Snippet from A Small Medium at Large by Stephanie Osborn
Snippet from A Small Medium at Large by Stephanie Osborn, available for pre-order at Amazon now, e-book delivery on April 11, trade paper on April 25.
When Ke’ri Gla’d’s caught a cab at her hotel to head for the Machpelah Cemetery late on Halloween, she was unaware that a certain black Lexus, some distance behind, was following her to that same destination.
“Not too near, not too far,” Romeo said to India, as he drove down the street, following the yellow taxi, several cars in front.
“Here’s hoping she doesn’t catch on, and that she doesn’t make too many detours,” India agreed.
“Well, I wouldn’t mind a drive-thru, which she might do, given how much she been eatin’,” Romeo decided.
“You’ve got no room to talk, honey!” India exclaimed with a laugh. “I swear, both your legs are hollow. I don’t know where you put it all!”
“An’ there she goes, into th’ coffee shop drive-thru,” Romeo said in satisfaction. “I’mma get me a big ol’ café breve, like Meg likes, an’ a Danish. You want an espresso, or one ‘a them frozen, blended things?”
“Get me a frozen mocha, I think,” India said. “But nothing else for me.”
In moments Alpha Two were in and out, slurping drinks and sharing the Danish, while never losing sight of their target.
* * *
In short order, the Lexus drove past as the taxi let out an older woman, short and slightly stocky, dressed in a form-fitting black jumpsuit, almost a catsuit, with a black-and-scarlet drape cardigan over that. Tall black boots with silver trim shod her feet; long white hair cascaded down her back.
“That’s her,” India said. “It matches the description of her disguise we had from Alpha Four.”
“Good,” Romeo said. “Then we’ll park on the side street, head in, an’ mingle with th’ professional magicians.”
* * *
By the time Alpha One arrived at the cemetery at last, full night had fallen. Street lights illumined the sidewalk along the street, but within the cemetery itself lay mostly darkness, only broken by a few flashlights carried by the few foresighted individuals in attendance.
There was a large crowd already there, numbering several hundred; in fact, the crowd was so large that it spilled out of the small, cramped graveyard and into the surrounding streets. Some were in costume, some in formal dress, but most were in street clothes. They milled about, watching; some were anxious, but most were bored or amused. Several people, two of whom were in tuxedos, three of whom were in more…esoteric…clothing, took turns attempting to raise the spirit of Harry Houdini. As Alpha One insinuated themselves into the crowd, Ke’ri Gla’d’s, in what was apparently another human disguise—a short, red-headed, middle-aged female in silken caftan and robes—eased into this smaller group.
“Watch, Meg,” Echo murmured, lips barely moving. “You can tell who’s who by how they’re dressed, and how they conduct their séance. The guys in tuxes will be really formal and kind of rote, and they’ll have a real stage presence. Those are the professional magicians, and they’re just here to honor Houdini’s memory; they don’t believe his spirit will return. But the ones who are wearing the robes and buckskins and shit are the spiritualists who really believe the stuff. And they’re halfway expecting something to really happen.”
“I have the feeling they’re the ones who will be right, tonight,” Omega replied in kind. “But I sorta don’t expect any of ‘em are necessarily gonna be happy about it.”
“And I expect you’re right,” Echo agreed. “Aha. Look, across on the other side of the family plot.”
“Alpha Two,” Omega murmured. “But not sticking close together. Good. Oh, and there’s Alpha Six, and Four. Is Five still extracting from the hotel?”
“Actually, Five wasn’t scheduled to get here until after us,” Echo told her. “They were working with the hotel’s offworld management, and extracted as soon as she set foot in the taxi. They should be…glance casually over your right shoulder.”
“Aha. Got ‘em.”
“Yeah. And we blend in rather nicely with the magicians’ societies here, too.”
“Yup, I noticed that.”
“Heads up,” Echo warned. “She’s decided to take her turn. Wow. Classic Glu’gu’ik quantum spirit contact ritual.”
“Ooo,” Omega hummed, intent on the scene.
* * *
Ke’ri Gla’d’s stepped forward, threw her head back, and raised both hands toward the night sky.
“Spirit of the great Hou’d’ni, hear me; for I am Carrie Gladys Hardin! I beseech you, I who am your kindred, of your blood and kind, come to me now,” Gla’d’s invoked. “Pa Da’ko ta Gra’ko On’de, de b’oo!” She paused.
“‘In the Name of the First Creator, it is time,’” Echo whispered the translation in his partner’s ear. Just then, Gla’d’s flung her arms wide.
“Ari Ho’d’ni, ne ko’ko’be, la’la’da ge nu!” she cried.
“‘Harry Houdini, I command you, come to me!’” Echo translated again.
“Well, it’s dramatic enough,” Omega decided, sotto voce. “And the language makes it sound like a magical incantation.”
“Shush—something’s happening,” Echo hissed.
* * *
Before the alien medium, faint colors began to swirl in the darkness. Within moments the colors thickened, darkened, as the very fabric of spacetime itself seemed to distort. A bipedal, humanoid form began to take shape, hovering several feet off the ground. It was a man, some five and a half feet tall, with curly black hair, a high forehead over vivid blue eyes, and handsome, chiseled features. The crowd sucked in a collective breath of shocked excitement.
But as the ‘apparition’ of Houdini materialized, its appearance changed from the traditional aspect known from photographs, into the classic short-bodied, egg-headed look of a typical Zeta Reticulan Gray, complete with bulbous head, flattened nose, huge black eyes, and lipless mouth. The crowd surrounding the ‘medium’ shrieked in fear and drew back as far as they could. Many of those farthest from the gravesite found themselves pressed against the fence surrounding the cemetery.
* * *
Echo and Omega exchanged meaningful, mildly disturbed glances, then looked across the crowd, where Alpha Two was embedded. Omega rubbed her chin, glanced at her watch, then shook her head. It’s cool. Wait. Don’t take her yet.
Got it. Romeo nodded slightly. He made a subtle hand gesture, and he and India both sent the hand signals that forwarded the order to the other Alpha Line teams.
Meanwhile, Echo reached into his pocket, palming his cell phone. His thumb tapped several places along its screen and cover, activating the audio recording app.
‘Carrie Gladys Hardin’ held up a staying hand to the unnerved crowd.
“Hold!” she cried in English. “The spirits of the dead do not always appear as we would. Harry Houdini, I address you.”
“I…hear…” came a quavering, eerie voice, sounding almost like a distant echo.
“You know who I am.”
“You know what I seek.”
“Where is it?”
Houdini’s alien shade was silent.
“I adjure you, Harry Houdini, answer me! Where is it?”
What came from the extraterrestrial spirit’s lips next was in no wise English.
“On’de, oo de n ko’te a tw’a, n do’ok a ko’a’du’ne ba’wa’ne. Tor’ko kl’ee, bo kwa’ta’do! To’de, n do’ok la on’wa ne la’la’du wo’of. D’an, der klo’vi’t do’n. K’oi’du de we. Nda’da’be. Tra’de, ba on’de, n do’ok la on’de ne k’ap wi’if’de’z, n fes’nus pe’dun ge’da n nu’ke’ke. Ka’de, n do’ok la ne du ka’ka’du b’an dan kre. Gun’gun oi’ko’s’un, wo ga lo om, qu’a’du bre. Kin’de, n do’ok k’en’ti’do, der ne wo ku. Wo’pe’wo’be p’op n b’oo! Bu’ke n dwa’z, der or’k lu’ke n kwa’z!”
And with that, the ghostly apparition faded into nothingness.
The frightened crowd bolted.
For what happens next see: