Home > How to Claim an Undead Soul (The Beginner's Guide to Necromancy #2)

How to Claim an Undead Soul (The Beginner's Guide to Necromancy #2)
Author: Hailey Edwards

One

A scream got hung in my throat, and I choked awake with it lodged halfway to my lips. I registered the unyielding press of the hardwood floor under my butt and the comforting wedge of the corner where I invariably spent my days huddled in a nest of sheets. I cracked open my eyes, which were damp with tears, and then I screamed again, louder and longer, until my uvula swung like a clacker against the sides of a cowbell.

A wraith billowed in front of me, its emaciated arm extended, its skeletal fingers outstretched.

Alerted by my frantic shrieks, Woolly flipped on every light in my bedroom and cranked them to blinding levels like halogen alone might banish the creature.

“What do you want?” I touched my stinging cheek, the skin beneath my probing fingers icy where it had caressed me. “What are you doing in here?”

The creature didn’t voice an answer—I wasn’t certain it could do more than wail—but it did swing its withered arm toward the window.

I flicked my wrists, shooing it away before shoving to my feet. Keeping a wary eye on it, I crossed the bedroom, but it just hovered there. Through the glass, I spotted my new neighbor standing in the grass, gazing up at me. Through me, really. His main focus centered on controlling the wraith.

Linus Andreas Lawson III wore a pair of green-and-white-striped cotton pajama bottoms and a white T-shirt. His dark-auburn hair, mussed from sleep, hung around his face. His full lips mashed into an unforgiving line, and his jaw flexed with his concentration. His eyes, so blue they appeared black from this distance, brimmed with power.

Hands trembling, I fumbled open the latch, nudged up the sash, and leaned out the window. “What is that thing doing in my room?”

Thirty seconds lapsed, tracked by the alarm clock on my desk, before he blinked clear of the darkness swirling through his eyes.

“I heard you.” He cleared his raw throat, as though he had been the one screaming. “Woolly wouldn’t let me in, so I sent the wraith to check on you.”

The last time Linus unleashed his wraith, it stole my undead parakeet right out of its cage and left behind an invitation I couldn’t refuse.

“You broke into my house?” I snarled up my lip, grateful my heart pounded now for reasons other than terror. “Again?”

“Woolly granted me permission.” He had the nerve to act offended I would suggest otherwise. “She was worried about you too.”

“Is that true?” I jerked my head back in the window. “You let it in here?”

A guilty moan escaped the floorboards under my desk.

“You haven’t left your house in a week. The only person you’re allowing in or out is Amelie.” An undercurrent of annoyance rippled through him. “We’re wasting time.”

Ah. Message received. What he meant was I was wasting his time.

And maybe I was. Just a little. Mostly to mess with him since I was still irked he had been foisted on me. But I had also been digging through boxes in the attic, thumbing through tomes in the library, exploring all the old girl’s nooks and crannies, in search of clues that might help solve the mystery of what had happened to Maud, and to me. Only the basement, sealed behind its spelled door, escaped my grasping hands.

The floor register hummed an inquiring noise, and the latch on the window flicked open and then shut.

While I appreciated the sentiment, I waved away her offer. “There’s no use locking him out now.”

A quick scan of the room proved the wraith had vanished along with Linus’s concentration, so there was that. I turned back to the man standing in my garden.

“Join me for breakfast.” He made it an order. “We need to establish a schedule.”

Facts were facts. I couldn’t avoid him forever. And he had offered to feed me. “Okay.”

The window squeaked an apology when I lowered it, and the latch snicked back into place.

“I’m not mad.” I trailed a finger down the cool glass. “I was just startled, that’s all.”

I shot Amelie a brief text to let her know I was venturing out into the world—or, you know, across the yard—so she wouldn’t worry if she popped by and found the house empty for a change.

“I’ll be back in a bit,” I told Woolly as I pulled on clothes. “Unless the breakfast is lame. Say a bowl of those high fiber cereals served with almond, soy, or cashew milk. In which case, I will scurry home for my usual bowl of strawberry oatmeal with real dehydrated apple bits—” masquerading as strawberries, “—and full-fat milk.”

Let Boaz keep his frozen blueberry waffles and imitation maple syrup. I had standards.

On my way through the living room, I stopped to check on Keet, who hung upside down from his swing like a bat from a cave ceiling. I reached through the bars and scratched his cheek. “Stay weird, my friend.”

Barefoot, I padded through the kitchen and out onto the back porch where I checked the wards. Weak, a faint melody that tickled my ears, but steady. Pleased our meager protections were holding, I hit the stone path that wound through the rose garden and led to the carriage house.

The mingled scents of coffee and frying meat hit my nose when I walked through the door Linus had left propped open, and my stomach rumbled in appreciation for the spread decorating the kitchen counter.

“You’ve been making yourself at home.” The living room and eating areas had been tidied, all surfaces dusted, and a few of them polished. “Did you do all this, or did you bring in someone?”

The idea of a stranger on the grounds without my permission set my molars grinding.

“I violated your hospitality once.” He caught the drift of my thoughts. “I won’t do it again by inviting someone onto your property without asking.”

“Time will tell,” I muttered, unwilling to forgive him just yet. An acknowledgment of wrongdoing wasn’t an apology, after all.

“I had time on my hands, so I got organized.” He returned to his station at the stove. “I clean when I need to think.”

This sleeker Linus bore only a passing resemblance to the solemn boy he had once been, with red cheeks and pudgy fingers, but the lightning flash of intelligence in his eyes remained unchanged.

“In that case, you’re welcome to visit me anytime you’ve got something on your mind.” I approached the table and spotted a newspaper folded neatly into quarters. The word ghost leapt from the headlines. “Do you mind?”

“Help yourself.” He palmed a set of tongs and sizzling commenced. “I’ve digested all the news I can stomach for one evening.”

His choice of reading material was the local paper, not the weekly Society-issued bulletin, and the heft of the newsprint was peculiar in the digital age. The story that caught my eye was an interview from a bed-and-breakfast owner who claimed her resident spook had vanished.

“Now that’s something you don’t read every day.” I glanced up from the article. “Most humans want their homes and businesses to be ghost-free. She wants hers back.”

“Her business is dependent upon thrill seekers and ghost hunters.”

“Hard to bill your B&B as the most haunted in Savannah if you’re down a ghost, that’s for sure.” I refolded the paper and tucked it beside his place setting. Humans might not know the difference, but everyone else would note the lack. “An interview in the local paper wasn’t her brightest idea. Anyone searching for haunted lodgings will see this and be warned away.”

“Perhaps that’s part of her plan,” he mused. “What’s better than an active haunting? Proof the soul continues on in some form?”

“A banished ghost,” I reasoned, following his line of thought. “Proof that the soul can be made to discontinue?” I used the word proof here lightly. “And if exorcists are real, then so too must be what they exorcise.”

Basically, a backwards way of proving the existence of ghosts by proving the sudden absence of one.

Nodding, he focused on the hissing pan before him. “Meaning she can lure in a fresh crowd.”

“People who want answers as to how it was done or if it was done at all.”

“Some of those will be return visits from ghost hunters or would-be exorcists, but it opens the door to religious elements and other opportunities her previous business model was unable to capitalize on.”

The haunting was a well-documented case that had drawn national attention, meaning any number of the TV shows, ghost hunting crews, fanatics or casual enthusiasts might come back to compare their original findings against their current ones. The publicity might not save her business in the long run, but it would buoy her for a good while if she milked it properly, and she was squeezing the teats of public interest with both hands.

“Are your dreams always that intense?” He selected pale sausage links from the fryer and placed them onto a paper towel-lined plate. The package near the sink claimed they were made from chicken and apples. I had my doubts. “Is it all right to ask?”

“I might as well be honest with you.” I stole one of them, burning my fingertips, and started nibbling before it cooled. Hmm. My doubts appeared to be unfounded. The sausage was delicious. “You’re going to hear me on occasion if tonight is any indication. You have my permission to use noise-dampening sigils if you want.”

“It happens every night?”

Every. Single. One. “Pretty much.”

“There are sigils to help you sleep—”

“No.” I choked on the bite I’d sucked down my windpipe. “I don’t want to risk being stuck in the dream.”

“The dream.” He moved on to stirring a double boiler filled with creamy grits, and I wondered if he realized avoiding eye contact made talking to him easier. “As in it’s the only one you’re having? A recurring nightmare?”

“Yes.” I helped myself to a glass of orange juice from the fridge. “And before you ask—I don’t remember what happens. I wake up terrified with a vague sense of déjà vu, but that’s it.”

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