Copyright 2013 2014
(Note: This short story has been turned into the prologue for the novel Ghost Shadow and has therefore been taken off sale at most venues. You are still welcome to enjoy it here!)
Despite all the magic we had embedded into White Feather’s house when we rebuilt it, the perimeter of his property—now our property—was sadly lacking in earth wards. Transplanting desert sage and sweet grasses in specific spots would not only keep us safer, it would be a ready supply of ingredients for many a spell. Granny Ruth had also offered to provide us with some kick-ass spiders.
Thinking of the spiders sent a creepy chill down my back, but I wasn’t about to turn down her offer. They wouldn’t be delivered until after I had applied my share of the protection magic anyway. I remained knee deep in sand and sage, working in the dimming evening light. As I lowered the largest sage into the hole, a voice from behind me hissed, “Adriel.”
The unexpected interruption sent the desert herb sailing behind me as I twisted to meet the threat. Still on my knees, I spun around, fell backwards into the hole I had just dug, and raised my silver. My fingers were wrapped around a lame hand shovel, which offered no protection at all.
My heart sputtered and a disgruntled sigh puffed out as I realized the threat was only Lynx. “Must you sneak up on me?” Even though Mother Earth communicated with me almost as well as the breezes did with White Feather, Lynx was a special cat. He was more an extension of earth magic than a foreign entity so Mother Earth felt no need to mention when he was skulking about.
“How was I to know you weren’t paying attention to your surroundings? I came over to tell you that Roberto needs a meet.” He offered me a hand up.
Since my bottom was squarely planted in the hole, I had no choice but to accept his help. He was strong enough to nearly lift me to my feet with just one skinny arm. I’d known Lynx since he was a hungry alley cat scrounging food from garbage cans. All muscles and sinew then, he was even stronger now that he was better fed and leaving his teen years behind him. While he might look like a piece of scrap blown in with the tumbleweeds, his eyes flashed intelligence, and his lithe movements were faster and smoother than those of a normal human.
“Roberto, the deaf kid, wants a meet?” I stuffed strands of my long dark hair back into my ponytail.
Lynx handed me the sage that had missed him completely when I threw it in defense. “You know any other Roberto?”
This was Santa Fe, New Mexico. I could think of four without even trying. “Not that are deaf.”
“He’s not deaf when he’s in a graveyard talking to ghosts, which is why he needs a meet. He has a message from Martin.”
This evening just got better and better. “Martin? Martin isn’t in a graveyard!”
Lynx shrugged. “He’s dead which means Roberto can talk to him. I mentioned Martin to Roberto after our visit to Fairview Cemetery a few weeks ago. Some of the dudes hanging around that place are flakes. The kid could use better company, you know?”
My eyes bulged. If Lynx thought Martin was better company than the ghosts Roberto had been communicating with in Fairview Cemetery, the kid was in more trouble than I could rectify. Of course, Roberto talked to dead people, so how much assistance could I possibly be on my best day? His ears were deaf to the sounds of this world, but not to those communicating from the other side. He spent a lot of time in cemeteries, which was where I originally met him.
“Visit to the cemetery?” I repeated, eyes narrowing. Leave it to Lynx to act as if nearly being swallowed out of existence without benefit of dying was mere social happenstance.
“Tonight. Midnight. Tent Rock,” he said.
“What is it with you and night meets! Martin can talk to me during the day. We’d be insane to hike around those rocks at night!” And I’d been avoiding Tent Rock because Martin was haunting the place. Sure, earth magic was strong there. But who wanted to have Martin peering over your shoulder when practicing a spell or gathering magic? He’d been a drunk, flirtatious, covered-in-dirt old man in life. He hadn’t bothered to leave most of his bad habits behind when he died.
“Martin’s in some kind of trouble. Roberto says he can only appear at night and even that is getting more difficult.”
My mouth gaped open, and I stared at Lynx in disbelief.
He shrugged. “I know, I know, but who else was he gonna ask?”
* * *
Earth witches did not have any power over the dead, on behalf of the dead or even communicating with the dead, as far as I knew. There was no earthly reason that I should have ever seen a ghost, but it had happened more than once. The first one I encountered hadn’t really communicated with me; she’d either been in too much pain or was too far gone.
Martin had been an earth witch in life, and I’d always assumed that the reason he’d been able to give me a ghostly message once before was because we shared a level of common magic. That was more than I had wanted to share with Martin. My feelings on the matter hadn’t changed just because he was dead.
If Lynx thought I was leaving White Feather behind on this insane adventure, he had another think coming.
“I wonder what Martin wants to talk to me about,” I muttered as White Feather and I climbed the beginning of the trail into Tent Rock. I wasn’t sure whether to be happy about the full moon or not. The moon would automatically call more magic into any situation, and it also lent more light. With ghosts, however, magic and light could be a help, a hindrance, or not matter a whit. “Couldn’t Martin have just had Roberto ask me whatever he needed to know?”
“Apparently not. And since you’ve been avoiding Tent Rock, Martin had to get an intermediary to reach you.”
“Hmph.” White Feather was probably correct about that part.
I knew where Martin would appear because I’d had more than my fair share of trouble in the bowl-shaped indention halfway up the trail. The magic was so strong there, a normal could have felt it. It wasn’t any problem for someone like Lynx to sense it, and it was a natural spot for Roberto to have found Martin.
I heard them talking as we ducked under the overhanging rock and rounded the bend. As I edged slowly around the walled canyon into the side clearing, it took me a second to realize I was hearing Roberto clearly as he asked Martin a question. Roberto, being deaf, never enunciated clearly. Martin had never slurred his words, even when drunk, but tonight, it was Martin’s voice that sounded as though he were talking under water.
I stopped so abruptly that White Feather nearly knocked me down.
Roberto was a dark shadow four feet off the side of the trail. Lynx stood more in the open, but he’d promised to be in plain sight if the meet was still on and safe. The glowing wisp of fog between the two of them was not shaped like a human.
This meet didn’t look safe to me. When Martin appeared before, his features were clearly defined, albeit transparent.
If the wisp of fog hadn’t replied when Roberto spoke, I’d not have believed it was Martin at all.
“He’s in trouble.” Lynx kept his attention on the ghost as he addressed us.
“Roberto or Martin?” I asked.
Lynx cut his eyes to me. His pupils glowed yellow. He had changed to cat eyes either because he was nervous or so he could see better in the dark.
“Martin, not me,” Roberto answered my question. “He can’t ghost here properly anymore. It’s been deteriorating over the last week.” His hands flew as he signed what he was saying.
Lynx started to repeat what Roberto had just said, but I cut him off. “Got it.”
White Feather touched my arm. “I didn’t.”
Well, now, that was disturbing. Since White Feather wasn’t a threat, I kept my gaze on Martin. He was talking again or attempting to.
“Baalance. Wrooong.” The rest of what he said was too garbled for me, but Roberto had been at this longer, and it was his gift.
“There are other things crossing,” he translated. “He doesn’t want to be destroyed by them. The creatures come from—” He stopped and rubbed his forehead. “I can’t get that part. He’s tried to tell me before, but I don’t know what he’s saying. Something about the dark where magic doesn’t exist.” His hands went up in the universal shrug.
The mist swirled closer to me. I held my ground, but only because White Feather was at my back. As it was, I leaned against him, trying to stay out of reach of the unearthly glowing strands of fog.
Martin’s eyes were not really recognizable; they were pits of emotion. There was no pupil, no face around them, just sparks that somehow translated to panic. “Soooleessheeell.”
“Shoeless?” Being without shoes hadn’t bothered Martin when he was alive. At this point, he didn’t even have feet! From a barely discernible waist on down was nothing but a gray mist.
Then I got it. “Soulless. Okay, Martin, the things are soulless, but what do you want me to do about it? I’m not dying just to pull your ass out of the fire!”
For a second, I think the eyes laughed at me. The spark went from lightning white to a swirl of fog.
Roberto watched me as he talked rapidly and signed at the same time. Lynx followed his hands, but I had no trouble with his words. “Martin says he knows how to stay safe, but a girl is trapped In Between with him, and she doesn’t belong there. He thought he could help her back over, but he’s weakening. He’s worried she will get stuck there.”
“What girl?” I struggled to stay focused on the problem rather than screech at Martin for dragging me into a mess, one that I didn’t understand and probably couldn’t fix. “Does she have a soul?” I was not about to bring anyone back here without a soul. Wouldn’t that be like rescuing a vampire? Or was that like creating one? No…
Thankfully Martin interrupted before my mind walked off any deeper into crazy. Roberto translated Martin’s blur of words. “Soul, yes, she has one, but she’s still alive on this side and her soul needs to come back here. She can see the—” Roberto shrugged again.
There were a million questions, but from the way the wisps were starting to separate, I didn’t need to be told we were out of time. “Martin, we can look for the girl on this side, and maybe we can help, but why did you call me here?”
“The bloodstone.” It was Roberto who answered since Martin was now nothing more than an arm attached to a fast-fading light that might have been his chest. “He thinks he can use the bloodstone’s energy to help her.”
I didn’t generally carry the green and red stone around, but the last time I had talked to Martin, he had felt me using the bloodstone here. In short, I wasn’t likely to ever come to Tent Rock without it.
Bloodstone, or heliotrope, carried natural powers for healing, especially of blood or circulation. It also aligned and healed a person’s energy. Its lesser known use included an ability to call storms and hold the power of the wind. Wind magic had the power to carry messages into the past or future because wind had been there before and could go anywhere without the check of time. Maybe heliotrope had some power in the realm of the dead.
The particular stone Martin asked for was one he had harvested from Mother Earth when he was still alive. It held Martin’s magic, my magic, White Feather’s magic and my best friend’s water witching magic.
Only a fool would give up an object of such power, but it was out of my backpack and on my palm without hesitation. Martin may have been an obnoxious drunk while alive and a pest after he died, but he had given me the stone without strings attached, and later he had given his life to save us.
“I give this without restraint, freely—”
His shriek split my oath. I nearly dropped the stone to cover my ears. White Feather shifted the breeze in an instinctive reaction to save us from danger even though the peril seemed to be limited to a caterwauling meant to serenade a banshee. My ears rang in protest.
Roberto said, “He says I can give him the stone because I can reach across. But it needs your earth magic to push through the connection.”
“Since I have no idea how to give it to him, I’m glad you do.” I turned over the stone. White Feather moved from behind to beside me, barely restraining himself from protectively elbowing me out of the way. I saw his mouth move, but couldn’t hear the words.
Maybe my sudden deafness was due to the ringing in my ears, but that made no sense because I had no trouble hearing Roberto when he yelled, “Hey, wait!”
Martin shouted back. They both had a hand on the stone. Martin’s energy might be weak, but it certainly wasn’t dead yet. Where he touched the stone, his hand was gray and nearly solid.
“Leggo!” Roberto screamed. His fingers turned an odd gray color, drained of blood.
Martin wailed in response, a horrific sound that not only echoed, it knocked rocks loose.
Roberto bellowed back, jerking his hand.
Lynx grabbed Roberto’s free arm and pulled, but the mist snaked up Roberto graying arm like a giant glow worm intent on devouring dinner. Inch by inch, it sucked Roberto into Martin’s world. He was turning into a corpse before our eyes.
Eyes rolled across the fog. “Eneergy…feed earth.”
“Unless you want someone else to join you who doesn’t belong there, let him go,” I shouted.
White Feather sent a stiff breeze into the fog that was Martin, but the wind just crossed through him as though he weren’t there.
I reached for the stone, anchoring myself to Mother Earth. White Feather knew the second I grounded, and he grabbed me around the waist. If he yelled instructions, I couldn’t hear them. In this strange place, warped with the magic that Roberto used, I could hear Martin more clearly than my living friends.
As soon as my magic touched the stone, I saw Martin clearly. He was gray. Everything was gray except the pulsing green and red of the bloodstone. His dead fingers were wrapped around it, but Roberto’s hand was still stuck to it.
“Let it go,” I commanded.
“I can’t,” Martin replied. His eyes were no longer sparks. They were just transparent gray that held a human panic and a sadness that hadn’t been there when I last saw him.
My magic pulsed against the bloodstone. No way would I physically touch it. I could feel White Feather, his strong arms holding onto me.
Could I call the bloodstone back? Martin had called it across. His earth magic was stronger than mine…well, it might have been in life. Mine would be the stronger now.
There were no tools to use here. Though I could still feel my earth magic, Martin was right. This place pulled at the stone, at me, at Roberto. It pulled at Life.
It could have the stone and what it held, freely given, but it couldn’t have Roberto. He didn’t belong there and neither did I.
I had learned to manipulate pieces of Mother Earth, but I wasn’t proficient and had only practiced with silver. “Bloodstone.” I called the stone anyway. Blood was the tie to human life. There was no need for blood in this colorless place, especially Roberto’s.
The crimson specks answered, responding to my pull, shifting forward, like to like. The drops of bright red swelled under Roberto’s fingers. I reached out and gingerly touched his shoulder, a part of him that hadn’t yet turned ashen.
With a sucking, popping crack, the red separated from the green. I pulled harder, trying to draw them to us, to Roberto, to earth.
A gray blob rose up behind Martin, a mass I had thought was a rock or just another shadow. As I pulled, Martin came forward, suspended halfway between his world and mine. With the draw of magic, his arm glowed and radiated ever closer to Roberto’s shoulder and my hand.
The gray apparition darted forward. My grunt of warning came too late.
The shape collided with Martin. As it touched his shoulder, it turned into a hand. The blob resolved itself into a woman. She was as colorless as he, but there was an odd iridescent shimmer about her. Snippets of energy occasionally pulsed across her, relieving the unrelenting gray.
“It’s the girl!” Lynx said.
As she knocked into Martin, Martin flew backwards, still grasping the stone.
The force of his pull would have drawn me and my magic forward if not for White Feather’s strong hold. With a muffled plea, I reached my free hand to White Feather’s arm across my waist. Our rings touched and sparked. I clung to him and kept my grounding to earth, tugging at Roberto and the bloodstone with everything I had in me.
The woman’s eyes burned straight through me, a flash of blue, just before a maelstrom of colors burst across the dead landscape, blinding me. I lost my grip on Roberto and fell back so fast, there was no time to brace myself for the impact.
I couldn’t be certain whether I’d been sucked in or pushed out until White Feather groaned underneath me.
“What the hell was that?” he muttered, spitting sand.
I blinked, wondering just how hard I’d hit my head. Everything around me was a mix of dark shapes looming, waiting to attack.
No, wait. Like fools we were running around Tent Rock at midnight. I tried rubbing my eyes, but other than grinding sand into my skin, it accomplished nothing.
“Dead witches are the worst,” Lynx said right before dropping a whimpering Roberto next to us.
“Do you have a light?” I demanded.
“Lynx, not everyone can see as well as you do in the dark. Or in the light for that matter.”
“Light will just draw attention to this mess.”
White Feather turned on his flashlight. Roberto was shaking like a leaf. He stared at me in horrified silence as though the situation were all my fault.
“You okay?” I sat up and felt for my own head. Sand coated me from head to toe. Being washed in desert must be a prerequisite of the magic here.
Roberto stared down at his hand. I turned it to face the light. He said something, but the magic had shut down, whatever kind it was he wielded. I could no longer interpret his words.
Lynx tilted his head, and asked, “What happened to the rest of the stone?”
I picked up the nugget from Roberto’s palm. “Martin has it. Only the red part crossed back with us. There isn’t a hint of green left in the piece.”
Roberto nodded. He found the strength to stand and began signing frantically at Lynx.
White Feather said to me, “Can you hear me at all?”
I nodded. “Yeah. Martin’s gone. I couldn’t hear you while Roberto was holding open the link. He included me somehow.”
“That must be why you ignored my suggestion that you not go after the bloodstone.”
“Probably,” I hedged.
“And the reason you ignored me when I told you to stop pulling on the stone.”
“How did you know I was pulling on it?” We both stood and brushed uselessly at the sand.
He grunted. “I could push wind into it, but not pull it back. I could feel you there as if I were pushing wind at you. You weren’t listening to me.”
I leaned over and picked up my backpack. “Thanks for holding on to me.”
He reeled me in close. Lips against mine, he said, “Always.”
Lynx said, “Roberto wants to know if you can find the girl.”
White Feather sighed.
“Good question,” I replied. “I don’t think we can find her tonight.” Since I hadn’t recognized her washed-out features and had no idea how to bring her back across if we found her, I had a bad premonition that locating her was only going to be the beginning of our problems. “Maybe now that Martin has the stone, she’ll be fine.”
Roberto signed something, but Lynx was too busy staring where the ghosts had been to bother translating. “We’ll need to find her to be certain.” His ears swiveled once, hearing things only a cat could hear. “I wonder who she is and how she got stuck there.”
No way to know right now. She hadn’t left a calling card. Martin wouldn’t have the energy to reappear and I didn’t want to be here if he did. I had no way to know that Lynx and Roberto would keep looking without us. Only a fool would delve into something so dangerous.
Note: This short story has been turned into the prologue for the novel Ghost Shadow and has therefore been taken off sale at most venues. For more adventures with Adriel and crew, check out the novels:
Visit Maria at her blog: www.BearMountainBooks.com.
All Rights Reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form without prior written permission from the author. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any to any person, living or dead is entirely coincidental.
Cover Art: Copyright of individual shots: various artists via depositphotos.com