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Shadow silence, p.2
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       Shadow Silence, p.2

           Yasmine Galenorn

  “Do not rise. Do not wake. Do not the Veil, now forsake.

  Do not whisper. Do not walk. Do not dance and do not talk.

  To the Veil, you shall remain, within the Gatekeeper’s domain.”

  As I finished, there was a hush, and then the sound of crows echoed through the graveyard. The charm had taken. The Crow Man was watching.

  I turned to Ellia. She switched to a tune that made me weep no matter what mood I was in. I had learned over the past weeks that it was customary for the spirit shaman to weep over the dead, to mourn them even as she drove them to the Veil. It was an honor, my duty to remember them. I knelt, my tears falling on Hudson’s grave, as I filled a little jar with graveyard dirt and labeled it. Then we were done. I wiped my eyes and stowed the jar in my bag along with my dagger and other tools. Ellia slowly lowered her violin.

  Bryan silently crossed to my side and held out his arms. I leaned into his embrace. Each spirit had a personal story. Each spirit left a legacy and a family behind, even if we never knew what that legacy was. I was the last to bid them farewell as they crossed between the worlds. Sometimes, I would be the only one to ever remember them. Whether beloved, or lost and forlorn, they all faced the spirit shaman last—all over the world, we were often the last mortal the spirits would see before crossing into the Veil.

  I rested my head on Bryan’s shoulder. He was familiar, he smelled of safety and love and passion. Like me, like Ellia, he was a child of the Morrígan. As he leaned down and pressed his lips to mine, I glanced over his shoulder. The moon had broken through the clouds. She was shimmering against the grass, and as I watched, a murder of crows flew past the silver orb, winging their way toward us and over our heads.

  “The Crow Man is walking,” I whispered. “Something’s going to happen.”

  As I spoke, the clouds rolled in again, and a hail of rain broke over our heads. As we raced for my car, I glanced back at Penelope’s tomb, where a faint light shimmered from the knoll. The crows had landed on the tree over her mausoleum. Yes, something was up, and I had no doubt the Crow Man would make sure I was right in its path.

  * * *

  Our work done, we sped through the night to Lindsey’s Diner, the hot spot for Whisper Hollow residents who wanted a late-night snack. Peggin, my best friend, and her new beau—Dr. Divine—would meet us there. I still wasn’t sure what to think of Deev, as he had told us to call him, or D-D as Peggin called him. An artist, he had been drawn to Whisper Hollow like a moth to a flame. The town was like that. If Whisper Hollow wanted you, you would somehow find your way here to stay. If the town didn’t like you, it spit you up and out, and if you resisted going, it would feed you to the Lady or one of the other spirit beings that lurked in the shadows.

  As we pulled into the parking lot, I saw Peggin’s car. I eased into the spot next to it. As I turned off the ignition and stiffly stepped out of the driver’s seat, I glanced down at my jeans. Dried splotches of mud dappled the denim, but at this point I didn’t care. I just wanted something to eat, and to catch up with Peggin, who had been swamped at work the past week.

  Bryan wrapped his arm around my waist as we headed into the diner. “You okay? You sure you’re up for this? We could go home and I could make you something to eat there.”

  I caught my breath. His touch sparked me off no matter how tired I was, and I flushed just looking at him. He was five eleven, with dark brown eyes that shifted color depending on his moods, and his hair grazed the top of his shoulders, tousled strands the color of wheat. Bryan Tierney looked to be in his thirties, but he was actually over 140 years old—he was my protector, a wolf-shifter guardian, a son of the Morrígan.

  “No, I want to see Peggin. It’s been over a week since we last got together.”

  He laughed. “You two are inseparable. I love that you have her for a best friend.”

  “She’s your friend, too. You know that anybody that has my back is good as gold in her book.” I glanced over my shoulder.

  Ellia was two steps behind us as she checked her phone for texts. The older woman was over seventy but looked timeless and was as fit as anybody I knew. She was tall, with long silver hair that flowed over her shoulders. She was wearing a pair of linen trousers, a button-down blouse, and the flowing floor-length green cape that she always wore when we went out to tend to the dead.

  I pushed through the door as we came to the diner, and the smell of burgers and fries assailed me, making my mouth water. The restaurant was open till two A.M., and Lindsey had remained true to her mother’s vision. It was outfitted in retro-fifties style, but updated and clean. The menu had more choices, and they even made specialized dishes for allergy sufferers, but overall, it was still Mary Jane’s Diner, under her daughter’s name.

  I started to look for Peggin but Debra-Su, who worked the night shift as a waitress, pointed me toward the back corner booth. She knew who I was looking for. She handed me three menus after seeing who I was with.

  “I’ll be there in a moment. They haven’t ordered yet.” She winked.

  “Thanks, Deb.” I took the menus and threaded my way through the tables toward the booth.

  Peggin heard my voice and was instantly on her feet. My best friend—and the only one I had kept in touch with on my fifteen-year sabbatical from Whisper Hollow—she was a firecracker. At five seven, she was a few inches taller than me, and stacked in all the right places with a plump hourglass figure. Her rich coppery hair was natural, and she was one of those wisecracking brainy women who caught you off guard, flouting the stereotypes. She was about as athletic as my cats, she dressed like a fifties pinup girl, and she carried a gun with which she was a deadeye shot.

  “Get your ass over here, chica.” She hugged me first, then gave Bryan a quick hug. Ellia, she did not touch. Nobody touched Ellia—it was too dangerous.

  As we swung into the other side of the booth, I saw that Dr. Divine was there. He had lived all around the states, he said, but could never seem to remember where. It was as if he had just appeared full-grown on Whisper Hollow’s doorstep one day, ready to rock. He turned heads wherever he went, but for him, his appearance was as natural as breathing. Tonight was no exception.

  Dr. Divine looked like a steampunk aficionado on steroids. He was probably about five nine, but he wore platform sneakers that sent him past six feet. His top hat was made of purple velvet, encircled by a black leather hatband with an intricate brass clockwork design on the front. Thin black braids dangled down past his ass—there must have been fifty of them.

  Deev was pale as moonlight, but I wasn’t sure what color his eyes were because he always wore clockwork goggles that looked like they were out of some mad scientist’s lair. He was in blue jeans and a button-down denim shirt, over which he wore an ankle-length patchwork duster of denim and velvet and leather and a kaleidoscope of prints.

  He also had an open-carry license and strapped what looked like an antique flintlock pistol—a blunderbuss—to his thigh. I asked him once if it really worked. He answered by pulling it out and promptly shooting a can of cola that was sitting on a picnic table. Apparently, he had put the semiautomatic together himself from antique parts and updated it, just like he had made the rest of his outfit.

  But there was nothing precious or prima donna about him. He was dead serious about his art. When we first met, I wasn’t sure whether he was just odd or scary-crazy. Turns out, a little bit of both. But he was as sane as anybody who lived in Whisper Hollow.

  “Hey, Deev,” I said, sliding into the booth. Bryan followed, and Ellia swung a chair around from one of the tables to sit at the end. “How goes it?”

  Deev cocked his head to the side. Somehow, he always managed to keep his hat on perfectly straight. “Jokney got out today. I still haven’t found him.”

  Bryan cleared his throat and I could tell he was trying not to laugh. Jokney was a sculpture of a doglike creature that Deev had
built from shiny chrome scraps, black leather, and some sort of fur that he’d gotten off an old fur coat from the vintage clothing shop.

  At times, Dr. Divine’s artwork took on a life of its own and went wandering around the town till he rounded it up and carted it back to his house. This usually didn’t present a problem, except when it was some nightmarish vision he’d had. Those, he usually kept locked away against the chance that they, too, might decide to wake up and go out for a little walk.

  “Have you tried the dog pound?” Ellia asked, her eyes twinkling. She liked the man, that much I could tell from the very beginning.

  “Not yet, but that’s on my list for tomorrow if he hasn’t come home.” He leaned back, wrapping an arm around Peggin’s shoulders. At first she was skeptical when Bryan offered to fix them up, but after the first date, they had become an item. They fit. Together they made a startling duo. His crazy met her twisted in a wonderful, weird way.

  I leaned back in my seat and opened the menu, staring at the choices. Everything looked so good. I was starving, as I always was after a night in the graveyard.

  “You’ve been chasing down spirits in the graveyard?” Peggin was studying her own menu.

  “Yeah, we had to make sure Hudson Jacks didn’t go gallivanting around. You know what happens to the ones taken by the Lady. They tend to wander. Usually they become Haunts, or in some cases, the Unliving, and right now, we don’t need any more of either type around town.”

  There were five paths of the dead.

  My grandma Lila—the spirit shaman of Whisper Hollow before I took over when she died—had drilled me on the lessons from the time I was little.

  The Resting Ones were those who had died, but not yet passed through the Veil. They quietly waited for Penelope to come for them and caused no trouble.

  The Mournful Ones were more memory than anything else, reliving their deaths time and again as though on a movie screen. They could be disturbing to watch, but usually had no truck with mortals.

  Wandering Ones wandered far from their graves, traveling the byways, but they, too, ignored humans for the most part. All three of these were rarely a problem, although I did my best to release them so they wouldn’t be caught forever on this side of the Veil.

  The dangerous spirits, though, were another matter. Haunts were active troublemakers and liked to make life uncomfortable for human beings. They were the poltergeists and the spirits who could occasionally shove people down staircases.

  And then, there were the Unliving. The Unliving returned on a corporeal level, and could cause serious harm. They weren’t zombies, not in the movie sense. No, the Unliving were smart and cunning and highly dangerous, especially when rogue. Veronica, the local Queen of the Unliving, kept a tight rein over those she summoned. At some point, I was going to have to visit her lair. All spirit shamans were expected to make some sort of connection with the royalty of the dead.

  “Honestly, your night sounds more fun than mine.” Peggin made a face. “I’ve got to move in less than thirty days.”

  It was my turn to frown. “What’s this? Why? I thought you loved your place?”

  She shrugged. “I do, but the landlord called me last night. She’s going to move back into the house. I have until the end of the month to find a new place to live.”

  “Aren’t you on a lease?”

  “No,” she said. “Once the initial lease was up, the arrangement fell into a month-to-month agreement and I just forgot about it. My landlord is seventy-two, and up until this week, she seemed to be very happy living with her daughter. But apparently the two had a major tiff—which I heard all about—and that sealed that. No warning, nothing. Just a big bomb dropping.” She made a whistling sound, then, “Poooooophhh . . .”

  “What are you going to do?” I knew how hard it could be to find real estate in Whisper Hollow, and I knew Peggin didn’t have enough money saved up to buy a house. Her job was secure but she didn’t make very much.

  She cleared her throat, staring at me over the top of her glasses. “I think I’ve found a place. I went out looking today and stumbled on a house that would be perfect. I haven’t been inside, but I’m going to check it out tomorrow. It’s a fixer-upper, but I’m not afraid of a little work.”

  Deb returned. “Ready to order, folks?”

  I handed her my menu. “Double cheeseburger, fries, and a chocolate shake. Also—coffee. Lots of it.”

  Peggin laughed. “It’s almost midnight. But coffee for me, too, and I’ll have the grilled cheese with bacon. Chips, pickles, and cherry pie.”

  “How you two can consume so much caffeine and still sleep at night confounds me,” Bryan said. “I’ll have chicken strips, fries, and no coffee. A Sprite, please.”

  Dr. Divine asked for loaded potato skins and a plate of calamari, and Ellia ordered a bowl of chowder and extra rolls.

  After the waitress left, I turned back to Peggin. “So, where is this house? I hope you have room for a garden. I know how much you love hydrangeas.”

  She gave me a long look. “Promise you won’t argue?”

  That rang an alarm. Peggin wouldn’t say something like that unless she knew I wasn’t going to approve. “All right, let’s hear it. Where is it?”

  Peggin glanced at Dr. Divine. He just stared at her silently. “On Fogwhistle Way, across from the pub. It’s one of those abandoned houses near the Pier in the Foggy Downs subdivision.”

  Fucking hell. “You have to be kidding. Are you insane? You can’t move there.” I leaned across the table, staring at her.

  Ellia chimed in. “That’s prime territory for the Lady. What on earth prompted you to think of moving there? The subdivision’s been abandoned for decades.”

  Ellia was right. The Foggy Downs subdivision was all but abandoned. Too many people had met with accidents, been lured into the lake by the Lady, or had otherwise fallen into general misfortune of one sort or another. There were about ten houses in the neighborhood—all from around the turn of the twentieth century—and they were right next to the Fogwhistle Pier, which had been abandoned as well, given how many deaths the Lady had engineered from there.

  Peggin stared at us. “If you two are done scolding me? Listen, you know as well as I do that there aren’t many houses for rent in Whisper Hollow. I can’t live in an apartment—I can’t stand the idea of being cooped up. And the houses in safer neighborhoods are far too expensive. This house is rent-to-own, and if I fixed it up, I think it would be pretty.”

  Peggin could be a little bullheaded when she thought she was being ganged up on, and if we continued to argue with her, it would only make her more determined.

  I wanted to reach across the table and knock some sense into her, but since that wasn’t an option, I decided to try another route. “Will you at least let me come look at it with you?”

  She held my gaze for a moment, then relaxed. “All right. I’ve got an appointment with the Realtor tomorrow. Come with me if you like. As I said, it has a rent-to-own option and it’s in my price range. I’ve had enough of people yanking my life out from under me. If I can reclaim the house, if there’s not a fortune to invest, I’m planning on buying it. I have to go somewhere.”

  Bryan turned to Deev. “What do you think about this plan? Have you seen the house?”

  “I have.” Deev regarded him from behind the clockwork goggles. “Peggin’s an adult, she can make up her own mind.” But he didn’t look happy. He glanced at Peggin. “I just want you to be careful. The Lady eats who she will, and she’s been hungry lately.”

  Peggin laughed. “Don’t think I’m unaware of that. But I promise you, I won’t hang out at the lake. I’m not the sunbathing type, which is probably why I live here and haven’t moved away to sunny California.” She sobered. “To be honest, I don’t know what it is about this house, but I feel . . . it needs me. And I need a place to call my own.”
r />   Deev gave a quick shake of the head. “I told you, you can always move in with me till you find a safer home.”

  I blinked. That was a quick offer for him to make, considering how short of a time they had been together. But then again, if I were in his shoes, given the option of having Bryan move into a house next to a monster’s lair, or letting him come live with me, I’d pick the latter, too. And Bryan and I had only been together about five or six weeks, though it felt like so much longer.

  But Peggin was having none of that. “Thanks, but I need my space. I learned the hard way that I have to make my own way in this world.” She ducked her head. “I know you’re trying to help, but I . . .” She paused, looking over at me for support. “You understand.”

  I let out a slow breath. “Yeah, I do.”

  And I did. Peggin’s childhood had mostly consisted of ridicule for her choice in clothes, for her weight, for her lack of interest in getting married. Her older sister, Lisha, had become a family icon. The “normal” one, she was blond, trophy-wife thin, had gone to college and—after earning a bachelor’s degree in art history—had married into a family filled with lawyers and doctors. Peggin, on the other hand, was a size 12, had no interest in joining the upwardly mobile society set, and so her parents told her she could either study law or business in college. Anything else and she’d have to pay for it herself. She had turned them down and found herself a job, saving enough to take an online medical transcription course.

  A year after Peggin graduated from high school, Lisha got pregnant, and her parents moved to Seattle so they could see the baby more often. Peggin had stayed behind.

  After she earned her certification, she went to work for the hospital. Now she worked for Corbin Wallace, one of Whisper Hollow’s best doctors. She had managed everything on her own. Peggin was used to taking care of herself and if she was wary of anybody offering help, it was because it had always come with strings attached.

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