“Theseus Cassio,” he says when he picks up. I smirk. He’ll never call me Cas. He finds my full name just too amusing.
“Gideon Palmer,” I say back, and picture him on the other end of the line, on the other side of the world, sitting in a proper English house that overlooks Hampstead Heath in northern London.
“It’s been too long,” he says, and I can see him crossing or uncrossing his legs. I can almost hear the mutter of the tweed through the phone. Gideon is a classic English gent, sixty-five if he’s a day, with white hair and glasses. He’s the kind of man with a pocket watch and long shelves of meticulously dusted books that reach from floor to ceiling. He used to push me on the rolling ladders when I was a kid and he wanted me to fetch some weird volume on poltergeists, or binding spells, or whatever. My family and I spent a summer with him while my dad was hunting a ghost that was stalking Whitechapel, some kind of Jack the Ripper wannabe.
“Tell me, Theseus,” he says. “When do you anticipate returning to London? Plenty of things that go bump in the night to keep you busy. Several excellent universities, all haunted to the gills.”
“Have you been talking to my mother?”
He laughs, but of course he has. They’ve stayed close since my dad died. He was my dad’s … I guess mentor is the best word. But more than that. When Dad was killed, he flew over the same day. Held me and my mother together. Now he starts going off on this spiel about how applications are going to have to go out next year, and how I’m really quite lucky that my father provided for my education and I won’t have to mess around with student loans and that business. It really is lucky because a scholarship for this rolling stone is just not in the cards, but I cut him off. I have more important and pressing issues.
“I need help. I’ve run into a completely sticky mess.”
“What sort of sticky mess?”
“The dead sort.”
He listens while I tell him about Anna. Then I hear the familiar sound of the ladder rolling and his soft huffs as he climbs it to reach for a book.
“She’s no ordinary ghost, that seems certain,” he says.
“I know. Something’s made her stronger.”
“The way she died?” he asks.
“I’m not sure. From what I’ve heard, she was just murdered like so many others. Throat slit. But now she’s haunting her old house, killing whoever steps inside, like some goddamn spider.”
“Language,” he chides.
“She’s certainly not just some shifting wraith,” he mutters, mostly to himself. “And her behavior is far too controlled and deliberate for a poltergeist—” He pauses, and I can hear pages being flipped. “You’re in Ontario, you say? The house isn’t sitting on some native burial ground?”
“I don’t think so.”
There are a couple more hmms before I suggest that I just burn the house down and see what happens.
“I wouldn’t recommend that,” he says sternly. “The house could be the only thing binding her.”
“Or it could be the source of her strength.”
“Indeed it could be. But this warrants investigation.”
“What kind of investigation?” I know what he’s going to say. He’s going to tell me not to be a layabout and to get out there and do the legwork. He’s going to tell me that my father never shied away from cracking a book. Then he’s going to grumble about the youth of today. If he only knew.
“You’re going to need to find an occult supplier.”
“This girl must be made to give up her secrets. Something has—happened to her, something has affected her and before you can exorcise her spirit from that house, you must find out what it is.”
That’s not what I expected. He wants me to do a spell. I don’t do spells. I’m not a witch.
“So what do I need an occult supplier for? Mom’s an occult supplier.” I look down at my arms under the water. My skin is starting to tingle, but my muscles feel fresh and I can see even through the darkened water that my bruises are fading. My mom is a great herbal witch.
Gideon chuckles. “Bless your dear mother, but she’s no occult supplier. She’s a gifted white witch, but she has no interest in what needs to be done here. You don’t need a circle of posies and chrysanthemum oil. You need chicken feet, a banishing pentagram, some kind of water or mirror divination, and a circle of consecrated stones.”