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Downpour

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Downpour

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Author: Kat Richardson
Publisher: Roc, 2011
Series: Greywalker: Book 6
Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
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Synopsis

After being shot in the back and dying - again - Harper's recovery has been hard. She's lost many of the powers she'd acquired since first becoming a Greywalker, and knows that if she dies one more time, she won't be coming back. Her only respite from the chaos is her work... until she sees a ghostly car accident for which there are no records. Worse still, the victim of the fatal wreck insists he was murdered, and that the nearby community of Sunset Lakes - called 'Blood Lake' by locals - is to blame.

The picturesque area is an unlikely a haven for conspiracy but Harper soon learns that the icy waters of the lake hide a terrible power and a host of hellish beings. And both are held under the thrall of a sinister cabal that will use the darkest of arts to achieve their fiendish ends...


Excerpt

Chapter 1

There was something deeply wrong with Lake Crescent; I knew it even before I saw the accident that wasn't there. The ground seemed to hum and mutter as if there was a current raging beneath it. Cobwebs of colored light leaked from the Grey--that slippery place between the normal and the paranormal where ghosts are real and magic gleams like neon reflected in wet, black streets. The unreal light stretched in patches and strands over the soil and low-growing plants or dripped from trees like Spanish moss. Sudden bolts and globes of the same transient energy darted across my vision, apparently unnoticed by anyone but me. Under the wan February sun, I could hear the whispering of ghosts I knew would appear as solid as living flesh once the sun went down and I hoped I wouldn't have to come back for them.

I could have written some of the weirdness off as the result of my altered interaction with the Grey since my most recent death, but I hadn't seen anything quite like it anywhere else since I got out of the hospital. It wasn't just me: the Grey itself was different here.

I'd come out to the Olympic peninsula working on a pre-trial investigation for Nanette Grover--a lawyer who's a regular client of mine. I'd had to drive up into the mountains and try several sites around the lake before I caught up with the potential witness--an itinerant handyman/sometimes-carpenter named Darin Shea--whom she'd wanted me to talk to. A man of indeterminate age, race, and origin who spoke with a New England drawl as untraceable as the rest of him.

By the time I was done talking to him, I wished I hadn't started. He seemed to say little of value but took plenty of time to do it, his slow, molasses voice wandering off the subject in long, meandering asides as difficult to break through as a wall. We stood on the deck of the Log Cabin Lodge, where he was working for the day, on the Piedmont end of the lake and, though I should have been paying more attention, his speech was so boring that I found my attention wandering out to the cold expanse of Lake Crescent as it lay behind him, struck with orange and pink by the fugitive sunset cutting through clouds above and illuminated from below by hints of the Grey's power grid in the depths of the dark, clear waters.

I listened to him with half an ear, taking notes while watching something burble out of the lake near the western shore--something dead-white and man-shaped that seemed to slog ashore with the reluctant, spastic movement of a creature yanked forward on an invisible rope. I thought I saw a second figure on the shore, beckoning and calling in a voice that seemed to pluck the stings of the Grey and send a tingling electric sensation over my skin, but I couldn't be sure...

I started to peer sideways at the strange scene, looking by force of habit for the eerie and hearing the hum and rattle of the grid swell as I did, but Shea waved a hand in front of my face. "Hey there, you listenin' to me?" he asked.

"Of course, Mr. Shea," I replied and I reminded myself that I wasn't here in search of ghosts, but of reliable testimony for Nan's case--not that I was feeling positive about Shea's reliability by then. I pushed my attention to the Grey back and focussed on the handyman instead.

It was cold and dusk was descending fast by the time I was done with him. The ghosts around the shore began showing themselves as silver mist that moved in human shapes and the sound of wind that breathed icy words. The uncanny queerness of the place made me anxious to get home--or at least down into the flat land and street lights before full-on darkness hit--with the hope that I could let the strangeness lie for once. Of course, that is not the way my job works.

The road on the northeastern shore of Lake Crescent was narrow, twisting, and prone to dive down suddenly into unexpected gullies and through shadows of ghost light. But even without the disturbing persistence of the Grey the route was treacherous. Deep shade beneath the cedars and firs harbored dirty piles of snow between icy patches of bare ground and slicks of black ice on the asphalt surface of the road, so spotting a car rammed up against a tree beside the tarmac didn't even seem unlikely. The flames coming from under the hood didn't look quite right, but when a normal person sees someone struggling to exit a burning car, their first thought is not "It's just a ghost," but something a bit more visceral, like "Holy shit!" which was exactly what went through my own mind.

So I steered my Land Rover onto the frozen loam at the roadside and bailed out of the front seat to run for the other driver's door and wrench it open. But my hands passed through the flame-flickering material of the Subaru Forester with only a phantom sensation of heat while someone else's terror and pain washed over me. I flinched back from the melting face that stared from behind the unreal glass and backed away--was it my own fear I felt or his...?

The ghost wafted out of the memory of his fiery death, following me, mouthing words without sound and bringing along the odor of searing flesh and melting rubber, hot steel and burning cedar. I retched at the smell. I couldn't fall back any farther without standing on the road, so I put up my hands as if I could hold the smoldering specter at bay with the gesture alone. The ghost stopped, just touching my out-turned palms. A sparkle of gold and a flicker of Grey bent between us where his searing memory of fire struck against the shield I had unconsciously raised. I held my ground at the ragged edge of the asphalt.

The ghost's voice trembled off the Grey surface between us as if it were a speaker: "Not an accident. Not an accident."

I could feel the vibration of it in my head and chest. I nodded, but still held him away. "All right, I believe you. What happened to you? What's your name?" He was not the first ghost I'd seen and he wouldn't be the last, but he was the first willful spirit I'd encountered in the nine months since I'd been shot in the back. This ghost felt horrible, exuding terror and fury and need while his memory burned in icy flames and remembered agony, resonating through the barrier between us and slicing into me.

"Steven."

The smell and sensation made my stomach flip, but I swallowed the lump of revulsion and held still. "What's your last name, Steven?"

But he didn't seem to understand me, or at least his answer didn't sound like a last name. What he said was: "Blood Lake. My family.... We should never have let them...." He started fading away.

I forced my protections aside and pressed my hands into him, trying to make a stronger connection, even though the feel of him made me gag. I couldn't grab onto him as I should have been able to do, so I let myself slide deeper into the Grey, closer to his own plane. He firmed up a little, but I still couldn't get much of a hold on him. He was thin and weak, as if whatever gave him substance was fading or distant and only his ardent need for help allowed him to manifest at all. "Steven. Steven, listen to me. Tell me your whole name or where you're from. Anything. Help me find you or I can't help you."

"Le..." And he fell apart in a drift of dust and smoke.

The burning car remained a moment longer, sending memories of flame and sparks into the silvery air of the Grey. I stared at it, hoping to memorize the license plate before it vanished into the mist, but I only got part of it. I tried backing out a little and reaching for the temporaclines--the layers of time and memory that accrue in the Grey like silt--but they were slippery and knife-edged here and I couldn't seem to find the right one. I eased back out of the Grey and into the normal, looking for any sign of the accident, but I found nothing of it in the near-dark. It was long gone.

Copyright © 2011 by Kat Richardson


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