A Darkness Strange and Lovely (2 page)

Which meant I was the only person hearing this!

Then the pain shrieked louder, taking control of my mind and blurring my vision. Another howl came. I gasped. Two howls, then three, all roaring over one another like a pack of wolves on the hunt. Yet I still saw nothing.

I lurched around, certain I had to run. To warn others—and to
hide
. But I couldn’t think straight—the dogs were so loud, they swallowed everything. I heaved up the steps and back toward the bank’s door.

Then my gaze locked on a pair of eyes. Yellow eyes, gleaming from the shadows behind the bank columns.

I flinched and stumbled back as new fear erupted in my chest. The last time I’d seen yellow eyes had been on Marcus Duval. If he was here, then I was as good as dead. There was no way I could fight him—not by myself. He was a necromancer so powerful even Joseph had lost to his magic.

Oh God, oh God—what could I do?

The howling crescendoed. Louder and louder. A sudden wind blasted my face. Icy and damp, it clawed into my throat and froze my lungs, yet I couldn’t move. I was rooted to the spot, held by those yellow eyes.

Then the bank door swung open. A customer walked out, and like a hypnotist’s snap, my mind and body were suddenly freed. I burst into action, ripping my gaze away from the shadows and darting down the steps, toward the street.

Instantly the dogs stopped, replaced by the shouts and rattle of normal morning traffic.

A heartbeat later, the agony in my wrist ended with no trace of pain left behind.

But my panic didn’t go. If I was right—if that had been Marcus in those shadows—then every second I stayed was a second closer to my death.

I kicked into a run, bounding into the street and aiming for home.

Not once did I check for the yellow eyes. I knew they would be as gone as the wind and the howls and the pain. Yet as I rushed down the street, my mind ran through scenario after scenario, trying to explain what had happened. It must have been black magic. Those yellow eyes—identical to the ones that haunted my dreams and my memories—
must
belong to Marcus.

And the only people who could help me were an ocean away in Paris.

But I was prepared for the day I would face Marcus again. He was a nightmare wearing my brother’s skin, and I had vowed to destroy him. I wanted to fight Marcus—wanted to watch him
die
—but I would need the Spirit-Hunters to do that.

So I had to leave Philadelphia. I had to lead Marcus to the Spirit-Hunters. An ocean away or not, I could not let the distance or expense stop me. Not if I wanted to stay alive.

Eventually I managed to hail a streetcar on Market Street. By the time I reached my own tree-lined avenue, I was soaked through with sweat. I barreled down the road, finally reaching the low, wrought iron gate leading into my yard. The grass was tall and overgrown, the hedges wild. Only the white house I’d grown up in and the cherry tree out front looked the same.

I flew down my front path and up the steps, but before I could even fumble through my pocket for a key, the door burst open.

Mary, her chestnut hair falling from its bun, gaped at me. “Eleanor! Why’re you running like the devil’s after you?”

“Because,” I panted, “he is. Marcus is here!” I shoved my way into the foyer and slammed the door behind. “Get my carpetbag. I’ve got to go.”

Mary didn’t move. She just stared, her eyes bulging. She was the only person in the world other than the Spirit-Hunters and Mama who knew the full story about my brother’s necromancy and death. She knew how dangerous Marcus was—and she knew of my plan to find the Spirit-Hunters once Mama and my finances had been settled.

“Did you hear me?” I asked. “Marcus is
here
.” Still she didn’t budge. I stepped forward. “Mary, what is it?”

“You . . . you . . .”

“What?”

“You have a guest.”

I stopped, my heart dropping to my stomach. “Who?”

“Me,” said a new voice.

I jolted, my head whipping toward the parlor door. There stood a gaunt young woman in black, and though she looked nothing like the rosy-faced girl I’d once known, I instantly recognized her.

Allison Wilcox.

The last time we’d seen each other had been moments before I learned her brother, Clarence, had been murdered.

But the rumors behind his death were wrong: he had not been killed by the Spirit-Hunters. No, the truth behind Clarence’s death was far,
far
worse.

For Clarence Wilcox had been murdered by
my
brother.

Chapter Two

After Clarence had died and I had stopped my
brother and his army of Dead, after the Spirit-Hunters had fled town—hated and blamed for crimes that were not theirs—I had called every day at the Wilcox home, trying to gain an audience with Allison. But I was denied each time, and after a month I had finally given up.

And now, weeks later, I found all my earlier desperation to speak with her—to set things straight—was gone. Now, of all times, was not the moment for my rehearsed explanations and apologies.

I gulped and met her dark-eyed gaze. Eyes like the ones her handsome brother, Clarence, had been blessed with.

“What are you doing here?” I asked.

Her jaw twitched. “No greeting? No refreshments?”

“I don’t have anything like that to offer you.”

She sniffed. “Nor do you have anywhere for your guests to sit.” She waved to the parlor, where there was nothing left but flowered wallpaper and blank hardwood floors.

I tugged at my earlobe. Even though sofas and snacks were the last things I cared about, heat burned up my cheeks. “I’m sorry. I’ve had to sell everything.”

“Even your hand, I see.” She didn’t smile. “How ever do you hold your parasol?”

“I very rarely do.”

Her eyebrows rose, and annoyance rushed through me. I’d had quite enough verbal assault for one day, and if Allison was here only to hurt me, then so be it. I was not going to risk my life a moment longer.

I turned to Mary. “Get my bag. Now.”

Mary nodded and curtsied to Allison before scampering upstairs.

“Nothing to offer,” Allison said sharply, “
and
you ignore me.”

I spun back to her. “I’m sorry, but I’m leaving town at this very moment.”

“Leaving?” She blinked, and some of her frost melted. “Why? To where?”

“France, and I have no time to waste.” I strode past her and into the empty parlor. A quick scan through the window showed no one on the streets. Yet.

Allison stomped into the room. I turned to find her cheeks bright with fury. “How dare you ignore me, Eleanor! I’m here to see
you
.”

“Really?” I pursed my lips. “I’ve come to your house dozens of times, and you’ve always turned me away. So why are you
truly
here, Allison?”

For several moments we watched each other in silence. Mary’s footsteps pounded overhead as she raced to add my final measly belongings to a carpetbag.

But at last Allison spoke. “My mother,” she said slowly, “forbade me from seeing you. In fact, if she knew I was here right now, she’d kill me.” Then, like a bursting dam, words poured from her mouth. “But I
need
answers, Eleanor. I can’t wait anymore! Mother wants me to marry a rich man, you see, but I
can’t.
Night and day, I’m forced into company with nasty old bachelors and nastier old widowers.”

Gooseflesh pricked down my arms. Allison might have been telling my story from three months ago.

She stepped toward me. “I have to know what really happened with my brother. Mother might believe the newspapers, but I don’t.
Tell
me how Clarence died.”

I didn’t move. Allison deserved an answer, yet I couldn’t give it to her. Not when my life was threatened and every second counted. Mary clattered down the stairs. “Eleanor, I’ve got your bag!”

I didn’t even spare Allison a glance before spurring myself back into the foyer. Mary held out an old black carpetbag. Her hands trembled. “Now what?”

“Now,” I said, turning cautiously to Allison, who hovered in the parlor’s doorway. “Now I leave.”

“No.” Red flared onto Allison’s face. “You can’t just
go
. I asked you for answers.”

“I’m sorry,” I said, my voice flat though I actually meant the words. I had wanted to tell her the truth for so long. . . .

I shoved my left hand into my pocket, and withdrawing Jie’s letter, I turned to Mary. “This is where I will be going. I’ll telegraph once I’m in France.”

“France!” Mary cried, taking the envelope. “What’s there?”

“The Spirit-Hunters.” I shot a glance at Allison, but other than a tightening in her jaw, she did not react to this name. I could not help but wonder: did she already know that the Spirit-Hunters had not killed Clarence?

I hefted the carpetbag from Mary’s hands, forcing my mind to remain in the present. “Did you put the emergency money in the bag?”

“Aye. And your brother’s letters too.”

“Good. I’ll be going straight to the wharf.”

“I’ll take you,” Allison inserted. “To the wharf.”

“What?” I spun toward her. “Absolutely not.”

She glared. “Yes. If you are going to run off, I want answers first. You will ride with me.”

I narrowed my eyes, and she matched it with her own stare. Two girls who’d once shared tea and gossip were now bound together by death.

But then it occurred to me that if I accepted a ride, I could move more quickly. I could even say good-bye to Mama, for her hospital was on the way.

Best of all, though, Marcus didn’t know Allison. He wouldn’t recognize her carriage, and I could travel to the wharf unknown. So although part of me felt bad for accepting Allison’s offer under such selfish circumstances, most of me simply wanted to
go
.

“Fine,” I finally said.

Allison nodded once, and her eyes grazed over Mary. “Where will your maid go?”

“I’ve family in California, Ma’am. Eleanor gave me money for a train weeks ago.”

“You must remember to stay in touch with the solicitor,” I reminded Mary. “Father trusted him, but still—I’d feel better if I knew you telegrammed him regularly. At least until the house sells.”

Mary bowed her head. “Of course.”

“You’re selling the house?” Allison demanded. “Is that how you have enough money for a train ticket?” The look in her eyes—the implication that I’d gotten my money through some nefarious means—set my temper alight.

“The money,” I spat, “came from that sofa you complained I don’t have. And I’ll buy my steamer ticket with the money I saved by not getting a prosthetic, by pinching coins for months, by selling off all my things. I have not yet sold the house, but we have interested buyers. It should sell soon—it
must
sell soon, for otherwise I cannot afford Mama’s bills.”

Allison’s nostrils flared. “You could have married my brother, you know. He cared about you, and he would have treated you as well as he treated me. Then you would never have needed money and maybe . . .” Her eyes turned glassy, and her lips quivered. But she did not finish her thought. Instead, with nothing more than a slight sniffle, Allison turned and strode from the house.

Guilt exploded in my belly as I watched her go. I
would
have married her brother if it had come to that. Underneath his sharp exterior, he had been a loving man.

And like all the other ghosts I wanted to forget, his perfect face haunted me every day.

I towed my mind back to the present. After giving Mary a quick embrace and making her promise to leave the house immediately, I hurried outside and clambered into Allison’s carriage. Her cool poise was back by the time I slid over the velvet bench seats. The last time I’d ridden in this carriage, Clarence had been alive and we’d been on our way to the opera. It was the night he had caught me working with the Spirit-Hunters.

It was also the night he was murdered.

“Now, Eleanor,” Allison ordered as the horses clopped to a start, “tell me how Clarence died.”

“First,” I said, forcing an edge to my words—a strength I wasn’t feeling—“take me to Kirkbride’s. I want to say good-bye to my mother.”

Allison’s eyelids twitched down. “The gossip is true then. Your mother
is
sick.”

I nodded.

“All right.” She rapped her knuckles on the carriage wall and directed the driver to the hospital. Her gaze never left mine as she asked, “So your mother is sick with . . . what? Last I saw her, she was fine. What could possibly be the matter with her now?”

“Quite a lot, actually.” I had to fight to keep from growling. “Mama was never right after my father died. When I told her about . . . well, when I told her everything I’m about to tell you, it was too much.” I dropped my gaze to my bandaged wrist. “It’s even worse than the papers say, Allison. Are you sure you want to know the whole story? Ignorance is easier.”

“But not better!” she cried. “A few months ago, I never thought further than the end of the day. Now, I see my whole life before and my death at the end. Just tell me what happened, Eleanor. I deserve the truth.”

“The truth,” I repeated. The word tasted like ash. I took a deep breath. “The papers said it was the Spirit-Hunters who killed Clarence. But it wasn’t.”

Her spine deflated. “Who then?”

I twisted my face away and watched the neighborhood pass by. I’d always imagined looking into Allison’s eyes when I told her this, but, in fact, I found the words wouldn’t come if I met her stare.

“It all began with our fathers. They were once very good friends, you know. Then your father, Clay, decided to run for city council, and he . . . well, he was one of the Gas Trustees, who controlled most of the city’s jobs—meaning he also controlled most of the city’s voters.” I inhaled deeply. “Clay offered my father a position in his ring of council members, but my father refused and opted to run for city council the honest way. He wanted to stop Clay from corrupting the city.

“Then—” My voice shook. I tried again. “
Then
your father decided to force mine out of the race by destroying his railroad supply company. He hired thugs to blow up my father’s latest dynamite shipment, and he also told Clarence to make my brother’s life a living hell.”

Allison’s breath hitched, but I didn’t look her way. At this point in the story, Mama had already begun shrieking her denial. She would hear nothing against the Wilcoxes—the past was the past, she had said. All that mattered was the future and regaining the Wilcox family’s favor.

She’d stopped screaming once the whole truth came out.

Shifting in my seat, I wet my lips and resumed my cold account. “The man . . . the man raising the Dead across the city,” I said, “was my brother. Elijah killed Clarence out of revenge for our father.”

Allison’s body turned rigid, but she made no other indication that she’d heard. So I kept talking. “After Clarence died and I learned the truth, I went with the Spirit-Hunters to Laurel Hill Cemetery. Elijah was there, trying to raise our father’s corpse. I—” My voice broke, and I had to grit my teeth to keep going. “I stopped Elijah, but then . . . he died.” I glanced at Allison, finally meeting her eyes. They were hard—unnaturally so—and it took me a moment to recognize the emotion she wore.

Revulsion.

Yet before I could think how to react, we turned onto a new street and Allison spoke. “Why couldn’t you simply tell me that all this was happening?
While
it was happening?”

“Would it have changed things?” I rubbed my wrist. “Clarence would still have died, and it would still be my brother’s fault.”
And Mama would still have cracked, and I would still be friendless, handless, and fleeing Philadelphia.

Allison clenched her jaw and didn’t answer for several long seconds. Then she said, “Why are you going to Paris all by yourself?”

I tensed. “How did you know Paris? I only mentioned France.”

“Lucky guess.” She frowned. “Now
explain.

“Do you . . .” I gulped. I had to keep talking—and I had to keep shoving my feelings aside as I did. “Do you remember the séance my mother held in June? The one where all the guests fainted?”

“Of course.”

“Well, Mama
did
let in a spirit that night.”

Allison’s brows drew together. “So it wasn’t all theatrics as you claimed?”

“I wish . . . but no. The spirit was a dead necromancer named Marcus. He’d been waiting for years to reenter the earthly realm. His time in death had made him strong, and once he was out of the spirit world, he found my brother. Marcus used Elijah’s magic against him. When Elijah cast a spell to bring Father back to life, Marcus was able to use the spell instead to bring himself back to life . . . and he was able to possess the nearest corpse.”

“Your father’s body?”

“No. Elijah’s.” I cringed as an image of my father’s skeleton, its jaws latched onto my brother’s throat, formed in my mind. “My father’s skeleton killed Elijah, thereby giving Marcus access to the freshly dead body. And the spell—a spell to bind a ghost to a corpse—was Marcus’s ticket to a new life in the earthly realm.”

A life I would end as soon as I had the chance.

Allison’s eyes grew wide. “So you’re saying your brother’s body is walking around with this Marcus spirit inside?”

“Yes.” Yellow eyes and howling dogs flared in my mind, sending a ghostly pain through my wrist. Distractedly, I massaged it.

“And your hand,” Allison said, her nose curling up slightly, “what happened?”

“One of the Hungry Dead bit it.” More memories, more flashes of blood and chaos, flooded through my mind. The Hungry who had bitten me—a long-dead Civil War soldier—had been so fast. So
rabid.
There’d been no chance for me to escape.

“By the time I broke free,” I added softly, “it was too late. My hand was destroyed, and I had to have it amputated.”

Her face paled, but other than that she was surprisingly calm. It was . . .
odd
. And so very, very different from Mama’s reaction. “You are handling it all quite stoically,” I told her.

Allison’s eyes flicked to the window. “I would hardly call my reaction stoic. But I do not deal with my grief through
hysterics
.” She spat the word.

“My mother does not have hysterics,” I said sharply. “Mama has melancholia. For days I could not get her to eat, to leave her bed, or even to
speak
to me. Her mind—her will to live—simply vanished. And Kirkbride’s,” I tried to say in a gentler tone, “was the only solution I could conjure.”

Allison gave no response, and I was grateful when, moments later, we rattled to the end of the street—to where Kirkbride’s famous hospital for the insane stood. I scooted to the edge of my seat. “We’re here.” I pointed at the wrought iron fence, behind which were gold-tipped trees and an enormous white mansion. With its long, ever-growing wings and cupolas, and its beautiful grounds and gardens, the hospital was meant to be a soothing place for the mentally disturbed to regain their wits. A haven of peace and beauty right in the middle of Philadelphia’s hustle.

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