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The Girl with the Uninvited Ghost

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A relics collector must uncover a family secret to solve a wizard's homicide before his apprentice's ghost drives her crazy indefinitely ... or she becomes the next murder victim. ******** Mahogany, a human living in the magical town of Pandemonium, has taken a job collecting magical relics from deceased mythical and magical folk. While on a routine collection request, Mahogany finds the wizard and his apprentice assassinated and that the murderer is still in her house! Mahogany narrowly escapes the murderer with the help of her demon spider Bazgul to find the apprentice's ghost has followed her and is haunting her until she solves his murder. With the help of her demon familiar and her new ghost, Mahogany breaks into police evidence to retrieve the enchanted objects before the Guild of Myth and Magic discovers that the relics have fallen into human hands. But Mahogany gets more than she bargained for when she uncovers a clue to her family's past that intrinsically links her to the murdered wizard. Now Mahogany must race to find the murderer before she becomes the next victim.

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Chapter One

Mahogany brushed a hot pink curl from her eyes and checked the compass. The park’s sodium lights bathed the area in a yellow glow, nullifying the silver radiance of the full moon. Inside the domed enclosure, the needle fashioned from the wing bone of the Jersey Devil spun wildly. Compasses crafted from the Devil’s bones never failed, but Mahogany had doubts about this one.

Sighing, she tapped the glass. The needle slowed, swayed back and forth, and gave a final wistful rotation before pointing in the direction of the dark street to the west of the park. Across town, Pandemonium’s clock tower gave two solemn knells, announcing that all was well for the magical Folk resting their heads in this safe-haven town. The bell’s resonance reverberated through the moon-glazed night, waking a dog who gave a series of irritated barks at the troublesome clock, then quited again.

“Finally,” Mahogany said, gazing in the needle’s direction. “Bazgul, come.”

A football-sized tarantula skittered out of the yellow-black shadows, dragging something in its mandibles.

“You ate before we left the house.” Mahogany tried to give the spider a warning glare, but her love for indulging the creature supplanted her scowl.

Bazgul tilted his head. The lifeless baby bird grasped in his mandibles and shifted over the short-cropped grass with a soft scrape. His eight-eye gaze shone in the yellow light. It was as close to a pout as Bazgul could get.

Mahogany placed her hands on her hips. “Don’t look at me like that. You know I can’t say no when you beg. Be quick.”

The demon-spider threw his head back, releasing the baby bird, which cartwheeled into the air like a beanbag thrown by a drunk during a game of cornhole. Bazgul’s mandibles separated into a gaping maw filled with razor-sharp teeth. The dead bird tumbled into Bazgul’s waiting jaws. With a crunch, the bird disappeared. Satisfied, Bazgul scampered to Mahogany and climbed up her leg, shrinking as he went. By the time he reached her shoulder, he had deflated to a size on par with everyday tarantulas.

“All right, buddy. Let’s go find us a dead wizard,” Mahogany said, heading towards the dark street ahead.

Mahogany was reasonably new to the job of magical relics collector. Six months prior, the curator of Pandemonium’s History Museum, Agalia Sorrowsong, had offered Mahogany the position. When a magical person passed away, their enchanted objects needed collecting before they fell into the wrong hands, code for humans. Cedric, the previous collector, had expired during a routine pickup. A particularly devious sorcerer with a penchant for booby traps had occupied the home in question. Cedric, an 80-something-year-old, had stumbled unwittingly into a hallway filled with enough firepower to make Laura Croft rethink her career choice. Poor old Cedric had wound up decapitated and eviscerated before a pack of hungry wolves finished off his corpse. This horrific death sent the local authorities, primarily non-magical Folk, into a frenzy.

Thus, with the death of Cedric, Agalia set her sights on Mahogany. When presented with the offer, Mahogany jumped at the chance to break up her mundane days of hocking herbs at the Haughty Hemlock, the local apothecary.

The compass needle shifted and swayed as Mahogany navigated through the center of the deserted street. In a final flurry of motion, the bone needle rotated several times and stopped. The house in question was one of four brownstone apartments typically rented by summer tourists.

“OK, Bazgul, this looks like the one.” Mahogany scowled at the prospect of an out-of-town wizard dying in a rental. She gave the sleeping block a cursory glance before approaching the dark house, careful to quiet her bootheels on the sidewalk.

She tiptoed up the stone steps to the sturdy front door and reached for the polished brass mail slot, intended on sending Bazgul through to slip the lock. As her fingertips grazed the metal flap, the door creaked inward an inch.

Mahogany stopped, her hand frozen, hovering in space. She’d never arrived at an unlocked house, much less with an open front door. Magical people tended to be a paranoid bunch. Leaving one’s home open for anyone to enter uninvited didn’t happen unless you were a witch in the woods who enjoyed the taste of lost children.

The door’s creak sent a chill up Mahogany’s spine. Something was abysmally wrong here. Mahogany stepped up to the threshold and pushed the door a little wider.

“Hello?” she half-called, half-whispered into the dark entryway.

She received no answer, which both relieved and frightened her. Screwing up her courage, Mahogany slipped through the doorway, closing it with a soft click behind her.

Dim light trickled through two narrow rectangular windows flanking the door, partially illuminating the front hall. Mahogany could make out a coat rack piled with heavy tweed jackets. Beyond that, shadows lurked at the edge of the glow, and the oppressive aroma of dying flowers, dust, and kerosene clouded the air.

Mahogany wrinkled her nose and grasped the silver pentagram necklace she’d worn as long as she could remember. “Bazgul, light.”

The demon spider began to emit a blue-green glow, brightening the foyer.

Near the entryway’s center stood a squat, round table holding a vase of wilting roses. Their drooping flowers kissed the dusty tabletop on crooked stems. Inset bookcases lined the walls—the shelving bowing under the weight of their contents. Teetering piles of books had bled from the overstuffed shelves at the edge of the worn parquet floor and lay stacked in haphazard heaps.

Mahogany took another step into the cluttered foyer, and something crunched under her turquoise cowgirl boot. She glanced down, revealing a shattered hurricane lamp. The metal mount was still attached to the base of the antique light. Two screws caked with plaster dangled from the support as if they had been ripped from the wall—the scent of lamp oil coiled in the air.

With a rising sense of dread, Mahogany took in the foyer again. Her first impression of an untidy wizard vanished. The mess was more than clutter. Someone had deliberately trashed the place. Books lie in disarray as if flung from their shelves to lie on the floor, their spines broken, pages torn. A painting of the Massachusetts Witch Trials hanging near the stairs bore a giant slash slitting the canvas in two.

“Bazgul, I have a bad feeling.”

The demon spider shifted on his master’s shoulder, mandibles chattering.

“Oh, I want to get out of here too, buddy. But we have a job to do.” Mahogany took a deep breath, settling her nerves. From her pocket, she pulled a crumpled list and scanned it. “A figurine of an Egyptian cat containing -” a moan from a room to her right cut her words short.

Fear gripped Mahogany’s stomach. “Hello?” she said into the ransacked house.

A moan answered her, and she followed it.

Mahogany found herself in what appeared to be a study. A mixture of silver moonlight and yellow street lamps streamed through a large arched window facing the street. Two red velvet sofas flanked a large stone fireplace, between which sat a low coffee table. Above the mantel hung a massive gilded mirror, reflecting the room. Rows of books lined the walls.

As she glanced around the study, Mahogany found it in the same disarray as the entry hall; books flung from their shelves, pictures ripped from the walls, broken glass crunched underfoot.“Hello?” Mahogany said again. She tiptoed to the center of the room and peered between the large couches. A pair of dirty sneakers, more gray than white, peeked out from the edge of a low coffee table between the sofas.

Mahogany crept over to the sneakers and found them attached to the feet of a young man. A wide halo of blood encircled his head. Nearby lay a bust of the Prophet Mother Shipton, identical to the one in her own home, save for the strands of dark hair which clung to a red stain along the marble’s bottom edge.

The young man moaned again, and Mahogany moved to his side, stepping over a large crystal vase. A dozen or more red roses lay wilting on the floor.

“What happened? Who did this to you?”

The young man opened his eyes. “I don’t … I didn’t see.”

Mahogany placed a hand on his chest. “It’s OK. You’re going to be fine.” She reached into the back pocket of her jeans for her cell phone.

“Mike,” the young man groaned. “You have to help Mike.”

“Who’s Mike?”

At that moment, a metallic glint caught the corner of Mahogany’s eyes. She turned her gaze from her phone and spotted a body of a bearded older man on the opposite side of the coffee table. Behind a pair of round glasses, his unblinking eyes stared straight ahead. Pupils dilated in death. Over the top of the coffee table, the hilt of a long, jeweled dagger protruded from the wizard’s back.

“Mike, I presume,” Mahogany said to the dead wizard.

Bazgul hissed and tensed on her shoulder, his blue-green light snuffing out. A floorboard behind Mahogany creaked.

The hair on Mahogany’s neck rose, and she craned, peering over her shoulder. A figure clad in a dark hoodie stood over her, a fireplace poker griped in their upraised hand.

Bazgul leaped from Mahogany’s shoulder and landed on the obscured face of the hooded figure. The figure left out a pitiful cry as Bazgul’s clung to their face before crumpling to the floor. In the distance, sirens cut through the night.

Mahogany stared open-mouthed at the writhing hooded figure before gathering her wits. Jumping to her feet, Mahogany raced towards the exit. As she passed the murderer, Bazgul hopped into the leg of her jeans. Mahogany reached the front door and yanked it open, escaping into the warm summer night.

The souls of Mahogany’s boots hit the sidewalk with a wooden clomp, and she raced across the street, where she dove behind a parked car. When her back hit the car’s cold metal door, three police cruisers skidded around the street corner and halted in front of the row of brownstones.

Somewhere nearby, a trashcan crashed to the sidewalk with an aluminum clang, scattering discarded glass bottles and soda cans. The cacophony made Mahogany’s heart race anew. At the opposite end of the block, Mahogany glimpsed a dark figure sliding around the corner to the south, heading towards Pandemonium’s downtown.

Mahogany closed her eyes and tried to slow her breathing. Someone had just attempted to murder her. She’d been in the house with an assassin. All of the other relics she’d collected had been from wizards who’s died of natural causes or spells of their own making gone wrong, not murder.

After half a minute, Mahogany peeked through the driver’s side window at the commotion across the street. Blue and red lights flickered off the sleeping row houses. A uniformed officer stood in the doorway Mahogany had fled through only moments before.

“Do you think they caught the murder?”

Mahogany turned her head so quickly that her neck cracked, sending a tingling pain up her scalp. Crouched beside her was the injured young man from the study. The young man looked at her. “Did they catch him?” he asked again.

Mahogany placed her head on the cool glass of the driver’s window, her neck throbbing. “This can’t be happening.”

“I know. It’s crazy,” the young man said, returning his wide-eyed gaze to the police cars.

“This is just my luck.” Mahogany dusted off her hands and began to creep along the length of the vehicle back toward the park.

The young man turned his attention to Mahogany’s retreating frame and started after her. She got to the end of the car and scampered, keeping as low as she could, to the next vehicle parked on the street.

The young man mimicked her movements and continued after her.

Mahogany ignored the young man, moving from car to car until she reached the block’s end. Confident that she had placed enough space between herself and the police, she stood and began walking at a relaxed pace despite the cold sweat dripping down her ribcage. She crossed the street, heading toward the park.

“Wait,” the young man yelled. He dashed into the street after her, not bothering to look for traffic. As he reached the street’s broken yellow line, the headlights of a large van caught his attention.

Shocked, the young man froze. The van barreled towards him. Tensing for impact, the young man squeezed his eyes shut. But the impending blow never came. Instead, the van passed through him like he didn’t exist, which was debatable at this point in his afterlife. Can one truly exist without a corporeal body? What is the definition of existing, anyway?

The young man stood, checking himself over in disbelief. “What just happened?” he screamed. “What’s going on?”

Mahogany stopped and sighed, turning to face the frantic young man standing in the street. “You’re a ghost. You died back there.”

“No,” he said, shaking his head. “No way. I’m right here with you, standing on the street.”

“How else do you explain that van driving through you?” Mahogany glared. The young man looked only a couple of years older than herself but dumb as a brick.

His face crumpled. “I’m too young to die.”

“And you’re too dead to cry.” Mahogany turned on her heel and continued to the park, Bazgul chattering in her ear.

“Wait,” he said, running to catch up with her. “I, I’m dead, and you can see me. That means you were with me when I died.”

“Unfortunately,” Mahogany said through gritted teeth. She didn’t have time to babysit a disgruntled spirit. She had work to do, and now that the cops were involved, her job just got a thousand times harder.

“This also means that you’re stuck with me until my death is avenged,” he continued.

“I am aware.” They headed into the park, and Mahogany beelined for the parking lot. She strutted up to a sunshine yellow Vespa and jammed the helmet over her burst of curly hair.

“So, how are we going to solve my murder?” he asked, eying her. “Nice bike, by the way.”

Mahogany glared at her uninvited and unwelcome tag-along before getting onto her scooter and starting the engine. She revved the throttle a few times before zooming out of the parking lot and onto the street, leaving the ghost alone. An invisible force ripped the ghost forward a moment later as if an unseen rope were tied to his middle. The spirit screamed as he hurtled through the air. He zipped around corners and through dark streets before the invisible tether deposited him behind Mahogany on the Vespa.

Bazgul, who clung to the back of Mahogany’s blouse, hissed and scrambled onto her shoulder as the ghost landed on the seat.

“That was exhilarating!” the ghost yelled into Mahogany’s ear. “I’m Guy, by the way. Guy Miller. What’s your name?”


“Like the wood? That’s interesting. Are your parent’s carpenters?”

“I wouldn’t know.”

“You don’t know what your parents do for a living? Did they not raise you? My maternal grandmother raised me. She’s non-magical, so I started learning the craft six months ago when Mike started apprenticing me.” His face fell. “I can’t believe we’ve both been murdered. My poor gran is alone now. Mahogany, what?”

Mahogany answered by revving the engine again, speeding them toward the home she shared with Neema, her abductor.

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