Spirit (Elemental #5)
Release Date: 04/30/13
Summary from Goodreads:
Not even a guardian angel is more powerful than Death.
Always careful to watch out for others, Shayna put too much trust her abilities to keep herself safe and has been cut down by crazed man. Now she is trapped in the land of the dead, watching as her two best friends suffer the consequences of her death; their powers are fading and soon they will too. Shayna is desperate to return to the land of the living to save them from a similar, cold fate. To save her friends Shayna must turn away from the Light and, in doing so, sacrifice her wings.
But the longer Shayna stays among the dead, the further she slips from sanity. If Shayna cannot find her way back she will be condemned and lost forever among the restless souls of the dead. With nothing left to lose, she will do whatever it takes to fight her way back, with or without her wings.
More than two hundred homes and two thousand square acres were destroyed in the fire. Two people were severely burned, but they survived. Amazingly, no one died. At least, that’s what the papers reported. They never found my body, and they looked for days. I know; I watched them search for me. I had always said I wanted to be cremated when I died, asking to have my ashes scattered at the roots of an old tree, but being burned alive was not what I had in mind.
My parents held my memorial outdoors, on the beach. Search and rescue told my parents it was too soon to be completely conclusive about my whereabouts, but after seeing the site where Jodi and Steven said I’d died, my parents came to the hard decision that I was, more than likely, gone.
A pack of surfers I had known since childhood paddled out to sea, each bearing a flower wreath. Once they were past the last break of waves, they cast the flowers into the ocean, letting the ebb and flow of Earth and sea take them. The beach was covered in black from mourners milling around, huddled against the winter bite in the breeze.
Deb had brought her entire coven to show their respects. Little Trisity clung to Deb’s hand while tears streamed down her face, her aura a pale gray obscuring her sweet face. Deb lifted her up and held her on her hip, letting Trisity cry into her shoulder as she made her way to my parents. Half the senior class had turned out in a wash of black, white, and gray; even a few teachers were in attendance. I had no idea so many people had known me. A huge, obnoxious picture of me stood on an easel, flowers littering the ground around it. Beside it, my surfboard stood, jammed in the sand.
Jodi and Steven received just as many hugs and whispered condolences as my parents. Their faces were dry of tears. Jodi looked hard and determined, as though an idea had taken root in her mind and she was unaware of her surroundings, whereas Steven looked distant, the fire in his eyes banked to cold embers. They accepted the hugs and nodded at the words, but otherwise they weren’t truly present. I felt Jodi’s uncontrolled magic, the sudden gusts of wind whipping her signature around, making the mourners cling to their coats and inch closer to each other.
Jensen was there, wrapped in a black peacoat and wearing a grey beanie pulled low over his ears. His hands were jammed into his coat pockets, and his tiny mother was next to him, her arm linked through the crook of Jensen’s elbow. I traced the line of his profile with my eyes, remembering the heat of his full, red lips and the sharp lines of his cheekbones under my fingers. An ache blossomed in my chest as I waited for him to turn toward me, let me see the stormy ocean of his eyes, but he never did.
I stood alone on the rocks, watching from a distance. I found when I came too close to those who had loved me in life, I stole what little peace they’d carved out for themselves. Any calm or happiness they had found would seep away, the color of their aura draining to gray. I was a wraith, bound to the shadows, trying to find my way home.
I had spent my time in the Ether, somewhere between the living and the dead, hiding and running from that which would take me from this plane. I’d seen the bright Light, the tunnel, felt the inexplicable compulsion drawing me toward it. I felt the peace it offered. It felt like home. And I turned away from it.
It was strange, watching those people, so close to them but totally apart. Even at this distance, I saw Death’s next victims. Everyone was marked for death, but the closer they came to it, the darker the mark grew over their bodies. It was a cancer that made the soul rip away from the body. I saw lung cancer creeping up on my English teacher. In another year’s time, he would know about his diminishing chances of beating it. One of Deb’s sisters stood with the shadow of Death looming over her shoulder, ready to snatch her away in a few weeks when she stepped off that curb just fifteen seconds too soon because she was digging through her purse with her phone braced between her cheek and shoulder. I was so close and yet so far away. I couldn’t warn them though the words screamed in my mind. I felt the phantom weight of my wings on my back, but I knew they weren’t there. When I died and turned away from the Light, they were ripped violently away from me.
Thankfully, when I looked at my parents they were crystal clear, no shadow looming over them. In time, the grey of their auras would clear and resonate in the rainbow spectrum as they should. But when I looked at Jodi and Steven I saw the merest whisper of a shadow. It blurred against their gray auras, but when they moved I saw it and panic nearly strangled me. But what could I do?
I turned to Jodi and watched her face, seeing the peaches and cream complexion drained to pale anger. My fingers twitched with the desire to wave to her, get her attention, make her see me even though I knew it was futile. Steven had turned his back on the congregation, looking out to the sea that usually terrified him, but today nothing scared him, nothing moved him. I sighed even though I no longer breathed, and when I pulled my gaze off of the back of Steven’s head, remembering how soft the curl of his hair felt under my fingers, I looked into Jodi’s eyes.
For one heart stopping moment, she stared right back at me.
Her pale blue eyes didn’t blink, the line of her mouth pressed hard and angry. I started to open my mouth to call out to her, but before I could, I heard the crunch of rocks behind me, making me break our eye contact. I spun around and saw the angel terrifyingly close to me.
“Shayna,” he whispered, his voice carried on Jodi’s wind, gusting now in frantic confusion.
“No!” I yelled, jumping from the rocks. I took off running, faster than I ever could in life. I prayed for my wings, willed them into existence, but the pain never came and my back remained whole and unmarred. I heard the thunder clap behind me, reverberating as his wings erupted just before he took flight, chasing me.
Fear ripped through me, threatening to trip me up. I felt the Heavens opening behind me, the warm light pressing against my back, growing warmer the closer the angel’s outstretched hand got to me. I closed my eyes and drew in the shadows of the rocks around me, turned on the spot, and let my body fall. The shadows wrapped around me and pulled me through the cosmos just as the tips of the angel’s fingers touched my sweater.
Traffic was still zipping up and down Main Street, life moving on without me. I kept close to the building, in the darker shadows, as I glanced up, down, and across the street. The last thing I needed was for my guardian angel to take me by surprise again. The sidewalk was clear, and from this distance, I couldn’t see anything by the park across the street, next to Anthony’s building. I had never really registered that he lived across the street from Cemetery Park, so named because it was an active cemetery up until the early 1940s.
Sometime in the sixties, the city decided to convert it into a park, but they never moved the bodies. The place always creeped me out, especially when I saw people playing fetch with their dogs or taking a picnic with their kids, knowing they were on top of hundreds of unmarked graves. But I wasn’t prepared for what I saw that night.
Dozens and dozens of spectral entities were all around the park, obscuring the finely manicured lawn. In the last few days, I had seen other ghosts’ fleeting forms, but none as tangible as me and none returned my gaze. Here though, when I crossed the street and stood in front of the park next to Anthony’s apartment building, no less than four spirits turned their deathly gaze upon me. For a moment, I felt as though I couldn’t move, like a mouse caught in a corner as the big angry cat hunkered down in front of it, just waiting.
Of the four staring at me, two were small girls who looked to be about nine and ten years old. They both wore plain white dresses that hung past their knees and cinched up to their necks. Their high-top black dress shoes were practically lost in the shadows. Another of the four was a war veteran. Of what war I couldn’t be sure, but he didn’t look much older than me as he glared my way. The last was an old, hunched over Chumash woman. Her bedraggled, dark hair swung down, obscuring her face from time to time as she swayed where she stood. Her face was a relief map of wrinkles, a testament to the long life she had before she died.
I wasn’t sure who to keep my eyes on; they were all glaring at me but spread out enough that I had to make an effort to look at each of them. The larger of the two girls tilted her head to the side, drawing my attention to her. Her large eyes looked black in the night. She blinked slowly, her mouth opening slightly, as she lifted one hand and crooked her pale finger, beckoning me to come. Absurdly, I felt the desire to step forward, to answer her call, just like the pull of the White Light.
I managed to keep my feet planted on the sidewalk, though my toes were dangerously close to the edge of the grass. I had the feeling that if I crossed the line of cement and desecrated ground, that tiny waif of a girl would be on me like a rabid dog on the last bone in the world. I shifted my weight and took one small step backward. I heard the howling of the lost souls milling about the grounds. The girl’s head snapped back, and her mouth opened into a terrible black maw. She screamed long and loud before she rushed for me.
Her fingers were crooked into claws and her hands stretched out as she flew across the ground in her mad rage. I flinched against the sounds she made, feeling something for the first time in days, and covered my ears. I panicked and scrambled backward, tripping over my own feet, and fell to the ground. She was nearly on top of me. I started to gather the shadows about me, ready to flee, but as she reached the edge of the grass, she slammed into an invisible wall, then bounced off and tumbled backward.
The milling mass of spirits began to shift toward us. The noise and reverberating energy drew their attention like moths to a flame. I pushed back, putting a little more distance between me and the edge of the cemetery, before I got to my feet. I dusted my hands off on my jeans out of habit and straightened my sweater. When I finally found the courage to look up again, the entire population of the cemetery was pressed close to the edge of the grass, practically looming over me. I clenched my hands into fists to keep them from shaking and lifted my chin. They couldn’t cross the line to get to me, and there was no way they would get me to do it for them. I was fine; I just had to stay on the sidewalk.
The soldier caught my attention, pulling it away from the still glaring, screaming girl in white. He stepped forward out of the crowd. A few tendrils of pale white slipped from his shoulders. He wasn’t quite at the grass line. His face was calm and sad. I watched as he inclined his head toward me in a nod, which I returned. One corner of his mouth lifted in a small half smile. I stepped forward.
He lifted his hand, his fingers splayed as if he would intertwine them with mine. I lifted my hand, opening my fingers and began to reach for him. I took another half-step forward, a few blades of grass bending over the toe of my boot.
“Shayna, no!” a voice called out like a ringing bell in the still, silent night.
About the Author:
Like so many other writers, Shauna grew up as an avid reader, but it was in high school that she realized she wanted to be a writer. Five years ago, Shauna started work on her Elemental Series. She released the first installment, Earth, on May 1, 2011 and has since released four sequels, with the series coming to an end with Spirit. She is currently hard at work on a new Urban Fantasy series, staring a spunky witch with a smush-faced cat named Artemis.
In the distance, I heard something echoing my screams. I had a moment of panic and looked right and left, but the monstrous cries stopped. I held my breath to listen, not even daring to move. In the sudden quiet, the snuffling breath and breaking twigs behind me sounded like gunfire.
I was no longer alone.
My mouth was dry, and my hands were suddenly shaking. I dared not breathe for fear of giving myself away before I knew what the noisy thing was. Whatever it was, it was too close to be whatever had roared in the distance. Great, two things to worry about. Slowly, I inched around the tree, bracing myself with one hand, to try to see what was creeping up on me. I kept my face pressed against the smooth trunk, trying to keep myself as small as possible. Dead leaves crunched and twigs snapped as the thing made its way through the dark forest. It finally came around another group of trees, and by the weak moonlight, I made it out.
For one heart stopping moment, I thought it was the Hell Hound Ian had set on me so long ago, but this thing had thick, coarse fur, so white it nearly glowed. Its paws were as big as both my hands put together, shoulders as high as mine, and its tail swished back and forth, back and forth as it snuffled against the ground, looking for a scent to follow. I might’ve thought it was beautiful until he picked up his head and swung his face in my direction. It reminded me of a snow leopard after a bloody battle.
His black lips stretched wide over a mouth full of razor-like teeth, each one as long as my finger, and saliva foamed and dripped from the corners of his mouth. His eyes were black and beady, nearly lost in the ruff of fur around his squashed nose. His ears were flattened against his head as he galumphed through the trees, snuffling the ground. He got ever closer to me, and I knew my chances of escaping dwindled as I stood frozen in place. I chewed the inside of my cheek, trying to think of what to do. Yes, I could run, sure, but to where? The trees seemed to go on and on, and I had no idea where I was. I would’ve climbed a tree, but all of the branches were too high for me to reach, and the trunks were smooth in the winter hibernation.
Laying the flat of my hand against the tree, I tried to make contact with it, asking it to open up and take me in, to hide me from the monster. But the tree remained quiet and firm against my hand. I had hoped the pain returning meant I had some of my powers back, but if I couldn’t get a tree to hear me, then I definitely had no Earth powers here. I cursed silently before edging to stand up, keeping my body pressed tightly against the tree.
Risking another glance around the trunk, I saw the creature turn left, away from me, sniffling and snuffling as it went like a pig looking for truffles. Just as I was about to turn and sneak away, my foot slipped on some loose dirt, and the toe of my boot scraped against a root. In the quiet, it sounded absurdly loud, but not so loud as the beast’s surprised snort. Its ears shot straight up and turned toward the sound, toward me.
Our eyes met, mine round and unblinking, its narrowed and angry. It craned its head back, its neck lengthening as it did, and howled so long and loud that I cringed away. Before it dropped its head, I spun on the spot and ran.
1 – Signed Paperback of winner’s choice of books 1-5 in the Elemental series. (US only)
1 – e-book of winner’s choice of books 1-5 in the Elemental series. (INT)a Rafflecopter giveaway