Lucy anxiously watched Lady Umbersmith set down her cup of tea and scan her guests, the three detectives and then finally Lucy herself. The elderly matron began to speak, her gaze resting on Lucy.
“When a person dies and her soul leaves her body right away, the body remains, just a husk. But while the person lives, the body and soul are linked, entwined, and inseparable. What happens to one happens to the other. If the soul is attacked, the body too feels the effect. It becomes incorporeal, intangible, insensible, silent, invisible.
“There are unnatural things that feed on every part of a vibrant living natural creature,” Lady Umbersmith said. “Blood. Bone. Fat. Salt. But only one type of being in the world is known to possess a soul. Humans. And there is one type of being who feeds on human souls. I suppose in this country, the closest word for it would be ‘ghoul.’”
She pointed her long, thin, be-ringed finger up in the air. “Souls are difficult to reach. One cannot simply puncture a vein and begin feeding on the soul. So a ghoul begins with the one part of the soul that can be found easily. The shadow. Everything casts a shadow, of course. But a human shadow is special.”
Lucy sucked in her breath. She realized what was strange about Detective Speed that day he disappeared. His shadow. The lights in the medical examination room are so even that no one casts a shadow. But when she turned on the overhead bulb to show Speed and Lance the tiny tattoo on one of the victim’s bodies, she had to shift out of the way. And Lance had to shift out of the way. But Speed didn’t. He didn’t have to, because his shadow was missing.
“One’s shadow is a piece of one’s soul,” Lady Umbersmith continued, nodding. “They come at night, the ghouls, for we do not see our shadows without light, but they can see. And they can only capture a shadow at night. Sunlight makes our shadows visible to us, you see. That gives us some control. Plus, ghouls, like many such creatures, abhor sunlight. Once a ghouls begins feeding, its victim will lose his or her shadow. That is the first sign. The second is that the person himself begins to fade. His voice begins to fade. His form. So that soon enough no one can hear or touch or see him. When the soul-sucking ghoul is finished, the body reappears suddenly, dead, drained of all vitality, looking much like a husk. Eaten from the inside out.”
Cause of death is not apparent, Lucy thought, recalling the forensic details of the case. There are no signs of heart attack, shock, suffocation, strangulation. There are no marks on the body. No signs of violence. Screens for toxins, intoxicants, poisons, venoms…all are negative. The creatures have no use for the body once the soul is devoured. That matter re-condenses when the soul is drained completely away.
“I don’t get it,” Detective Riley said. “The process you describe sounds slow. But your family, they all died within minutes. Why did it happen so fast for them?”
“It is difficult for ghouls to abide in our world,” Lady Umbersmith said. “There is sunlight. There are…forces pushing and pulling at them because they don’t belong here. It’s dangerous. They struggle to find and latch onto a soul. They struggle to keep hold of it. They die and slip back into the hell from where they came if they don’t find a shadow to latch onto, a soul to eat.” She paused. “Unless they come through a doorway. Unless they were invited and made comfortable.” Lady Umbersmith reached toward Detective Riley’s phone. It was still on the picture of the tattoo that Lucy had found on one of the victims. “This.” The elderly matriarch of a family she had long-ago disowned tapped a burgundy-polished nail on the picture. “This sigil served as a doorway and an anchor.”
“How do we stop them?” Lance asked. “The ghouls. The soul-eating process.”
“Iron and water. They don’t like those things. Water can trap them. Iron can kill them.”
“And what happens to the souls that the ghoul has eaten?” Lucy drew in a breath and as she pushed it out, she pushed down the rising anxiety in her chest.
“Some legends say that the soul is destroyed utterly as it is digested. And that is a doom even worse than death. For someone to be cut down by having her soul eaten, and then to never find solace in the afterlife. To just cease existing, save in the memories of those who might know, a memory that will itself fade and die when those people pass away.” Lady Umbersmith shook her head gently. “Other legends are somewhat more hopeful. They claim that if the ghoul is itself killed, then all the souls it has eaten will be released.”
“That doesn’t make sense,” Lucy said. “These ghouls would not eat souls if they were not providing some nourishment.”
“These other legends claim that the ghoul isn’t eating souls, it is merely trapping them, in torment. A few versions say that the pain and suffering is what the ghoul actually feeds upon.”
The concept of a soul, a unique energy for each person, Lucy could buy that. A creature that fed on that energy, that too she could buy. And if nothing could truly be destroyed or created, then she could buy that the souls were not truly destroyed. But they would be utterly changed, wouldn’t they? Unrecognizable. And in that regard, they would indeed be destroyed.
“What about the souls that are still being eaten?” Lucy asked, pushing aside such nihilistic thoughts.. “Is there are chance for them? Our bodies have some ability to regenerate and heal. Why not our souls?”
Lance looked at her. “You mean if a piece of his soul is still…alive, you think he could grow another one? Like a starfish growing another leg?”
“What if the soul grows scars instead,” Detective Riley asked. “Would he be the same guy?”
Lucy took a breath. How did we get here? she thought. But she said, “Let’s just get him back first.” She looked at Lady Umbersmith. “Can we get him back?”
72 hours earlier
Lucy Roumalge breathed through the mask as she stepped over a body and moved toward the man who was waving her over, a member of the crime scene unit that was swarming over what seemed more like the scene of a disaster than a crime. The police officers had come in first, of course, after the emergency calls alerted them that something terrible was happening at Umbersmith Manor. But by the time the police arrived, whatever had happened was over.
There were almost fifty bodies in the manor, all on the first floor. Most were clustered in the main reception area. It looked like a massacre, only there were no gunshots, no stab wounds, no bruises, no burns. No blood really. All the corpses were intact. All of them were dressed to the nines.
There was a huge banner that still hung below the chandelier. “Welcome Home, Tommy.” There was a balloon or two, but most of the decorations were more elegant. No glitter and cut-out stars. More like gold organza wrapped around the stairway rails. Fresh flowers blooming from ornate vases. Velvet and silk softening the room.
Someone had found muddled footprints outside. At that point, it was difficult to tell if anyone from the party had escaped.
Considering that the victims had no marks on them, the first thing the police thought of was poison. They were ordered out of the manor until they could be fitted with protective gear, most importantly, gas masks. Whatever happened seemed to have happened quickly. And if whatever killed them was in the punch bowl, then there would have been some survivors. Poison gas was the only thing that made sense, so the crime scene team was collecting swabs from inside the building. And they would pay close attention to the condition of the victims’ lungs and airways.
No survivors. But someone in the house had managed to call for help. Lucy walked over to her colleague and looked down. They stood over the body of a woman clutching a cell phone in one hand, and a baby in the other.
Lucy turned the swaddled bundle and checked the infant. He was dead. Lucy gave her colleague a squeeze on the shoulder and weaved through the rest of the house.
When she was done gathering preliminary reports from the team, Lucy headed outside. Typically, the detectives would have joined her in the manor. But with so many victims and the potential danger of poison gas, she had gathered those notes herself. She had very little to give them. She could not ascertain time of death based on the bodies. So it was fortunate that the 911 call and the arrival of the police gave them the start of their timeline.
The woman hadn’t given the emergency operator much to go on. They’d had to trace her call to find out where to go. So the police had taken about ten minutes to arrive.
In that time, all the people in the manor had died.
There was one body and only one outside of the house. A woman. The strange thing was, the first officers on site claimed they hadn’t seen her before entering the manor. Only there was no way they could have missed her.
Detectives Speed and Lance were standing over the body of the woman. Lance nodded at Lucy as she approached. Speed was asking a question of the medical examiner bent over the woman.
“Other than the fact she’s out here, she looks the same as the others,” the examiner said. “No strange contortions or discoloration. No residue. The eyes aren’t telling me anything. This is one where we won’t know much until we get done processing the blood and tissue samples. Do you concur, Roumalge?”
Detective Speed turned to include her in their circle. He smiled at her. She smiled back and caught Lance looking between the two of them and smirking at her.
Lucy glanced down at the body. “So far, no one inside the manor has found anything that distinguishes any one victim from all of the others. Men, women, children, all look the same. All seemed to have died the same way.”
Speed shuddered. “Felt like someone just walked over my grave.”
The examiner gave the detective a sympathetic smile. “It’s a creepy one all right.”
“Riley and Valentine are still interviewing members of the family who didn’t show up to the soiree,” Lance said. It was several hours later, and they were standing above the body of Thomas Umbersmith, the party’s guest of honor, in the medical examination room. “This one guy said he’d tried to call his wife and got worried when she didn’t answer. She didn’t care much for her family and had just called him to say she was slipping out the back door and heading home. He called the manor’s main line when he couldn’t get her and no one answered that either. So he called the police and then drove down there.”
Lucy remembered the poor man. He was completely distraught, unhinged.
“All those people and only one guy showed up to cry and wail over someone?” Lance shook his head as his partner walked in. He gave Speed the once over.
“What?” Speed asked.
“That’s like your fifth bathroom break this shift. You all right?”
“Yeah, people need to go sometimes.”
“Maybe you have a bladder infection, or something,” Lance said.
Speed paled and avoided Lucy’s eyes, which were glaring at Lance. He pointed to the corpse. “You found something?”
Lucy reached for the overhead light that was attached to an adjustable arm. What she had to show them was easy to miss. They would need the light. She clicked on the bulb, throwing her shadow over Thomas Umbersmith. She shifted out of the way and shifted the light down to the inside of Thomas’s right knee. There was a tattoo there, a small one, of some strange symbol she was unable to find in her online searches.
Detective Speed took a picture. Maybe one of the surviving family members would know what it was. Or maybe a girlfriend or friend if they could track any down.
It was the last time Lucy saw Detective Speed.
But it was not the last time she spoke to him.
What time it is?
Lucy frowned more at the brightness of her phone than at the tone it played, a pleasant guitar tune at a reasonable volume. She blinked and let her eyes adjust for a few seconds, hoping it was a wrong number. She felt as if she had only just lain down five minutes ago. When she saw who it was, she answered.
“Lucy, I just saw something. I tried calling Lance, but he’s not answering. I need you to come over. Bring…bring your kit.”
Sleep fled from her eyes. Lucy was already standing. She’d dragged herself out of bed and stood up to wake herself up. She turned and reached for the lamp next to her bedside.
“What’s going on?”
“I just saw something. A woman. In my room. And she looked…she was dressed up, Luce. She looked like a ghost. She just appeared and she looked like she was trying to say something, scream something. She was crying. And then she just vanished.”
They had tested for all the known ones. But not everything remained detectable in the blood and tissues after death.
She suddenly thought of how pale he’d looked. Everyone looked somewhat pale in the medical examination room. But there had been something…wrong about him. Maybe he was sick, as his partner thought. What if something from the crime scene had affected him? He’d been one of the first people on the scene. He’d walked into the manor without protection.
“I’m on my way.”
Speed hadn’t managed to reach Lance, but Lucy did. She called him on the way over to Speed’s apartment. Lance lived closer and was just getting out of his car when Lucy drove up.
The typically mellow Detective Lance looked tense. He shook his head as Lucy approached him and they walked to the building’s front door.
“I just tried calling him and he didn’t pick up,” Lance said, showing the doorman his badge.
They rode silently up the elevator, speed-walked down the hallway, and banged on Detective Speed’s door. He didn’t answer. Lucy pictured him collapsed on the other side, no marks on him, like the people at the manor. Lance motioned for her to step aside. He kicked at the lock and doorknob a few times. A neighbor opened a door just a slice, peeking past a chain lock.
Neither Lucy nor Lance were in any state to reassure the neighbor.
Let them call the police, Lucy thought. I don’t have time to. I have to see him.
Lance entered first. Lucy hadn’t noticed when he had drawn his gun after kicking down the door. The lights were on.
“Speed!” Lance called out. “Where are you, pal?”
Lucy crept in behind Lance, glancing around. “Joe!” she called.
Something, someone, by the balcony. Lucy gasped.
“Stop!” Lance yelled. He ran to the sliding glass door that led to the balcony. But no one was there. He opened the door, stepped out, and looked down. He looked up.
He stepped back into the room. “Did you see someone?”
Lucy nodded. “Just a shadow, though.”
“Joe! Joey!” Lance yelled, making his way through Speed’s apartment. Nothing was broken. No signs of a struggle. But Speed wasn’t there.
Before the end of the hour, Speed’s apartment was a crime scene. His car and his keys were still in his apartment. He hadn’t gone out. The calls that Lucy and Lance received were from Speed’s phone. It was on the coffee table.
Detectives Riley and Valentine interviewed Lance and Lucy. Lucy had brought her kit, as Speed requested. She began to process the scene. And she began with the balcony. There had been someone there. Maybe they’d left fingerprints, or a hair, or a thread, a button, ectoplasm…something.
She and Lance had the requisite “I should have gotten here faster” conversation. And then they both reported back on duty. They couldn’t just assume that what happened to Speed was related to their current case. They had to find a connection if they could in the forensic evidence, in the investigation.
Lucy was falling asleep at her desk, her woozy brain unable to comprehend the lab data she gazed at when the phone rang with a call from a detective who told her that the connection they were looking for had walked into police headquarters less than fifteen minutes past.
There were already medics tending to the two children, a thirteen-year-old boy and ten year-old girl, by the time Lucy made it down to the police department. She examined the living, not the dead, but those children, survivors of the Umbersmith Massacre, as the media had dubbed it, were of keen interest to her. They had been hiding in the nearby woods. They had told Detective Valentine that someone had led them to the police. A woman. One of the party-goers. Their aunt. She and another woman had helped the children escape. One serving as decoy. And the other spiriting them away and goading them into hiding in the forest. Then she too had made herself a decoy to lead away what the little girl termed the “shadow men.”
The children hadn’t gotten a good look at these shadow men. Hadn’t seen any distinguishing features, faces, scars, tattoos, skin color, eye color, hair color, clothing. The little girl had hidden under a table and felt one of the shadow men pass by. She said it felt cold and then hot. And the next thing she knew, her aunt was whipping up the tablecloth and dragging her out, urging her to be quiet. There were screams inside, but not many and not for long. They stopped. Cut short. The noises of people falling down and tripping while trying to escape something they couldn’t see, dropping glasses. All of that stopped even as they began to run.
The boy had turned to look back at the house and had seen a shadowy figure move toward the back porch in pursuit of them.
Lucy gently collected swabs from the children’s hands and faces as their child advocate looked on. She collected their clothes once they were given new ones. An officer was calling to find a relative who might come and pick them up. Their parents had been in the house when they’d fled.
When she returned to her lab, Lucy found herself assigning someone else to process the evidence she’d collected from the children. She called Detective Lance. This case had little evidence that her forensic skills could decipher. She wasn’t a detective. But she needed to know more of the story. She needed more pieces, so she could find some that fit together. But moreso, she needed to find Speed.
As the phone rang, she fidgeted, bobbing up and down on her feet, twisting back and forth. When the figure appeared before her, she dropped the phone.
He just appeared. He was translucent, ghostly. She looked him up and down, trying not to blink. He wasn’t wearing any shoes. He was gesturing at her. And he was speaking, but she couldn’t hear him. He stopped suddenly and held up his right hand. He began to fold and flick his fingers. She recognized the gestures as sign language. But she didn’t know the meanings of all the gestures he was making. He repeated the message. And Lucy, her heart hammering, sweat dripping from her temples, a lump in her throat, tried to remember even as he flickered out of sight.
“I’m here. Trapped. No see. Light.”
“That’s what he said?” Lance asked.
She had repeated the gestures over and over again until the detectives arrived. They had deciphered the message. Speed only knew the letters of the alphabet, not words and concepts. It was all he’d had time to sign before he vanished.
“He’s here,” Lucy said. “I saw him for a moment. But what if he’s still here and just invisible and intangible?”
“Does that mean he’s…gone?” Detective Valentine asked.
Lance shook his head. “Where’s his body?”
“All those people died at the same time,” Lucy said, trying to see the bigger picture. “Those kids say it was some shadowy figures. One of the women who helped them died. Another has vanished but appeared to Speed. And then Speed vanished and just appeared to me.”
“We should keep an eye on you then,” Detective Riley said. “From every angle. In case you’re next.”
“He said he’s trapped,” Lucy said, hearing the detective’s suggestion but trying not to think about who might vanish next. “What if she’s trapped too? The woman? The only person from the party we haven’t accounted for yet…Hannah was her name.”
“We’ve talked to friends, co-workers, family, domestics, clients, and the usual kooks who want attention and claim they did the deed,” Detective Riley said. “We have yet to find a solid lead.”
“The best we have is Lady Umbersmith,” Valentine said. “The family matriarch. But she’s been out of the loop for a long time, I guess. We didn’t even know she existed until we did our own digging on the family tree. None of the people we interviewed mentioned her. She claims to know what killed her family.”
Lucy’s eyes widened. “What? Why haven’t you—”
“Demons. She thinks it’s demons,” Riley said. “There were a lot of people who were higher up our list of persons of interest. So we haven’t talked to her yet. We’re visiting her in the morning.”
“I want to come with you,” Lucy said.
Lance looked at her. “Lucy…”
“We’re not getting anywhere in the lab. Will someone just say it already? Lady Umbersmith might be right. We seem to be dealing with something supernatural.”
Silence from the detectives.
“Or at least something we can’t yet explain with our current methods of detection.”
“Doc, testing for sulfur or cold spots isn’t going to find us our missing detective,” Detective Riley said. “And neither is you coming with us and swabbing an old lady for evidence.”
“Please,” Lucy said. “I just want to be there. I won’t interfere with your interview. I just have to do something to help find him.”
“What if he appears here again?” Lance said. “If you’re here, you can—“
“We’re running out of time,” Lucy said. “I don’t think he knows what has happened to him. It’s up to us to find that out. What has happened to him. And how we get him out of it. Anyway, if you don’t let me come along, I’ll just make an appointment to talk to her myself after you leave.”
“Can we get him back?”
Ghouls. That’s what had caused all of it. Soul-eaters. Shadow devourers. Ghouls.
Lady Umbersmith peered at Lucy. “Yes.”
She told them how they might get Speed back, though she shed no light on the mystery of who murdered her family. Someone had opened a door to hell. Maybe it was the tattooed man himself, Thomas Umbersmith, home from abroad. Who knew what might have happened to him all that time he was away from his family, his friends? Maybe he didn’t know what he was unleashing.
The Umbersmith Manor had a fountain that encircled the grounds. Water. Someone knew that water would trap the ghouls. Someone had counted on all the ghouls doing their deed and then dying, vanishing from the world. Someone had targeted the Umbersmiths, or at least those who had attended the party. But two of the ghouls had escaped, hitching a ride on the shadows of an unsuspecting but heroic aunt and an unsuspecting detective.
“I think I get it now,” Lucy said, seeing the science in the story that Lady Umbersmith had spun for them. “They’re out of phase with us. It must be something the ghouls do that’s separate from the soul-eating. A way to hold their prey in place. It must be affecting their bodies on a sub-atomic level. A quantum web.”
She and Lance were driving to Umbersmith Manor. They had a phone line open to Riley and Valentine, who were riding to the same destination in their car.
Lance raised a brow. “Quantum web What’s that?”
Lucy explained. “When a trapped insect struggles in a spiderweb, it sends vibrations through the web and catches the attention of the spider. Our trapped people are struggling too, and because they aren’t dead yet, they are partly connected to their native dimension, this dimension. And if someone is paying attention…they can see them.”
“How did they find us? How can they see us if we can’t see them?” Lance asked.
“Speed mentioned the word ‘light,’ and Lady Umbersmith said that’s what reveals our souls. What if our souls, being energy, also emit some kind of ‘light’?”
“This sounds hokey-pokey religiousy to me,” Riley’s voice interjected from the speakerphone.
Lance smiled at Lucy. A smile, not a smirk. “So Speed was attracted to your light?”
Lucy nodded. “And the woman from the party, Hannah, she was attracted to Speed’s light. Maybe she saw it because the ghoul was starting to pull him into this other realm or dimension, and she was already in it. That could be the hell Lady Umbersmith is talking about. Just another dimension.”
When they arrived, they parked outside of the yellow police tape that still encircled the property. It was only a few days after the crime, but most of the news vans had moved on after the manor site had been shut down. A few officers still patrolled the area to assure that the manor was not looted and the crime scene was not disturbed while the investigation was still ongoing.
The detectives checked in with one of those patrol officers, who did not ask about the duffel bag they carried. Detectives and members of the crime scene investigation team had been coming and going for the past seventy-two hours.
There was a way to draw the attention of the ghouls. The sigil on Thomas Umbersmith’s knee had drawn them and in fact empowered them to enter the human world. Lady Umbersmith had given Lucy another object of drawing. Bait only worked if it was something tempting to the creature one attempted to catch. The object was a magnifier of sorts. It would make a shadow appear that was so dense that no ghoul should be able to resist coming near and trying to devour it. To cast such a shadow required no ordinary light, but the light of one’s soul. And that was a dangerous trap, for if the ghoul latched on before it could be killed, the shadow and the soul that cast it, would both be devoured, just as surely and quickly as the souls of the Umbersmith party were devoured.
Lucy would be the bait. She had no qualms about it. She was no good with weapons. And she had barely been able to lift the iron swords and the iron spear that Lady Umbersmith had given them from her late husband’s collection. There was a reason she knew about the legend of the ghoul. Her family had once been a bloodline she could be proud of, she said. And among their number were many warriors, men and women both, who battled such creatures.
Lucy didn’t ask the detectives, for she was focused on saving Speed, but she wondered if Lady Umbersmith should be on their list of suspects after all. Was she trying to cleanse what she deemed a fallen bloodline? Lucy was certain all three detectives wondered the same thing. But they too had set aside the duties of their profession, it seemed, to go and do their duties as friends. She did see Detective Valentine make a call and hoped that he was asking that some officers be sent over to keep an eye on the Lady Umbersmith. Even if the old matron helped to save Speed, if she was guilty of the crime of killing fifty men, women, and children, she would have to answer for it.
Lucy stood in the garden, not far from where they had found the body of Viola Wallace, who had been not a Umbersmith, but someone’s plus one. The universe willing, they would get justice and vengeance for Ms. Wallace. Lucy slipped the talisman over her neck. It was a stone on a leather cord. It looked like the kind of thing she’d pick up at a museum’s gift store. It was carved with a sigil in the center.
Lucy feared that she would be standing there flanked by three men wielding medieval weapons for hours until they grew tired, or until they were spotted by a patrolling officer and forced to admit their foolishness.
She feared that, but when the sigil began to work even as she was putting it on, she felt a different fear. She feared for her soul.
She saw it. The shadow. At first, it lay distorted on the ground, as would a shadow from a light source behind her. But then it darkened and condensed and rose up. And it faced her. Her shadow. Her mirror-self. She raised her left arm and tilted her head. Her shadow mimicked her. It made her nervous. Her own shadow. There seemed to be something sinister about it.
She wondered if the shadow men that the little girl saw was actually the shadow forms of the victims, condensing and rising up. Maybe the sigil on Thomas Umbersmith had done what the sigil on Lucy’s necklace was doing now. She felt cold coming from the shadow. She huffed a breath and it clouded before her. Then she felt heat. Cold, then hot. It was as the little girl had described.
Then Lucy spotted something. She was expecting something dark. Ghouls were supposed to shun the light after all. But she saw a pale gray thing skittering toward her from eleven o’ clock. And it was moving fast. It was almost—
Lance raised his sword. The thing stopped for a heartbeat, long enough for Lucy to see it. It had skinny limbs that looked like petrified tree trunks, and a round head with long wispy strands of light gray hair. But the strands moved in all different directions as if they were worms or snakes. It had no eyes or nose, just a sucker-like mouth. And the thing’s belly was round and full. Maybe it was that full belly that slowed the ghoul down enough for Lance to strike.
He nicked it and it kept coming toward Lucy. She was ready for it. She lifted up the garden hose and sprayed.
It worked. The ghoul fell to the ground with the first sound it had made, a thud and slap. Lance thrust down at it with his sword and pierced it through the neck.
But Lucy didn’t have time to look as another one was coming toward her. They didn’t know how many there would be. It was just supposed to be two total. But she saw two loping toward her when she turned around. She sprayed them down and watched as Riley and Valentine descended upon them. Those had been considerably slower. She had waited, not wanting to scare them off. She had control of the sprinklers. But she had to wait until they were all there so she could trap them.
“This one’s not dying!” Lance said. She watched as the ghoul he fought batted at his sword. Its belly seemed to be squirming with something alive inside of it.
And Lucy was too distracted to see the other one as it fell on her shadow.
The pain was immediate and unbearable. She dropped the garden hose and collapsed. She couldn’t move. She opened her mouth but couldn’t speak. She turned her head and saw her friends fighting nightmares.
She saw a gray thing eating her soul.
She saw a figure flicker into view. And then another. One of them was Speed. He reached toward the gray thing and pulled it off Lucy’s shadow and tossed it to the ground.
Lucy gasped a breath. The relief was immediate and euphoric. She rose up on her elbows, grasped the garden hose, and hosed down the gray thing that was leaping toward Speed. The water sprayed through Speed’s form and onto the ghoul.
Valentine plunged a spear through the ghoul just as Lucy activated the sprinklers. Spokes of metal rose from the grass and began spitting water in all directions.
There were a dozen ghouls in the yard. All but two were dead.
Lucy saw that Speed was trying to yell something at Valentine. And the other figure, the woman Hannah, was trying to yell something at Lance. And Lucy understood. Those other ghouls. They were easy to kill because they had not latched onto a soul. They had been trapped in the human world. Their bellies were flat. These were maybe the few of many who had come through the opened door. These would have died anyway, trapped on the grounds of the manor, and starved of souls.
But the two that were still alive, one of them was latched to Speed’s shadow, the other to Hannah’s. Lucy could only see her own shadow. But she thought she was right. Water hadn’t weakened them much. Their bellies. That’s what Speed and Hannah were trying to say. Open their bellies. But Lance and Valentine couldn’t keep up with the agile ghouls.
Lucy rose, and her shadow rose with her. Her sinister shadow. The dark side of her soul. What was it capable of? She launched herself toward the ghoul that fought with Lance. Her shadow followed. She reached her hand out and her shadow mimicked, only her shadow’s hand caught the ghoul. Not by logic, or strategy, but by instinct. She held it in place. And Lance, understanding, raised his sword.
But Lucy raised her other hand. She moved both hands to the ghoul’s neck. She felt it through her shadow. Through her soul. It was alive, whatever it was. It throbbed with life. Maybe its own, or maybe the lives of the souls it had eaten. She began to squeeze. And her shadow squeezed. The ghoul began to thrash. Too fast for Lance’s sword. He lowered it and watched as Lucy’s shadow strangled the thing.
When it stopped moving, Lucy opened her hands. Her shadow opened its hands and the ghoul dropped to the ground, dead.
Lance pierced its belly and sliced it open. And Lucy saw what she had expected to see. Light spilling out, dripping out, bursting out. She shielded her eyes. And there before them on the ground, in the flesh, was Hannah Umbersmith. She coughed and pointed.
Lucy followed her gesture and saw both Valentine and Riley swinging away at the second ghoul. This was the one that was latched to Speed. Lucy moved again. The ghouls did not have eyes, but they could somehow see souls and it had seen hers killing the other ghoul. It was harder for her to get a hold of this one. She had to run after it, splashing through the sprinklers. But it couldn’t move through that much water without slowing. She caught it with her shadow.
This time, she only held the ghoul down until Valentine and Riley both plunged their weapons into the creature. Again light burst forth. Again, Lucy shielded her eyes.
She turned around and saw Lance embracing the solid figure of his partner. Valentine helped Hannah up, while Riley swung his sword around and surveyed the garden for any more living ghouls.
There were none.
Lucy looked at her shadow. She reached for the necklace to remove it and as she did, the shadow melted to the ground. She removed the necklace and felt that piece of her soul return to her. It felt heavy. She had seen much death in her line of work. But she had never dealt it out before. Not like that.
Lady Umbersmith had told them that the bodies of the ghouls would melt away in the sunlight. On the way over, they had all discussed staying until dawn to assure that was true.
But Lucy didn’t want to stay anymore. She wanted to take her friends and leave. She wanted to burn the manor, raze the grounds.
And she had wanted nothing more than to see Speed again and embrace him and shove him around the way Lance, and Riley, and Valentine were doing. But he had seen what she did. What she did was unworthy and she felt awkward now.
How did I get here?
Speed walked toward her. He looked pale and weak. But the hug he gave Lucy still felt strong enough to smother her a bit. And he felt warm. A human warmth.
“My soul doesn’t feel good,” she said.
“We haven’t solved the case yet,” Lucy said, realizing they still didn’t know who or what was responsible for siccing those ghouls onto the Umbersmiths and their guests and innocent bystanders. She looked at Hannah Umbersmith, who was being held up by Valentine and Riley. She was weeping for her family. Valentine told her that her niece and nephew were safe and sound. And her tears of grief mingled with laughter of relief. She clutched at the detectives.
“You two should go home and rest,” Lance said. “We’ll wrap up the case.”
“I don’t think I’ll be able to sleep for a while,” Speed said.
Lucy nodded. “Ditto.”
But how could any arrests be made when there was no way to prove that a person was responsible for unleashing soul-eating demons into a room full of people?
Poison gas would serve as a cover story. And the detectives took hits from the media for not solving the case. Detectives Riley and Valentine found the name of the person who had convinced Thomas Umbersmith to get that tattoo, but he was out of their jurisdiction. They were informed by their captain that the high-profile case was being turned over to a federal agency. At their apologies, Lady Umbersmith assured them justice would be served. Detective Riley gave a joking warning to the lady not to do anything illegal to which she had given, according to the detectives, a regal nod.
Lucy didn’t know what good any kind of trial would do after what that family had suffered, after its remnants tried to go on with their lives. She hoped they could go on. Days passed. Weeks. She spent a lot of time with Speed and watched him mend. A drained soul, it seemed, could be restored. A broken soul could be mended. But what of her soul? Could a fouled soul be cleansed? What she had done with her shadow had been necessary. But what troubled her was how easily she had done it. She wished she had plunged a sword into the ghoul in the heat of the fight, instead of cold-bloodedly strangling it. The only comment any of the detectives made about it was jokes about not getting on her “dark” side, or worse, awe about what a just thing it was she did. Only Speed, whose own soul had been harmed, seemed to somewhat understand.
Lucy walked toward the table where he waited. Speed waved to her. She sighed. She had done what she had done. She would live with it. Face it. She had helped save people after all. It had been worth it. Her soul would endure.
She sat down across from him, with her back toward the afternoon sun, and she smiled at the sight of her shadow stretching out on the sidewalk toward Speed’s shadow.
Copyright © 2015 by Nila L. Patel