Shadow silence, p.3
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       Shadow Silence, p.3

           Yasmine Galenorn
 

  Deev seemed to sense her resistance because he gave her a little squeeze and backed off. “Well, if you need a place, you know you’ve got one. Just keep it in mind in case you don’t like the house and can’t find something suitable by the end of the month.”

  I decided to change the subject. Peggin was looking far too tense.

  “Agent H caught a mouse today and decided to drop it on my bed for when I woke up.” Agent H was one of my Maine Coons. I had three. The other two were girls—Gabrielle, better known as Gabby, and Daphne, named after Daphne du Maurier, one of my favorite authors. They were all huge, basically walking Tribbles on legs.

  Peggin snorted. “Sounds like Frith. He likes to bring me garter snakes that get in the house. Folly’s too lazy.”

  “I love your ferrets.” Dr. Divine grinned then. He didn’t smile often, but when he did, it was a trickster grin, a heady, sensual smile.

  Bryan let out a laugh. “Have you ever let your ferrets visit Kerris’s cats?” He slid an arm around me as the conversation eased into a comfortable chat and we wound down from the day.

  * * *

  I was standing in the field near the lake. I recognized that I was dreaming—or rather, that I was out on the astral in my dreams. The field was open with no shrubs or trees except for the knee-length grass that whistled in the wind. As I stood there, my arms stretched to the moon that rode high in the night, the faint cawing of birds echoed through the air.

  A murder of crows came winging in, landing around me. The vast flock settled, their blue-black feathers shimmering under the silver moonlight. They formed a circle, with me at the center. And then, I heard it. A slow processional filled the night, accompanied by violins and panpipes and the ever-present bodhrans beating the steady rhythm.

  The Crow Man is coming.

  I shivered, exposed and vulnerable in the Dream-Time. The ground around me quaked with his footsteps as the giant approached, clouds of blue fire swirling around him. An indigo cloak flared around him, the stars reflecting in its folds as he walked. A fur shawl encircled his shoulders, and atop his head rested a headdress—a giant crow’s head with eyes that glowed red, and a piercing beak. His hair was long and black, falling to his shoulders, and his eyes were slits of white fire. In one hand, he carried a wand of silver, with a glowing crystal on top.

  I slowly settled to the ground, overwhelmed as I always was by his presence. Each time, his power seemed to have grown stronger, perhaps because I was far more attuned to his Mistress than I had been the first time we met. Or perhaps he was just opening himself to me. Whatever the case, I just wanted to curl by his feet and stare at his beauty.

  He did not speak, but held out his hands. As I looked into his palms, a mist began to rise, coiling like a serpent. It bade me to follow it, and I was flying through the night, the Crow Man by my side. He winked at me, but his smile vanished as we spun through the stars. Then, without a word, we landed again, by the shores of the lake. The Crow Man pointed to the waves and I gazed out over the dark surface of the water.

  The winds rose as the flock of crows thundered overhead, shrieking their anger. I glanced back at the water and there she was. Rising from below the surface, a figure cloaked in pale white, dripping with water. She reminded me of a skeleton, clad in a layer of waxen skin. Her hair draped around her shoulders, long strands of seaweed and vines, and her skin was the color of gray mud. Through of hollow sockets, dark as the raging depths of the waters, she looked straight at us and began to laugh as she held out her arms.

  “Come to me. I promise you peace of mind. You will find joy in my embrace, and all that you’ve ever longed for will be yours. Let me give you a taste of my magic.” Her voice was as silken as smooth brandy, and my first instinct was to answer her call.

  But the Crow Man clasped a hand on my shoulder. “Listen to her song, so you will recognize it when you hear it again. The words may not be there, but the call is always the same.”

  At that moment, a scream echoed through the clearing.

  Peggin!

  I whirled, looking for her, but all I could see was the Lady, standing on the water, laughing as she held Peggin in her arms, unconscious. The water churned as the Lady began to slowly sink below the surface, dragging Peggin with her. I began to scream as I wrenched myself out of the Crow Man’s grasp and raced forward. Overhead, the crows went winging by, screeching so loud their cries filled the night air, as the Lady and Peggin vanished from sight.

  CHAPTER 2

  The paw woke me up. It was furry, calico, and belonged to Daphne. All twenty pounds of her were perched directly on my shoulder, and I groaned, trying to roll over under her weight. As she reluctantly climbed off me, I struggled to sit up, blinking the nightmare away. A glance at the clock told me it was four A.M., and I reached over and flipped on the light. Bryan hadn’t been able to stay—he had an early-morning meeting—so we had called it a night at the door.

  I pushed myself back against the headboard and wiped my eyes. They were wet and I realized I’d been crying in my sleep. The next moment, the dream came flooding back and I panicked and grabbed my phone, about to call Peggin, but then I stopped myself. I was slowly learning which dreams were portents, which were reality, and which were just the messed-up carousel of my thoughts.

  As I thought back over the components, I examined what my gut was trying to tell me. Fear, yes, and worry, but we had been talking about the Lady during our late-night dinner, so that could account for my dream.

  You know I was there.

  The voice echoed in the back of my mind. It was the Crow Man’s voice, smooth and tempting, with that touch of danger behind it. He was a crafty one, a trickster, but he never lied. He might manipulate and play games, but he wasn’t out for his own agenda. He was the messenger for the Morrígan. And I knew better than to ignore him.

  I let out a slow breath as Daphne curled up on my lap. Ever since we had moved back to Whisper Hollow, Daphne had become my dream guardian. She woke me from nightmares, she kept an eye on the house. As I stroked her fur, smoothing the long hair that swirled in a medley of orange and black and white, she looked up at me and let out a soft mew. Gabby, in all her shining black glory, was snuggled with Agent H on the bottom of the bed.

  “All right, pumpkin, I’ll listen.” I gave her one last pat on the butt and then, after settling down under the covers, I closed my eyes and tried to get back to sleep. I’d listen and watch, and do what I could to look out for Peggin.

  * * *

  So yes, I’m Kerris Fellwater. My father disappeared before I was born, and my mother went missing when I was three, so I had lived with my maternal grandparents. But my grandfather was an emotionally abusive son of a bitch. When I was eighteen, I left Whisper Hollow. My grandmother, a spirit shaman, had begged me to stay and learn what destiny had signed me up for—it was my duty to take over from Grandma Lila when it came time. But I couldn’t stick around and subject myself to Duvall’s emotional abuse.

  Fifteen years—and what felt like a lifetime later—my grandparents were taken by the Lady. That was two months ago. I returned home to take up my grandmother’s post, and promptly discovered that my mother hadn’t abandoned me, but had been murdered. With Bryan’s help, I tracked down her killer and took up as spirit shaman. I was still shaky in my training, but with Grandma Lila’s journal, the help of Ellia—my lament singer—and the guidance of Bryan, who turned out to be my protector—I was learning. And I had the Crescent Moon Society to back me up, a secret society that tried to keep the spirits of Whisper Hollow at bay.

  If you live in Whisper Hollow, you know the rules. And they are just that: rules. Not suggestions. Not guidelines. Oh, sure, you can break them if you want, but don’t be surprised if you meet me as I escort you to Penelope’s realm. Because breaking the rules in Whisper Hollow is quite often the last thing you’ll ever do. There are only seven of them and they’re easy to kee
p, but they cover most contingencies.

  If you hear someone call your name from the forest, don’t answer.

  Never interrupt Ellia when she’s playing to the dead.

  If you see the Girl in the Window, set your affairs in order.

  Try not to end up in the hospital.

  If the Crow Man summons you, follow him.

  Remember: Sometimes the foul are actually fair.

  And most important: Don’t drive down by the lake at night.

  Keep to the rules and there’s a good chance you’ll make it through alive.

  Whisper Hollow is on the northwest side of Lake Crescent, over on the Olympic Peninsula in western Washington. Not many people know we’re here, because the town likes it that way. Across the highway from the junction, the Olympic National Park takes over. Ancient growth—so tall you can’t see the top of the timber when you look up—comprises most of the forest, the trunks of the fir and cedar plush with dripping moss, lichen, and mushrooms. The park receives over one hundred forty inches of rain during the year, and in winter, snow usually blankets the peaks, especially up on Hurricane Ridge, where the winds rage at hurricane strength and bend the trees and vegetation into a permanent state of deformation.

  Spirits run rampant on the peninsula. Not just ghosts, but odd creatures, strange beings, and dark shadows whom you really do not want to encounter. But with the Morrígan riding over my shoulder, and my friends and family by my side, I’m starting to learn what it really means to be a spirit shaman. It’s in my blood. It’s in my soul.

  * * *

  Come morning, I dragged myself to the espresso machine. I lived in the home that I had grown up in, my grandparents’ home. When the Lady killed them, they had left it to me. Actually, I say grandparents but the truth was, the man I had grown up thinking was my grandfather wasn’t actually blood-related. In fact, my real grandfather—Aidan Corcoran—was also a shapeshifter. Unlike Bryan, Aidan’s a lionshifter. In fact, he’s the king of a clan. To say that my background was confusing is an understatement.

  But I was slowly straightening things out, and I was happier than I had ever been. Whisper Hollow was my home, and I loved the house and felt safe within its walls.

  I fired up the espresso machine, which I had nicknamed Fred. While the machine was heating up, I fed the cats, who were milling around my feet. Three giant Maine Coons versus me meant their breakfast was served up first.

  “You aren’t starving and you know it.” I snorted, placing their dishes on the tray I kept for them. Gabby liked to pull food out of the dish with her paw and eat it off the floor, so the tray kept the floors from getting dirty. After they were set, I pulled four shots of espresso, added hazelnut creamer, and popped a couple of slices of bread in the toaster, then pared off a piece of cheddar and munched on it while waiting for the bread to toast.

  The phone rang. I still had a landline—Grandma Lila had one and I hadn’t bothered to disconnect it. When the power went out, it worked, and since the storms made that a regular occurrence, I figured I might as well keep it. I used my cell phone so much that I was always having to charge it, so it was nice to have an available dial tone when I needed it.

  “Hello?” I was hoping it was Peggin, and I wasn’t disappointed.

  “You are talking to a woman who spent the night being thoroughly fucked.” Her voice was luxurious, and she sounded more relaxed than I had heard her in a while.

  “It sounds like the doctor has the cure for what ails you.” I grinned. Peggin was a sensual woman. In fact, men gravitated to her like bees to a flower. She had an Aphrodite vibe to her and the kicker was, she was totally unaware of it. Oh, she knew when guys were hitting on her, but Peggin’s sex appeal was as natural as her quirky style. And she had a heart of gold, even though she was nobody’s doormat.

  “I really didn’t expect this, not when Bryan offered to fix us up. I’d seen D-D around town, but he’s always kept to himself and he’s never indicated that he was even remotely interested in hanging out. At least with people. He’s obsessed with his art.”

  “That reminds me. Did he find Jokney?”

  “No, but we’ve alerted the chief of police, and she’s keeping an eye out. Anyway, you ready to meet me out at the house?” Her voice took on an edge, and once again I felt the wall of resistance go up.

  Hoping that the place would be an absolute disaster so she’d decide to back away on her own, I cleared my throat. “Yeah, I’m ready. I’ll meet you there. Ellia can’t make it. When Bryan and I dropped her off, she reminded me that she has a formal tea today—the Matriarchs are meeting in Port Townsend for tea and shopping. And Bryan’s off at a business meeting this morning. So it’s you, me, and Deev.”

  “Oh, D-D can’t make it either. He stayed for half the night, then got up at two A.M. and took off for his studio. He’s in the middle of some major creative explosion and it’s better if he works than having him pace around for half the night.”

  Maybe this was a good time to try once more. “I know it’s way soon to be thinking of moving in, but if you were staying at his house, he wouldn’t have to leave in the—”

  “Stop. Kerris, you know my answer to that. Don’t even go there.” But I could hear the faint smile behind her words. “Thank you for caring.”

  I decided to play my trump card. Taking a deep breath, I said, “I had a dream last night.”

  “What about?”

  I opened my mouth, but then stopped. I was ready to tell her everything, about the Crow Man and the Lady dragging her under, but I couldn’t get the words out of my mouth. They stuck in my throat, and though I wanted to speak, I couldn’t force my lips to move. A cawing out the window alerted me and I glanced over to see a crow perched in one of the bushes by the house, staring in the kitchen window. So the Crow Man had shown me the dream, but he wasn’t going to let me tell her about it. I let out a long sigh.

  “Nothing . . . it was . . . nothing. I’ll see you there. Text me the address and I’ll meet you in about half an hour. I need to stop at Ivy’s and pick up some things she found of my father’s that she wants me to have. She has to leave by ten for the Matriarchs’ tea.” Ivy was my paternal grandmother, whom I hadn’t met until I returned home to Whisper Hollow.

  “Sounds like all the Matriarchs are gathering,” Peggin said with a laugh. “All right, I’ll be at the house by nine thirty. The Realtor will meet us there.”

  And with that, she was off. I finished my breakfast and picked up the wet food the cats hadn’t eaten—a few nibbles left in the bowl. I set down their free-feed dry kibble, and rinsed out the dishes and put them in the dishwasher. Then, gathering my purse and coat, I gave one last glance around the kitchen.

  “Bye, Grandma Lila.” My grandmother’s spirit hung around. Every now and then she appeared to me, but I always felt her near.

  One of the cabinet doors opened gently, then closed. Her way of saying good-bye and be safe. With a soft smile, I headed out for Ivy’s.

  * * *

  Ivy looked only slightly older than I was, though she had forty-two years on me. She was a shapeshifter—a wolf like my father, Avery, had been. It had hit her as hard as it hit me when we found out he had been murdered, but at least we were able to lay both Avery, her son, and Tamil, my mother, to rest together.

  Ivy was waiting for me, her eyes crinkling into a smile as I entered her kitchen. It was just too odd to call someone “grandma” who looked only a little older than me, so we settled on just “Ivy” and she was good with that.

  I gave her a quick hug. “Hey, Ivy. You look gorgeous!”

  She was wearing a flowing tea dress that looked right out of another era, and had all the matching accessories—pale blue clutch, ivory afternoon gloves, and even a hat to match. She gave me a quick twirl and laughed.

  “Every year, we have this tea shortly before the holidays. In time, you an
d Peggin will join us. But for now, it’s restricted to the older . . . influential . . . women in the town, with one or two exceptions.”

  I wrinkled my nose. “Starlight?”

  Starlight Williams was the leader of the Crescent Moon Society and was as close to a social rich bitch as I’d ever met. We clashed upon first meeting but had to work together, so we made an effort to maintain civility. That was about as far as we could manage.

  “Yes, Starlight. She does deserve to be at the tea, regardless of what you think of her, child. But you two will have to figure out your own differences. For now, I think you’re both making the effort to keep out of trouble.” She slid on her gloves, then nodded to the counter. “The box is over there. Anything you don’t want, bring back and I’ll send them to Avery’s father.” She paused, then let out a long sigh. “I’m still getting used to thinking of my son as dead. All these years, I knew he was lost to me, but there’s always that spark of hope. When the bones actually come home, there’s no denying it, is there? And you, dear one, never even got to meet him. I think you would have been friends. You are his daughter, that much is for certain.”

  And with that, she slid on her coat, buttoning it against the chill fog that blanketed the morning, and headed for the door. I picked up the plastic tub, trying to peer through the sides. But my curiosity would have to wait. Ivy walked me to my car and kissed me on the cheek, then headed off for her tea. As I slid the box into the back hatch of my CR-V, I thought how odd it was to find family where you thought there was none, and to lose the family you had hoped to find.

  * * *

  The Foggy Downs subdivision was old, turn-of-the-twentieth-century old. Built with the highest hopes in mind, it had taken a nosedive from the beginning. Ten houses in a cul-de-sac, now eight of them were empty and had been for some time. I wasn’t sure who lived in the two that were still occupied, but whoever they were, they didn’t keep up their yards very well. Both houses—side by side—had overgrown lawns and a lot of dead brush around them. The windows were covered with heavy drapes, and the outer walls were weathered, with peeling paint.

 
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