revealing the cover and first chapter for THE MISSING which releases August 30,
2016! Check out the gorgeous cover and enter to be one of the first readers to
receive an eGalley!!
cover. Darker and gloomier blues are my aesthetic, for sure. There’s a sense of
mystery about it that feels perfectly phantasmal—and of course, the skyline of
London sells me right there!
dark and the curious. Nothing fazes sixteen-year-old Willow Winchester. Not
only has she been raised as “Will” instead of “Willow” since her mother’s
disappearance, a simple ruse and one that makes life a lot easier most of the
time, but for as long as she can remember she’s been the indiscriminate witness
to the extracurricular goings-on of what she calls the Missing—ghosts. But no one has ever treated it
like a good thing until the Black Cross Ministry of Mysterious Occurrences.
After accidentally interrupting a Black Cross ghost hunt, Willow takes up the
investigators’ offer to work with them, keeping peace between London’s living
and dead. In pursuit of a purpose for her supernatural gifts … and whatever the
Black Cross knows about her estranged mother … Willow learns to investigate
hauntings with a patchwork team who quickly become her new family. But some of
the dead aren’t just Missing—they’re the spirits of murder victims, and they’re
missing from public records, too! Together with her teammates, Willow struggles
to piece together clues in the victims’ memories. But can they discover the
villain’s identity in time to stop him before Willow falls right into his
Chapter OneCHAPTER ONE
My father ran a maison de passé of respectable mistresses for respectable men nicknamed, after himself, Julien’s-off-the-Strand. Under the guise of stylish after-dinner parties, it was a gentlemen’s club right out of our 110 Belgrave Square townhouse—certainly not a place for children.
But I was sixteen, hardly a child anymore, and besides, all the guests loved that I played waiter at the parties, my father’s androgynous little acolyte. They loved it nearly as much as they loved my father’s girls in their lace Oriental robes, and scandalous black stockings.
I made my rounds, weaving to and fro between the back and front drawing rooms, sporting a flashy waistcoat with silver-thread embroidery and carrying propped against my side a tray of treats, Brandy, and smoking pipes laced with the good powder. It was a little too heavy for me to display in one hand. My father had no butler, but nobody cared about proper serving decorum here, and the outrageousness of it all was just part of the fun.
“Look at you, Will, all dapper. But your collar’s crooked—” Mr. Shelby, the editor for a rather popular serial magazine, stretched from a chair to straighten my collar. I paused just long enough to accept his kindness before passing a Brandy his way.
“Make room, make room … ” Dr. Lowells said under a chuckle, parting some other men with whom he mingled near the mantle so I could slip through. One of the men snatched a pipe off my tray.
“Will—you missed it last week, unfortunately—we had Letty Lind on loan from the Gaiety!”
I blushed hot, not because I cared if Baron Berthold’s cabaret had Letty Lind on loan last week, but because I didn’t want my father or his head mistress Miss Valérie overhearing and making inferences about just how much I explored on my own.
Long after dinner now, the townhouse was full of laughter and tobacco smoke, pretty girls and lonely gentlemen. A Berliner in the back drawing room spewed a lighthearted German opera. The violent chatter of billiards echoed from the other reception room, along with bellowing voices sloshing together with ladies’ praise like champagne in glistening stemware. God knew what sort of oppression or repression or depression or humdrum Hyde Park persuasion drove men to rent a night’s companion, but bankers, scholars, bachelors, and even aristocrats sometimes, all paid an awful lot of money for an evening with one my father’s girls.
Then there was the occasional set of eyes that followed me around the place more than they followed any of my father’s girls—like tonight, a man with hair so slicked it looked like polished wood in the lamplight. I caught him staring twice and he looked away as soon as I did. The third time, his hand twitched and I knew he was about to wave me over for refreshment, so I turned sharp on my heel and marched back to the other room before he could do so.
“Here he comes, the little master of the house!”
Agatha, one of my father’s girls, and her most regular visitor waved at me from the corner, at an open window that overlooked the back garden.
“I want one of those cakes, John,” Agatha said, looking so pretty and young with her long dark hair falling casually down the back of her gauzy gown. Her visitor Mr. John Belwether plucked some sweet things from the tray. I liked when Mr. Belwether came to visit Agatha, because he treated her very nicely. They were always exchanging playful glances and secretive laughter, teasing and elbowing like brother and sister.
“Why, Will, your eyes are like a stormy summer sky,” John remarked, mustache dancing as he grinned at me around a sip of his brandywine.
“He always looks that way in the wake of his father’s neglect.” Agatha reached out and affectionately finger-combed the hair around my ears.
“Look what way?” I echoed, brow knotting. “Father’s neglect?”
“Have they always been that blue?” John insisted about my eyes.
“I think so,” I teased back.
Agatha sighed dramatically. “‘A stormy summer sky,’ he says—why can’t the man be as poetic about my eyes? My eyes are plain, then?”
John laughed and hooked an arm around Agatha’s waist, leaning forward against her even as she smiled and avoided his kisses. “Your eyes,” he said, “your eyes, sweet dove, are finer than the Crown Jewels … ”
Nina came up beside us then, prodding me in the side with her closed hand-fan. “She’s giving you that look again,” she muttered into my ear as she gracefully swiped a drink from the tray I’d rested against the side of a table.
She meant Miss Valérie. I turned a little, casting a glance around the rest of the drawing room.
Yes, elegant Miss Valérie was in her usual spot on the floral-print loveseat, smiling and watching with hooded eyes, her feet in bejeweled slippers tucked up on the sofa. My father had six girls—Athena, Agatha, Daphne, Calico, Nina, and Miss Valérie. She was the oldest, and my father’s obvious favorite. She could have been my stepmother if there were any papers to say so. In her heels and Russian sable, Miss Valérie was the head mistress, the unofficial manager of the place. She had her own room in the house while only Daphne and Agatha got a room upstairs across the attic hall from mine. The other three girls just had to show up no later than seven o’clock in the evening.
The look Nina meant was Miss Valérie’s uniquely sharp observation face, at once soft and lofty yet cold, disdaining, and very obviously critical, which could come and go in the blink of an eye. When I looked around, her eyes lingered on me a moment longer—one brow lifted a little at the corner as if she meant to say, Yes, I am looking at you. And then she was greeted by a barrister friend of my father’s so she was back to her carefully sociable character, accepting the kisses he rained on her ringed hand.
“She hates me,” I muttered as I turned around again with a sigh, raising my brows. What else was new? I was sure she thought me mollycoddled and ungrateful, some sort of inconvenience for her and my father. She reminded me of a spoiled family cat, the grumpy and fluffy kind with a ribbon on its throat that never wanted to be held.
John held his drink up as if he meant to toast. “Well!” he said. “One day, this will all be yours, you lucky little chap.”
I leaned to the side just a bit, looking out the doorway and down the hall to the other drawing room, wondering if someone had tripped and fallen. I saw no such scene. In fact, no one else seemed to have heard the sound.
“What do you mean?” I prompted John, distractedly.
“You’ll inherit the business, won’t you?” John said. “You could send Lady Valérie off for good!”
“I suppose … ” I shrugged. I didn’t want to think about that yet. I didn’t really want to inherit the business. I had many other projects in life to which I wanted to attend, like travel or even university or—
The thumping came from upstairs, like someone had jumped up and down gently on the floor of the attic room just overhead. My room. I bristled first, wondering if someone had snuck upstairs into my room instead of one of the girls’ rooms.
Agatha heard it. She looked to me sharply, almost demandingly, from around John’s shoulder. It was quite the ruckus, like two children playing tag or chasing hoops—
My heart sank. I realized what it was. “Oh, blast,” I hissed, not angry but a little flustered. I needed to stop the noise before anyone else noticed, especially my father. This was how it always went. I pushed the tray at John, who took it in tipsy confusion. Behind his back, Agatha urged me on with a flap of her hands.
I didn’t really hurry until I hit the stairs, because I didn’t want anyone to notice and ask what was wrong.
On the attic floor were a handful of bedrooms—one for Cook, one for the maid, Madame Zelda, one for Daphne and Agatha to share, and mine which was the largest. I already knew what was going on before I burst in.
Patter of feet, hollow giggles.
I saw them in the mirror across the room under the slanted skylights, felt the gust of air and throb of fast footsteps as Charlie and Colette dashed to and fro before me, playing some game all around the loft room.
“Charlie!” Colette whined because Charlie was cheating per usual, peeking through his fingers. But she should have known better because Charlie always cheated.
Outside the mirror, the room was empty.
“Hey!” I said, very sternly, and the children had moved beyond the scope of the mirror but I could feel them looking at me guiltily. “Could you both kindly hush up?” I pressed, quietly but firmly. The sound of the party downstairs echoed up through the house like their play had echoed down. “You’re being very loud. You can’t have my father’s company hear you.”
“Sorry,” the two of them chorused, voices tiny and warped by the in-between. And then, just like that, they were gone like candles blown out in the wind.
Charlie and Colette were dead, after all.
A friend of their scoundrel brother’s had murdered them in the attic back in 1866. They were still here because the clothes in which they’d died were hidden under the floorboards. My father hadn’t known that when he’d acquired the townhouse, and I surely was not about to tell him, just as I surely was not about to remove the clothes after I found them in candlelight one night two years ago.
I breathed a short sigh, relieved but feeling sort of guilty. I hated telling them to quiet down. They kept Agatha and Daphne up at night a lot—scared them, more often than not—and the fact of the matter was that I felt responsible for them sometimes.
It had always been my solitary curse, anyway, to see and hear the Missing with a hypersensitivity normal men and women didn’t generally possess.
The Missing—ghosts, I mean. Spirits, phantoms, the dead. It was with an odd sense of fondness that I thought of them as the Missing, because they quite obviously weren’t completely gone, just caught somewhere in the in-between, consigned to wander mostly unseen and unnoticed by those who weren’t predisposed like I was.
When I was younger, I didn’t hesitate telling everyone, especially with the way Charlie and Colette used to get naughty and puckish around the house—moving things, playing music boxes, running up and down the stairs or grabbing people’s ankles from under beds and chairs. At first my father’s other girls cooed about my wonderful imagination and pinched my sides because I spooked them with my tales of ghost children in the attic. But very soon they realized I was not full of fancies. Now when anything out of the ordinary happened, they came to me to put a stop to it. They knew my father would fly into a fit about preposterous, illogical fears and how things like demons and ghosts were merely business tricks like the occasional séance parties during which I was banished to my room because I nitpicked the frauds. Miss Valérie was no better, and everyone had witnessed enough of my father lecturing me to know who would believe what.
“Those deplorable fancies and imaginary friends won’t get you anywhere,” my father, the frowning hypocrite, was quick to chastise. “And talking to yourself won’t, either.”
Madame Zelda didn’t lecture me, but when she caught me with books on astral projection and the occult, or found me sneaking out to see West End spirit photography and spiritualist galas, the worried shadow on her face was enough to guilt me into obedience.
“Too dangerous,” she’d whisper. “Too dangerous, Will. Please listen to your father and pay no heed to charlatans and parlor games.”
Well, nobody but Agatha or Daphne believed me, and even they only believed enough to send me off to make Charlie and Colette stop playing pranks.
I didn’t hold it against any of them because they hadn’t grown up observing the extracurricular activities of the Missing like I had. It was my ghastly cross to bear, though for what sins, I was never totally positive.
The attic was finally peaceful. “Be good and don’t cause any more ruckus tonight,” I said to Charlie and Colette, if they were even there to listen anymore. “I mean it.”
Voices muffled and thin, like they’d hidden behind the attic door, full of mischief yet, they chimed, “Yes, Will!”
“What’s the matter, Will?” my father asked as I came down from the attic and back into the noise and splendor.
“Nothing, of course,” I said, letting him tousle my hair and give a loving pat to my shoulder, reminders of fatherly affection that came easily to him after a few drinks but were never enough to distract from his duties as business host and man of the house.
He went off toward the front drawing room and I hurried back to where I’d left Agatha and the others—but just as I stepped through the doorway, a hand closed on my arm and I staggered to a halt, looking around in bristled dismay.
But it was just Athena, only one half of her lit by the drawing room lights and the other draped in the dimness of the hall.
And something wasn’t right.
Athena’s face was white. Her lower lip quivered and a veneer of tears sharpened her owl-eyed stare. The last time she’d looked at me like that, Charlie had chased her down the stairs sometime after midnight, laughing and tugging at the ribbons on her dress.
Yet somehow I knew even before Athena opened her mouth to speak that it had nothing to do with ghost children’s pranks.
“It’s Daphne,” Athena choked out, looking like an overgrown doll with her Empire silhouette and cold, fearful confusion. “Daphne’s left, Will. She told me she was really through with it all this time, and couldn’t even bear the rest of the night—she’s headed to Waterloo—”
My heart fell and some awful intuitive ringing in the ears swallowed all the noise around. Everything except for the German romping from the Berliner in the corner, like a soundtrack to the gnawing dread. I did not even realize until then that Calico had followed Athena over. She looked between Athena and me sharply, as aware as anyone in the house that Daphne was my best friend. Sometimes I felt guilt for how obvious it was, but tonight there wasn’t time for that. The miserable finger of protective terror pierced right through me as I shook loose of Athena’s grip so suddenly, I almost knocked the cigarette out of some gentleman’s hand as he passed by us.
I didn’t even have to ask to understand immediately—but ask I did.
“Do you think she really means it tonight?” I sputtered.
How many times had Daphne said those words empty of action before? And how many times would we continue to fear the worst?
“I watched her leave!” Athena’s face pinched, and then she burst into tears. “Will, I’m scared! I don’t think she’s coming back—”
I shoved my way out of the party, hardly even noticing those I collided with. As Athena hurried after me, I heard Calico simper, “There he goes, little Romeo, after his precious Daphne … ”
But she didn’t get it. Daphne was my best friend. Daphne was my favorite, to be honest. Daphne, who sat by me on cold winter nights to read Fun and Tales of the Dead. Daphne, who went off on long threads with me about Apollo and Dionysus and the fall of Rome when the stars were spinning overhead, and sneaked green fairy was fresh on the tongue. Daphne, who was the most like a sister to me out of all my father’s girls, so close to me in age—Daphne, who never complained and never said bad things about others and who hid a terrible aching sadness behind her dimpled smile—my Daphne, whom I wanted to trust with not just my petty secrets, but my real secrets, because she trusted me with hers, too—
Instinct drove me. I didn’t think to grab my coat, not even when Madame Zelda called down the stairs for me to remember it. How perfect was she? No, I just flew out the door with Athena on my heels, and my father’s demanding voice echoing after us:
“What the devil—the bad deportment—where are you two off to like this? Come back!”
I couldn’t. Daphne was about to do something unspeakable, and I couldn’t let her, so it was straight to the Bridge of Sighs with Athena’s clammy hand tight in mine. I wanted to run, but it was too dark and mucky, and Athena wouldn’t have kept up in her satin slippers. Instead we stole a hansom cab from a group of distracted gentlemen, apologizing out the window.
I didn’t want to believe it. I didn’t want to imagine Daphne really meant to jump from the bridge tonight and end it all. My heart felt like a glass prism waiting to shatter into a million pieces.
“I can’t!” Athena moaned as the cab rattled to a stop at the better end of Waterloo Bridge, which was particularly inhospitable and glum. I was already halfway out and on the ground. “I’m scared, Will! Haven’t you heard about the Wraith at Waterloo?”
Of course, I’d heard the latest gossip about a ghost haunting the despicable Waterloo Bridge. Who hadn’t? It was some of the most popular parlor talk of the season. But even if I wasn’t well-acquainted with the Missing, my fear of Daphne’s demise was greater than the fear of some infamous specter.
“It’s all right, Athena,” I promised. “You wait here for me. I’ll be back with Daphne.”
I hoped. I hoped and prayed I’d be back with Daphne.
Through the fog, I barreled up Waterloo. Athena stayed with the cab. Oddly enough, the bridge was almost vacant, except for a few men in overcoats huddled under a streetlamp. The slap of water distorted the echo of the city around me, making it seem far away from this desperate moment. Horses, coaches, voices …
“Daphne!” I cried, voice hoarse. “Daphne!”
“I’m sorry!” Athena was sobbing now, calling from the cab at the corner. “I’m sorry I told him when I promised not to, Daphne, but I couldn’t let you do it, I couldn’t—”
I saw Daphne’s silhouette through the nighttime mist, standing at the side of the bridge. A numbing sort of relief washed through me. Ah, thank God! She hadn’t jumped—she hadn’t even climbed up yet—she was just looking down into the water, courting unthinkable dangers to be in this place alone at night—
I staggered to a sudden halt, breath ripping from my chest.
No, there she was, on the other side of the road. I blamed the fragile panic for mistaking a stranger for her, my Daphne, whom I recognized every inch of as she clung to the stone of the bridge, midnight wind tugging and yanking at her thin coat and gown. Either she hadn’t heard us yelling for her, or she was that lost to the tides of her worst feelings. I had to get her down. I would never forgive myself if I watched her jump, too late to grab her off the ledge—
I bolted forward, but I tripped over a tight wire and hit the cobbles hard as a series of bells apparently attached to the imperceptible string rang to announce my gracelessness.
I bit my tongue when my chin hit the stone. The pain circled my jaw and the taste of blood bloomed on my tongue. “Christ Almighty!” I howled. “What even is all this?”
I was angry. But I was also a mess of vicious emotions, and so it was very easy to misdirect the feelings as lamplight sparked off a whole web of strings and bells, a perimeter posted on the cobbles of one side of Waterloo Bridge. I hadn’t even noticed them—that is until I’d snagged myself on one. What on earth?
My chin throbbed. I stained my sleeve wiping the blood from my lower lip, spitting a little bit of red at my feet. But those things became trivial concerns as panic seized me again. I looked up and saw Daphne on the stone, barefoot, gauzy skirts dancing about her naked ankles. Her slippers sat discarded at the base of the lamppost.
I stomped on some of the wires so they snapped underfoot, to clear my path. Bells rang shrilly from the broken tension as I bounded across the bridge. Ears ringing, heart pounding, terror gripped me icy and certain—but the moment my fingers closed around Daphne’s wind-chilled wrist, I knew everything was going to be okay.
I pulled her off the ledge, tumbling down all flaring petticoat and pearls. This time when I hit the stone, I had Daphne in my grasp, and her damp hair in my mouth, and the ground bit at my elbows but I didn’t even care. With all the feel of a porcelain figurine falling to shards on the floor, Daphne shattered into tears against my shoulder.
It was hardly a sweet triumph. It felt sore and heavy on the soul, and did it make me selfish to feel so wounded beyond the relief? I couldn’t believe Daphne would have actually gone to end her life without saying goodbye to me—I couldn’t stand to think she was still that unhappy inside, in spite of all the smiles and laughter—
“I almost did it!” Daphne moaned, not really crying, just hiccupping on shocked gasps like she’d been under some sort of spell and my yanking her to the ground had broken it. “I almost did it, Will, oh God, I almost did it—”
There was no time for us to recover from the little adventure.
The men who’d been clustered a few lampposts down suddenly hovered over us, two of them casting hateful scowls and the other pair looking torn between curiosity and obligation in the midst of the crisis—a young bachelor with messy hair whose tetchy countenance ruined his handsome face, another, very tall and broad and fierce-looking even with tiny spectacles perched atop his head, an antsy and nervous third with a knapsack, and a fourth who was only about my size and probably not much older.
“You’re interfering with our investigation!” the messy-haired bachelor roared.
“Are you two all right?” the one about my size sputtered out. He had a dark softness about him that brought to mind paintings of martyred saints and cupids. His eyes were two different colors—that is, one was gray and fogged like there was no color to it at all. “That was quite the fall!”
“You ruined all our bells! Do you know how long it took to set those up?”
“Clement, the ambience compass is going wild—” The nervous one was somewhat skeletal, with that awkward course of motion that long gangly people have.
The tall man with the spectacles helped us off the ground. “Be a gentleman and take your lady home now, sir. She’s safe, and we’re in the middle of something.”
“All our bells, God damn it—”
“Please, go,” the bespectacled man urged again, gruffly. “You’re just in the way now, boy.”
“Daphne!” Athena called from the corner in a ragged sob of relief. She’d watched the entire timely rescue. Daphne pulled away and darted down the bridge, colliding with Athena in a tangle of tears and messy curls at the cab. She left her shoes.
“You set up those bells?” The panic didn’t really subside, just coiled in on itself and sharpened into fury. Real gentlemen wouldn’t have dared turn an almost-crisis back around for their good. But maybe they weren’t real gentlemen. Or maybe my impression of gentlemen was skewed by my father’s line of work. The silhouette of the other girl was there again, only a few lamps up the bridge. Staring at us, it seemed. Ah—there was that familiar feeling. I understood.
The peculiar ladylike shadow was not alive.
I wouldn’t let it distract me. The Missing didn’t know when it was rude to interrupt, and she’d probably leave us alone. I hissed, “Those wires could kill a man who doesn’t know they’re there—”
“Well, you’re not dead, are you?” the grouchy one snorted.
“Clement—the ambience compass—”
“Quinn, tell Clement to let it alone—it is our fault, after all.”
Somewhere beyond the embankment, laughter echoed from crepuscular crowds. The hair rose on the back of my neck and a faint ringing shivered in my ears. I knew what it meant. I knew the shift in the silence too well. Where was that wretched silhouette? Gone again. There was something unsettling about it. Charlie and Colette didn’t give me such a feeling of dread; I tried to avoid any Missing that made the air hard to breathe.
“There’s something else here,” I blurted before even realizing I’d said it aloud, backing away from the arguing men. But I didn’t have a chance to explain and they didn’t have a chance to question me.
Up from the ground sprang that silhouette, right there between us and blocking my view of the messy-haired and loudmouthed one the men had called Clement.
It was a featureless black shape at first, but then the silhouette’s details shivered forth, clear as day. With wide, bloodshot eyes and sunken cheeks, her hair flowed about her face as lusciously and unnaturally as a drop of ink in water. A terrible, shrill wheezing sound rang through my ears, a new and more violent panic clanging its alarm in my heart.
The Wraith at Waterloo!
Just as I managed to look through the ghost again, meeting the startled eyes of Clement, a gust that reeked of the Thames hit me and dissolved into fingers around my neck. I gagged with the blow like I’d been punched in the throat.
It was so cold. I screamed. I tried to breathe, but I couldn’t. My throat was full of water.
I tried desperately to collect my scrambled thoughts, but a breath like a tomb being pried open crept through me like the damn wraith had reached into my gasping mouth and was trying to take over my body. A sensation of doom stirred in me suddenly, an unbridled wave of sadness and fear and emptiness surging through with every throb of my heart. And then all my bearings were utterly ripped away from me, and I tumbled backward—
I opened my eyes. I could breathe again.
I sat on a crooked bed in a dingy, cluttered room where echoes swirled all around, incomprehensible and warped, like they came from under water.
For one blessed instant, I decided I must have passed out and been brought somewhere to recover by the dubious foursome on the bridge.
But then I knew that was not so.
It wasn’t so because I wasn’t myself anymore. When I turned to a smudged little looking-glass sitting next to me, the face I saw was not my own.
It was the dead girl’s, and her name was Kitty.
How did I know that?
I had no explanation. I drew a slow breath, forcing myself to look. Not at my reflection, no—
But it seemed to be mine, too!
In some inharmonious rush of colors and lights and smells and muffled sounds, this was Kitty’s life, and I knew it because I was Kitty.
I knew hunger and poverty. I knew the burn of being disparaged and browbeaten. I knew too many siblings and not enough love. Mother pitied me. Father hated me. I knew the shiver of cold desperation as it sliced through me and I saw street after street, and man after man, and the business of the bed, lying flat on my back, the air cold on bare skin. The collision of scenes was disorienting, degrading. Every sane bit of me wailed for release. No, no, no, what was all this torment? It felt so dirty and wrong; pray this was some squalid nightmare far from the lovely life my father gave his ladies at Julien’s-off-the-Strand!
Then there was Darcy James and his morphine dreams, and Darcy James’s touch made my heart swell because Kitty’s heart swelled. And when Kitty vomited everything she ate into a rusty pail in the corner, I vomited everything I ate into that same rusty pail, prisoner of the scene.
Help! I tried to scream, but it hurt because my voice got trapped in my throat and went nowhere.
My head was going to explode if this kept up. My eyes would bulge out of my skull, and my mind would ooze bloody from every orifice and … Bethnal Green, dress houses, white powder, Darcy James, whore, whore, whore!
The stone of Waterloo Bridge was icy and slick below my bare feet. I leaned out until there was nothing to hold me, and I fell into the Thames, taking deep breaths and choking on the dirty water because I wanted to die, because Darcy James stopped coming because he was married now. He had moved to the country, and I was tired of being a dirty, lonely, forsaken whore, and there were so many voices, so many buzzing whispering voices closing in on me, all the voices and screams of the more deteriorated Missing as they clawed and tore at the strange void where I was now, somewhere in between the in-between and—
I’m pretty positive that’s when the towering man they called Quinn slapped me across the face.
I sucked in a stuttering breath as my eyes rolled open to the fog and the nighttime sky. This Quinn fellow hovered over me in his leather overcoat, his thin wire spectacles dropped to his nose again. I didn’t even care that Quinn had hit me. This close, I could really see his dark curls and the shadow of his beard. I grabbed for something to hold on to, crouched on unswaying ground but still reeling.
The strange trance-like stream of visions had ceased, and I struggled against shocked tears and heaving gasps.
God, but that had never happened to me before. There was something so personal about it, feeling a spirit’s agony and utter hatred for the living. Something so shaking, so jarring, so traumatic … The Missing could change the feel in an empty room, sure, but—never in my life had I felt it like it was my own before—
Quinn coached me through a few shuddering breaths until I realized I wasn’t actually drowning.
“I saw—” I coughed again. Quinn kept one arm around me. “I saw it all—”
“What did you see?” the nervous-looking one asked, far too spirited for my comfort. His Irish accent wasn’t unsettling, but he was waiting impatiently to write down whatever I said, and I didn’t like that. I tried to push him away.
“O’Brien!” the one my age hissed. “Give him some room, man, for Christ’s sake … ”
Daphne—Athena—they needed to get home now—and Kitty—
“Where’s Kitty?” I demanded, turning roughly against Quinn’s thick shoulder. “Where’d the bloody wench go?”
O’Brien’s face pinched up as if he’d taken offense to that on Kitty’s behalf. I couldn’t care. “Kitty?” he echoed, perplexed.
I writhed out of Quinn’s strong hands, tripping over Daphne’s shoes as I threw myself against the stone to get sick off the side of the bridge.
Spitting a little bit of blood still, this time with the unpleasant tang of vomit, I turned back to the men more meekly than before.
“What just happened?” I croaked, breath quivering on my lower lip. I was utterly lost, but … admittedly galvanized.
“A mild possession,” Quinn grunted casually.
Mild possession! Christ!
Clement seemed to try his very best to mimic Quinn’s previous compassion as he looked me right in the eye and asked in a cool, calculative manner, “What was her full name, boy? Could you discern the year? Can you recall any details whatsoever?”
“Kittredge Ann McGowell,” I husked, eyes wide, and the most frightening part was that I hadn’t even had to think about it. Wiping my mouth with the back of my sleeve one last time, I just knew it, and I felt so very violated by the knowledge. “From Bethnal Green. She jumped—”
“Suicides,” Quinn interrupted, nodding his head decisively. “Told you. She’s still here, Clement. Malevolent echo. Knew it wouldn’t be that easy. The ambience compass is going mad, you see?”
I stared dumbly at the tool they’d been calling the ambience compass, its little arrow stuttering and jerking in wild readings. Finally I realized it measured the change in the air that came with the Missing. What a strange little invention—it seemed magical, except that it was all too real. Could it really read what I felt so naturally when the Missing showed up to play?
What came next was an absolute whirlwind.
“What’s going on?” I demanded hoarsely.
Quinn grabbed me by the collar and ordered, “You’re staying until we collect your testimony.”
“What?” I sputtered. “I can’t—I have to get Daphne and Athena home—are you from the press?”
“Kingsley can take them home,” Clement announced, gesturing to the young man about my age. “Can’t you, Kingsley?”
Kingsley’s face pinched. “Ah, I suppose I can … ”
“A malevolent residual,” O’Brien mumbled to himself as he wrote.
“A malevolent echo,” Quinn corrected.
Clement sighed. “Oh, they’re just my favorite,” he complained.
“Sorry, but … ” I almost swallowed my question at all their curt glances. “What does all that mean?”
“A residual is an unintelligent spirit attached to a location by lingering emotion, usually due to the circumstances of their life or death,” Kingsley answered as Quinn ignored me once again and Clement’s lip curled at my ignorance. “An echo is a semi-intelligent residual.”
A system of classification to the Missing was something new to me. Something new and strangely fascinating, sinking its teeth right into the heart of my worst curiosity. Like some strange siren song in the dark, I wasn’t angry anymore—now I was loath to leave. My heart thundered. A cold but revitalizing thrill had infected me. What were these men doing? How did they know that? This was normal to them?
“Malevolent echo, that’s precisely what I thought, too.” Clement heaved a dissatisfied sigh. “Certainly suicide would leave enough bad energy for that.”
“But so many jump so often—”
“What are we to do?” owl-eyed Kingsley urged as a few miserable coaches rattled by. “Mr. Zayne’s, Clement?”
“Yes. Zayne’s it is.”
All four of them halted and looked at me like they’d forgotten I was there. I was shaking. But I was also terribly turned on to the whole affair. They spoke of the Missing like they were a normal thing. They were cool and composed, like interacting with the Missing was hardly surprising. They weren’t afraid, they weren’t judging, and they weren’t rationalizing like skeptics, either, and—
I met Clement’s narrowed eyes grimly, standing my ground. “I must insist I will not be giving you my testimony, whatever you need my testimony for, unless you take me with you to see what you’re doing.” I wanted to know. Oh God, I needed to know. “And I have to return Daphne and Athena home safely first.”
The other three all looked to Clement. Clement gawked at me. For all his rotten attitude, he really was actually quite young. Tired-looking, but young. His jaw tightened, and he squinted at me harder, seemingly resenting my unnegotiable conditions.
“Fine,” he conceded coarsely. “Let’s go.”
I thought maybe they’d part ways with us regardless, but they truly followed us back to Julien’s-off-the-Strand—where the night’s reception was still spinning along like nothing out of the ordinary had happened at all. That hurt a little.
“Will, what are you doing?” Daphne hissed as I handed her shoes back to her on the stoop. There was a strange wide-eyed peace about her now, like she was in shock she’d almost done it. Almost jumped. Almost died … “Your father will not be happy. You don’t know those men. You can’t—”
“You don’t understand,” I insisted, pushing her and Athena to the door. “This is something I must do for myself.”
Yes, something I had to do for myself—to see if there were others like me who were the indiscriminate witnesses to the motions of the Missing, and what might become of someone with a curse like that.
“I think you owe it to me after that stunt tonight, don’t you, Daphne?”
Daphne’s face hardened. Curls all broken up and windblown about her shoulders, she mumbled, “Abandon your high horse, Will Winchester. We all have our demons.”
What was I supposed to do? What was I to say? That finally I had the chance to talk one-on-one with spiritualists who might actually believe what I said? That I’d finally found spiritualists who were more truth than fraud? Could I even speak words with that dreadful lump in my throat?
“What am I to tell your father, then?” Daphne asked wearily, tearstained and shivering and looking far too fragile for my liking.
“Tell him nothing.” I shrugged. I kissed her cheek. And then I sprinted down the block to where the men from the bridge waited in their cabs.
I was ready.
by the haunting and the historic. He loves ghost stories, romance novels,
transgressive fiction, and “fanfic” that’s sometimes all of that in
one. When not writing, he also dabbles in acting, modeling, and other art which
can be seen on his personal blog. Although Seattle is his hometown, he’s
currently studying English (Creative Writing), History, and Russian Studies at
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of THE MISSING. International.
Amy O says
So excited about this giveaway!