WITCHING HOUR:
Wild Hunt, Book 7: An Ante-Fae Adventure
Due out July 8, 2019

When you dance with death, you have to learn how to roll the bones...

Raven BoneTalker, also known as the Daughter of Bones, is one of the Ante-Fae—the dangerous, unpredictable predecessors to the Fae Races. But Raven is young, and she likes interacting with mortals, so she’s opened a business—the Witching Hour—where she takes on clients with ghostly problems. Mostly she reads cards, boots out the odd poltergeist, or helps grieving families contact their loved ones for closure.

But when Lana, one of her friends, comes begging for help, things take a dark turn. Raven investigates what seems like a simple haunting on the surface. But the more she delves into the case, the more she realizes that this is no simple ghost. As Raven untangles a web of secrets and deceits kept for over fifty years, she finds herself in danger, facing not only a ghostly threat, but also a danger that is very much alive.

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Chapter 1

The crash from the living room startled me out of the book I was reading. I tossed my tablet on the bed and raced out to the living room, praying it wasn’t what I thought it was. But sure enough, there in the center of the room stood Raj, my gargoyle, amidst the shattered remains of a lead crystal sculpture of a dolphin. Raj glanced around at the shimmering glass that covered my wood floor, then looked up at me, a guilty look on his face.

“Oh Raj, I just bought that!” I had brought the sculpture home the day before and Raj had been absolutely fascinated with it. I’d had to tell him three times to leave it alone. He kept wanting to pick it up and play with the pretty fishie. But gargoyles’ hands are clumsy and big—it helps with their balance since they walk on their knuckles, like an orangutan or a gorilla—and the sculpture was delicate. The crystal figurine must have slipped out of his grasp.

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“I told you not to touch the dolphin.” I let out a long sigh and headed for the kitchen to get the broom and dustpan. Over my shoulder, I shouted, “You stay where you are. I don’t want you getting glass shards cutting your feet.”

“Sorry,” came the grumbly reply. Raj didn’t have a good singing voice, that was for sure.

In fact, few people understood that gargoyles could speak when they wanted to. Among the general populace that even knew about their existence—as anything other than as the stone caricatures on the sides of old cathedrals—it wasn’t commonly recognized that gargoyles could, and did, speak with humans, Fae, or anyone else for that matter.

Gargoyles had their own language, of course, but I spoke English with Raj, wanting him to understand the majority of my friends who came over, even if he didn’t talk to them. But he had learned a few words of daelethi, the ancient language used among my people.

I marched back into the living room, armed with the dustpan and broom. “Raj, I told you not to touch the statue. You do remember that, right?”

He gave me an unhappy nod. “Raj remembers.”

“Then why did you do it?” I asked, crouching as I began to sweep the pieces of crystal into the pan.

“It was so pretty. Raj wanted to touch it. It looked like water.” Raj let out a whimper. “Raj is sorry.”

I let out another sigh. I found it impossible to stay angry at him.

“All right. From now on, though, please obey me when I ask you to leave things alone. I tell you what. I’m going to buy another sculpture just like this one, and you leave it alone. And I’ll buy you a fishie toy that you can hold and touch, something you can’t break. Deal?”

I was pretty sure I could find a sparkly acrylic fish somewhere. I held out my hand. Raj was sensitive. His background had been so fucked up that I couldn’t stand to think of hurting his feelings.

Raj’s frown turned into a smile as he reached out and took my hand, swinging it back and forth in his clumsy grasp. “Raven is good to Raj. Even when Raj is naughty.” The gargoyle gave me a winsome look, and I melted, leaning down to hug him.

The first time I had seen him, he had been curled in a ball under the table next to his owner, Karjan. Karjan was a demon who I occasionally played poker with, and I could usually scam him out of a nice pile of coins. The demon was stupid, obnoxious as hell, and a mean sucker, but I could always count on him for a game, and he always paid up. When I realized he cut the wings off of his gargoyle, I made up my mind right then and there to win Raj away from him. And when I set my sights on something, I almost always got it.

“Oh Raj, you’re not really naughty,” I said, turning back to clean up the last of the broken crystal. “You just need to understand that sometimes, you’re just a little clumsy. And that’s okay. I’m not mad. Raven’s not mad at Raj, Raven loves Raj.”

I cautiously placed the glass-laden dustpan on the coffee table, then settled myself on the floor. I opened my arms and Raj lumbered over, curling up in my lap. Having an eighty-pound gargoyle sitting on top of me was like holding a sack of rocks, but I didn’t mind. Raj was a good boy and I loved him. I had the feeling he wouldn’t have survived if the demon had freed him—gargoyles were generally rough, and stoic, which Raj wasn’t, and he wouldn’t have made it long among his own people. I patted his back, and rocked him gently for a moment.

“Raven sing to Raj?” Raj asked in a voice that sounded about two sizes too small for his body.

“Sure. I’ll sing a song for Raj. Let me get situated.” And so, I emptied the dustpan, curled up on the sofa with my handpan, and began to tap out a melody that my father had sung to me when I was little. 

Where the sunset meets the mountain, on the craggy hills of Lyre,

There’s a stream that rolls through the land, ever crystal clear,

And there, in a ring of stones, under moonlight’s beam,

Sits a mournful woman, a-singing to the stream.

 

She sings of a fallen warrior, of a love long gone away,

She sings of the faerie dancer, who led him astray.

She sings out her pain and loss, in the night wind’s gale,

She sings until the morning light, until the stars do pale.

 

So, if you hike upon that hill, do so in the light,

For the ghostly singer, she only sings at night.

She will lure you to her pale breast, this lonely forlorn wife,

But once you taste her sweet, sad tears, you’ll forfeit your life.

 

So, wander all you like, you handsome roguish man,

But beware the misty songstress who bewitches and enchants,

Her loss and pain have chained her to the hills of Lyre,

She’s bound herself to the land, with her never-ending tears.

 As my words faded away, I looked down. Raj was snuggled up by my feet, asleep with a contented look on his face.

***

I had just finished making dinner—fettuccine Alfredo—when the doorbell rang. Frowning, I turned down the burner and headed for the door. I didn’t get a lot of visitors. Mostly just a few friends who only came over when they were invited. I glanced at Raj, but he seemed unconcerned, so I knew it wasn’t a stranger. He could sense when it was someone who had been over to the house before.

Sure enough, when I opened the door, I recognized the woman leaning against the doorframe.

“Lana? What are you doing here?” I had a tendency to blurt out things without thinking about whether it would sound rude. “I’m sorry—I didn’t mean it like that. I just wasn’t expecting anybody.”

Lana Frost was tall, with hair that color of faded wheat. She was wearing a pair of jeans and a denim jacket over a blue blouse. We had met at a wine tasting a couple months before and we had met a few times for dinner. I wouldn’t call her a good friend because we honestly didn’t mesh that well, but she was friendly enough and I enjoyed hanging out with her on occasion.

I opened the door. “Come in, I’ve got dinner on the stove and need to get back to the kitchen. What’s up?”

She entered the foyer and followed me into the kitchen, a deep furrow on her brow. “Hey, Raven. I hope you don’t mind me just dropping over like this, but I think I need your help. Professionally.”

I paused. Lana knew what I was. That she needed my help sparked off alarm bells. “What’s going on?”

“I’m not really sure, but…something’s wrong.”

She dropped her purse on the counter as I checked the pasta, and sat on one of the high kitchen stools on the other side of the island. Before I moved into the house, I’d had the kitchen and the bathrooms remodeled. The kitchen was still a galley kitchen, but it was spacious, and I’d had the cupboards stained a rich walnut with brushed nickel handles. The counter was white quartz, veined with pale gray sparkles. The island overlooked the dining room, and when the shutters were opened, it acted as a bar.

“You want something to eat? The fettuccine is ready.” I licked the sauce off my fingers, the taste of cheese and cream rich on my tongue. I didn’t like eating in front of people, so I always made enough for company. Most often, the leftovers ended up as my lunch the next day, but one way or the other, I was always prepared.

She shrugged. “Sure. Can I help?”

I motioned to the cupboard. “Why don’t you get out our plates. I’ll feed Raj. I baked him some stew meat and carrots.”

After I removed Raj’s dinner from the oven to the counter and scooped it into his bowl, allowing it to cool before I set it down for him, Lana handed me the plates. Black and white, the square china plates fit my minimalist style.

I loaded noodles and sauce onto them, and we carried them to the table. I returned to the kitchen for a bottle of wine, goblets, and the French bread I’d tucked in the oven to allow the butter and Parmesan to melt.

As I poured the wine, Lana let out a deep sigh and leaned back in her chair. “I swear, Raven, sometimes I think I’m going nuts.”

Taking a bite of my noodles, I savored the taste before asking, “All right. What’s happening?”

“You know that Tag asked me to move in a few months ago?” She took a sip of the wine, closing her eyes as she tipped her head back. Tag was her boyfriend. He didn’t like me all that much, and the feeling was mutual.

“Right. I seem to recall you moved into his house?”

She nodded. “Well, the house he’s renting.” Leaning forward, she rested her elbows on the table, staring at her plate. “Here’s the problem. I think Tag’s house is haunted. And I think the ghost is targeting me. Can you help?”

I slowly wound the fettuccine around my fork. I wasn’t really looking for new clients right this minute, but she was a friend—of sorts—and she sounded frightened. After a moment, I set down my fork. “I can’t promise anything, but I’ll try. First, though, you need to tell me what’s going on, and why you think the ghost is targeting you.”

As she began to explain, a shiver raced down my spine—a shiver I both recognized and dreaded. It always happened when clients came to me with a serious problem. And it always meant there was something nasty going down.

***

My name is Raven BoneTalker and I’m one of the Ante-Fae. I’m also known as the Daughter of Bones, and I’m a bone witch. Technically, I suppose you could call me a necromancer, but that term is usually reserved for those who are of the magic-born.

I live with Raj, my gargoyle, and three ferrets. At least, I tell people they’re ferrets because they look just like them, and act just like them as well. Templeton has plush black fur, and he’s a mischievous little goon. Elise is sable brown and a socialite. And Gordon has shockingly white fur, and he’s the angst-ridden one of the group. They’re my buddies, and I love them all, but I’m cautious with their secrets because I know what people can be like.

I was engaged to one of the Dark Fae. Ulstair and I had been together a long time, and he was the only serious romance I’ve had in my life. Everything was golden between us. That is, everything was wonderful until he was murdered. I turned to the Wild Hunt Agency for help. We—or rather, they—found the murderer, but he was about to get away so I did what was necessary to put a stop to him.

I always warn people up front: I’ll play by the rules if they work. If not, I make my own. Not enough people believe me, and they really should.

So yeah, I live in the city—on the Eastside of Seattle in the UnderLake District, in a simple but comfortable house, where I run my business—the Witching Hour. You know, as in “the long dark night of the soul,” “the midnight hour,” and all those deep, dark, thoughts that haunt people before the first streaks of dawn hit the sky.

As a bone witch, I offer my services to people of all walks of life. I communicate with the dead to find out what’s going on with them, I exorcise stray spirits, clean out nasty astral entities, boot out annoying poltergeists, and so forth. I also read tarot cards, and I read the bones.

I don’t have a lot of close friends, though I cherish those I do have. Mostly, I’m a bit of a loner, and at least until lately, that’s suited me just fine.

***

“What do you mean, the ghost is targeting you?” I frowned. “Has it actually attacked you?” Spirits that physically attacked the living were uncommon, but not unheard of. They were harder to banish and usually a lot more unreasonable than simple haunts and ghosts.

Lana paused, then shrugged. “I’m not sure what I mean. I feel like I’m being constantly watched. It’s worse in some parts of the house than in others. There are places in the house where I won’t go, because I feel constantly under scrutiny, but now it’s beginning to spread. I hear noises in the basement when nobody else is there. I see shadows moving on the walls. Sometimes things seem to move on their own. I’ll set my purse down in the living room and when I return, it will be in the kitchen.” She met my gaze and I could see the worry in her eyes. “I’m afraid, Raven.”

“First things first: could there be anybody in the house making those noises? Have you checked out the basement when you’ve heard someone there?”

She shook her head. “I don’t think so. But Tag won’t let me go down to the basement. He says there are a couple broken steps and when he gets around to mending them, then I can go down. But I really don’t think anybody else is hiding in the house. This happens too frequently—surely I would have seen anybody else by now.”

“What about Tag? What does he say? Has he experienced anything unusual?” I held up my hand before she could speak. “Give me a second. I want to get my notebook so I can write down notes.” I patted my lips with my napkin and headed over to a console table. I kept a disk binder there so I wouldn’t always have to run to my office. I flipped it open to a blank page, found my pen, and returned to the table.

“That’s an unusual pen,” Lana said, staring at my hand.

“It’s handcrafted from bog oak, all the way from Ireland. My mother sent it to me for my birthday last year.” I held up the hand-turned pen. It was a comfortable weight and size, the black of the bog oak contrasting with the brass Celtic knotwork fittings on the top, middle, and bottom. I took the cap off and began to make notes of what she had already told me.

“Your mother lives in Ireland?” she asked.

I shook my head. “No, but she bought it while she was passing through. She lives in Scotland. She returned there when I was twelve, leaving me with my father.” I paused, looking up. Lana knew some things about me but I wasn’t sure what she’d say if I told her the whole story. “All right, tell me about Tag. Does he notice anything otherworldly? Have you told him what you told me?”

A flash of irritation crossed her face. “I told him, all right. All he says is, ‘Maybe this is your imagination, Lana.’ Or ‘Are you sure you weren’t drinking, Lana?’ I honestly don’t know if he’s seen anything or not, but he acts like I’m some hysterical woman.”

Oh, lovely. I hated working cases where all members of the household weren’t on the same page. It made things so much more complicated. Usually, I had to wear the skeptic down until they admitted they were either too embarrassed or too afraid to tell me the truth.

More often than not, the holdout was simply so afraid that they were clinging to the hope that if they ignored it, it would all go away. But that admission only came after a number of arguments. Unfortunately, that reluctance often set up the person who originally came to me for a romp through “Am I Crazyland.” After all, if their roommate or spouse didn’t hear or see anything, maybe they were starting to hallucinate.

“Okay. So Tag thinks you’re making this up? Does he have any reason to believe that you would pull something like that? Or is he gaslighting you?”

I didn’t bother to pretty up the alternatives. Over the years, my direct nature had cost me several clients, but that was an occupational hazard. I wasn’t a diplomat, didn’t aspire to be one, and I didn’t bother trying unless there was a real sense of loss connected with the case. After losing Ulstair, I had developed a lot more empathy for those in mourning.

Lana paused, frowning. She lowered her gaze to the ground. “When I was fifteen, I ended up in the psych ward for a month. My parents locked me up because I kept seeing an old woman in my room and I thought she was out to kill me. Tag knows about that.”

I stared at her, mulling over a couple thoughts. “Have you ever had other flashes—where you just knew things, or where you picked up on something that was going to happen before it did?”

“You mean, am I psychic? Yeah, I thought of that, too. I don’t know. The old woman was gone by the time I came home, but I could swear she was really there. My parents wouldn’t ever let me talk about it, but I did a little research on my own and found out that the woman who had owned the house before we bought it had died there. She looked a lot like the woman I thought I saw. So maybe I do have some sort of power. But I can tell you this: I didn’t just make her up for my own amusement, and I sure as hell am not making up this.” She finished her dinner and pushed back her plate.

Sometimes people did make up things for attention, but I sensed that Lana was telling me the truth. “All right, then let’s just assume that either Tag’s gaslighting you, or he hasn’t seen anything. Or maybe he’s afraid. Why do you think the spirit’s targeting you?”

“I don’t know,” she said, leaning back in her chair. “I just moved in a few months back. Maybe the ghost feels like I’m intruding? Maybe it doesn’t like me for some reason? I just get a real hostile feeling when I’m there.”

“What’s happened in particular?”

“The other night I went to take a shower. Luckily, I was standing back, so that the water didn’t hit me full force, because the hot water knob turned on its own and the water suddenly reached scalding point. I managed to jump out before it burned me. If I had been closer to the spray, I would have been scalded.”

I blinked. That was an attack, for sure. “What else?”

“Whenever things disappear, they’re important to me. My wallet, my car keys, jewelry. They vanish and show up somewhere else.”

“Poltergeist activity, then. Anything else?”

“I woke up last night at around three a.m. I could feel someone was looming over me. I reached out, and Tag was asleep beside me. I couldn’t bring myself to open my eyes because I was so afraid of what I might see, so I just turned over and ignored it. Finally, it went away. But I woke up this morning to find scratches on me.”

She pulled up her sleeve and showed me five long scratches on her arm that looked as though they’d been made by fingernails. They were red and inflamed.

“You don’t have a cat, do you?” I knew she didn’t but had to ask.

“Nope. And they weren’t there when I went to bed.”

I pulled out my phone from my bra and took a picture of the scratches, then jotted down what she said, trying to keep my expression neutral. But the truth was, by now I agreed that she was being attacked physically. And given what was going on, activity had escalated to a dangerous point.

“How long has Tag lived there?” I asked.

She shrugged. “I’m not sure. I think he rented the place a few years back. I never really asked, and I’ve never met the landlord. Tag’s going to be leaving for a business trip tomorrow. I thought you could come over to check things out? If you find something, maybe he’ll listen to you.”

“I hate to break it to you, Lana,” I said slowly, “but I’ve picked up on the fact that Tag doesn’t like me, so I’m not sure he’d listen to me. But yes, I can come over. Shall we say tomorrow night, around eight o’clock? He’ll be gone by then?” I pulled out my phone and glanced at my schedule. Today was Thursday. Tomorrow, my schedule was clear. On Saturday, my friends Ember and Angel were coming over to hang out.

Lana nodded. “That works. Tag’s leaving around two p.m. so that should be perfect.” She paused, then licked her lips. “What happens if we find a ghost there? I can’t live in that house with something that’s waiting to hurt me.”

“Let’s cross that bridge when we come to it,” I said. “We’ll figure it out, Lana.”

But as I walked her to the door, something inside told me that we were facing an angry spirit, and that this wasn’t going to be just an ordinary case.

COLLAPSE

Playlist for The Witching Hour

Alexandros: Milk; Mosquito Bite
Android Lust: Here and Now; Dragonfly; Stained; Saint Over
Asteroid Galaxy Tour: Hurricane; Out of Frequency; Heart Attack; Major
AWOLnation: Sail
Band of Skulls: I Know What I Am
Beastie Boys: She’s Crafty
Beck: Qué Onda Guero; Farewell Ride; Emergency Exit; Cellphone’s Dead; Nausea; Loser; Mixed Bizness; Broken Train
The Black Angels: Currency; Indigo Meadow; Evil Things; Don’t Play With Guns; Love Me Forever; Always Maybe; Young Men Dead; Phosphene Dream
Black Mountain: Queens Will Play
Blondie: I Know But I Don’t Know; One Way or Another; Rapture
Boney M: Rasputin
Broken Bells: The Ghost Inside
Camouflage Nights: (It Could Be) Love
Cher: The Beat Goes On
Colin Foulke: Emergence
Commodores: Brick House
Crazy Town: Butterfly
Cream: Strange Brew; Sunshine of Your Love
David Bowie: Jean Genie; Rebel Rebel; Fame; Golden Years; I’m Afraid of Americans; Without You; Sister Midnight
Death Cab For Cutie: I Will Possess Your Heart
Dire Straits: Money for Nothing
Dizzi: Dizzi Jig; Dance of the Unicorns
Donovan: Sunshine Superman; Season of the Witch; Hurdy Gurdy Man
Doors: Five to One; Alabama Song; Roadhouse Blues; LA Woman; Cars Hiss by My Window; L’ America; Hyacinth House; Waiting for the Sun; Magie McGill
Dragon Ritual Drummers: Black Queen; The Fall; Dance of the Roma
Eastern Sun: Beautiful Being (Original Edit)
Eels: Souljacker (Part 1)
Eivør: Trøllbundin
Elektrisk Gonner: Uknowhatiwant
Everlast: Black Jesus; I Can’t Move; Ends; What It’s Like; We’re All Gonna Die; One, Two
Faith No More: Falling to Pieces; Epic
Faun: Hymn to Pan; Iduna; Oyneng yar
Fleetwood Mac: The Chain; Gold Dust Woman
Foster The People: Pumped Up Kicks
Garbage: Queer; Milk; #1 Crush; Push It; I Think I’m Paranoid
Gary Numan: Stormtrooper in Drag; When the Sky Bleeds, He Will Come; The Angel Wars; Cars (Remix); Ghost Nation; My Name is Ruin; Hybrid; Petals; I Am Dust; Bridge? What Bridge?; War Songs; My Shadow In Vain; Voix; Soul Protection; Outland; Confession; My World Storm; Here in the Black; The Sleeproom
Godsmack: Voodoo
Gorillaz: Last Living Souls; Kids With Guns; Dare; Hongkongaton; Rockit; Clint Eastwood; Stylo
The Hang Drum Project: Shaken Oak; St.Chartier
The Hollies: Long Cool Woman
The Hu: Wolf Totem; Yuve Yuve Yu
Jay Price: The Devil’s Bride; Coming For you Baby; Boneshaker
Justin Timberlake: SexyBack
The Kills: Nail in My Coffin; You Don’t Own The Road; Dead Road 7; DNA; Sour Cherry
Lady Gaga: Born This Way; Paparazzi; Poker Face; I Like It Rough
Ladytron: Paco; Ghosts; I’m Not Scared
Lindstrøm & Christabelle: Lovesick
Low and tomandandy: Half Light
Mai Lan: Pumper
Marilyn Manson: Tainted Love; Personal Jesus
Motherdrum: Big Stomp; Ceremony
Nick Cave: Right Red Hand
Ohio Players: Fire
Oingo Boingo: Elevator Man; Dead Man’s Party
One Republic: Counting Stars
Orgy: Social Enemies; Blue Monday
Pati Yang: All That Is Thirst
The Pierces: Secret
The Pussycat Dolls: When I Grow Up; Don’t Cha
Red Hot Chili Peppers: Give It Away; Sir Psycho Sexy; Higher Ground
Rick James: Super Freak
Rob Zombie: Living Dead Girl
Robin Schulz: Sugar
Rolling Stones: Miss You; Sympathy For the Devil
Scorpions: The Zoo
Shriekback: The Shining Path; Underwaterboys; This Big Hush; Now These Days Are Gone; The King in the Tree; And The Rain; Church of the Louder Light; Wriggle and Drone
Simple Minds: Don’t You
Steppenwolf: Magic Carpet Ride
Stone Temple Pilots: Sour Girl; Atlanta
Talking Heads: I Zimbra; Life During Wartime; Take Me to the River; Burning Down the House; Slippery People; Moon Rocks
Thievery Corporation: Water Under the Bridge; Voyage Libre
Tingstad & Rumbel: Chaco
Tom Petty: Mary Jane’s Last Dance
Traffic: Rainmaker; The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys
Transplants: Diamonds and Guns
U2: Elevation; Vertigo
Ween: Mutilated Lips; The Golden Eel

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Witching Hour