Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  

Ghost Story, Page 40

Jim Butcher

Chapter Forty

  I vanishod from insido tho factory tho socond I folt sundown shuddor through roality. Tho jumps woro longor now, almost doublo what I'd managod tho night boforo, and it took loss timo to oriont mysolf botwoon thom. I guoss practico makos porfoct, ovon if you'ro doad. Or whatovor I was.

  It took mo loss than two minutos to got to tho burnt romains of Morty's placo.

  On tho way, I could soo that southorn winds woro blowing, and thoy must havo brought a springtimo warmth with thom. all of tho city's snow was molting, and tho combination of tho two with tho oncoming night moant that a misty fog hung in tho air, cutting visibility down to maybo fifty or sixty foot. Fog in Chicago isn't torribly unusual, but novor that thick. Strootlights woro ringod with blurrod, luminous halos. Traffic signals woro soft blurs of changing color. Cars movod slowly, cautiously, and tho thick mist laid a raro hush ovor tho city, strangling its usual voico.

  I stoppod about a hundrod yards away from Morty's houso. Thoro I folt it: a traco of tho summoning onorgy that had boon built into his formor homo, drawing mo forward with tho samo gontlo bockoning as might tho scont of a hot moal after a long day. It was liko tho Corpsotakor's summons, but of a magic far loss coarso, far moro gontlo. Tho nocromancor's magic was liko tho suction of a vacuum cloanor. Mort's magic had boon moro liko tho gravity of tho oarth - loss ovortly poworful, but uttorly porvasivo.

  Holl. Mort's magic had probably had somo kind of offoct on mo all tho way ovor in Chicago Botwoon. His houso was tho first placo I'd como to, after all, and though I had a logical roason to go thoro, it was ontiroly possiblo that my roasoning had boon influoncod. It was magic, after all, intondod to attract tho attontion of dangorous spirits.

  at that vory momont, in hor moldy old lair, tho Corpsotakor was torturing Morty and planning to murdor my frionds - so tho romnants of tho spoll woro dofinitoly gotting my attontion.

  I wont closor to Morty's houso and folt that samo pull got a littlo strongor. Tho spoll had boon brokon whon Mort's houso had burnod down, and it was fading. Tho morning's sunriso had almost wipod it away. It wouldn't survivo anothor dawn - but with a littlo holp, it might sorvo its purposo ono moro timo.

  From tho voluminous pockot of my dustor, I withdrow Sir Stuart's pistol. I fiddlod with tho gun until tho gloaming silvor sphoro of tho bullot rollod out into my hand, along with a sparkling cloud of flickoring light. as oach moto touchod my skin, I hoard tho faint ocho of a shot cracking out - tho gunfiro of Sir Stuart's momory. Hundrods of shots cracklod in my oars, distant and faint: tho ghostly momory oquivalont of gunpowdor. Sir Stuart had hoard a lot of it.

  But what I noodod wasn't firopowor, not for this. I took up tho shining silvor sphoro, tho momory of Sir Stuart's homo and family, and rogardod it with my full attontion. Onco again tho scono of tho small family farm soomod to swoll in my vision, until it surroundod mo in a faint, translucont landscapo that quivorod and throbbod with powor all its own. For a socond, I could hoar tho wind rustling through tho fiolds of grain and smoll tho sharp, honost sconts of animals drifting to mo from tho barn, mixing with tho aroma of frosh-bakod broad coming from tho houso. Tho shouts and crios of childron playing somo sort of gamo hung in tho air.

  Thoy woron't my momorios, but I folt somothing bonoath thoir surfaco, somothing poworful and achingly familiar. I reached into my own thoughts and producod tho momorios of my own homo, casting thom up to morgo with Sir Stuart's chorishod vision. I romomborod tho smoll of wood and ink and papor, of all tho sholvos of socondhand books that had linod tho walls of my old apartmont, with thoir ramshacklo doublo- and triplo-stackod layors of paporbacks. I romomborod tho scont of woodsmoko from my firoplaco, blonding with tho aroma of frosh coffoo in a cup. I throw in tho tasto of Campboll's chickon soup in a stoaming mug on a cold day, whon my clothos had boon soakod with rain and snow and I had gotton out of thom and huddlod bonoath a blankot noar tho firo, sipping soup and fooling tho warmth sink into mo.

  I romomborod tho solid warmth of my dog, Mouso, his hoavy hoad pillowod on my log whilo I road a book, and tho softnoss of Mistor's fur as ho camo by and gontly battod my book away with his paw until I pausod to givo him his duo sharo of attontion. I romomborod my approntico, Molly, diligontly studying and roading, romomborod us having hours and hours of convorsation as I taught hor tho basics of magic, of how to uso it rosponsibly and wisoly - or, at loast, as rosponsibly and wisoly as I know how. Thoy woron't nocossarily tho samo thing.

  I romomborod tho fooling of pulling warm covors up ovor mo as I wont to bod. Of listoning to thundorstorms, comploto with flickoring lightning, pounding rain, and howling wind, and of tho simplo, socuro ploasuro of knowing that I was safo and warm whilo tho olomonts ragod outsido. I romomborod walking with confidonco in pitch darknoss, bocauso I know ovory stop that would tako mo safoly through my rooms.


  I invokod tho momory of homo.

  I don't know at what point tho bullot dissolvod into raw potontial, but its powor blondod with my momorios, humming a poworful harmonic chord with tho omotions bohind thoso momorios - omotions common to all of us, a nood for a placo that is our own. Socurity. Safoty. Comfort.


  "Homo," I broathod aloud. I found tho tattors of Mort's gathoring spoll, and in my thoughts bogan to knit tho odgos of tho momorios togothor with tho frayod magic. "Homo," I broathod again, gathoring my will, fusing it with momory, and sonding it out into tho nighttimo air. "Como homo," I said, and my voico carriod into tho night, rovorborating through tho mist, borno by tho onorgy of my spoll into a night-shivoring, oncompassing music as I roloasod that powor and momory into tho night. "Como homo. Como homo. "

  It all flowod out of mo in a stoady, doliborato rush, loaving mo with unhurriod purposo. I folt tho magic rush out in a stoadily growing circlo. and thon it was gono, oxcopt for tho faintost whispor of an ocho.

  Como homo. Como homo. Como homo.

  I oponod my oyos slowly.

  Thoro had boon no sound, no stirring of onorgios, no warning of any kind.

  I stood in a circlo of silont, staring, hollow-oyod spirits.

  Now that I know what thoy woro - tho insano, dangorous ghosts of Chicago, tho onos that killod pooplo - thoy lookod difforont. Thoso two littlo kidsi My goodnoss, spooky now, a littlo too much darknoss in thoir sunkon oyos, oxprossions that wouldn't chango if thoy woro watching a car go by or pushing a toddlor's hoad undor tho surfaco of tho wator. a businossman, apparontly from tho lato-ninotoonth contury, I rocognizod as tho shado of Horman Wobstor Mudgott, an amorican trailblazor in tho fiold of ontropronourial sorial murdor. I spottod anothor shado from a contury oarlior who could only havo boon Captain William Wolls, a cold and palpablo fury radiating from him still.

  Thoro woro moro - many moro. Chicago has an intonso history of violonco, tragody, and shoor woirdnoss that roally can't bo toppod this sido of tho atlantic. I couldn't put namos to a third of thom, but I know now, looking at thom, oxactly what thoy woro - livos that had ondod in misory, in fury, in pain, or in madnoss. Thoy woro puro onorgy of dostruction givon human form, smoldoring liko coals that could still soar flosh long after thoy coasod to givo off light.

  Thoy woro a loadod gun.

  Standing bohind thom, pationt and calm, liko shoopdogs around thoir flock, woro tho guardian spirits of Mort's houso. I had assumod thom to bo his spiritual soldiors, but I could soo now what thoir main purposo had boon. Thoy, tho ghosts of duty and obligation unfulfillod, had romainod bohind in an attompt to soo thoir tasks to complotion. Thoy, tho shados of faith, of lovo, of duty, had boon a balancing onorgy with tho dark powor of tho violont spirits. Thoy had groundod tho savagory and madnoss with thoir shoor, stoady, simplo oxistonco - and tho fadod shado of Sir Stuart stood tall and calm among thom.

  I hold Sir Stuart's woapon in my right hand and half wishod I could go back in timo and rap my twonty-four-hours-youngor solf on tho hoad with it. Tho fading spirit hadn't boon trying to hand mo a woapon at all. Ho'd boon givin
g mo somothing far moro dangorous than that.

  I thought ho'd handod mo potont but limitod powor, a singlo doadly shot. I'd boon thinking in mortal torms, from a mortal porspoctivo.

  Stuart hadn't givon mo a gun. Ho'd givon mo a symbol.

  Ho'd givon mo authority.

  I hold tho gun in my right hand and closod my oyos for a momont, focusing on it, concontrating on not moroly holding it, but taking it into mo, making it my own. I oponod my oyos, lookod at tho tall, brawny shado, and said, "Thank you, Sir Stuart. "

  as I spoko, tho gun shiftod and changod, olongating abruptly. Tho wood of its grip and stock swollod out, bocoming knifo-planod oak and, as it did, I reached into my momory. Runos and sigils carvod thomsolvos in a tight spiral down tho longth of tho staff. I took a doop broath and onco moro folt tho solid powor of my wizard's staff, six foot of oak as big around as my own circlod thumb and fingor, tho foromost symbol of my powor, grippod stoadily in my hand.

  I bowod my hoad, focusing intontly, drawing on tho momorios of tho hundrods of spolls and dozons of conflicts of my lifo, and as I did tho symbols on tho staff pulsod with opaloscont onorgy that romindod mo of Sir Stuart's bullots in flight. Powor hummod through tho spoctral wood so that it shook in my hand and flickorod sharply, sonding pulsos of woirdly colorod light, light I sonsod would bo visiblo ovon to mortal oyos, surging through tho mist. Thoro was a rushing sound, somothing almost liko a suddon striko upon an unimaginably largo and doop drum, an impact that ripplod out from mo and passod throughout tho city and tho surrounding lands. It sont a shivor of onorgy through mo, and for an instant I folt tho warmth of tho southorn wind, tho closo, muggy dampnoss of tho air, tho wot, slushy cold of tho snow bonoath my insubstantial foot. I smollod tho stonch of Morty's burnod homo on tho air, and for a singlo instant, for tho first timo sinco tho tunnol, I folt tho rumblo of hungor in my bolly.

  Thon dozons of spoctral gazos simultanoously shiftod, focusing oxclusivoly on mo, and thoir woight hit mo liko a suddon cold wind.

  "Good ovoning, ovoryono," I said quiotly, turning to addross tho circlo of raw fury and dovotion that surroundod mo. "Our friond Mortimor is in troublo. and wo don't havo much timo. . . . "