I’m working on the sequel to Unfinished Business! This will likely start serialization over on my other Patreon when Price of Thorns wraps up. In the meantime, here’s a teaser. There are ghosts in it!
I was on the phone with a t-shirt store cashier in Boston Wolftown when the TV flashed with a “Breaking News” graphic that caught my attention. I watched the screen, keeping the volume down—and then I saw the Wolftown walls.
“Hold on a sec,” I told the person on the phone, and scrambled to find the volume control.
A woman with blond hair being whipped around by the wind stood talking into a mic with the walls in the background. “—about fifteen minutes ago, according to local residents.” The shot cut to the walls themselves, and now I could hear what sounded like a female voice wailing and screeching. “Wolftown authorities say that they don’t know the precise cause of the noise, but it may be some resident with a rooftop speaker system.”
That was some familiar cautious bullshit from Wolftown’s press liaison, whose whole job mission seemed to be to avoid reminding people that extras lived close to them. It was possible that someone had hooked up a mike to some powerful speakers on a roof at the edge of Wolftown and was blasting screams out into the city, sure, but there were a few extras who could project sound pretty well. Sirens came to mind, though the Chicago community was small compared to L.A. and New York, and there were definitely regulations about the levels where they could use their voice (these regulations did not apply in international waters, which was one reason the coastal cities were home to larger communities). Also, although the screeching did sound like singing, it wasn’t particularly good singing, and that indicated that it probably wasn’t a siren.
The possibility that nagged at me was that it was a ghost. Ghosts could project like that, and that howling half-singing sure sounded like a new ghost, unbound and trying to make sense of its situation. They weren’t usually that loud, but they could be.
I turned the ring on my finger that had held Sergei for five years. Then I texted my friend Yumi, a yuki-onna who was third-in-command of Wolftown’s internal peacekeeping force. She didn’t respond right away, so I texted that if it was a ghost, I might be able to help, and a minute later a Google Maps pin popped up in reply with the message “no CPD.”
The pin was at an address in Wolftown, on the far side from where I was. I stared at my computer, at the list of people I had to call, and then got up and walked out.
Outside, I couldn’t hear the screeching; all that reached my poor dull human ears were the sounds of traffic: local engines on my street and the drone of the expressway a half mile over. That soundtrack, interwoven with the murmurs and hustling of people on the sidewalks and punctuated by the occasional plane overhead, followed me down to 71st.
Chicago in late summer is prone to savage thunderstorms and brutal, punishing heat, with the lake contributing to air so humid it can feel like it’s clinging to you as you walk through it. Along 71st, there was a brisk breeze, but very little shade apart from the occasional tree, many of which were barely taller than I was. By the time I got to the security entrance of Wolftown, my short-sleeved collared shirt was damp enough that the air conditioning felt icy.
I hadn’t brought my gun, and the ring didn’t register on the scanner without a ghost bound to it, so the guard waved me through without secondary screening. One metal door and two glass doors later, I stepped out into Wolftown.
The tourists don’t visit Wolftown as much in the height of summer, at least not from late morning to evening. The sun and humidity give the place a distinct aroma any time of year, but in summer it’s more pronounced, a musky sharp smell that unkind people say reminds them of a zoo. It reminds me more of a park inside a city, except that it doesn’t smell like a toilet in some spots.
Here in Kennelly Plaza, there weren’t that many extras, not as many as you’d think you’d see upon walking into Wolftown. There were a couple wolves wearing baggy t-shirts with a picture of a camera and a green checkmark to indicate that you could take your picture with them (they would take the shirt off for the actual picture), but nobody was taking them up on that offer currently.
The t-shirt sellers, food cart workers, and guides were all fully shifted to human. There was one other wolf-shifted, walking on two legs but with a wolf’s head, fur, and tail so that she could take advantage of her wolf senses.
I hurried through the plaza, waving briefly to the young woman behind the churros food cart, a First Nations raven shifter. “On a job?” she called as I sped past, and I gave her a thumbs up in acknowledgment.
As I walked, I texted Yumi that I was in Wolftown and on my way. She sent back a thumbs up but no other details.
Still, I had to believe that my guess that it was a ghost was right, or she wouldn’t have called me at all. I ran through the list of things I would need to deal with a ghost and made sure I had them all: Sergei’s ring, the spell, and my stories.
A dying person became a ghost if there was some kind of trauma holding them here, something so powerful that they wanted to wait around in this world to resolve it. The problem was that without a living body to anchor them, they lost their ability to regulate their thoughts, and could go from terror to anger to rage quickly. Sergei had been a ghost for over a century, and he claimed not to remember whether he’d killed anyone as a ghost; these days, deaths from ghosts were rare because there were plenty of experts to handle them, but a century ago, they could kill a couple people before someone showed up to banish them.
I wasn’t up to banishing, and these days that was considered cruel anyway, depending on who you asked. But I’d done a couple bindings already and was licensed to do them. Most importantly, I would get there faster than calling the Federal Bureau of Extranormal Affairs, and Yumi knew and trusted me.
A few blocks in from the plaza, I noticed wolves with ears perked, looking in the direction I was hurrying. A few blocks later, I heard the screeching in person for the first time and encountered others walking toward it as well. A crowd had gathered, moving in that direction, thick enough that I had to weave around and through them, taking care to avoid swinging tails.
The screeching grew loud enough that I thought I must be almost there, but when I checked my phone, I was still several blocks away. Then I rounded a corner and saw the peacekeeper barricades set up and a thin crowd standing around them.
At the front of the barricade, after I’d woven my way through the gawkers, a white wolf stood with his arms folded, surveying the crowd. None of them were leaning close enough to the barricades to warrant his direct attention, so when I came up to the wooden boards, his muzzle and ears snapped to focus on me. Not every Wolftown had peacekeepers, but the ones who did took their job very seriously.
“No entry,” he said sharply.
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Great start to the 2nd wolftown story.