One power of Death I’ve never understood is its ability to turn sinners into saints. Uncle Frank was an asshole. After he jumped from his rooftop, people at his wake talked like he’d been the paragon of virtue he definitely wasn’t.
And I wasn’t expecting Aunt Liz to make an appearance. There wasn’t much love lost between her and her ex-husband, so when she broke into tears at the sight of the casket, it was disconcerting. I swear she nearly cracked a rib hugging me.
A day later, they found her next to pair of empty bottles: whisky and zopiclone.
And so I was back at Our Lady of Respite, breathing in the scent of freshly-cut grass and freshly-turned earth. In his white cassock, Father Yeung was a dove preaching to a flock of ravens, perched around her open grave. His voice was soothing, the drone of his words hypnotic. I had a hard time focusing. The sunny afternoon had been blanketed in a thick fog, and the wind whispering through the early autumn leaves was strangely loud, buzzing in the back of my mind like static from a nearby TV. Even the eidolon—infinitesimal spirits of the Afterworld—seemed agitated. They normally just sort of float around, flickering in and out of existence like subatomic particles in a vacuum, whisking everything away moment by moment.
We necromancers each have an eidolon of our own, our animus. It’s our link to the Afterworld; I call mine Spot. The eidolon were drifting off into the mist, and even Spot reacted to the pull, like a dog trying to chase a squirrel. It was a slow current, but the tug felt like icy fingers reaching out and trailing down my spine, like a shiver that just wouldn’t come. What the hell is that?
The hidden world of the supernatural can be a terrifying place, and I’d like to think I was sane enough to realize that. But I was curious, too. After Father Yeung walked back to the church, white hair and cassock making him a ghost in the mist, I slipped off into it myself.
Even through the fabric of my suit, the fog felt like cobwebs being dragged across my skin. It thickened after I left the path, turning tombstones into hidden menaces for knees and shins. I let Spot guide the way over the rolling hills, following the barely perceptible tug. Amazing how time can drag out when you’re surrounded by nothing but ethereal white.
At the crest of a hill, the mists thinned out to reveal a small mausoleum. It was simple, kind of quaint, about the size of a single-car garage. Worn-down carvings of angel wings framed the upper corners. A swarm of eidolon gathered around it like mosquitoes over still water. The wind whispered around a large old oak, its craggy branches clawing out of the mist, bare even this early in the fall.
It was dreamlike, timeless. I emerged from the mist facing a side wall of the mausoleum, so I circled the structure, looking for an entrance. I hoped there wasn’t—then I could go home and forget about it. Running my hand along the polished granite exterior, I traced irregular scratches in the stone. Claw marks? I shivered, snatching my hand away.
Apparently I took the long way around, but I did end up finding an old, iron-bound wooden door. The crunch of the gravel path under my feet grounded me, lending a bit of normalcy to the moment and giving me some extra courage. There were words written above the doorframe, but time had worn most of their impression away. On impulse, I pulled out my smartphone and snapped a few pictures. Maybe I could decipher it later. No signal, though. Odd.
If I said I was sane before, I take it back. If I was, I’d never have gone in.
The door swung open quietly with a push, coming to rest against the short, narrow entryway with a gentle tap. Lingering at the doorstep, I let my eyes adjust as the greyish, uniform light from outside filtered in. The dim outline of an angel statue resolved in the middle of the room. No urns, no coffins or sarcophagi. Just the statue. I snapped another image, flash on, and made my way deeper in.
The statue, at first glance, was serene. Androgynous face, head bowed and eyes closed, palms pressed together in prayer. Its robes were simple, angelic wings folded at rest. It stood in the centre of a circle carved deeply into the floor.
Eidolon swarmed the room in force, and it was distracting to restrain Spot from flitting around with them. I glanced around, trying to find anything else of interest, anything else that might be attracting them—and snapped my attention back to the statue. Did it move? I could have sworn… But it remained in that same serene pose.
In spite of the cloud of eidolon and the necromantic chill in the air, I inched my way around the room. Nothing else stood out. So, nodding in polite good-bye to the statue, I turned to leave. Funny. Even inside, the whispering wind was quite loud. In fact, it was even louder, as if… Wait a sec.
I looked back to the statue—really looked. With its eyes closed and unmoving, I could feel it looking back. I listened. Mouth frozen in silent prayer, I could hear it, a rustling whisper like the wind. Though the angel never actually moved, my mind kept trying to tell me it did. Like watching something swim beneath the surface of dark, still water, just too deep to make out. I could feel it: massive, lethargic from sleep and starvation, shifting and stirring. And like the motion in dark water, I felt, more than saw, it rising. Faster and faster, parting the layers of water above it in an increasing tide, preparing to break the surface.
Right at me.
I ran. I ran like the fucking wind was chasing me—hell, maybe it was—and kept running through the fog until the familiar bulk of the church loomed ahead. I crossed the parking lot, fumbling keys from my pocket as I went. Hands shaking, I put two nasty scrapes into my car door before managing to open it and leap inside. I locked the doors and blared the radio until my nerves began to settle, letting the loud metal hammer out the shock of what I’d experienced, clear my head of what I’d seen. Whatever I’d seen.
The fog dissipated as mysteriously as it had come. But it still took me several minutes before I felt calm enough to drive. I was out of my league—not like that meant much, really. In supernatural terms, I was still wearing training wheels.
I was supposed to go to Mémère’s after the burial. Though she’s from my father’s side, she was always there for Mom and me, even when the asshole—sorry, I mean my dad—wasn’t. By the time I got to her house, my nerves had settled, but I still couldn’t get the experience out of my head.
The bright autumn sunlight was warm, but the wind blowing across the cemetery nipped at my bare arms—not cold enough to sting, but enough to counter the warmth of the sun. I felt like when I was a kid, scared of monsters in the closet, and had that particular kind of embarrassment that comes when you realize what you thought was a disembodied head was really just a bundle of dirty laundry. It was a new day, and I wanted to take another look at the angel—whatever it was. This time, backup was on its way.
Without the fog, the cemetery’s low, rolling hills, large trees, and hedges decorated the landscape. Everything was painted the colours of early fall, leaves slowly drifting to the ground. I was early, so I leaned against my ‘09 silver Civic and played games on my phone until she arrived. I barely had time to sling a single angry bird before Cassie pulled up in her mother’s red convertible, a few spaces away.
Her boyfriend, Juan, got out of the passenger seat. I sighed. He and I, we’re not much alike. He’s big. Even with his hip injury, he still worked out and damn, it showed. Short black hair, naturally bronze skin, well over six feet tall. Strong features, and even stronger muscles. The guy’s over two hundred pounds, easy. Me, I’m five-seven, pale skinned, and skinny. I couldn’t build muscle like Juan if I tried. I honestly wasn’t jealous—I could totally see what Cassie saw in him. It was just frustrating when the guy seemed to think I was always eyeing his girl. She and I broke up way before he came into the picture.
Cassie’s coppery red hair gleamed in the sunlight. Juan frowned at her back as she walked right by. Problems, eh?
“So if you didn’t see any ghosts yesterday, what’s this all about?” Her cutely freckled face split into a playful smile.
I described what I’d seen, but left out the whole ‘running like a little girl’ bit, opting instead for the more heroic ‘tactical retreat.’
Yeah, I don’t think they bought it, either.
“If that was a ghost, I’ll eat my hat. I just can’t shake the feeling it’s related to Aunt Liz somehow. Suicide wasn’t like her.” The wind’s chill picked up, and I shivered. “I’m not sure it was coincidence.”
Juan cocked an eyebrow and shook his head, gazing out across the cemetery. “If you say so, man. This place looks pretty normal to me.”
I scowled. He wasn’t wrong. The eidolon were acting as they usually did, blinking in and out. Spot was obedient, drifting around me like a lazy balloon.
“Just wait ‘til you see it. I invited Kyle, too, but Zach’s got the flu, so. We figure the mausoleum was haunted or something, but I sure as hell didn’t see anything I’d call a ‘ghost.’ ” I waved for them to follow and started walking up past the church, onto the gravel path that led out across the rolling hills.
The rectory’s front door swung open, Father Yeung humming tunelessly as he emerged and locked it behind him. It took a second before I recognized him out of his normal vestments—the old Chinese priest was wearing grey jogging sweats instead. Wrinkled and white-haired, Father Yeung wore the perennial smile of a satisfying life. I’m not much of a churchgoer myself, but he and I knew each other. My mother had tea with him once a month.
“Good afternoon! I didn’t expect to see you around here again, Tyler.” He waved as he approached. Offering his hand to my friends, he added, “Yeung Sheng. A pleasure to meet you, young man, young lady.” My friends murmured their greetings, Juan giving him a deeply respectful nod in addition to the handshake. At the time, I had no idea if he was a religious guy; it wasn’t something that had ever come up.
“Afternoon, Father.” I averted my gaze, scratching the back of my head. What was I supposed to say? It hadn’t even occurred to me that I’d run into the guy who lived there.
Both Cassie and Juan glanced at me in expectation. What the hell? He might know something. “Actually, I kinda wanted to show them this mausoleum I found yesterday.”
On an unseen cue, we started walking down the gravel path in pairs, Juan and Cassie trailing a few steps behind Yeung and I. “Oh? There are some very beautiful old buildings around here, but I never took you for one to go showing people architecture. I saw you yesterday, by the way. You should be more careful.” The old priest peered at me through narrowed eyes. “There’s a lot of unseen danger when the fog is that thick. With these hills and the old stones scattered about, you could break a bone, and nobody would know. Running like that was dangerous.”
I sighed, shoulders slumping. “Yes, Father, I know.” I caught Cassie grinning out of the corner of my eye and corrected my posture defiantly. It’s not funny!
His gaze lingered on me for a few seconds before he spoke again. “So which building did you want to show them? We can walk there together. Perhaps I can tell you its history.”
I hemmed and hawed, stalling for a few moments while I looked about, trying to get my bearings. A few moments later, I was still trying. I couldn’t see the mausoleum. I was pretty sure I saw the hill it was on, or should have been; I recognized the craggy oak. There was nothing else there but a bit of crumbling foundation.
“I thought it was right there. But, well, it was pretty plain…” I kept casting my gaze around the scenery with a frown. “There was an angel wing thing going on at the corners, but it looked worn. There was an inscription, too, but it was pretty much illegible. Oh! Pictures.” I snatched my phone out of my jeans and brought up the images. The first one, of the external words, was clear enough, though the words were still indecipherable. The second, however, was nearly black, like the flash hadn’t gone off at all. There was something unsettling about it, a shape to the darkness I couldn’t quite make out. I’d say it was just the statue if I hadn’t been there and sensed something more.
Father Yeung took a good look at the pictures, then laughed. “Oh, that? You must have gotten lost. That old building is used for storing gardening tools and such. I’m not even sure where my key is, to be honest. The landscapers use it far more than I do nowadays, and they have their own. Funny that the door was unlocked, though. You didn’t see any signs of a break-in, did you?”
Pardon me for being sceptical. I’m not always the sharpest scalpel, but I knew a garden shed when I saw one, and that wasn’t it. “No, nothing like that. I didn’t see much inside, other than that statue. I took a picture, but I guess the flash didn’t go off.” I tried showing him the dark image again, but he just waved it away.
Yeung’s smile had slowly faded to a serious frown. “It seems someone has broken into my shed, then. I appreciate you bringing this to my attention, Tyler. I’ll report the theft. We have insurance for these sorts of things. I’m sorry the building wasn’t as interesting as you probably hoped. I should probably go contact the police and the insurance people now and get the ball rolling.”
“Well, could you at least tell me where it is?” I asked, but he was already shaking his head.
“I’d ask you to stay away from it, if you would. I don’t want you or your friends to get in trouble because your prints were found around the building or anything like that. Don’t make me talk to your mother when I see her tomorrow.”
Damn, old man, that’s low. I sighed, glancing back to that hill and the crumbling stones that capped it. “All right, Father, you win.”
“Be safe, you three, and God bless.” He headed back towards the church at a quick jog.
I turned back to my friends, and Juan was giving me a shit-eating grin. “Scared of garden tools, eh?” I resisted the urge to hit him; that would’ve ended poorly for my fist.
I pointed to the hill. “Fuck you, I’m serious. I’m pretty sure it was right there. I recognize that tree. And if that was a fucking garden shed, I’ll—he was totally bullshitting us.”
“Don’t accuse a priest of lying like that, man. Not cool.” Juan took a half step towards me.
Cassie stepped up before I could rattle off another retort, resting her small hand on Juan’s muscular chest and waving her other index finger at me. “Both of you, chill.” In the silence, her pale green eyes flicked between the two of us, just daring us to speak. “Good. Ty, d’you think you could be wrong? I mean, it was obviously dark in that shed. You might’ve missed the tools piled in the corner or something.”
“You didn’t see what I saw, Cass.” I stalked back and forth across the gravel, staring up at the hill. “Or feel it. Or hear it, fuck. That was—I can’t explain it. The statue was like, moving, but not moving. And there was something there, inside. Trying to get out. It was going to attack me.” I stared helplessly at the empty space. That’s definitely the tree. So where could it have gone?
“Well, you’re right, I wasn’t there. And it doesn’t seem to be here either, if you’re remembering the location right. I mean, it was foggy. Maybe…” She trailed off, tapping a finger to her chin, but her eyes lit up with sudden excitement. “Oh, maybe it’s magical somehow, like it only appears on certain days, or maybe only when it’s foggy, or something? Can that actually happen? I mean, you’d know, right? You’re the one with the magic powers.”
I could only shrug and shake my head. “Maybe? Fuck if I know. Kyle might. Seems like something that could happen.” It was as good an explanation as any, but I was seriously out of my depth. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to keep digging. I mean, it wasn’t like the mausoleum was just there for anyone to stumble into, and I had no intention of going back there anytime soon.
Dejected, we made our way back to the car. My phone rang. Seeing that it was Kyle, I picked up. “Hey, you didn’t miss much. The mausoleum isn’t even here anymore.”
“Just gone?” He whistled softly. “Damn. Well, that complicates things. You didn’t see anything at all?”
“Nah, nothing but a bit of foundation. But we met Father Yeung. He says it’s a garden tool shed and thanked me for letting him know that the stuff inside was stolen. It was empty when I looked inside it yesterday, other than the angel statue.”
“You mean someone stole from the shed that isn’t there anymore. Did they steal the shed, too?” Kyle asked.
“Well, it was foggy. I must have gotten lost or something, found a different mausoleum.” I rolled my eyes.
“Please tell me you don’t believe that, yeah?” Kyle said.
I glanced at Juan, who met my gaze with a flat one of his own. “Not a chance. He wouldn’t tell me where the shed really is, either.”
“You’ll have to check later. Maybe if it gets foggy again.”
“I guess.” The thought made me nauseous. I didn’t really want to go back in that strange fog. I wondered, though. Neither Uncle Frank nor Aunt Liz were the kind of people I’d think were suicidal. Did this have something to do with that? That thought gave the nausea a good stir, but once the idea had curled up in the back of my brain, it stuck around like a particularly lazy cat.
“Anyway, good news.”
“Oh yeah, great news. I—”
“Not that!” I could almost see Kyle squirming in his wheelchair. “I’ve found you a tutor. Like, for necromancy. They’re a couple, actually, and they say they’d love to meet ya. Pretty cool, yeah? Maybe now you’ll actually be able to do more than menace fruit with your powers.”
It took me a second to register what he said. My mouth went dry. “That’s—that’s awesome. I guess.”
“I thought so,” Kyle seemed oblivious to the dullness of my tone. “So I let them know you’re free Tuesday.”
My heart skipped a beat. “Wait, what? You didn’t.”
“You have no idea how much I’ve had to do to find these guys. Martin said he’s free, so drop by and at least see what’s up.”
I thought back to the mausoleum and what I’d seen. Heaving a slow breath, conscious of Cassie and Juan watching me, I said, “Okay, okay. What’s the worst that could happen?”
I really should have known how stupid that question would be. But hey—spoilers.