Stacia Kane: Unholy Ghosts

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Stacia Kane Unholy Ghosts
  • Название:
    Unholy Ghosts
  • Автор:
  • Издательство:
    Del Rey
  • Жанр:
    sf_fantasy_city / sf_postapocalyptic / на английском языке
  • Год:
    2009
  • Язык:
    Английский
  • ISBN:
    978-0-345-51670-1
  • Рейтинг книги:
    3 / 5
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Unholy Ghosts: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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THE DEPARTED HAVE ARRIVED. The world is not the way it was. The dead have risen, and the living are under attack. The powerful Church of Real Truth, in charge since the government fell, has sworn to reimburse citizens being harassed by the deceased. Consequently, there are many false claims of hauntings from those hoping to profit. Enter Chess Putnam, a fully-tattooed witch, freewheeling Debunker, and ghost hunter. She's got a real talent for nailing human liars and banishing the wicked dead. But she's keeping a dark secret from the Church: a little drug problem that's landed her in hot and dangerous water. Chess owes a lot of money to a murderous drug lord named Bump. And Bump wants immediate payback. All Chess has to do is dispatch a very nasty species of undead from an old airport. But the job involves black magic, human sacrifice, a nefarious demonic creature, and crossing swords with enough wicked energy to wipe out a city of souls. Toss in lust for a rival gang leader and a dangerous attraction to Bump's ruthless enforcer, and Chess begins to wonder if the rush is really worth it. Hell, yeah.

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Unholy Ghosts

(The first book in the Downside series)

(2010)

A novel by

Stacia Kane

To Cori. Not just my best friend, but my best reader. Her enthusiasm for this book in its earliest stages and beyond kept me going; her friendship kept me sane.

Chapter One

“And the living prayed to their gods and begged for rescue from the armies of the dead, and there was no answer. For there are no gods.”

The Book of Truth, Origins, Article 12

Had the man in front of her not already been dead, Chess probably would have tried to kill him. Damned ghosts. A year and a half she’d gone without having to deal with one—the best Debunking record in the Church.

Now when she needed her bonus more than ever, there he was. Mocking her. Floating a few feet off the parquet floor of the Sanfords’ comfortable suburban split-level in the heart of Cross Town, with his arms folded and a bored look on his face.

“Too good to go where you’re supposed to, Mr. Dunlop?”

Mr. Dunlop’s ghost gave her the finger. Asshole. Why couldn’t he just accept the inevitable?

He’d been an ass in life, too, according to her records. Hyram Dunlop, formerly of Westside, banker and father of two, all deceased. Mr. Dunlop should have been resting for the last fifty years, not turning up here to rattle pipes and throw china and generally make a nuisance of himself.

Right. She set the dog’s skull in the center of the room, checking her compass to make sure she faced east, and lit the black candles on either side of it, her body moving automatically as she arranged her altar the way she’d done dozens, if not hundreds, of times before. Next came the tall forked stang in its silver base, garlanded with specially grown blue and black roses. She set the bag of dirt from Mr. Dunlop’s grave in front of the skull for later use.

Her small cauldron in its holder took a few extra minutes to set up. Mr. Dunlop moved behind her, but she ignored him. Showing fear to the dead—or any sort of emotion at all—was asking for trouble. She filled the cauldron with water, lit the burner beneath it, and tossed in some wolfsbane.

With a stub of black chalk she marked the front door and started on the windows, stepping deliberately through Dunlop’s spectral form despite the unpleasant chill. The set of his jaw lost some of its defiance as she pulled out the salt and started sprinkling it. “This is probably going to hurt,” she said.

Her gaze wandered to the grandfather clock in the corner, just outside the sloppy salt ring. Almost eight o’clock. Fuck. She was starting to itch.

Not badly, of course. Nothing she couldn’t handle. But it was there, making her mind wander and her toes wiggle in her shoes, when she needed to be sharp.

She’d just begun closing off the hallway when Mr. Dunlop bolted up the stairs.

The symbols on the doors and windows—she’d already done the bedrooms—would keep him from leaving the actual building, but…shit.

She’d forgotten the master bedroom fireplace. The chimney flue.

Pausing only long enough to snatch up the bag of grave dirt, she raced after him. The grave dirt wasn’t supposed to come until later, when the psychopomp had already shown up to escort him, but it was the only way she could think of to stop him.

Mr. Dunlop’s feet were only just visible when she reached the bedroom, hanging in the fireplace. She grabbed a small handful of dirt and flung it at them.

Dunlop fell. His silent lips formed words that were probably not kind. She ignored him, ducking into the fireplace to mark the flue with chalk before he could try again. “There’s no escaping. You know you shouldn’t be here.”

He shrugged.

From her pocket she pulled her Church-issued Ectoplasmarker—nobody ever said the Church was clever, just that they knew how to protect humanity from spirits—and uncapped it. Dunlop stared up at her, his face rippling in panic. She leaned toward him and he sank through the floor.

Before he managed to disappear completely she ran back downstairs and grabbed her salt, finishing the hallway while Dunlop floated through the ceiling—outside of the circle.

In the short time they’d been upstairs the atmosphere in the room had changed, her energy mingling with that of the herbs to fill the room with power. Chess glanced at her altar. The dog’s skull rattled and clicked like a set of castanets, rising slightly from the floor. The psychopomp was coming.

Dunlop backed away when she started toward him, holding the Ectoplasmarker out in front of her. She’d already memorized his passport symbol. Now she just had to get him back into the circle and get the symbol on him before the dog came.

Only once had she heard of a Debunker who didn’t manage it. He got lucky. The dog took the ghost. But that was luck, nothing else. Without the passport, the minute that dog finished materializing could be the last minute of her life.

Dunlop bumped into the wall and glanced back, surprised. Ghosts could choose to touch inanimate objects or slide through them…until the object was solidified on the metaphysical plane.

“I marked them.” She used her foot to break the line of salt. “You can’t get through them. You can’t escape. This will be a lot easier if you just relax and let me do my job, you know. Why don’t you come here and hold your hand out for me?”

He folded his arms and shook his head. She sighed.

“Okay. Have it your way.” She crushed asafetida between her fingers and sprinkled it over the floor around him. “Hyram Dunlop, I command you to enter this circle to be marked and sent to rest. I command you to leave this plane of existence.”

She jumped when the growl echoed through the room and the skull leapt into the air. The rest of the dog flowed into existence behind it, each bone sharp and clean in the wavering candlelight.

Shit! Shit, shit. She was still the only one in the circle.

Worse, they both smelled of asafetida. She hadn’t rinsed her hands yet. The dog—magically created to sense the herb—wouldn’t know the difference between them.

Chess screamed as the skeletal dog lunged at her, skin and fur growing over its bones. She fell into—fell through—Hyram Dunlop. The cold was worse this time, probably because she wasn’t ready for it, or maybe because she was terrified by the sight of those sharp, shiny canine teeth snapping the air only inches from her arm. If they reached her—

The dog’s mouth closed around her left calf, pulling. Eyes appeared in the formerly hollow sockets, glowing red, brighter as it firmed its grip and tugged.

Behind the dog the air rippled. Shadowy images superimposed themselves over the tasteful taupe walls of the Sanford house, silhouettes gray and black against lit torches.

Something inside Chess started to give. The dog—the psychopomp—was doing its job, tugging its lost soul out of the Sanford house and into the city of the dead.

But her soul wasn’t lost—at least, not in the way required.

Hyram’s eyes widened as she reached for him again, her hand passing through his chest.

“Hyram Dunlop, I command you—”

The words ended in a strangled gurgle. It hurt, fuck, it really fucking hurt. It was peeling, as if someone was tearing away layers of her skin one by one, exposing every tender, raw nerve she possessed, and she possessed so many of them.

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