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Shadow silence, p.4
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       Shadow Silence, p.4

           Yasmine Galenorn
 

  The subdivision sat in a half circle with the lake to the back. A line of trees—about one hundred and fifty yards of forest—separated the back of the center lot from the water. Not enough for comfort. Not at all. The undergrowth was sparse—unusual for this area, and it looked like at one time, the subdivision had tried to turn the greenbelt into a park but it had long been abandoned.

  Peggin was waiting for me. She was leaning against her car, parked in the driveway of the house at the very end of the cul-de-sac, which meant she was closest to the copse and, by default, to the lake. Too close. I eased into the driveway beside her, squinting through the trees at the silvery sheen of water. The morning was cloudy—overcast as usual—but the rain was holding off, though the temperatures were only in the mid-thirties. We could potentially see some snow by nightfall, though it probably wouldn’t stick.

  As I stepped out of my car, the house caught my attention and I found myself mesmerized by the sight of it. Like the others, it had the same abandoned air and weathered siding, but there was something about it, something that invited me in to say hello. I suddenly understood why Peggin liked it—it reminded me of a lost orphan, looking for a new mother.

  But as I stood there, staring at the three-story Victorian, I became aware of a shiver snaking up my back. Whatever lingered here didn’t want me to look too hard. A bevy of crows circled overhead, cawing loudly, and I glanced up at them, trying to read what they were saying.

  “Are you sure you want to go inside?” I didn’t intend that to be the first thing I said, but apparently my mouth was working on autopilot.

  Peggin nodded. “I have to. I need to see what’s in there. I don’t know why, but this house calls out to me.” She whirled on me, her arms crossed against the cold. “I know I should be frightened because of the proximity to the Lady, Kerris. I know that. But I can’t help myself—I want to bring this house back to life. I can’t explain it, but . . .”

  I gave her a soft nod. “I do understand,” I said, and truth was, I did. I could smell the stench of loneliness wafting off the old house. It was reaching out, trying to find someone to heal whatever wounds it had garnered over the years.

  “Are you sure you want to go in? We could just turn and walk away. I know that you promised yourself you’d look but . . . if you want to go, we will.” I tried one last time.

  Peggin looked back at the house, and a flash of indecision washed over her face, but then she resolutely shook her head. “No, let’s go inside.”

  I bit my lip, but motioned for her to lead the way. As we entered the gate cordoning off the yard, I thought I could hear a click as it swung closed behind us, as though something had sealed the path we were on. I swung in behind her and followed her to the porch.

  The sidewalk was broken, with grass growing through the cracks, but the porch still looked to be in fairly good shape. There were no broken boards or rotted patches that I could see. As we clambered up the front steps—there were seven of them—we reached the wide veranda. The porch was enclosed by a half rail running the length of the front of the house.

  I found my dread growing. I didn’t want to go inside now, or ever. The allure had seemed to vanish and all I could think about was that I would rather be anywhere but here. It was hard to force myself to keep from heading back to my car.

  “Who were the last owners?” I asked, more to hear some noise than because I really wanted to know.

  “I’m not sure, to be honest. The owner is selling it as is. They didn’t even bother with a security lock like most for-sales have, my Realtor said. Apparently most of the local kids are too frightened by how close it is to the lake to bother coming around Foggy Downs.”

  She paused by the newel post that attached to the stair rail, stamping her feet against the cold, then leaned against the column and shook her hair out of her face.

  “I want to tell you something, so you’ll understand why I am so set on buying this house.”

  “I’m listening.”

  “Here’s the deal. I like D-D. I like him a lot. I like him so much that I don’t want to screw this up. I’m not sure what the future holds, Kerris, but for me, to be able to find somebody I click with? It doesn’t happen very often. Almost never. I know you think guys are always checking me out and yeah, they are, but not the way I want. Most of them just want to sleep with me, or grab my boobs. They aren’t interested in me as girlfriend material. Or even for a friendship.”

  I stared at her. “I never thought about that, to be honest.”

  “I don’t know how or why, but I magnetize guys by their balls, not their hearts. But Dr. Divine . . . Kerris, when Bryan hooked us up, I expected either a total brush-off or the usual. But you remember what happened, right? He took me up to Hurricane Ridge for a winter picnic. We ended up making snowmen, having a snowball fight, making snow angels—which I don’t mind telling you, look freaking strange when your date wears a top hat. And then, we had dinner and drinks in front of the fireplace in one of the cabins. It just got better from then on.”

  “I remember.”

  She had called me, ecstatic, but sounding frantic. I’m not used to this, how the hell do I act? she had asked me. I told her to just be herself. Apparently, it had worked on both their parts.

  “He’s eccentric as hell, but we can talk. He has a sense of humor that’s hidden behind all those braids and goggles, and he makes me laugh. And all the weird gadgets and gear? That’s who he is. It’s not an affectation. I don’t want to endanger that. Do you understand? It’s too new, too soon to make any sudden moves. I’m afraid . . .”

  And then, I did understand. “You’re afraid that if you move in with him till you find a place, that something will go wrong.”

  She nodded. “I’m not ready to give up the fantasy yet. Reality sets in at two in the morning when you’re puking your guts out from the flu. Or when you’ve got cramps so bad that you’re cursing your goddamned uterus. We spend the night together a lot, yes, but I’m not ready for the blinders to entirely disappear.”

  I had a feeling that Dr. Divine had left his blinders on the doorstep, but I decided not to press the matter. I understood what she was saying, because even though he was my protector, bound to me by the goddess we both served, Bryan and I were still new enough that I had some of those same fears myself.

  “I get it. Okay, I won’t push you to stay with him. I’m sorry, I’ll try to be supportive. I’m just . . . this area scares the fuck out of me.”

  She pressed her lips together. “Honestly? Me, too, but there are ways to counter the Lady. I’m looking into charms and wards. And I’m sure that between you and Ivy, you can help me do whatever is necessary. Now, come inside with me? My Realtor will be here soon.”

  “Lead the way.” I wanted to be as supportive as I could.

  Peggin inserted the key and unlocked the door. “Jack brought me the key this morning. He’ll be along in about twenty minutes. He had to drop his kids off at preschool after he left the key at my house.” She opened the door and a soft hush rushed out. Oh, it could have been my imagination, I suppose, but by now it didn’t matter. Imagination or reality, I didn’t like this house and I wasn’t about to pretend I did.

  We entered the foyer and she toggled the light switch, but nothing happened. “No power. I should have figured. Okay, at least it’s daylight and we should be able to see.”

  “Thank gods for small favors.” I wanted more than anything to tell her about my dream but I knew that the words wouldn’t come, even if I tried again. For some reason the Morrígan and the Crow Man were keeping me silent. “I wish Bryan could have come with us.”

  “What do you expect to find? Ghosts?” She laughed.

  “Who knows? Maybe. Maybe nothing. We know for sure what’s living out in that lake.”

  She paused, then let out a long sigh. “As I said, I know what’s out there. And I’m fully awar
e that there are ghosts here. I figure you’ll be able to help me guide them on their way.”

  I reached out to see if I could sense any lingering ghosts that might be around. The house had a spooky feel anyway, given that it was old and abandoned, but even beneath the dirt and the cobwebs, I could tell we were being watched by spirits. In fact, I would have been surprised to find the place clear. This area had seen a lot of deaths. Whether any of them had happened in this house, I didn’t know, but the spirits were awake and wandering.

  The foyer was a long, narrow hall with doors on either side, and a staircase leading upstairs just beyond the door to the left. It reminded me of a lot of houses that were this age. Sure enough, when I opened the door to the right, the room was small—probably a parlor of some sort—and cramped. The ceilings were high, the windows cracked in several places, the hardwoods still in decent condition.

  “Look,” Peggin said, pointing to the fireplace. “I love the mantel.”

  I joined her. The mantel was gorgeous, I had to admit that. Carved from what looked like a single piece of wood, it was thick and chunky, and I wasn’t certain just what kind of wood it was, but there was something about it that set it apart from the rest of the room.

  “I have to admit, this is a beauty. And the fireplace looks like it probably still works, though you’ll want an inspector in here to check it out. Probably needs a good cleaning.” I rubbed my hand across the wood of the mantel, wiping away the layer of dust that had accumulated. Beneath the grime, the gleam of highly polished grain appeared. A spark rippled through my fingers, startling me. It wasn’t static electricity, that much I knew.

  “This room could be so beautiful.” Peggin was looking out the window. “Can you imagine this space, clean and spruced up? Heavy velvet drapes . . . a fainting couch and a piano? This would make such a wonderful library!”

  I could hear the wonder in her voice and knew that, unless we found something horrible, she was lost to the house. While I loved my grandparents’ house, I hadn’t become intensely attached, and I wondered if I ever would. I felt comfortable in my home, but given all the baggage I had from my childhood, there were times I still cringed.

  We moved on to the room opposite the hall, which appeared to be some sort of office. Then, before going upstairs, we continued along the foyer. A powder room was tucked in beneath the stairs, then the hall opened into the kitchen, with a formal dining room off to the right. The dining room had wide bay windows overlooking the backyard with a prime view of the lake.

  The kitchen was large, with an eat-in breakfast nook, though it needed a thorough updating. It looked like the last time anybody had done any upgrades was during the sixties, because the appliances were the pale pink of the fifties, the countertops were laminate, and the cupboards were painted a sage green enamel.

  “Um, complete gut job. I know you like retro, but this . . .” I looked at the floor, which was a hideous black-and-white-checkerboard pattern. Well, it worked in Lindsey’s Diner, but here, it just looked jarring against the rest of the pastel décor.

  Peggin snorted. “You think? I agree. I like retro in my clothes, but with an updated edge. In my kitchen, I want stainless appliances, and either granite or quartz counters. And I prefer dark wood to this. But . . . the cabinets don’t look in that bad of shape.” She opened one of the cupboards, eyeing the hinges. “Strip the enamel, sand and stain . . . new hardware . . . it would take some time but I could do it myself. I’m handy. I could buy new appliances.”

  “You’d need an electrician to verify that the place is up to code. I’m betting on the need to rewire the whole place.” I frowned. “Are you sure this would be worth it? I foresee a ton of renovations.”

  She shrugged. “Let’s look upstairs. The cosmetic stuff can wait; I can tackle it as I go. The kitchen, wiring, and plumbing might need an immediate overhaul. I have enough in savings to manage that, I think.”

  “Make certain you want the place before plunging that much into it, especially on a rent-to-own basis. I’m just saying.” But I had to admit, from what we had seen so far, there appeared to be no mold or water damage, and the bones of the house seemed fairly solid, at least from a cursory examination.

  We headed up the stairs. They were narrow, but not terribly steep, and the banister and railing seemed secure enough. Other than the occasional squeak, the wood seemed to be solid beneath our feet. The stairwell made a turn to the right, and then we were in the hallway. Here, it was obvious somebody had renovated the design. It wasn’t the typical layout for a house as old as this one. There were four rooms on this level. One of the doors led to a full bath, though it was on the small side. The other three were bedrooms—one of them a large master suite with a spacious bathroom, though it looked right out of the seventies. Another stairwell at the end of the hall led to the third floor.

  I stared into the master bedroom. “Okay, this has to be a reno. Masters were never this large in these old houses. And very few master bedrooms had their own bathroom. My guess is that the master bath and bedroom were originally two smaller rooms. The design here looks to be circa 1975 . . .” I paused, staring at the heart-shaped tub. At least it was big.

  She laughed. “Yeah, that tub is a little bit on the cheesy side, but it will work. I could live with it for a while. And if they updated the plumbing when they built this bathroom, maybe the renovations won’t be so extensive.” She walked back into the master bedroom. The window overlooked the backyard and the lake. “I admit, it’s creepy . . . the view. I can almost see Fogwhistle Pier from here. But . . .”

  “Peggin, are you sure you’re interested in this place? I have to admit, there’s a lot of potential here, but . . .” I stopped. It was no use. She was in love with the house and there was nothing I could say to make her change her mind. “I can tell by that look on your face that no matter what I say, you’re going to buy this house. So will you at least let me do what I can in order to make it safer for you?”

  She glanced around the room once more, then let out a slow laugh. “Yeah, I will. I promise. And I’ll have you over here helping so you can keep an eye out for the spooks.”

  I glanced out the window. “There are two walking through your backyard right now.” Even from here, I could see the bedraggled-looking ghosts wandering through the yard. Whether they were friend or foe, I wasn’t sure, but one thing was certain: I’d find out, and find out as soon as I could.

  Peggin’s phone buzzed. “Jack’s here. He’s out front. Let’s go downstairs and see what he has to say.” And with that, we headed out of the bedroom, and into Peggin’s future.

  CHAPTER 3

  Jack, this is my best friend Kerris. Kerris, this is Jack Walters. He’s from Walters Realty. We’ve known each other for a long time. And he’s going to tell me what it will take for me to buy this house.” She turned to him and gave him a wide smile. “I love the place, though I need a full inspection to see what I’m getting myself into here.”

  Jack, who looked like a fairly mild-mannered accountant type, chuckled. “I think you’ll be pleased to find out that when I agreed to take on this property, I had a full inspection done. That was two months ago. I can show you the results and then, if you want another, we can proceed from there.” He motioned toward the door. “Shall we go in? And do you have any questions to begin with?”

  “How old is this house?” I decided that his invitation to ask questions extended to me as well. And even if it didn’t, I was going to anyway.

  “The house was built in 1920, by Herschel Dorsey. So the place is pushing ninety-plus years old. Over the years, it’s been renovated several times, the last being in 1976.” He paused, frowning. “I think I should tell you that there have been twenty-three owners. And I don’t know how many renters.”

  I blinked. Twenty-three people had owned the place? “What is this? Amityville?”

  He shrugged, looking mildly uncomfortable
. “I’m not certain what happened. I only have the list of owners and rebuilds done on the house. I don’t know why anybody left. I do know that the original owner—Dorsey—died in a nasty accident only a few years after he built the house. He was starting to cut down a tree in the front yard—that old oak out there—and something happened with the ax. It slipped, slicing into his leg, and he bled out before anybody found him. You can still see the gashes in the trunk, even though they’ve healed over.”

  Peggin glanced at me. “Maybe he’s one of the ghosts you saw wandering the property?”

  “Could be.”

  Jack cleared his throat. “Even though there’s no requirement that we disclose supernatural activity, my firm feels that . . . well . . . this is . . .”

  He looked so pained that I couldn’t help myself, I started to laugh.

  “This is Whisper Hollow, right?” I grinned.

  He tilted his head, scrutinizing me for a moment before snorting. “Yeah, you got it. So yes, there’s a history of supernatural activity here. I don’t know exactly what kind, but there’s a notation that a few families who rented this place just up and left. In fact, two of the families actually left a number of their belongings behind, refusing to come pick them up. Most of that stuff is stored in the attic and comes with the house.”

  He led us into the parlor. “The chimney is in need of repair, but the fireplace works. It does need to be cleaned. The windows are all original and I would recommend replacing them with double-pane as soon as possible. That’s about it for this room.”

  The office received a pass, too. The powder room was the next stop.

  “All plumbing was upgraded in the mid-seventies. I don’t think anything has been touched since then, but the inspection showed that most of the pipes are still in decent condition. The house is on a septic system and you’ll likely need a new one within the next two or three years. That can be quite an expense and the seller is considering that in the purchase price.” He motioned to a closet door. “The water heater is in there. It will need replacing in about five years, I’d say. The furnace, which is in the basement, is actually fairly new. The old one died on the current owner, so he replaced it about three years ago.”

 
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