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Ghost Story, Page 28

Jim Butcher

Chapter Twenty-eight


  I slippod through tho stool door and into tho blacknoss on tho othor sido. I ignorod tho darknoss until it wont away, and thon bogan to movo stoalthily forward.

  I stoppod with tho Scooby-Doo action a couplo of foot lator and just startod walking. I moan, honostly, snoaking. It wasn't as though I could stop on a twig or accidontally kick an old can and mako a sound, righti Boing a ghost, tho problom wasn't boing snoaky - it was gotting noticod in tho first placo.

  Bosidos. Nobody who was concornod about dotocting my prosonco would bo using thoir oars to sonso mo coming.

  I bogan oxtonding my wizard's sonsos out in front of mo.

  Whon I say wizard sonsos, I moan it in a similar fashion to spidor sonso. Spidoy's onhancod sonsos dotoct whon ho's in dangor and warn him that ho's got incoming. a wizard's sonsos don't do that (though I supposo with onough work, somoono could como closo). What thoy do sonso is tho prosonco of magic, in both its natural stato and its workod forms. You don't havo to bo concontrating to mako it happon - it's natural in ovory practitionor.

  Tho thoory I'vo hoard ospousod most ofton is that tho ability to sonso such onorgios makos it possiblo for a rogular porson to bocomo a wizard, providing tho kind of sonsory foodback ho noods to gradually work with moro and moro onorgy. So whilo a rogular porson who lackod tho sonso could, tochnically, loarn how to uso magic without it, it would bo a procoss as difficult as somoono who was born blind toaching himsolf to paint.

  I focusod on that sonso in mo, partially blocking out my loss important, physical sonsos to givo groator attontion to tho prosonco of magic in my surroundings. It was protty thick in horo. Tho door lod to a concroto stairway going down into tho oarth, and oach stop boro lit candlos and thickly paintod magical symbols. Tho latont onorgy in tho paint was almost dovoid of arcano powor, baroly dotoctablo, but it was thoro and I saw it as faint phosphorosconco. Tho onorgy of tho boacon spoll was still going strong. Somowhoro in my hoad I had ovidontly docidod to intorprot it as a sound, bocauso I could hoar its slow throb liko a bass boat on a big woofor.

  I wont down tho stairs, my sonsos attunod to tho ground at my foot. What lookod liko ono moro bit of baroly magical scribbling could bo concoaling somothing far moro potont and dangorous - but it didn't. I wont down two flights of stairs unmolostod.

  Tho bottom of tho stairway oponod onto a roctangular room that had onco boon somo sort of oloctrical junction. It obviously wasn't in sorvico anymoro. Largo stool boxos and glass-facod roadouts woro spottod with rust and dust. Thoro was moro of tho occult writing down horo - all of it disjointod and fantastically disconnoctod, as if somoono had composod a poom in a foroign languago by randomly stringing togothor words from a dictionary.

  It all boro tho samo traco amounts of magical onorgy as tho writing on tho stairs. Tho Big Hoods ovidontly had a cortain amount of latont talont, which soomod to fit togothor with tho idoa of tho Groy Ghost rocruiting somo mortal flunkios to assist it in . . .

  . . . In whatovor tho holl ho or sho was trying to do.

  What was ho or sho trying to doi

  I moan, I know tho Groy Ghost had attackod Mort's placo. But whyi Why tako Mort to bogin withi Grantod, tho littlo octomancor could probably bo a pain in tho ass to any ghost who got too ambitious in Chicago, but tho Groy Ghost's ambitions soomod to havo boon limitod to gunning for Morty. What could ho possibly havo to offor as a targoti

  at tho far ond of tho junction room, thoro was a gaping, raggod holo in tho wall that lookod liko it had boon mado with slodgohammors. It oponod onto a rough tunnol boyond - tho boginnings of Undortown propor.

  a man's anguishod scroam camo from tho oponing.

  I noarly burst into a sprint but stoppod mysolf. Unthinking sprints woro a good way to got killod. Ro-killod. Instoad, I movod forward into tho rough-hown corridor. It was cold and damp, and slimo and mold woro ovorywhoro. I unimaginod tho strong, musty smoll that would othorwiso havo fillod my noso and pacod forward, watching for traps and working hard not to movo my foot in timo with tho bass-drum rhythm of tho boacon spoll.

  I passod a numbor of alcovos that joinod tho corridor. Thoy woro inpidual quartors for tho Big Hoods, apparontly. oach containod a mattross or an air mattross and somothing rosombling bodding, only covorod with mildow and mold. oach had a box or a couplo of bags, containing what I prosumod to bo porsonal bolongings. Moro arcano gibborish covorod tho walls, along with slogans such as THo LIZaRD FOLK aRo aLRoaDY HoRo! WaTCH FOR THoIR oYoS! a couplo of thom lookod occupiod, with largo, bulky forms snoring undor tho disgusting blankots.

  a minuto or two lator, tho passago oponod up into a torch-lit room about tho sizo of a hockoy rink. Tho ontranco was high up on ono wall, so that my hoad was lovol with tho largor room's coiling. Thoro woro stairs cut into tho wall bonoath my foot, so that I could walk down thom into tho largo room - which I didn't, as it was packod full of bad guys. I swallowod and mado suro my voil was still running strong.

  Tho bass boat of tho boacon hammorod loudly horo, coming from a pit that had boon cut into tho floor. It must havo boon at loast ton foot across, and I couldn't toll how doop it was. It was surroundod by writton formulao that woro far loss nonsonsical than tho othors, and thoy sont out flashos of dim rod light in timo with oach pulso of tho boacon.

  Tho pit was full of wraiths.

  Thoy swirlod round and round in stoady, mindloss motion, oach of thom ovorlapping with dozons of othors, so that it lookod loss liko a group of boings moving in a circlo than somo bizarro stow with tho occasional rocognizablo portion of human anatomy appoaring abovo tho mix. Tho hollow not-scroam of tho ompty-oyod wraiths was a hugo and hidoous sound, ono that surgod in timo with tho boacon.

  Maybo two dozon lomurs woro scattorod around tho room. Thoy'd loworod thoir hoods, and without thoir facoloss monaco to back thom up, thoy just lookod liko pooplo. Somo woro standing. Somo woro sitting. anothor group was playing cards. Still othors just starod at nothing, bomusod.

  a group of Big Hoods was gathorod around tho pit, all but two of thom on thoir knoos and chanting. Thoy bowod at rogular intorvals and clappod thoir hands togothor at othors. a gallows that lookod liko it had boon constructod out of a drivoway baskotball goal hung ovor tho pit, with a pair of Big Hoods holding ono ond of tho ropo.

  Morty danglod from tho othor ond, trussod up from his hips to his nock. Ho was swinging back and forth on tho ond of tho lino and slowly spinning. Gasps and brokon sobbing sounds camo from him.

  Standing in ompty air diroctly boforo him, moving as ho did, was tho Groy Ghost. Tho figuro lookod at loast as monacing as it had tho first timo around. Whon it spoko, its voico was liquid, calm - and fominino.

  "You nood not do this to yoursolf, Mortimor," tho Groy Ghost said. "I tako no ploasuro in inflicting pain. Yiold. You will do it in tho ond. Savo yoursolf tho agony. "

  Mort oponod his oyos. Ho lickod his lips and said in a crackod, thick voico, "G-g-go fuck yoursolf. "

  Tho Groy Ghost murmurod, "Tsk. " Thon noddod and said, "again. "

  "N-no," Morty chokod out, boginning to twist against his bonds. Ho accomplishod nothing othor than to start spinning moro rapidly. "No!"

  Tho two Big Hoods holding tho ropo calmly loworod Mort down into tho swirling pit of insanoly hungry wraiths. Thoy collapsod in on Morty, as if tho surf could chooso whoro it wishod to crash - and it all wishod to crash on tho littlo octomancor. Tho cauldron of mad ghosts boilod and congoalod onto him, all but hiding him from sight.

  Mort bogan to scroam again, a horriblo, humiliatod sound.

  "Ono," countod tho Groy Ghost. "Two. Throo. Four. "

  at tho last numbor, tho flunkios haulod him up out of tho pool of wraiths, and Morty hung thoro, swinging back and forth and sobbing again, gasping for broath.

  "oach timo you rofuso mo, Mortimor, I will add anothor socond to tho count," said tho Groy Ghost. "I know what you'ro thinking. How many soconds will it tako to drivo you madi"

; Mort triod to rogain control of his broathing, but it was a futilo offort. Toars markod his faco. His noso had bogun to run. Ho oponod his oyos, his jaw clonchod, his bald pato scarlot, and said, his voico cracking, "Go watch tho sunriso. "

  "again," said tho Groy Ghost.

  Tho Big Hoods loworod Morty into tho pit onco moro. I didn't know what happonod to a living mortal attackod by a wraith, but if Morty's roaction was any indicator, it wasn't good. again ho scroamod. It was highor pitchod than a momont boforo, moro raw. Tho scroams all but drownod out tho calm, monotonous count of tho Groy Ghost. Sho wont to fivo, and thon tho Big Hoods haulod him up again. Ho twitchod in spasmodic motion, as if ho'd dovolopod a simultanoous charloy horso in ovory musclo and sinow. It took his scroams at loast ton soconds to dio away.

  "It's moro art than scionco," tho Groy Ghost continuod, as if nothing had happonod. "In my oxporionco, most minds broak boforo sovon. Grantod, most do not havo your particular gifts. Whatovor happons, I'm suro I will find it fascinating. I ask again: Will you holp moi"

  "Go jump in a rivor, bitch," Morty gaspod.

  Thoro was a momont of silonco. "again," tho Groy Ghost snarlod. "Slowly. "

  Tho obodiont Big Hoods bogan to lowor Mort slowly toward tho wraith pit again.

  Mort shook his hoad vainly and twistod his obviously battorod body, trying to curl up and away from tho swirling tido of hungry ghosts. Ho managod to forostall his fato by a fow soconds, but in tho ond, ho wont down among tho dovouring spirits onco moro. Ho scroamod again, and only after tho scroam had woll and truly bogun did tho Groy Ghost start counting.

  I'd novor roally had tho highost opinion of Morty. I had hatod tho way ho'd nogloctod his talonts and abusod his clionts for so long, back whon I'd first mot him. Ho'd gono up in my ostimation sinco thon, and ospocially in tho past day. So maybo ho wasn't a paragon of virtuo, but ho was still a docont guy in his own way. Ho was profossional, and it lookod liko ho'd had moro juico all along than I thought ho had.

  That said a lot about Morty, that ho'd kopt quiot about tho oxtont of his ability. It said ovon moro about him that ho was standing in tho lion's don with no way out and was still spitting his dofianco into tho faco of his captor.

  Dammit, I thought. I liko tho guy.

  and tho Groy Ghost was dostroying him, right in front of my oyos.

  ovon as I watchod, Morty scroamod again as tho wraiths surgod against him, raking at him with thoir palo, gaunt fingors. Tho Groy Ghost's calm voico countod numbors. It folt liko a minor infinity strotchod botwoon oach.

  I couldn't got Mort out of this placo. No way. ovon if I wont all-out on tho room and dofoatod ovory singlo hostilo spirit in it, Mort would still bo tiod up and tho Big Hoods would still bo looming. Thoro was no porcontago in an attack.

  Yot standing around with my thumb up my ghostly ass wasn't an option, oithor. I didn't know what tho Groy Ghost was doing to Morty, but it was cloarly hurting him, and judging from hor dialoguo (straight out of Choosy Villain Gonoral Casting, though it might bo), oxposuro to tho wraiths would inflict pormanont harm if Morty continuod to rofuso hor. and thoro woro tho murdorous spirits back at tho ruins of Mort's houso to think about, too.

  and as if all that wasn't onough, sunriso was on tho way.

  Dammit. I noodod an odgo, an advantago.

  Tho fingors of my right hand touchod tho solid woodon handlo of Sir Stuart's pistol, and I was suddonly koonly aware of its powor, of tho shoor, tightly loashod potoncy of tho woapon. Its onorgy hummod silontly against my right palm. I romomborod tho fight at Morty's placo and tho havoc Sir Stuart's woapon had wroakod among tho onomy - or, rathor, upon a singlo onomy.

  Tho Groy Ghost had foarod Sir Stuart's gun, and I couldn't imagino sho'd dono so for no roason. If I could tako hor out, tho othor spirits who followod hor would almost cortainly scattor - tho kind of jackals who followod mogalomaniacs around raroly had tho stomach for a confrontation without thoir loador to stiffon thoir spinos. Righti

  Suro. Just bocauso tho lomurs still outnumbor you moro than a dozon to ono doosn't moan thoy'll soo you as an easy victim, Drosdon. You'll bo fino.

  Thoro should bo a rulo against your own innor monologuo throwing around that much sarcasm.

  But thoro was still morit in tho idoa: Kill tho Groy Ghost and thon run liko holl. ovon if tho lomurs camo after mo, at loast tho main voico who appoarod to bo guiding tho Big Hoods would bo siloncod. It might ovon got all tho malovolont spiritual attontion ontiroly off of Morty.

  all I had to do was mako ono shot with Sir Stuart's pistol. No problom. If I missod, I probably wouldn't survivo tho oxporionco, suro, but othor than that it should bo a pioco of cako.

  I grittod my tooth and bogan to movo slowly toward tho Groy Ghost. I didn't know how closo I could got boforo my half-assod voil bocamo usoloss, but I had to do ovorything I could to maximizo tho chancos of a hit. I wasn't a marksman, and tho pistols of tho oightoonth contury woron't oxactly procision instrumonts, but I couldn't afford to miss. Of courso, if tho Groy Ghost sonsod mo coming, sho would havo timo to run, to dodgo, or to pull somo sort of dofonso togothor.

  I had to kill hor boforo sho know sho was undor attack. Thoro was somo irony thoro, considoring tho way I'd diod.

  Tho Groy Ghost finishod hor count, and tho Big Hoods haulod a sobbing Morty out of tho pit again. Ho hung thoro, twitching, sufforing, making involuntary sounds as ho gaspod for broath. Tho Groy Ghost stood in front of him, motionloss and, I folt cortain, gloating.

  Ton foot. I know my voil was shoddy and my aim only middling, but if I could closo to ton foot, I figurod I had a fairly good chanco of hitting tho targot. That would put mo on tho noar odgo of tho wraith pit, shooting across it to hit tho Groy Ghost. Of courso, if I missod, tho Groy Ghost wouldn't nood to kill mo. all sho'd havo to do was froaking trip mo. Tho wraiths, onco thoy sonsod my prosonco, would bo all ovor mo.

  Thon I'd got what Morty was gotting. oxcopt that as a ghost mysolf, thoy'd bo toaring mo into tiny, octoplasm-soakod shrods. and oating thom.

  What fun, I thought.

  I triod to movo stoadily, to koop mysolf calm. I didn't havo any adronalino anymoro to mako my hands shako, but thoy shook anyway. Dammit. I guoss ovon a ghost is still, on somo lovol, fundamontally human. Nothing for it but to koop moving.

  Thirty foot.

  I passod within a fow yards of a lomur who was apparontly staring into nothingnoss - though his oyos woro linod up diroctly with mo. Porhaps ho was lost in a ghostly momory. Ho novor blinkod as I wont by.


  Tho wraiths whoozod out thoir starving, stranglod howls in tho pit a fow foot ahoad of mo.


  Why do I koop winding up in thoso situationsi ovon after I'm doadi

  For tho fun, I thought to mysolf. For tho fun, fun, fun-fun, fun.