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Now that she's solved her sister's murder, Hallie Michaels has left the army and isn't sure what to do next. Her relationship with deputy Boyd Davies is tentative, there's still distance between her and her father, and she needs a job. The good news is, she hasn't seen a ghost in weeks.
All that changes when she gets a call asking her to help an elderly neighbor who is being stalked by black dogs, creatures from the underworld that are harbingers of death. When a black dog appears, Hallie learns, a reaper is sure to follow. And if the dark visions she's suddenly receiving are any indication, it looks like the reaper is now following her.
Meanwhile, strange events herald the arrival of ghosts from Boyd's past, ghosts the young deputy isn't ready to face. Refusing Hallie's help, Boyd takes off to deal with the problem on his own, only to find that he's facing something much larger and more frightening than he'd imagined.
Stalked by a reaper and plagued by dark visions, Hallie finds she must face her fears and travel into Death's own realm to save those she most loves.
Deep Down is the chlling sequel to Wide Open, Deborah Coates's "refreshingly original dark fantasy debut." (Publishers Weekly)
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DEBORAH COATES lives in Ames, Iowa, and works for Iowa State University. Her short fiction has appeared in Asimov's and Strange Horizons, as well as Year's Best Fantasy 6, Best Paranormal Romance, and Best American Fantasy.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Hallie Michaels had been up since six, running big round bales of hay out to the cattle and her father’s small herd of bison in the far southwest pasture. She was heading back in, thinking about breakfast—toast and scrambled eggs and half a dozen slices of bacon—when a shadow so dark, it felt as if a curtain had been drawn, passed by on her right. She looked up—but there was nothing, not a cloud in the sky—looked back down, and she could see the shadow still, like a black patch on the ground, heading due south.
She stopped the tractor, a brand-new Kubota her father had bought after the old one burned with the equipment shed and everything else in September. Where the shadow—or whatever it was—had passed, the grass looked flat, like it had lain for a month under heavy winter snow. But it was early November and unseasonably warm—there hadn’t been a killing frost. She was a quarter mile from the house; the field she was in stretched long toward the horizon. She could see flattened grass all the way out, like something huge had just passed by.
Hallie set the brake on the tractor and hopped down. She looked at the grass, looked at the rest of the field. It was different—wasn’t it? She crouched and put her hand out. Her fingers brushed the flattened grass and she was hit by a stab of pain through her skull so fierce, it knocked her over.
She said it several more times, only louder and more annoyed. Shit. Shit. Shit.
She hadn’t seen a ghost in two months, hadn’t had a blinding headache in a week and a half. All that was gone.
She sat for a long moment on the cold, hard ground, sat until the world didn’t look like it was rainbow-tinted, until her head felt less likely to split in two.
She imagined herself ignoring it, imagined herself pretending it had never happened. Which, yeah, never actually worked.
As she struggled to her feet, her phone beeped.
Voice mail from her father.
“Hey, you on your way back?” Like this was a regular conversation and she was going to answer him. “Don Pabahar called. Says he hasn’t heard from his mom in a couple of days. Asked if one of us could stop over there and check on her. I’m heading into Rapid City. Be gone all morning, looks like. Figured you could do it. Okay? Yeah, talk to you later.”
She checked for other messages as she climbed back on the tractor and started toward the ranch house again. Nothing. Boyd had been back three weeks. They’d been to dinner once, to breakfast twice. This was his first week back in a patrol car since he’d been shot in September. She didn’t have any reason to think he would call. She’d picked a fight with him Friday night when he asked her to go to Rapid City with him for dinner, with the idea that maybe they’d stay the night. And she wanted that, she did. But what she wanted was a night, and what Boyd wanted, she was pretty sure, was more.
Right now she didn’t have more.
She’d applied for a job running dispatch for a trucking firm in Rapid City, something she could probably do in her sleep after the army, and another job as an apprentice line worker in eastern Minnesota. Neither one of them were quite “it,” what she was looking for, but they’d be something. Most days she missed the army so much, it felt like she could taste it. Soldiers griped about the food and the days on watch and the boredom and stupid orders that made no sense, but Hallie’d known who she was when she’d been a soldier. Now she had to figure that out all over again.
She pulled the tractor into the lee of the horse barn, where it sat next to the second tractor, a grain wagon, two ATVs, and an auger, all of which would normally be housed in the big equipment shed, if they had a big equipment shed instead of a concrete slab and stacked lumber for the framing. There was still a slight smell of burnt wood and metal in the air, even though the old shed had burned more than two months ago, burnt to the ground in what her father insisted must have been a freak lightning storm—came out of nowhere, he’d tell anyone who asked. Hallie’d tried to explain about Martin Weber, about the things he’d done. Not that it did any good. Hallie’s father was pretty much a master at not hearing what he didn’t want to hear.
It started to snow as she walked up to the house, light dry flakes that scattered across the ground like dust from an old ghost town—first snow of the season, even though it was already mid-November, grass still green, which Hallie couldn’t help but think was fallout from Martin Weber messing with the weather.
She knocked her boots on the doorjamb before she walked into the kitchen, where she was greeted by the smell of fresh coffee and a note that said, Stuff in the oven. Which, when she looked, proved to be scrambled eggs and bacon.
Before she sat down to eat, she called Boyd, then hung up without leaving a message. She wanted to talk to him about the shadow she’d seen, wanted to talk to him, just ... wanted him. And all that was good, was fine, really. The problem was, she didn’t want it to hold her here, didn’t want him to expect that it would. And it wasn’t fair—to him or her—to be calling him every five minutes.
She dialed Brett Fowker, her oldest friend from high school. “Want to come into town tonight?” she said when Brett answered. “We could meet at Cleary’s for dinner, head out to the Bob for a drink after.”
“I—well—” Brett fumbled for words. Hallie frowned because that wasn’t like her. “I’ve got a date. In the City. Tonight. I’ve got a date tonight is what I mean.”
“Okay,” Hallie said, half a question. “Another time.”
She hadn’t seen a lot of Brett since September. Hallie liked to think it was because she’d been busy, though she hadn’t. Maybe it was Brett who’d been busy, because she was getting a master’s in psychology somewhere in Rapid City and, though Hallie didn’t really pay attention, she figured there were classes and exams and other things involved. Brett talked about going to the University of Chicago next year for a PhD, but Hallie couldn’t picture Brett anywhere but in the West River, training cutting horses with her father and, well, being there.
Things changed, though. That’s what she told herself. Hell, Hallie’d never expected to die in Afghanistan, never expected to come back, never expected ghosts. Life was mostly what you didn’t expect; that’s what Hallie’d been learning lately.
She finished her breakfast and an hour later had washed and changed and was in her pickup headed down the long drive from the ranch house to the county blacktop. Delores Pabahar, known to all and sundry as Pabby, was her father’s closest neighbor to the south. Pabby was ... well, Pabby. Hallie hadn’t seen her in years, except briefly—the way you did see people—at Dell’s funeral.
At the end of the long driveway, her cell phone rang. Hallie looked at the number before she answered. Not Boyd.
“Hallie? Well, goddamn! Don’t you ever answer your email?”
It was Kate Matousek, whom Hallie’d first met at Fort Leonard Wood at the end of basic training and then again at a forward base outside Kabul. Kate had been a medic. She was also a hiker and a mountain climber who would take her leave anywhere there were hills to climb, who’d wanted the war in Afghanistan to end so she could hike the Hindu Kush.
“There’ll be land mines and bandits and probably rebel soldiers,” Hallie’d told her.
“I don’t know,” Kate had said. “It might be worth it.”
She was supposed to have been with Hallie’s platoon on that trail the day Hallie had died, but she switched at the last minute with another medic, the one who’d brought Hallie back from the dead, and she rotated out before Hallie’d been released from the hospital.
“What’s up?” Hallie asked. She was never one for wasting time on small talk.
“Heard you were out,” Kate said. “Thought you might be looking for work.”
“I might be,” Hallie said cautiously, because if Kate wanted her to climb mountains in the Hindu Kush, she could look for someone else. She didn’t mind heights, kind of liked them, actually, but she could think of easier ways of getting killed than going back to Afghanistan.
“Look,” Kate said, “I’m starting a business with my brother. Well, he’s been doing this for a while, but he’s finally going out on his own and I’m going in with him. Painting water towers. He’s got all the equipment, got a bunch of references—the guy he worked for is retiring—but we need a job estimator. Figured you might be looking for something.”
“You’re not afraid of heights, right?”
“No.” Because she might not be as crazy as Kate, but she wasn’t afraid to climb a water tower.
“We need someone who can get up to speed quick,” Kate said. “There’s a lot of travel, a little danger, plenty of variety, and better pay than you ever saw in the army. What do you say?”
Hallie’d thought she’d leap right in, both feet, when an offer came, but she didn’t. “Think about it,” Kate said when the silence stretched a half second too long. She hung up without saying good-bye.
Hallie called Boyd again, like her first thought was to tell him, which pissed her off a little, but not enough to disconnect. “Hey,” she said when his voice mail picked up. “I’ll be in town lat...
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