Guest post with author Stacia Kane
Okay. I thought of writing a little essay, because I’m on deadline and really shouldn’t be getting all involved in other stuff, but this just occurred to me and seemed like so much fun, and since in the world of my Downside books Haunted Week—the event that changed the world—happened over Halloween it seemed appropriate.
So here’s a little story about the beginning of that particular event, which I hope everyone enjoys.
Two points if you know who Thaddeus is.
October 28, 1997
Candy sat in the bowl by the door; the green plastic skeleton on the back of the front door glowed faintly in the dark as Maddie Lerner walked down the hall to check the locks. Just past ten, and time for bed. She didn’t know why she’d been so tired lately, or why butterflies seemed to dance constantly in her stomach. But she knew something wasn’t right.
She’d asked the others—only three of them in Baltimore, but three she trusted—if they felt the same, and they said they did. Somehow that made it worse. An old woman’s instincts were often dull, even hers; age could fool the senses, could create tremors where non existed. But Thaddeus was a young man, only twenty. Virginia at thirty had more strength than Maddie had seen in some time, and of course Wallace…
The door was locked. Good. She stood for a second, peering through the narrow pane of watered glass beside the door. All looked well. The gibbous moon hid and disappeared between tree branches still clinging to their last few leaves; a few clouds passed behind them. The streetlights glowed, and something white passed before the window of the house across the—what?
Without taking her eyes from the window Maddie reached over and touched the sigil carved into the doorframe by Elias Carver, her great-grandfather several times over and one of the First. Probably a silly thing to do, but that power, that connection, made her feel better anyway. The couple across the street liked to stay up late, and rarely closed their blinds. They rarely worried about what they did in front of their windows, either.
But her heart kept pounding, harder than it should have, even though she tried to convince herself that’s all it was. That it was just that silly young Mrs. Blake—sorry, Miz Blake—in some sort of nightie or something.
Another glimpse of white. The cold glass chilled Maddie’s nose, started to hurt from how hard she pressed her face to it. It didn’t help. She still couldn’t see anything, not anything real. But that feeling, that horrible feeling of something being wrong, that there were disturbances in the worlds that shouldn’t be there, kept getting stronger. Like someone touching her to get her attention, and when she didn’t turn to look at them they poked harder and harder.
The branches moved again. Moonlight flashed across the lawn like slow lightning, almost hiding another movement, slower, steadier. Just outside the Blake house, on the left—or was it the right? How did you describe something when you looked at it that way? It was Maddie’s left, the Blake’s right, and as she watched it all thought of right and left disappeared from her head because what she saw couldn’t be possible.
A shade. A spirit. A walking soul, a thing which should not be, emerging through the solid wall of the Blake house, and when she looked closer she saw the silver blade it carried, saw the darkness on the edge of that blade and realized what it was. What had happened.
Time to move.
Pausing only to press her finger against the sigil on the door and put whatever energy she could spare into it—which wasn’t much—she raced for the small closet under the staircase. The narrow length of the house, so typical for Baltimore, had never seemed so long; the closet had never seemed so far. Her nightdress threatened to tangle in her legs, her long thick braid sat heavy between her shoulder blades like a length of rope. She barely paid attention.
The closet door banged against the narrow iron table hugging the wall when she flung it open and grabbed the heavy bag inside. The phone started ringing; she held the bag in a painful grip and ran for the kitchen, already knowing whose voice she’d hear when she answered.
“Miss Maddie,” he said, and his tone sent another wave of panic through her. Not just there. Not just her street. It was real. It was truth. “Are thee well?”
“For the moment, Thaddeus, yes.”
“But they are there. Thou has seen them.”
“Yes. Thaddeus, my neighbors—the couple across the street. And further down, I watched it leave their house, I watched it walk into the next.”
Silence, while he thought. She knew that’s what he was doing, that he was being methodical and trying to come up with a plan. Knew too that beneath his calm, beneath his genuine fear and sorrow and horror lurked excitement, the furtive joy of the very young who believe they will never die, who have suddenly found a change in their world and have not yet seen enough change to mourn the loss of what they had. “I shall come for you. I shall bring Virginia. Thy house is well protected, I know. We shall plan what to do from there.”
“Yes.” She hung up. What to do, where to start? She glanced back at the door, at that slice of window. Something passed it, something glowing and awful. Something that should not be walking this earth.
Something she could only hope could not enter her home. All these years, her long life, she’d believed in the Truth her ancestors had discovered. But all these years she’d hoped never to have to use what she knew. Not like this. Not when her neighbors avoided her and she had no way to contact them. No way to help them.
Goat’s blood. Yes. She pulled the jar from her bag, unscrewed it with aching hands. The windows, and the door. Her feet pattered on the wooden floor as she ran, smearing the blood on the sills, daring to open the door to mark it with runes of protection she’d learned as a child.
More of them in the yard. Worse than she’d feared. She had not the strength for this. Even as she slammed the door on them, their rage-filled faces, her heart beat too hard in her chest. Why they hated the living so much…their jealousy of even the small amount of life she still had felt like ice in the air around her, so much colder then the late autumn breeze. They wanted that life. They wanted it, and they would kill her for it, and it wouldn’t help but they would keep trying.
When would Thaddeus arrive? The ache in her chest refused to lighten.
The phone rang again. Elder Martin. Was she safe? Had she protected herself. The Elder Triumvirate were working on a plan. She was to tell the others when they arrived, and to stay in her house by the phone until sunrise. They believed sunrise would drive the dead into dark places, into hiding. Maddie wrote down what he told her.
Outside her windows they wandered the streets. Like a dance of fireflies in those long-ago summers of her youth, those sparks of light against the darkness. The streetlights then had been dimmer, small gas flames on poles. The memory was so sharp and clear: cobblestone streets and the sound of hooves on them, the ice cart in summer. The sight of them should have been just as lovely, was just as lovely in a terrifying and awful way. And more of them every minute. Her neighbors. All of them. Had they weapons? Did it matter? What the Church knew about them, what she’d been told about them, didn’t feel like enough.
But every one of them saw her. They beat her doors with silent fists and jumped back in rage when the blood on the door burned them. They stared into her windows. They felt her, they knew her. They wanted her. And she felt their pull as she huddled there at the foot of the stairs in the house she’d spent her entire life living in. The house which would belong to the Church when she died, if there was a Church. If there was anyone to inherit.
Headlights outside. Thaddeus and Virginia. Perhaps even Wallace. When she stood up to walk to the door a knife twisted hard in her chest. The door stood unlocked before her; closed but unlocked, because so far the house’s protections and her own power held, and no lock was needed to keep out the luminous dead.
Her feet faltered on their slow way toward the door. Lights burst through the windows; Thaddeus had arrived, in that ridiculous sportscar he drove. She had time to smile—her last smile. Time for one last idea to occur to her, to dip her fingers in the jar of blood she still carried and mark her own head. Trapping herself. Trapping her soul in a dying body, and doing it to keep herself from killing those who would save them all.
The door burst open. Thaddeus, his pale hair mussed on his forehead. Virginia with her dyed black bob. And yes, Wallace too, the power coming off him in waves.
Their lips moved. She couldn’t hear them. Her own mouth opened and nothing came out but one last thin exhale. The pain in her chest exploded in a shower of fire-bright sparks, and she fell at their feet while the dead glowered outside. Something had started, she knew; her last conscious thought, her last real thought, was to wonder what the world would be like, and to hope desperately it would be a better one.
We want to thank Stacia for this great short. For those who haven’t had the pleasure of picking up Stacia’s Downside series, here are the books currently released as well as books from another one of her series. To get a full list of releases and to find more information about Stacia, visit her website.