At the dawn of the twentieth century, New York City houses both the living and the dead. And when it comes to crimes of an otherworldly nature, it falls to the psychics and spirits of the city’s finest secret agency—The Ghost Precinct—to serve justice beyond the earthly realm . . .
The ethereal denizens of New York owe a great debt to Eve Whitby, the young talented medium who leads the all-female spiritualists in the police department’s Ghost Precinct. Without her team’s efforts on behalf of the incorporeal, many souls would have been lost or damned by both human and inhuman means.
But now Eve faces an enemy determined to exorcise the city’s ghostly population once and for all. Albert Prenze is supposed to be dead. Instead he is very much alive, having assumed the identity of his twin brother Alfred, and taken control of the family’s dubiously made fortune. With unlimited wealth at his disposal, Albert uses experimental technology to banish ghosts to an eternal darkness forever.
To achieve his vicious ends, Albert plots to manipulate Eve and twist her abilities into a psychic weapon—a weapon that not only poses a threat to spirits but to everyone she cares for, including her beloved Detective Horowitz . . .
“The Spectral City is a spooky thrill . . . filled to the brim with beauty and peril.”
—Cherie Priest, Locus Award-winning author
“Otherworldly mystery [with] gorgeous writing and slow burn of a romance.”
—National Public Radio on A Sanctuary of Spirits
“Hieber’s momentous third Spectral City fantasy sees tensions in the spirit world come to an explosive head…It is extremely satisfying to witness the scrappy heroes rise up . . . Hieber’s latest fires on all cylinders.”
—Publishers Weekly on A Summoning of Souls
Release date: July 21, 2020
Publisher: Rebel Base Books
Print pages: 368
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A Summoning of Souls
Leanna Renee Hieber
Margaret Hathorn wafted along Fifth Avenue in her favorite ballgown, forever sporting the opulent fashion of the eighties; her skirts doubled with a fine bustle decked in bows and gathers, her dark hair pinned up with a few cascading ringlets.
To the living eye, the young woman was transparent and all in greyscale, but Maggie’s favorite dress had been a bright rose as pretty as she’d once been praised to be. Glancing down at her rustling skirts, an undulating pattern hovering over the cobblestones, to her eye, the rose was faded but it still held a whisper of blushing color, a little slip of life.
At present, the wraith was on an important mission.
Looking in the front windows of opulent mansions, Maggie startled the occasional child who was looking out of them. The act, if she were honest with herself, gave her a distinct delight. It wasn’t that Maggie wanted to be a terror, but she had to take her pleasures where she could. And Maggie had always liked to be seen; whether in an admittedly shallow life, or now as a more mature ghost.
For some, becoming a ghost wasn’t a choice. But for Maggie, she retained every bit of agency she wanted. No, she couldn’t pick things up or feel touch and embraces like she used to, but one adapted. At any point she wished, she could say goodbye to her loved ones, corporeal and non, and leave for that Sweet Summerland the Spiritualists spoke of; eternal rest in some wonderful Elysian Field. Someday. But not yet. There was so very much to do.
Death had rearranged Margaret Hathorn’s priorities. Having been caught up in all manner of terrible things she’d unwittingly unleashed, she was murdered nearly two decades prior. Having sacrificed herself to save others, the act absolved her of torments caused by her ignorance. Her spirit lived on to make sure that Eve Whitby, the daughter of those she gave her life for, had a ghostly auntie always watching over her. It was Maggie and Eve’s mutual mission to help make New York that much safer and brighter, instilling a spectral purpose she’d never had as a snobbish socialite.
The spirit paused before the target address. Every time Maggie tried to return to this terrible house, her spectral form quailed, as if the wisp of her that remained could not bear to confront this place of trauma again.
The Prenze mansion. Patriarchs of tonics and dubious cure-alls, the Prenze twins had made a fortune off chronic pain and symptoms of disease the medical profession had yet to cure. One twin, Albert Prenze, had died in an industrial accident at one of their London warehouses. Or so it had been said.
Albert was, in fact, alive, operating under a false name and acting from the shadows. Even his twin brother Alfred didn’t know he was alive.
None of these details would be important to Maggie had Albert Prenze not made two things very clear: He was intent on destroying any ghost he could, no matter if they wished to haunt on and help mortals or not. And he was sure Eve Whitby and her Ghost Precinct of the New York Police Department was an obstacle in his aim.
Well, the man wasn’t wrong; they were obstacles. And living and dead, they were about to fight back. Maggie just didn’t know how. Thus, her research expedition.
Floating into the Prenze hedgerows, she waited. The thick, manicured branches around her made her feel safer, as if she were in the brambles surrounding an evil fairy-tale castle.
Again, Maggie tried to remember what exactly happened the night she’d disappeared. When Albert Prenze had tried to break what remained of her soul in two, never to haunt again. She’d been drawn to the mansion by the spirit of children that wanted her help. For whatever reason, she’d been able to get in that night, but never since. She remembered the electric lights had been odd, and perhaps a malfunction in what she now knew was an electrical blockade, snapping at spirits like a switch to keep them from coming in or out.
When she had gone inside, she did as the two siblings had asked and she managed to muster a small burst of physical force to send a collection of postmortem photography flying. In doing so, she’d roused the attention of their present nemesis. He had sent his houseguests out of the room, turned to her with a cruel sneer, and flipped a switch that tore her out of existence.
As if swatting Maggie from this memory, a ghostly, wrinkled hand slapped against the glass of the thin basement window. Maggie started, almost tumbling out of the hedge.
“Help us,” came a desperate, elderly voice trying to travel the distance to her spectral ear. “He wants to kill us all. End us forever.”
“We’ll do everything we can,” Maggie murmured back, unsure if she could be heard.
The sharp whinny of a horse as a driver cracked a whip was like an extension of the faint scream she heard coming from that cellar room. Looking behind her, she wanted to get the attention of the living, “Do you hear that? Can anyone help them?” But she couldn’t.
So much was happening in New York City, so many people in their own little worlds and here in the finest part of town, everyone’s little world was opulent and more important, it was clear, than anything that happened in anyone else’s. These ghosts were alone, for all they knew, with no one but themselves to care.
“We care; we’ll find you. Hold fast,” Maggie said, doubting she could be heard from the hedgerows, but she had to say it. She had been abandoned before, in life, by society’s finest, and it was the worst of betrayals because they of all people could have afforded to help her.
Maggie was startled by a presence appearing beside her, a dark-haired little girl in a white dress singed at the hem who immediately began exclaiming in a thick Polish accent, “They’re trapped! I have to show them the way out!” The ghost of Zofia Berezowska was about to float forward toward the window when Maggie grabbed her and held her close.
The ten-year-old ghost that had died at work in a garment district fire had devoted her spectral life to helping the living out of myriad dangers, pointing the way out when smoke cleared or pushing something over to sound an alarm or summon help, fearless in rushing to the rescue.
“Zofia, love, not here.” Maggie clutched the young ghost she thought of as a little sister even tighter, her voice breaking. “Not here you can’t! Don’t you know this place is dangerous? This is the Prenze mansion, the place I thought killed me!” The first time she’d been murdered was quite enough, and she didn’t like the prospect of dying a second time.
“Then why are you here?” Zofia threaded her fingers through Maggie’s. “I came looking for you. After losing you, don’t you think I might look after you better than before?” They floated together, weightless but connected.
It had taken Maggie time to get used to how much touch was different in death. An embrace was half as full as the fortitude of life. Of course, neither she nor Zofia could touch the living at all beyond the caress of a cold breeze, so the ability for a spirit to have solid contact with another spirit was one of the comforts of this existence. Maggie tried very hard to appreciate her existence as one of floating, subtle, muted nuance. As it registered to her senses, death was full of gentle touch and quiet whispers. Death was soft and delicate.
The girls stared at the imposing mansion before them, the hands at the window, imploring, pointing. “That’s more than I can bear,” Zofia said.
“And that’s why I’m back,” Maggie countered. “I don’t know how we’re going to prove the evil of this house in ways that the living can prosecute, but this is now our sole focus.”
“What if we could compel someone living to go in for us?” Zofia asked. “Someone who isn’t Eve or any of the precinct operatives, seeing as they’re known now by the family.”
“That…could work,” Maggie said, her mind already whirring. She’d taken note of several Sensitives in the city, not those as gifted as ran the Ghost Precinct she worked for, but ones who did see or sense. “We might find an ally I hadn’t thought to utilize.… Good thinking, little one!”
Zofia looked up at Maggie proudly, and for a moment in those wide, dark irises of the child’s eyes, Maggie saw the reflection of the fire that had signaled her doom. Even ghosts were haunted. The choice was theirs if they would let it entirely define them, or motivate them to a new mission.
There was movement in the basement. A form loomed in a dim doorway before darkness overtook the cellar level again. The ghostly palms withdrew from the barred windows, but the sounds of sobs overtook the exterior garden.
A murderer of ghosts, living like a king in the finest part of Manhattan.
“The Ghost Precinct has to root him out,” Zofia murmured. “Force him into the light.”
“I already have an idea. Tell the girls I’m off on an experiment and not to worry if I’m not back for a bit. Let’s see if I can scare up some help.”
Eve Whitby came to in a forest glade with no memory of how she’d gotten there.
Before her was a stone cairn, and from its foundation rose a single sandstone Gothic arch, the only standing evidence of a chapel that had never been built.
Eve recognized this sacred place, having been called here before to commune with the spirit world. This was a place that spirits called Sanctuary, and she must have sleepwalked to this precipice between worlds. Again.
The sky was brightening; dawn had broken on a cool, late autumn morning as the last months of the nineteenth century were shortening.
The realization of where she had wandered came with a wave of terrors: Where were her colleagues, and were they all right? As director of the Ghost Precinct, she was responsible for three young women, gifted psychic mediums. As leader, she was setting a poor precedent of wandering off unannounced, a rule she’d made her team promise they’d never break.
The last thing she remembered was trying to get to sleep after Albert Prenze, a man with no morals, a vehement hatred of ghosts, a terrifying capacity to mesmerize and compel his subjects, and a likely culprit of murder, had drawn her and dear Detective Horowitz outside into a confrontation, threatening them before disappearing.
She and Jacob Horowitz had parted ways after a breathless, private moment together, and her heart burned with a flame it had never before experienced while her mind raced with terrors of the present case. The combination of yearning and fear hadn’t made for a pleasant night’s sleep in her grandmother’s fine townhouse. But, being so restless, she should have remembered rising, throwing a housecoat and wool coat over her nightdress and getting on a northbound train to exit outside the city limits on the Hudson River Line. But she didn’t.
Jacob. Was he here now? Her heart spasmed. Whirling around, she found herself alone with only the pine trees and a few maples losing the remainder of their colorful leaves, one by one like slow tears, dripping from the tall eaves above her head. The last time she was at this precarious doorway where soul separated from body, Jacob had been there to catch her when she came to, making her feel safe, alive, delighted.
But there was no such comfort here now. There were only soft voices from unseen sources, echoing on the breeze.
Eve had grown up quickly due to necessity. Her nineteen years of life were entirely haunted. But that didn’t mean she was inured to spectral chill or the threats brought on by certain paranormal experiences. There were things even seasoned minds and old souls should fear. The whispered phrase that distinctly emanated from the stone arch directly before her was one such thing; a recurring warning of late, from the spirit world to hers.
“Don’t let anything in!”
The phrase repeated itself on the air. Eve crept forward and placed her ear against the cool grey surface, listening to the murmur of spirits, as if whispering on the other side of a door.
Then, a voice she recognized. A friend.
“Eve isn’t ‘anything’; she’s my trusted ally in the living world,” explained the voice of Episcopalian deaconess Lily Strand, a woman of the cloth whose ghost had devoted herself to the safety of children’s spirits. Lily was Eve’s guide through Sanctuary, a space outside life and death that had pieced together the souls of attacked loved ones, a service for which Eve would be forever grateful.
“Deaconess Strand,” Eve called to the arch. “Lily. I don’t know how I got here. Did you call for me again?” The pine trees rustled an answer she didn’t understand.
A hand clamped on her shoulder, and she pitched forward through the archway, almost striking her head on the stone cairn covered in moss and ivy at her feet. She plummeted in a hazy fall.
Just as Eve was about to crash into a wooden doorway, she closed her eyes and braced for an impact that never came. She was wrested to her feet, gravity shifting, the world righting itself. Opening her eyes, the willowy, sharp-featured Strand stared at her, dressed in a simple blue sisters’ habit. The deaconess released her grip on Eve’s arms. They stood just outside what appeared to be a large cathedral when she’d just moments ago been in an empty forest clearing. Arches and spires soared away from them into oblivion. The building changed depending on one’s general beliefs, familiar comforts or favorite architecture.
“There’s an entity following you,” Strand said sharply, looking around. Eve turned. Although there was nothing but a thick mist behind her and the vague outline of trees, a murky reflection of the forest beyond, the hairs at the nape of Eve’s neck wouldn’t settle.
“The man brings in his wake a terrible fear,” Strand continued, “and promise of violence. In Sanctuary, we are all a bit psychic. The sacred space itself was made from the sheer force of spirit ages ago, made not from mythic creatures but human hearts. We know that man means us harm and I will not have it find us.”
“Yes, he hates us. Not us specifically, but ghosts. And he’s following you.”
“Yes. My precinct has been working his case,” Eve said. Strand opened the arched door of Sanctuary just wide enough for their bodies and hurried Eve in, closing it behind her to stand in a shadowy entrance foyer of grey stone arches and colored light. “His irrational hatred of ghosts stems from family torment. I don’t know what purpose could be served by terrorizing you here.”
“You’ve led him to us,” murmured a voice from the shadows in a light African accent. A young woman stepped into the light cast by a bay of quatrefoil stained-glass windows over the front door, dressed in the same blue habit as Lily Strand, her brown face framed by the white of her wimple, her dark eyes wide and worried.
“Mara, please, Sister,” Lily said in a low voice. “Eve has only ever wanted to help. That’s why I called out to her in the first place. I trust this living one.”
“You can trust my whole team,” Eve insisted.
“But none of them know what we need here,” the woman continued, anxious. “You can’t know the ways in which we are vulnerable, and your presence only tears at our fabric.”
“Mara, please, light candles if you fear a breach,” Lily insisted.
The young woman glided away, small hands dancing nervously at the sides of her habit. Eve followed her, wanting to reassure her as she hurried away. She stepped forward under the archway of the foyer and into the nave, but Mara disappeared into a side chapel.
Eve glanced up at the stained-glass windows of the main sanctuary. The windows changed since last Eve had seen them; the structure altered itself in mysterious ways. She had recalled the windows featuring angels, but now human forms shone from them in all manner of dress, region, tradition, and time period. Was the light beyond their leaded images indeed darkening?
“My apologies,” Lily said to Eve, following her gaze toward the windows. “My Sisters are uncomfortable for a living soul to come and go from here, and for the company outside. The growing storm. The threat that Prenze represents. Cruel hearts like his, forged by troubles I can’t claim to know, seem to find purpose in disturbing the hard-fought peace of other souls. His hatred of spirits is most particular and personal. This places you in a precarious situation.”
“You can’t think me the enemy?” Eve asked in a pained gasp. She’d done so much for the spirit world all her life, taken it into her mind, listened to all its whispers when ghosts threatened to split her mind in two. She’d forsaken a higher education due to their pressure to keep them first, so she opened the Ghost Precinct and remained self-taught, she’d devoted her life—
Lily Strand put both hands on Eve’s shoulders as if she could hear this runaway train of frustration.
“Of course not. I know you to be our biggest ally. It’s what’s around you. If Prenze is manipulating you here, it’s likely to see if he can wedge in after you. If he were to get in…” Lily shuddered. “I worried enough about little Ingrid’s body and the undertaker. But that disrespect was nothing compared to Prenze’s abject hatred of spirits. I leave it to you and your gifted friends to stop him outside. I’ll do what’s necessary here on the inside. Though I will say, we need every living being who treasures spirits to lend us their love for the amount of protection needed.”
Lily gestured to the nearest Sanctuary window. “These are the images of our helpers, gifted living folks who are attuned to the veil. Her Holiness, our foundress, asked Sanctuary’s Living Light to reach out to those who can help us weather storms.”
The nearest window struck Eve to the core; the leaded glass portrayed a woman in contemporary dress of light blue, but the rest of her was entirely without pigment. Hair and skin white as snow, her ice-blue eyes sparkled and her smile was kind. Radiant white light artfully shone from behind her in leaded strokes as if her whole body was lit. A stunning, ethereal vision. While Eve didn’t recognize the woman, she desperately wanted to know her. One of Gran’s earliest Spiritualist lessons had been to declare that powerful women were keeping ghostly balances steady all around the world; she and Eve were but two actors on a grand, mysterious stage.
“She’s our best living asset, that one,” Lily said, following Eve’s gaze to the stained-glass portrait. “You’re not the only gifted conduit to the dead, Eve.” She gave a teasing smile. “And we need all of you here, at the end of an era, to be sure we’re all not torn apart, to lend your lights. But as for you, go on; you’ve been here long enough. You’ll have worried whoever came after you this time.”
The deaconess returned Eve to the front door. Glancing out a beveled glass lancet window, she exclaimed, “Ah! It’s the mortal whose faithful heart created this portal! Go on!”
Eve turned back to the nave to see several Sisters heaving great shutters over the Gothic arched windows, closing over loving, saintly looking faces from all around the world, battening down before a storm.
“It’s getting worse, my friend,” Lily said sadly. Thunder rolled in the distance. “Take care out there as we take care in here.”
It was as if the whole spirit world shouted it at her in a thousand accusatory murmurs: “Don’t let anything in!” Eve clapped her hands over her ears for the furor of it.
The deaconess heaved open the great wooden door, and as the light beyond blinded Eve and she raised her arms against it, the woman placed both hands on Eve’s shoulders and pushed her forward into the brilliant void.
Eve fell again, that dizzying lurch and queasy pain distinct to this out-of-body experience, praying she’d come to again in one piece. She’d had quite enough of going unconscious and waking up without remembering the journey. For someone who loved to be in as much control as a paranormal life allowed, this was a fresh hell and terrifying new habit.
When she opened her eyes, would he be waiting for her? Albert Prenze? Had he been the one to drive her here, or was it her own unconscious, powerful desire to drink in the divine mysteries of Sanctuary mortals were not supposed to understand?
A shadowy figure suddenly obscured all ethereal light. She knew that form. It had been at her window. A torment. The astral projection of Albert Prenze’s energy had been appearing to her of late, uninvited and unwelcome.
“I renounce thee!” Eve shouted to the enemy at the gates.
She snapped her energy out from her like a whip, and the figure vanished.
Eve’s knees struck a soft bed of leaves, pine needles, and moss.
“Hello, dear,” came a familiar, kind voice from behind.
Eve, bent and kneeling, whirled her head around to see a tall, striking, and elegant woman of nearly seventy.
Regal and fierce, Evelyn Northe-Stewart stood before her: powerful psychic, paranormal counselor, medium, philanthropist, visionary, and most of all, Eve’s best friend, ally, and grandmother. Wearing a magnificent House of Worth day dress with doubled green skirts and a royal-blue jacket with gold embroidery, her waves of white hair were swept up beneath a satin hat with flourishes, feathers, and tulle. Seeing the woman for whom she was named was like dawn breaking after a long, dark night.
“Gran!” Eve tried to run to her beloved mentor, but her body didn’t cooperate. She fell on a bed of leaves. When one entered Sanctuary, it was the soul that went through while the body remained lifeless behind. The reconnection was dizzying. Eve empathized with Frankenstein’s monster, waking up to an unwieldy body awkwardly made.
Rushing up, Gran brought Eve to her feet. The distinct lines of her face were distinguished and thoughtful rather than old or worn. A widening expression accentuated the deepest lines, those around her smile. “I know, my dear, that the detective came for you last time, despite all spirits’ warnings not to. I know I can hardly make up for his handsomeness”—Gran added with a laugh—“or your attraction to him—”
Eve’s face went red as she tried to stay stable on her feet. “I am—I have no such—”
“You’re a gifted psychic but a terrible liar, Eve Whitby, and I raised you to be exactly so. I do see through everything.”
Eve’s twisting stomach had nothing to do with the fall from Sanctuary and everything to do with how much she cared for Jacob Horowitz, dashing detective and unexpected suitor. She had to change the subject lest he become her entire undoing. “Gran, how did you find me?”
“You’re not about to leave my house unannounced and under mesmeric influence without my following. I was furious with myself the last time you tore out here on your own.” She tapped her temple. “Ever since then, I’ve been fine-tuning our connection.”
Eve grimaced. “That…shouldn’t be your responsibility, I don’t want to be a charity—”
Gran clucked her tongue. “My dearest namesake, you’re being targeted by a villain and if I don’t intervene, your poor mother… She’ll never forgive either of us. Now come away from here.” She fussed with Eve’s coat, closing it more securely before guiding her out of the clearing.
“Now, when you were returning to yourself,” Gran continued, “I know you weren’t issuing a renunciation to me, my dear, so who did you see beyond? Did Prenze loom at you again?”
“I thought so,” Eve murmured, brushing detritus from her skirts. “He vanished after I renounced.”
At the edge of the wood Gran paused, looking back toward the glade. “That this place proved meaningful after all... I’ve tried my whole life to create and fund sacred spaces. That I made one just out of my intent for a chapel, carving out a link to the spirit world, is an honor. An awe-inspiring legacy.” Gran frowned. “That someone should be trying to tear open what I have hoped to make transcendent, to hurt what should be hope, to intrude between the spirit world and the divine…”
“The Sisters inside Sanctuary are shoring up all the windows and bolstering their ties to living psychics around the world,” Eve said. “They’re very worried. They don’t want me to accidentally let anything in. I was pushed back out, to you.”
“We have to do better about shielding,” Gran declared.
“And warding,” came another distinctive voice from the edge of the wood.
Eve turned to behold a striking figure. An array of golden silk accentuated the eerie, piercing quality of gold-green eyes. Clara Templeton Bishop was a powerful psychic in her own right, and she intimidated Eve fiercely. In her late forties, Clara was a woman of hard angles, sharp points, and careful boundaries. Her crepe hat and its gossamer veil were crowned with large, gold-painted thistles, as if her fashion served to deter anyone without a delicate, decorous touch from getting too close to spiny edges.
Hair in braids, a coil was carefully pinned to hang low over one ear to hide a terrible scar Gran had instructed Eve to never notice, which only made her wonder more. Gran and the Bishops were psychic veterans of international wars. Eve wished there was a way she could better honor their service. But like many who served, after a war, they didn’t want to talk about it. Ever.
Clara was attuned to raw power; her gifts tapped into ley lines, the primal sources of spiritual energy. “The latitude and longitude of Earth’s eldest spiritual energy,” Gran once explained. Manipulating ley lines made Clara’s body react in painful or epileptic extremes. But her sheer presence was as unmistakable and echoing as the ringing of some huge carillon.
“Mrs. Bishop,” Eve exclaimed, her face again coloring. She wanted to impress the woman but always felt awkward in her consuming presence. “I didn’t know…”
“When Evelyn ran after you, she instructed her staff to call me.” Clara smiled pleasantly. “I do live just up the hill, you know. I suppose I ought to have a read on the both of you now.” She tapped her temple as Gran had done, the psychic indication of tracking an important soul, like following mental footprints. It was Clara that Eve had gone to in order to find Gran when she was abducted at the beginning of their current case.
“I’m so sorry to be a bother,” Eve whispered, dropping her gaze to the gravel path.
“No, it’s good, really,” Clara said brightly. “If I don’t use my powers regularly, then when I do, they cause pain. Just like stretching a muscle, one must make sure their gifts remain flexible, lest I turn brittle and snap to bits.” She turned toward Eve, her voice softening. Her intense presence didn’t negate her kindness. “You force me not to turn away from the world but toward the better parts of it. Being tuned to you is no bother. Everyone’s got a bit of a musical pitch to them if I put my mind to it.” She stepped closer, cocking her head to the side. The tulle o. . .
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