m sorry . . . I’m sorry I was so cocky and so—”

  “Stop right there.” The last thing I wanted to do was have her thinking I was about to say I told you so. “I wish to hell I’d been wrong. As it is, now we know that the Lady lures people. It’s not just bad luck. She’s like a siren, you know? My guess is her voice targets anybody who’s within range.”

  As Peggin stepped into the tub, I helped steady her with one hand. Frowning, I noticed a mark on her right inner wrist. Pointing to it, I asked, “Did you get hurt?”

  She frowned and glanced at the mark. “What’s . . . I don’t know what that is.”

  “Well, get yourself into the bubbles and I’ll take a closer look.”

  As she settled down into the water, I pulled out my phone and switched on the flashlight app. The lights in the bathroom were dim and I wanted a clear view of what that mark was. She leaned back and let out long sigh as the heat of the water began to draw the chill from her body. Peggin was plump, and curvy—typical hourglass figure, only much more Rubenesque than society approved of.

  I started to reach for her hand, but she shook her head. “One minute.” Taking a deep breath, she closed her eyes and slid beneath the water, popping back up after a few seconds. She took some of the bath gel—I hadn’t been able to find the shampoo—and smoothed it into her hair, working it through the long red locks. Another dip beneath the water left her thoroughly lathered up.

  “I couldn’t take that stench any longer. At least now I smell like vanilla.” She reached for the hand towel that I was holding and wiped the water out of her eyes, then handed it back to me. That done, she held up her wrist, squinting at it.

  I knelt by the tub, turning the flashlight beam on her wrist. We stared at the long, black mark that looked like a streak of ink, but then I began to notice that the unsteady tendrils threading off it actually reminded me of vines.

  “It looks like the start of a tattoo.”

  “Well, that’s no tattoo I ever asked for.” She squinted. “Is it a bruise? It doesn’t hurt.”

  “Maybe . . . a blood blister?” I gently poked at it, but the mark didn’t feel swollen and Peggin didn’t flinch. “That doesn’t hurt? Not at all?”

  “No.” She paused, then shrugged. “I guess we’ll figure it out later. Maybe I hit it on something when I was fighting against her.”

  “About the Lady . . .” I didn’t want to push, but the more we knew about Peggin’s experience, the better.

  She stared at the water, then slowly began to scrub herself with the washcloth. “I don’t want to think about her, because I can still feel her there. Kerris, I feel like she’s latched onto me. If I think about her too hard, it will bring her to me. Or take me to her.”

  I frowned. “I think we need to talk to the Matriarchs.” One thing I did know. Some spirits could link into a person’s aura, drawing energy from them. And if the Lady had corded into Peggin, then we needed to find the connection and sever it. Not only could a spirit—and sometimes a person—drain energy from others via psychic cords, but they could track their targets. And the last thing we wanted was for the Lady to be tracking Peggin.

  Peggin glumly stared at the water. “I wish I’d never found this house. It seemed like the only way out.”

  “Can you still get out from under the sale? I mean, you’re renting to own. What if you just find someplace else to rent—”

  At that moment, I heard the men talking, their voices pitched. I motioned for Peggin to rinse her hair. “I don’t trust leaving you in a bathtub filled with water while I’m out of the room. Not so soon after what happened this morning.”

  She pulled the plug and reluctantly stood, climbing out of the seventies retro heart-shaped jetted tub. After she took a quick rinse in the shower to wash off any residue, and I handed her a thick towel to wrap herself in, and then we stopped in the bedroom, where I managed to find her blow-dryer. She didn’t bother with styling today, just hit the heat to dry out her locks, and then slid into a fresh pair of capris and a warm shirt. After she was ready, we headed downstairs to see what the commotion had been about.

  * * *

  Bryan and Deev were examining the mantel. I wasn’t sure what they were looking for, but Deev had his head dangerously close to the flames as he gazed beneath the wide beam over the fireplace. Bryan was holding the flashlight for him.

  “What’s going on?” Peggin asked, forcing a smile. “You find gremlins in my fireplace, I’m going to sue you for emotional distress.”

  Bryan looked up. “We found something. This mantel matches some beams we found downstairs. By the way, this house is so full of ghosts I’m surprised its not labeled standing room only. We ran into a couple downstairs.”

  “Lovely,” Peggin said, rolling her eyes. “Just what I wanted to hear. Tell me what you found—besides the spooks.”

  Deev stood up, abruptly bumping his head on the wooden beam. He winced, rubbing his forehead, as I pulled back from the fireplace. “What do you know about ships?”

  “Ships? Starships? Sailing ships? Ships in the night?” Peggin was making an attempt at a joke, but even I could tell it was to keep herself from freaking out any more than she already had.

  “Come look.” Deev seemed overly excited, and I hoped to hell this wasn’t a bodies-in-the-basement situation.

  We followed him, with Bryan taking up the rear, toward the basement. The staircase was steep and dark, with no hand railing to hold on to. The single lightbulb that hung over the stairway was bare and flickering.

  “Oh this is lovely. You need to put in a railing right away. And a light that’s easier to reach. If that goes out while you’re down here, how are you going to even reach that in order to change it?” I used the wall for support, grimacing at the grime that
had built up over the years.

  Peggin nodded. “And the list keeps growing. But you’re right, these are on a priority list.”

  “There already was one at one time.” Deev guided us down, pointing out the indentations in the wall that must have been where a railing once attached to the side.

  As we entered the basement proper, I decided that if we ever wanted to murder someone, this would be the place to do it. There were three rooms in Peggin’s basement—the main one in which we were standing was a larger, dimly lit room with built-in shelves along three of the walls. The shelves were deep, and it was hard to see into them. They were filled with dust and cobwebs, and boxes of junk that prior owners had left behind. I grimaced, thinking that it would be the perfect place for spiders to hide. We didn’t have many poisonous ones on the west coast of Washington, but we did have hobo spiders, and black widows—so common over the mountains in eastern Washington—had been spotted around. The room was filled with broken furniture, and an old workbench with a few rusty tools on it.

  But Deev ignored all of that and motioned for us to join him on one side of the room. He motioned to the wall. “See that arch?” As he shone his flashlight on it for greater visibility, I noticed that there was an archway, built of beams that curved up one wall, across the ceiling, and down the opposite wall. The wood looked worn, but there was something different about it that made it stand out from the rest of the house.

  “What about it?” Peggin asked, walking over to run her hand along it. “This is smooth—it feels almost weathered. But the basement is dry—it doesn’t look like there are any mold problems or flooding issues down here.”

  “There aren’t. At least, not that we can see. But those beams? They’re from a boat. This arch is built, I believe, from part of the keel beam and the ribs of a boat.” Bryan crossed to stand beside Peggin, motioning for me to join them. “Look here—see those markings?”

  I leaned in. Sure enough, there were letters, though they were so worn it was hard to make them out on the wood. “What do they say?”

  “I think they may be a clue as to which boat these came from.” Deev was touching one of the beams with what seemed almost like reverence. “They’re hand carved. I can tell you that much. Whoever built this boat, built it from scratch. There’s no fiberglass here, no sign that this was one of a hundred mass-produced boats of its kind. I can feel the love that went into this boat—it’s radiating through the timbers. But . . . there’s something else.”

  I joined him, placing my hand next to his. Instantly, a wave of fear and grief overwhelmed me, and I heard someone screaming. I yanked my hand away as though I’d been burned.

  “Crap. What the hell happened here? There’s so much fear wrapped up in this wood, no wonder the ghosts are active on this land.” I stared at the beams, trying to get a sense for anything I could that might have happened.

  “I’m not sure what’s going on, but I’d like to know. Are there any more of these beams down here?” I cautiously passed through the arch and crossed to the other side of the room, where I peeked through the two doors against the opposite wall. One led to a grungy two-piece powder room. The other looked like it might have been a laundry room at one time, but now it just housed more boxes of junk. “You need to go through all of this stuff and clear out whatever you don’t want, Peggin. There’s a lot of psychic residue down here and I doubt if it’s all good.”

  She frowned. “Boat . . . Deev, do you think you can figure out what the markings say? Do what you can—I know you have excellent vision.”

  I glanced at him, confused. His goggle-glasses gave me the impression he wouldn’t be able to see an inch in front of his face without them. Peggin must have caught my look because she laughed.

  “Deev needs his glasses, yes, but he modified them—they’re enhanced. He has a microscope, a telescope, and a built-in computer in those things to aid his vision. He can see better than we can, by far.”

  Bryan laughed. “Leave it to the inventors and the creators of the world. It makes sense. You can’t see very well? Do what you can to improve it.”

  Deev took the joking with good humor. “All in fun, my friends. All in good fun. But yes, pet. I’ll see what I can find out. Why don’t you go upstairs and get ready to leave for lunch. I’ll be up in a few moments. I just need to adjust the settings on these.” He reached up to the side of his goggles and I realized there were tiny knobs along the straps that held them on.

  I slid my arm through Peggin’s. “Come on. Let’s get upstairs. It’s chilly down here. Oh, did you guys even bother to check out the furnace? I think it’s in that small room where the laundry used to be.”

  “Yes, we found it and got it started up. But this house is so drafty that it’s going to take a couple hours to warm up the place. By the way, the thermostat is in the kitchen, to the left against the wall as you enter the room. I went hunting to find it.” Deev shooed us out then, and we headed up the stairs.

  Once we reached the living room, I noticed the heat filtering through the vents. Deev was right—the furnace was good to go. At least one thing was working right. I made sure Peggin was comfortably ensconced in her rocking chair and moved to the side, where I put a call in to Ellia.

  “We need to talk. Can you call Oriel and Ivy and meet us at the Mossy Rock Steakhouse in half an hour? Something happened this morning and we desperately need your advice.”

  Ellia read the tone of my voice loud and clear. “I’ll be there, and I’ll do my best to get the others to come.”

  I signed off and called the steakhouse to make reservations. As I put my phone away, Deev came bounding back up the stairs.

  “Got it. One of the groupings says MS-1915 and the other . . . J. Jacobs. My guess is that’s the date the ship was built, and the name of the builder.”

  “Well, we have something to go on. I made reservations for twenty minutes from now. Ellia will meet us, and with a little luck, Oriel and Ivy, too.”

  “Let me get my jacket and hat.” Deev disappeared into the kitchen and when he returned, he was wearing his duster and his top hat.

  “Not taking your gun to the restaurant?” It still tickled me, in an odd way, that he carried around that antique blunderbuss.

  He gave me a long look and I swear, if I could have seen his eyes better, I would have probably melted under the scrutiny. “Not quite.” But he chuckled, then held his arm out to Peggin. “Come on, my girl. Let’s head out for food.”

  Bryan swung in behind us, and as we walked to the car, I felt a shiver of relief running through me. I was glad to leave the house behind us, if only for a while.

  * * *

  The Mossy Rock Steakhouse was fairly empty since most of the lunch crowd had thinned out, and the dinner crowd wasn’t even thinking about food yet. Nadia had reserved a good table for us. I had made the reservation for seven people, in hopes that all three of the Matriarchs could make it. As we were settling in around the curved booth, Ellia and Ivy joined us.

  “Oriel can’t make it, she’s got a meeting this afternoon, but we’ll fill her in as soon as we leave.” Ellia glanced at me, then over at Peggin. She stopped short, her eyes widening. “Great Mother, what happened to you, child?”

  Ivy turned as Ellia said that, and gasped. “The Lady.”

  Peggin began to shiver, and she pulled her sweater tighter around her.

  “The Lady tried to drag Peggin under about ninety minutes ago. Deev, Bryan, and I were able to save her. But . . . Peggin, show them your wrist.” I motioned for her to uncover the mark.

  As Peggin held out her arm, Ellia let out a soft curse and Ivy blanched.

  “She’s got the mark,” Ivy said.

  “What is that? Have you seen it before? She didn’t have it on her this morning.” I leaned back as the waitress appeared with a couple baskets of bread. We put in our drink orders and once she was gone, I nodde
d to Peggin’s arm. “That appeared after the Lady dragged her under.”

  “How far did she get you? Into the water itself?” Ivy asked.

  Peggin cleared her throat, looking all too frightened. “She took me under. I lost consciousness. When we got back to the house, as I was undressing to take a bath, I saw the mark on me. What does it mean? Do you know? Is it a bruise?”

  Ellia motioned to Ivy, who reached for Peggin’s arm. She held it tight, so the mark showed clearly, and gently pressed her hand against the black streak. Ellia watched dispassionately. She made no move toward them, but her gaze was fastened on the stippled line that crossed Peggin’s skin. Ivy closed her eyes and softly let out a slow breath. A moment later, she shivered and abruptly let go.

  “It’s as I thought. The Lady has marked you. You’re a target, Peggin, and she will come for you however she can. She can follow you through water; though she may not be able to directly attack you, she can use the force of water—in all its forms—to come at you.” Ivy frowned, leaning back. “She’s angry—so angry that you got away.”

  “So I was right not to leave her alone in the bathtub, then?” I wanted to know that my instincts were on point.

  Ivy shuddered. “Correct. It would be easy for the Lady to reach out, lure you into sleep, then you sink below the surface of the tub while the water held you down till you drowned. Watch showers—stepping on a bar of soap is all too easy to arrange. Rain, as well. A puddle of water, a power line coming down near it . . . too many possibilities.”

  “Can we get rid of this mark? Is there a way to destroy or erase it?” Deev paused as the waitress brought our drinks and took our food order.

  Ivy stared at Peggin as though she was trying to read what was going through her mind. After a moment, she turned to Ellia. “Would an exorcism work, do you think?”

  “I don’t know. Oriel might have a better idea. She understands the Lady better than any of us. We’ll have to ask her. Meanwhile, is there a protection spell you can cast on her that will give her some added safety?” Ellia frowned, cocking her head to one side. “We have to do something to keep the girl safe.”

 
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