Low Midnight Page 7

Now, she was simply out of place, out of step, bodiless, and with a broken soul that lived only because Cormac had not yet learned how to eject her entirely. He would grow strong enough to do so, someday. He would grow tired of playing host. With the magic they practiced, she was teaching him the means by which he could dispel her, if he chose. Then she would truly die.

She still wasn’t ready to die. All this time, all this strangeness, she still wanted to live. She must make herself useful to Cormac. She must make herself necessary, so that he would not think of rejecting her. Cormac, the man who prided himself on his loneliness. He didn’t need anyone.

Chapter 3

CORMAC ARRIVED in Manitou Springs at midday. After parking the Jeep on a side street, he walked to Soda Springs Park, a sheltered stretch of space along the creek in the middle of town. The bare winter branches and trunks of a row of trees and shrubbery gave a semblance of seclusion from the nearby road. Some modern hippie types with white-kid dreads and creative piercings gathered under a covered picnic area and gave him a passing glance.

I don’t remember any of this, Amelia said. Heavens, when did this all become so built over? The streets, the trees—it all seems wrong. We can’t possibly be in the right town, but I know we are, because I remember that view of the mountains, and that row of houses there. But wasn’t there a gazebo here, and not that ugly thing?

She meant the picnic shelter, clearly a product of modern parks-and-rec department utility. Her chatter was nervous. Amelia was tough. Ruthless, when it came to her own survival—after all, she’d managed to at least partly survive her own hanging and find a way to continue on, whatever the form. But Cormac could feel the trepidation she’d suppressed for over a century, now boiling up. He got ready to power through it.

A quick search online revealed that Amy Scanlon’s aunt, Judi Scanlon, ran a “supernatural” walking tour of Manitou Springs. Not just a ghost tour, but a tour that promised to highlight all of the town’s supernatural points of interest, from Native American sacred sites to the so-called magic surrounding its famous springs, and so on. Cormac signed them up as a way to gauge the woman before formally meeting her, rather than just walking up to her to tell her that her niece was dead, and could she please help decode the book.

Even in winter a good collection of tourists gathered for the tour, which met at the paved space at the park entrance. The relatively warm, sunny day had brought them out, in ski vests and hip knitted hats. A solitary guy in his leather jacket and sunglasses, Cormac looked out of place. He kept to the edges of the group and watched.

When a lone, older woman came up the sidewalk, wrapped in a colorful wool coat and striding like she was on a mission, Cormac guessed this was Judi Scanlon. Surveying the group, she offered a broad smile, rubbing her hands together, like she was scheming. “You all here for the tour? Great! I’m Judi, thanks for coming out on this chilly day. Let’s get started, allright?”

Cormac worried that she might be into icebreakers—demanding to know everyone’s names and where they were from. But she didn’t go there, just marched on, leading the group to the sidewalk. Judi was vibrant, one of those types who always seemed to be volunteering at libraries or walking in charity fundraisers. Stout without being fat, with short silver hair under a baseball cap, an oversized comfortable sweater and sensible sneakers.

We’re going to have to tell this kindly woman what happened to her niece, Amelia said.

Cormac still hadn’t figured out exactly how that was going to happen. He was playing this by ear. He trailed along at the end of the group, arms crossed, listening to history he mostly already knew.

Tucked in at the base of Pikes Peak, Manitou Springs had been a tourist town for some hundred and thirty years. Its collection of mineral springs made it an early destination for rich health nuts and tuberculosis patients who’d traveled west in the late eighteen hundreds to take advantage of the dry climate. The wealthy founders of nearby Colorado Springs had vacation homes here. A collection of gingerbread Victorian mansions remained, but most of the businesses on the main drag had been converted to T-shirt shops, art galleries, and trendy restaurants.

Manitou was a storied city, starting out on the frontier of the Old West, with prospectors and explorers, even a few gunslingers and gamblers, along with the original Mexican settlers and Native Americans getting pushed out by the brand new world. Lots of travelers, which meant lots of history, lots of lore, lots of ghost stories. Judi seemed to know them all.

Amelia knew a number of them herself—some of these ghosts had been haunting buildings in the town for a long time. She murmured corrections to Judi’s commentary in the back of Cormac’s mind and added her own observations about what buildings had been there back in the day, which hadn’t, what had changed, and what no longer existed. Like any traveler coming back to any spot after a long absence, some of it was familiar, some of it utterly changed. Ten years, a hundred years, didn’t seem to make a difference.

The word “Manitou” comes from the Algonquin tribe of Indians, she murmured. Cormac thought she might have been talking to herself, repeating old lore. It refers to a kind of nature spirit, as I understand it, although I’ve read some authors who insist that manitou refers to gods. There was so much argument, a hundred years ago, about whether the Indians even had gods. Mostly among missionaries, I imagine. Does anyone still argue about such things? I should do some reading on it. At any rate, I’m certain the word has nothing at all to do with local legends or native spirits. I’ve even heard tell someone got the name from Longfellow, as if that was the only relevant lore any of them had encountered—unacademic drivel, hardly worth speaking of. Really, the Algonquin are an eastern tribe and have nothing to do with this part of the country.

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