books

Moreau House Preview

moreauhousecoversmallWith just over two months to go until MOREAU HOUSE comes out, I wanted to give you guys a quick preview! Below the cut you’ll find the first chapter of volume three in the Evie Cappelli series. It’s behind the cut because it does contain spoilers for THE FERRYMEN, so if you haven’t read that one yet, proceed at your own risk!

MOREAU HOUSE will be out February 27, 2018 in ebook and paperback. You can find the blurb here, and I’ll have a Q&A session up in late January or early February. If you have any questions about the book in the mean time, drop me a line or leave a comment below, and I’ll make sure to answer it!

 

 

CHAPTER ONE

“…You want me to do what?”

“Please, Evie. You and Micha are the only ones I can ask.”

I raised an eyebrow, holding the phone between my cheek and shoulder while I wiped down the kitchen table. On the other side of the counter, my boyfriend, Micha, raised an answering eyebrow to ask for details. “You seriously want me to go ghost hunting on my weekend off? You do know what I do for a living, right?” Adam was on a very short list of people who did, in fact, know what my day job really was.n a very short listmouthin

Adam sighed heavily. “Yeah, I know. I wouldn’t ask, normally. But I’ve got a bad feeling about this. You’re the only person I know with actual ghost experience.”

“Yeah. Ghost experience. You’re more likely to run into cobwebs and maybe a decomposing raccoon in the attic. Most haunted house stories are just that—stories.” And I really had no intention of traipsing around a cold, dirty, abandoned house during a Canadian winter.

Micha mouthed something to me, but I couldn’t understand. I shook my head. He

snagged the phone from my hand. “Adam, we’ll call you back in a second, okay?” He hung up before I even had a chance to object.

“Hey!”

“We should go,” he said, without bothering to ask my opinion. Of course, he already knew it—I didn’t have to say anything. Even without the psychic link we’d shared for nearly a year, we still had a bond that went deeper than most. Micha called it an empathy link.

I was pretty sure he didn’t want to know what I was feeling or thinking at the moment, though.

“We get paid to play ghost busters. Why would I want to go do it for free with a bunch of amateurs ?” I demanded. Anyway, despite my fancy field training certificate, I was still just the front desk girl.

“That’s not why we should do it.”

I folded my arms over my chest and glared up at him. “Then give me one good reason we should.”

“When was the last time you left this apartment?”

The question caught me off guard. “Um, this morning? When I went to work? Remember? We took the bus together.”

“I mean, aside from work or the grocery store, when was the last time you left this apartment?”

“I…we went to the movies last week.”

“So basically, except for work, you haven’t been out of the house in nine days.”

My fist clenched. “Is there a point you’re aiming for here?”

“We live together. We work together. We commute together. We’re dating. That’s a lot of together time.”

Oh, now this was just getting ridiculous. “First of all, we share an address. You live in the attic of the duplex we share with my mother. Second, even if we work together, we don’t work together. Aside from our commute, I don’t even see you once we get to the shop.” The consignment shop where I worked was just a cover for a government shadow agency, The Night Patrol. A branch of supernatural law enforcement, Micha was usually under the direct supervision of my boss, Jean Letrec. He helped with investigations and field work, while I took care of everything back at the office and trained for my artificer certification.

He waved me off. “My point still stands. It’s way too easy for you to crawl into your shell and stay there.”

“So your solution to having too much together time is to spend more time together?” Sometimes, I swear the only reason I manage not to throttle him is the fact that he’s cute. And that damn empathy link. “You know, it’s not your job to take care of me anymore. You’re human. You’re supposed to have your own life. If you want to go, just go. I’d rather not.” Maybe he was right. We’d spent so long working as a team, when he was a ghost, and then working together to bring him back into this plane, maybe a weekend apart wouldn’t be a bad thing.

When he didn’t say anything, I gave the empathy link a mental nudge. “Wait…you…you’re bored? That’s what this is about?”

He sighed, his stiff posture collapsing now that he’d been caught. “Okay, yes. I’m bored. Being human is a lot duller than I anticipated. There’s so much…paperwork.”

“That’s because you’re still under Jean’s thumb.” I tried not to smile. Too much.

He sighed. “Yeah. He says I’m still on probation.”

I blinked. “But it’s been three months since we came back from Chicago.”

“Yeah, I know. He says I’m on probation until he decides otherwise. He was also talking about sending me to the field training camp near Grandmere. I’m not sure if it was so I could be certified without him having to train me, or because he’s a sadist who doesn’t like it when Ian tells him to hire people.”

“Considering I worked there for four months and he never even mentioned training, I’d guess it’s the latter.” It was my turn to sigh. I sank down onto one of the dining chairs around our seldom-used kitchen table. We’d been about to make dinner when Adam called. Suddenly, I wasn’t very hungry.

“You know something we haven’t done since we got back?” Micha asked gently, taking the seat across from me.

“What’s that?”

“Been around other people.”

“Sure we have. Adam and Isaiah come over all the time. And we go to the movies.” Micha loved movies. And old television. And the occasional infomercial.

“You know that’s not what I mean.”

I looked down, examining a chipped nail on my left hand. I worried it with the pad of my right thumb. “You know it’s not because I’m ashamed or anything, right?”

“I know.” He reached for me, covering my hands with his, forcing them gently into stillness. Sometimes, it still surprised me how warm his hands were.

I would never be a social butterfly. A year of therapy had improved my mental health a lot, but I still struggled with overwhelming anxiety and depression. While the three months of training I received in Chicago went a long way to improving my mood and self-confidence, I’d been backsliding ever since we returned to Montreal. I didn’t have to worry about crazy cults coming to kill me or attacking the people I loved. We’d managed to turn my biological mother, Izzy, back to normal after six months as a spider. She was even starting to get over the nightmares. I’d met my biological father and was making amends with my adopted mother. I even got regular emails from the family and new friends I’d left behind in Chicago.

But something was missing. Something was off, and I couldn’t put my finger on it. And whatever it was, it was pushing me back into the shell I’d spent the better part of my teenage years constructing.

Micha gave me his best smile, and trust me—his best is pretty damn good. “Come on. We’ll go, we’ll tell spooky ghost stories, hang out with Adam and Ian and their friends, find the damn raccoon, and then come home and drink hot chocolate and watch Disney movies before bed.”

He could tell I still wasn’t convinced and pursed his lips. “You know, Adam sounded pretty worried. Don’t you think the Night Shift should check things out?”

“Oh, now don’t go pulling that one,” I groaned, yanking my hands out of his grasp. “I thought the point of this was to get away from work?”

“Well, it is. Partially. But do you really want five amateurs going into a haunted house with nothing but a video camera?”

I gave a short cry of despair and put my head down on the table. “Okay, fine. You win. I’ll go on the stupid ghost hunt.”

I didn’t have to look up to see the triumph on Micha’s face. “Great! I’ll call Adam back. Do you think we should take your camera, or just use the ones on our cell phones?” he wandered off down the hall. The attic door opened and closed, and a minute later I could hear him pacing upstairs while he talked on the phone.

I sighed. What’s with the ghost hunting fascination? Micha sees ghosts all the time. He used to be one for crying out loud! But the surface of the kitchen table held no answers, and staring at it didn’t get dinner any closer to being done, as my stomach was quick to remind me.

“What was that all about?” Izzy asked, poking her head into the kitchen. She was still wearing her glasses, which meant she must have just finished writing a chapter.

“Nothing,” I grumbled.

She raised an eyebrow. “It doesn’t sound like nothing.”

I grabbed the dish cloth and started scrubbing the table again. There was a sticky spot where Izzy’s coffee mug had left a ring at breakfast.

“I go out.”

“Hm?”

“Micha thinks we don’t go out enough. He thinks we need to be around people more. I don’t like people. I like quiet places that are people-free. Present company excepted.”

Izzy nodded, sliding the glasses from her nose and putting the stem to her lip. “I see.”

The coffee ring finally vanished. I trekked back to the other side of the room, throwing the rag in the sink, and started pulling ingredients from the cupboard. “Things get weird when we go out in public. I don’t know how to act. And it’s just so awkward…”

“Uh-huh. And you think it will get less awkward if you stay here all the time?”

“Well, no. That’s not what I mean.” We were almost out of baking powder. I wasn’t sure why that was relevant, but it seemed to be worth noting. I still had no idea what I was making for dinner. Or what baking powder was even for. Why was it there? None of us baked—certainly not Izzy. While she was famous for her potatoes, anything that couldn’t be cooked in a microwave usually resulted in a visit from the fire department.

I kept staring at the canister, trying to figure out how it got into Izzy’s cupboard in the first place, and how it managed to get used up. Somehow, that was the most important question in the world at that moment. Why was it almost empty? I hadn’t used it.

I’m not sure how long I stood there. A couple of minutes, at least. I finally looked up when Izzy pried the can out of my hand. When she saw what I was holding, she made a face. “I think this has been in this apartment longer than I have,” she said with disgust, tossing it into the trash.

In its place, she handed me a notebook—one of the nice, leather bound ones she liked to use for compiling all of her research and notes before starting a new manuscript.

“What’s this for?” I asked, flipping through the blank pages.

“It’s for writing.”

“You know I can write on my laptop, right?”

“I don’t think a computer is the right medium for you. You only use your computer to watch kitten videos and check your email, and you don’t even do that more than once a week.”

“I do other things,” I mumbled. “I look up knitting patterns.”

Izzy tapped the cover. “When I first came here, I was flat broke, angry, and in so much pain I could hardly think straight. The only way I could make sense of anything was to write about it. Even then, it took me months to untangle the mess I’d made of my life.

“I’ve recently been reminded that there are some things you just can’t talk about. The words get stuck in your throat, if they even make it that far at all. But until you find a way of purging them, you can’t really move on.”

The smile she gave me made me look down in shame. Izzy’s introduction to magic had been sudden and frightening, when a crazed cult leader turned her into a spider. It was entirely my fault, and I didn’t think I’d ever forgive myself for it. Three months later, she was still seeing a Division psychologist Ian connected her with before we left Chicago. She still woke up with nightmares a few times a week, and twitched every time she saw a spider. When Micha came home with us, I was the one who had to clear out the attic so he could have a place to sleep. She couldn’t handle all the cobwebs.

“It’s not your fault,” she said quickly, reading my expression. “What I’m trying to say is, sometimes you need to write things down before they’ll come out any other way. You and Micha spent ages communicating at an instinctive level, and now you have to work for it, like a normal couple. Maybe if you find a way of putting the words in order before you say them, it will make them easier to get out.”

I ran my fingers over the smooth brown cover. It was a soft-sided notebook, with a tab closure and contrast stitching forming little bumps all around the border. “You’ve been taking all of this really well. Me. Micha. All of it.” I’d been afraid of how she would react to Micha. Hi, Mom! I know you haven’t seen me in six months, but this is my boyfriend. He used to be dead. He doesn’t legally exist, so can he come live with us?

Izzy’s laugh was just this side of hysterical. “Honey, I’m still processing everything. If I took the time to freak out over all the weird things I’ve seen in the last few months, I’d never make another deadline.”

Impulsively, I gave her a hug. We’re not an affectionate family by nature, but Izzy and I were working on it. It seemed we had a lot to work on, lately.

We parted quickly. She shooed me out of the kitchen. “You go work on that—” she gestured to the notebook, “and I’ll find…something for dinner.”

I frowned. “Are you sure?”

“Positive. After that tuna thing you made last night, I’m willing to brave the kitchen for a couple of days. Besides, I’ve been getting better. I even looked up recipes online while I was researching today.”

“Tuna?”

“Yeah. That…thing. Last night.” She gestured vaguely with one hand, using the other to put away the random assortment of spices I’d pulled out.

“…that wasn’t tuna.”

Izzy paused, her hand halfway to the top shelf. “My point still stands.”

I decided it probably did—even taller than the pile of pizza boxes next to the garbage can.

“Do you want to get the take-out menu, or should I?”

***

On any given day, the consignment shop concealing the Montreal Night Patrol isn’t terribly busy. Sales have picked up a little since I started working in the shop, freeing up more experience agents for the field.

I don’t mind. The lack of customers makes it easier for me to do my real work, which as the artificer-in-training for Quebec, involves removing enchantments and curses from items that come into the shop or are brought back from crime scenes, and adding enchantments to tools the other agents would use in the field.

Currently, that meant recreating my “invisibility cloak”: a cabled cardigan with a spell worked into the Celtic knot design that made the wearer…not quite invisible, but hard to detect. I’d used one in the fall to sneak into a museum and….um, borrow, an Egyptian artifact, once that was instrumental in bringing Micha into the land of the living.

Once Jean heard about the incident he commissioned me to make one for every member of the team. They were difficult to make, but I’m a fast knitter and it meant I got paid to sit around and knit all day, so I couldn’t really complain.

Especially since Jean had no vested interest in what I did all day. He’d only hired me because one of my great uncles, Ian, was his boss. Knitting protective garments for the team meant I was doing something useful, and he didn’t have to pay extra for specialized equipment.

It also meant I had free rein with the internet and the database almost all day.

When I wasn’t pricing merchandise or helping customers, I compiled research and case notes for the other members of the team, though Micha’d been helping with that a lot since he came to Montreal.

After tagging and putting out the new arrivals the next day, I sat down at my desk with my latest project—the second of the sweaters Jean wanted—and entered the address Adam gave Micha the night before into the search bar.

127 results.

Oh. This can’t be good.

There was no official case file, except for a small collection of documents from 1984—scanned case notes, copies of old newspaper articles. But there were other documents, too, not connected to the main file.

Newspaper clippings.

Incident reports.

A copy of a petition to the Vatican for an exorcism.

Oh, shit.

There were even photos.

I wasn’t sure where they’d come from, or who had taken them. A Night Patrol officer? A relative or friend?

The first black and white picture showed a family of five in front of a white clapboard farmhouse. In the background were trees and a cornfield. The mother was thin and hollow looking, the children filthy and unsmiling. The man in the photo wore filthy coveralls and a stern expression. I got a chill just looking at them.

I clicked through the other images, skimming a police report for a drunk and disorderly arrest until I found the mug shot. An angry man with light hair, overalls, and a thick beard stared back at me.

“Cappelli!”

I jumped, almost knocking over my stool.

“Yes, sir?” I looked up over boxy monitor at my boss, Jean Letrec.

“Where’s Savalas?”

I blinked a few times before I remembered Savalas was the last name the Night Shift in Chicago had chosen for Micha. Being newly back from the dead, he’d lacked things like a passport and social insurance number. Does it still count as a fake ID if you get it from a government organization, even a shadowy one?

“He’s with Nick. They’re looking into that witch on Drummond with the fake charms.”

Jean made a French noise of derision. “He’s supposed to be cataloging evidence from the Nakayoshi case.”

I dug my fingers into the thick wool of the sweater resting on my desk. It was one thing for Jean to punish me with menial tasks. I didn’t want to be in the field, and I’d had some disciplinary issues in the past. Namely, running off last October to go rob a museum and resurrect my boyfriend. But sometimes it felt like Jean was punishing Micha just for his connection to me. “Nick asked him to come along for backup.”

Jean made the noise again, hands on his hips. “Let me know when they get back.”

I thought he would go back to his office then, but instead he paused to examine the pile of grey yarn on the counter beside me. “Progress?”

“The body is done. I’m working on the sleeves.” I started to tell him about the challenges of adapting the cable pattern to a larger size, but could already see disinterested glazing over Jean’s face. I sighed inwardly. At least Micha was willing to listen to me ramble about my knitting, especially when it was magic-infused knitting that could render the wearer invisible under certain circumstances.

Trés bien. Let me know when it’s done. I want every member of the team to have one, as soon as possible.”

“Yes, sir,” I said, but his back was already turned.

As soon as he left, I turned back to the computer and clicked the print button.

Print all?

I paused.

Yes.

***

The house seemed to slouch out of a stand of trees as we drove up. A rusty blue conversion van waited in the overgrown gravel driveway.

“Oh, isn’t that great? It’s condemned!” I muttered, taking in the notice nailed to the front door, and the ragged strip of yellow caution tape fluttering from the porch. Izzy’s Jeep bounced over the rutted track, throwing us around like half-popped kernels of popcorn in a microwave.

Micha winced a little from the passenger seat, holding tight to the “oh crap!” bar as we hit a particularly deep pot hole. “I’m sure it’s not that bad. Besides, we’ve gone into worse,” he said.

“Name one time we’ve been someplace worse. Have you even looked at this place? It’s is such bad shape even the caution tape is falling apart!”

“Well, I mean, the basement at the asylum was pretty bad—”

“That was different. I was running for my life, and it wasn’t condemned.”

Adam leaned forward between our seats, pleading. “Can we please get out of here? I lost the feeling in my feet ten kilometers ago.”

“Sorry!” Micha and I hurried to get out of the car. The hardtop helped make the ride a little warmer and quieter, but the Jeep still wasn’t made for March in Canada. We were fifteen minutes late picking up Adam in the first place, because it wouldn’t start and then needed a good twenty minutes to warm up before I could drive down the street without stalling.

“Sorry,” I said as Micha flipped his seat forward. Adam unfolded himself, tumbling out of the narrow space.

“That thing is a death trap,” Adam snapped, already in a bad mood.

“I’ll sit in the back for the ride home,” Micha volunteered apologetically. “If I’d been thinking, I would have done that in the first place.” Micha was at least six centimeters shorter than our friend, and his legs weren’t as long.

Adam only grumbled noncommittally. We retrieved our bags from the back of the car and went to join the others by the van.

I shivered in my down coat. Dead grass crunched beneath our feet, but at least there wasn’t any snow, though in the shade of the enormous trees surrounding the house, there were still frozen puddles and a few lingering drifts from our last snowfall two weeks earlier.

The house itself was two stories with an attic and dormer windows. It looked like a pretty typical farmhouse, except for the peeling white paint, the giant hole in the roof above the porch, and the boarded-up windows. Several mature maple trees dotted the overgrown lawn. For miles all around was nothing but fallow farm fields, and a distant line of trees. Back at the road, a sign pointed to the nearest town, twelve kilometers away.

I pulled my eyes back to the van and the people milling around it. Adam’s boyfriend, my cousin, Isaiah unwound a long extension cord with help from his roommate, Cora, creating an orange trail from the back of the van up to the house. They picked their way over the warped boards of the porch, ignored the notice on the front door, and continued inside, trailing orange wire behind them.

“You must be Isaiah’s friends,” said a tall woman in lightly accented English, coming around the front of the van.

I tried to keep my jaw from dropping. She looked like she’d just stepped off a runway. Designer jeans, a chic winter coat with fur trim, and adorable boots. Her smile flashed snow white across her smooth, dark face. Long black hair tumbled almost to her waist, like it had been arranged for a photoshoot.

“Yeah, that’s us,” Micha said.

“I’m Vanity,” she said, holding out a hand.

We introduced ourselves. “Have you ever done this before?” she asked.

Adam shook his head. “Sort of,” I said. “Just once or twice.” My Night Shift training included a little bit of ghost hunting, but we’d only spent an hour or two on our vigils, and it had been more focused on psychic abilities than technology.

“Well, it’s pretty simple. We’re getting the equipment set up right now, so if you want to grab a camera from the van, I can show you where to put them.”

She opened the side door of the van. Whatever I’d been expecting, it wasn’t what I found.

The van had been retrofitted with a long table running down the center with three monitors, and Captain’s chairs mounted to the floor of the van. Instead of a fold down back seat, there was a bank of electronics, not all of which I could identify. I saw three computer towers, and a giant black box I suppose must have been some kind of generator or battery, since everything was plugged into it. It hummed slightly.

Working at one of the monitors was a blond. I stared for a moment, trying to decide if they were male or female; it was hard to tell. He—she?—had clipped one side of their head very short, while on the other blond hair fell in waves to the shoulder. The heavy winter coat made any other clues completely invisible.

“This is Trojan, they run the tech,” Vanity said. Trojan glanced up at her, pushing their glasses up their nose. They greeted us with a smile to match Vanity’s.

“So you guys are the newbies, huh? Ever done this before?”

Not even the voice gave a clue. I blinked a couple of times, my brain still trying to classify Trojan into one camp or the other. She—he?—seemed to read my expression. And sighed. “Yes, my name really is Trojan. My preferred pronouns are they-them-theirs. And you?”

I blinked. “Um…Evie? She-her-hers? And this is Micha. He-him-his?” I’d never had an introduction like that, though I knew Isaiah and Adam were both active in Montreal’s LGBTQIA community. Isaiah kept trying to talk me into coming to some of the Pride meetings or some of his group get togethers, but the thought of being around so many new people always made me shy away. Maybe in the summer, after things settled down, I told myself every time. Maybe.

Vanity pulled me from my thoughts by shoving a camera into my hands. In short order, Micha and I loaded ourselves down with extension cords, batteries, duct tape, and other equipment, and followed our guide back to the house.

“We’re lucky this place is pretty small. We’ll be able to cover most of it with the cameras, but the audio is still a good backup,” Vanity said, leading us back out of the cozy van and up to the dilapidated house.

I paused at the front steps, a sudden shiver shooting down my spine. Beside me, Micha also came to a halt. He glanced in my direction, and I knew he felt it, too. My chest constricted, like I was breathing in ice water instead of the crisp, clean air of southern Quebec.

Micha coughed slightly, covering his mouth with one gloved hand.

“You guys okay?” Adam asked. He had one foot on the stair as he turned around to look at us.

“I—yeah. I’m fine,” Micha replied quickly, the words thick in his mouth. I watched his throat work, and reached for his arm with my free hand.

“You feel that?”

He nodded, whispering “Something bad happened here.”

“Do you sense anyone?”

Negative. “No one specific…there are spirits here, sure, but I can’t pinpoint…There’s more than one. Other than that, I can’t narrow it down.”

Adam glanced from us to the house. “Are you guys coming?” Vanity stood by the front door, holding it open.

“Yeah, we’re coming,” Micha replied. Since he was the most sensitive, Adam and I followed his lead, falling into line behind him as we entered the dark, cool house.

The whole building seemed to sway, almost imperceivably, like we were on the deck of a ship. The air smelled of snow and mold; it was so sharp, I shivered like someone had just dropped an icicle down the back of my coat.

Squinting against the darkness, I took in a filthy living room. Shoved against one wall was a rotting chesterfield, the cushions removed, with a hole in the seat. Debris ranging from beer cans to leaves to what looked like a condom formed piles in the corners of the room, under the boarded-up windows. Only one window wasn’t covered, letting in just enough weak sunlight for us to pick our way through the garbage, following one of the extension cords to the door on the other side of the room.

“The audio recorders are all battery operated, so we can just leave one in each room,” Vanity said. “Try to find places where they’ll be out of the way, but still close enough to pick up what’s going on in the room. Just make sure they aren’t like, in the middle of the floor where they might get stepped on.”

Adam nodded, and began scanning the living room for a place to leave one, finally settling on a window sill by one of the plywood covered openings.

“All of the cameras use batteries, but we like to plug them in if we can, just for backup. There’ll be at least one power strip on each floor.” She pointed to the kitchen floor, where the first orange line ended with a heavy-duty row of outlets. After talking it over, we found a spot on one of the kitchen cupboards that would give a good vantage point of the kitchen and most of the living room. I held a half-rotten chair in place while Vanity climbed up to adjust the angle, directing Adam to move the audio recorders so they were in clear view on the tiny screen at the back of the camera.

The equipment was an odd mashup of low-end point and shoot cameras, a range of webcams, some older audio equipment, and a couple of higher end cameras—the Nikkon Micha and Adam duct taped to a door upstairs was at least six hundred dollars, but Vanity just told them to make sure they secured it firmly. With the camera in place, they turned the door slightly to get a better angle of the bedroom and hallway, then braced it so it wouldn’t swing shut suddenly.

“What’s that?” I asked, my eye falling on a padlocked door between the kitchen and the living room.

“Not sure. We tried taking the padlock off earlier, but the screws are too rusted, and we didn’t bring bolt cutters,” Trojan said, strolling past to inspect the layout. They made an adjustment to the camera on the cabinet, checking to make sure it was secure and had a good view of the kitchen.

“Basement?” Vanity suggested with a shrug.

Right. Of course the basement of the creepy haunted house was padlocked. That wasn’t foreboding. Not at all.

“Are you sure you want to leave that there?” Isaiah frowned, coming out of the next room where he’d been taking baseline readings with Cora. They were going from room to room, measuring the temperature and electromagnetic interference.

“It’s fine. We do that all the time. Sometimes in places like this, you have to be creative about how you set up the equipment.”

“I know, but wouldn’t a tripod be better?” he was still looking at the camera, like he expected it to leap down at any moment, flinging itself from the top of the door like base jumper.

“We’ve only got two tripods, and neither one fits that camera,” Vanity replied. Then, like she felt the need to defend it, she said “We have to pay for all of this out of pocket, okay? We’re not some cable show with an unlimited budget. Tripods are on the list, but frankly, we can work without them. It’s a lot harder to work without cameras.”

Isaiah looked like he wanted to object, but then thought better of it and turned to Cora instead. “We done here?”

Cora, who had been making puppy eyes at Vanity, jumped a little and nodded. I smiled and shook my head. No doubt Vanity was pretty, but I needed more than that to be drawn in. The connection I had with Micha was almost entirely emotional; the physical was a mere afterthought.

Adam frowned at his boots as his boyfriend went back downstairs.

“Are you going to talk to him?” Micha asked, raising an eyebrow as he stepped down from the up-turned milk crate he’d been using as a step ladder. He flipped it back over, cramming the empty camera cases inside to take back to the van.

“Eventually. When he stops annoying me.”

“Boys. You are so immature.” I shook my head, suppressing another shiver. The creepy feeling from the front steps faded the longer we were in the house, but I couldn’t shake the feeling of being watched. “Just talk to him. You know this is the kind of thing Isaiah does for fun—he probably thought this would be a great weekend for you.”

“No offense, Evie, but I really don’t want any relationship advice from you,” Adam snapped, turning on his heel and following the others back down the stairs.

“Whoa, did I miss something?” Vanity asked, glancing back and forth between Adam’s retreating back and me.

“Only the same thing I did, apparently,” I mumbled. I hurried out of the room, blinking back tears. If my emotions were already so close to the surface, it wasn’t a good sign of things yet to come.

I paused in an out of the way corner of the living room, just to catch my breath and get my bearings. The house was creepy, sure, but it almost felt like I was under attack from the moment we arrived, and I couldn’t understand why. Isaiah’s friends had been nice so far. Clearly, there was something going on between him and Adam I didn’t understand, but everything else was…fine. So why were my shoulders around my ears, like I’d just spent the last hour on the phone with my family?

Outside, I stood awkwardly in the overgrown gravel drive, trying to figure out what I was supposed to do next. Isaiah and Cora were using the hood of the van as a desk while they recorded their readings on a pad of yellow legal paper. Adam was presumably inside with Trojan, since I couldn’t see either of them anywhere.

Micha appeared at my elbow. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” I said, not really meaning it. I don’t do well when friends snap at me. But I pasted on a smile anyway. Something about the house put every part of me on edge.

“Will you put these away? I want to talk to Isaiah for a minute.” He handed me the milk crate and went over to the van, saying something to Isaiah I couldn’t hear. Cora wandered back to the side of the van. I followed, since I didn’t really have a choice. Once again, I’d been shut out of the boys’ club.

The sun started to go down, and heavy clouds rolled in from the northwest. The scent of snow was stronger now than when we’d first arrived. I shivered, a feeling I didn’t want to own creeping over me. I shook it off, following Cora.

“Everything working?” Adam asked, businesslike and clearly ignoring the tension between him and his boyfriend. And me, for that matter.

Vanity and Trojan were each planted in front of a monitor, checking the feeds from the three webcams.

Trojan made a face, pushing their glasses a little higher on their nose. “The camera in the back bedroom keeps cutting out. I think we’ve got a loose wire.”

“I’ll check,” I said quickly. The cold atmosphere between my friends and the close quarters in the van were setting off my introvert alarms. I bolted outside before anyone else could volunteer.

Micha and Isaiah stood under the bare branches of the enormous tree in the front yard, talking in low voices. I barely glimpsed them out of the corner of my eye as I took the steps two at a time to the front door, plowing inside. I was halfway up the stairs when I heard Micha behind me. I wasn’t really in the mood to talk, especially not if our conversation was going to be picked up on camera. It had only taken five minutes, but I could already feel my stress levels boiling to the surface. The tense car ride. The bickering between Adam and Isaiah. The new faces. The creepy house. The cold. The disagreements with Micha.

I strode into the smallest bedroom, at the back of the house, where the webcam was secured to a window sash with more duct tape. He followed.

“I’m just checking this camera. It’ll only take me a minute.”

No response.

I turned around. No one was there. “Hello?”

Only silence answered, though I was sure I’d heard someone seconds earlier.

I hugged myself, backing toward the window. Obviously, I’d only imagined the footsteps. A strange echo in an empty house. That must be it.

Inside, I was torn. I knew ghosts existed. I’d helped enough of them to pass on. But I’d also never met one that was dangerous or even mean (though there had been a rather grumpy one who lived in the library when I’d been training in Chicago, but he lived on the third floor with the archives, and you needed a pass to get up there. I’d only seen him once).

“Don’t be such a baby.” I reached up to tweak the wire on the camera, pushing it more firmly into the back of the silver plastic housing. A red light came on, and a moment later my phone buzzed, confirming the crew in the van had the signal.

I double checked the other webcams and the power strip in the hall before descending once again to the living room.

Tap, tap, tap.

I turned around, peering down the darkening hall to the kitchen. I knew I’d heard something that time—unmistakably, the sound of footsteps on the hardwood. Specifically, of women’s shoes, something with a heel.

But all I could see was the blinking light of the camera on top of the cabinet. The rest of the kitchen faded into darkness as the last rays of sunlight vanished.


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