Lockwood & Co. might be the smallest (some might say shambolic) Psychic Detection Agency in London. But its three agents - Lockwood, Lucy and George - are. Read "Lockwood & Co. Book Three: The Hollow Boy" by Jonathan Stroud available from Rakuten Kobo. Sign up today and get $5 off your first download. Book Three: The Hollow Boy - Ebook written by Jonathan Stroud. Read this book using Google Play Books app on your PC, android, iOS devices. Download for.
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I dont want to worry you or anything, but theres something white creeping toward us up the street. He was right. Far off in the dusk, a pale form could just be seen. It drifted slowly above the sidewalk in the shadows of the houses, coming in our direction. Lockwood shrugged; he didnt even bother looking.
Oh, its probably just a shirt flapping on someones line. Its still early. Wont be anything nasty yet. George and I glanced at each other. It was that time of year when the days were scarcely lighter than the nights, and the dead began walking during the darkest afternoons.
On the way over from the Tube, in fact, wed seen a Shade on Whitechapel High Road, a faint twist of darkness standing brokenly in the gutter, being spun and buffeted by the tailwinds of the last cars hurrying home. So nasty things were out alreadyas Lockwood well knew. Since when has a flapping shirt had a head and spindly legs attached? George asked. He removed his glasses, rubbed them dry, and returned them to his nose.
Lucy, you tell him. He never listens to me. Yes, come on, Lockwood, I said. We cant just stand here all night. If were not careful, well get picked off by that ghost. Lockwood smiled. We wont. Our friends in the hall have to answer us. Not to do so would be an admission of guilt.
Any second now theyll come to the door, and well be invited inside. Trust me. Theres no need to worry.
And the point about Lockwood was that you believed him, even when he said far-fetched stuff like that. Right then he was waiting quite casually on the step, one hand resting on his sword hilt, as crisply dressed as ever in his long coat and slim dark suit.
His dark hair flopped forward over his brow. The light from the hallway shone on his lean, pale face, and sparkled in his dark eyes as he grinned across at me. He was a picture of poise and unconcern.
Its how I want to remember him, the way he was that night: with horrors up ahead and horrors at our back, and Lockwood standing in between them, calm and unafraid. George and I werent quite so stylish in comparison, but we looked all business nonetheless. Dark clothes, dark boots; George had even tucked his shirt in. All three of us carried backpacks and heavy leather duffel bagsold, worn, and spotted with ectoplasm burns.
An onlooker, recognizing us as psychic investigation agents, would have assumed that the bags were filled with the equipment of our trade: salt-bombs, lavender, iron filings, silver Seals and chains. This was in fact quite true, but I also carried a skull in a jar, so we werent entirely predictable. We waited. The wind blew in dirty gusts between the houses. Iron spirit-wards swung on ropes high above us, clicking and clattering The Hollow Boy like witches teeth. The white shape flitted stealthily toward us down the street.
I zipped up my parka, and edged closer to the wall. Yep, its a Phantasm approaching, the voice from my backpack said, in whispers only I could hear. Its seen you, and its hungry. Personally, I reckon its got its eye on George. Lockwood, I began. We really have to move. But Lockwood was already stepping back from the door. No need, he said. What did I tell you? Here they are.
Shadows rose behind the glass. Chains rattled, the door swung wide. A man and a woman stood there. They were probably murderers, but we didnt want to startle them. We put on our best smiles. The Lavender Lodge guesthouse had come to our attention two weeks earlier. The local police in Whitechapel had been investigating the cases of several peoplesome salesmen, but mostly laborers working on the nearby London dockswhod gone missing in the area.
It had been noticed a number of these men had been staying at an obscure boardinghouseLavender Lodge, on Cannon Lane, Whitechapelshortly before they disappeared.
The police had visited; theyd spoken to the proprietors, a Mr. Evans, and even searched the premises. Theyd found nothing. But they were adults. They couldnt see into the past. They couldnt detect the psychic residue of crimes that might have been committed there. For that, they needed an agency to help out. We agreed to pay Mr. Evans a little call. And here we were. Given the suspicions about them, Id half expected the owners of Lavender Lodge to look pretty sinister, but that wasnt the case at all.
If they resembled anything, it was a pair of elderly owls roosting on a branch. They were short, roundish, and gray-haired, with soft, blank, sleepy faces blinking at us behind large spectacles. Their clothes were heavy and somehow old-fashioned. They pressed close to each other, filling the doorway.
Beyond them I could see a grimy, tasseled ceiling light, and dingy wallpaper. The rest was hidden. Lockwood gave a slight bow.
Anthony Lockwood, of Lockwood and Co. I rang you earlier. These are my associates, Lucy Carlyle and George Cubbins. They gazed at us. For a moment, as if we were conscious that the fate of five people had reached a tipping point, no one spoke. Whats it regarding, please? I dont know how old the man waswhen I see someone older than thirty, time sort of concertinas for mebut he was definitely closer to coffin than crib.
He had wisps of hair oiled back across his scalp, and nets of wrinkles stapled around his eyes. He blinked at us, all absentminded and benign. As I said on the phone, we wanted to talk with you about one of your past residents, a Mr. Benton, Lockwood said. Part of an official Missing Persons inquiry. Perhaps we could come in? Itll be dark soon, the woman said. Oh, it wont take long. Lockwood used his best smile.
I The Hollow Boy contributed a reassuring grin. George was too busy staring at the white shape drifting up the street to do anything other than look nervous. Evans nodded; he stepped slowly back and to the side. Yes, of course, but best to do it quickly, he said. Its late. Not long before theyll be coming out. He was far too old to see the Phantasm, now crossing the road toward us.
We didnt like to mention it either. We just smiled and nodded, and as swiftly as we decently could without pushing followed Mrs.
Evans into the house. Evans let us go past, then shut the door softly, blocking out the night, the ghost, and the rain. They took us down a long hallway into the public lounge, where a fire flickered in a tiled grate.
The decor was the usual: cream woodchip wallpaper, worn brown carpet, ranks of decorated plates, and prints in ugly golden frames. A few armchairs were scattered about, angular and comfortless, and there was a radio, a liquor cabinet, and a small TV. A big wooden hutch on the back wall carried cups, glasses, sauce bottles, and other breakfast things; and two sets of folding chairs and plastic-topped tables confirmed that this single room was where guests ate as well as socialized.
Right now we were the only ones there. We put our bags down. George wiped the rain off his glasses again; Lockwood ran a hand through damp hair. Evans stood facing us in the center of the room.
Close up, their owl-like qualities had intensified. They were stoop-necked, roundshouldered, he in a shapeless cardigan, she in a dark woolen dress. They remained standing close together: elderly, but not, I thought, under all their heavy clothes, particularly frail. They did not offer us seats; clearly they hoped for a short conversation. Benson, you said his name was? Evans asked. He stayed here recently, I said. Three weeks ago. You confirmed that on the phone. Hes one of several missing people who Yes, yes.
Weve talked to the police about him. But I can show you the guest book, if you like. Humming gently, the old man went to the hutch.
His wife remained motionless, watching us. He returned with the book, opened it, and handed it to Lockwood. You can see his name there. Thank you. While Lockwood made a show of studying the pages, I did the real work. I listened to the house. They were stoop-necked, roundshouldered, he in a shapeless cardigan, she in a dark woolen dress. They remained standing close together: They did not offer us seats; clearly they hoped for a short conversation. Benson, you said his name was?
Evans asked. He stayed here recently, I said. Three weeks ago. You confirmed that on the phone. Hes one of several missing people who Yes, yes. Weve talked to the police about him. But I can show you the guest book, if you like.
Humming gently, the old man went to the hutch. His wife remained motionless, watching us. He returned with the book, opened it, and handed it to Lockwood. You can see his name there. Thank you. While Lockwood made a show of studying the pages, I did the real work. I listened to the house. It was quiet, psychically speaking.
I detected nothing. Okay, there was a muffled voice coming from my backpack on the floor, but that didnt count. Nows your chance! Kill them both, and its job done!
I gave the pack a subtle kick with the heel of my boot, and the voice fell silent. Can you remember much about Mr. In the firelight, Georges doughy face and sandy hair gleamed palely; the swell of his stomach pressed tight against his sweater.
He hitched up his belt, subtly checking the gauge on his thermometer. Or any of your missing residents, for that matter? Chat with them much at all? Not really, the old man said. What about you, Nora? Evans had nicotine-yellow hairthin up top, and fixed in Like her husbands, her skin was wrinkled, though her lines radiated from the corners of her mouth, as if you might draw her lips tight like the top of a string bag.
No, she said. But its not surprising. Few of our guests stay long. We cater to the trade, Mr. Evans added. Salesmen, you know. Always moving on. There was a silence.
The room was heavy with the scent of lavender, which keeps unwanted Visitors away. Fresh bunches sat in silver tankards on the mantelpiece and windows. There were other defenses, too: It was a safe room, almost ostentatiously so. Anyone staying here now? I asked. Not at present. How many guest rooms do you have? Four on the second floor, two at the top. And which of them do you sleep in? What a lot of questions, Mr. Evans said, from such a very young lady. I am of the generation that remembers when children were children.
Not psychic investigation agents with swords and an over-inquisitive manner. We sleep on the ground floor, in a room behind the kitchen.
NowI think we have told the police all this. I am not entirely sure why you are here. Well be going soon, Lockwood said. If we could just have a look at the room Mr. Benton stayed in, well be on our way. How still they were suddenly, like gravestones rising in the center of the lounge. Over by the hutch, George ran his finger down the side of the ketchup bottle. It had a thin layer of dust upon it.
Im afraid thats impossible, Mr. Evans said.
The room is made up for new guests. We dont want it disturbed. All trace of Mr. Bentonand the other residentswill be long gone. I must ask you to leave. He moved toward Lockwood. Despite the carpet slippers, the cardigan on the rounded shoulders, there was decisiveness in the action, an impression of suddenly flexing strength.
Lockwood had many pockets in his coat. Some contained weapons and lock-picking wires; one, to my certain knowledge, had an emergency store of tea bags. From another he took a small plastic card. This is a warrant, he said.
It empowers Lockwood and Co. If you wish to check, call Scotland Yard. Inspector Montagu Barnes would be happy to talk to you.
The old man shrank back, biting his lip. Lockwoods smile was wolf-like. As I said, we just wish to take a look upstairs. Theres nothing supernatural here, Mrs. Evans said, scowling. Look around.
See the defenses. Her husband patted her arm. Its all right, Nora. Theyre agents. Its our duty to help them. Benton, if I recall, stayed in Room Two, on the top floor. Straight up the stairs, two flights and youre there. You wont miss it. Lockwood picked up his duffel bag. Why not leave your things? Evans suggested. The stairs are narrow, and its a long way up. We just looked at him. George and I shrugged our bags onto our backs. Well, take your time up there, Mr.
There was no light on upstairs. From the semidarkness of the stairwell, filing after the others, I looked back through the door at the little couple. Evans stood in the middle of the lounge, pressed side by side, ruby-red and flickering in the firelight. They were watching us as we climbed, their heads tilted at identical angles, their spectacles four circles of reflected flame. What do you think? George whispered from above.
Lockwood had paused and was inspecting a heavy fire door halfway up the flight. It was bolted open, flush against the wall. I dont know how, but theyre guilty.
Guilty as sin. George nodded. Did you see the ketchup? No ones had breakfast here in a long time. They must know its all over for them, I said as we went on. If something bad happened to their guests up here, were going to sense it. They know what Talents we have.
What do they expect us to do when we find out? Lockwoods reply was interrupted by a stealthy tread on the stair behind. Looking back, we caught a glimpse of Mr. Evanss gleaming face, his hair disarranged, eyes wild and staring.
He reached for the fire door, began swinging it shut In a flash Lockwoods rapier was in his hand. He sprang back down, coat flying The fire door slammed, slicing off the light from downstairs.
The rapier cracked against wood. As we stood in the dark, we heard bolts being forced into place. Then we heard our captor laughing through the door. Evans, Lockwood said, open this now. The old mans voice was muffled, but distinct. You shouldve left when you had the chance! Look around all you like.
Make yourselves at home! The ghost will have found you by midnight. Ill sweep up whats left in the morning. After that it was just the clump, clump, clump of carpet slippers fading downstairs.
Brilliant, said the voice from my backpack. Outwitted by a senior citizen. What a team.
I didnt tell it to shut up this time. It kind of had a point. I suppose I should stop before things start getting messy, and tell you exactly who I am. My name is Lucy Carlyle. I make my living destroying the risen spirits of the restless dead. I can throw a salt-bomb fifty yards from a standing start, and hold off three Specters with a broken rapier as I did one time in Berkeley Square.
Im good with crowbars, magnesium flares, and candles. I walk alone into haunted rooms. I see ghosts, when I choose to look for them, and hear their voices, too. Im just under five feet six inches tall, have hair the color of a walnut coffin, and wear size seven ectoplasm-proof boots. Now were properly introduced. So I stood with Lockwood and George on the second-floor landing of the boardinghouse. All of a sudden it was very cold. All of a sudden I could hear things.
Dont suppose theres any point trying to break down the door, George said. No point at all Lockwoods voice had that far-off, absent quality it gets when hes using his Sight. Sight, Listening, and Touch: Lockwood has the sharpest eyes of us, and Im the best at Listening and Touch.
George is an all-arounder. Hes mediocre at all three. I had my finger on the light switch on the wall beside me, but I didnt flick it on. Darkness stokes the psychic senses.
Fear keeps your Talent keen. We listened. We looked. I dont see anything yet, Lockwood said finally. Im getting voices. Whispered voices. It sounded like a crowd of people, all speaking over one another with the utmost urgency, yet so faint it was impossible to understand a thing.
What does your friend in the jar say? Its not my friend. I prodded the backpack. Theres ghosts up here. Lots of them. If youd listened to me, you wouldnt be in this mess, would you? Were not in a mess! I snapped. And, by the way, we cant just stab a suspect! I keep telling you this! We didnt even know they were guilty then! Lockwood cleared his throat meaningfully.
Sometimes I forgot that the others couldnt hear the ghosts half of the conversation. Sorry, I said. Hes just being annoying, as usual. Says theres lots of ghosts. The luminous display on Georges thermometer flashed briefly Temp update, he said. Its dropped eight degrees since the foot of the stairs. That fire door acts as a barrier. The pencil beam of Lockwoods flashlight speared downward and picked out the ridged gray surface of the door. Look, its got iron bands on it. That keeps our nice little old couple safe in their living quarters on the ground floor.
But anyone who rents a room up here falls victim to something lurking in the dark He turned the flashlight beam wide and circled it slowly around us. We were standing just below a shabby landingneat enough, but cheaply furnished with purple curtains and an old cream carpet.
Several numbered plywood doors gleamed dully in the shadows. A few dog-eared magazines lay in a pile on an ugly bureau, near where a further flight of stairs led to the top floor. It was supernaturally cold, and there was ghost-fog stirring. Faint wreaths of pale green mist were rising from the carpet and winding slowly around our ankles.
The flashlight began to flicker, as if its fresh battery were failing and would soon wink out altogether. A feeling of unquantifiable dread deepened in us. I shivered. Something wicked was very close. Lockwood adjusted his gloves. His face glowed in the flashlight beam, his dark eyes shone. As always, peril suited him. All right, he said softly. Listen to me. We keep calm, we take care of whatevers up here, then we find a way to tackle Evans.
George, rig up an iron circle here. Lucy, see what else the skull has to say. Ill check out the nearest room. With that he lifted his rapier, pushed open a door, and disappeared inside, long coat swirling behind him. We got to work. George took out a lantern and set it on low; by its light, he busied himself with the iron chains, creating a decent circle in the center of the carpet.
I opened my backpack andwith some difficultytook out a large, faintly luminous glass jar.
Its top was secured by a complex plastic seal and, inside it, floating in green liquid, was a leering face. And I dont mean nicely leering. This was more the kind you get behind bars in a high-security prison. It was the face of a ghosta Phantasm or Spectertied to the skull that rested in the jar. It was godless and disreputable and had no known name.
I glared at it. Are you going to be sensible now? The toothless lips grinned awfully. Im always sensible! What do you want to know? What are we dealing with up here?
A cluster of spirits. Theyre restless and unhappy and Hold on, Im getting something else The face contorted suddenly. Ooh, thats bad. Thats real bad. If I were you, Lucy, Id find a window and jump out.
So what if you break both legs in several places? Its better than staying in here. What have you found? Another entity. Cant tell what it is yet. But its strong and hungry, and The bulging eyes looked sidelong at me. No, sorry, theres a limit to what I can sense, imprisoned in this cruel jar. Now, if you let me out, on the other hand I snorted.
Thats not going to happen, as well you know. But Im an invaluable member of the team! Says who? You spend most of the time cheering when we nearly die. The rubbery lips screwed tight in outrage. I hardly ever do that now! Things have changed between us. You know thats true! Well, it was sort of right. Things had changed between us and the skull.
When it had first begun talking to me, some months before, wed viewed it with suspicion, irritation, and distaste. However, as the weeks passed and wed gotten to know it properly, wed learned to really despise it, too. George had long ago stolen the ghost-jar from a rival agency, but it was only when Id accidently twisted a lever in the lid that I realized that the spirit trapped there could actually speak to me.
At first it was simply hostile; gradually, however, perhaps out of boredom or a desire for companionship, it had begun offering help in supernatural matters.
Sometimes this was useful, but the ghost was untrustworthy. It had no morals worth speaking of, and more vices than you would think possible for a disembodied head floating in a jar.
Its evil nature affected me more than the others, for I was the one who actually talked to it, who had to put up with the gleeful voice echoing in my mind. I tapped the glass, making the face squint in surprise. Concentrate on this powerful spirit. I want you to locate its Sourcefind where its hidden.
With that, I stood up. George had finished the circle around me. A moment later Lockwood emerged onto the landing and joined us both inside the chains. He was as calm and composed as ever. Well, that was horrible. What was? The decor in that bedroom. Lilac, green, and what I can only describe as a kind of bilious off-yellow. None of the colors went atall.
So theres no ghost there? Ah, there is, as it happens. Ive fixed it in position with salt and iron, so its safe enough for now. Go and look, if you like. Ill replenish supplies here.
George and I took our flashlights but didnt switch them on. We didnt need to. We were in a paltry little bedroom. It had a single bed, a narrow dresser, and a tiny window, black and studded with rain. All this was illuminated by a horizontal orb of other-light that hung above the bed, merging into the pillows and bedsheets. In its center reclined the ghost of a man in striped pajamas. He lay on his back, as if asleep, his limbs hovering slightly above the sheets.
He had a small mustache and rumpled hair. His eyes were closed; his toothless mouth sagged against a stubble-dusted chin. Cold air streamed from the apparition. Twin circles of salt and iron-filings, emptied by Lockwood from the canisters on his belt, encircled the bed.
Whenever the pulsing aura drew too close, the particles of salt ignited, spitting out green fire. Whatever they charge for a room in this place, George said, its way too much.
We withdrew to the landing. Lockwood had refilled his canisters and was reattaching them to his belt. See him, did you? Yes, I said. Think thats one of the missing men? The question is, what killed him? The skull says theres a powerful spirit here. Says its a bad one.
Thatll be on the prowl at midnight. Well, we cant wait till then. Lets see if we can hunt it down. We checked the next bedroom, and the bathroom next to that. Both were clear. But when I opened the fourth door, I found two ghosts within. One man lay on the single bed, much as the V isitor had in the other room, only curled on his side, with one arm bent beneath his head.
He was older, thickset, with sandy hair cut very short, and dark blue pajamas. His eyes were open, staring into nothing. Close byso close that their auras of other-light nearly touchedstood another man. He wore pajama bottoms and a white T-shirt. He looked as if he had just gotten out of bed, clothes rumpled, straggle-bearded, long black hair all tangled. I could see the carpet showing through his feet. He gazed up at the ceiling as if in mortal fear.
There are two death-glows, Lockwood said. Ones much brighter than the other. Different dates, different incidents. Something killed both these men while they were sleeping. Im just glad neither of them slept naked, George said. Particularly that hairy one. Lets pen them in. They look passive, but you never know. Got your iron, Lucy? I didnt answer him. Spectral cold was beating upon me, and with it came echoes of emotion: I opened myself up to it.
Out of the past I heard the sound of breathingthe steady breathing of a person heavily asleep. Then came a slitheringa soft, wet flapping noise, like a landed eel. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw something on the ceiling. It beckoned to me, pale and boneless. I jerked my head around, but there was nothing there. You all right, Lucy? Lockwood and George were at my side. Over by the bed, the ghost of the bearded man stared upward. He I saw something.
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