The Whispering Dead (Gravekeeper #1) - Darcy Coates Page 0,1

garden was full of wild shrubs. As she drew along its side, Keira caught strains of music floating through the air.

She pressed herself to the building’s side, where the shadows would disguise her, and looked back. The forest’s edge was barely visible through the mist. Dark figures were slinking out of the tree line. At least a dozen of them.

Keira pressed a hand to her chest and felt her heart pounding. It had taken her less than a minute to reach the parsonage; she didn’t think the men following her would be much slower.

“Please let me in.” She whispered the words as she beat her fist against the wooden door. “Please, please, please.”

The music fell silent. Keira pressed close to the stone, trying to hide inside the alcove, as she listened to footsteps move through the building. There was the muted click of a handle turning, and the door swung open to reveal a white-haired, spectacled man.

He carried an embroidered tea towel in one hand, and a threadbare maroon sweater covered gently slanted shoulders. His bushy eyebrows rose, a mixture of curiosity and bewilderment.

“Please, let me in.” She threw a glance over her shoulder. They couldn’t be far away; she likely only had seconds. “Someone’s following me. Just let me hide here until they’re gone, then I’ll leave, I promise.”

“Oh.” He said the word very slowly as his eyes skipped from her drenched form to the trickle of blood running down her face. He blinked, then he nodded, as though he’d deemed her proposal reasonable enough, and stepped aside. “In that case, I suppose you had better come in.”

She slipped through the doorway and pressed close to the wall. Her heart was thundering and her ears ringing. She could only hope she’d been fast enough that the strangers hadn’t seen her.

The entryway was warm and smelled like spices, and the jumble of mismatched furniture clustered against its walls felt homey. The pastor closed the door, then put his back to it, watching Keira with faint bemusement. “What happened, child? Were you attacked?”

Keira licked rainwater off her lips. A part of her wanted to stay silent. She only needed to hide in the clergyman’s house until the strangers lost her trail, and caution suggested she reveal as little about herself as possible.

On the other hand, she owed the pastor for his hospitality. The least she could do was answer his question. And maybe she’d unburden her own mind a little in the process.

“My name’s Keira. I’m being hunted. That’s all I can remember.” She glanced along the hallway. Lamps were spaced around the old, scratched tables, their bulbs creating a mesh of conflicting light sources. Outside, thunder crackled. “Sorry, do you mind me asking…where am I?”

“Blighty Parish, two kilometers from the eponymous Blighty.” He reached out to take her arm, but Keira moved away from the touch. The pastor didn’t comment as he tactfully redirected the motion into a gesture toward an open door to their right. “Come and sit by the fire. You must be freezing.”

She never had the chance to respond. The door boomed, shuddering as a heavy fist beat at its exterior. Something like electricity rushed through Keira, setting her brain buzzing and turning her fingers numb. Hide, her mind whispered. Hide, or you won’t be the only one to suffer.

The pastor glanced at the door and lowered his voice. “Is that them?”

Keira could only nod.

The pastor’s lips pursed. He crossed to a large, heavy wood wardrobe and opened the door. In here, he mouthed, beckoning to her.

Keira gratefully slipped among the assortment of patched coats, umbrellas, and rain boots. The fist returned to the door, louder, and the pastor closed the wardrobe on her.

“I’m coming, don’t worry.” His voice had been steady when he’d spoken to her, but now it took on a warbling, feeble note as he called out to his new visitors. “These old bones don’t move as fast as they used to, bless me.”

She listened to him approach the front door, each step an exaggerated shuffle. The door groaned as he opened it and the sound of drumming rain intensified. With it came a new, unpleasantly raw noise. Heavy breathing, Keira thought. They’ve been running and are trying not to show it.

“Good evening.”

The voice sent a spasm of repulsion through Keira’s stomach. The speaker was trying to sound respectful, but she could almost taste the frustration concealed in it. “I’m looking for my friend. A young woman, thin, with light-brown hair and wearing dark