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Shadow silence, p.7
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       Shadow Silence, p.7

           Yasmine Galenorn

  “It’s beautiful. You did such beautiful work.” I skirted the wolf spirit to place the carving on the kitchen windowsill where I could see it every time I walked by. I returned to the tub and put everything else back inside until I could take care of it, then replaced the lid and set the tub aside. As I turned, the wolf spirit bobbed his head again and vanished.

  * * *

  That night, I dressed for warmth—given the concert we were going to was outside—fed the cats, and headed over to Bryan’s. Bryan was my next-door neighbor, as well as being my guardian and my lover. His estate was large; the brick building could easily have been called a small mansion. When I was growing up the building was empty, but Bryan had moved in during the time I was gone. He had made friends with Grandma Lila, and while he had never told her, he was actually waiting for me to return.

  The Morrígan had come to him when he was in Ireland, to tell him that he was to be the guardian of the spirit shaman in Whisper Hollow. From that moment on, every move he made was with the expectation of one day guarding the person who turned out to be me.

  When I first returned Whisper Hollow, the backyard had been overgrown—unusual for my grandmother to allow to happen. Over the past month I had taken the gardens in hand, pruning them back and weeding them, culling out the dead plants until they were in check, and now the garden waited for spring to arrive again. The stone fence dividing Bryan’s property from my own was falling apart in some areas, and a stone gate at the far front corner of the backyard provided access between the two yards. I left the patio light on as I trudged along the trail that we had created from my back door to the gate.

  Bryan’s house stood three stories tall, reminding me more of a school than a house, although I knew it had been built around one hundred years ago by a business mogul who had wanted to get away from the big city. While I had never been inside before I returned home to Whisper Hollow, by now I knew the layout well. The house had a basement with a wine cellar and a workout room. The basement also had a second kitchen, which had originally been for the servants. Three other rooms had been bedrooms, but Bryan had opened them all up into one great entertainment space.

  The main floor with a chef’s kitchen, formal dining room, a living room, and two parlors, as well as a bath served most of his needs. He had turned one of the parlors into an office, and the other into a secondary office and library.

  It’d taken me a while to find out what Bryan did; at first he had said he owned a couple of international businesses, and that was true. But as to what they actually were, he had been more reticent. It had taken me a few weeks to discover that Bryan didn’t actually need to work. His family had come into a great deal of wealth through the years, and he was due to inherit it at some point in his life. But he liked working, and so he had set up an antiquities business—which basically meant he hunted down rare objects that people wanted on commission. And he also owned a travel agency, where he booked tours of the United Kingdom, especially Ireland. He didn’t head them up himself, but oversaw the agency. He had also made a fair amount in the stock market.

  The second story of Bryan’s house contained two full master suites, a morning room, and what had once been a nursery. And the third story, smaller than the other two, contained two bedrooms and an attic. Sometimes I wondered what he did with so much space, and whether or not it got on his nerves to wander around such a huge place that was empty except for him and the day maid. He told me he had thought of hiring a cook on several occasions, but he didn’t feel comfortable having much staff around when it was only him.

  The grounds of the estate were beautiful, with flower gardens and a topiary, and several fruit trees that were scattered among the fir and cedar. He did hire a groundskeeper, who came in twice a week to keep up with the two acres on which the estate sat.

  The walkway up to the house from my gate was paved stone, and I moved at a quick pace. While the hail had stopped shortly after it began, the weather was nippier, and the clouds had socked in. As I dashed up to the front door, I was relieved to see that Bryan was home.

  He answered, drawing me inside and taking my coat. “How was your day, love?”

  But before I could answer, he wrapped me in his arms and pulled me in for a kiss. His lips were soft and I grew short of breath as his hands found their way beneath the sweater I was wearing. I pressed against him, wanting the kiss to go on and on. A moment later and he was pushing my coat off, lips still locked to mine. I could feel his heat rising and it sparked off my own need. He tossed my jacket on the nearest chair as I took hold of his shoulders, walking him back toward the sofa.

  I was working at his belt buckle, trying desperately to free his belt, when both my phone and his set to jangling.

  “Damn it,” I whispered. “Ignore?” Then I stopped. What if it was Peggin? What if she’d gone out to the house and— “Crap.” I pulled away and whipped my phone out of the pocket of my jeans. Bryan let out a little groan, but answered his, as well.

  “Kerris? Peggin. D-D wants to ask a favor. Jokney’s been spotted near your house. Can you go out and take a look? We’ll be up that way in a few minutes. D-D’s calling Bryan right now.”

  I repressed a sigh. “Bryan’s right here. Where was Jokney last seen?”

  “Out on Rainshadow Street, and he turned onto Blackberry Lane.” She paused. “Oh no, we didn’t interrupt . . .”

  “Yes, you did but luckily we’re still dressed. Heading out to find the critter now. We’ll see you in a bit.” I slid my phone back into my pants, glancing at Bryan with a rueful grin. “We can’t just say no.”

  “Yes, we can and we should. But it’s too late now. Come on, get your coat. I’m going to take a moment to . . . calm down.” He pointed toward the front of his jeans, where I saw a remarkably happy bulge.

  I laughed. “The cold will calm you right down, if you unzip your fly.”

  “No thanks, Cruella.” But he snickered when he said it and, adjusting his belt, he grabbed his own jacket, which was near mine.

  We headed out the front door, and Bryan motioned to his car. “It’s too cold to be running around without a car. And too wet.”

  I slid into the passenger seat as he started up the engine, then eased the car down the driveway. I had a CR-V. Bryan had a tricked-out Jaguar, along with two other vehicles that were more practical, including an SUV. Tonight, he’d pointed to the sedan—an ultrasonic blue GS F Lexus. As we swung a left on Blackberry Lane, which bordered the front of both his property and mine, he turned the high beams on so we’d have a better chance of spotting Jokney if he was still in our area. A few seconds later, we were at the turn onto Bramblewood Way, which led to the cemetery to the left, and toward town to the right. On the other side of the street was Bramblewood Thicket, a thick and sometimes dangerous copse, and a little farther along, my grandmother Ivy’s house.

  I leaned forward, squinting to see if I could spot any sign of Jokney. The sculpture was clockwork—all gears and cogs and leather and fake fur and dials, but it looked like a tall metal dog, and it had gotten out before. Dr. Divine called Jokney a he—insisting the creature was male—but really, it was an odd mixture of gears and magic. I wasn’t sure what kind of magic Deev had within him. Sometimes, his creations came to life—and not always the ones that you kind of wanted to see thrive. But Jokney was cute, and friendly, and all he wanted was a little TLC, even though Deev thought the world of him.

  As a gust of wind rattled the trees, Bryan swerved onto the shoulder of the road. “There!”

  “Where?” I scanned the area, then saw what he was pointing to. In a strip of grass in front of the thicket was the gleam of metal, and as the car lights hit it, they illuminated the shape of a dog, in skeletal steel form.

  “Jokney. I swear, Deev needs to slap a leash on that thing when he gets here and keep it caged up.” I eased my door open. “Let me try. Jokney’s come to me before.”

nbsp; “Only when you weren’t chasing him. Somehow, I have a feeling the taste of freedom’s gone to his little metal skull.” Bryan snorted, then quietly opened his door, flipping on the hazard lights to let people know we were there and stopped. There wasn’t much traffic in Whisper Hollow, but given it was dark and stormy, and the road was slick, it paid to be cautious.

  We slowly ambled across the street, acting like we weren’t up to anything. Jokney paused—he had been “sniffing” a fern and now he turned, raised his leg, and aimed. Nothing came out, of course, but nobody could say he didn’t give it the old college try.

  “I think Deev puts too much of himself into his art,” I mumbled, watching.

  “His magic runs deep. I doubt if he even understands how it happens, but he has elemental energy. He’s a creator in the truest sense of the word. He builds something, and the magic he subconsciously weaves into it brings it to life. I wonder how long he’s had this talent.” Bryan circled to the left of Jokney as I circled to the right.

  “I don’t know. I doubt even he knows. He seems to have no clue of his past prior to arriving in Whisper Hollow. He told Peggin that he rode in on the wind, on a stormy day, and opened his eyes and boom, here he was.”

  Sometimes, people who came to Whisper Hollow blended in so well that their former lives seemed like a dream. With Deev, I had a feeling it went even deeper. Whisper Hollow was the Bermuda Triangle of the Northwest. Some people could pass through without blinking and never remember they had ever been here. And others—others came to stay, even if they didn’t realize it when they first arrived.

  “Jokney! Oh, Jokney? Come here boy, come here.” I whistled to the mechanical dog, snapping my fingers and leaning over. It wasn’t like he was a robot, but he could still hear and understand me.

  Jokney cocked his head, looking at me, and I could swear there was a curious expression on his face. Yes, he was made up of cogs and gears and metal and leather, but there was no electricity within, no battery to make him operate. The whimsy and magic of the situation hit me and I giggled.

  “It’s quite the thing, isn’t it?” Bryan said. “I remember when I first came to Whisper Hollow. The entire town seemed like a playground to me. Sometimes a nightmarish one, but a playground nonetheless.” He patted his leg, whistling to the dog. “Come on, Jokney. You don’t want to be running around out here alone. Dr. Divine wants you back.”

  After another moment, while Jokney regarded us with deliberation, I picked up a thin stick and waved it in the air. “Do you want to play fetch, boy?”

  At that, Jokney perked up and quickly trotted over to my side. He was wearing a red bandanna around his throat, and I gently reached out and grabbed hold of the knotted scarf. Jokney suddenly froze, and with one last look at me, he was once again a statue—as still as an ice sculpture. At that moment a pickup drove up behind our car, and Peggin and Dr. Divine jumped out of the cab.

  “You found him!” Deev sounded relieved, a smile breaking out on his face. “I was so worried about you, Jokney. There are nasty creatures out in these woods. You need to stay in the barn with the others.”

  Peggin was smiling at me, her eyes twinkling. “Every now and then Jokney seems to get an itch, doesn’t he?”

  “Well, he can scratch that itch in the barn with the others.” Deev gathered up Jokney in his arms and carried him to the back of the pickup, where he a fixed a chain around Jokney’s neck. Part of me wanted to object, but then I had to remind myself that Jokney wasn’t a flesh-and-blood dog and the chain wasn’t going to hurt him.

  “How did he get out in the first place? Don’t you keep the door locked?” Bryan peeked in the back of the truck. It was filled with pieces of metal, rolls of leather, a humongous toolbox, and various other odds and ends.

  Dr. Divine leaned against the side of the truck, one hand on Jokney’s head. “I haven’t figured out who can do it yet, but I’ve got somebody in there who can open the door. Every now and then someone escapes. I’m just grateful my Cthulhu sculpture hasn’t hit the road yet. That would be a real nightmare.”

  I decided to take a chance on asking. “Do you know which ones are going to wake up? Is there something special you do to them that gives them that power?”

  Deev shrugged. He reached up and scratched his forehead beneath the top hat. “I have no clue. When I create—when I’m driven to sculpt—all I can see is the vision in my head. I create, I build, I sculpt, I talk to them while I am creating them. And then, some just wake up on their own. I don’t pick the ones that come to life. And once they do come to life, I never feel like I have the right to take them apart. Well, if something came to life and was very dangerous—if it put others in danger—then I would do what I could to deconstruct it. But Jokney, for example. He’s become as much a part of my family as anybody.”

  “Did any of your creations ever come to life before you came to Whisper Hollow?” Bryan slid his hands in his pockets and stamped on the ground, his breath coalescing in the air as a puff of fog.

  At that moment, a loud cawing of crows filled the air. Considering they usually weren’t active at night, I tried to tune in to hear what they were saying. As I closed my eyes, I could feel the shadow across the sky chasing the crows as they tried to divert it away from Whisper Hollow. But it paused over the town, and I wanted nothing so much as to get under cover.

  “We need to get out of here. It’s not safe to be out away from crowds tonight. Concert should be fine, but we better go now.” I turned to Peggin and Deev. “Are you coming?”

  Peggin nodded. “It’s the Whisper Hollow Snow Concert. Of course we’re coming.” They climbed back in their truck as Bryan and I headed back to his Lexus.

  “What was that?” Bryan asked as he started the ignition.

  “I’m not sure, but it isn’t friendly. The crows were trying to lead it away from the town, but they weren’t successful. Whatever it is, it’s not friendly toward the Morrígan or the Crow Man. And that means it’s our enemy as well.”

  My phone jangled and I glanced at the text. It was from Penelope—though how she had or used a phone, I wasn’t sure. Whatever the case, she had texted: Veronica will see you Friday night at nine p.m. You may bring your guardian but leave the lament singer at home. Be on time and be polite. Stand by the entrance to her lair and she will send a guide.

  “Looks like I’m headed to see Veronica,” I said, reading the text to Bryan. “You’ll go?”

  “Of course.”

  We were quiet then as Bryan headed toward the community center. I stared out the window into the darkness, thinking about Whisper Hollow and all of us who made our home here. We lived on the edge of an ancient forest that was filled with dark creatures and spirits, and elementals from a time before humans walked the earth. There was no telling what it was that sailed overhead. But I had a feeling that we would be finding out before too long, and I didn’t think any of us would be very happy about it.


  The next morning, after Bryan went back to his house, I received a call from Ivy.

  “You needed to talk to us?

  “Yes, I need to talk to the three of you. I found out something that the Crescent Moon Society might need to know about, but I wanted to talk to you guys first. Is there any chance you can meet me today, preferably this morning?” I was finishing up my coffee. I had gotten up early, and hoped to make an early start. Daphne jumped up on the table and nudged my arm. I absentmindedly began petting her as I waited for Ivy to answer.

  “I’ll call you back in five minutes.” And she hung up. One thing about the Matriarchs of town, they got right to the point when need be.

  I carried my cup over to the sink, rinsed it, and stuck it in the dishwasher. Then, I watered the hanging philodendron in the corner. I didn’t dare leave plants around where the cats could reach them, because Gabby tried to chow down on anything that resembled vegetation. So what
few I had indoors hung high up from the ceiling. Then, I picked up the dish that had contained their canned food, rinsed thoroughly, and added it to the dishwasher. After filling their kibble bowl, I was about to throw a load of clothes in the washer when my phone rang. It was Ivy.

  “It’s eight thirty now. Come over in half an hour and they’ll be here.” She paused, then added, “You get to bring the goodies this time.” With a laugh, she let me go.

  I headed upstairs. I had something to do before I went. There were two sides to the second story of the house, and each had its own staircase.

  Beyond the kitchen was the master suite. Upstairs, above it, was my grandmother’s sewing room, along with the attic. I had turned the sewing room into a ritual room, where I could focus on my spirit shaman training. Along one wall of the room was a hidden panel, leading to a large storage room where my grandmother had kept her secret stash of diaries and supplies. The room was tucked between the sewing room and the attic, and I had found it by accident. She kept the room hidden knowledge from Duvall, realizing that he had been an enemy. Now I didn’t need a secret room. But it seemed wise to keep it hidden, nonetheless.

  The eight-by-eight-foot room contained, on one side, a built-in workbench with cupboards overhead. On the other side stretched a wall of shelves, upon which rested 2,400 jelly jars filled with graveyard dirt, gathered by my grandmother and my great-grandmother down through the years. Every grave they had presided over was represented here, along with a handful I had already worked my magic over. Every jar had a label on it with the name of the deceased, and some of those jars had a dark P printed on the label as well. That meant that the grave would be found in the Pest House Cemetery, the darker and more dangerous part of the graveyard.

  I sat down at the desk that had been my grandmother’s. I had left Lila’s desk where I had found it, overlooking the side yard leading to Bryan’s property. I had pushed her sewing machine to the side. In the other part of what had been her sewing room, there was now a soft rug, an altar table dedicated to the Morrígan, and a bench on which I could sit and meditate. Now I bowed in front of the altar table, and then settled myself on the bench, resting my hands on my knees and closing my eyes.

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