Authors: Lila Dubois
Melissa held up her hands and took a tentative step forward. The dogs didn’t react. “I see you digging up a graveyard that you shouldn’t be.”
Seamus raised a brow.
Melissa collected herself. “I see two large, scary dogs. An old church.”
“Yes. I’m guessing that Elizabeth is here? Earlier I heard you talking to someone, so I assume that was her.”
Seamus nodded once and didn’t take his eyes off Melissa.
“What is Elizabeth?” she asked. “I know that Tristan and Séan and Sorcha all believe in ghosts, and they saw the ghosts of the woman and children whose bones I cared for.”
“Cared for? Is that what you do to the bones? I heard you boiled them in the kitchen.”
“Yes, that’s true. That’s how I clean them. A clean bone is like a page in a book to me. I can read it, understand it.”
“Why do you care so much if you don’t believe?”
Melissa crossed her arms as the wind cut through her clothes. “I do believe. I believe every life, and every death, deserves acknowledgement.”
“And what of secrets?”
“Death should never be a secret.” Melissa knew her tone was harsh, but she couldn’t stop anger from leaking into her words. “No life is so inconsequential that the body they leave behind should be treated as garbage. Flesh and bones will disintegrate, but they represent a person who can no longer speak for themselves.”
“You’re young and idealistic.”
“What does my age have to do with anything?”
“Melissa!” Tristan ran up behind her, his arm slipping around her waist. She felt him stiffen, then whisper a prayer in French.
She didn’t take her eyes off Seamus. “I’m not blind. I know there’s something bad here—sadness clings to the walls of this place. But whatever you think you’re protecting, however horrible the history may be, I assure you, I’ve seen worse.”
She heard someone else come running up, their heavy breathing audible only when there was a lull in the wind.
Melissa didn’t turn around as the second person approached.
“What’s happening?” he asked, close enough now that Melissa recognized Rory’s voice.
“I don’t know,” Tristan replied.
“I may be younger than you,” Melissa said to Seamus, “but I’ve stood knee-deep in rotting bodies. If I couldn’t make sense of the putrid mass of biological material, which only months before had been living people, families would never know their loved ones were dead. The world would never know the atrocities being committed.” Melissa was blindingly, almost irrationally angry. “You don’t want me here. I know that, but I am, and I will not let you desecrate these graves a second time.”
Her anger was a suit of armor. She stepped away from Tristan.
“Melissa, no.” He grabbed her sweatshirt, but she shrugged away from him.
“I don’t think they’ll hurt her,” Rory said. “They think she’s…that can’t be right.”
“They’re talking?” Tristan asked.
Melissa ignored the conversation going on behind her. The dogs growled, but she ignored them, brushing past as if they weren’t there. Flicking on her torch, she used it to navigate the uneven ground of the topsoil-free graveyard, carefully stepping over her grid strings.
She stopped in front of Seamus.
“Put down that shovel and get out of my graveyard.”
He examined her face, then looked to each side her. After a moment, he focused on her once more.
“Dr. Heavey.” He climbed out of the hole he’d been digging and laid his shovel carefully aside. “My apologies if I’ve caused you any inconvenience.”
Seamus walked away, whistling to the dogs, who followed him. Melissa kicked some of the loose dirt back into the hole, hoping to protect whatever was down there until she could do this properly.
Tristan sank to his knees in the wet dirt. Beside him, Rory was clenching and unclenching his fists, head cocked to the side as he listened.
Seamus paused, looked over at them and said, “Perhaps there is grace left in this world.”
Elizabeth was walking at Seamus’ side. She looked the same as she always had. A forty-something, slim, blonde woman. She wore a skirt suit, and her hair was pulled back in a twist. She carried what looked like a hardback book, but which he knew was actually a case for a tablet computer. Her rubber boots squelched in the mud. Tristan knew she wasn’t real, or at least wasn’t alive, but he couldn’t reconcile that idea with what he was looking at now. She was solid and substantial in a way that Jacques—who was hard to see in daylight and often walked through walls—wasn’t.
“Rory, join me for a moment.” Her voice was smooth, the words precise.
Rory, who was bare-chested and shivering, jumped when she said his name.
“Come with me. I have some notes about the event and I’d like to go over them with you. Plus, you need to come inside.”
Tristan looked at Rory. Did he know? Tristan hadn’t told anyone about Elizabeth, but he assumed that Sorcha had let the other division managers know. Then again, they’d each agreed to keep quiet until they knew what was going on.
“Tristan?” Rory asked, gaze roaming over the graveyard. “I think you’re safe. I can’t hear anything.”
Not knowing what else to do, he nodded.
Then the master of the castle was gone, his hounds at his heels. Elizabeth and Rory trailed behind him.
Tristan steeled himself before returning his attention to the cemetery.
He had seen his share of ghosts. Once he’d seen Jacques and accepted that he wasn’t going mad, he hardly went a day without catching sight of something out of the corner of his eye or coming face to face with someone who seemed real—until he realized they weren’t breathing and their feet didn’t touch the floor. Usually they didn’t scare him, though more than once he’d been startled by a sudden appearance or disappearance. The most frightening experience had been going under the streets of Paris.
The air of the catacombs was thick with ghosts, most too old or degraded to be more than featureless shapes. Walking those bone-studded tunnels had been like walking through a cold, wet fog. His memories of it were tempered by the fact that he’d been half-mad with grief and guilt over Jacques’ suicide when he went down there. The vivid replay of the murders in the Glenncailty nursery was perhaps the other most disturbing thing he’d seen.
Melissa stood in the middle of the graveyard, but she was not alone. All around her were dozens of figures. In the daylight the area had been blessedly free of spirits, but either Seamus had disturbed the ghosts or they were only visible at night. Some were gray-tinged, as if they’d stepped out of a faded black and white photograph. Others were as real and solid as Elizabeth had been. He tried not to look too closely at them, but he couldn’t help but stare at a little boy who couldn’t be more than ten, who was the most vivid and alive-looking of the assemblage. He was naked except for a pair of ragged drawers. The skin of his back was black and blue, marked by long red welts and cuts. He was missing three fingers from his left hand.
“Jacques, what am I seeing?” Tristan asked his brother, hoping he would reply, though Tristan hadn’t seen him since the castle.
There was no reply.
Tristan swallowed back the fear that was creeping up his chest and neck. The urge to run was nearly overwhelming, but he wouldn’t leave Melissa. The thing that kept him from getting them both out of there was the memory of the wings burned into the stones of the church. Melissa was protected. He believed that, had faith in those wings that only he could see—a surety of faith that he thought he’d never feel again.
She took a few steps, torch beam sweeping the earth. The ghosts turned to watch her, their focus terrifying.
Rarely did ghosts react or acknowledge the living, but these were silent and attentive. When he’d arrived, they’d been milling around, some merely swaying side to side. Once Melissa stepped into the graveyard, they’d snapped their attention to her.
“Melissa, come away from there,” he said, struggling to keep his tone even. He didn’t want to scare her.
“Are there ghosts?”
“Yes. Come out of there.”
She waved his words away. “It looks like he only disturbed the one grave. It will be interesting to see what’s down there. It could have been a random selection, but that doesn’t seem likely.”
“Melissa, the graveyard is full of ghosts.”
“I heard you.” She continued to pace, examining the ground.
Tristan pushed to his feet. “You know ghosts are real.”
“Yes. I didn’t forget.”
“You saw Jacques—not just the way I see him, but the way he died.”
She grimaced. “I did.”
“When I tell you that you are surrounded by ghosts…doesn’t that scare you?” He could understand how she’d been impervious when she didn’t believe, but he’d seen people run screaming from the mere suggestion that there was a ghost lurking out of sight. It was a primal urge, as real as fearing the dark. Yet Melissa didn’t react.
She turned her torch on him. “Should I be afraid?”
“How can you not be?”
“I guess it never occurred to me to be scared. They’re there, but they won’t hurt me.”
Tristan shook his head. “You are far braver than I am. Even if I could not see them, if you told me I was surrounded by ghosts, I would run.”
“If there are ghosts here, the last thing they need is for me to run. I’m going to end this.” She swept her arm out, the beam of her torch like a sword in the dark.
Tristan looked over his shoulder at Glenncailty Castle. The roof was just visible above the trees. When he turned back, the ghosts were gone.
Melissa finished her catalogue of the damage, then carefully picked her way over to where Tristan was standing. His face was pale.
She patted his arm. “You look like you just saw a ghost.”
His gaze snapped to hers and the shocked expression left his face, to be replaced by exasperation.
“I definitely believe you.”
“Thank you?” He shook his head. “They’re gone now.”
“Interesting. What made them leave?”
“I have no idea. You make no sense.”
“We’re standing next to a desecrated graveyard in rural Ireland, and I just stopped the owner of the property from digging up said graveyard in the middle of the night.
don’t make sense?”
“When you say it like this…”
Her lips twitched and she took his hand. “You sound very French right now.”
“What do you mean?”
“Thiz.” She stressed the “z” sound he’d used in place of the “s”.
“You’re still saying ‘thiz’.”
He rolled his eyes, then lifted their linked hands and kissed her knuckles. “Come. It’s cold out here.”
“You go. I’m staying.”
“I don’t trust Seamus. He gave in too easily. He’s probably going to come back and try again.”
“You cannot stay here.”
“It isn’t safe.”
“Do you really think that Seamus will kill me? There’s a big leap from grave-robbing to murder. He doesn’t strike me as stupid, and it would be stupid to kill me, because people would definitely ask questions.”
“I don’t think Seamus will kill you. And I don’t think he’ll come back.”
“Then why are you worried?”
“Melissa.” Tristan cupped her hips, pulling her against him. “The ghosts were watching you.”
A shiver danced down her spine. “Okay, that is a bit creepy.”
“Seamus must have been able to see them reacting to you.”
“So what does it mean that they were watching me?”
“I’m not sure, but once you walked in there, they all looked at you. That’s when he stopped and gave up.”
“I thought my inspiring speech had convinced him to do the right thing.”
“Thank you.” Melissa rose up on tiptoe and placed a soft kiss on Tristan’s cheek. “But I have to stay.” She squeezed Tristan’s hand as she pulled back. “I’ll be fine. Even better if you bring me tea and breakfast in the morning.”
“Is that all I am to you? Food provider?” He was frowning, but his eyes sparkled with laughter.
“Well, your cooking is better than sex.”
Before he could grab her and convince her that finding a bed was more important than watching over the graveyard, she turned her back on Tristan and went in search of a place to camp out.
There was a stone bench, half-covered by ivy, against the side of the church. She cleared off the top with the butt of her torch, then used her arm to sweep away the beaded water drops. It was still cold and damp when she sat down, but it was better than sitting in the mud.