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Welcome back to another great short story for our Fantastic Fables event. I had a great time getting to know Alex Craft in last year’s GRAVE WITCH. Alex is the lead character in a new series by USA Today Bestselling author, Kalayna Price. Alex’s story starts in GRAVE WITCH with a case involving a sexy reaper, a dark cop, and a ghost-silencing killer that has more than her rent on the line—it may cost her soul. Alex’s story continues in Price’s newest release, GRAVE DANCE. Thanks to Kalayna and the awesome people at Penguin/Roc, three of you who comment on this post will win a copy of the latest book! See details below
Alex Craft and the Gingerbread House
The officer glanced over my IDs. Then his gaze slid down to take in my tank top, hip huggers, and boots and his expression turned skeptical. “You’re the specialist who talks to dead people?”
“A grave witch, yup, that’s me.” I flashed him my best professional smile, though it clearly didn’t impress him as he made no move to let me pass. Where was John? He was the one who’d called me to this scene.
As if my thoughts had summoned him, my favorite homicide detective stepped around the side of a police van and headed our way.
“Alex, glad you’re here,” he said, motioning for the other officer to lift the crime scene tape and let me pass. “The body is inside.”
I jogged to catch up with him, but when we made it past the vehicles with their flashing lights, I stopped, my jaw falling open.
“Yeah, it’s like something out of a story book, isn’t it? Whole case is,” John said, as I gaped at the house in front of us.
Well, actually, it was more of a cottage—a gingerbread cottage. The outside walls all appeared to be evenly cooked gingerbread, the windows were made of spun sugar, the shingles wedges of chocolate, and frosting decorated the seams. There was even a garden of gumdrops out front.
“It’s a glamour, right? Not really a life-size gingerbread house?”
John shook his head. “Our techs don’t think so,” he said, leading me up stairs made of hard candy with a licorice railing.
As soon as we reached the door, I realized he was right. The house wasn’t glamoured to look like candy, it honestly was made out of sweets. I could feel the preservation spells worked into the very dough of the walls. Wow. The homeowner’s association must be having a fit.
Of course, thoughts of the local HOA fled my mind as soon as I stepped inside crime scene proper. Signs of a struggle littered the room, from a table made of Tootsie Rolls that leaned heavily to one side where half the brown candy had buckled as if under a great weight, to toppled chairs made out of marshmallows. At first I didn’t notice the body amongst all the chaos in the kitchen, then I noticed one pale arm hanging limply beside the open oven, and I couldn’t see anything else.
The victim—a woman, I could tell not only by the shape of the body but because now that I’d seen her, my magic had reached out toward her—lay half in, half out of the open oven. John led me over to her, but made no move to remove her from the oven. I was glad for that. I might have an affinity for the dead, but that didn’t mean I had the strongest stomach.
“What happened?” I whispered.
John didn’t answer. Not that I’d actually expected him to. After all, what happened was exactly what I was here to find out.
A commotion in the hall drew my attention away from the victim and I looked up as a pair of officers led a teenage boy and girl out from the back of the house. When they saw John and me standing beside the body, the boy began to struggle.
“We had to do it. She’s a witch!”
I frowned at him. “So am I.”
That made him pause, his eyes going wide. But the girl, who bore so much resemblance to the boy that I guessed they were siblings, straightened and leveled a flat glare at me.
“But that witch was planning to eat us.”
I glanced at John and he lifted both his shoulders and his eyebrows simultaneously. “So far, everything is inconclusive. It’s their word against, well, hers.” He pointed to the body in the oven.
Right. Which was why I was here. The living could lie. The dead could not.
Taking that as my cue to begin, I closed my eyes and lowered my shields. I typically preferred to work inside circles, but as this was an active crime scene, drawing one might have disturbed evidence, so I did without.
I reached for my power. Cold wind ripped through me, chilling me to the core as grave essence washed over my skin, fought with my living energy for access. I let it in, pushing my own heat and part of myself into the corpse beside me.
The scene around me had changed, at least in my perception. Color had leached out of the world, the gingerbread walls had crumbled, the frosting and chocolate had melted, and the furniture was now gooey lumps in my grave sight, and amidst it all, the shade of an elderly woman glowed with unearthly light.
I would have guessed she was in her late seventies, with stringy grey hair and skin migrating downward in response to a lifetime of gravity’s pull. Currently that not quite real skin had an angry looking cross pattern burned into one side where her face had been held against the oven rack. I looked away, but the shade didn’t even seem to notice. Of course, she wouldn’t. Shade’s were just memories, without emotion or ambition. The pain of her death couldn’t hurt her anymore. Still, it was unnerving for those of us still alive as evidenced by the way John didn’t quite look at her either.
John went through the requisite prefatory questions about the shade’s name and vital statistics before leading up to the events that lead to her death.
“Two children entered my yard and began eating my house,” the shade said. “I went out to make them stop, and they began calling me witch. I went inside to call the police, and they followed.”
She then recounted in detail but without theatrics the way they chased her around her kitchen before finally forcing her into the oven. By the time she was finished, I was queasy and John was shaking his head. He asked a couple more questions before wiping a hand over his balding head and telling me he’d heard enough.
“Rest now,” I told the old woman as I urged her shade back into her body. By the time I finished the ritual and released my hold on the grave, the two teenagers had already been cuffed and read their rights.
John walked back to me, his red mustache sagging around his frown. “This sure isn’t the way it went in the story books.”
I could only nod agreement. Life certainly wasn’t a fairytale.
Kalayna Price is the author of two Dark/Urban Fantasy series. The Haven Novels, consisting of ONCE BITTEN (January 2009), TWICE DEAD (February 2010), and THIRD BLOOD (2011), follow the story of Kita Nekai, a kitten shapeshifter on the run from her clan and responsibilities, who is turned into a vampire and entangled in the supernatural underworld. Kalayna also has a new series, which will be released by ROC and will be hitting shelves in October 2010. GRAVE WITCH, the first Alex Craft Novel, is about series title character, Alex Craft. Alex is a broke magic-eye for hire, but a case with a sexy reaper, a dark cop, and a ghost-silencing killer has more than her rent on the line—it may cost her soul.
Kalayna draws her ideas from the world around her, her studies into ancient mythologies, and her readings of classic folklore. Her stories contain not only the mystical elements of fantasy, but also a dash of romance, a bit of gritty horror, some humor, and a large serving of mystery.
When not writing, she can be found reading for both pleasure and research, locked in her studio with a paintbrush, out in nature with her camera, or just about anywhere with a hula-hoop. Yeah, you read that correctly. Kalayna thinks hoop dance is about the most entertaining form of exercise on the planet, and has been known to hoop with fire.
Want to read more from Kalayna Price?
This giveaway is provided by Kalayna and Penguin/Roc
Three winners will each receive a copy of Grave Dance by Kalayna Price
Available on July 5, 2011 from Penguin/Roc
About the Book:
Whoever said dead men tell no tales obviously never met Alex Craft.
After a month spent recovering from a vicious fight with a sorcerer, grave witch Alex Craft is ready to get back to solving murders by raising the dead. With her love life in turmoil thanks to the disappearance of Fae Investigation Bureau agent Falin Andrews and a shocking “L” word confession from Death himself, Alex is eager for the distractions of work. But her new case turns out to be a deadly challenge.
The police hire Alex to consult on a particularly strange investigation in the nature preserve south of Nekros City. The strange part: There are no corpses, only fragments of them. A serial killer is potentially on the loose, and Alex has no way to raise a shade without a body, so she’ll have to rely on the magic of others to find leads. But as she begins investigating, a creature born of the darkest magic comes after her. Someone very powerful wants to make sure the only thing she finds is a dead end—her own.
Click HERE to read an excerpt
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