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   Chapter 1 Brownie Oxford and the Idlewild Incident

Brownie Oxford and the Idlewild Incident: Brownie Bk 2 By Valerie Gaumont Characters: 20403

Updated: 2018-03-07 14:31


Chapter 1

"This is insane, 'Nie, " I told myself as I pulled Matheson's rented car off the side of the road. I turned the headlights off as I eased the vehicle behind a copse of trees. Even if there was someone driving down this lonely stretch of road outside the small town of Fairview, the dark car wasn't likely to be seen. I sighed and placed my hands on the wheel, feeling my nerves jump. Five days earlier Matheson, the man who claimed to be my uncle and who ordered a group of zombies to kill me, died in the Mayenfield cemetery because the zombies liked me better.

Apparently, I was the good zombie raising necromancer.

I also didn't intend for Matheson to die. The spirts of the dead asked me what I wanted when I wrestled control of them away from Matheson. I told them I wanted to be safe. They decided I would be safest with Matheson dead. Not only did they kill him, but they took him back into their graves with him.

In bite sized pieces.

There was no body left for anyone to wonder over, no reason to start any sort of investigation. That night, I took Matheson's rental car and snuck out of town, eluding Paul, the watcher that my handler set in place to keep me safe while he hunted down Matheson. Hunting down Matheson was only part of Swift, my handler's, job. The other part involved a hard look at the National Clandestine Services, the shadowy branch of the CIA for which Swift worked, to find out who leaked my file to Matheson in the first place. The NCS was not likely to take betrayal well. Admittedly, they weren't likely to take my abrupt departure well either.

After seven years working as their asset, using my abilities to speak with the spirits of the dead to question a boatload of individuals who would normally be beyond their ability to question, I decided I was through. My body held a host of scars from various injuries and my mind a vast cornucopia of nightmares, all sustained during my work as an asset. All I wanted now was a normal life.

"Which means I should be finding a place to settle into to begin a normal life under the radar, " I reminded myself. I glanced to the passenger seat where Martha, my headless dressmaker's dummy was wedged for the duration of the trip. Sadly she was my most constant companion. "Right?"

I sighed. "I shouldn't be here, " I told myself. I looked through the windshield, away from the road. In the darkness I could just make out the edge of the roofline of the large house in the distance. Leaving Mayenfield, my first thought was to drive as far away as possible and find a place to hide. The snowstorm that set in as I was leaving would buy me sometime. The fact that no one knew I had access to a vehicle, let alone one rented by Matheson under a false name, would buy me a little more, or so I hoped. That first night, I drove until I needed gas and then stopped to fill up the tank. The café across the street provided me with coffee and an early morning breakfast. It also gave me a chance to think. I had no actual destination in mind, but as I washed the buttermilk pancakes down with hot coffee, I tried to figure out the last place Swift would look for me.

"With Matheson, " was what I came up with. While that wasn't an option, I did have his wallet along with his rental car keys. He had a fake license with the fake name and address for the rental car place, but his real license was tucked behind it. The small café where I broke my fast also had a row of public computers. I paid the fee for ten minutes of internet time and got directions from the café to Matheson's address, paying the ten cents per page to print out the directions before heading back to the car.

After a childhood spent bouncing between the Riverdale Girl's home and various foster families, the thought of finding out something about where I came from held an overwhelming appeal. Prior to Matheson's arrival and claim to be my uncle all I knew about my beginnings was that I was found in a shopping basket filled with pages torn from the Oxford English Dictionary, wrapped in a rather expensive baby blanket and was approximately six months old. The social worker who found me named me Brownie for my small size and slightly jaundiced look which made me look like a changeling. Oxford was added as my last name when they were forced to fill out official paperwork for me before adding me into the system. The fact that Matheson had the same black curls, green eyes, small stature and jaundiced skin as me lent weight to his claims of family.

"Coming here was dangerous, " I reminded myself. Still, I knew I wasn't going anywhere without a look around. I unfastened my seatbelt and opened the car door. I slipped the keys into my coat pocket and locked the car door as I closed it. Buttoning my coat against the cold, I stepped into the woods. While I was far more comfortable in crowded cities and well lit streets, my time as Swift's asset took me into lots of places in the middle of nowhere. I didn't have his fluid grace, and the woods were never my favorite place to be, but I learned to walk quietly and not draw attention to my movements. In addition, my night vision was always good.

My old sneakers made very little noise as I moved between the trees. Most of the limbs were winter bare, but recent weather was wet enough that the fallen leaves didn't crunch too much beneath my weight, bending instead of breaking. I was certain it would leave a bit of a trail for those who knew how to look for such things, but I was more concerned with being heard as I poked around. As this would be my one and only trip here, anyone watching could see my trail and wait for my return until the end of days for all I cared. I tried calming the frantic beat of my heart as I walked, using logic as a shield.

Matheson was the one after me, wanting to kill me or use my power in some arcane ritual. I assumed the ritual gave him my power and more or less killed me, although I was light on the details. Unlike most evil villains, Matheson hadn't spilled the details of his nefarious plot.

"At least not to me, " I reminded myself. "But he is dead now, " I reminded myself. I also knew my biological parents were dead, at least one by Matheson's hand. He hadn't taken kindly to my mother removing me from his range. He informed one of his lackeys that her death was too enthusiastic for him to raise her spirit and therefore he couldn't question her about my whereabouts. While it kept me safe, I hoped she died quickly with the enthusiastic part coming later. Matheson didn't mention my father in that scenario.

"But even if he isn't dead, I don't think he'd be at Matheson's place. I certainly wouldn't stick around after someone threatened my kid and killed my spouse." I shook my head. If he was around, it would mean he was in league with Matheson. "I really hope he's not around." Actually I was hoping no one was around, especially not Matheson's family as there was the likelihood they would have the same skills as I possessed. "And likely to be as crazy as he was. And probably not too happy with his death."

It was one of the reasons I wasn't going near the house. While I hoped it was empty, I wasn't taking any chances. My goal wasn't the house, but the small cemetery located at the edge of the property. When I arrived in town, I followed the printed out directions, skirting the house and grounds. A small, well-kept cemetery could be seen from the road. It had a large metal M over the wrought iron gates. Using my keen deductive skills I figured the M might stand for Matheson. Of course even if I was wrong and it didn't, then as it was close to Matheson's house it was likely he visited a time or two. I doubted he resisted raising them as self-control was not his strong suit.

"Hopefully they aren't all traumatized, " I thought as I reached the edge of the cemetery. I really didn't want to spend the evening with a group of victimized spirits. What I wanted, I couldn't really say. "But something useful would be nice for a change."

I looked around and saw no one lurking. I took a deep breath and stepped out of the tree line, heading towards the wrought iron gate. The gate was open, but I stopped just outside. "Time to knock on the door."

I gathered my power to me, took a deep breath and as I exhaled I pushed a light tracing of power into the cemetery's earth. It wasn't enough to raise the dead, just enough to get their attention. I felt the spirits of the dead turn their attention my way as they felt my power brush them, like a light breeze.

"Hello, " I said in a voice only they could hear. "I'm passing through and wanted to stop by and see if any of you would be willing to talk to me. I have a few questions if you have a moment to spare."

I was certain there was some sort of official method for greeting a new cemetery and its residents, but as I had no formal training, I always tried for polite. No one ever minded and this time was no exception. Slowly, I felt the spirits rise, I pushed a little more power into them and watched them solidify into more people-like shapes. As usual, I could see details; the flower in the lapel of a top hat wearing gentlemen, the bustle and wasp thin waist of a corseted lady, the jowls of a mustachioed man, I could see it all. The only difference between the dead and the living was that the dead appeared only in black and white, like an old film. If not for that difference, they could be actors playing dress up in the clothing of by-gone eras.

I looked at the residents of this cemetery and blinked in surprise. "Well, that's certainly new, " I said to myself. This time, several of the residents appeared to glow silvery instead of looking like the normal spirits I raised. As I looked one of the silvery spirits moved forward. My guess was that he was chosen as their ambassador. Each cemetery seemed to have one. The spirit moving to the front was a man who, at a guess died, in his sixties. My best guess based on his clothing and facial hair was that death had taken him sometime in the mid eighteen hundreds. While his hair was n

ot terribly long I could see that it had some curl to it. No doubt if allowed to grow out, it would have the same curl to it as mine did. For the first time, I saw color in the dead. While his black and white body was outlined in silver, his eyes were the same green as my own.

"It has been a while since we have heard such politeness from one of the living, " the man began. "And it is appreciated. However, if you behave as badly as Cecil, polite or not you may expect the same treatment, I assure you."

"Cecil, " I repeated, unable to help myself. I never learned Matheson's name and when I checked his driver's license I was more concerned with his address than name, but somehow Cecil seemed appropriate. "Cecil Matheson?" I asked. The gentleman nodded.

"Of course, who else but a Matheson would come here?" He sounded almost affronted at the thought.

"Good point, " I acknowledged. "Um, I guess I should tell you, Cecil won't be back."

"Well that is a relief, " the man said. "Although I must say, hardly credible."

"Oh?"

"He's a Matheson, " the man said as though that should have explained everything. Considering what I knew of both my and his abilities, perhaps it did.

"Well, he's dead, " I told him. There was a gasp from someone in the crowd, a woman I could also see lined in silver, her eyes blazing green. She pushed forward in a rush.

"Dear God, you aren't putting him in here with the rest of us are you?" She asked, hand clasped to her breast, hoop skirt swaying with her movements.

"No, " I said. "He won't be joining you."

The man's eyes narrowed as his companions sounded relieved, both silver and non-silver alike. I tried not to fidget as he studied me. "Perhaps we could have a more detailed accounting."

He held out his hand and gestured towards a stone bench placed just inside the cemetery gates. I nodded and stepped inside. I took a seat and it looked as though the crowd sat with me. I could see the shadowy forms of chairs beneath those nearest me. I took a deep breath and explained to them what happened. Although I tried to keep my voice even and level, the tone business-like. I knew they felt my emotions. I felt my hands shake as I told them how Matheson used Dave as a sacrifice, slicing him open with his knife with less thought than a fishermen gutting the catch of the day. I clasped my hands together in my lap to stop the shaking as I pushed on through my fight for control of the residents and Matheson's final death. It felt oddly cathartic to say everything out loud. Tale told, I looked at the man to see how he took my story. Sympathy was shining in his green eyes.

"His death is not your fault. Cecil spent a lifetime accumulating power. He never had enough, never would have enough, no matter how much he lay claim to. He would have consumed you without a thought, child, " the man told me. I thought of the look on Matheson's face when he ordered the dead to kill me and nodded. The man looked sad. "Once we thought he would be one of our brightest stars. He was so gifted, showed such promise. I don't know where we went wrong. After he killed Jeanette, your mother, and your father of course from what we gathered, we stopped helping him. It is good that he will not be joining us."

"You helped him?" I asked then blinked in surprise. "Wait, you had a choice about helping him?" I could not count the number of dead I raised and questioned. While I had a hard time getting anything but new nightmares out of those who died as a result of torture, no dead ever outright refused to help me. They couldn't lie to me and they couldn't refuse my requests. I thought that was part of the deal.

The man smiled at me, laugh lines fanning from his eyes and bracketing his mouth. "We are Mathesons dear, " he told me with a mix of humor and pride. "Our power gives us some degree of freedom, even in death, and the ability to protect those born to our blood who were not born of the power. As each generation is born, they come to us, learn from us. We tried teaching Cecil, we failed."

Another gentleman snorted and shook his head. He too was lined with silver, his eyes green. "We didn't fail to teach him, " the man corrected. "He merely failed to learn anything he didn't have a mind to. Nasty temper, vindictive too. We should have stopped teaching him earlier. Would have saved a lot of trouble."

"He would have just studied in the library, " the gasping woman pointed out. "Then we wouldn't know what he was learning without spying on him in the house, and as he blocked us from his quarters, we couldn't look in on him."

"Some things aren't written down, that's why we are here, " the man countered. "That's why he came to us in the first place." The two began what sounded like a long standing debate.

"Catherine, Eustis, enough, " the first man said. He turned his attention back to me as the two fell silent.

"So those with power can not only refuse when called, but can go spying on people?" I asked, feeling uncomfortable. Those were not the rules I knew, admittedly until Matheson I never met anyone like me before. As uncomfortable as the changing rules made me, it was slightly comforting to know that if my cremation and ash scattering weren't done after I died then I at least had some options. I decided if Dr. Harding did put bits of me in jars after I was gone then I would arrange to haunt him mercilessly.

"Didn't your teachers teach you anything?" the woman, Catherine exclaimed. "They should have at least covered the basics by now."

"I didn't have any teachers, " I told her. "Matheson, I mean Cecil, was the first person like me I met." The crowd seemed shocked.

"And then he tried to kill you, " the man in front said nodding. "Not exactly an auspicious meeting."

"William, we must do something, " Catherine said with disapproval. "She's too strong to run around without training."

The lead man, William, nodded. "Of course, of course. Tell me dear, " he said turning back to me. "How did you know you could wrest control of the Mayenfield dead away from Cecil?"

"I didn't, " I confessed. "I got lucky."

William blinked in surprise. "And now you've come here for training so you don't have to rely solely on luck. Very sensible." As I couldn't explain exactly why I came to Matheson's house to myself with any conviction, I didn't correct him. "We will need to begin your training soon. First, we will need to see what it is you've managed to learn on your own, of course. I'm guessing you've picked up some skills?"

"Some, " I replied frowning at him. "But I can't stay."

"Nonsense, you need training, " Catherine declared.

"But sooner or later they will come looking here, " I told her. Swift may have concentrated on finding the leaks in the NCS, but I knew he was also looking for Matheson. My note stating Dave and Matheson were both dead wouldn't throw him completely off of their trail. Sooner or later Swift would come here. It was only a matter of time.

"It seems we need another explanation, " William said, quieting the protests from the others. I nodded.

"I was raised in a girl's home, " I began, keeping the name of the home to myself. I learned from Matheson that names had power. At the moment, keeping all names I had to myself sounded like a good plan. Since I was certain Swift wasn't Swift's real name I let them have it. On the day he met me I had a book of Johnathan Swift's essays with me. I was pretty certain he took his name from the cover.

I told them how Swift met me and put me to work interviewing victims, informants and all manner of dead bad guys in order to stop still living bad guys. I told them how Dr. Harding concocted a pill to settle my stomach and fix my jaundice, but that, according to Matheson, the pill stunted my abilities. I explained how I found ways not to take the pills while still remaining healthy and how I ran off into the night after Matheson's death, hoping Swift would not come after me.

"I can see you're right, " William told me shaking his head. "You can't stay here. Not now of course." He looked to Catherine. "Would you be a love and apprise Avery of the situation. She'll need a room for at least a day or two while plans are made." Catherine nodded and I started with surprise as she winked out, like a switched off light bulb. I added another item to the list of things I didn't know the dead could do.

William turned back to me. "It is clear you are exhausted. You will be safe here for at least one night. Avery can be trusted. His family has worked for ours for generations. In fact he is the one who got you out of the house. Your parents didn't want to participate in case they were not able to resist Cecil's questioning. They weren't born with the power and didn't want to know anything that could be forced out of them."

"Why didn't Mathe…Cecil just question Avery?" I asked.

William laughed. "Cecil? Believing a mere servant would be trusted with a child of power? You really didn't know him that well, did you? I doubt the thought ever entered his tiny little mind." Behind him Catherine popped back into the cemetery.

"Avery knows to expect her, " she reported to William. She turned and smiled at me. "He said you should drive in the main entrance and he will guide you to a garage so that your vehicle will be hidden from view."

"You really should go on up to the house now, " William told me kindly. "If it weren't so cold, you would no doubt be asleep. We'll have a long talk in the good light of day tomorrow." I nodded and stood, feeling the cold all the way down to my bones. I wasn't certain what the temperature was, but I could see my breath puff up around my face and my entire rear end was numb from sitting on the concrete bench.

"Thank you, " I told him, my teeth fairly chattering. I pulled my power slowly from the earth. Most of the residents disappeared, their spirts resting. Those that glowed silver faded slightly, but were still there, supported by the remnants of their own power. I turned and left the cemetery, heading back to Matheson's rented car.

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