Flight from mayhem, p.22
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       Flight from Mayhem, p.22

           Yasmine Galenorn
 

  Tonya blinked. “Do you really think it safe?”

  “Of course it isn’t, that’s part of the fun.” I shook my head at Chai, who gave me a dirty look. I really didn’t think it was terribly risky, not if we were careful and maybe stayed outside the house and looked around the yard. It would take Tonya’s mind off her stalker, and it would take my mind off my morning with Alex, and Bette’s upcoming plan. I had a bad feeling that it would go south, but we didn’t have many options. If we didn’t catch the doppelgänger soon, it would move on, killing its way across the country. That we might be able to prevent further deaths outweighed the risk. Besides which, we could watch out for Bette. She was one of our own and we wouldn’t let anything happen to her.

  I waved at the window. “It’s light outside. For some reason, I always think that ghosts have more power in the dark.”

  “That’s never been proven,” Tonya said.

  “No, but we can hope. Chai, if you’re so worried you can come with us.”

  Chai grumbled but pushed himself to his feet. “All right, I’ll come with you. But I don’t see the fascination with a grungy bunch of spirits in a dilapidated house.” He was smiling, though, and I knew he was teasing us.

  Tonya winked at him. “I’m glad you’re coming with us. It never hurts to have a powerful djinn on your side.”

  “You’re just saying that because you want backup.” But he laughed, joining us.

  I shrugged into a jacket. It was pouring out, the rain rushing in rivulets down the sidewalk, clogging the storm drains with cast-off leaves and debris from the trees and gutters.

  The Greenbelt Park District was old enough that it still had sidewalks running along the curbs, rather than driveways pulling directly into the houses. I had noticed that in a number of modern suburbs, the notion of sidewalk seemed to be outmoded. I liked my neighborhood, ghosts or not, and it made me sad to see so many houses standing empty. But the aura of decay and abandonment seemed to fill the air around here, and the entire district reminded me of old mausoleums covered in ivy, with oaks hanging low, dripping with moss and bracken.

  As we crossed the street I glanced back at my snug little cottage, and once again the sensation that I had found my home hit me. The Dragon Reaches had abandoned me before I ever abandoned them. And I realized that deep in my heart, I hoped it would never be the same over here, Earthside.

  CHAPTER 14

  I wasn’t sure what I hoped to gain, but now that we knew Mary was the deeply disturbed spirit of a murderess, I hoped we could find a way to put her to rest. Although, she had killed her children and her husband. Was she here as a punishment? Was she supposed to remember what she had done? Or were we missing some other possibility? Perhaps she already did remember her actions and was playing on our sympathies. Perhaps the demons she blamed for the killings had never really existed. Evil was very real, and quite often, extremely conscious and cunning. Whatever the case, I felt drawn to the old house.

  Tonya had brought her bag of tricks. She was a powerful witch and had faced down far more spirits than I had. I glanced over at Chai. He had paused by the gate and was staring past the back of the house. There was no real delineation between the backyard and the front yard, no fence to mark the division. The swing hanging on the tree was moving softly, but I put the motion down to the wind.

  “Where did they find the bodies?” I turned to Tonya.

  She nodded toward the top story of the house. “They found three of her children and her husband up in their bedrooms. The baby, well, they never found the body. But they assume that she killed her baby boy and disposed of him. The cops made a few halfhearted attempts to dig up the yard, but nobody really believed he was alive.”

  “It must have been terrifying . . . to be one of her neighbors and discover what had happened. If I had children I would’ve been terrified. Hell, even without children, I would’ve been terrified. Finding out you have a mass murderer in your neighborhood wouldn’t exactly make for peace of mind.”

  “There were very few who took her side. Most of them thought the whole demon story was just that—a story. There were quite a few protesters outside the courthouse when she was on trial. Most of them were calling for her life.” Tonya skirted the house and headed toward the back. Chai and I followed her. “I’m not sure how the trial went, story I read wasn’t all that involved, but it ended with a hung jury, and the judge sentenced Mary to life at the Greenbelt Park Asylum. The thing is, don’t you have to be just a little bit crazy to kill your entire family?”

  “To be honest, I can’t answer that. I never met my family, and among my kind things are very different. Ancestry is extremely important. If you dishonor your family, your parents have every right to kill you. I suppose it’s very much like an honor killing. And if a spouse dishonors his family and his partner, well—that happened not too long ago and ended up with a white dragon being destroyed. You know who the D’Artigos are?”

  Tonya shook her head. “I don’t think I ever heard of them.”

  “I guess it doesn’t matter. They’re half Fae from Otherworld. I think their mother was human. But anyway, one of the sisters is married to a dragon. His father was excommunicated and executed because he kidnapped and tortured her, dishonoring his wife and his son and abusing family relations. Even those of us who don’t live in the mainstream society of the Dragon Reaches heard about that.”

  There was no easy way to explain the complicated rules of my society to her, especially when I wasn’t entirely sure of all of them myself.

  “I suppose sometimes not having a family is a blessing in disguise,” I said, after a moment.

  By that time we had reached the back of the house. I was surprised to see how big the yard was. It spanned at least three full-size lots. Heavily wooded, the yard was pretty, even in its abandoned state. Of course the gardens were overgrown, and the grass was knee high. The trees needed a good pruning, and the old shed out back was leaning precariously, about to fall down. But otherwise, the lot and the house had once been beautiful.

  “You know, this really is a lovely place. Or it could be,” Tonya said. She cocked her head to the side. “I wonder what it would take to clear this land of the ghosts.”

  “You mean the entire neighborhood? The district is pretty large—”

  She interrupted with a shake of the head. “No, I just mean this house and the yard. Maybe it would be a good thing if I got out of Port Townsend. I would probably do much better business down here with my shop than up there, and now that my mother is dead there’s really nothing to hold me there.”

  After a pause, she added, “Not even Degoba.”

  Chai cleared his throat. He looked distinctly uncomfortable, and I almost teased him by saying, Well, you wanted to come along with the girls. But I kept my mouth shut. It felt like we were walking on eggshells with our conversation and I wondered how much of that was because of our surroundings. It made me slightly nervous knowing that Mary might be listening to us, now that I knew the truth about her.

  “Do you think there’s anything we can do about Mary?”

  Tonya shrugged. “I’ve been thinking about that. We need to know whether she really understands why she’s here. I’m beginning to think that all the monsters in the house are the parts of herself that she’s pushed away and that she’s denying. Almost like having MPD. Only instead of fragmenting into separate identities, she fragmented into separate entities.”

  “MPD? I’m not familiar with the term.”

  “It stands for multiple personality disorder. Sometimes when a human is traumatized, a part of their identity will splinter off, in order to cope with the traumatic event. There are people who have hundreds of personalities and each might as well be a separate, distinct individual. They all coexist within the same body. In a few cases, the person is actually possessed by other spirits, but mostly this happens in cases of severe abuse.” She
stopped abruptly.

  “What is it? Do you see something?”

  Slowly, Tonya shook her head. “No. It just occurred to me that . . . I wonder. Do you think that perhaps Mary was abused by her husband? Back in that day, it wasn’t against the law—nobody looked into domestic violence cases. And nothing in the articles I read ever mentioned it, but I doubt if they would have. If she was the victim of traumatic domestic violence, that might account for what happened to her.”

  I wandered over to a dilapidated picnic table and gingerly sat on the bench. What Tonya proposed made sense. Or maybe I just wanted it to make sense, because I didn’t want to believe that Mary could deliberately destroy her family. Tonya must’ve noticed the expression on my face.

  “You want her to be innocent, don’t you? You want her to be everything she says she is.” She rested a hand on my shoulder.

  After a moment, I shrugged. “I suppose you’re right. I guess I do prefer happy endings. I haven’t had very many of them in my lifetime, and that spans a hell of a lot of years. I know not everything is going to work out the way I want, and maybe Mary is just the spirit of a cold-blooded killer, out to play us even from the spirit world. But I hope she’s not. I hope that—if she did kill her family—she was truly possessed by demons. Not everyone is strong, and that’s something I’ve had to learn since I came here. I had to be, I had to push my emotions to the side, to fight for everything I got. And now I’m learning that some people just can’t do that. Sometimes, they just don’t have the ability to fight off the darkness.”

  “Come over here,” Chai called.

  We turned to see him examining something near the back hedge. The foliage had grown up to crowd out the sky, at least thirty feet tall. I wasn’t sure if they were trees or bushes, but they provided a dense barrier to the lot behind Mary’s house. Tonya and I cautiously crossed the yard. He was kneeling in the grass, brushing a tangle of the tall weeds to one side. As we approached, he held out his hand and a globe of light flickered above his fingers, bright enough so that we could see what he was doing. Dawn was streaking across the sky, but here in the shadow of the hedge, it was still dark.

  “I found a flagstone that doesn’t seem to belong here. There aren’t any others, so I doubt that it marks a path through the yard. And I sense something here. A presence, although it’s faint, and I can’t hear anything.”

  Tonya joined him, kneeling in the grass. She placed her hands against the stone and closed her eyes, cocking her head to one side as she listened. I had the distinct impression that she was hearing something that we couldn’t. After a few moments, she pulled back, resting her hands on her knees, staring at the flagstone.

  “You’re right. There’s something here. I can hear a faint cry in the wind and I felt a great sadness when I touched the stone. I think we should dig this up. Is there anyone who would care? Who owns this house, now? I know you said that Mary told you that her children did, but her children are dead.”

  “That, I can’t tell you. We should check into it. If the city owns it, then they sure haven’t done anything with it.” When I had been searching for a house to buy, Mary’s had not been on the list of available ones. Again, I wondered if Tonya really was interested in the house. “You’re really thinking of buying this, aren’t you?”

  She gave a slight shrug as she attempted to pry the flagstone out from the dirt. “Maybe. As I said, it might be time for me to leave Port Townsend.”

  Setting the globe of light to float in the air, Chai motioned for her to move aside. He took hold of the flagstone, digging his fingers into the dirt, curling them beneath the wide stone. With seeming ease, he jostled the rock until he had pried it loose. The heavy stone gave way with the sucking noise and Chai turned to set it aside. The light lowered itself until we could see that we were staring into a small chamber dug into the ground. It was lined with brick and about the size of a violin case, and about two feet deep. There was something at the bottom wrapped in what looked to be a tattered cloth.

  A sinking feeling hit my stomach. I didn’t want to know what was inside the shrouded cloth.

  Tonya glanced first at Chai and then at me. In a hushed voice, she asked, “What do you think it is? Do you think it’s—”

  “I don’t know, and I’m not sure I want to know. But since we’ve come this far, we might as well go all the way.” I started to lean down to gather the cloth in my arms, but Chai stopped me, resting his fingers on my wrist.

  “Let me do it, Little Sister.” His voice gentle, he motioned for both Tonya and me to back away. As he lifted the bundle out of the chamber, I thought I heard a faint cry go whooshing past. Tonya let out a gasp and I knew that she had heard what I had heard. Chai very carefully placed the cloth on the ground and began to pull back the cloth, corner by corner. He motioned for the globe of light to hover over the bundle so that we could see. The cloth gave way, exposing the gleam of ivory bones. They were the bones of a child—a baby.

  “Mary’s lost son.” I knew that, without a doubt, we had found the bones of her baby boy.

  Tonya glanced up, looking beyond me toward the front yard. Her eyes widened and she let out an “Oh!” as she slowly rose to her feet. I quickly turned to find myself staring at Mary. This was the first time I had ever seen her out of the house, and instead of the cheery smile she was staring in horror at the bundle of bones on the ground.

  “No, no . . . No, no, no!” Her voice grew progressively louder, culminating in a shriek as she raised her hands to her face, disbelief giving way to horror. “I don’t want to remember. Please don’t make me remember!”

  I half expected her to turn violent and attack us. But instead, the spirit moved forward and knelt by the fragile bones. She lowered her head and reached out one ghostly hand to run them over the rib cage of what had been her child. “He wouldn’t let me keep him. He couldn’t stand that I was happy. He threatened to take everything away from me.”

  She spoke as if we weren’t there. Leaning forward, she brushed the forehead of the little skull. “I’m so sorry. I tried to stop him, but I couldn’t. I never meant for any of this to happen.”

  And then, slowly, Mary rose and softly passed by us back toward the house, where she vanished through the wall. The early morning fell unnaturally silent. I had the feeling that we had witnessed something terribly private and intimate.

  Tonya was the first to speak. “I think there’s a lot more here than meets the eye. I know ghosts can lie, and I’ve dealt with some pretty skeevy characters, but in my gut something tells me that this is no open-and-closed case. Something happened here—more than a demon possessing Mary. More than her going berserk and killing her family. I don’t think she’s the one who put the baby in this chamber.”

  “I think you’re right. I know that whatever happened here took place decades ago. But it feels like it’s still going on. I haven’t been able to decide whether Mary is benign and under attack, or whether she’s the instigator. But now I think that she was the original victim in all of this.” I brushed the wet leaves and dirt that stuck to my knees off my jeans and arched my back, stretching. “So what do we do? Do we take these bones to the police?”

  “Remember what happened at Patrick’s. We had to turn over the skeleton we found. But first, I’d like to do a little scrying over these bones. I want to see what I can pick up. Who knows, maybe I’ll come up with some of the answers that we’re looking for.” Tonya turned to Chai. “Is there a way we can protect these bones without appearing to have disturbed them too much? I don’t want the cops asking what we were doing with them.”

  Chai frowned. “If I bury them again, who knows what’s going to happen? If something is out to protect a secret, it might decide to get rid of the bones. Whatever you’re going to do, I would do it now so that Shimmer can call the authorities.”

  The last thing I wanted to do was put in another call to Chase Johnson, but he wa
s the only one I could think of. I wondered if I should contact Alex first, but then realized that would take all day—until sunset. Reluctantly, I pulled out my phone and scrolled through my contacts. Finding Chase’s name, I hit the Call button.

  “Faerie-Human Crime Scene Investigation unit, Yugi speaking. How may I help you?”

  I remembered that Yugi was Chase’s right-hand man. I wasn’t sure exactly how he figured into the hierarchy at the station, but I knew he was fairly high up. “Hi, this is Shimmer, and I work with Alex Radcliffe at the Fly by Night Magical Investigations Agency. We’ve talked before.”

  “Oh yes, hello. What can I do for you?”

  “I’m calling about the house across the street from mine. We have a situation here.” I explained to him what was going on. I knew that he and his men were all well aware of the ghostly activity in the Greenbelt Park District, and so I felt comfortable telling him all we had found out about Mary and the house. In fact, this seemed a good enough time to ask who owned the place.

  After listening to everything, Yugi asked me to stay put and said he would send out a patrol car. “In fact, I’ll come myself because this sounds a little complicated to explain to my men. I’ll be there in about fifteen minutes. Until then try not to disturb anything else about the scene.”

  After I hung up, I told Chai and Tonya what he had said. Tonya sat down by the bones, careful to avoid disturbing them, and pulled a crystal ball out of her bag.

  “I guess I’d better get busy before they get here,” she said.

  * * *

  Tonya didn’t have time to tell us what she found out, although the look on her face told me she had discovered something. Before she could say anything, the lights of the prowl car flashed from the curb in front. Tonya jumped to her feet, slipping the crystal ball back into her bag. She backed away from the bones. I went to meet the officers.

 
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