THE FERRYMEN will be out on Tuesday. Below, you can find the first chapter, for your reading pleasure.
Chapter One: Minor Felonies
Do you ever look at your life and think, What the hell happened? What am I doing? How did I get here?
I had one of those moments as I stood in the middle of the Boston Museum of History. Less than year ago, I was locked up in a Toronto psych ward after a thorough but ultimately unsuccessful suicide attempt. For all intents and purposes, I was a textbook clinical depression patient, so much as there is ever a “textbook” case when it comes to mental illness.
Back then, I had no idea there was a secret society who wanted to sacrifice me to bring back a goddess. I couldn’t see ghosts. I couldn’t control fibers with my thoughts.
Back then, a lot of things were different.
For example, I never would have considered breaking into a museum and stealing a priceless artifact.
“Are you sure about this? It’s not too late. We could just go back to the airport and wait for the flight to Chicago. No harm, no foul.” Though he stood right next to me, Micha was invisible save for his reflection on the display case. The concerned look on his face was superimposed over the lapis and onyx scarab resting inside.
I took a deep breath and nodded, my fingers twitching slightly in his direction. I felt his cool, ghostly hand against my palm.
A crisp female voice came over the loudspeaker. “Attention, patrons. The museum will be closing in five minutes. Please make your way to the exits in a timely fashion. The Boston Museum of History thanks you for your visit. Please come again soon.”
“That’s my cue,” I whispered, turning back to the hallway.
I followed a line of stragglers toward the front doors, but veered left at the last moment and went into the ladies’ room instead. One last woman was washing her hands when I entered. I picked the last stall on the end and waited until she was gone and the final announcement was made before drawing my feet up onto the toilet seat.
I crouched there precariously, keeping my balance by pressing my hands against the sides of the stall.
“Breathe deep. Remember our meditation practices,” Micha said. He was visible now–to me, anyway–and the stall felt very crowded.
I ducked my head, pulling the hood of my elaborately cabled gray sweater over my head, and fishing a matching pair of gloves from the pockets. Resuming my previous position, I put all my energy into clearing my head, into be unobtrusive and invisible, and my spirit companion did the same.
After several moments, bathroom door opened. The heavy footsteps of a security guard moved slowly from stall to stall, doors banging open one at a time.
The fibers of my sweater shifted against my skin. I could feel the warmth of the fibers, which oozed comfort and protection, wrapping around my hands and wrists. The cables writhed, repositioning themselves. Some people hug stuffed toys or pet animals when they are upset. When I’m upset, the soft things pet me.
I’m not here. Not here.
The stall door clanged open. I twitched but managed not to jump. Micha and I had practiced this part for weeks, ever since we realized what we’d have to do to get our hands on the scarab.
I held my breath, heart hammering.
The door swung slowly closed and the footsteps became more distant until the bathroom door opened and shut, and I was left alone in the cold, dark washroom.
The breath I’d been holding came out in a rush. I sagged against the metal wall and stiffly dropped my feet down to the floor.
“He’s gone. Hallway’s empty,” Micha reported, appearing once again in the stall.
I nodded. “Right. Let’s go.”
I wasn’t sure how long I’d been hiding in the bathroom. Half an hour, maybe. In that time, the museum had gone dark. My calf length sweater swished around my legs like a cape, but I wasn’t sure if I felt like a hero or a villain. I concentrated on staying out of sight, and hoped the magic I spent the summer infusing into every stitch would hold, making me invisible to cameras and watchful eyes alike.
Finally, we made it back to the gallery with the Egyptian exhibit. A metal blocked the opening. Through the lattice work, I could see the red blinking light of a smoke detector reflecting on the display case over the scarab.
The gate was padlocked. I reached into my bag and pulled out a 1.25mm double pointed knitting needle and a 1.75mm crochet hook and started picking the padlock.
Micha hovered nearby, occasionally vanishing and reappearing as he checked on the positions of the guards.
The lock snapped open and I slid through the gate.
“It’s quarter of nine,” Micha said, falling into step beside me. “We need to hurry. If we aren’t in a cab in the next twenty minutes, you’ll miss your flight.”
I tried to look at the other cases we passed—jewelry, shabti, canopic jars. The eyes of a gold funerary mask, long since separated from its owner, followed accusingly as I approached the scarab.
“Ready?” I whispered.
He nodded, flexing his fingers on the other side of the Plexiglas. “Do you have it?”
This time my bag surrendered a plush toy. Crocheted and stuffed with beans and fiber fill, it was a duplicate of the scarab, but where the hieroglyphic spell for protection in the afterlife was carved into the beetle’s wings, mine had an embroidered spell (courtesy of the god Anubis himself) that would fool the eye. Like the spell on my sweater, it wouldn’t withstand close scrutiny, but if someone expected to see an ancient scarab, then they would see an ancient scarab.
This was the worst part. I could practice the invisibility spell or the lock picking, but we didn’t exactly have a high-end security system for Micha to practice on.
Ghosts and paranormal activity are notorious for disrupting electrical signals—draining batteries, cutting out cell signals, that kind of thing. Micha was really good at stuff like that. Unlike most ghosts, he’d had about two thousand years to practice his haunting technique.
Still, this could go one of two ways. Either he would short out the system just right and nothing would happen, or he would set off the alarm system and I would spend the next twenty-five years in a federal prison.
Please don’t screw this up, I thought desperately as he placed his hands on the glass.
Something beeped. Then there was the complete absence of sound that happens when everything electronic stops working at once and all the background noise you didn’t even realize was there is cut off.
“Hurry! We’ve only got a few seconds!”
I was already raising the lid. In went the crocheted scarab, and out came the stone one. The lid dropped back into place just before another series of beeps as the backup power kicked in.
Micha and I had just enough time to share a triumphant grin before there was the unmistakable sound of a walkie-talkie in the gallery next door.
“Power’s back up in zone B. What happened?” the guard was saying. I looked through the lattice just in time to catch a flashlight beam in the face.
I bolted, back the way I had come. I hadn’t even reached the open gate when the alarm started going off.
Micha vanished, but an instant later he was back.
“Go left! Down the stairs!”
I did what I was told, but saw a problem before I even reached the stairwell.
He teleported to the end of the hall, passing a ghostly hand through the keypad. It beeped manically, but just as I hit the push bar it clicked open.
The alarm seemed even louder now. I pounded down the concrete stairs. I couldn’t even hear my own footsteps over the din.
But there was nowhere to hide. I threw myself into a corner on the landing, covering my face and willing the magic to work.
No sooner had I pulled my hood up than I felt, more than heard, two more security guards run past at top speed. I waited until they were on the landing above before taking off again.
Jumping down the last three steps, I landed with a thud. Above, the guards were shouting and coming back down.
The only exit was into the lobby. Through the narrow window in the door, I spotted the guard at the desk and the one at the front door.
But when I paid my entry fee that afternoon, I’d also seen a possible distraction.
The entire first floor was given over to a display of costumes from the Boston Theater.
Dozens of costumes. Hundreds of textiles.
Billions of fibers.
They didn’t notice at first. Not until Peter Pan was about to tap the guard at the desk on the shoulder.
He turned around, saw the headless “man” and screamed so loud it could be heard even over the cacophony of the alarm. Peter was soon joined by Othello, Juliette, a clown and a marching band uniform. The guard at the door ran to help his coworker.
I couldn’t hold the invisibility spell and control the costumes at the same time. Peter and Othello restrained the guards, turning them away from the doors.
Micha was already ahead of me, taking care of the automatic locks and cameras. I could feel my control slipping. I’d never done so much at once. The marching band uniform stumbled, crashing into Juliette before crumbling in a heap.
I practically tumbled down the front steps of the museum. The snap of broken thread hit me as I ran down the alley away from the sirens. Gasping, I stumbled. The costumes were just costumes once again.
Racing down the sidewalk, I nearly crashed into a tall, stocky man, veering out of the way at the last moment. It wasn’t so much that I saw him, but I certainly smelled him. Like burned toast and rotten meat.
“Oh—god, sorry.” I mumbled, ducking out of his way.
His head swung around to stare at me, and the glow of a streetlamp I saw half his face—burn black, with an empty socket where the eye once was. The remaining flesh had a greyish cast to it.
I sucked in a breath and covered my mouth. For a moment all I could do was stare in horrified fascination at him.
His mouth worked, a guttural grunt squeezing past his swollen lips.
Reality crashed back into my stunned brain. I checked the time on my phone. 8:51 pm. I took off at a run.
One street over, I stopped and slowed to a walk. Hood up, I tried to catch my breath and blend in with the brick of the storefronts. I ducked into a crowded bar, waiting with some other patrons for a seat.
8:56. It’s a good thing I took up running over the summer.
8:57. The program on the muted television above the bar was interrupted by a newscaster. The caption announced a break in at the Boston Museum of History.
My stomach dropped.
8:58. Where the hell was that cab?
8:59. Oh, god. I was going to spend the rest of my life in a foreign prison. Would I be considered a terrorist? Why had I googled the penalty for felony theft?
9:00. More sirens. The bar was lit up with blue flashing lights as more police cars raced past outside.
9:01. Where the fucking hell was that cab?!
9:02. I’m going to be sick. I can’t handle this level of anxiety.
9:03. My phone vibrated.
An automated text from the cab company: Your ride is here!
Sighing with relief, I slipped out of the queue and back to the street.
“Where to?” asked the driver.
“Boston Logan Airport. Domestic terminal.”
As I climbed into the car, I thought I saw a deformed figure limping toward me in the dark, the glowing intensity of a single eye following my movements from under a blistered, burned brow.
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