Read Ghost Story Online

Authors: Jim Butcher

Ghost Story

Table of Contents
 
 
ALSO BY JIM BUTCHER
THE DRESDEN FILES
 
STORM FRONT
FOOL MOON
GRAVE PERIL
SUMMER KNIGHT
DEATH MASKS
BLOOD RITES
DEAD BEAT
PROVEN GUILTY
WHITE NIGHT
SMALL FAVOR
TURN COAT
CHANGES
SIDE JOBS (ANTHOLOGY)
 
THE CODEX ALERA
 
FURIES OF CALDERON
ACADEM'S FURY
CURSOR'S FURY
CAPTAIN'S FURY
PRINCEPS' FURY
FIRST LORD'S FURY
ROC
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First published by Roc, an imprint of New American Library, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
 
First Printing, August 2011
 
Copyright © Jim Butcher, 2011
All rights reserved
 
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ISBN : 978-1-101-47617-8
 
Set in Janson Text
 
 
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To Air, for introducing me to Mab by onion-colored light
Acknowledgments
As always, there are too many people to thank and only a little bit of space to thank them in. This time around, I must especially thank my editor, Anne, for putting up with my delays in writing. I'm sure I gave her, along with several of the folks trying to schedule things at Penguin, headaches. My agent, Jenn, was invaluable in getting everything straightened out, as well as in helping me through the bumpy bits, and I owe her my thanks, as well. I would apologize to you all abjectly if I were sure it would never happen again. Seems sort of insincere to do it otherwise, all things considered, so I'll just thank you for your patience and understanding.
To the inhabitants of the Beta Asylum, many more thanks than usual are owed, especially for everyone who sacrificed so much of their time and focus in the last few weeks before the revised deadline. Your feedback, support, and advice were particularly invaluable.
To my dear patrons, the readers, I can only thank you for your patience, after leaving the last novel the way I did, then making everyone wait another three months past the usual delay while I made sure this book was ready to go. Enjoy! (And, technically, guys,
Changes
did NOT end in a cliff-hanger. Seriously.)
And to Shannon, who had to live with me during this more-franticthan-usual period of insanity: I'm almost certain I'll be sane again at some point in the reasonably near future. I'll try to make it up to you.
Chapter One
L
ife is hard.
Dying's easy.
So many things must align in order to create life. It has to happen in a place that supports life, something approximately as rare as hen's teeth, from the perspective of the universe. Parents, in whatever form, have to come together for it to begin. From conception to birth, any number of hazards can end a life. And that's to say nothing of all the attention and energy required to care for a new life until it is old enough to look after itself.
Life is full of toil, sacrifice, and pain, and from the time we stop growing, we know that we've begun dying. We watch helplessly as year by year, our bodies age and fail, while our survival instincts compel us to keep on going—which means living with the terrifying knowledge that ultimately death is inescapable. It takes enormous effort to create and maintain a life, and the process is full of pitfalls and unexpected complications.
Ending
a life, by comparison, is simple. Easy, even. It can be done with a relatively minor effort, a single microbe, a sharp edge, a heavy weight . . . or a few ounces of lead.
So difficult to bring about. So easy to destroy.
You'd think we would hold life in greater value than we do.
I died in the water.
I don't know if I bled to death from the gunshot wound or drowned. For being the ultimate terror of the human experience, once it's over, the details of your death are unimportant. It isn't scary anymore. You know that tunnel with the light at the end of it that people report in near-death experiences? Been there, done that.
Granted, I never heard of anyone rushing toward the light and suddenly hearing the howling blare of a train's horn.
I became dimly aware that I could feel my feet beneath me, standing on what seemed to be a set of tracks. I knew because I could feel the approaching train making them shake and buzz against the bottoms of my feet. My heart sped up, too.
For crying out loud, did I just
say
that death isn't scary anymore? Tell that to my glands.
I put my hands on my hips and just glared at the oncoming train in disgust. I'd had a long, long day, battling the forces of evil, utterly destroying the Red Court, rescuing my daughter, and murdering her mother—oh, and getting shot to death. That kind of thing.
I was supposed to be at peace, or merging with the holy light, or in line for my next turn on the roller coaster, or maybe burning in an oven equipped with a stereo that played nothing but Manilow. That's what happens when you die, right? You meet your reward. You get to find out the answer to the Big Questions of life.
“You do not get run over by trains,” I said crossly. I folded my arms, planted my feet, and thrust out my jaw belligerently as the train came thundering my way.
“What's wrong with you?” bellowed a man's voice, and then a heavy, strong hand wrapped around my right biceps and hauled me off the track by main force. “Don't you see the damned train?”
Said train roared by like a living thing, a furious beast that howled and wailed in disappointment as I was taken from its path. The wind of its passage raked at me with sharp, hot fingers, actually pulling my body a couple of inches toward the edge of the platform.
After a subjective eternity, it passed, and I lay on flat ground for a moment, panting, my heart beating along lickety-split. When it finally began to slow down, I took stock of my surroundings.
I was sprawled on a platform of clean but worn concrete, and suddenly found myself under fluorescent lights, as at many train stations in the Chicago area. I looked around the platform, but though it felt familiar, I couldn't exactly place it. There were no other commuters. No flyers or other advertisements. Just an empty, clean, featureless building.
And a pair of polished wing tip shoes.
I looked up a rather modest length of cheap trousers and cheap suit and found a man of maybe thirty years looking back at me. He was built like a fireplug and managed to give the impression that if you backed a car into him, he'd dent your fender. His eyes were dark and glittered very brightly, hinting at a lively intellect, his hairline had withdrawn considerably from where it must have been at one point, and while he wasn't exactly good-looking, it was the kind of face you could trust.

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