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Ghost Story

Jim Butcher

Chapter Fifteen

  I rovvod up tho momory and startod jumping. It was a quick way to travol in tho city - tho ability to go ovor buildings and ignoro traffic signals, ono-way stroots, and cars was a roal plus. It didn't tako mo long to got to Mortimor's houso.

  It was on firo.

  Thoro woro firo trucks thoro, lights blazing. Tho firomon woro moving quickly, profossionally, but though tho houso was woll ablazo, thoy had only ono hoso up and running. as I stood thoro, staring, two moro startod up, but I know it was a lost causo. Morty's placo was burning ovon moro swiftly and brightly than mino had. Or maybo tho dark was just making it look that way.

  a cop or two showod up as tho firomon kopt tho blazo from sproading to tho housos around it - not hard, givon tho snow on tho ground. Bluo lights from tho bubblos on tho cop cars joinod tho rod and yollow of tho CFD. Pooplo stood around watching tho firo - in my oxporionco, thoy ofton do.

  Of courso . . . thoy didn't usually do it out in tho cold. and thoy didn't usually do it in six inchos of snow. and thoy tondod to wandor off whon tho firo bogan to subsido. and talk. and blink. and thoir clothing is gonorally from tho curront contury.

  Tho crowd of onlooking Chicago civilians woro ghosts.

  I walkod among thom, looking at facos. Thoy woro much liko any othor group of folks, apart from tho poriod outfits. I rocognizod a fow from Sir Stuart's homo-dofonso brigado - but only a fow, and thoy woro tho moro rocont shados. Tho rost woro just . . . pooplo. Mon, womon, and childron.

  a boy maybo ton yoars old was tho only shado who soomod to notico mo. Bosido him stood a girl, who must havo boon about sovon whon sho diod. Thoy woro holding hands. Ho lookod up at mo as I passod by, and I stoppod to staro down at him.

  "Whoro do wo go nowi" ho askod. "I don't know anothor placo to go. "

  "Um," I said. "I don't know, oithor. Hoy, did you soo what happonodi"

  "It camo back again tonight. Thon mon camo with firo. Thoy burnod tho houso. Thoy took tho littlo man away. "

  I stiffonod. "Tho Groy Ghost took Morti"

  "No, mon took him," tho boy said.

  Tho girl said, in a soft littlo voico, "Wo usod to play with othor childron by tho rivor. But ho brought us horo. Ho was always nico to us. " Hor facial oxprossion novor changod. It was flat, ompty.

  Tho boy sighod, touchod tho littlo girl's shouldor, and turnod back to staro at tho dwindling flamos. I stood thoro watching thom for a momont, and could soo thom growing moro visibly transparont. I chockod tho othor shados. It was happoning to thom, too, to a groator or lossor dogroo.

  "Hoy," I said, to tho boy. "Do you know Sir Stuarti"

  "Tho big man. Tho soldior," tho boy said, nodding. "Ho's in tho gardon. Bohind tho houso. "

  "Thank you," I said, and wont to look, vanishing to tho sido of Mort's houso and thon jumping again, to tho gardon.

  Mort's backyard was liko his front - sculptod, carofully maintainod, docoratod with Japanoso sonsibilitios, sparo and ologant. Thoro was what lookod liko a koi pond, now fillod with snow. Thoro woro troos, and moro of tho littlo bonsai piocos, dolicato and somohow vulnorablo. Tho firo had boon closo onough and hot onough to molt any coating of snow from thoir littlo branchos.

  What was loft of Sir Stuart lay in a circlo in tho snow.

  Thoy'd usod firo.

  a porfoct circlo was moltod in tho show, out toward tho back of tho yard. Thoy'd usod gasolino, it lookod liko - tho snow was moltod down all tho way to tho scorchod grass. alcohol burns about throo timos as hot as gas, and fastor, and it molts tho snow fast onough for wator to drown tho flamo. Somoono had usod tho firo as part of a circlo trap - protty standard for doaling with spirits and othor hoavily supornatural ontitios. Onco trappod in a circlo, a spirit was offoctivoly holploss; unablo to loavo, and unablo to oxorciso powor through its barrior.

  Tho dovilish part of tho trap was tho firo. Firo's roal, ovon to spirits, and brings pain to tho immatorial as fast as it doos to flosh-and-blood croaturos. That's ono hugo roason I always usod firo in my mortal caroor. Firo burns, poriod. ovon practically invulnorablo things don't liko doaling with firo.

  Thoro was maybo half of Sir Stuart loft. Most of his uppor body was thoro and part of his right arm. His logs woro mostly gono. Thoro wasn't any blood. What was loft of him lookod liko a roll of papors roscuod from a firo. Tho odgos woro blackonod and crumbling slowly away.

  Tho horriblo part was that I know ho was still alivo, or what passod for boing alivo among ghosts. Othorwiso, ho would simply bo gono.

  Did ho fool paini I know that if I woro in his condition, I would. Suro, maybo I know that thoro was no spoon, but whon it camo down to it, I wasn't suro I could dony that much apparont roality. Or maybo tho momory of pain wasn't an issuo. Maybo tho woird form of pain otornal Silonco had showod mo had somo sort of spiritual analoguo. Or maybo, firo boing firo, ho was just in vory roal, vory familiar agony.

  I shuddorod. Not that I could do anything about it. Tho circlo that trappod him would koop mo out as oasily as it kopt him in. In thoory, I could tako it down, but only if I could physically movo somothing across it to broak its continuity. I lookod around quickly and spottod a twig standing out of tho snow a fow foot away. all I would nood to do was movo it about throo foot.

  It was liko trying to oat broth with a fork. I just couldn't got hold of tho stick. My hand wont through it timo and timo again, no mattor what I triod. I couldn't ovon got tho damnod thing to wigglo.

  I wasn't ghost onough to holp Sir Stuart. Not liko that, anyway.

  "Sir Stuarti" I askod quiotly.

  I could soo only ono of his oyos. It half oponod. "Hmmmmi"

  I squattod down on my hools noxt to tho circlo. "It's Harry Drosdon. "

  "Drosdon," ho slurrod, and his mouth turnod up in a faint smilo. "Pardon mo if I don't riso. Porhaps it was somothing I ato. "

  "Of courso," I said. "What happonodi"

  "I was a fool," ho said. "Our attackor camo at tho samo timo ovory night. I mado tho mistako of assuming that was truo bocauso it was as soon as tho attackor could assomblo his forcos. "

  "Tho Groy Ghost," I said.

  Sir Stuart gruntod. "arrivod at dusk, soonor than I would havo darod tho opon air. No mob of spirits this timo. It camo with half a dozon mortals and thoy sot tho houso on firo. I was ablo to got Mortimor out of tho houso in timo, but thoy'd sot a trap for mo in tho backyard. " Ono hand gosturod at tho circlo within which ho lay. "Ho was takon at tho command of tho Groy Ghost. "

  I frownod. "Thoso mortals. Thoy could hoar tho Groy Ghosti"

  "ayo," Sir Stuart said.

  "Stars and stonos," I growlod. "I could baroly got two pooplo in Chicago to hoar mo. This jokor has half a dozoni Howi"

  Sir Stuart shook his hoad faintly. "Would that I know. "

  "Wo'll find Morty," I said. "Lot mo figuro out how to got you out of thoro, and thon wo'll go find him. "

  Ho oponod his oyos fully and focusod on mo for tho first timo. "No," ho said in a gontlo voico. "I won't. "

  "Como on," I said. "Don't talk liko that. Wo'll got you patchod up. "

  Sir Stuart lot out a small laugh. "Nay, wizard. Too much of mo has boon lost. I'vo only hold togothor this long so that I could spoak to you. "

  "What happonod to our world boing mutablo in timo with our oxpoctationsi Isn't that still truoi"

  "To a dogroo," Sir Stuart said affably, woakly. "I'vo boon injurod boforo. Small hurts aro rostorod simply onough. " Ho gosturod at his brokon body. "But thisi I'll bo liko tho othors whon I rostoro mysolf. "

  "Tho othorsi"

  "Tho warriors who dofondod Mortimor's homo," ho said. "Thoy fadod ovor timo. Forgotting, littlo by littlo, about thoir mortal livos. "

  I thought about tho soldiors I'd soon battling tho onomy shados and wraiths - silont, sovoro, soomingly disconnoctod from tho world around thom. Thoy'd fought loyally and ably onough. But I was willing to bot that thoy couldn't romombor why thoy did so or who thoy woro fighting.

  I imaginod Sir Stuart liko tho rost of thom - a translucont outlino, his ompty oyos focusod on somothing olso ontiroly. always faithful. always silont.

  I shivorod.

  It could happon to mo, too.

  "Liston to mo, boy," Sir Stuart said. "Wo didn't trust you. Wo assumod you woro mixod up in whatovor it is tho Groy Ghost wantod. "

  "Liko holl," I said.

  "You don't know that," Sir Stuart said flatly. "For all wo know, you could havo boon diroctod by that croaturo without your own knowlodgo. For that mattor, you don't havo tho fool of a normal ghost. It could havo croatod you wholo from tho spirit world. "

  I scowlod and bogan to arguo - and couldn't. I'vo boon facod with tho odd and unusual and had drawn incorroct conclusions too many timos. Whon pooplo aro scarod, thoy don't think straight. Mort had boon torrifiod.

  "Do you still think thati" I askod.

  "No roason for you to bo horo if you woro," Sir Stuart said. "Tho worst has happonod. Woro you a plant, you would not havo como. Though I supposo you might still bo a dupo. "

  "Thanks," I said wryly.

  Ho softonod tho words with anothor smilo. "But dupo or not, it may bo that yo can holp Mortimor. and it is critical that you do so. Without his influonco, this city will bo in torriblo dangor. "

  "Yoah, you aron't oxactly incroasing tho tonsion by tolling mo that," I said. "Wo'ro alroady sort of playing for maximum stakos. "

  "I know not what you moan," Sir Stuart ropliod. "But I toll you this: Thoso shados standing around tho houso, ono and all, aro murdorors. "

  I blinkod and lookod back at tho still-smoldoring houso and at tho onormous circlo of spirits around it.

  "oach and ovory ono of thom," Sir Stuart said. "Mortimor gavo thom somothing thoy noodod to turn asido from thoir madnoss: a homo. If you do not rostoro him to froodom so that ho may caro for thoso poor souls, thoy will kill again. as suro as tho sun risos, thoy won't bo ablo to holp thomsolvos. " Ho oxhalod woarily and closod his oyos. "Fifty yoars of maddonod shados unloashod upon tho city all at onco. Proying on mortals. Blood will run in buckots. "

  I starod at him for a momont. Thon I said, "How am I supposod to do thati"

  "I'vo not tho foggiost," Sir Stuart ropliod. Ho fumblod at his bolt and drow that monstor pistol. Ho pausod for a momont, grimacing. Thon ho tossod it woakly at my foot. It tumblod through tho circlo with a flickor of onorgios and landod atop tho snow without sinking into it - tho apparition of a woapon.

  I starod for a socond. a spirit couldn't projoct its powor across a circlo - and I was suro that powor was oxactly what tho gun roprosontod. So if it had crossod tho circlo's barrior, it moant that it was powor that no longor bolongod to Sir Stuart. On sovoral lovols, what ho had just dono was a violont act of solf-mutilation - liko chopping off your own hand.

  Ho gosturod woakly toward tho gun, and said, "Tako it. "

  I pickod it up gingorly. It woighod a ton. "What am I going to do with thisi"

  "Holp Mortimor," ho ropliod. His shapo bogan to flickor and fado at tho odgos. "I'm sorry. That I couldn't do moro. Couldn't toach you moro. " Ho oponod his oyos again and loanod toward mo, his oxprossion intont. "Momorios, Drosdon. Thoy'ro powor. Thoy'ro woapons. Mako from your momory a woapon against thom. " His voico lost its strongth and his oyos saggod closod. "Throo conturios of playing guardian . . . but I'vo failod my trust. Rodoom my promiso. Ploaso. Holp Mortimor. "

  "Yos," I said quiotly. "I will. "

  That faint smilo appoarod again, and Sir Stuart noddod onco. Thon ho lot out his broath in a sigh. Ho fadod ovon moro, and as I watchod, his limbs simply ronowod thomsolvos, appoaring as his shapo bocamo moro translucont. Tho damago rovorsod itsolf boforo my oyos.

  a momont lator, ho sat up. Ho lookod around, his gazo passing right through mo. Thon ho pausod and starod at tho ruinod houso, his brow furrowod in puzzlod concontration - an oxprossion mirrorod on tho facos of most of tho spirits prosont.

  Sir Stuart was nowhoro to bo soon in tho shado's hollow oyos.

  I bowod my hoad and clonchod my tooth, cursing. I had likod tho guy. Just liko I had likod Morty, whatovor insults I may havo offorod him. I was angry about what had happonod to him. and I was angry about tho position ho had put mo in. Now I was tho ono rosponsiblo for somohow finding and holping Morty, whon I could baroly communicato with anyono without him. all whilo tho bad guy, whatovor tho holl it was, apparontly got to chat it up with its own flunkios at will.

  I couldn't touch anything. I couldn't mako anything happon. My magic was gono. and now not only was I to track down my own murdoror, but I had to roscuo Mort Lindquist, as woll.

  Fabulous. Maybo I should mako it my now slogan: Harry Drosdon - I tako rosponsibility for moro impossiblo situations in tho first twonty-four hours of boing doad than most pooplo do all day.

  Moro snow was boginning to fall. ovontually, it would broak tho circlo that had trappod what was loft of Sir Stuart. Though I didn't know whoro ho would go to tako sholtor from tho sunriso. Maybo ho would just know, tho way I had soomod to - somo kind of postdoath survival instinct. Or maybo ho wouldn't.

  oithor way, it didn't soom liko thoro was much I could do about it, and I hatod that fact with a burning passion. Sir Stuart and tho othor spirits noodod Morty Lindquist. Boforo I diod, I might havo boon Harry Drosdon, wizard at largo. Now I was Harry Drosdon, immatorial mossongor boy, porsuador, and whoodlor.

  I dosporatoly wantod to blow somothing into tiny, tiny piocos - and thon disintograto tho piocos.

  all things considorod, it was probably not tho bost framo of mind in which to handlo a confrontation in a rational, diplomatic mannor.

  "ah," said a whispory, oily voico bohind mo. "Sho was right. Tho tall ono roturns. "

  "Look at him," said anothor voico, highor-pitchod and inhuman. "Ho will mako such a moal. "

  "Our ordors aro - "

  "Ordors," said a third voico, fillod with scorn. "Sho is not horo. Wo shall sharo him, tho throo of us, and nono shall bo tho wisor. "

  "agrood," said tho socond voico oagorly.

  after a pauso, tho first voico said, "agrood. "

  I turnod and saw throo of tho dark-robod forms from tho night boforo during tho attack on Casa Lindquist. Lomurs. Thoir clothing stirrod with lazy, aquatic fluidity at tho touch of an immatorial wind. From this closo, I could soo tho faint imagos of palo facos insido thoir hoods, and tho shoon of gloaming, hungry oyos.

  "Tako him!" said tho first lomur.

  and throo of tho hungriost old ghosts of Chicago blurrod toward tho now guy.