(The sixth book in the Greywalker series)
A novel by Kat Richardson
This is for the RAM-ily, with thanks.
Many thanks to the ladies of the Clallam County Historical Society, who let me lurk in their archives for hours, reading up on the history of the Lake Crescent area, and who happily provided deliciously dreadful tales of local horrors with which to haunt my readers. I’m really sorry I couldn’t work the steamships in. And more thanks to Cherie Priest, who took the trip with me and is a delightful research and travel companion, with or without the attack of the nose, ducks, and the Lady of the Lake.
Also thanks to David Feldman, who let me borrow his name, and to Barbara Cox-Winter for supporting adult literacy in LA County and lending me the use of Jefferson’s and Erika’s names. I hope their namesakes please you. And Andrew Tripp—you know who you are—and “Aunt Jackie” (sorry about that). A tip of the hat to Patricia Pederson, who I hope won’t mind the appearance of another Soren, and much love to the RAMs.
To my Minions, Thea and Eric—Thing One and Thing Two—I owe more thanks than I can express for Web sites, art, tea, Voudoun, Chinese Alchemy, T-shirts, and garden gnomes. I love you guys.
Special thanks to Ginjer Buchanan for the title—because I didn’t have one this time and probably won’t have one next time, either— and to my editor, Anne Sowards, and the editorial and production teams at Penguin, who make me seem very clever. And thanks to my friend Steve Mancino, who convinced me it was all right to go my own way with the characters and not listen to other voices when they said stupid things. Also to Ken and Ana, who still think I’m cool enough to brag about.
And, as always, thanks to my friends and family, who keep putting up with me, beating up on me when I get lazy, helping me out when I need it, feeding me chocolate when necessary, and ignoring me when appropriate. Especially my husband—who is the King of Putting Up With Kat.
I have a habit of dying. I’ve taken the Big Sleep at least three times that I know of, though it never lasts more than a few minutes. Each time, I wake up changed, but not in any way normal people can see. Next time, I might not wake up at all, but between now and then, I have a job to do: to protect the Grey—the fringe between the normal world and the world of the purely paranormal, where ghosts roam and magic sings in neon-hot lines of energy across the empty space of the world between—and to protect the rest of the world from it. I am not a ghost or a vampire, not a witch or a sorcerer or a mage. I am just the unfortunate schmo who happened to touch death the right way and get stuck with the job. I’m a Greywalker.
Of course, I don’t have that title on my business cards or my office door. Mostly I pay the bills by working as a private investigator in Seattle, because ghosts rarely have checking accounts and vampires are notoriously parsimonious. Some days I wish I could go back to just running down background checks and looking for missing kids—except that always seems to lead me right back to the Grey. Once you’re in it, it doesn’t let you go. It’s hard on my friends, my family, and my love life, but it’s necessary and, in the end, I’m good at it. And I can’t really quit.
There was something deeply wrong with Lake Crescent; I knew it even before I saw the accident that wasn’t there. The ground seemed to hum and mutter as if a current raged beneath it. Cobwebs of colored light leaked from the Grey—that slippery place between the normal and the paranormal where ghosts are real and magic gleams like neon reflected in wet, black streets. The unreal light stretched in patches and strands over the soil and low-growing plants or dripped from trees like Spanish moss. Sudden bolts and globes of the same transient energy darted across my vision, apparently unnoticed by anyone but me. Under the wan February sun, I could hear the whispering of ghosts I knew would appear as solid as living flesh once the sun went down. I hoped I wouldn’t have to come back for them.
I could have written some of the weirdness off as the result of my altered interaction with the Grey since my most recent death, but I hadn’t seen anything quite like it anywhere else since I’d gotten out of the hospital. It wasn’t just me; the Grey itself was different there.
I’d come out to the Olympic Peninsula to work on a pretrial investigation for Nanette Grover—a lawyer who was a regular client of mine. I’d had to drive up into the mountains and try several sites around the lake before I caught up with the potential witness—an itinerant handyman/sometime carpenter named Darin Shea—whom she’d wanted me to talk to. He was a man of indeterminate age, race, and origin who spoke with a New England drawl as untraceable as the rest of him.
By the time I was done talking to him, I wished I hadn’t started. He seemed to say little of value but took plenty of time to do it, his slow, molasses voice wandering off the subject in long, meandering asides as difficult to break through as a wall. We stood on the deck of the Log Cabin Lodge, the main building of the Log Cabin Resort, where he was working for the day, on the Piedmont end of the lake. Though I should have been paying more attention, his speech was so boring that I found my attention wandering out to the cold expanse of Lake Crescent as it lay behind him, struck with orange and pink by the fugitive sunset cutting through clouds above and illuminated from below by hints of the Grey’s power grid in the depths of the dark, clear waters.
I listened to him with half an ear, taking notes while watching something burble out of the lake near the western shore—something dead white and man-shaped that seemed to slog ashore with the reluctant, spastic movement of a creature yanked forward on an invisible rope. I thought I saw a second figure on the shore, beckoning and calling in a voice that seemed to pluck the strings of the Grey and send a tingling electric sensation over my skin, but I couldn’t be sure....
I started to peer sideways at the strange scene, looking by force of habit for the eerie and hearing the hum and rattle of the grid swell as I did, but Shea waved a hand in front of my face. “Hey there, you listenin’ to me?” he asked.
“Of course, Mr. Shea,” I replied, reminding myself that I wasn’t here in search of ghosts, but of reliable testimony for Nan’s case—not that I was feeling positive about Shea’s reliability by then. I pushed my attention to the Grey back and focused on the handyman instead.
It was cold, and dusk was descending fast by the time I was done with him. The ghosts around the shore began showing themselves as silver mist that moved in human shapes, and the sound of wind that breathed icy words. The uncanny queerness of the place made me anxious to get home—or at least down into the flat land and streetlights before full-on darkness hit—with the hope that I could let the strangeness lie for once. Of course, that is not the way my job works.
The road on the northeastern shore of Lake Crescent was narrow, twisting, and prone to dive down suddenly into unexpected gullies and through shadows of ghostlight. But even without the disturbing persistence of the Grey, the route was treacherous. Deep shade beneath the cedars and firs harbored dirty piles of snow between icy patches of bare ground and slicks of black ice on the asphalt surface of the road, so spotting a car rammed up against a tree beside the tarmac didn’t even seem unlikely. The flames coming from under the hood didn’t look quite right, but when a normal person sees someone struggling to exit a burning car, his first thought is not, “It’s just a ghost,” but something a bit more visceral, like, “Holy shit! ” which was exactly what went through my own mind.
So I steered my Land Rover onto the frozen loam at the roadside and bailed out of the front seat to run for the other driver’s door and wrench it open. But my hands passed through the flame-flickering material of the Subaru Forester with only a phantom sensation of heat while someone else’s terror and pain washed over me. I flinched back from the melting face that stared from behind the unreal glass, and then I backed away. Was it my own fear I felt or his . . . ?