Haints and Hobwebs: An Elemental Assassin short story
The first time I saw the haint was in the cemetery.
Shocking, I know, a ghost hanging out in a graveyard, but the pale, wispy figure still caught my eye, if only for the fact it was the first one I’d ever seen.
You’d think that I would have been visited by more haints in my time, given the fact that I was a semi-retired assassin—and I’d helped a lot of people move on from this life to the next with a slice or two of my silverstone knives.
I’d come to Blue Ridge Cemetery to place some forget-me-nots on the grave of Fletcher Lane, my murdered mentor. The old man had taken me in off the streets when I was thirteen, trained me to be an assassin like him, dubbed me the Spider, and then set me loose on the greedy, corrupt citizens of the southern metropolis of Ashland.
I’d been crouched over Fletcher’s grave for about ten minutes, brushing the dry, withered remains of the autumn leaves off his granite gravestone and arranging the forget-me-nots in an empty soda bottle that I’d brought along for the purpose. The slick green glass was the same color that Fletcher’s eyes had been.
It was January and bitter cold. The sun looked like it was submerged under dingy dishwater clouds rather than hanging in the sky, and its weak rays didn’t even come close to melting the thin patches of crusty snow that littered the ground like shreds of tissue paper.
But I didn’t pay much attention to the cold—I was too busy talking to Fletcher. I’d been catching the old man up on everything that was happening in my life, from the reappearance of my baby sister Bria back in Ashland to my ongoing war against Mab Monroe, the Fire elemental who’d murdered my family when I was thirteen.
Fletcher’s grave was my own private confessional, a place where all my whispered secrets and worrisome weaknesses would be whipped away by the biting winds that whizzed across this particular ridge of the Appalachian Mountains.
Weaknesses that I had to hide as Gin Blanco, and most especially as my alter-ego the Spider.
I’d just finished telling Fletcher about my deepening feelings for my lover Owen Grayson when a flash of movement caught my eye. I immediately palmed one of my silverstone knives. I might be mostly retired from being the Spider these days, but I still had plenty of enemies who wanted me dead, namely Mab, now that I was openly gunning for her.
My fingers curled around the knife’s hilt, and a small symbol stamped into the metal there pressed into a larger matching scar embedded in my palm. Both of them spider runes—a small circle surrounded by eight thin rays. The symbol for patience. The same rune, the same scar, that had been branded into my other palm. It was my assassin name, and so much a part of who and what I was.
Knife in hand, I turned my head, ready to face whatever danger might be lurking in the cemetery—and put it down if necessary in the bloody, permanent fashion I was fond of and so very good at.
And that’s when I first saw the haint.
She hovered over a gravestone about twenty feet away from the slab Fletcher was buried under. I’d never given much thought to ghosts before. They were dead, after all. It was the living you had to watch out for—the people who could still fuck you over six ways from Sunday the second they got the chance.
Still, it surprised me how translucent she was, like a shadow cast out by the moon. Everything about her was a pale silver, from the sweet, old-fashioned gingham dress that she wore to the wild, wavy hair that cascaded down her back like a waterfall. Her features were sharp, though, painfully so. Big eyes, full lips, a crook of a nose. She wasn’t what I would consider to be pretty—her features were too hard for that—but there was something in her face that made you take a second look at her.
All put together, she looked like an old-timey mountain girl, someone who had once lived up in one of the hundreds of forested hollers that clutched around the city of Ashland like thin, green grasping fingers.
Besides, haints or not, only mountain girls went around barefoot in the winter. Like Jo-Jo Deveraux, the Air elemental who healed me whenever I needed patching up. I eyed the ghost’s bare toes, which rested on a patch of snow. I wondered if she could even feel the cold in whatever half-life she was so obviously clinging to …
Note: To read the rest of the story, check out The Mammoth Book of Ghost Romance, which will be published in October 2012.