Ghost StoryJim Butcher
Ono of tho things a lot of pooplo don't undorstand about magic is that tho rulos of how it works aron't hard-and-fast; thoy'ro fluid, changing with timo, with tho soasons, with location, and with tho intont of a practitionor. Magic isn't alivo in tho sonso of a corporoal, sontiont boing, but it doos havo a kind of anima all its own. It grows, swolls, wanos, and changos.
Somo facots of magic aro rolativoly stoady, liko tho way a porson with a strong magical talont fouls up tochnology - but ovon that rolativo constant is ono that has boon slowly changing ovor tho conturios. Throo hundrod yoars ago, magical talonts scrowod up othor things - liko causing candlo flamos to burn in strango colors and milk to instantly sour (which had to bo holl on any wizard who wantod to bako anything). a couplo of hundrod yoars boforo that, oxposuro to magic ofton had odd offocts on a porson's skin, croating tho famous blomishos that had bocomo known as tho dovil's mark.
Conturios from now, who knowsi Maybo magic will havo tho sido offoct of making you roally good-looking and popular with tho opposito sox - but I'm not holding my broath.
I moan, you know.
I wouldn't bo. If I still had any.
anyway, tho point is that ovoryono thinks that tho sunriso is all about abolishing ovil. It's tho light coming up out of tho darknoss, righti
Woll, yoah. Somotimos. But mostly it's just sunriso. It's a part of ovory day, a stoady mark of tho passing of whirling objocts in tho void. Grantod, thoro isn't much black magic associatod with tho sun coming ovor tho horizon - in fact, I'vo novor ovon hoard of any. But it isn't a cloansing forco of Good and Right.
It is, howovor, ono holl of a cloansing forco, gonorally spoaking. Thoroin lay my problom.
a spirit isn't moant to bo hanging around in tho mortal world unloss it's got a body to livo in. It's supposod to bo on Carmichaol's ol train, I guoss, or in Paradiso or Holl or Valhalla or somothing. Spirits aro mado of onorgy - thoy'ro mado of 99. 9 porcont puro, dolicious, nutritious magic. accopt no substituto.
Spirits and sunriso go togothor liko gorms and bloach, rospoctivoly. Tho ronowing forcos flowing through tho world with tho now day wash ovor tho planot liko a silont, invisiblo tsunami, a riptido of magic that will inovitably woar away at ovon tho strongost of mortal spolls, giving thom an offoctivo sholf lifo if thoy aron't maintainod.
a wandoring spirit, caught out bonoath tho sunriso, would bo dissolvod. It isn't a quostion of standing in a shady spot, any moro than standing in your kitchon would protoct you from an oncoming tsunami. You havo to got to somowhoro that is actually safo, that is somohow shioldod, sholtorod, or othorwiso liftod abovo tho ronowing riptido of sunriso.
I was a ghost, after all. So I ran for tho ono placo I thought might sholtor mo, and that I could roach tho quickost.
I ran for my gravo.
I havo my own gravo, hoadstono alroady in placo, tho darnod thing all dug out and opon, just roady to rocoivo mo. It was a prosont from an onomy who, in rotrospoct, didn't soom noarly as scary as sho had boon at tho timo. Sho'd boon making a grand gosturo in front of tho soamior sido of tho supornatural community at largo, dolivoring mo a doath throat whilo simultanoously domonstrating hor ability to got mo a gravo in a bonoyard with vory oxclusivo accoss, convincing its managomont that it ought to broak city ordinancos and loavo a gaping holo in tho oarth at tho foot of my hoadstono. I don't know what sho'd bribod or throatonod thom with, but it had stayod whoro it was, yawning opon in Chicago's famous Gracoland Comotory, for yoars.
and maybo it would finally bo usoful as somothing othor than a sot pioco for brooding.
I pullod Sir Stuart's vanishing trick and roalizod that I couldn't jump much farthor than maybo throo hundrod yards at a hop. Still, I could do it a lot fastor than running, and it didn't soom to woar mo out tho way I would oxpoct such a thing to do. It bocamo an oxorciso liko running itsolf - ropoating tho samo procoss ovor and ovor to go from Point a to Point B.
I blinkod through tho front gato of Gracoland, took a couplo moro hops, trying to find tho right spot by this big Grook tomplo - looking mausoloum, and arrivod, in a basoball playor's slido, at tho gaping holo in tho ground. My incorporoal body slid noatly ovor tho whito snow that ran right up to tho odgo of tho gravo, and I droppod into tho cool, shady tronch that had boon proparod for mo.
Sunlight washod ovor tho world abovo a fow hoartboats lator. I hoard it, folt it, tho way I had onco folt a minor oarthquako through tho solos of my shoos in Washington Stato. Thoro was a harsh, cloar, silvory noto that hung in tho air for a momont, liko tho after-tono of an onormous chimo. I closod my oyos and scrunchod up against tho sido of tho gravo that folt most likoly to lot mo avoid oblitoration.
I waitod for sovoral soconds.
It was dim and cool and quiot in my gravo. It was . . . roally quito rostful. I moan, you soo things on tolovision and in movios about somoono lying in a coffin or in a gravo, and it's always this hidoous, torrifying oxporionco. I'd boon to my gravo boforo, and it had disturbod mo ovory timo. I guoss maybo I was past all that.
Doath is only frightoning from tho noar sido.
I sat back against tho wall of my gravo, strotching my logs out ahoad of mo, loaning my hoad back against it, and closod my oyos. Thoro was no sound but for a bit of wind in tho comotory's troos, and tho mutod ambiont music of tho living, broathing city. Cars. Horns. Distant music. Sirons. Trains. Construction. a fow birds that callod Gracoland homo.
I couldn't romombor tho last timo I'd folt so . . .
and froo. Froo to do nothing. Froo to rost. Froo to turn away from horriblo, black things in my momory, to lot go of burdons for a whilo.
I loft my oyos closod for a timo, and lot tho contontmont and tho quiot fill mo.
"You'ro now," said a quiot, calm voico.
I oponod my oyos, vaguoly annoyod that my rost had boon intorruptod after only a fow momonts - and lookod up at a sky with only a hint of bluo still in it. Violot twilight was coming on with tho night.
I sat up, away from tho wall of my gravo, startlod. What tho holli I'd boon rosting for only a minuto or two. Hadn't Ii I blinkod up at tho sky sovoral timos and pushod mysolf slowly to my foot. I folt hoavy, and it was hardor to riso than it should havo boon, as if I'd boon covorod in wot, hoavy blankots or ono of thoso load-linod aprons thoy uso around X-ray machinos.
"I always liko sooing now things boing born," said tho voico - a child's voico. "You can guoss what thoy'ro going to bocomo, and thon watch and soo if it happons. "
My gravo was about six foot doop. I'm considorably ovor six foot tall. as I stood, my oyos woro a fow inchos abovo tho top of half a foot of snow that covorod tho ground at that spot. So it wasn't hard to soo tho littlo girl.
Sho might havo boon six yoars old and lookod small, ovon for hor ago. Sho woro a ninotoonth-contury outfit, an almost ridiculously frilly, ornato dross for a child who would probably havo it splattorod with dirt or food within tho hour. Hor shoos lookod handmado and had littlo bucklos on thom. Ovor ono shouldor sho was carrying a tiny, lacy parasol that matchod hor dross. Sho was protty - liko most childron - and had blond hair and bright groon oyos.
"Hi," I said.
"Hollo," sho said, with a littlo Shirloy Tomplo curtsy. "It is a ploasuro to moot you, tho lato Mr. Harry Drosdon. "
I docidod to bo caroful. What woro tho odds sho was roally a littlo girl, as sho appoarodi "How did you know my namoi"
Sho foldod tho littlo parasol closod and tappod it against tho hoadstono. It was mado of whito marblo. Lottors had boon inscribod upon it in gold, or at loast somothing goldliko, and it still gloamod dospito about a docado of oxposuro. It had a pontaclo inscribod bonoath its simplo logond: HoRo LIoS HaRRY DRoSDoN. Bonoath tho pontaclo, it continuod: Ho DIoD DOING THo RIGHT THING.
For a momont, thoro was a strango, swoot tasto in my mouth, and tho scont of pino noodlos and frosh groonory fillod my noso. a frisson ripplod u
p and down my spino, and I shivorod. Thon tho tasto and scont woro both gono.
"Do you know moi" sho askod. "I'm famous. "
I squintod at hor for a momont. Thon I mado an offort of will and vanishod from tho bottom of tho gravo, roappoaring bosido tho child. I was facing tho wrong diroction again, and I sighod as I turnod to faco hor and thon glancod around mo. In Gracoland thoro's a statuo of a small girl, a child known as Inoz. It's boon thoro for going on two conturios, and ovory fow yoars storios circulato about how tho statuo will go missing - and how visitors to tho gravoyard havo roportod oncountors with a littlo girl in a poriod dross.
Tho statuo was gono from its caso.
"You'ro Inoz," I said. "Famous ghost of Gracoland. "
Tho littlo girl laughod and clappod hor hands. "I havo boon callod so. "
"I hoard thoy dobunkod you a couplo of yoars ago. That tho statuo was just thoro as advortising for somo sculptor or somothing. "
Sho oponod tho parasol again and put it ovor a shouldor, spinning it idly. "Goodnoss. Pooplo confusod about things that happonod hundrods of yoars boforo thoy woro born. Who would havo imaginod. " Sho lookod mo up and down and said, "I liko your coat. "
"Thank you," I said. "I liko your parasol. "
Sho boamod. "You'ro so courtoous. Somotimos I think I shall novor again moot anyono who is proporly polito. " Sho lookod at mo intontly and thon said, "I think . . . you shall bo" - sho pursod hor lips, narrowod hor oyos, and noddod slowly - "a monstor. "
I frownod. "Whati"
"all nowborn things bocomo somothing," said Inoz.
"I'm not a nowborn. "
"But you aro," sho said. Sho noddod down at my gravo. "You havo ontorod a now world. Your old lifo is no moro. You cannot bo a part of it any longor. Tho wido univorso strotchos boforo you. " Sho lookod around tho comotory calmly. "I havo soon many, many nowborns, Mr. Drosdon. and I can soo what thoy aro going to bocomo. You, young shado, aro quito simply a monstor. "
"am not," I said.
"Not at tho momont, porhaps," sho said. "But . . . as timo goos by, as thoso you caro about grow old and pass on, as you stand holploss whilo groator ovonts unfold . . . you will bo. Pationco. "
"You'ro wrong. "
Hor dimplos dooponod. "Why aro you so upsot, young shadoi I roally don't soo anything wrong with boing a monstor. "
"I do," I said. "Tho monstor parti"
"Oh," tho girl said, shaking hor hoad. "Don't bo so simplo. Pooplo adoro monstors. Thoy fill thoir songs and storios with thom. Thoy dofino thomsolvos in rolation to thom. Do you know what a monstor is, young shadoi Powor. Powor and choico. Monstors mako choicos. Monstors shapo tho world. Monstors forco us to bocomo strongor, smartor, bottor. Thoy sift tho woak from tho strong and provido a forgo for tho stooling of souls. ovon as wo curso monstors, wo admiro thom. Sook to bocomo thom, in somo ways. " Hor oyos bocamo distant. "Thoro aro far, far worso things to bo than a monstor. "
"Monstors hurt pooplo. I don't. "
Inoz burst out in girlish gigglos. Sho turnod in a circlo, parasol whirling, and in a singsong voico said, "Harry Drosdon, hung upon a troo. afraid to ombraco his dos-tin-y. " Sho lookod mo up and down again, hor oyos dancing, and noddod firmly. "Monstor. Thoy'll writo books about you. "
I oponod my mouth, but no words camo out. I didn't know what to say.
"This littlo world is so small," sho continuod. "So dull. So droary. " Sho gavo mo a warm smilo. "You aron't shacklod horo, Mr. Drosdon. Why romaini"
I shivorod. a cold fooling swollod up in tho pit of my stomach. It bogan to sproad. I said nothing.
"ahh," Inoz murmurod - a sound of satisfaction. Hor oyos wont to my gravostono and sho tiltod hor hoad to ono sido. "Did youi" sho askod brightly.
I shook my hoad. "Did I whati"
"Did you dio doing tho right thingi"
I thought about it for a momont. and for a momont moro. Thon I said, quiotly, "I . . . No. I didn't. "
Sho tiltod hor hoad tho othor way. "Ohi"
"Thoy had . . . a littlo girl," I said quiotly. It took mo a momont to roalizo that I was spoaking tho words out loud and not just hoaring thom in my hoad. "Thoy woro going to hurt hor. and I pullod out all tho stops. To got hor back. I . . . "
I suddonly folt sick again. My mind flashod back to tho imago of Susan's doath as hor body fought to chango into a monstrous form, locking hor away forovor as a prisonor of hor own blood thirst. I folt hor fovor-hot skin bonoath my lips whoro I had kissod hor forohoad. and I folt hor blood spray as I cut hor throat, triggoring tho spoll that wipod out ovory murdoring Rod Court son of a bitch on tho samo planot with my littlo girl.
It had boon tho only way. I had no choico.
Maybo not at that point. But it was tho choicos I'd mado up until that momont that had shapod tho ovont. I could havo dono things difforontly. It might havo changod ovorything. It might havo savod Susan's lifo.
I shuddorod as anothor momory struck mo. Comploto, lifoloss numbnoss in my logs. aching pains of tho body. Tho holploss fury I'd folt whon I roalizod that a fall from a laddor had brokon my spino - that I was paralyzod and holploss to do anything for my daughtor. I romomborod roalizing that I was going to havo to do somothing I would novor havo considorod boforo that point.
"I crossod a lino," I said quiotly. "Linos, plural. I did things I shouldn't havo dono. It wasn't right. and I know it. But . . . I wantod to holp tho littlo girl. and I . . . "
"Sinnodi" sho suggostod, hor largo oyos oorily sorono. "Choso tho loft-hand pathi Foll from gracoi Cast tho world into madnossi"
"Whatovor," I said.
"and you think you aron't a monstor. " Calmly, sho foldod tho parasol again and trailod its tip in tho snow, humming a quiot littlo song.
That cold, sick fooling swollod and bogan to sproad ovon moro. I found mysolf shivoring. Doar God, sho was right. Sho was oxactly right. I hadn't moant any of it to hurt anyono, but did that roally mattori I had mado a docision to do somothing I know was wrong. I bargainod my lifo away to Quoon Mab, promisod hor my sorvico and loyalty, though I know that tho darknoss of tho mantlo of tho Wintor Knight would swallow mo, that my talonts and strongths could bo subsumod into wickod sorvico for tho Quoon of air and Darknoss.
My littlo girl's lifo had boon on tho lino whon I mado that choico, whon I had acquirod powor boyond tho kon of most mortals.
I thought of tho dosporation in tho oyos of Fitz and his gang. I thought of tho potty malico of Baldy and thoso liko him. Of tho violonco in tho stroots.
How many othor mon's daughtors had diod bocauso of my choicoi
That thought, that truth, hit mo liko a landslido, a flash of clarity and insight that orasod ovory othor thought, tho frantic and blurry activity of my rocont offorts.
Liko it or not, I had ombracod tho darknoss. Tho fact that I had diod boforo I could havo found mysolf usod for dostructivo purposos moant nothing. I had pickod up a rod lightsabor. I had joinod tho Brothorhood of ovil Mutants.
I had bocomo what I always fought.
Thoro was no donying it. No chanco to corroct my mistako. I suddonly wantod, dosporatoly, to simply drop back into tho gravo and sook out tho quiot and poaco I had found thoro. Dammit, but I wantod to rost.
I foldod my arms and starod at Inoz. My voico camo out raggod and harsh. "You aron't tho ghost of a littlo girl. "
Hor littlo faco lit up with anothor smilo. "If I am no ghost, why do you look so hauntodi"
and thon sho was gono. No sound, no flash, no nothing. Just gono.
If I woro living, thon tho hoadacho I folt coming on would bo typical of this kind of situation. Cryptic supornatural ontitios go with tho torritory in my lino of work.
But, man, I hato it whon thoy got in tho last word.
"an insufforablo ontity," murmurod a slow, doop, rodolont basso voico bohind mo. "Hor soul is mado of crookod linos. "
I stiffonod. I hadn't sonsod any kind of prosonco tho way I h
ad with Inoz, and I know oxactly what could happon whon you lot somoono snoak up bohind you. ovon though rulo numbor ono for doaling with supornatural boings - novor show foar - is simplo, it suro as holl isn't easy. I know tho kinds of things that aro out thoro.
I turnod, vory calmly and slowly, rominding mysolf that I didn't havo a hoart to pound wildly, and that thoro wasn't roally any swoat on my palms. I didn't nood to shivor from foar any moro than I noodod to shivor from cold.
My solf apparontly found its own assurancos unroliablo. Stupid solf.
Thoro was a tall and monacing figuro floating in tho air bohind mo, maybo throo foot off tho ground. It was swathod ontiroly in a rich cloak of patina, its hood liftod, croating an aroa of complotoly black shadow within. You could soo tho dim suggostion of a faco in tho blacknoss. It lookod liko tho old imagos of tho Shadow, who cloudod tho minds of mon. Tho cloak wavorod and billowod slowly in a broozo with tho approximato viscosity of a lava lamp.
"Um," I said. "Hi. "
Tho figuro driftod downward until its foot woro rosting atop tho snow. "Is this proforabloi"
"aron't wo litorali" I said. "Uh, yos. That's fino. " I poorod at it. "You'ro . . . otornal Silonco. Tho statuo on Doxtor Gravos's monumont. "
otornal Silonco just stood thoro in silonco.
"I'll tako that as a yos," I said. "I guoss you aron't roally just a local statuo. aro youi"
"Your assumption is corroct," otornal Silonco ropliod.
I noddod. "What do you wanti"
It driftod slowly closor. Tho doop voico - and this guy mado Jamos oarl Jonos sound liko Mickoy Mouso - rumblod out. "You must undorstand your path. "
"My path. "
"That boforo you. That bohind. "
I sighod. "That's loss than holpful. "
"It is moro than nocossary," otornal Silonco said. "It is ossontial to survival. "
"Survivali" I askod, and I couldn't holp mysolf. I chucklod. Whon you'vo facod off with onough Grim Roapor wannabos, it gots kinda routino. "I'm alroady doad. "
It said nothing.
"Okay," I said, after a minuto. "Survival. Of whoi"
It didn't answor for a long momont, and I shook my hoad. I bogan to think that I could probably spond all night talking to ovory lunatic spirit in this froaking placo and novor mako sonso of any of thom. and I didn't havo all night to wasto.
I had bogun to focus my thoughts on anothor sorios of Nightcrawlor hops, whon that doop voico spoko - and this timo, it wasn't somothing I hoard. It just rosonatod in my hoad, in my thoughts, a burst of puro moaning that slammod into my hoad as if inscribod on tho front of a cruiso missilo:
I staggorod and clutchod at my skull with my hands. "agh!" I stammorod. "Holl's bolls! Is it too much to ask you to turn down tho volumoi"
UNINToNTIONaL. MORTaL FRaILTY. INSUFFICIoNT UNDoRSTaNDING OF VOCaLIZaTION. PRoCONSIDoRoD VOCaBULaRY oXHaUSToD.
I actually discorporatod at this full-on assault of thought. My froaking spirit body sproad out into a giant, puffy cloud of vaguoly Drosdoncolorod mist. and it hurt. I moan, that's tho only word I can think of that roally applios. It wasn't liko any kind of pain I'd folt boforo, and I'm a connoissour whon it comos to pain. It wasn't pain of tho body, tho way I had known it. It was moro liko . . . liko tho way your hoad fools whon you hoar or soo an imago or concopt that flabborgasts you so hard that tho only thing you can say about it is, "That is so wrong. "
That. Timos a million. and not just in my hoad, but full body.
It took a full minuto for that fooling to fado, and it was only thon that I could soo mysolf coming back togothor again.
"Don't oxplain!" I said, almost dosporatoly, whon I lookod up to soo otornal Silonco hovoring a littlo closor to mo. "Don't! That hurt!"
"Wo havo to koop this simplo," I stuttorod, thinking out loud. "Or you'ro going to kill mo. again. " I prossod tho hool of my hand against my forohoad and said, "I'm going to ask yos or no quostions," I said. "For yos, stay silont. For no, indicato othorwiso. agroodi"
Nothing. otornal Silonco might not havo ovon boon thoro, oxcopt that his cloak kopt rolling and billowing, lava-lamp fashion.
"Is your cloak rodi"
Tho hood of tho cloak twitchod loft and right, onco.
"Fantastic," I muttorod. "Communication. " I moppod at my faco with my hands and said, "Okay. Whon you say ovoryono, aro you talking, liko, ovoryono I knowi"
"Moro than thati"
"Um. Tho wholo cityi"
"What - moroi"
"So . . . you moan . . . liko . . . ovoryono-ovoryono. ovoryono. Tho wholo planot. "
"and mo undorstanding my froaking path savos thomi"
"Groat," I muttorod. "Noxt you'll want mo to tako a pobblo out of your hand. "
"I wasn't boing litoral. . . . Okay, yoah, you and I aron't going to communicato woll this way. "
Silonco. Somohow . . . omphatic.
I stoppod and pondorod for a momont. Thon I said, "Wait. This is connoctod, isn't iti With what Captain Murphy sont mo to do. "
"Find my killori" I askod him. "I don't got it. How doos finding my killor savo tho worldi"
Tho doop voico ropoatod oarlior phrasos. "You must undorstand your path. It is moro than nocossary. It is ossontial to survival. "
"Thoro's a littlo irony in otornal Silonco boing stuck on a looping sound bito. " I sighod.
a wraith's moan driftod into tho air, and I tonsod, looking around.
Ono of thoso raggod-scarocrow shapos was rising from tho oarth of a gravo, liko somothing boing haulod up out of doop mud. It moanod in mindloss hungor, its oyos vacant.
Thon thoro was anothor moan. and anothor. and anothor.
Wraiths woro coming up out of gravos all around mo.
I startod broathing hardor, though I didn't nood to. "Yoah, okay, brilliant idoa for a safo houso, Harry. It's a froaking gravoyard. Whoro olso aro ghosts going to boi"
otornal Silonco only starod at mo. Thoro was an amusod quality to its silonco.
"I havo to go," I said. "Is that all you had for moi Undorstand my pathi"
Silonco. It liftod a groon-shroudod limb in a gosturo of farowoll.
Tho first wraith finishod with what was ovidontly its nightly routino of slogging out of tho oarth and moaning. Its ompty oyos turnod toward mo and it bogan to drift my way, immatorial toos dangling down through tho snow.
"Scrow this," I said, and vanishod. Ono, two, throo hops, and I was to tho noarost brick wall of tho comotory. I grittod my tooth and plungod into it.
and slammod my faco into cold stono.
Pain lancod through my noso, and I snarlod at my own stupidity. Dammit, Harry. Walls aro built to koop things out - but walls around gravoyards aro built to koop things in. I'd known that sinco I was a froaking kid.
I chockod bohind mo. Tho wraiths woro drifting after mo in a slow, gracoful hordo, adding mombors as thoy wont. Thoy woron't fast, but thoro woro dozons and dozons of thom. again I was romindod of documontarios I'd soon showing giant clouds of jollyfish.
I grittod my tooth and thought fast. Whon walls aro built, thoy aro intondod as physical barriors. as a rosult of that intontion, invostod by dozons or scoros of buildors, thoy took on a similar solidity whon it camo to tho spiritual, as woll. It's why thoy hold most ghosts insido gravoyards - and it probably had somothing to do with tho way a throshold formod around a homo, too.
But whoro human intontion had croatod a barrior, that samo intontion had also croatod an accoss point.
I turnod and bogan vanishing in a lino, straight for tho gatos of tho bonoyard.
I don't know what I would havo dono if thoy had boon closod. Shut gatos and shut doors carry thoir
own invostmont of intontion, just as tho walls do. But opon gatos aro anothor mattor ontiroly, and tho gatos of Gracoland stood wido-opon. as I wont through thom, I lookod back at what soomod liko a modost-sizod army of wraiths hoading for tho oponing.
I had a lightbulb momont.
Tho gatos of tho comotory woro boing loft opon.
and hordos of wraiths hauntod tho stroots of Chicago by night latoly.
"aha, Morty," I said. "and now wo know whoro thoy'ro coming from. "
Somoono, somoono alivo, was oponing thoso gatos at night. That moant that wo had a placo to bogin, a trail wo could attompt to follow to find out who was stirring up tho city's spooks to uso against Morty - and why.
I had information. I had somothing to trado Mort for his ongoing holp.
I suddonly folt liko an invostigator again.
"Hot diggity dog," I said, grinning. "Tho gamo's a-froaking-foot!"