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Solemnity

Solemnity

by J.S. Bailey

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Overview

Bobby Roland has stumbled onto a new crisis.

Violent criminals are rising from the dead throughout Oregon—not just in Portland, but in Bobby’s adopted hometown of Autumn Ridge. He teams up with Joanna Halsey, an old acquaintance who knows a few things about the occult, to get to the bottom of the mystery. Together they surmise that these criminals have been brought back to life to complete some terrible task.

Their search for answers takes them to an occultist’s doorstep, where Bobby learns that raising the dead is no difficult feat for those devoted to black magic.

But who would resort to necromancy, and why? Bobby and Joanna must stop them before the dead kill again.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781948540636
Publisher: BHC Press
Publication date: 10/03/2019
Series: Chronicles of Servitude , #4
Pages: 376
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.84(d)

About the Author

J.S. Bailey enjoys writing eerie tales of the supernatural that keep readers on the edges of their seats. She has published six novels and twenty short stories, with more on the way. Bailey is fond of long walks in the woods, British television, and lots of burritos. She lives in Cincinnati, Ohio with her husband and cats.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

A BELL JANGLED when Jasmine Carlisle, age thirty, and her younger, thinner sister Maliyah pushed their way into the cluttered shop near downtown Portland.

"Casa Macabre Oddity Shop," the sign over the entrance had read, so Jasmine knew she couldn't pass this one by like she'd done to the music store and the record shop preceding it on this side of the street.

"Ugh," Maliyah whispered once they were inside. A taxidermied something glared up at her from a nearby case, its sharp teeth bared in an eternal snarl. "This place is the creepiest one yet."

Jasmine craned her neck to survey Casa Macabre's wares. She'd been haunting this sort of place a lot the past few months. This one, like the others, featured numerous glass cases protecting such merchandise as ancient figurines and horrible jewelry that 100-year-old women might wear if they had a severe vision deficit. Casa Macabre had been decorated in deep reds, purples, and blues to give it a mystical feel that Jasmine found enchanting. She would have to redo the house to look something like this once she got home. It would look perfect!

Antiques and Oddities, a similar shop in which she'd set foot, had been located on London's west side. She'd bought a shrunken head from David, the proprietor, and paid a small fortune to ship it to her own address back in the States so she wouldn't have to find a way to smuggle it onto the plane. Maliyah chastised her for days after that, vowing she'd force Jasmine to have her head examined if she kept on in such a manner.

"You have your hobbies," Jasmine had said. "You let me have mine."

In the present, Maliyah glided past a shelf full of prop skulls, then backtracked and picked one up. "Alas, poor Yorick," she murmured, then glanced Jasmine's way. "I don't see why these places are so obsessed with skulls. It's weird."

"You're carrying a skull around in your head every second of the day, so what's the big difference?" Jasmine let her gaze rove over the nearest shelves. "Besides, that one's fake."

"If I thought it was real, I wouldn't have touched it."

"Scaredy cat." Jasmine winked.

"Sometimes," Maliyah said, setting the skull back onto the shelf, "I wish we hadn't won that stupid lottery jackpot. I miss when all we could afford was ramen noodles."

"Says the woman who was just telling me she wished she could have stayed in the Canary Islands about six months longer. You don't wish we hadn't won; you wish I'd spend my half on something a little more ... domestic."

"Buying a new vacuum cleaner wouldn't give me nightmares. I can't get the image of that shrunken head you bought in London out of my head."

"Just wait until I put it on the fireplace mantel at home. I'll have to give it a cute name. Quadrell, maybe."

"Sure, name it after your old boyfriend. That's not weird or anything." Maliyah moved away in a huff, and Jasmine drifted toward the back of the shop, passing shelves of crystals, antique tarot cards, and even a couple of ouija boards. Jasmine had no desire to collect anything of this sort; occult items would be strictly off-limits. People who messed around with that stuff were just asking for trouble. Jasmine was much more practical than that — she stuck with the décor.

She picked up a tarnished candelabra bearing a $5 price tag and wrinkled her nose, then set it down and moved onward. There would have to be something good in this store. Each shop she and Maliyah raided had held some sort of treasure even if the rest of the wares were crap. Like that place they'd browsed in the Canary Islands. What had it been called? She couldn't remember. It was more of a glorified thrift store than anything else, yet toward the end of her browsing, Jasmine discovered a beautiful bracelet made of lapis lazuli beads that she wore even now.

A sharp voice startled Jasmine out of her ruminations. A middle-aged clerk standing behind the counter shook a finger at a younger woman in a knee-length dress clutching a paper bag to her chest.

"You get that thing out of my store!" the clerk boomed.

"But miss ..."

"Out, before I call the police!"

"Fine!" The younger woman clenched her jaw and scurried out onto the sidewalk. Jasmine stared after her a moment before turning back to the clerk, who had dyed her hair so red it looked like a magic marker had exploded in it.

"What was in her bag?" Jasmine asked.

The clerk's eyes narrowed ever so slightly, and she hesitated before saying, "A mummified human fetus. I sell a lot of things in my store, but I put my foot down when it comes to human remains."

Jasmine felt her stomach flip and wondered how old her shrunken head had been before he'd become a shrunken head — she'd never even thought to ask. "Why did she bring it in here?"

"She wanted me to buy it off of her. She's brought in other things before — old jewelry and stuff. Is there anything I can help you find?"

"Oh, I'm just browsing. My sister and I ..." Jasmine trailed off. Where was Maliyah? Oh, there she was, over in the corner. She was holding something, but Jasmine couldn't tell what it could be from this distance. "We've been traveling," Jasmine went on. "We stop at shops like this in every city we visit. We've been to New York, Toronto, London ... we actually don't live too far from here. Portland is our last stop before we finally head home." She held up her left wrist so the woman could see her bracelet. "I got this in the Canary Islands. You like it?"

The clerk smiled. "It's beautiful. We do have some unique pieces of jewelry in stock, if you'd like to take a look."

"Oh, sure."

"I'm Sandy, by the way," the clerk said as she led Jasmine over to a case she had yet to examine. "And you are?"

"Jasmine Carlisle," Jasmine said, her chin held high. It wasn't every day a shop clerk was so sociable. A flash of blue caught her eye when she peered into the case. "That bracelet looks a lot like mine."

"Perhaps its twin was calling to it," Sandy said with a wink as she opened the back of the glass case and passed the other lapis lazuli bracelet into Jasmine's hand. "It's a beautiful stone. This one's about fifty years old. They say lapis lazuli provides the wearer wisdom and can protect him or her from psychic attack."

Jasmine slipped it onto her wrist, where it clinked against the bracelet she already wore. "Is that true?"

Sandy grinned. "I saw it on the internet, so of course it is."

"I'll take it," Jasmine said. "Maliyah?"

Maliyah, still in the corner, jerked her head Jasmine's way. She clutched something tight to her chest in a most un-Maliyah-like fashion.

"What have you got?" Jasmine asked, drifting across the room to her sister's side.

Looking sheepish, Maliyah held out the object on her palm. About two by three inches in width and another two inches tall, it was a pearlescent box with the white cameo of a woman etched on the top. "Music box," Maliyah said in a hushed tone. "Listen." She cranked a key on the bottom, and a soft, tinkling rendition of Für Elise began to play as the lid swiveled open to reveal a tiny, twirling ballerina.

"That song was Mom's favorite," Jasmine said, feeling a twinge of nostalgia. Her mother appeared in her mind's eye, sitting at the ancient, out-of-tune upright piano that sat in the Carlisles' living room for decades, playing the song she'd loved so much.

"I know." Maliyah wiped at her eye. "I know I don't normally get anything at these shops, but I'd love to get this. I can put it on my dresser."

Jasmine smiled wistfully at her sister. At eighteen, Maliyah was twelve years her junior, so she hadn't gotten to spend nearly as many years with their parents before they'd passed of a heart attack and a stroke. "Go ahead and get it, then," Jasmine said. "If it makes you happy."

Maliyah frowned a moment, as if she wasn't quite sure that happiness was the feeling the music box instilled in her. She turned the box over, searching for a price. "How much is this?" she asked Sandy.

"Fifty dollars," Sandy said. "We think it might have been custom made for someone. They wanted it to look old, but it isn't."

"That's fine with us," Jasmine said. "We'll take the bracelet and the music box, and then we'll be out of your hair."

* * *

Jasmine and Maliyah stepped out of Casa Macabre into the sunshine and started off toward the parking garage where they'd left their rental car, a silver 2018 Audi A4.

Sandy had wrapped Maliyah's music box in brown paper before tucking it into a shopping bag with handles. Maliyah gripped the bag with the ferocity of one who wouldn't relinquish it even under force.

"You surprise me sometimes," Jasmine said as they entered the parking structure.

"How?" Maliyah asked, tightening her grasp on her purchase.

"You're always telling me I need to be more practical, and now you're the one who buys the most impractical thing in the store. What do people even do with music boxes?"

"They crank them up and listen to them." Maliyah pulled the passenger side door open and climbed in. "What do people do with shrunken heads?"

Jasmine rolled her eyes and got in beside her sister. "Touché. Now let's go check out of the hotel so we can head home."

The moment the engine roared to life, such an intense wave of fatigue overtook her that Jasmine had to jerk her head up sharply to prevent it from smacking into the steering wheel.

"Are you okay?"

Maliyah's voice came as if from far away. Jasmine felt her head shake. She drew in several slow breaths and mustered a great effort of will to keep her head upright. What had gotten into her? She'd felt wide awake inside the shop.

"I can drive if you want me to," Maliyah said, her young brow creased in concern.

If anything could get Jasmine to snap out of her fatigue, it was the thought of letting her baby sister get behind the wheel of such an expensive car. Jasmine shivered and found her center, then focused on it to will the rest of her exhaustion away. "I'll be fine," Jasmine said, feigning confidence. "But before we get back on the freeway, I'm stopping for energy drinks."

CHAPTER 2

THE SUN BEAT down on Joanna Halsey's head as she sat on her apartment's back deck sketching a new comic book page on one of those cloudless Portland days she craved like a drug. She leaned back a moment in the patio chair to regard her drawing from another angle on the tablet screen, decided she didn't like the way Erica Melidosian's nose looked in the second panel, and started to tweak it when her phone vibrated on the table.

She lay the tablet down and held the phone to her ear. "Kris, why are you calling me?" she asked, squinting at the sliding glass doors leading inside.

"We're out of toilet paper," her roommate, Kris Wichers, said. "Be a dear and pick some up pretty please?"

"Use a tissue. I'm working on a deadline."

"We're out of those, too. Joanna, please. I'm stranded in here if you don't help me."

Joanna sighed, knowing she should be nice despite the inconvenience. In her twenty-three years, she'd learned plenty about karma. "Okay, I'll go get some," Joanna said, rising from the cushioned wrought-iron seat.

"Aw, you're the best," Kris said. "And while you're out, grab me a bag of those honey mustard chips. I'm out of those, too."

"Sure thing." Shaking her head, Joanna pocketed her phone and went inside to grab her giant purple purse, then set out toward the corner convenience store one block from the apartment.

Pedestrians jostled her once she reached the sidewalk, but Joanna didn't mind. Portland, Oregon was so much better than Autumn Ridge down in the southwest part of the state, where she'd lived the first twenty-one years of her life, and the people who lived in Portland were the most fascinating things of all. They all seemed so nice, even Kris, who wouldn't know how to tie her own shoes unless she looked up the instructions on her phone.

The bell above the door tinkled as she entered the store, and she waved to the clerk as she snatched up a shopping basket. Today the clerk wore his customary "Keep Portland Weird" t-shirt. She'd always thought he was kind of cute with his scruffy beard and hipster glasses; she'd have to work up the courage sometime to ask him his name.

Joanna breezed through the aisles, stuffing a package of toilet paper, tissue boxes, and the promised bag of chips into the basket. When she reached the checkout line, the man in front of her was busy digging through a wallet for change.

Bored and just a smidgen impatient since she knew Kris was still waiting for her to come to the rescue, Joanna studied the man's profile, supposing she might turn him into a side character in some of her illustrations if he looked interesting enough. Thick, dark sideburns, a bit of stubble, narrow jawline ... Chills washed over her body as the man turned his head slightly toward her and she saw his right eye. Such a brilliant shade of blue couldn't be natural! And his hair! Just above his forehead was a white patch that stood out starkly against the darker hair surrounding it.

Joanna's chest tightened when the man glanced away from her and finally dug out the rest of his change. He looked just like ... but that was impossible. Jordan Marshall Hennessey could not be standing in front of her in line counting out change because Jordan Marshall Hennessey had been executed two months previously for murdering twelve people, men and women alike, over the course of a decade.

The murderer's lookalike waited patiently while the clerk double-checked the mound of change piled on the counter. "You have a great day!" the clerk said, handing him a pack of cigarettes.

"You as well," the lookalike said in Jordan Marshall Hennessey's mournful voice, and then he pocketed his cigarettes and was out the door.

"You okay, ma'am?" the clerk asked.

Joanna jumped — she hadn't realized she'd been staring after the lookalike as he retreated. "That man," she said. "Did you notice anything weird about him?"

"I don't know. I think he had a white streak in his hair."

Joanna unloaded her shopping basket onto the counter. "Did he remind you of anyone else who had a white streak in his hair?"

"Hmm, nope."

"Do you ever watch the news?"

"No, just Netflix. Why?"

"Never mind." Joanna shivered. Something wasn't right here, and darned if she wouldn't figure it out.

* * *

Joanna burst through the apartment door out of breath and deposited the shopping bag on the floor outside the bathroom door.

"Present for you," Joanna called to Kris, then ran to her laptop computer sitting on the marble-topped island in the kitchen and woke it from hibernation.

She did a hasty search for Jordan Marshall Hennessey and clapped a hand over her mouth when his picture appeared on the screen, identical in appearance to the man at the convenience store. Wide-set blue eyes the color of crystal stared out from a pixie-like face framed by two-toned hair: the result of a genetic mutation called Waardenburg Syndrome, according to Hennessey's biography. It affected one in forty thousand people.

Either he had escaped prison and the media covered it up, or something terrible had happened to Joanna's sense of perception.

"Joanna, you are a hero," Kris said, stuffing potato chips into her mouth as she entered the room. Her dishwater-blonde hair was tied in a high, lopsided ponytail, and she wore athletic shorts and a tank top like she was ready for a run, though Joanna didn't think she'd ever seen the woman move faster than three miles an hour. "I owe you big time for ... what's the matter?"

"Nothing!" Joanna said, snapping her laptop shut. "I just thought I saw ... well, someone at the store looked like that killer they executed a while back. Silly, huh?"

Kris wrinkled her nose as she took a seat at the kitchen island. "Eww, it's probably some creepy impersonator trying to freak people out."

"You're ... you're probably right." Joanna tried to swallow but found that her mouth was too dry. The only way anyone could have impersonated Jordan Marshall Hennessey so perfectly was if they were identical twins, and according to his bio, Hennessey did not have siblings.

"I hope this one doesn't start killing people too," Kris said through a mouthful of chips. "The way he murdered those people ... that was scary."

Joanna rose and grabbed her tablet. "I need to get back to work. If you need me, I'll be out on the deck."

She hurried out into the spring sunshine once again, but this time it had little effect on her. Opening the file she'd saved, she thought back to that awful time almost three years ago when she'd needed some serious help no physician could provide. The images she'd seen inside her head, the vile words that spewed from her own mouth ... could something like that be happening again? The possibility existed that she hadn't seen anyone who looked like Jordan Marshall Hennessey at all.

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "Solemnity"
by .
Copyright © 2019 J.S. Bailey.
Excerpted by permission of BHC Press.
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