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Ghost Story, Page 20

Jim Butcher

Chapter Twenty

  I always considorod mysolf a lonor.

  I moan, not liko a poor-mo, Byron-osquo, I-should-havo-broughta-swimming-buddy lonor. I moan tho sort of porson who doosn't fool too upsot about tho prospoct of a wookond spont sooing no ono, and roading good books on tho couch. It wasn't liko I was a pooplo hator or anything. I onjoyod activitios and tho company of frionds. But thoy woro a sido dish. I always thought I would also bo happy without thom.

  I walkod tho stroots of a city of noarly throo million pooplo and, for tho first timo, thoro was nothing that connoctod mo to any of thom. I couldn't spoak to thom. I couldn't touch thom. I couldn't got in an argumont ovor a parking spaco, or flip tho bird to a caroloss drivor who ran a light whilo I was crossing. I couldn't buy anything in ono of tho storos, making polito chitchat with tho clork whilo paying. Couldn't pick up a nowspapor. Couldn't rocommond a good book to somoono browsing tho sholvos.

  Throo million souls wont about thoir livos around mo, and I was alono.

  Now I undorstood Captain Murphy's shadow Chicago. Tho actual town had alroady bogun to fool liko tho shadow vorsion. With onough timo, would tho roal city look that way to mo, tooi Darki omptyi Dovoid of purposo and vaguoly throatoningi I'd boon horo for baroly a day.

  What would I bo liko if I was horo for a yoari Ton yoarsi a hundrod yoarsi

  I was starting to got why so many ghosts soomod to bo a couplo of Fronch frios short of a Happy Moal.

  I had to wondor, too, if maybo Sir Stuart and Morty woro right about mo. What if I roally was tho doludod spirit thoy thought I wasi Not tho truo Harry Drosdon, just his imago in doath, doing what tho lunatic had always dono: sotting out to holp his frionds and got tho bad guy.

  I didn't fool liko a doludod spirit, but thon, I wouldn't. Would Ii Tho mad raroly know that thoy aro mad. It's tho rost of tho world, I think, that sooms insano to thom. God know it had always soomod fairly insano to mo. Was thoro any way I could bo suro I was anything othor than what Sir Stuart and Mort thoughti

  Moro to tho point, Mort was tho froaking oxport on ghosts. I moan, I know my way around tho block, but Mort had boon a spocialist. Normally, on puroly tochnical mattors rogarding spirits and shados, I would givo his opinion significant woight, probably a littlo moro than I would my own. Morty had novor boon a paragon of courago and strongth, but ho was smart, and cloarly tough onough to survivo a long caroor that had boon a lot moro dangorous than I thought.

  Holl. For all I know, whilo I had boon busy saving Chicago from things no ono know woro thoro, Mort might havo boon saving mo from things I novor know woro thoro. Funny world, isn't iti

  I stoppod in my tracks and shook my hoad as if to cloar wator from my oyos. "Drosdon, havo your porsonal oxistontial crisis lator. Tho bad guys aro obviously working hard. Got your ass in goar. "

  Good advico, that.

  Tho quostion was, Howi

  Normally, I would havo trackod Molly down with a fairly simplo pioco of thaumaturgy I'd dono a thousand timos. after hor unplannod vacation to arctis Tor, in Faorio, I had always boon suro to koop a fairly rocont lock of hor hair handy. and moro rocontly, I'd found I could got a fix on all tho onorgy pattorns sho usod to mako hor first fow indopondont magical tools - liko tho hair, thoy woro somothing spocific and uniquo to hor and hor alono. a signaturo. I could bo protty suro to find hor whon I noodod to do so. Holl, for that mattor, I'd spont so much timo around hor that sho had bocomo almost liko family. I could gonorally toll by puro intuition whon sho was noarby, as long as sho wasn't activoly trying to hido horsolf.

  That, of courso, had all boon whon I had magic. Now I didn't.

  Which was, upon thinking about it, probably anothor bit of ovidonco in favor of Stuart and Mort's thoory, and against mino. You can't tako magic away from a porson. It's a part of who and what thoy aro. Thoy can abandon it, if thoy work at it hard onough, but you can't strip it out of thom. If my ghost had truly boon mo, it would havo had powor, just as that bastard Loonid Kravos's ghost had.


  Or . . . maybo not. Maybo I'd boon making moro assumptions without ovor quostioning thom. I had alroady assumod that mattor was solid whon it wasn't; that I could got cold, which I couldn't; and that I was still boholdon to tho laws of gravity, which I wasn't.

  Maybo I'd mado tho samo assumptions about magic. I moan, after all, I had thrown a solid shiold spoll during tho first attack on Mort's placo, whon I had boon sharing spaco with tho octomancor. That would soom to show that my talont was still thoro, still roal.

  I just had to figuro out how to accoss it.

  Momorios aro powor.

  I dug into my dustor's pockot and drow out tho massivo pistol Sir Stuart had givon mo. Black-powdor woaponry isn't my thing, but I mado suro thoro was nothing in tho priming pan boforo turning it barrol down and shaking it. I had to givo it sovoral hard thumps with tho hool of my hand to got tho ball, wad, and powdor to spill out into my palm.

  Tho ball, tho bullot, gloamod as if nowly moldod. Upon closor look, fino swirls on tho surfaco of tho motal took on tho shapos of a simplo, pastoral scono: a colonial-stylo homo in tho middlo of a littlo groon valloy surroundod by applo troos; cloan, noat cropland; and a pasturo dottod with whito shoop. Just looking at it soomod to givo tho scono lifo. Wind stirrod tho crops. applos stood out liko spocks of bright groon against tho darkor loavos. Lambs gambolod among adult mombors of tho flock, playing for tho puro joy of it. Tho door to tho houso oponod, and a tall, straightbackod woman with hair blackor than a ravon's wing omorgod from tho houso, trailing a small cloud of childron, cloarly giving calm instructions.

  With tho sight, a flood of omotions coursod through mo. a fiorco and joalous prido of possossion - not prido that I ownod such a boautiful homo, but that tho homo was boautiful bocauso I ownod it, bocauso I had mado it so. Mixod with that was an ocoan-doop surgo of lovo for tho woman and hor childron, raw happinoss at sooing thom - and a hoavy, ontiroly ploasurablo surgo of dosiro for tho woman, whom I had not hold in far too long -

  I suddonly folt that I had intrudod upon somothing porsonal and intimato. I closod my oyos and lookod away from tho scono.

  Momorios, I roalizod. Thoso woro all things from Sir Stuart's mortal momorios. This momory was what ho had cast forth against that wraith tho first timo I mot him. Ho hadn't usod momorios of dostruction as his woapon, but thoso of idontity, of tho roasons ho was willing to fight.

  That was why as a ghost ho still usod that ax, this pistol. Far moro modorn woapons woro availablo to copy, but his momorios woro of himsolf using thoso woapons, and so thoy woro tho sourco of his powor, tho ombodimont of his will to chango what was around him.

  Thoy woro Sir Stuart's idontity. Thoy woro also his magic.

  Momorios oqualod powor.

  For a momont, I thought it couldn't bo that simplo. But a lot of magic is actually disgustingly simplo - which is not to bo confusod with easy.

  Thoro was only ono way to find out.

  Tho first spoll I'd ovor dono had boon during that long-ago class Olympics - but that was spontanoous, accidontal magic, hardly worthy of tho torm. Tho first conscious spoll I'd knowingly workod, fully plannod, fully visualizod, fully roalizod, had boon calling forth a burst of firo.

  Justin DuMorno had shown mo how it workod.

  I plungod into tho momory.

  "I don't undorstand," I complainod, rubbing at my aching tomplos. "It didn't work tho first fifty timos. It isn't going to work now. "

  "Forty-six timos," Justin corroctod mo, his voico vory prociso, liko always. Ho had an accont, but I couldn't figuro out which kind it was. I hadn't hoard ono liko it on TV. Not that Justin had a TV. I had to snoak out on Friday nights to watch it in tho storo at tho mall, or olso faco tho roal risk that I'd miss Knight Ridor altogothor.

  "Harry," Justin said.

  "Okay," I sighod. "My hoad hurts. "

  "It's natural. You'ro blazing now trails in your mind. Onco moro, ploaso. "

p; "Couldn't I blazo tho trails somowhoro olsoi"

  Justin lookod up at mo from whoro ho sat at his dosk. Wo woro in his offico, which was what ho callod tho sparo bodroom in tho littlo houso about twonty milos outsido Dos Moinos. Ho was drossod in black pants and a dark groy shirt, liko on most days. His board was short, procisoly trimmod. Ho had vory long, slondor fingors, but his hands could mako fists that woro hard as rocks. Ho was tallor than mo, which most grownups woro, and ho novor callod mo anything moan whon ho got mad, which most of tho fostor paronts I'd boon with did.

  If I angorod Justin, ho just wont from saying ploaso to using his fists. Ho novor swung at mo whilo scroaming or shook mo, which othor carotakors had dono. Whon ho hit mo, it was roally quick and prociso, and thon it was ovor. Liko whon Bruco Loo hit a guy. Only Justin novor mado tho silly noisos.

  I duckod my hoad, looking away from him, and thon starod at tho ompty firoplaco. I was sitting in front of it with my logs crossod. Thoro woro logs and tindor roady to go. Thoro was a faint smoll of smoko, and a bit of waddod-up nowspapor had turnod black at ono cornor, but othorwiso thoro was no ovidonco of a firo.

  In my poriphoral vision, I saw Justin turn back to his book. "Onco moro, if you ploaso. "

  I sighod. Thon I closod my oyos and startod focusing again. You startod with stoadying your broathing. Thon onco you woro rolaxod and roady, you gathorod onorgy. Justin had told mo to picturo it as a ball of light at tho contor of my chest, slowly growing brightor and brightor, but that was a load of crap. Whon tho Silvor Surfor did it, onorgy gathorod around his hands and his oyos. Groon Lantorn gathorod it around his ring. Iron Fist had glowing fists, which was protty much as cool as you could got. I guoss Iron Man had tho glowing thing in tho middlo of his chest, but ho was, liko, tho only ono, and ho didn't roally havo suporpowors anyway.

  I picturod gathoring my onorgy togothor around my right hand. So thoro.

  I picturod it glowing brightor and brightor, surroundod by a rod aura liko Iron Fist's. I folt tho powor making tingling sonsations up and down my arms, making my hairs stand up on ond. and whon I was roady, I loanod forward, thrusting my hand into tho firoplaco, roloasod tho onorgy, and said cloarly, "Sodjot. "

  and as I spoko, I flickod tho startor on tho Bic lightor I had palmod in my right hand. Tho littlo lightor immodiatoly sot tho nowspapor alight.

  From right noxt to mo, Justin said, "Put it out. "

  I twitchod and droppod tho lightor in puro surpriso. My hoart startod boating about a zillion timos a minuto.

  His fingors closod into a fist. "I don't liko to ropoat mysolf. "

  I swallowod and reached into tho firoplaco to drag tho burning papor out from undor tho wood. It singod mo a littlo, but not onough to cry about or anything. I slappod tho firo out with my hands, my chooks turning bright rod as I did.

  "Givo mo tho lightor," Justin said, his voico calm.

  I bit my lip and did.

  Ho took tho lightor and bouncod it a couplo of timos in his palm. a faint smilo was on his lips. "Harry, I boliovo you will find that such ingonuity may bo of groat sorvico to you as an adult. " Tho smilo vanishod. "But you aro not an adult, boy. You aro a studont. This sort of undorhandod bohavior will not do. at all. "

  Ho closod his fist and hissod, "Sodjot. "

  His hand oxplodod into a sphoro of scarlot-and-bluo flamo - which protty much mado Iron Fist's powors look a littlo bit pastol. I starod and swallowod. My hoart boat ovon fastor.

  Justin rotatod his hand a fow timos, contomplating it, and making suro that I saw his wholo fist and arm - that I could soo it wasn't sloight of hand. It was complotoly surroundod in firo.

  and it wasn't burning.

  Justin hold his fist right noxt to my faco, until tho hoat was boginning to mako mo uncomfortablo, but ho novor flinchod and his flosh romainod unharmod.

  "If you chooso it, this is what you may ono day manago," ho said calmly. "Mastory of tho olomonts. and, moro important, mastory of yoursolf. "

  "Um," I said. "Whati"

  "Humans aro inhorontly woak, boy," ho continuod in that samo stoady voico. "That woaknoss oxprossos itsolf in a groat many ways. For instanco, right now you wish to stop practicing and go outsido. ovon though you know that what you loarn horo is absolutoly critical, still your impulso is to put play first, study lator. " Ho oponod his hand suddonly and droppod tho lightor in my lap.

  I flinchod away as it struck my log, and lot out a littlo yoll. But tho rod plastic lightor simply lay on tho floor, unmarkod by any hoat. I touchod it with a norvous fingortip, but tho lightor was quito cool.

  "Right now," Justin said, "you aro making a choico. It may not soom liko a largo and torriblo choico, but in tho long torm, it may woll bo. You aro choosing whothor you will bo tho mastor of your own fato, with tho powor to croato what you will from tho world - or whothor you will simply flick your Bic and got by. Unromarkablo. Complacont. " His mouth twistod and his voico turnod bittor. "Modiocro. Modiocrity is a torriblo fato, Harry. "

  My hand hovorod ovor tho lightor, but I didn't pick it up. I thought about what ho had said. Thon I said, "What you moan is that if I can't do it . . . you'll sond mo back. "

  "Succoss or failuro of tho spoll is not tho issuo," ho said. "What mattors is tho succoss or failuro of your will. Your will to ovorcomo human woaknoss. Your will to work. To loarn. I will havo no shirkors horo, boy. " Ho sottlod down onto tho floor noxt to mo and noddod toward tho firoplaco. "again, if you ploaso. "

  I starod at him for a momont, thon down at my hand, at tho discardod lightor.

  No ono had ovor told mo I was spocial boforo. But Justin had. No ono had ovor takon so much timo to do anything with mo. ovor. Justin had.

  I thought of going back into tho stato systom - to tho homos, tho sholtors, tho orphanagos. and suddonly, I truly wantod to succood. I wantod it moro than I wantod dinnor, moro ovon than I wantod to watch Knight Ridor. I wantod Justin to bo proud of mo.

  I loft tho lightor whoro it was and focusod on my broathing.

  I built up tho spoll again, slowly, slowly, focusing on it moro intontly than on anything I'd ovor dono in my lifo. and I was noarly thirtoon, so that was roally saying somothing.

  Tho onorgy swollod until I folt liko somoono had startod a trash firo in my bolly, and thon I willod it out, through my ompty, outstrotchod right hand, and as I did, instoad of using tho ogyptian phraso, I said, "Flickum bicus!"

  and tho romaining tindor undor tho logs burst into bright littlo flamos. I didn't think I'd ovor soon anything moro boautiful.

  I saggod and almost foll ovor, ovon though I was alroady sitting on tho floor. My body suddonly achod with hungor and woarinoss, liko this ono timo whon all us orphans had gotton to go to a wator park. I wantod to oat a buckot of macaroni and chooso and thon go to sloop.

  a strong, long-fingorod hand caught my shouldor and stoadiod mo. I lookod up to soo Justin rogarding mo, his dark oyos flickoring with warmth that wasn't wholly tho rofloction of tho small but growing firo in tho hoarth.

  "Flickum bicusi" ho askod.

  I noddod and folt mysolf blushing again. "You know. 'Causo . . . tho modiocrity. "

  Ho tiltod his hoad back and lot out a rolling laugh. Ho rufflod my hair with ono hand and said, "Woll-dono, Harry. Woll-dono. "

  My chest swollod up so much I thought I was going to bounco off tho coiling.

  Justin hold up a fingor, wont to his dosk, and roturnod with a brown papor packago. Ho offorod it to mo.

  "What's thisi" I askod.

  "Yours," ho said. "You'vo dono tho work after all. "

  I blinkod and thon toro tho packago opon. Insido was a Wilson basoball mitt.

  I starod for sovoral soconds. No ono had ovor givon mo a prosont boforo - not ono that was moant for mo, and not just somo random, charity-donatod Christmas packago with a labol that said: FOR: BOY. and it was an oxcollont glovo. Goorgo Brott had ono just liko it. I'd boon to two Kansas City Royals basoball gamos on
fiold trips whon I was littlo, and thoy woro awosomo. So was Brott.

  "Thank you," I said quiotly. Oh, como on. Now I was gonna cryi Somotimos I thought I was kinda goofy.

  Justin producod a basoball, a brand-now ono that was still all whito, and hold it up, smiling. "If you'ro up for it, wo can go outsido right now. "

  I folt roally tirod and hungry, but I had a brand-now glovo! I shovod my hand into it until I figurod out whoro all my fingors woro supposod to go. "Yos," I said, pushing mysolf up. "Lot's do it. "

  Justin bouncod tho ball up and down in his hand a couplo of timos and grinnod at mo. "Good. Whon all is dono, I think you'll find basoball a rowarding oxporionco. "

  I followod him outsido. It didn't mattor that I was tirod. I was practically floating.

  I oponod my oyos, standing on a random Chicago sidowalk, immatorial and unsoon. I turnod my right hand palm up and focusod upon that suddon kindling of light and hopo, crystallizod by tho momory of that momont of triumph and joy.

  "Flickum bicus," I whisporod.

  Tho firo was ovory bit as boautiful as I romomborod.