Authors: Jaime Lee Moyer
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For Stephanie. I miss you every single day.
There are always people to thank when you finish a book. The trick is not to leave anyone out.
First and foremost, the partner in life and crime, Marshall Payne, for putting up with me being locked away for hours in order to write these books. Thanks have to go to my friends through thick and thin, Jodi Meadows, Rae Carson, Elizabeth Bear, Kat Allen, Amanda Downum, and Charlie Finlay for cheering me on and always being there when I need them, and thanks as well to Jamie Rosen and Celia Marsh for always being ready to suggest character names. I can't forget P. J. Thompson or Marcy Rockwell either, both for being the best beta readers ever and for being my biggest cheerleaders. I need to give huge thanks to Kevin Lovelace for helping me with tarot readings, and Marie Brennan for introducing me to Kevin. Thanks as well to Dr. Jon Stallworthy, trustee of the Wilfred Owen estate, for giving me permission to use pieces of Wilfred Owen's poetry at the beginning and end of this book. I'm immensely grateful for that. Last but not least, my agent, Tamar Rydzinski, for always having my back, and my editor, Claire Eddy, for making me a better writer.
Of them who running on that last high place
Breasted the surf of bullets, or went up
On the hot blast and fury of hell's upsurge,
Or plunged and fell away past this world's verge,
Some say God caught them even before they fell.
âWilfred Owen, “Spring Offensive”
Moonlight filled our bedroom with windblown tree shadows and uncertain light that gathered in pools on the carpet. Gabe still slept peacefully next to me, one hand splayed on his chest and unaware anything was amiss.
I envied him that. Nocturnal visitors seldom summoned my husband from dreams.
A ghost, a tiny girl of no more than four or five, stood in one puddle of light. She clutched a well-loved china doll against her chest, the doll's cotton lawn dress in tatters and painted face near worn away. Her lace-trimmed pinafore was too short to cover her knees, and mud-splattered stockings trailed from a pocket. She was firmly anchored in this world, appearing near as solid as she had in life. Auburn ringlets brushed the small ghost's shoulders, held back from her face by a cornflower blue satin ribbon. Eyes just as blue regarded me solemnly.
I didn't think she was my child. Our daughter had been born too soon, cold and ashen, the cord wrapped tightly around her neck, but I'd often dreamed about her growing older. This little girl looked much as I'd imagined my daughter, healthy and strong, with hair the same color as Gabe's.
Yet I didn't want to believe the child I'd carried under my heart, felt quicken and move inside, might return to haunt me. Uncertainty kept me from sending the ghost away. I needed to be sure.
The sound of weeping filled the room and gave me an answer. She wasn't mine. Someone else had loved this child, mourned her and wept as I'd wept for our daughter.
The moon set, taking away the light, the sounds of grief, and the small ghost. Gabe muttered in his sleep, tossing restlessly. I touched his arm. “ShhhÂ â¦ Go back to sleep. Everything's all right.”
He settled again and I stared at the dark ceiling, wishing I could comfort myself as easily. More than three years had passed since the morning I first woke to find myself haunted by a strong ghost I named Shadow. I'd seen haunts and phantoms since I was a child, but this ghost opened wide a door into the spirit realm that never closed again. Shadow sent me down a dark path searching for answers. Once I'd started, there was no turning back.
I'd learned too much since then and laid far too many wandering spirits to rest to feel at ease now. Some ghosts were unable to find their way to the other side or had things from life left undone, ties to the living they couldn't sever or wrongs they sought to set right. Others needed help realizing they were dead. Not all of them left willingly.
Our house had been cleansed of lingering spirits before Gabe and I moved in. Now ghosts only came to me for a reason. Awakening painful memories was a cruel purpose, but ghosts were often cruel. If reopening partly healed wounds was the sole reason this lost little girl chose to haunt me, I'd send the ghost on her way with no regrets.
The sound of weeping filled the room again, causing me to wonder if there was more to her visit. A little girl, maybe the tiny ghost I'd seen, sobbed and called out for her mama. Her voice faded and others took its place, men and women, youthful voices and those heavy with years. I couldn't understand all they said, but each voice carried a share of its own misery and terror. Each called on someone to find them.
My newest ghost shimmered into view again; blue eyes bright even in the absence of moonlight, bringing silence and the disquieting knowledge that she wanted more than just to torment me. I whispered, knowing she'd hear. “Tell me what you want, spirit, or leave my house. I can't help you unless I know.”
She stared, silent and unreadable, before thinning into a silvery mist that swirled toward the ceiling and vanished. Strong ghosts didn't just disappear never to return. So I listened, waiting to hear the voices crying out again or for her to give me some other sign of why she'd come. None came, but that brought little consolation.
A foghorn on the bay sounded, each note lingering, and our bedroom filled with cold shadows. I turned toward Gabe, breathing in his familiar shaving soap smell and drawn to his warmth.
Gabe kept me from wandering too deep into the world of spirits, lost in someone else's past and unable to find my way back. He was my anchor to the living.
Even so, I lay awake a long time. And when I finally fell asleep, it was to dream of a barefoot little girl wading in a sun-warmed stream, minnows nibbling at her muddy toes.
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
I'd hoped to wake to a sunny day, not overcast skies that promised rain and chill winds. Winter stripped the sunbeams of warmth, but sunshine might help banish the restlessness I couldn't shake. Strange spirits were common enough in my life, but this little girl's ghost unsettled me. Not understanding why bothered me even more, distracting me from Isadora's lessons on poltergeists. I'd spent far too much of Dora's visit staring out the kitchen window, watching wind herd clouds toward the East Bay hills and brooding.
Madam Isadora Bobet was my teacher, my mentor, and my guide through the confusing world of ghosts and spirits. She was also a friend. Two years before, I hadn't wanted to believe in spirits that haunted the living. I'd seen strange things since I was a child, but I'd always thought stories of ghostly hauntings a clever charlatan's device to bilk money from the gullible. Finding myself haunted gave me no choice but to believe.
Now I swam in ghosts. Without Dora, I'd drown.
“Do you need me to go over the different types of poltergeists again, Delia?” I jumped, jarring the table and sloshing cream from the pitcher, ashamed at being so deep in thought, I'd lost track of the conversation. Dora stirred more sugar into her tea and frowned. “I know this is a lot to take in all at once, but they can be dangerous. Cleansing Mrs. Allen's boardinghouse could prove difficult. It's best if you know what we might face.”
“No need to repeat the list. Not now.” I flushed, certain her sharp look meant my guilt was plain. Dora was seldom fooled. Still, I felt honor bound to try. “What else do I need to know?”
I made a valiant attempt to focus on Dora's explanation and stop brooding. My efforts met with limited success. I found myself watching our next-door neighbor instead.
Mr. Flynn sat on his back porch, slowly rocking back and forth in a redwood glider. He was dressed in his best dark suit, a starched white shirt and black bow tie, and with his heavy coat lying across his knees. Each time the glider stopped swinging, he nudged it into motion again. He stared out into the yard, still and quiet and much too pale. I wasn't sure he truly saw anything.
His son's ghost stood in the glider's path, each traverse of the swing passing right through him. Aiden still wore his muddy uniform, the tan-canvas rucksack on his back soaked with blood that would never dry, never change from crimson to dull brown. He watched his father, fingers flexing around the rifle strap slung over one shoulder.