Grave Visions (Alex Craft, #4)(6)

Jenson glanced down at where his shoes crossed the thin chalk line. Then he backed up, color crawling to his cheeks. Nodding, I closed my eyes.

Channeling energy into the waxy line, I activated my barrier and it sprang up around me. The barrage of grave essence fell away so that I could feel only the essence lifting from one corpse, the girl in the circle with me. I kept additional shields in charms on a bracelet I wore, so I removed it first, then I opened my personal shields.

I’d always imagined my outer shield as a knotted wall of vines—maybe I’d watched Sleeping Beauty too often as a child—but I’d always found a living shield helped guard me from the touch of the grave best. I let those thorny vines slither apart now, opening the shield, but simultaneously I envisioned a thin, clear barrier springing up between my psyche and the world. This shield was new, one I’d had to fashion after I’d begun accidentally merging reality. It helped keep my powers from reaching out and pulling layers of the world into contact with one another, but the real trick was keeping it thin enough that my grave magic could still pass through it.

A cold wind picked up around me, whipping my hair. It wasn’t anything that existed in the mortal world but blew across the chasm between the living and the dead. I opened my eyes and focused on the sheet-draped form. My power rushed into it, filling the corpse with my living heat as the chill of the grave swept into me.

The woman’s shade sat up, out of the body. She wore a tank top with a faded cartoon character on it and a pair of men’s boxers. Sleepwear, I guessed. The shade made no sound, showed no emotion. She was far past alarm at being dead, and felt no pain despite the fact she appeared to be covered in small puncture wounds. She was memory given form. Nothing more.

I frowned, studying the wounds. There were several different sizes of punctures, but all were circular and appeared on her body in pairs. Like fang marks.

I glanced at Jenson. “How did you say she was killed?”

“I didn’t.”

Obviously. It was impossible to tell if the wounds were the cause of death, and if they were, if that was because she’d bled out or been injected with something. Vampires, to my knowledge, were a myth. Of course, seventy years ago fae were just myth and folklore, so maybe there were bloodsucking entities out there. But, if she’d been killed by some sort of bloodsucking creature, it—or really they—would have to have been small. Some of the punctures were only a few centimeters apart, others were upward to an inch.

“What is your name?” I asked the shade.

She looked at me, her eyes empty and dispassionate. “Emma Langley.”

“And how did you die, Emma?”

“I was giving myself a pedicure in my room and I heard Jeremy scream,” she said, and I glanced over at Jenson. His face gave away nothing, so I wasn’t sure if the Jeremy she’d mentioned was the killer or another victim. “I went to the living room to see what was wrong and there were snakes, everywhere. He was buried under them. I ran to the kitchen, grabbed the fire extinguisher, and tried to clear a path to him, but the snakes wrapped around my legs. I fell, and they were everywhere. Biting me. Pain shot through my arms, my chest, and . . .” She trailed off.

And she died. Or at least lost consciousness. The shade would have stopped recording as soon as her soul left her body.

I studied the bites covering her. They were literally everywhere. I couldn’t have pressed my hand to her skin without touching at least two at once. I shuddered. I’d always had a healthy respect for snakes, but never a fear of them. Emma might change that.

I glanced at Jenson. “What did animal control make of the snakes? Venomous, I’m assuming?” But where would that many snakes have come from?

“There were no snakes when the bodies were found. And there is no trace of venom in the bodies.”

I blinked at him. How—? Well, he’d said he had a bad feeling about this case. That was why I was here after all. I turned back to Emma.

“Do you know where the snakes came from?”


“Did you hear anyone enter the house before Jeremy screamed?”


Okay . . . I looked to Jenson to see if he had any guidance of where he wanted this interview to go, but he only stared at the shade, frowning.

“Did Jeremy like snakes?” I asked.

The shade shook her head. “He was terrified of them.”

“When was the last time you were in the living room before you heard Jeremy scream?”

A living person would have had to think about it. The shade answered without hesitation. “About forty minutes earlier.”

“And did anything strike you as odd then?”

The question required the shade to extrapolate on the memory, so there was a chance she wouldn’t answer, but I lucked out. Or, more likely, she’d noted the oddity at the time. “Jeremy was anxious. He had two half-started projects laid over the coffee table and was channel surfing. That was why I went to my room early. He was all over the place.”

It sounded like Emma wasn’t the body I needed. I turned to Jenson. “Is Jeremy the second body?”

“Yeah.” He glanced at his watch. “You’ll have to be fast.”

I didn’t bother pointing out that if he’d brought out both bodies in the first place it would have been faster, but instead went through the steps of putting the shade back in her body and reclaiming my heat. I didn’t release the grave. Not yet, at least. Nor did I drop my circle. I’d have to break the barrier to allow the boy’s body into the circle, but with my shields down I needed the circle to protect my psyche.

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