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WATER OVER THE GRAVE
BY STEPHANIE ZAYATZ
Daedri Harktree is being haunted by the ghost of his father. Literally. This would seem an unlikely and unbelievable turn of events for just about anyone else, but Daedri—a Paranormal Inspector for the Society—isn’t sure if he’s terrible at his job or just slowly having a nervous breakdown. Working hard not to crack under the strain of the overwhelming grief of his father’s recent passing, not to mention a career and a love life that aren’t going exactly to plan lately, Daedri takes on a case that seems on the surface to be just a simple haunting—but, just like the rest of the unlikely events of his life lately, it’s anything but. He inadvertently finds himself cracking open a decades-old cold case of a murdered boy, a turn for which he is completely unprepared. The new twist to the case leads him to another member of the Paranormal department, the sweet and unassuming newcomer Aurora, who turns out to be pretty well connected with the right people it takes to help solve a cold homicide and finally let a dead child rest—never mind the fact that the people Aurora has connections with just so happen to be dead, too.
As the house at the end of the road started to come into view more, we got a better look at the damage that had been done during the flood. There was an X spray painted on the front door, indicating that FEMA had gotten to the house and made sure there was nobody inside it, and had probably earmarked it for condemnation by the look of it, but obviously nobody had been in it for a while. As we got closer to the place and I looked up into the windows on the second floor, something gave me pause.
“Huh,” I murmured.
“There’s windows at the top there that have been boarded up, but all the windows down here aren’t covered.”
“Looks like they used to be,” Aurora said, pointing to indicate a window where there was a large board hanging limply from a broken window frame, still only attached by one stubborn screw. It was waterlogged and stained like it had definitely been there during the flood. She frowned. “This place was boarded up before the flood.”
“What I was thinking,” I said. I went up to the side of the house and peered in one of the windows, cupping a hand over my face to blot out the reflection. “This place has been empty a long time.”
I hadn’t realized that Aurora had walked away from me until her voice sounded from around the corner. I straightened from the window and went toward the sound. It had been hard to miss at first, but there was enough space between the house and the cliff behind it for a detached garage, and behind that was a small shed. She was standing by the garage looking into one of the windows on the side. There was a strangely stricken look on her face.
I joined her and looked into the garage. Inside it was dark and gloomy but I could see just well enough that sitting inside the garage was a mid-eighties model Chevy Astro van. In the gloom it looked like it might have been gray. I didn’t get the impression that this vehicle had been anywhere outside of this garage anytime since the new millennium, if that. I thought about this a second and then jerked back from the window, finding Aurora’s face immediately.
“Charlie said he’d been picked up in a van, didn’t he.”
“He did. He also said that the place he’d been taken was behind the house.”
I turned my gaze beyond the garage to the shed. It was big for a shed but small for a mother-in-law suite. It was probably not more than forty square feet, smaller than the garage, and it was wrapped in stands of aspens. Secluded even from the seclusion of the rest of the house. There were no windows. It gave me a cold shiver just looking at it.
I went toward it cautiously. The clapboard siding had mostly rotted off and there was a distinct water line that was almost as tall as I was. I paused and realized that my shoulders had been bunched up near my ears and I’d stopped being able to hear any birds.
“Christ, this place is spooky,” I mumbled, gingerly easing my tense shoulders back down where they belonged. I reached back for Aurora’s hand but realized she wasn’t there. I turned. She was still back at the garage, pale-faced and frozen in place. I got the odd sense that she was seeing something I wasn’t, but then remembered that it wouldn’t be all that surprising if she was, considering. I called her name and she finally raised her eyes to me. When she realized she was alone she hurried toward me.
“Sorry,” she whispered. “Just some really unsettled energy around here. Feel like all my hair is standing on end.” She rolled her shoulders back as if to shake off a chill.
“Yeah, I’m getting that sense too and I’m not a medium,” I muttered.
Her eyes went to the shed and she nodded toward it with her chin. “Nothing good in there, I’m willing to bet.”
I stood staring at the shed for a long moment, weighing my options silently. If I walked away from this right now, I could easily pretend that none of this had ever happened. If I opened the door, I was committed to figuring out whatever it was Charlie had reached out to us for. Hadn’t I already put my neck on the line enough for this? I sighed. This was my job. And there was a boy who wasn’t at peace—most likely because of whatever was in this shed.
There was a padlock on the door, but it was completely caked in rust. I looked around the scene for a moment and lit on a long-handled sharp-bladed shovel that had been tossed unceremoniously against a tree not too far away. I picked it up and considered whether it was liable to break in my hand if I used it, but aside from being a little rusty it was still in decent shape.
“Is this breaking and entering?” I said quietly. It was mostly a rhetorical question.
“Technically, but I doubt anyone will notice.”
“Be careful,” Aurora said softly. “I have plans tonight that don’t involve driving you to get a tetanus shot.”
I managed a smirk back at her. “That would put a damper on things, wouldn’t it.”
I brought the shovel up and used the sharp end of the spade to strike the padlock, which was harder than it looked. The first time I missed it completely, after which I heard Aurora laugh under her breath and I shot her a mock glare.
“Harder than it looks, you want to try?”
“No,” she said, concealing a grin. “You’re doing great.”
It took a few attempts but finally the damaged metal on the padlock broke off with a snap. I tossed the shovel back to the side and reached out and pulled the door on the shed. It was caught in the jamb, the wood swelled and warped from heat and cold and water exposure, but after a few good tugs it finally gave way and pulled open.
Behind me, Aurora put a hand over her mouth. The smell that came out of the shed was damp, musty, and rank. It was impossibly dark inside. I gave a moment for my eyes to adjust to the darkness, tried to let some of the muted light from the sky—which was turning dimmer and grayer with every minute it seemed—fill in the gaps where my vision was not seeing anything. But nothing happened, it just…stayed black. The darkness seemed impermeable, like the room was filled with a thick mist that had taken on the gloom. Or a sucking black shadow.
I took a step forward, put my hand on the door jam, and felt immediately cold. I was about to step foot across the threshold when Aurora reached out for me, gripped the back of my shirt.
“Don’t go in there,” she said, her voice desperate and serious. The urgency of it stopped me in my tracks, sent a shiver all the way down my body.
Stephanie Zayatz is a self-published author from Denver, Colorado. She is the author of the Bloodlines series, an urban fantasy detective thriller series based in Denver. She lives with her daughter and two cats and works as a copy editor. When she is not writing she is an avid hiker and baker – though not typically at the same time.
Links to Stephanie’s website, blog, books, etc.
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