Whisper Hollow, where spirits walk among the living, and the lake never gives up her dead...
Fifteen years ago, I ran away from Whisper Hollow, Washington, a small town on Crescent Lake in the Olympic Peninsula. But truth is, if you were born here, you can never really leave. I'm Kerris Fellwater, and I'm a spirit shaman. It's my responsibility to drive the dead back to their graves, because around Whisper Hollow, people— and secrets— don’t always stay buried.
Veronica, Queen of the Unliving, requests my presence. Something has happened in Whisper Hollow—there’s a new menace around, and it’s not only attacking the living, but also the denizens of her Court. Now, Bryan and I must enlist the help of the dead in order to keep the spirit world—and the citizens of Whisper Hollow--safe.
I had no sooner dropped my bag o’ tricks on the kitchen table when my phone rang again. Crap. Sophia. I stared at the caller ID, not wanting to pick up. All week long it had been one report after another. First over on Spruce Street, a poltergeist had chased Mrs. Burman out of her house. Then a Haunt near the grade school was trying to lure children away from the schoolyard. And Old Man Jenkins showed up in his daughter’s backyard, fresh out of the grave, even though Ellia and I had escorted him to Penelope and the Veil not two weeks ago.
Then today, August Hamilton had returned from the beyond.
The past week had been crazy-making trying to deal with the spirits. With a sigh, I dropped into a chair by the table and punched the talk button, dreading what was coming my way next.
“Hey, what is it now?”
Sophia Castillo was the chief of police, and she knew I was the first stop for all things spooky.READ MORE
“I hate to bother you so soon after my last call, but I think we have an even bigger issue. Someone just moved into the old Johnson place a few days ago. A woman named Mandy Theos called me an hour ago, frantic because she thinks someone’s inside the house with her. I sent Frank out there, and he looked around but didn’t find anybody. I don’t know if she knows about the history of the place, but she just called again and said that now she’s hearing strange noises coming from the attic.”
“Well, of course she is. Ezra Johnson’s still hanging out there and he and his family have become so entrenched in the land that the best course of action is to raze the house and plant a few trees and call it as good as it gets.” I groaned. Ten to one, Jack Walters, one of the greediest real estate agents in town, had sold the property to the Theos family. Nobody else in town would even touch the Johnson house, not with its history. “You want me to go over there and talk to her?”
“I was thinking it might be best. The last thing we want is for the ghosts there to possess her and send her on a murder spree.” Sophia sounded as tired as I felt. “I thought the news might be best, coming from you.”
“Maybe I can convince Oriel, Ivy, and Ellia to go with me. We can do a welcome-wagon thing and find out what we can about Mandy and her family and whether she knew what she was getting into.” I stifled a yawn. “I’ll talk to her tomorrow. I’m so tired I can barely keep my eyes open. Ellia and I just drove August Hamilton back to his grave, by the way. So he shouldn’t be bothering the playground again.”
August Hamilton had been fourteen when the Lady took him into her watery depths. Ellia and my grandmother had escorted him to the Veil, but apparently he had managed to cross back over. Penelope had been as irritated as I was when I dragged his ass back to her. For some reason, the dead were rising faster than we could keep up with them, and spirits who should have been on their merry way to a new life had come wandering back to town.
“Thank gods for small favors,” Sophia said. “Call me after you talk to Mandy. I’d like to know who sold her that house. There’s no law against it, but…”
“But whoever did it needs a good talking to,” I finished for her.
“Just what I was thinking.”
I glanced at the clock. It was eight thirty, on a Monday night. Too late to pay a visit to Mandy Theos. I said good-bye to Sophia and put in quick calls to Ivy—my grandmother; Oriel—the Heart of Whisper Hollow; and Ellia, who groaned when I came on the line. She was tired too. Garnering their promises to meet me at Mandy’s at ten the next morning with welcome-wagon gifts in hand, I finally turned off my phone and trudged into the living room.
Bryan was out of town for a meeting, so I had the house to myself. Dropping onto the sofa, I turned on the TV and curled up to watch The Great British Bake-Off with all three of my Maine Coons curled up on my legs. Before I realized what was happening, I fell asleep, dead to the world.
My name is Kerris Fellwater, and I’m the spirit shaman of Whisper Hollow. I was born into a great family lineage. I’m the fiftieth generation of spirit shamans from my family. We’ve passed down the title for centuries, from within the mists of time. I know very little about my family line, but I’m looking for answers, and I’m trying to learn.
My grandma Lila was the spirit shaman of Whisper Hollow before me. The post skipped a generation because my mother was murdered. If she had lived, she would have taken the post over from my grandmother. So I came to it early, and I’m learning the hard way. I ran away when I was eighteen, trying to escape my destiny, trying to escape Whisper Hollow and its ever-present ghosts. But destiny won out, and I returned home when Grandma Lila died, giving in to the path that had been set before me.
Together with Ellia, my lament singer, who sings the dead to sleep, and Bryan, my wolf-shifter guardian and fiancé, we keep the spirits in check, escorting them to Penelope the Gatekeeper.
My life surrounds death, and it’s everywhere I look, everywhere I turn. The spirits are more real to me than some people. I live in a world of mist and shadow, of dark nights by the graveside. I walk under the moon, whispering to the Crow Man. I am a Daughter of the Morrígan, and this is my journey. Until the day I die, I will bear her mark on my back.
I’ve accepted my fate, finally, but now comes the job of settling into the work, of finding my way through this labyrinth of the dead, all the while avoiding the enemies of the Morrígan who would like to see every spirit shaman wiped off the face of the earth. The latter task? Not quite so easy.
“Love? Love…wake up.”
The words trickled into my brain and I blinked, squinting against the overhead light that I had forgotten to turn off. I groaned, pushing myself up so I was sitting against the back of the sofa. Bryan had edged himself onto the seat beside me. He looked beat.
“You look like I feel,” I said, yawning as I struggled to sit up. I glanced at the grandfather clock against the wall, next to the entertainment hutch. It was two a.m. I had been asleep for a little over six hours. I had climbed into my nightgown and settled down to watch a movie. That was the last thing I remembered. “Oh, man, I must have crashed hard.”
Bryan wrapped his arms around me, pulling me in. I closed my eyes as he kissed me, floating in the warmth of his lips against mine. “I missed you,” he whispered, running his hand through my hair. “I missed you so much. I hate being away from you.”
“I missed you too,” I said, leaning against his shoulder. “I don’t like it when you’re gone. The house feels too empty.” I floated for a moment in the shelter of his embrace, wanting to stay like this forever.
“If you don’t act now, you’ll miss out on this stupendous buy!” The TV was still on, and some infomercial was trying to sell me the most marvelous face cream in the world.
With a groan, I looked around for the remote. It was on the floor next to the sofa, so I leaned across Bryan’s lap, wincing at the crick in my back as I managed to get hold of it. I turned off the TV, tossing the remote on the side table.
“Perfect position, huh?” I asked, grinning. My face was two inches from his crotch.
“If I weren’t so jet-lagged, I’d call your bluff,” Bryan said, rolling me back up and kissing my nose. “Damn, I missed you.”
I giggled, curling back into the niche of his arm. “That’s a lot of miles to cover in so short of a time.”
“You’re not kidding.” He had been visiting Ireland for a couple of days to take care of business matters with one of his international antique businesses. “Two international flights in four days is too many. Are you all right? Was everything okay while I was gone?” He was anxious and I knew he felt guilty for leaving.
As my guardian, he was supposed to be at my beck and call any time, day or night, should I need him. But there had been some sort of crisis that he couldn’t delegate and so I had told him to go, take care of matters, and not worry.
“Ellia and I have been run ragged the past few days, but luckily, we were able to handle matters. Don’t worry—I’m fine. Just tired. But how did it go? How was your trip?” I leaned in to kiss him again. “Did you take care of whatever was wrong?”
“Not exactly. The meeting was tense. I’ve decided to close the business. Apparently, the manager has been running it into the ground and the effort to save it would be more time and money than I want to invest. I’ll write it off as a loss. I fired his sorry ass, though, with pleasure.” Bryan let out a little growl.
Bryan Tierney was a wolf shifter. His icy-blue eyes were ringed with black, and his shaggy wheat-colored hair hung down to his shoulders. He had a five-o’clock shadow, and was starting the bare beginnings of a mustache. He was wearing a pair of tight jeans, with a button-down green shirt and a pair of punkish motorcycle boots that had five thick straps that buckled across the lacing. They had thick rubber soles for traction. He had draped his leather jacket over the rocking chair, and his suitcase was sitting on the living room floor next to it.
“I’m sorry, that sucks.” I tried to stifle a yawn, but it was no use. “I love you, I’m glad you’re back, and I’m still so tired I want to drop. Come to bed?”
He kissed me again, and I could feel him stirring. “I need a shower.”
“I don’t care.” As tired as I was, I was hungrier for him. I straddled him, stripping off my nightgown. He pressed his lips to my throat and I moaned, dropping my head back. Every time Bryan touched me, it was a reaffirmation of life. Every time he kissed me, it reminded me that I might walk hand-in-hand with death, but I was also alive and the moonlight would turn to sun, and the morning would follow the darkness.
“Let’s go, woman.” He gathered me up in his arms as though I was as light as a feather as I wrapped my legs around him, and he carried me into the bedroom, laying me down on the bed. His eyes grew even more icy as he stripped off his shirt, exposing the rippling muscles that crossed his chest.
I opened my arms to him and pulled him down, riding on the warmth of his body, swimming in the depths of his love. He was my guardian, and he would protect me in the depths of any darkness that came. He was my wolf, and I was his mate. As he loved me, fully and wholly, kissing every inch of my body, I drifted in and out of the magic we wove together—the magic of the Morrígan.
“Go to sleep,” he whispered when we were finished. He drew the covers up over my shoulders. “I’ll stay up the rest of the night and tomorrow, and then hit the sheets early tomorrow night.”
Grateful that he was home, I snuggled down and closed my eyes. Agent H—my Maine Coon brown tabby with massively tufted ears—curled up by my feet. Daphne had stayed out in the living room with Bryan, and Gabby was asleep on one of the heating vents. Agent H’s steady purr—audible all the way from the bottom of the bed—lulled me back to sleep and once again, I closed my eyes and crashed.
Morning broke through my sleep on the wafting scent of bacon, eggs, and pancakes. I sat up, my mouth watering.
Bryan was a good cook, though I was no slouch in the kitchen either, and he loved making breakfast for me. My appetite warred with my need for a shower, but finally the grime won out. I quickly lathered up and rinsed off, my long black hair pulled back in a high ponytail so I wouldn’t get it wet. As I dried off and slipped into a bra—underwire to corral my 38F girls—and panties, I remembered what he had said about his business.
Bryan didn’t need to work, but he liked doing so. He was a business mogul of some sort, and he loved every minute of it. But the closure of any small business was sad, and I felt bad for him. I quickly applied my makeup, winging the eyeliner out in cat’s eyes, and then decided on a pair of pale blue jeans and a cobalt blue turtleneck. It was cold outside, and I needed to pay a visit to Mandy Theos later this morning.
I zipped up a pair of leather ankle boots, fastened a silver belt around my waist, and brushed out my hair, glancing back in the mirror for one last reassuring glance. I was working out regularly, and the toning was beginning to show. I was a solid size eight, and fine with it, but I wanted to be a strong and fit size eight as well.
“Good morning!” I called ahead as I entered the kitchen.
Bryan was by the stove, pouring more batter into a pan. A stack of pancakes sat on the counter, along with a plate of bacon, and a skillet of scrambled eggs sat on the back burner. The smell of freshly pulled espresso filled the air, making my morning complete.
He held out one arm and I slid into it, kissing him. “Thank you for last night. I needed you.”
“I always need you,” he said. “You’re my mate, Kerris. My partner. And come this autumn, you’ll be my wife.”
He handed me a plate and I held it out while he scooped scrambled eggs onto it, and I stabbed three pancakes and set them next to the eggs, then added six slices of bacon. As I carried my plate over to the table, I saw that he had made me a triple-shot mocha, and I slid into my chair, content.
“You’re the best. But aren’t you tired?”
“Yeah, but if I sleep now, I won’t sleep tonight,” he said from the stove. Finishing up the last pancake, he stacked his plate high with food and sat down opposite me. “How did you sleep?”
“Like a log. Man, I was exhausted last night. But you helped me relax so that my dreams were easy.” I told him about chasing the ghosts around the playground. “August is now back across the Veil, but Penelope said she’s not sure if he’ll stay there. She’s not even sure how the spirits are getting free to return. Oh, in further news, I get to play welcome wagon today. Somebody moved into the old Johnson house this week and they’re already having problems.”
Bryan paused, his fork mid-air. “Who the hell would move into that place?”
“Obviously someone new to Whisper Hollow. Someone who hasn’t figured out yet that the place is haunted by a psychopathic ghost.” I rolled my eyes. “Oriel, Ivy, Ellia, and I are going over to welcome her to Whisper Hollow, and to warn her about the place. The woman has already called Sophia twice about suspicious noises inside the house. Sophia sent Frank over but, of course, he found nothing out of the ordinary.”
Bryan buttered his pancakes. “I know it’s haunted, but is it bad? Can they manage to live with the spirits?”
I shook my head. “I wouldn’t bet on it. The Johnson place is dangerous. It’s so bad that it’s seen a string of over fifty renters since 1962. Ezra Johnson went nuts and slaughtered his family. Nobody’s lasted there more than a few months, and a few of the renters have been hurt. The two or three families who actually bought the house didn’t last more than a week or two before putting it back on the market. The real estate agency who owns it—or who did, it might have changed hands—used to warn people, but you always get the crazies who think living in a haunted house might be fun. And it’s all fun and games until Casper turns into the Headless Horseman.”
While we ate our breakfast, he told me about his troubled business and how the manager had bungled things so badly there was no hope for anything except to cut his losses and run. “I tell you, the guy I hired for the job put on a good show and his resume checked out, but he just wasn’t able to hold it together.”
I was about to ask how much he had lost when my phone rang. I groaned, glancing at the caller ID. Sophia again. “Hello?”
“Hey, Kerris. I know you’re going over to see Mandy Theos today, but I wanted to give you a heads-up. Tiger Reine? Went into the lake about half an hour ago.” Her voice was hushed.
I stared at the table for a moment. I barely knew who Tiger was, other than the fact that he was in his twenties and he liked to ride around town on a Harley.
“Did he drive off the road?” I asked.
“Looks like it. Skid marks show he tried to stop, but he broke right through the guard rail and went over, bike and all.” She let out a long sigh. “He didn’t make it out.”
“Crap, everything seems to be happening this week. All right, I’ll tell Ellia. Let me know if a body surfaces in the next few days. If not, I’ll talk to Penelope and we’ll perform the rites to drag him out of the Lady’s clutches.” With that, I signed off. I glanced over at Bryan, who was watching me closely.
“The Lady take another one?”
I nodded. “Yeah, Tiger Reine. He was barely twenty-four, I think. That seems so young.” But the Lady didn’t care. The Lady took who she would and nothing mattered to her—age, gender, class. Young and old, rich or poor, she lured them in. I leaned back, rubbing my head. “Most likely, Ellia and I will have to drag his spirit out of the water and deliver it to Penelope in a few days. I swear, if one more thing happens this week, I’m going to scream.”
I pushed my chair out from the table. “All right. I need to gather a few things together that say welcome to the neighborhood and meet the Matriarchs over at the Johnson house.” I glanced at the backyard. The rain was pouring in the bleak morning. The snow had melted, but reports were predicting another round in the next day or so. Most of our snow came during January and February in Western Washington. For once, I realized that I was craving sunlight.
It would be a nice change, that was for sure.
The town of Whisper Hollow rests out on the Olympic Peninsula, on the edge of Lake Crescent near the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The peninsula is home to all sorts of odd creatures and spirits, and we’re easily the most haunted spot in Washington State. Living on the edge of the ocean, we get the winds that come in off the Straits. They howl through the night and rock the forest and topple long-rooted timbers. Out here, we try to be self-sufficient, because too often, we’re on our own. While we aren’t that far from Seattle as the crow flies, it takes several hours and a ferry or two to get there. We might as well be isolated in our own world when bad things happen.
While there are other small towns around here, Port Angeles and Port Townsend namely, really, we’re all sitting on the edge of the wild.
The Olympic National Forest is an old-growth temperate rain forest, one of the only temperate rain forests in the lower forty-eight. Deep in the heart of the woodland, the forest is saturated with rain—the Olympic Peninsula gets over four hundred inches of rain a year. Sasquatch lives in the depths of all that moss and mildew, as well as the Grey Man, and the spirits of miners and loggers from ages past. There are tribal lands nearby, and the Native Americans weren’t all that friendly and peaceful around these parts, not surprising since a stream of settlers invaded and took over their lands. Homesteaders lived here, and they died here.
Whisper Hollow has its own agenda. Built over a convergence of ley lines, the town is home to a wayward set of spirits, not all of which are human, and not all of which are actually dead. From elementary school on, we’re all taught the rules, and we remember and follow them. To ignore them is to invite trouble—more trouble than it’s wise to incur. I remember reciting them aloud in first grade:
- If you hear someone call your name from the forest, don’t answer.
- Never interrupt Ellia when she’s playing to the dead.
- If you see the Girl in the Window, set your affairs in order.
- Try not to end up in the hospital.
- If the Crow Man summons you, follow him.
- Remember: Sometimes the foul are actually fair.
- And most important: Don’t drive down by the lake at night.
Follow the rules and you stand a good chance of surviving. Don’t follow them, and no one can vouch for your safety.
But Whisper Hollow holds its own charm and magic, too, and if the town wants you to stay, it will welcome you in and never let you go. Even if you do manage to escape, chances are good it will summon you back, like it did with me. Despite the danger, despite the hauntings, I love Whisper Hollow. And now that I’m here, I’ll never leave again.
I slid on my jacket and picked up the basket I had managed to put together. I had added mini-muffins, a bottle of wine, a bottle of sparkling apple cider, oranges and apples and some bananas, an unopened box of chocolate, and a sheet of paper on which I had written the names and numbers of a reliable plumber, handyman, Dr. Corbin’s phone number, and several other services that newcomers might need.
“I’m leaving,” I called over my shoulder. Bryan was still in the kitchen, washing up from breakfast. I suspected he was too tired to do much else.
“Are you coming right back?” he asked, drying his hands on a dish towel as he peeked out into the living room.
I shook my head. “I have some errands to run, so I won’t be home for a while. You should take a nap while I’m gone.”
“I might at that,” he said, yawning widely. “As long as you’re out, we could use something for dinner, unless you want takeout. There’s not much in the fridge.”
I picked up the basket, draped it over my arm, and headed out. As I got into my CRV, I realized how very different my life was from a year ago. And I had to admit, as spooky and dangerous as it could be, I was grateful for everything that I’d gone through.COLLAPSE
I write to music quite often, and each book will have a playlist that fits the mood of the book. For The Phantom Queen, this is the list of songs I listened to:
- J. Roach: Devil May Dance
- Air: Moon Fever; Surfing on a Rocket
- Airstream: Electra
- Android Lust: Here and Now
- Black Angels, The: Indigo Meadow
- Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band: Old Time Rock & Roll
- Bobbie Gentry: Ode to Billie Joe
- Brandon & Derek Fiechter: Night Fairies; Troll Bridge; Black Wolf’s Inn; Naiad River; Mushroom Woods
- Broken Bells: The Ghost Inside
- Death Cab For Cutie: I Will Possess Your Heart
- Dizzi: Dizzi Jig; Dance of the Unicorns
- DJ Shah: Mellomaniac
- Eastern Sun: Beautiful Being (Original Edit)
- Eels: Souljacker, Part 1
- Fats Domino: I Want to Walk You Home
- Flight of the Hawk: Bones
- Garbage: #1 Crush; I Think I’m Paranoid; Queer; Only Happy When it Rains
- Gary Numan: Dead Heaven; Down in the Park; Petals
- Godsmack: Sundown
- Gordon Lightfoot: Sundown
- Gotye: Somebody That I Used To Know
- Jay Price: Dark-Hearted Man; The Devil’s Bride; Coming For You Baby
- Jeannie C. Riley: Harper Valley P.T.A.
- Jessica Bates: The Hanging Tree
- Johnny Otis: Willy and the Hand Jive
- Lady Gaga: I Like It Rough
- Ladytron: Black Cat; Ghosts; I’m Not Scared
- Loreena McKennitt: The Mummer’s Dance; All Souls Night
- Low with tomandandy: Half Light
- Mark Lanegan: Gray Goes Black; Phantasmagoria Blues
- Matt Corby: Breathe
- Morcheeba: Even Though
- Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds: Red Right Hand
- Nirvana: Lake of Fire
- The Pierces: Secret
- PJ Harvey: The Words That Maketh Murder; In the Dark Places; Bitter Branches; Good Fortune
- Rachel Diggs: Hands of Time
- Rue du Soleil: We Can Fly; Le Francaise; Wake Up Brother; Blues Du Soleil
- Screaming Trees: Where the Twain Shall Meet; All I Know; Dime Western
- Snow Patrol: The Lightning Strike
- Sweet Talk Radio: We All Fall Down
- Tamaryn: While You’re Sleeping, I’m Dreaming
- Tingstad & Rumbel: Chaco
- Tom Petty: Mary Jane’s Last Dance
- Verve, The: Bitter Sweet Symphony
- Voxhaul Broadcast: You Are the Wilderness
- Zero 7: In the Waiting Line