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  • Home > Chloe Neill > Chicagoland Vampires Series > Phantom Kiss (Chapter 5)     
  • Phantom Kiss(Chicagoland Vampires #12.5)(5) by Chloe Neill
  • “Some probably were at the time of their death,” Annabelle said. “But most buried here died many years ago—many generations of necromancers before me. This place isn’t usually chatty. Watch out,” she added, pointing to dark tree roots that had pushed up through the path like arching snakes.

    The lane bowed around an enormous tree, its branches heavy with summer leaves. The magic grew stronger—and more uncomfortably tangible—as we moved deeper into the cemetery. It wasn’t unlike walking through dangling spider webs.

    “Here,” she said and aimed the beam of her flashlight at the ground. A long hillock of dark earth lay beside a rectangular hole. At the end of it was a small metal post with a tidy engraving: 1-CCU49-871.

    “‘CCU’ stands for Cook County Unclaimed,” Annabelle said. “That means this individual was buried by the county. This particular area was used in the twenties and thirties.”

    “There are burial records?” Ethan asked.

    She nodded. “The county keeps them, but the cemetery’s old, so I’m not sure how good their records are.” She glanced at us. “There are bones in the grave. There’s no shame if you prefer not to look.”

    It wasn’t a possibility that excited me, but it didn’t disturb me as much as the fact that someone had purposefully desecrated the deceased’s final resting place.

    “I’d like to look,” I said, and took the flashlight she offered me.

    Ethan and I stepped forward.

    The deceased had been placed into a simple wooden coffin that hadn’t done much to protect against the elements or the passing years. The top had been lifted, was now tilted against the side of the hole, no longer protecting the person within.

    Or what was left of him or her, anyway. Flesh and muscle were gone, leaving the bones in a jumble. Some were easy to identify—the pelvis, the long bones of the arms and legs, were scattered among tatters of dark fabric and what looked like the curved remains of a hat.

    We weren’t forensic anthropologists, of course. But it was obvious something was missing.

    “They took his skull,” Ethan said, crouching down, hands on his knees, as he looked at the remains. Pity and anger warred in his expression.

    “Yeah,” Annabelle said quietly.

    Ethan looked up at her. “Did they take the skull in order to summon the ghost?”

    “I don’t know. Disturbing mortal remains can certainly draw a spirit back into this world. It’s an instinctive response, even for those who are dead: You sense danger, that something is wrong, and you check on it.” She shifted her gaze from us to the grave, pity creasing lines of worry in her forehead. “But necromancy primarily involves communication—helping the deceased understand where they are and why, and passing along messages to their loved ones. We don’t do spells, and we generally don’t touch the remains. We might consult with a family about moving someone between cemeteries or resituating someone whose grave has been displaced by weather—like after flooding—but that’s it.”

    “So if this isn’t alchemy or necromancy,” Ethan said, rising, “maybe it’s standard magic. We’ll talk to Catcher and Mallory.”

    Annabelle nodded. “They might have a better sense of it.”

    “How did you find it?” he asked Annabelle.

    “I started a walk-through last night, to check the cemetery’s pulse, so to speak, see if anyone needed to talk. I was finishing up tonight, ended up crossing back over the same territory, and found it. It wasn’t like this yesterday. When I saw it, I locked up and called the Ombudsman, then you.”

    Chunks of dark soil in the low grass caught my eye. I walked around the hole, redirecting the flashlight.

    “You’ve found something?” Annabelle asked.

    “Maybe a trail,” I said. Near the other end of the grave, clumps of dirt had fallen like crumbs onto the pale gravel walkway. I followed the line of dirt, but it didn’t get me very far—only ten or eleven feet past the end of the grave.

    “Where does the path go?” I asked Annabelle when I’d walked back again.

    “It circles around the cemetery, joins the main path near the gate.”

    “I’m going to walk it,” I told Ethan.

    Escort Annabelle back to the front and call my grandfather, I told Ethan. Ask him to bring the van. I’ll meet you back there.

    Ethan glanced into the hovering darkness. You’re sure?

    I’ll be fine, I assured him. But I’m taking the light.

    • • •

    I usually enjoyed the dark. Vampires were, after all, nocturnal. We lived in the night, relished in the scents and sounds of it. But I’d never been a fan of graveyards, and someone who could open a grave and steal a skull likely wouldn’t mind attacking me. So I stayed on my guard.

    I followed the path down one side of the cemetery, then around the back. The chain-link fence here was in worse shape than in the front, buckled and rusted, bent over protruding shrubs, and in some cases barely hanging from the steel posts.

    The signs of neglect—but not just that. I walked closer, found a slit in the fence where a portion of the chain link had been pulled back like a dog-eared page, fastened out of the way with small clips.

    A small scrap of fabric was caught between the woven steel links. It looked like the same dark fabric we’d seen in the coffin, probably part of the deceased’s burial ensemble. The person who’d stolen the skull had come through here on the way out, sneaking out of the cemetery the way he’d come in, and probably hadn’t realized he’d dragged the scrap with him.

  • Romance | Fantasy | Vampire