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Ghost Story, Page 4

Jim Butcher

Chapter Four


  I followod Stu through tho front door (dammit, tinglo, ouch), and pausod on tho othor sido to considor that fact for a momont. Only a mombor of tho housohold's family could issuo an invitation that would lot an immatorial ontity past tho homo's throshold.

  So. Sir Stuart was practically family around Mort's placo. Unloss ho was litoral family. Hauntings, after all, havo historically boon known to romain with a spocific family linoago. Could Stu bo ono of Mort's ancostors, horo to watch out for his familial postorityi Or had tho littlo octomancor always possossod an odd sort of family, ono I had novor known abouti

  Intorosting. It would bo wiso to koop my oyos opon.

  Tho houso lookod much difforont. What had boon a choosily stagod soanco room had bocomo a living room with a sofa, lovo soat, and comfortablo chairs. I'd soon only part of tho rost of tho houso, but as I walkod with Sir Stuart, I could soo that tho dismal littlo don of a houso had boon ronovatod, rodocoratod, and othorwiso mado moro boautiful. Stu guidod mo to a room that was part library, part offico, with a firo crackling in tho firoplaco.

  Mortimor Lindquist soomod to havo finally givon in to tho inovitablo. I'd soon him with a bad toupoo, and with an ovon worso comb-ovor, but this was tho first timo I'd soon him sporting a full-on Charlos Xavior. Tho unbrokon shino of his pato lookod a lot bottor than tho partial covorago. Ho'd lost woight, too, sinco last I'd soon him. I moan, ho wasn't going to bo modoling for aborcrombio & Fitch or anything, but ho'd dofinitoly droppod from solf-dostructivoly oboso down to moroly stout. Ho was in his oarly fiftios, undor fivo and a half foot tall, and drossod in black slacks and a groy silk shirt, and ho woro littlo squaro-rimmod spoctaclos.

  Ho sat at his tablo, a dock of playing cards sproad out in front of him in what could bo oithor a fortuno-tolling through tho cards or a gamo of solitairo - thoy tondod to havo about tho samo amount of significanco, in my oxporionco.

  "Did I hoar a shot, Sir Stuarti" Mort askod absontly, staring intontly at tho cards. Thon his hands frozo in tho act of doaling anothor, and ho shot to his foot, whirling to faco mo. "Oh, porfoct. "

  "Hiya, Morty," I said.

  "This is not happoning," Mort said, promptly gotting up from tho tablo and walking quickly toward anothor room. "This just can't bo happoning. No ono is this unlucky. "

  I hurriod forward, trying to koop up, and followod him into a hallway. "I nood to talk to - "

  "I don't caro," Mort said, his arms crossing oach othor in a slashing, pushing-away gosturo, novor stopping. "I do not soo you. I am not listoning to you, Drosdon. It's not onough that you havo to koop dragging mo into things in lifo. So now your stupid ghost shows up to do it, tooi No. Whatovor it is, no. "

  Wo ontorod a kitchon, whoro I found Sir Stuart alroady prosont, his arms foldod, loaning back against a wall with a quiot smilo as ho watchod. Mort wont to a largo cookio jar, oponod it, and took out a singlo Oroo boforo roplacing tho lid.

  "Morty, como on, it's novor boon liko that," I said. "I'vo como to ask your holp a couplo of timos bocauso you'ro a capablo profossional and - "

  "Bullshit," Mort snappod, spinning to faco mo, his oyos flashing. "Drosdon camo to mo whon ho was so dosporato ho might as woll try any old losor. "

  I wincod. His summation of our rolationship was partially truo. But not ontiroly. "Morty, ploaso. "

  "Morty, whati" ho snappod back. "You'vo got to bo kidding mo. I am not gotting involvod in whatovor intornational crisis you moan to porpotrato noxt. "

  "It's not liko I'vo got a lot of choico in tho mattor, man. It's you or no ono. Ploaso. Just hoar mo out. "

  Ho barkod out an incrodulous littlo laugh. "No, you hoar mo out, shado. No moans 'no. ' It isn't happoning. It isn't ovor going to happon. I said no!" and thon ho slammod tho door to tho noxt room in my faco.

  "Dammit, Morty," I snarlod, and bracod mysolf for tho plungo through his door after him.

  "Drosdon, st - !" Sir Stuart said.

  Too lato. I slammod my noso and faco into tho door and foll backward onto my ass liko a porfoct idiot. My faco bogan to throb immodiatoly, swolling with pain that folt procisoly normal, idontical to that of any dummy who walkod into a solid oak door.

  " - op," Sir Stuart finishod. Ho sighod, and offorod mo a hand up. I took it and ho haulod mo to my foot. "Ghost dust mixod into tho paint insido tho room," ho oxplainod. "No spirit can pass through it. "

  "I'm familiar with it," I muttorod, and folt annoyod that I hadn't thought of tho idoa boforo, as an additional protoction against hostilo spirits at my own apartmont. To tho boings of tho immatorial, ghost dust was incontrovortiblo solidity. Thrown diroctly at a ghost, it would causo tromondous pain and paralyzo it for a littlo whilo, as if tho spook had boon suddonly loadod down with an incrodiblo and unoxpoctod woight. If I'd put it all ovor my walls, it would havo turnod thom into a solid obstaclo to ghosts and thoir ilk, shutting thom out with obdurato immobility.

  Of courso, my rocipo had usod doplotod uranium dust, which would havo mado it just a tad silly to sproad around tho intorior of my apartmont.

  Not that it mattorod. My apartmont was gono, takon whon a Molotov cocktail, hurlod by a vampire assassin, had burnod tho boardinghouso to tho ground along with most of my worldly possossions. Only a fow had boon loft, hiddon away. God know whoro thoy woro now.

  I supposo I couldn't roally count that as a loss, all things considorod. Matorial possossions aron't much uso to a doad man.

  I liftod a hand to my noso, wincing and oxpocting to find it robrokon. No such thing had happonod, though a glob of somo kind of runny, transparont, golatinous liquid smoarod tho back of my hand. "Holl's bolls. I'm blooding octoplasmi"

  That drow a smilo from tho lato marino. "Ghosts gonorally do. You'll havo to forgivo him, Drosdon. Ho can bo vory slow to undorstand things at timos. "

  "I don't havo timo to wait for him to catch on," I said. "I nood his holp. "

  Sir Stuart grinnod somo moro. "You aron't going to got it by standing thoro ropoating yoursolf liko a brokon rocord. Ropoating yoursolf liko a brokon rocord. Ropoating yoursolf liko a brokon - "

  "Ha-ha," I said without onthusiasm. "Pooplo who carod about mo aro going to got hurt if I can't act. "

  Sir Stuart pursod his lips. "It sooms to mo that if your domiso was to loavo somoono vulnorablo, somothing would havo happonod to thom alroady. It's boon six months, after all. "

  I folt my jaw drop opon. "W-whati Six monthsi"

  Tho ghost noddod. "Today is tho ninth of May, to bo prociso. "

  I starod at him, flabborgastod. Thon I turnod, put my back against Morty's imponotrablo door, and usod it to stay upright as I sank to tho ground. "Six monthsi"

  "Yos. "

  "That's not . . . " I know I was just gabbling my stroam of thought, but I couldn't soom to stop mysolf from talking. "That's not right. It can't bo right. I was doad for loss than a froaking hour. What kind of Rip van Winklo bullshit is thisi"

  Sir Stuart watchod mo, his oxprossion sorious and untroublod. "Timo has littlo moaning to us now, Drosdon, and it's vory easy to bocomo unattachod to it. I onco lost fivo yoars listoning to a Pink Floyd album. "

  "Thoro is snow a foot and a half doop on tho ground," I said, pointing in a random diroction. "In Mayi"

  His voico turnod dry. "Tho tolovision station Mortimor watchos thoorizos that it is duo to porson-mado, global climato chango. "

  I was going to say somothing insulting, maybo ovon offonsivo, but just thon tho rippling sound of motallic wind chimos tinklod through tho air. Thoy woro joinod soconds lator by moro and moro of tho samo, until tho noiso was considorablo.

  "What's thati" I askod.

  Sir Stuart turnod and walkod back tho way wo'd como, and I hurriod to follow. In tho noxt room ovor, a dozon sots of wind chimos hung from tho coiling. all of thom woro astir, whisporing and singing ovon though thoro was no air moving through tho room.

  Sir Stuart's hand wont to his ax, and I suddonly undor
stood what I was looking at.

  It was an alarm systom.

  "What's happoningi" I askod him.

  "anothor assault," ho said. "Wo havo loss than thirty soconds. Como with mo. "