Flight from mayhem, p.32
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       Flight from Mayhem, p.32

           Yasmine Galenorn
 

  “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’d been skeptical when Bryan offered to fix her up with Deev, but after the first date, they had become an item. They fit. Together they made for 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.

  The 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 kept a tight rein over those she summoned, and at some point, I had to visit her lair. All spirit shamans had to make some sort of connection with the royalty of the Unliving.

  “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, “Poooooof . . .”

  “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 savings to buy a house.

  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 landed on a house that might be perfect for me. 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.”

  The waitress 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.

  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 the hydrangeas at your place.”

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

  That rose the alarm right there. Peggin wouldn’t say something like that unless she knew I wasn’t going to like her answer. “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.”

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

  Ellia leaned in. “That’s prime territory for the Lady. What on earth prompted you to think of moving into that subdivision? Or what there is left of it.”

  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 little subdivision on the lakeshore near Fogwhistle Pier and most of them were abandoned now.

  “Listen, you know as well as I do that there aren’t many houses in Whistle Hollow that are up for rent. I can’t live in an apartment—I can’t stand the idea of being cooped up. And the houses in safer neighborhoods? Way too expensive. This house is rent to own, and if I fixed it up, I think it would be pretty.”

  Peggin could be pretty bull-headed 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, 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, so I’m thinking of buying if it looks like I can reclaim the house.”

  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 then, he glanced at Peggin, a frown forming. “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.” 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.”

  “You can always move in with me till you find a safer home.”

  I blinked. That was a quick offer, considering how short of a time they had been together. But then again, if it were me, given the option of having Bryan move into a house next to a monster’s lair and letting him come live with me, I’d pick the latter, too. And Bryan and I had only been together about five to 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 of clothes, for her weight, for her lack of interest in getting married. Her older sister, Lisha, had become a family icon. The “norm
al” 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 twelve, 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 had gone 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 she was wary of anybody offering help, since it had always come with strings attached.

  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 at his feet. 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 had 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. Out 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.

  New York Times bestselling author Yasmine Galenorn writes urban fantasy, mystery, and metaphysical nonfiction. A graduate of Evergreen State College, she majored in theater and creative writing. Yasmine has been in the Craft for more than thirty-four years and is a shamanic witch. She describes her life as a blend of teacups and tattoos, and she lives in the Seattle area with her husband, Samwise, and their cats. Yasmine can be reached at her website at galenorn.com, via Twitter at twitter.com/yasminegalenorn, and via her publisher. If you send her snail mail, please enclose a self-addressed stamped envelope if you want a reply.

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  Yasmine Galenorn, Flight from Mayhem

 


 

 
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