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Author: Kat Richardson
Publisher: Roc, 2013
Series: Greywalker: Book 8
Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
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Harper Blaine was your average small-time PI until she died--for two minutes. Now Harper is a Greywalker, treading the thin line between the living world and the paranormal realm. And she's discovering that her new abilities are landing her all sorts of "strange" cases.

When a comatose woman suddenly wakes up and starts painting scenes she's never witnessed, with a skill she's never had, medical science has no explanation. As more bizarre phenomena manifest, including strange voices coming from her mouth, even her doctors wonder whether the woman may be possessed.

Frustrated and frightened, the patient's sister turns to Harper to discover who--or what--is occupying her sister's body. As Harper digs into the case, she discovers other patients struck with the same mystifying afflictions and a disturbing connection to one of the most gruesome episodes in Washington's history....


Chapter 1

I don't usually acquire clients in secondhand stores. Books, jackets, furniture, knickknacks--yes; clients--not so much. I was lurking in the nook at Old Possum's Books 'n' Beans where the volumes about music, theater, and philosophy were currently kept--more a comment on the owner, Phoebe Mason's, sense of humor than any practical filing system--when a woman approached me. Even before I saw her, I felt the touch of her desperation and fear like a cloud of bad perfume.

Her footsteps stuttered as she walked across the scarred old wooden floor, and I looked around and down to find the source of the uncertain sound. Thus, the first thing I actually saw was her shoes: good-quality leather loafers with low heels that had become unevenly worn so each step wobbled just a bit, the dark brown leather scuffed along the sides and toes as if they'd been scraped repeatedly through rough stones. Her designer jeans were baggy at the knee, cinched in at the waist with a belt that didn't match the shoes, and fit like they'd been meant for a curvier body, while her blouse was so rumpled it appeared she'd misbuttoned it.

I looked up to study her face and saw a once lovely middle-aged woman with shoulder-length black hair, the gray roots leaving an undyed band about an inch wide along her part. Her cheekbones stood in high relief, hinting at some mix of Asian ancestors with taller Europeans, under skin that was dry, fine-lined, and too tight, as if she'd given up eating and was subsisting on nerves and dry toast. She stopped, her eyes widening as she bit her lip and stared at me for a second. Then she drew a deep breath and asked, "Are you the detective? A friend of Phoebe's?"

Her question seemed to hang in the air and I took a beat before I replied, frowning a little at the weight it seemed to add to the room. Phoebe had been my first friend in Seattle, but I answered hesitantly, not sure which role this woman expected me to fill: detective or friend. "I... am." The fading ghost of a former customer wafted obliviously down the aisle and through the pair of us as we stood there.

The woman didn't see it, but she twitched at its cold passage and gave me a deer-in-the-headlights stare, while a drained shimmer in shades of olive and charcoal around her told me she was terrified. For another moment we just blinked at each other, until I prompted her to tell me what she wanted.
"What can I do for you?" I held back my desire to frown or look sideways at her to see if she was entangled in the Grey, since I thought either would seem unfriendly and drive this skittish creature away.

"I need--um, I have a sister--" She stopped and shook her head as if she could shake her words into the right order. "I need help. I came here because I'm desperate to find out what's happening. I was told I should talk to you--" She wrung her hands as she babbled, her body slightly bent, stooped forward as if her chest ached.

I touched her hand and felt a chill of distress twine up my fingers like the tendrils of a climbing vine. I didn't jerk away, though that was my first impulse. "It's all right," I started, patting her hand very lightly and then closing mine over it to stop her churning motion. "Let's sit down and you can tell me about it."

She returned a jerky nod, her hands stilling as she let her gaze slide away from mine. I led her down the aisle and around the corner to the coffee nook, where there were a few cushy armchairs set between a fake fireplace and the espresso counter. A one-third-scale replica of a Triceratops skull looked down on us from the wall above the espresso machine, just a few feet from a round traffic mirror that showed the alcove to whoever was manning the front desk. We were alone, but not unobserved, and that was fine.

One of the chairs was occupied by a massive golden feline that laid claim to being a house cat only because we'd never been able to prove it was a mountain lion. "Hump it, Simba," I ordered, with a dismissive jerk of my head.

With impressive languor and a yawn that showed off white fangs and a long tongue of barbed pink velvet, the cat flowed out of the chair and prowled off to intimidate one of the lesser cats out of its sleeping spot. I waved to the two now empty chairs nearest us and watched the woman stumble and nearly fall into the one just vacated by Simba.

I got a cup of water for her rather than coffee, since I figured that although she looked exhausted, she didn't need to be any further wound up. She clutched the cup in both hands, her shoulders hunched. Her skin had a sallow cast over its natural lightly bronzed color, and blue shadows of worry smeared her eye sockets. She peered at me like a frightened cat from under a bed.

I sat down and started the conversation, since it seemed like she wasn't ready to. I did my best to give the impression I was earnest, honest, and safe to talk to. "I'm Harper Blaine and I am a friend of Phoebe's. I'm also a private investigator and I help people with problems. What's your name and what can I help you with?"

"I--my name is Lillian Goss," she said. "Lily. Phoebe says..." Her gaze darted around, looking up at me, then down, then side to side in nervous jumps.

"She says you see ghosts."

I was a little surprised: Phoebe hadn't seemed entirely convinced when we'd had "the talk" about my weird abilities and the grief that they had caused her in the past. Of course, she might have still been mad at me; it's hard to tell precisely what Phoebe's thinking when she's displeased. "Do you believe in ghosts?" I asked.

"I don't. Or I didn't. Or--I don't know. But I believe in God and I believe in the Devil and I believe that whatever has my sister isn't either one of those."

I blinked, but I didn't balk. "'Has'? I'm not sure I understand. Something... that isn't God or the Devil has... taken your sister? Is your sister missing?"

"No. Or yes. She's... not home anymore. But someone else is."

"Someone else is in your sister's house?"

"Not her house--her body."

"You're talking about possession."


I felt... well, the British would say "gobsmacked," but I wasn't sure that was quite right, either. I just sat still and tried to get my brain around it.

She watched me absorb the idea and took my well-schooled poker face as rejection. She looked at the floor, her hands squeezing the cup so hard that the plastic sides deformed with a popping sound that made her start and gasp. "You don't believe me!"

"Yes, I do. But why have you come to the conclusion that someone or something other than her own self is occupying her body? That's quite a leap for most people. In fact, most people wouldn't even consider that it might be the action of demons or the Devil...."

"It's not the Devil! God--my God--wouldn't let that happen! He doesn't just--just throw people away. He is loving and forgiving and Julie loves him just as I do. He wouldn't--"

I stretched my hand out toward her, placating. "Ms. Goss, it wasn't my intention to offend you. I'm only surprised. Please tell me what made you think some entity has control of her body."

She bit her lip, clamping down on sobbing breaths. She wheezed and snorted for a moment before she regained some control and was able to speak. "My sister is in what they call a persistent vegetative state--a PVS. She's not really awake, even when she has her eyes open and seems to be looking around. She breathes on her own and sometimes she laughs or cries, but the doctors and nurses tell me it's not real joy or sadness, just an involuntary function of whatever's still working in her brain. She can't do anything but lie in bed or sit in an armchair. The doctors say if her state doesn't change soon, it never will; she'll just deteriorate slowly until she dies.

"But a while ago she sat up on her own and she started drawing or painting something on her bedspread--"

"With what?" I asked. "With her fingers?"

"Yes, at first. I thought she was getting better, but that's not it. She just paints. She doesn't improve. The machines indicate that she's not doing anything--that her brain isn't sending these signals that move her body--but she's sitting up and painting. I started bringing her brushes and supplies so she wouldn't use food or blood on the bed.... Now she just sits up at random times and paints. And then she lies down and whatever spark she had in her goes away again. The machines say she never did anything. Her blood pressure and breathing go up, but that's all. But these paintings--they're real paintings--not crazy smeary things."

"Is it the paintings themselves that distress you?"

"No. She paints landscapes but they're... they're odd. Someplace you almost know but can't name. She paints them--it's not a hoax or a prank. But it's not her... it's not her doing it." Goss gulped a sob and tried to drink from the crushed cup, getting water down the front of her blouse for her pains.
I took the cup from her hand and fetched her a new one along with some paper towels to mop up the mess. Flustered, she patted at herself, looking embarrassed and finally hiding behind her cup of water for a few sips. Once she'd settled down again, I encouraged her to continue her tale.

"You've seen her do this?" I asked. "The painting."

"Yes. She lives with me now--if you can call what she's doing 'living.' I sit with her all the time. Night and day. Everything is falling apart, but I don't know what else to do. Nurses come twice a day to help me, but she doesn't move or do anything unless she's painting. There are so many machines... but they all just beep quietly away as if she's only lying there like always. And now it's getting worse."

"In what way?"

"She paints all the time, so many hours, and not all the same kind of paintings anymore. Now it's like there's more than one person painting. Even when she should be sleeping, she sits up and paints. If I take the brush away from her, she just grabs something else--or uses her fingers--and goes back to painting. Some of the nurses don't want to come anymore--it freaks them out to be with her. The doctor said I was imagining things, until she started doing it in the exam room. Now even he's spooked. And all the time she's doing it, it's as if her arm is moving without the rest of her doing anything. She'll move her head around, open and close her eyes, laugh, cry... wet herself... and keep on painting. It's like she isn't the one painting at all. It's just her body being moved around by someone else. Like a puppet."

"Does she finish the paintings?"

"Not always. But she paints faster now, like she's racing--or whoever is inside her is rushing to finish before they have to leave again. If she doesn't finish one the same day she starts it, she'll never finish it at all. She just goes on to the next painting. Sometimes she'll do three in a day."

"I think I need to meet your sister."

Lily Goss's face seemed to flower with hope. "Then you'll help me? You'll find out who or what is possessing Julianne?"

I had to shake my head. "I can't guarantee that. I don't know what's happening to your sister or if it's really in my purview. There are some things I can't do anything about. If this really is some kind of possession, then you need to talk to your priest."

She gaped and looked on the verge of crying, her aura turning a bleak, muddy green that seemed to drip downward like rain. "No... I already talked to Father Nybeck! He can't help me! It's outside his role or something. He said he can't help me... won't. Don't--don't say you won't, either. Please."

She crushed the second plastic cup, sending a gout of water into her lap. She jumped up with a sob and I think she would have bolted if I hadn't caught her shoulders and steadied her. She felt like a bundle of dry twigs barely held together by her rumpled clothes, and I was too conscious that I loomed over her, but there was little I could do to make myself smaller. I braced her and held her still, saying, "Miss Goss, I didn't say I wouldn't help. I said I might not be able to."

She looked back up at me, her lip trembling and her jaw twitching as if she wanted to say something but couldn't remember the words.
"It's all right. I'm not saying no. I'm saying let's go see."

"Right now?"

"If you're comfortable with it, sure."

She didn't hesitate. "Yes. I live just up the street and we can walk it in a few minutes."

Copyright © 2013 by Kat Richardson


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