“You say the Devlin you met is a cop? You’re not in some kind of trouble, are you?” my aunt teased.
“Hardly. I’m doing some consulting work for the Charleston Police Department.”
“My goodness, that sounds important.” She eyed me with unabashed curiosity.
“Actually, that’s one of the reasons I drove up this afternoon. I wanted to tell Mama before she heard about it from someone else. A body was found in the cemetery where I’ve been working. A murder victim.”
“Lord have mercy.” My aunt pressed a hand to her heart. “Chile, are you all right?”
“Yes, I’m fine. I was never in any danger,” I said, conveniently ignoring the stolen briefcase. “My involvement is minor, but my name was mentioned in the Post and Courier article this morning. I’m surprised you didn’t see it.”
“I spent the night here with Etta. I haven’t even looked at a paper.”
“Anyway, Detective Devlin asked that I be present for the exhumation and I agreed.”
“You mean you were there when they dug up the body?” Aunt Lynrose held out her arm. “Look at that. You done gave me chills.”
I caught a movement behind the screen door and wondered how long my mother had been standing there listening to us.
“Mama? You need some help now?”
“You can go find your papa, tell him we’re ready to eat.”
As I walked across the front yard toward the road, I heard the screen door squeak. Glancing over my shoulder, I saw that Mama had come out on the porch and she and my aunt were speaking in low tones the way they once had when I was little. This time, I was pretty sure they were talking about me.
Instead of driving around the road, I took the shortcut through the woods and went straight back to the old section. The gate was locked, but I knew where Papa had always kept a spare key.
I let myself in, closed the gate behind me, then wandered down a soft incline, along fern-edged pathways and through thick, silvery curtains of Spanish moss to the angels.
There were fifty-seven of them.
Fifty-seven angels adorning fifty-seven tiny graves. The victims of a fire that had ravaged an orphanage in 1907.
The people in the surrounding counties had taken up a collection to buy the first angel, and every year thereafter, a new one had been added, except during the two world wars and the Great Depression.
By the time the final angel had been placed on the remaining grave, some of the earlier statues had fallen victim to weather and vandalism. Papa had been working for years to restore all fifty-seven with nothing more than patience and a set of vintage masonry tools.
When I was little, those angels had been my only companions. There were no other children around where we lived, but I don’t think the solitude had much to do with my loneliness. It was inherent, and once the ghosts came along, it was constant.
The sun had already begun its slow glide toward the horizon when I found a patch of warm clover and slid to the ground. Hugging my knees tightly, I waited.
After a few moments, the air stilled in a prelude redolent with summer.
And then it happened.
The sun sank with a gasping flare, a dying day’s last breath that gilded the treetops and shot a volley of golden arrows down through the leaves. Light danced off stone so that for one split second, the angels shimmered with life, a fleeting animation that always took my breath away.
As the angels slept under the soft blanket of dusk, I sat waiting for Papa. Finally, I got up and walked back toward the gate. I saw someone standing just outside and I started to call out to him.
Then with a shudder, I realized it wasn’t Papa. But I knew him. It was the ghost of the old man I’d seen when I was nine years old. I stood on hallowed ground, so he posed no immediate threat to me, but he terrified me just the same. His presence after all these years seemed menacing, a manifestation of the unrest that had afflicted my ordered little kingdom.
He looked exactly as I remembered him. Tall, gaunt, with long white hair brushing the collar of his suit coat. Glacial eyes and a faintly sinister demeanor.
I felt another presence and glanced over my shoulder.
Papa had come up behind me. His hair was white, too, but he kept it cropped close to his head and his eyes were faded, his demeanor remote but not at all threatening.
He seemed focused on some distant point, but I knew the ghost had caught his attention.
“You see him, too, don’t you?” I whispered as my gaze strayed back to the gate.
“Don’t look at him!”
His harsh tone startled me, though I didn’t outwardly re act. “I’m not.”
“Here.” He took my arm and turned me toward the angels. “Let’s sit a spell.”
We sank to the ground, our backs to the ghost, just as we had when I was nine. For the longest time, neither of us spoke, but I could sense Papa’s tension and what I thought might be fear. I shivered in the gathering darkness and drew up my legs, resting my chin on my knees.
“Papa, who is he? What is he?” I finally asked.
He wouldn’t look at me, but fixed his gaze instead on the statues. “A harbinger…a messenger. I don’t know.”
The chill inside me deepened. A harbinger of what? A messenger for whom? “Have you seen him before? I mean…since that day?”
“Why has he come back? Why now after all these years?”
“Maybe it’s a warning,” Papa said.
“What kind of warning?”
Slowly, he turned to face me. “You tell me, child. Has something happened?”
And then I knew. Something had happened. Something had shifted in this world and the next. Everything had been changing from the moment John Devlin had stepped out of the mist.
My arms tightened around my legs. I couldn’t stop shaking.
Papa placed a gentle hand on my shoulder. “What have you done, Amelia?”
Now it was I who couldn’t look at him. “I met someone. A police detective named John Devlin. He’s haunted by two ghosts, a woman and a little girl. Last night the ghost child came to my garden. Papa, she knew I could see her. She tried to communicate with me. And then this morning, I found a tiny ring in the garden where I saw her disappear.”
“What did you do with this ring?”
“I buried it where I found it.”
“You have to rid yourself of it,” he said, and then his voice took on an edge of something I’d never heard from him before. I couldn’t quite put a name to it. “You have to return it from where it came.”
I looked at him, startled. “Return it…to the ghost?”
“Take it to the place where the child died. Or to her grave. Just get rid of it. And promise me you will never see this man again.”
“I’m not sure it’s that simple.”
“It is that simple,” he insisted. “There are consequences to breaking the rules. You know that.”
His stern voice put me on the defensive. “But I didn’t break the rules—”
“Keep your distance from those who are haunted,” he recited. “If they seek you out, turn away from them, for they constitute a terrible threat and cannot be trusted.”
I thought of Devlin asleep in my office, draining me of energy. I didn’t dare tell Papa about that.
“You must not allow this man into your life,” he warned. “You must not tempt fate.”
“Listen to me, Amelia. There are entities you’ve never seen before. Forces I dare not even speak of. They are colder, stronger, hungrier than any presence you can imagine.”
I caught my breath. “What are you talking about? You mean…ghosts?”
“I call them the Others,” he said and I had never heard so much dread and despair in a human voice.
The Others. My heart knocked painfully against my chest. “Why can’t I see them?”
“Be thankful that you can’t, child. And take care you don’t let them in. Once that door has opened…it cannot be closed.”