It began in the graveyard…
Ever since her boyfriend Nathan had died in a tragic accident, Emma had been coming to the graveyard at night. During the day she went through the motions at her prep school, in class, with her friends, but that’s all it was. For Emma, life had stopped with Nathan’s death. But tonight was different. Tonight Emma and her dog were not alone in the cemetery. There were two others there—Eric, who had just started at her school, and an ancient woman who looked as though she were made of rags. And when they saw Emma there, the old woman reached out to her with a grip as chilling as death….
Emma was not quite like others teenagers. It was true that other girls had experienced grief. Other girls had also lost their fathers, or had their boyfriends die in a senseless accident. But though she hadn’t known it till that night in the graveyard, unlike those other girls, she could see, touch, and speak with the dead. In fact, Emma could draw upon the essence of the dead to work magic. That was what Necromancers did. But Emma had no desire to be a Necromancer. She just wanted to help the ghosts who walked the streets of Toronto, unable to escape from the land of the living. And that was just as well, because had she chosen the path of the Necromancer, Eric would have had to kill her.
Instead, Eric and his fellow Necromancer hunter Chase found themselves violating every rule they were sworn to follow, becoming part of Emma’s group, helping her to stand against those who preyed upon the dead. But whether Emma and her friends could survive such a battle was anyone’s guess. And whether Emma could learn to use the magic of the dead against her enemies without herself falling victim to the lure of such power remained to be seen. Eric seemed to think she could, and her living friends would never abandon her. But only time would tell what Emma’s true destiny was….
Everything happens at night.
The world changes, the shadows grow, there’s secrecy and pri¬vacy in dark places. First kiss, at night, by the monkey bars and the old swings that the children and their parents have vacated; second, longer, kiss, by the bike stands, swirl of dust around feet in the dry summer air. Awkward words, like secrets just waiting to be broken, the struggle to find the right ones, the heady fear of exposure—what if, what if—the joy when the words are returned. Love, in the parkette, while the moon waxes and the clouds pass.
Promises, at night. Not first promises—those are so old they can’t be remembered—but new promises, sharp and biting; they almost hurt to say, but it’s a good hurt. Dreams, at night, before sleep, and dreams dur¬ing sleep.
Everything, always, happens at night.
Emma unfolds at night. The moment the door closes at her back, she relaxes into the cool breeze, shakes her hair loose, seems to grow three inches. It’s not that she hates the day, but it doesn’t feel real; there are too many people and too many rules and too many questions. Too many teachers, too many concerns. It’s an act, getting through the day; Emery Collegiate is a stage. She pins up her hair, wears her uniform—on Fridays, on formal days, she wears the stupid plaid skirt and the jacket—goes to her classes. She waves at her friends, listens to them talk, forgets almost instantly what they talk about. Sometimes it’s band, sometimes it’s class, sometimes it’s the other friends, but most often it’s boys.
She’s been there, done all that. It doesn’t mean anything anymore.
At night? Just Petal and Emma. At night, you can just be yourself.
Petal barks, his voice segueing into a whine. Emma pulls a Milk-Bone out of her jacket pocket and feeds him. He’s overweight, and he doesn’t need it—but he wants it, and she wants to give it to him. He’s nine, now, and Emma suspects he’s half-deaf. He used to run from the steps to the edge of the curb, half-dragging her on the leash—her father used to get so mad at the dog when he did.
He’s a Rottweiler, not a lapdog, Em.
He’s just a puppy.
Not at that size, he isn’t. He’ll scare people just by standing still; he needs to learn to heel, and he needs to learn that he can hurt you if he drags you along.
He doesn’t run now. Doesn’t drag her along. True, she’s much bigger than she used to be, but it’s also true that he’s much older. She misses the old days. But at least he’s still here. She waits while he sniffs at the green bins. It’s his little ritual. She walks him along the curb, while he starts and stops, tail wagging. Emma’s not in a hurry now. She’ll get there eventually.
Petal knows. He’s walked these streets with Emma for all of his life. He’ll follow the curb to the end of the street, watch traffic pass as if he’d like to go fetch a moving car, and then cross the street more or less at Emma’s heel. He talks. For a Rottweiler, he’s always been yappy.
But he doesn’t expect more of an answer than a Milk-Bone, which makes him different from anyone else. She lets him yap as the street goes by. He quiets when they approach the gates.
The cemetery gates are closed at night. This keeps cars out, but there’s no gate to keep out people. There’s even a footpath leading to the cement sidewalk that surrounds the cemetery and a small gate without a padlock that opens inward. She pushes it, hears the familiar creak. It doesn’t swing in either direction, and she leaves it open for Petal. He brushes against her leg as he slides by.
It’s dark here. It’s always dark when she comes. She’s only seen the cemetery in the day twice, and she never wants to see it in daylight again. It’s funny how night can change a place. But night does change this one. There are no other people here. There are flowers in vases and wreaths on stands; there are sometimes letters, written and pinned flat by rocks beneath headstones. Once she found a teddy bear. She didn’t take it, and she didn’t touch it, but she did stop to read the name on the headstone: Lauryn Bernstein. She read the dates and did the math. Eight years old.
She half-expected to see the mother or father or grandmother or sis¬ter come back at night, the way she does. But if they do, they come by a different route, or they wait until no one—not even Emma—is watch¬ing. Fair enough. She’d do the same.
But she wonders if they come together—mother, father, grand¬mother, sister—or if they each come alone, without speaking a word to anyone else. She wonders how much of Lauryn’s life was private, how much of it was built on moments of two: mother and daughter, alone; father and daughter, alone. She wonders about Lauryn’s friends, be¬cause her friends’ names aren’t carved here in stone.
She knows about that. Others will come to see Lauryn’s grave, and no matter how important they were to Lauryn, they won’t see any evi¬dence of themselves there: no names, no dates, nothing permanent. They’ll be outsiders, looking in, and nothing about their memories will matter to passing strangers a hundred years from now.
Emma walks into the heart of the cemetery and comes, at last, to a headstone. There are white flowers here, because Nathan’s mother has visited during the day. The lilies are bound by wire into a wreath, a fragrant, thick circle that perches on an almost invisible frame.
Emma brings nothing to the grave and takes nothing away. If she did, she’s certain Nathan’s mother would remove it when she comes to clean. Even here, even though he’s dead, she’s still cleaning up after him.
She leaves the flowers alone and finds a place to sit. The graveyard is awfully crowded, and the headstones butt against each other, but only one of them really matters to Emma. She listens to the breeze and the rustle of leaves; there are willows and oaks in the cemetery, so it’s never exactly quiet. The sound of passing traffic can be heard, especially the horns of pissed-off drivers, but their lights can’t be seen. In the city this is as close to isolated as you get.
She doesn’t talk. She doesn’t tell Nathan about her day. She doesn’t ask him questions. She doesn’t swear undying love. She’s done all that, and it made no difference; he’s there, and she’s here. Petal sits down be¬side her. After a few minutes, he rolls over and drops his head in her lap; she scratches behind his big, floppy ears, and sits, and breathes, and stretches.
One of the best things about Nathan was that she could just sit, in silence, without being alone. Sometimes she’d read, and sometimes he’d read; sometimes he’d play video games, and sometimes he’d build things; sometimes they’d just walk aimlessly all over the city, as if foot¬steps were a kind of writing. It wasn’t that she wasn’t supposed to talk; when she wanted to talk, she did. But if she didn’t, it wasn’t awkward. He was like a quiet, private place.
And that’s the only thing that’s left of him, really.
A quiet, private place.
At 9:30 PM, cell time, the phone rang. Emma slid it out of her pocket, rearranging Petal’s head in the process, flipped it open, saw that it was Allison. Had it been anyone else, she wouldn’t have answered.
No, it’s Amy, she almost snapped. Honestly, if you rang her number, who did you expect to pick it up? But she didn’t, because it was Allison, and she’d only feel guilty about one second after the words left her mouth. “Yeah, it’s me,” she said instead.
Petal rolled his head back onto her lap and then whined while she tried to pull a Milk-Bone out of her very crumpled jacket pocket. Nine years hadn’t made him more patient.
“Where are you?”
“Just walking Petal. Mom’s prepping a headache, so I thought I’d get us bot0h out of the house before she killed us.” Time to go. She shifted her head slightly, caught the cell phone between her chin and collar¬bone, and shoved Petal gently off her lap. Then she stood, shaking the wrinkles out of her jacket.
“Did you get the email Amy sent?”
“That would be no. How long have you been walking?”
Emma shrugged. Which Allison couldn’t see. “Not long. What time is it?”
“9:30,” Allison replied, in a tone of voice that clearly said she didn’t believe Emma didn’t know. That was the problem with perceptive friends.
“I’ll look at it the minute I get home—is there anything you want to warn me about before I do?”
“Should I just delete it and blame it on the spam filter? No, no, that’s a joke. I’ll look at it when I get home and call you—Petal, come back!” Emma whistled. As whistles went, it was high and piercing, and she could practically hear Allison cringe on the other end of the phone. “Damn it—I have to go, Ally.” She flipped the lid down, shoved the phone into her pocket, and squinted into the darkness. She could just make out the red plastic handle of the retracting leash as it fishtailed along in the grass.
So much for quiet. “Petal!”
Running in the graveyard at night was never smart. Oh, there were strategic lamps here and there, where people had the money and the desire to spend it, but mostly there was moonlight, and a lot of flat stones; not all the headstones were standing. There were also trees that were so old Emma wondered whether the roots had eaten through cof¬fins, if they even used coffins in those days. The roots often came to the surface, and if you were unlucky, you could trip on them and land face first in tree bark—in broad daylight. At night, you didn’t need to be unlucky.
No, you just needed to try to catch your half-deaf Rottweiler before he scared the crap out of some stranger in the cemetery. The cemetery that should have bloody well been deserted. She got back on her feet.
“Petal, goddammit!” She stopped to listen. She couldn’t see Petal, but he was a black Rottweiler and it was dark. She could, on the other hand, hear the leash as it struck stone and standing wreaths, and she headed in that direction, walking as quickly as she could. She stubbed her toes half a dozen times because there was no clear path through the head¬stones and the markers, and even when she could see them—and the moon was bright enough—she couldn’t see enough of them in time. She never brought a flashlight with her because she didn’t need one nor¬mally; she could walk to Nathan’s grave and back blindfolded. Walking to a black dog who was constantly in motion between totally unfamiliar markers, on the other hand, not so much.
She wondered what had caught his attention. The only person he ran toward like this was Emma, and usually only when she was coming up the walk from school or coming into the house. He would bark when Allison or Michael approached the door, and he would growl like a pit bull when salesmen, meter men, or the occasional Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness showed up—but he wasn’t much of a runner. Not these days.
The sounds of the leash hitting things stopped.
Up ahead, which had none of the usual compass directions, Emma could see light. Not streetlight, but a dim, orange glow that flickered too much. She could also, however, see the stubby, wagging tail of what was sometimes the world’s stupidest dog. Relief was momentary. Petal was standing in front of two people, one of whom seemed to be holding the light. And Emma didn’t come to the graveyard to meet people.
She pursed her lips to whistle, but her mouth was too dry, and any¬way, Petal probably wouldn’t hear her. Defeated, she shoved her hands into her jacket pockets and made her way over to Petal. The first thing she did was pick up his leash; the plastic was cool and slightly damp to the touch, and what had, moments before, been smooth was now scratched and rough. Hopefully, her mother wouldn’t notice.
When you don’t expect to meet anyone, meeting someone you know is always a bit of a shock. She saw his face, the height of his cheekbones, and his eyes, which in the dim light looked entirely black. His hair, cut back over his ears and shorn close to forehead, was the same inky color. He was familiar, but it took her a moment to remember why and to find a name.
“Eric?” Even saying the name, her voice was tentative. She looked as the shape in the darkness resolved itself into an Eric she vaguely knew, standing beside someone who appeared a lot older and a lot less distinct.
“Mrs. Bruehl’s my mentor,” he said, helpfully. “Eleventh grade?”
She frowned for a moment, and then the frown cleared. “You’re the new guy.”
“New,” he said with a shrug. “Same old, same old, really. Don’t take this the wrong way,” he added, “but what are you doing here at this time of night?”
“I could ask you the same question.”
“Great. What are you doing here at this time of night?”
He shrugged again, sliding his hands into the pockets of his jeans. “Just walking. It’s a good night for it. You?”
“I’m mostly chasing my very annoying dog.”
Eric looked down at Petal, whose stub of a tail had shown no signs whatsoever of slowing down. “Doesn’t seem all that annoying.”
“Yeah? Bend over and let him breathe in your face.”
Eric laughed, bent over, and lowered his palms toward Petal’s big, wet nose. Petal sniffed said hands and then barked. And whined. Some¬times, Emma thought, pulling the last Milk-Bone out of her jacket pocket, that dog was so embarrassing.
“Petal, come here.” Petal looked over his shoulder, saw the Milk-Bone, and whined. Just . . . whined. Then he looked up again, and this time, Emma squared her shoulders and fixed a firm smile on lips that wanted to shift in entirely the opposite direction. “And who’s your friend?”
And Eric, one hand just above Petal’s head, seemed to freeze, half-bent. “What friend, Emma?”
But his friend turned slowly to face Emma. As she did, Emma could finally see the source of the flickering, almost orange, light. A lantern. A paper lantern, like the ones you saw in the windows of variety stores in Chinatown. It was an odd lamp, and the paper, over both wire and flame, was a pale blue. Which made no sense, because the light it cast wasn’t blue at all. There were words on the shell of the lamp that Emma couldn’t read, although she could see them clearly enough. They were composed of black brushstrokes that trailed into squiggles, and the squiggles, in the leap of lamp fire, seemed to grow and move with a life of their own.
She blinked and looked up, past the lamp and the hand that held it.
An old woman was watching her. An old woman. Emma was ac¬customed to thinking of half of her teachers as “old,” and probably a handful as “ancient” or “mummified.” Not a single one of them wore age the way this woman did. In fact, given the wreath of sagging wrin¬kles that was her skin, Emma wasn’t certain that she was a woman. Her cheeks were sunken, and her eyes were set so deep they might as well have just been sockets; her hair, what there was of it, was white tufts, too stringy to suggest down. She had no teeth, or seemed to have no teeth; hell, she didn’t have lips, either.
Emma couldn’t stop herself from taking a step back.
The old woman took a step forward.
She wore rags. Emma had heard that description before. She had even seen it in a movie or two. Neither experience prepared her for this. There wasn’t a single piece of cloth that was bigger than a napkin, al¬though the assembly hung together in the vague shape of a dress. Or a bag. The orange light that the blue lantern emitted caught the edges of different colors, but they were muted, dead things. Like fallen leaves. Like corpses.
Emma took another step back. “Eric, tell her to stop.” She tried to keep her voice even. She tried to keep it polite. It was hard. If the strang¬er’s slightly open, sunken mouth had uttered words, she would have been less terrifying. But, in silence, the old woman teetered across graves as if she’d just risen from one and counted it as nothing.
Emma backed up. The old woman kept coming. Everything moved slowly, everything—except for Emma’s breathing—was quiet. The quiet of a graveyard. Emma tried to speak, tried to ask the old woman what she wanted, but her throat was too dry, and all that came out was an alto squeak. She took another step and ran into a headstone; she felt the back of it, cold, against her thighs. Standing against a short, narrow wall, Emma threw her hands out in front of her.
The old woman pressed the lantern into those hands. Emma felt the sides of it collapse slightly as her hands gripped them, changing the shape of the brushstrokes and squiggles. It was cold against her palms. Cold like ice, cold like winter days when you inhaled and the air froze your nostrils.
She cried out in shock and opened her hands, but the lantern clung to her palms, and no amount of shaking would free them. She tried hard, but she couldn’t watch what she was doing because old, wrinkled claws shot out like cobras, sudden, skeletal, and gripped Emma’s cheeks and jaw, the way Emma’s hands now gripped the lantern.
Emma felt her face being pulled down, down toward the old wom¬an’s, and she tried to pull back, tried to straighten her neck. But she couldn’t. All the old stories she’d heard in camp, or in her father’s lap, came to her then, and even though this woman clearly had no teeth, Emma thought of vampires.
But it wasn’t Emma’s neck that the old woman wanted. She pulled Emma’s whole face toward her, and then Emma felt—and smelled—unpleasant, endless breath, dry as dust but somehow rank as dead and rotting flesh, as the old woman opened her mouth. Emma shut her eyes as the face, its nested lines of wrinkles so like a fractal, drew closer and closer.
She felt lips, what might have been lips, press themselves against the thin membranes of her eyelids, and she whimpered. It wasn’t the sound she wanted to make; it was just the only sound she could. And then even that was gone as those same lips, with that same breath, pressed firmly and completely against Emma’s mouth.
Like a night kiss.
She tried to open her eyes, but the night was all black, and there was no moon, and it was so damn cold. And as she felt that cold overwhelm her, she thought it unfair that this would be her last kiss, this unwanted horror; that the memory of Nathan’s hands and Nathan’s lips were not the ones she would carry to the grave.
The Rottweiler was whining in panic and confusion. His big, messy tongue was running all over Emma’s face as if it could, by sheer force, pull her to her feet. Eric watched him in silence for a long minute before turning to his left. There, sprigs of lilac moved against the breeze.
He had been waiting in the graveyard since sunset. He’d waited in graveyards before, and often in much worse weather; at least tonight there was no driving rain, no blizzard, and no spring thaw to turn the ground to mud.
But he would have preferred them to this.
He felt the darkness watching. He knew what lived inside of it.
“It can’t be her,” he said.
She saw me.
“It’s a graveyard. People see things in a graveyard.” He said it without conviction.
I could touch her.
He had no answer for that. His fingers found the side of Emma’s neck, got wet as dog-tongue traveled across them, and stayed put until he felt a pulse. Alive.
“It can’t be her,” he said again, voice flat. “I’ve been doing this for years. I know what I’m looking for.”
Silence. He glanced at his left pocket, half-expecting the phone to ring. If the Rottweiler couldn’t wake her, nothing would, at this point. She was beyond pain, beyond fear. If he was going to do anything—anything at all—this was the time; it was almost a gift.
But it was a barbed, ugly gift. Funny, how seldom he thought that.
“No,” he said, although there was no spoken question. “I won’t do it. Not now. It’s got to be a mistake.” He glanced up at the moon’s position in the sky. Grimacing, he began to rifle through her pockets. “We can wait it out until dawn.”
But the dog was whining, and Emma wasn’t standing up. He flipped her cell open and glanced at the moon again. He knew he should leave things be; he couldn’t afford to leave the graveyard. Not tonight. Not the night after.
But he had no idea how hard she’d hit the tombstone when she’d top¬pled, and had no idea whether or not she’d wake without intervention.
Emma opened her eyes, blinked, shook her head, and opened them again. They still felt closed, but she could see; she just couldn’t see well. On the other hand, she didn’t need to see well to notice that her mother was sitting beside her, a wet towel in her hands.
She had to blink again, because the light was harsh and bright in the room. Even harsh and brightly lit, Emma recognized the room: it was hers. She was under her duvet, with its faded flannel covers, and Petal was lying across her feet, his head on his paws. That dog could sleep through anything.
“Open your eyes and let me look at them.” Her mother picked up, of all things, a flashlight. The on switch appeared to do nothing. Her mother frowned, shook the flashlight up and down, and tried again.
Emma reached out and touched her mother’s arm. “I’m fine, Mom.” The words came naturally to her, even if they weren’t accurate, she’d used them so often.
“You have a goose egg the size of my fist on the back of your head,” her mother replied, shaking the flashlight again.
Emma began a silent count to ten; she reached eight before her mother stood. “I’m just going to get batteries,” she told her daughter. She set the towel—which was wet—on the duvet and headed for the door.
Mercy Hall was not, in her daughter’s opinion, a very organized per¬son. It would take her mother at least ten minutes to find batteries—if there were any in the house. Batteries, like most hardware, had been her father’s job.
If her mother were truly panicky, the kitchen—where all the odds and ends a house mystically acquired had been stowed—would be a first-class disaster. It wouldn’t be dirty, because Mercy disliked dirt, but it would be ht. Huge bump. It didn’t hurt much. But her eyes ached, and her lips felt swollen.
She gagged and sat bolt upright, and this time Petal woke. “Petal,” she whispered, as the Rottweiler walked across the duvet. His paws slid off her legs and her stomach, and she shoved him, mostly gently, to one side. He rewarded her by licking her face, and she buried that face in his neck, only partly to avoid his breath.
It was fifteen minutes before her mother came back, looking ha¬rassed.
“Not a damn one.”
“I’ll stop by the hardware store after school.”
“I’m not sure you’re going to school. No, don’t argue with me.” She came and sat down on the chair. “Em—”
“I’m fine, Mom.”
Her mother didn’t ask her what she’d been doing in the cemetery. She never did. She didn’t like the fact that Emma went there, but she knew why. Emma wanted to keep it that way.
“Allison phoned, I dropped Petal’s leash, and he ran off.” Petal perked up at the sound of his name, which made Emma feel slightly guilty. Which was stupid because it was mostly the truth.
“And you ran after him? In the dark?”
“I wasn’t carrying scissors.”
“Emma, this is not funny. If your friend hadn’t been with you, you could have been there all night!”
“What, he brought me home?”
“No, he was smart. He called me from your phone. I brought you home.” She hesitated and then added, “He helped me carry you to the car, and he helped me carry you to your room.”
“He’s still here?”
“He said he was late and his mother would worry.”
“What, at 9:30 at night?”
“10:30, and it’s a school night.” But her mother seemed to relax; she slumped into the chair. “You sound all right.”
“I told you—”
“You’re fine, I know.” Her mother’s expression was odd; she looked slightly past her daughter’s shoulder, out the window. “You’re always fine.”
Her mother smiled that bright, fake smile that Emma so disliked.
“I’ll help you get changed. Sleep. If you’re feeling ‘fine’ in the morning, you can go to school.”
“If I’m not?”
“I’ll call in sick.”
There was no way that Emma was not going to school. “Deal,” she said.
The only thing in the room that shed light was the computer screen; the only words were voiceless, silent, appearing, letter by letter, as Emma’s fingers tapped the keyboard.
It’s been a while. School started last month, and it did not miraculously become interesting over the summer. Mr. Mar¬shall, on the other hand, still has a sense of humor, which is good, because he now has me.
Marti moved when her dad got a job transfer. Sophie moved when her parents got divorced (why she couldn’t just live with her dad, I do not know; she asked). Allison and I are still here, holding it down, because Allison’s parents are still married. Takes all kinds.
Michael is doing better this year. He had a bit of a rough time because he’s always so blunt when anyone asks him any¬thing, and he doesn’t remember to be polite until someone is threatening to break his nose. Oh, and Petal’s going deaf, I swear.
I wish you were here. I must have tripped in the cemetery; Mom’s freaking because she thinks I have a concussion. I think. I had the world’s worst dream before I woke up, and I’d be sleeping now, but, frankly, if it’s a choice between sleep and that dream? I’m never sleeping again.
And we have no batteries.
She stopped typing for a moment. Petal snored. He had sprawled across the entire bed the minute Emma had slid out of it, but he always did. Every night was a battle for bed space because technically Petal wasn’t allowed to sleep in her bed. He’d start out at the foot of the bed. And then he’d roll over, and then he’d kind of flatten out. Half of the time, Emma would end up sleeping on her side on six inches of bed with her butt hanging just off to one side of the mattress.
She rolled her eyes, winced, and went back to the keyboard.
But I’m fine, Mom’s fine. She doesn’t say it, but I think she misses you.
I’ll write something more exciting later—maybe about drugs, sex, and petty felonies. I don’t want to bore you.
She hit the send button. After a few minutes, she stood and made her way back to the bed, nearly tripping over the cord of the desk lamp that was probably going to be hulking on the footboard of her bed for the next six weeks. Her mother didn’t really use it; she did most of her work on a small corner of the dining room table.
She hadn’t lied, though; she really, really did not want to sleep.
"Brilliant storyteller Sagara heads in a new direction with her Queen of the Dead series. She does an excellent job of breathing life into not only her reluctant heroine, but also the supporting players in this dramatic and spellbinding series starter. There is a haunting beauty to this story of love, loss and a teenager’s determination to do the right thing. Do not miss out!"
— Romantic Times Book Reviews
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