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Shadow silence, p.6
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       Shadow Silence, p.6

           Yasmine Galenorn
 

  “No, don’t even say it. We’ll talk more about it later. We have plenty of time. So what do you want to do the rest of the day?”

  “I have more shopping to do, and then I’m going to stop at Penelope’s tomb on the way home. By then . . .” My phone rang and I glanced at the caller ID. Peggin. “Speak of the devil. Hold on one second.”

  As I answered, Bryan cleared our table and shrugged into his jacket.

  “Peggin? How did it go?”

  “I’m a homeowner!” She sounded so excited that I couldn’t help but smile, even though I was cringing inside.

  “We’ve worked out an arrangement. Contingent on another inspection, I’m getting the place for fifty-five thousand. They’re anxious to unload it and with needing a new septic system and the other repairs, the owner caved at our first offer. I’ll be paying them five hundred a month, with three thousand for the option fee—that will go toward the purchase price after a year. Three hundred of the rent each month will be put toward house payments. After a year, they’ll raise that to four hundred. Of course, if I change my mind, none of that’s considered equity, not until I’ve paid ten thousand total. In a year, I might qualify for a loan to pay it off, given I’ll have put some money into the house and been there awhile.”

  I congratulated her. “So, when’s moving day?”

  “I was hoping you could help me on Saturday? I might as well get myself situated in there and start cleaning up the inside. My landlord has offered to let me out of this month’s rent if I find a place soon enough.” She sounded excited, so I decided to just roll with it.

  “Of course I can help. Hold on.” I muted the phone and motioned to Bryan. “Can you help Peggin and me this weekend? We’re moving her into the house.” I must have looked horribly grumpy because he stifled a groan.

  “I’ll be there. What do you think she wants as a housewarming present?”

  “A new house.”

  “Something more practical.”

  I thought for a moment. “Well, she needs someone to repair the chimney and sweep it out.”

  “You got it.”

  I conveyed the information to Peggin. “Bryan says find someone to fix and clean the chimney as his housewarming gift.”

  She let out a loud squeak. “Tell him I adore him. I’ll call around today. Are you going to the concert in the park tonight?”

  “We were planning on it.” I grinned. Everybody in town would end up at the concert. That was just a given.

  “Then I’ll see you there.” And with that, she hung up.

  I stared at my phone. “Well, it’s a done deal. She’s taking the house.” I wanted to tell Bryan my dream, but once again, my lips wouldn’t move and the words were frozen in my throat. So, instead, I said, “I want you to do me a favor. When we move Peggin into the house, pay attention to what you feel. There are things the Morrígan won’t let me talk about—literally. I need to make certain that . . .” Once again, the words wouldn’t come.

  “I think I understand. All right. I have to get back to work. But I’ll call you in a while. Dinner tonight at my house before the concert? I’ll grill some steaks. You can bring dessert.” He waggled his eyebrows and I let out a snort, the tension easing back.

  “Oh, I’ll bring dessert all right. And maybe something a little sweet as well as spicy.” With a laugh, I leaned across the table to catch his lips with mine, easing into the kiss. He let out a soft “Mmm” and I wanted to climb over the table right then and there, but restrained myself. A moment later, I softly pulled away. “I’ll see you later. All of you.” And, pursing my lips, I blew him another kiss, then gathered my bags and braced myself for the chill of the outdoors.

  Ninety minutes later, I had finished half of my shopping and was trudging back to my car, laden down with bags and boxes. As I reached the park and was stowing my purchases in the trunk, I heard a sound that was suspiciously familiar. I glanced over at one of the trees near the edge of Beacon Park. The old cedar soared into the air, so tall and wide that it could shelter the entire circle of benches that ran beneath the overhanging branches.

  The trunk of the cedar was ringed by ferns, waist high, behind the benches. Something was scuttling from within the fronds. I could see the faint movement as they wavered, even though they were sheltered from the wind by the massive boughs.

  I slammed the trunk shut and then slowly crossed the sidewalk to the park, heading across the sodden grass toward the tree. “Who’s hiding in there? I hear you. Come out.”

  No answer, but another shuffle in the undergrowth told me they had heard me.

  “Come on, answer me. I’m Kerris Fellwater, the spirit shaman, and I know you’re there.” I kept my voice light but firm, and pushed a little magic behind it.

  A moment later, the fronds on one of the larger ferns parted, opening to reveal an odd, misshapen face peering out. The creature was the color of sage, and about two feet tall, bipedal with long spindly arms and legs. Its head was flattened, its face lumpy with what looked like odd knots. Warts, maybe, but I wasn’t betting on it. The creature’s ears, though, were long and pointed, overhanging its head, and the eyes flickered with a pale lemon-colored light. One of the forest Fae. It had to be.

  Nature spirits were part and parcel to the area—to all wild areas, actually—but I hadn’t noticed them much till my return home. Then I began to remember that as a child I saw them, all around. Even into my teens, I had known they were there, though they were harder to see when my hormones hit and puberty kicked in. But now, the ability was coming back.

  I was about two yards away from the creature when I stopped, not wanting to spook it. Kneeling down, I balanced myself by holding on to one of the benches. The creature winced and I realized that it recognized I was touching iron—the Fae hated wrought and cast iron, though they could and did touch silver and gold, and sometimes steel.

  “Are you all right?” I got the sense that something was wrong. Forest Fae often wandered through the town, but they seldom brought themselves to our attention. They could so easily camouflage against the trees and bushes that most people never realized they were looking directly at them.

  The creature crept closer, keeping a close eye on the bench as though it were an enemy ready to strike. After a moment, it was about a foot away from me.

  It leaned forward and, in a tinny voice that was so faint it was hard to hear, it said, “The Forest Lord bade me come. Spirit Shaman, help is needed. The Screaming Tree has woken up but the Crone silenced its warnings. The Ankou are gathering in the forest. The Crone seeks to send them into the town.”

  I stared at the Fae. The Screaming Tree had not been awake in decades. Even during Grandma Lila’s time, she told me the Screaming Tree had remained silent. It was a portent, which meant there was something deadly roaming the woods that even the natural spirits who lived there couldn’t take care of. And if the Ankou were gathering, that could only mean danger for everyone who lived in Whisper Hollow.

  “I’ll come. I’ll gather my people and we’ll come.” I stood, staring at the creature.

  It—he, I suddenly had the feeling—nodded. “Do not tarry or the danger will be too great.” And with that, he crept back toward the tree and vanished in the undergrowth.

  I glanced up at the sky. The silver sheen of clouds took on an ominous cast, and my mood quickly slid south. Between worrying about Peggin, and now this, the jolly-holly holiday season was seeming anything but a joyful time.

  CHAPTER 4

  Before I went home, I stopped by the cemetery. It was only a few minutes’ walk from my house, fewer by car. As I parked in the spot closest to Penelope’s tomb, I saw another car nearby. I scanned the graveyard. Over by an empty spot beneath one of the towering trees, I spotted Jonah Westwood. He was kneeling on the ground, examining a patch of grass.

  The current undertaker for Whisper Hollow, Jonah had taken o
ver from his uncle. He made me nervous and I didn’t know why. Perhaps it was that he always wore a solid black suit and what looked like a squat top hat. Or perhaps it was the way his cheeks were so gaunt that it made me think he was halfway to the grave himself.

  And I knew for certain that Jonah had odd talents that didn’t always sit well with the inhabitants of the town. For one thing, it was well-known that he liked to photograph the dead before they went to their graves. He said it was just tradition, like they had done years before. I personally thought it was ghoulish, but since he did ask permission from the families, there was nothing I could do about it.

  I wondered if I could get away with ignoring him, but when he saw me getting out of my car in the graveled parking spot, he stood and headed my way.

  Damn it. I really didn’t want to talk to him.

  “Kerris! How nice to see you.” He doffed his hat, inclining his head as he walked toward me. “What are you doing out here on such a blustery day?”

  I jammed my hands in my pockets so I wouldn’t have to shake hands. “I have to talk to Penelope. I need to leave her a message.”

  His eyes lit up, and I realized that the prospect intrigued him rather than repelled him like it did most people. “I would love to meet the mistress of the graves. In my line of work, it seems like it would be a wise idea to know who’s waiting on the other side for my clients.”

  There was just something creepy about him. “Well, Penelope asks who she will to enter her tomb. I suppose if she ever wants to talk to you, you’ll get a message from her. Trust me, you’ll know.” I was hoping to stave off any requests from him. I could just see him asking to go with me, and that was the last thing I needed.

  “Ah, well. Can’t blame me for being interested. After all, death is my arena.” Again the creepy vibe emanated off him like a bad case of BO. He glanced up at the trees. The boughs were whipping in the wind and once again the scent of snow filled the air. “We’re up for some nasty weather, aren’t we?”

  I chafed, wanting to get away. “And it’s only supposed to get worse. If you’ll excuse me, I’d like to take care of my business and get home before the rain starts to pour again.” I edged away, hoping he would take the hint.

  After a moment he doffed his hat again. “Well, then, I bid you adieu for the day. Until we meet again, Ms. Fellwater.” And with that, he turned and ambled back toward his car.

  I wondered what he had been doing out here, but decided that I didn’t really want to know. I waited until he drove off before turning back to Penelope’s tomb. I had no desire to be locked in a mausoleum with him outside the doors.

  Hunching my shoulders against the wind, I crossed the grass to the tomb.

  The doors were shut and, being daylight, it would do no good to sound the knocker. There was, in a recessed cubbyhole against the side, a little knocker with which I could summon the Gatekeeper. When I was out here escorting souls to Penelope, I didn’t need to use it. She knew when Ellia and I were up to our game. But when I needed to consult her about other things, if the sun had set I would knock on her grave and she would usually come out. During the day, I had to resort to other methods.

  I gripped the great handles on the door. Closing my eyes, I whispered her name. “Penelope, I’ve come to talk to you. Open the door.”

  The double doors slowly swung open, and I let go of the handles. As I entered the tomb, a muffled silence overwhelmed me. Penelope was nowhere in sight, but I knew she was in her sarcophagus. I wasn’t sure whether it was her choice to remain there or whether she was bound there till nightfall like the vampires of legend, but either way, it didn’t matter.

  I walked over and placed my hands on the stone lid, leaning down so that my mouth was close to the embellished stone. “Penelope, I need to talk to you. I need an audience with Veronica as soon as possible. Please, set one up and let me know when she will see me. Until then, peace.”

  And that was it. Penelope would hear me when she woke for the day. As I exited the tomb, the doors slammed behind me with a great thud. I headed back to the car as the clouds broke open, a shower of hail thundering down. The pea-sized pellets whipped against my hands and face, catching in my hair and clinging to my jacket. The ice stung as it hit my skin and I broke into a run, trying not to slip as the hail covered the grass with a coat of white.

  “Snow would be better than this,” I grumbled, fumbling for my keys. As I sat in my car, catching my breath, I once again looked over at the grassy plot that Jonah had been staring at. There was nothing remarkable about it. I supposed undertakers liked to hang out in cemeteries. Either that, or he was communing with the grass, looking for a new spot to plant somebody who had died. Either way, I was relieved to be away from him. I started the ignition and eased out of the cemetery, glad to be headed home.

  * * *

  By the time I got all my bags and the tub of my father’s things into the house, I was thoroughly chilled and hungry. As I slid out of my coat, Gabby began rubbing around my legs and sniffing my jeans.

  “Yes, I’m home. What have you been doing with yourself? Have you and your brother and sister been good babies?” I turned on the flame beneath the teakettle, then popped a couple of pieces of bread into the toaster. I glanced through the refrigerator, trying to find something quick and easy to eat with my toast. Finally, I opened a can of soup, poured it into a large mug, added a little water, and put it in the microwave. By then my toast was ready, and I buttered it and set it on the table. I poured the steaming water into the teapot and added raspberry tea bags, and carried that over to the table. Finally, my soup was ready, and I settled myself in a chair to eat, and poured a cup of tea.

  I thought about the Fae creature. While the meeting was fresh in my mind, I called Ivy and left a message that I needed to talk to her, Ellia, and Oriel—they would be gone all day at the Matriarchs’ tea. Then I went back to my lunch as the storm railed outside.

  By the time I finished eating, I had finally warmed up enough to stop shivering. I carried my dishes to the sink, then turned back to stare at the tub of my father’s effects. I wasn’t sure what I was going to find in there, and I wasn’t even sure how I felt about opening it. So much had happened in the past couple of months to change the way I felt about him.

  I had gone from secretly hating him because I believed he abandoned my mother and me, to mourning the fact that he had been murdered. The shift was abrupt and difficult, leaving me with a massive dose of guilt about ever doubting him in the first place.

  I approached the tub cautiously, circling the table. I knew that Ivy wouldn’t give me anything to distress me, but I still felt like I was entering alien territory. Finally, I reached out and removed the cover. As I edged my way over to peek inside, I felt someone watching me. I turned around, and there, in my kitchen, was a glowing white wolf. Bryan was also a white wolf, but he was actually alive. This was a spirit—the spirit of my father.

  “Avery, I didn’t expect to see you.” In fact I had seen him once, when he led us to the remains of my mother and himself. Since then, he hadn’t been around. Or if he had, I wasn’t aware of it.

  He stared at me, his glowing eyes soft and warm like caramel. I felt invisible arms wrap around me in a gentle embrace, and I wanted to lean in and rest my head on whoever’s shoulder was there. The embrace was protective and caring, and I realized that I was sensing Avery’s spirit in more ways than one.

  “Avery, I wish I could’ve known you. I wish you could have survived. My mother loved you so much. I’m sorry for what Duvall did to the both of you.”

  I realized then that I was crying, a trickle of tears tracing down my cheek. I eased into the chair next to the tub, and leaned my elbows on the table. I hadn’t really cried for my parents since we found out what happened to them. But now, it was as if my feelings were a wall of water, and the dam couldn’t hold them, crumbling as they lashed themselves against it. I res
ted my arms on the table and leaned my head against them, letting the tears come, feeling the wave of loneliness, fear, and abandonment from my childhood wash over me again.

  The soft pressure of hands rubbed against my back, soothing me until my tears began ebb, and I glanced up to see my mother standing there, smiling at me. She vanished, fading gently, and I pushed myself back in my chair and wiped my eyes with my sleeve. I sniffled, and reached for a tissue from the sideboard, blowing my nose. It’d been a long time since I had faced those feelings and let them come, and now I felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders.

  I glanced over at the wolf, who still stood there. “Thank you. I think I needed that. I hope you don’t hold it against me—that I thought you ran away and left me and Tamil. I didn’t want it to be true, that’s why I used to pretend that you had run off and joined a secret government organization and that you would come back for me one day when you were allowed. I’m sorry that I never got to meet you in life, but at least I know that you didn’t run away. That you would never have run away.”

  The wolf gave me a nod and settled down on his haunches to watch. At that moment, Agent H meandered over and stared at the spirit. Then, with an audible sigh, the cat turned and wandered away. That made me laugh. I finally returned to the tub and began taking things out.

  There were the requisite pictures—a laughing young man dressed in jeans and a flannel shirt. In one he was standing by a pickup truck that I recognized from Ivy’s driveway. In another he and my mother were snuggling on a porch swing. I set the pictures aside. The tub also contained a couple of medals and trophies. Apparently Avery had been extremely good at chess, so much so that he had won several statewide matches. Ivy had also included a few of his favorite books, and a few assorted trinkets from his room. In a shoebox, she had bubble wrapped a wood carving. It was of a wolf, carved from cedar. It still smelled of the wood, and as I ran my hand over the smooth and polished surface, I realized that Avery had made this. It had his energy all over it, in every stroke, in every chiseled feature.

 
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