Chapter One

            I’m dying. I know you'll be angry with me for writing you a letter instead of going to the hospital, but I couldn’t. You’re probably freaking out right now, but I need you to keep it together. You have work to do.
            You always wondered why I spent so much time writing up case notes, attributing it to me being a control freak, which is true. But they were also my way of keeping track of all the crazy shit we dealt with until I could make sense of it all. I don’t know why I never told you—it was such a mundane thing, but I ended up recording so much more than case information. It was difficult to share. That doesn’t matter now.
            I’ve gathered up a selection of the files; the ones pertinent to the current situation. Find them—they’re hidden, but that shouldn’t present any problem to you. Once you read them, you’ll know what to do.
            I’m sorry. You’re furious with me—wondering why I went without telling you, aware that I couldn’t make it out alive—but you’ll understand.  

There isn’t anything special about our town. It’s not built on a Hellmouth or a Native American burial ground. But it is plagued by the supernatural. You’d think, what with all the monster shenanigans happening in Pine Grove, South Carolina, we’d make national news, but most people were content to ignore what was going on. I wasn’t most people. When your 8th grade slumber party is overrun with vampires, it becomes pretty hard to buy into the whole “animal attack” excuse.
            My Dad believed, too. He saw something at work. He never spoke about it, not even to my mom. He just came home one night covered in blood and shaking—a changed man. He paid for me to take lessons in every form of martial art, archery, fencing, and marksmanship.
            I opened my business the day after my high school graduation. My Dad and Penny assured me that I wouldn’t hurt for clients.
On the third day, when no one had so much as walked through the door and I was ready to call it quits, I got my first visitor.
Her appearance was so sudden—so unexpected—that I didn’t notice her for several seconds. Not until she coughed and half-whispered, “Caro?”
She was silhouetted against the door, her hands twisting together. We may have a problem with the supernatural running wild, but she is honestly the last person I expected to see here—the mousy bookkeeper of the only department store in town, a real Melanie Wilkes without the hidden strength.
“Mrs. Speedman? Are you lost?” I couldn’t help myself; it seemed too good to be true.
“I heard you could help me?” her eyes were trained to the floor, feet shuffling against the floorboards.
 “I—Yes—maybe,” I shook my head, “Let’s go into my office and you can tell me what’s going on.”
The 17th century diary chronicling an outbreak of werewolf attacks fell from my hands, the fragile binding cracking on impact with the floor as I jumped from the sofa. 
I hadn’t used my actual office yet. I spent most of my clientless days idling in the reception room. A wall of heat burst out when I opened the door, sunlight streaming through the open blinds. Though I hadn’t used it yet, I loved this room. Vintage monster movie posters lined the walls around the full bookshelves, my desk was a massive lump of mahogany, and the light blue wingback chairs matched the rug.  
“Can I get you a soda or water, or anything?” I asked, after I got Mrs. Speedman seated.
“No,” she shook her head, hands still latched together.
I crossed to the other side of the desk, sitting and opening my laptop.
“What brings you hear today?” I asked, resting my forearms on the edge of my desk in what I imagined was a thoughtful, attentive pose.  
“I don’t really know where to start,” she brushed her short hair from her face, revealing her flushed cheeks.
“Tell me about the first time you noticed something strange.”
She pursed her thin lips, nostrils dilating as she gathered her thoughts.
“It started two nights ago with my kids. They woke up in the middle of the night screaming, claiming they saw people moving around in the woods behind our house.” She swallowed, throat convulsing. “My husband—he doesn’t believe in any of this—he told them they were imagining things.”
“But you believed them? Why?”
She dropped her head, watching her hands. If Mr. Speedman dismissed the claims of the children, it would take a true shock to make his wife go behind his back. Even then, she wouldn’t come to me unless she was terrified. I didn’t have the best reputation around town. Before all the monster madness, I was a sweet girl from an established family. Now, people either thought I was crazy, or they were afraid of me. I was a last resort.
“I saw them,” she said, tears leaking from her eyes in slow rivulets. “When I went to check on the children. I thought I saw something moving in the woods, but told myself it was the wind. On my way back to bed I saw it again and stopped.”
She was crying harder now. I pushed the box of tissues on the edge of the desk closer to her.
“There were people in the woods, Caro. They were mostly hidden by the trees, but I’d see a flash of clothes or shoes as they walked.”
 “Mrs. Speedman, if it was people in your woods, I can’t do anything for you. You should call the police.”
She blotted at her tears, fighting to get herself back under control. “They weren’t right. It was hard to see in the dark, but I think” she paused as her voice quivered and broke. “I think they were dead.”
Dead people in her backyard? That’s all I needed to hear. When I got her to calm down, I promised to stop by that night and check it out. Then I sent her on her way with a shot of whiskey. Hey, I’m nothing if not helpful.
As soon as the door was shut behind her, I grabbed my phone and called Penny.
“It’s not a good time, Spencer,” he snapped.
“I see we’ve given up on ‘hello’” I said. “It is a good time, darling, because I need you.”
His grumbling laugh rippled through the mystical cell phone ether and I shivered. “You know how long I’ve been waiting for you to say that?”
“I don’t need you for that,” I said.
“Liar,” he replied.
“Keep telling yourself that.”
“What do you want, Caro?” he asked, playfulness gone.
“I’ve got a case. Mrs. Janice Speedman has a zombie infestation.”
“Mrs. Speedman? How’d she get away from the hubs?”
“No clue, but she’s more terrified of them than she is of him. That’s something, I guess. Anyway, I’m going to check it out tonight. You in?”
“Do you know what day it is?” he asked.
“You still have a week to go. You’re coming.”
He made a clucking noise with his tongue against his teeth.  “I’m not. I have little control over my emotions as it is. I’m not adding you and zombies into the mix.”
“For God’s sake, Penny, I’m going to pay you.”
The line was silent as he considered. “Fine,” he said and I knew he was fluffing his hand through his dark hair out of frustration.
“Good. Be here at nine.”
I hit the “end” button before he could say anything.
I spent the remainder of the afternoon brushing up on my zombie lore. And by that, I mean watching The Walking Dead.  

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