Home > How to Save an Undead Life (The Beginner's Guide to Necromancy #1)

How to Save an Undead Life (The Beginner's Guide to Necromancy #1)
Author: Hailey Edwards

One

I jolted awake sitting on the hardwood floor in my bedroom with my back wedged into a corner. Sheets tangled around my hips. Bruises purpled my shins. Blood crusted my fingertips under broken nails. Shallow pants fed my lungs and fueled my racing heart. I tasted copper in the back of my throat, and it hurt when I swallowed.

Starting my nights with a crick in my neck and a numb tailbone was getting old fast. I might live in a haunted house, but the only screams echoing through the halls belonged to me.

The bathroom door swung open under an invisible hand, and the light switched on.

“That bad?” While I plucked at the damp tank top plastered to my chest by fear-sweat, the faucets squeaked in protest. Water thundered into the shower basin, drowning out my grumbles. “Okay, I can take a hint.”

Bracing one hand on the wall for support, I propped my feet under me and staggered to the bathroom, leaning a hip against the pedestal sink while I stripped. The clawfoot tub beckoned, and I climbed under the scalding water, let it pound the kinks from my aching muscles. All too soon the stream turned cold, and I hopped out with a squeak that made the hinges squeal in mocking laughter.

Curls of steam gamboled around my ankles, chasing me back into the bedroom, where I dried off and got dressed in jeans and a faded tee. I stomped on sneakers before combing the damp ropes of dark brown hair slicking my shirt against my spine.

A wobbly question mark cut through the condensation fogging the window above my desk.

“I’m fine,” I assured the old house. “Just a bad dream.”

The same one, night after night after night, since my release from the black stone prison called Atramentous.

Each dusk I expected to wake to iron bars, a grate in the concrete floor, the constant drip-drip-drip of water and other fluids as they fell from the ceiling into the drain. Enough to keep you alive if you worked at catching droplets on your tongue, but never enough to quench your thirst.

The glass turned opaque, as if someone had breathed warmth onto the chill pane, and the next drawing tugged on my heartstrings.

A frowny face.

“You’ve been working on your finger painting while I was away, I see.” And her psychoanalyzing. “Okay, you win. I’m not fine.” I rocked back on my heels. “I know you worry but…” I bit the inside of my cheek until I tasted iron. “I can’t talk about it yet.”

I might never be ready to discuss the events leading up to my incarceration.

The window cleared, the slate wiped clean.

Until tomorrow.

A blinking red light caught my eye in the window’s reflection, and I skimmed my cluttered desk. “Woolly.” I pointed at the cheap digital clock with zeroes flashing on its face. “What time is it?” I lunged for the nightstand and woke my phone. “You let me oversleep.”

The house let her unrepentant silence speak for itself.

Loudly.

“I have to work.” I tromped down the stairs. “Otherwise the power goes off, and my belly goes empty. You don’t want us to both starve, do you?”

One step creaked louder than the others in counterargument. She could go on like this for days…

I hit the foyer, slung my purse across my body, and palmed the last Honeycrisp apple from its porcelain cradle. Hand-painted blue roses climbed over the exterior of the elegant fruit bowl, the piece still one of my favorites despite the nocked rim on its everted lip. Or perhaps because of it. Each chip represented a memory, a good one, and I had few enough of those not to care if the reminders carried jagged edges.

The slight pressure of my fingertips against the basin sent the heavy antique console table beneath the bowl seesawing. The old house groaned around me, embarrassed about the uneven floorboards, and the hard point of my anger softened.

“I got this.” I opened the table’s single drawer, plucked the most recent bill off the top of a precarious stack, and wedged it under the short leg before hiding my unmet obligations from sight again with a satisfying bump from my hip. “There.” I winked up at the chandelier that hung central in the foyer. “Good as new.”

A gust of heated air swirled up my leg from a nearby floor register.

“You’re welcome.”

Thanks to my late start, my usual bowl of strawberry oatmeal was off the table. That left me with the apple to tide me over until the lunch break I took around midnight. Stomach tight with hunger, I brought the fruit to my lips. That moment when my teeth pierced the thin outer skin, the flesh firm beneath and juices flowing over my tongue, was perfection. Licking the sticky sweetness from my lips, I chased an errant trickle down my wrist with my tongue. I couldn’t afford to waste even one drop. Not at these prices.

“See you later.” I reached for the doorknob and found it locked. I jiggled it once more then sighed. “Woolly.” The chandelier dimmed at the reprimand. “I promise I’ll be home in a few hours.”

A petulant snick announced I was free to go, not that the old house expected me to ever return.

What can I say? Woolworth House, Woolly to her friends, was a tad bit clingy. Though, if you asked me, she was entitled to her near-obsessive fear of abandonment after witnessing the brutal murder of her previous owner and the subsequent arrest of the Woolworth heir.

That would be me.

The door clicked shut on my heels as I stepped out onto the wraparound porch, and the locks engaged.

Click. Click. Click.

Can a haunted house pitch a hissy fit? Yes. Yes, it can. And, in my limited experience, the scope and duration of the tantrum was directly proportional to its square footage. Each time I left, no matter how valid my reason, she acted like I’d driven a rusty nail into her wooden heart. Or hearth. Whichever.

Woolly was all the family I had left. I wouldn’t abandon her. Unless they dragged me away like last time.

Checking the wards protecting Woolworth House came second nature to me, and I spared half a thought for activating the complex spells. Or I did until the magic rebounded, delivering a slap to my skull that left my ears ringing and startled me into shifting a mental eye toward checking the perimeter. But whatever had left the wards singing near the garden hadn’t breached them.

I was savoring my second bite of apple, pondering what the disturbance meant and why Woolly hadn’t given me a heads up, when the hand cradling the half-eaten fruit ignited, and a whiff of charred skin stung my nostrils.

Swearing a blue streak, I flung my hand to soothe the burn and sent my snack rolling down the steps.

Dang it.

Uncurling my fingers, I spotted the blackened sigil I dreaded branding my palm.

Double dang it.

Bad enough I had wonky wards to contend with, but this? Keet really ought to stop dying on me. His timing couldn’t be worse.

I was scheduled to lead a Boos and Brews tour through historic downtown Savannah, Georgia in two hours. I hadn’t had my hair or makeup done yet, and Cricket Meacham, the owner of Haint Misbehavin’ Ghost Tours—that’s haint as in ghost and not hain’t as in ain’t—expected her crew in full Southern belle regalia prior to clock-in.

“Call Amelie,” I ordered my phone in a loud, clear tone.

Hands-free voice commands were as close to practicing craft in public as it got.

“Why, I do declare,” Amelie drawled in her thickest Southern accent, “if it’s not my Grierest friend.”

A snort escaped me at the play on words. “Your dearest friend Grier needs a favor.”

“What? I can’t hear you.” A sigh blasted over the line. “Tell me I’m not in your back pocket.”

“You’re not in my back pocket.” My phone was, though. “Hold on.” I pinched it between my thumb and finger, tugging until my skinny jeans cried uncle, then pinned the cell between my cheek and shoulder like they did in ancient times. “There. Happy?”

“Yes, actually. You don’t sound like you’re talking through cotton gauze left over from a dental procedure.”

Some people just don’t appreciate the hands-free experience. “Can you cover my first tour?”

“Woof. Woof.” She paused for dramatic effect. “Hear that? That’s the sound of my dogs barking.”

Walking an average of ten miles on a good night was enough to make anyone’s feet howl.

“How about this? Swing the tour by the house.” I studied the sigil burnt into my skin, twitchy to get moving. “Do that, and I’ll guarantee you get tipped like a cow tonight.”

“Not sure what that means, but okay.” Glee rang through the line. “I’m in.”

Woolworth House wasn’t part of any regular tour by design. Exclusivity increased the old house’s cachet. Once or twice, when money got tighter than my loaner corset, I allowed the supernaturally devout to pay me obscene amounts of cash to sleep in one of my spare bedrooms. I did nothing to enhance the experience, but a lucky few had encountered Woolly’s sense of humor, and that was enough to ignite fervor among the masses.

And more than enough to label me as a pariah among my own kind. Not that I hadn’t already been branded.

Liar. Thief. Murderer.

“Grier?”

Closing my eyes, I sucked in a long breath that whistled past my front teeth, then I let it out slowly.

“Still here.” I padded across the front yard barefoot, the plush lawn tickling the soles of my feet. The low wrought iron gate leading into the backyard opened under my hand, and I followed the flagstone path under four connected archways dripping with fragrant jasmine blossoms and lush purple wisteria clusters. On the other end sat the carriage house, a scaled-down replica of the main house. “Buy me three hours, and I’ll take your last tour.”

“Done deal.” A rowdy cheer rose in the background. “Oh. Gotta run. My victims have arrived.”

Unlike the personable main house, the carriage house was simply an outbuilding that had once been responsible for storing horse-drawn carriages and tack. Maud had converted the wide-open space into a two-bedroom, two-bath guesthouse, but that had been a lifetime ago.

   
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