Happy Monday, everyone. Got your pumpkins carved yet? I don’t, because I’m a giant slacker. What I do have is an excerpt from Hainted, featuring the first time Dan and Leif work together to lay a restless spirit. Boo!

Dan took three deep, cleansing breaths. Leif did the same thing at the exact same instant and tempo, and Dan hoped the synchronization was a good sign. Leif’s indigo aura flared, settling into a hardened, armor-like shell around him. His energy was palpable, brightening his eyes from ice-blue to neon. He all but glowed in the shadows, beautiful as something carved from ivory and aged for a thousand years in the darkness.

Dan concentrated on his own shielding, felt it slip into place around him, as if he’d last done this just yesterday and not years ago. When he was ready, he nodded to Leif, and they turned to the house.

Dan pushed open the front door. Zach hadn’t bothered to lock it in his hasty flight, and the hinges shrieked like dying men. The air inside tasted close and stale: dust underlain with mildew. Once Leif followed him in, Dan paused long enough to pour salt across the threshold. “Hecate, close this path.”

A flash of light passed over the salt in his astral sight, signaling the exit was sealed against the dead. Although people thought of ghosts as passing through walls, the truth was they mostly used doors, even if it meant sliding through one that was shut. When they did walk through walls, it usually indicated a door was present during the time the haint had lived, even if it was bricked up later.

“Do you feel it?” Leif asked. The close, heavy air flattened his voice; the words died unnaturally fast, with not even the hint of an echo.

“Yeah.” The sense of being watched was palpable. Which by itself didn’t mean the haint bore any ill intent, but in this case the sensation was accompanied by a definite malice. Whatever lurked in these walls, it was angry, and it didn’t appreciate their intrusion one bit.

The front door opened into a hall running the length of the house. What had probably been a formal dining room, at least going by the small chandelier, opened off to the left. To the right appeared to be a parlor or formal living room, now bare of furniture and draped in cobwebs and dust.

“I’ll go right, you go left?” Leif suggested.

Dan nodded and turned into the dining room. Although he still felt watched, there was no intensification of the sensation. As an experiment, he hit the light switch for the chandelier. The light came on, flickering a few times before dying to the level of a candle’s glow. Good thing Walkers can see in the dark.

Satisfied the room was more or less clear, Dan backed out and sealed the doorway with salt. A moment later, Leif joined him. Exchanging a look, they continued down the hall without comment.

The kitchen and a bathroom received the same treatment as the dining and living rooms. At the very back of the house, two more rooms opened off the hall once again: a bedroom and a den.

A single glance into the den told Dan everything he needed to know. The shadows there were deeper, somehow, as if there was something more to them than the simple absence of light. The sensation of being watched intensified, and the small hairs on his arms prickled.

“There,” Leif murmured.

“Yep.” Dan turned and sealed off the bedroom without bothering to go inside. “Ready?”

Leif entered the den first. Dan followed, pausing to seal the doorway with yet another line of salt, to prevent the haint from escaping.

The air in the room was ice-cold, as if they’d walked into a freezer. Currents of energy twisted and turned restlessly in the air, their color bruised and dark as rotting fruit. The atmosphere felt oppressive despite the chill. The mojo bag in Dan’s front pocket trembled in response to the menace, like a mouse catching a whiff of cat.

Leif warily slid along the back wall, his long legs and quick movements reminding Dan of a wading heron. By unspoken agreement, Dan stayed near the door, hoping to catch the haint between them.

Before Leif had even reached the other side of the room, the white walls began to flush scarlet. The plain gypsum wallboard grew steadily redder and redder, taking on a wet look. The stench of blood filled the air, as if they’d stepped into a slaughterhouse instead of a home, thick enough for the tang of iron to coat the back of Dan’s throat.

Leif unhooked the staff from his belt. “In the name of Hel, Half-dead, I would speak with you, spirit,” he declared.

Yeah, Leif was optimistic, all right. And, as the world seemed to hold its breath for a moment, it even seemed like he might be right in this case. Maybe the haint would communicate instead of trying to hurt them.

The boards in the center of the uncarpeted floor rattled loudly. The charms bound around Dan’s wand shivered in response, and a deep, bell-like sound came from the blade of Leif’s sheathed sword.

“Shit,” Leif muttered, even as he tucked his staff into his belt. With his free hand, he drew his sword in a hiss of metal and leather.

The wooden floorboards gave one final groan—and something exploded out of the floor on a wave of corrupted energy and furious hate.

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