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Keeper of the Castle

Excerpt

Keeper of the Castle

Dog started barking and wagging his tail in ecstatic ferocity.

This wasn't a simple yelp. This was the semihysterical bark Dog let out whenever . . .

I looked up to see men running from the cloister, shouting, white faced with fear. When one slowed to look behind him, two others plowed into him, and all three flailed their arms to keep from falling.

It would have been comical had they not been clearly terrified.

"What happened?" I called out to the fleeing men. "What is it?"

I had grown up on my father's construction sites and learned at an early age how many things could go dangerously wrong on a job. Slippery surfaces, wobbly ladders, power tools, heavy materials—they could maim or kill in seconds, without warning. "What happened?" I repeated. Now that they were safe in the open air, they shrugged, chagrined. The men glanced at one another, and a couple of them quite literally kicked at the dirt with their boots.

Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a flash of red. It had crossed in front of the arched doorway that led into the cloister. By the time I realized what I had seen, it was gone.

Dog yanked free of my grasp and ran into the building.

I took off after him.

"Hey, lady! Don't . . . Lady, don't go in there!" I heard someone yell as I paused in the doorway.

I ignored the warning. I wanted my dog. Besides, I knew the biggest impediment to dealing with ghosts was getting freaked out by the very thought of them. My ghost-busting mentor, Olivier Galopin, had taught me ghosts retained their essential human characteristics. They might be sad, or angry, or tormented. Dead, I'll grant you; confused, most certainly. But fundamentally human. And as fallible as ever.

I reached up to rub the gold wedding ring that hung on a chain around my neck. My mother had given it to me; she had inherited it from her own mother. It was the closest thing I had to a talisman, and touching it helped keep me centered and focused, connecting me to two generations of strong women.

Finally, I breathed fresh early-morning air deep into my lungs, released it slowly, then walked through the antechamber and into the chapel.

The chapel's walls were still being built, the space covered by a temporary roof of corrugated metal held up by tall steel beams. Daylight shone through the gap at the top of the walls. Stone pillars supported nothing, arched niches sat empty, and several carved portions of what I imagined were ceiling vaults remained on the ground, in groupings scattered throughout the cavernous space.

Following the sound of Dog's bark, I crossed the chapel to the rear of the sacristy and ducked into a passageway that led to a series of tiny, cramped chambers. The doorways were low, the walls the beefy thickness of the stones. While the main chapel featured the graceful arches of Gothic style, the farther I went into the heart of the reconstruction, the cruder the structure became.

I stepped into a large antechamber.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a man.

Larry McCall sat in a stone niche, looking as unpleasant as he had a few minutes ago. But this time he was still. Silent.

"Mr. McCall?"

When I looked straight at him, he was gone.

Uh-oh.

© Juliet Blackwell


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