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Book of Night
Author: Holly Black

 


PROLOGUE


Any child can be chased by their shadow. All they need to do is run straight toward the sun on a lazy afternoon. As long as they keep moving, it will be right behind them. They can even turn around and try to chase it, but no matter how fast their chubby legs pump, their shadow will always be a little bit out of reach.

Not so with this child.

He runs across a yard dotted with dandelions, giggling and shrieking, his fingers close on something that shouldn’t be solid, something that shouldn’t fall before he does onto the clover and crabgrass, something he shouldn’t be able to wrestle with and pin in the dirt.

After, sitting in the mossy cool beneath a maple tree, the boy sticks the tip of his penknife into the pad of his ring finger. He turns his face away so he doesn’t have to watch. The first poke doesn’t go through the skin. The second doesn’t either. Only the third time, when he presses harder, frustration overcoming squeamishness, does he manage to cut himself. It hurts a lot, so he’s ashamed of how tiny the bead of blood is that wells up. He squeezes his skin, to see if he can get a little more. The drop swells. He can sense the shadow’s eagerness. His finger stings as a dark fog forms around it.

A breeze comes, shaking loose maple seeds. They spiral down around him, coptering through the air on their single wing.

Just a little drink every day, he’d heard someone on the television say about their shadow. And it will be your best friend in the world.

Although it has no mouth and no tongue and there is no wetness at its touch, he can tell that it’s licking his skin. He doesn’t like the feeling, but it doesn’t hurt.

He’s never had a best friend before, still he knows that they do things like this. They become blood brothers, smearing their cuts together until it’s impossible to tell where one ends and the other begins. He needs someone like that.

“I’m Remy,” he whispers to his shadow. “And I’ll call you Red.”

 

 

1

HUNGRY SHADOWS

 


Charlie’s ugly Crocs stuck to the mats on the floor behind the bar, making a sticky, squelching sound. Sweat slicked the skin under her arms, at the hollow of her throat, and between her thighs. This was her second shift today; the afternoon guy quit abruptly to follow his boyfriend to Los Angeles and she was stuck with his hours until Odette hired a replacement.

But as tired as Charlie was, she needed the cash. And she figured she better keep busy. Keeping busy meant keeping out of trouble.

There’d always been something wrong with Charlie Hall. Crooked, from the day she was born. Never met a bad decision she wasn’t willing to double down on. Had fingers made for picking pockets, a tongue for lying, and a shriveled cherry pit for a heart.

If her shadow had been one of those magic ones, she was pretty sure even that thing would have run away.

But that didn’t mean she couldn’t try to be different. And she was trying. Sure, it had been hard to keep her worst impulses in check these past ten months, but it was better than being a lit match in a town she’d already doused in gasoline.

She had a job—with a timesheet, even—and a stolid brick of a boyfriend who paid his share of the rent. Her gunshot wound was healing nicely. Little successes, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t proud of them.

It was on that thought that Charlie looked up to see a test of her resolve walk through the double doors of Rapture Bar & Lounge.

Doreen Kowalski’s face looked hot and blotchy with crying—she’d obviously tried to fix her makeup, but had wiped her mascara so hard that it winged out to one side. Back in high school, she wouldn’t have given Charlie the time of day, and she probably didn’t want to tonight either.

There are countless differences between the lives of people with money and people without. One is this: without the means to pay experts, it’s necessary to evolve a complex ecosystem of useful amateurs. When Charlie’s dad got what the doctor told him was a skin cancer, he drank a fifth of Maker’s Mark and asked a butcher friend to cut a divot out of his shoulder, because there was no way he could afford a surgeon. When Charlie’s friend’s cousin got married, they asked Mrs. Silva from three blocks over to make their wedding cake, because she loved to bake and had fancy pastry piping doodads. And if the buttercream was a little grainy or one of the layers was a bit overbaked, well, it was still sweet and just as tall as a cake in a magazine, and it cost only the price of supplies.

In the world of shadow magic, Charlie was a successful thief, but to the locals, she would always be a useful amateur, willing to palm a wedding ring or retrieve a dognapped pit bull.

Charlie Hall. Drawn to a bad idea like a moth to a wool sweater. Every hustle an opportunity to let her worst impulses out to play.

“I need to talk to you,” Doreen said loudly, reaching for Charlie as she passed.

It’d been a slow night at the lounge, but Odette, the ancient, semiretired dominatrix who owned the place, was sitting at a table out front, gossiping with her cronies. She’d notice if Charlie chatted to one person for too long, and Charlie couldn’t afford to lose this gig. Bartending at Rapture was a lucky break, given her track record.

It’d been arranged by Balthazar, who ran a shadow parlor out of the basement, speakeasy-style, and had good reasons to keep an eye on her—not the least of which was that he wanted her to come back to work for him.

And as Charlie looked over at Doreen and that familiar excitement stirred in her, she felt the precariousness of her commitment to the straight and narrow. Like a strategy for success that’s only the word “profit” with a lot of exclamation points.

“Can I get you a drink?” she asked Doreen.

Doreen shook her head. “You have to help me find Adam. He disappeared, again, and I—”

“Can’t talk now,” Charlie interrupted. “Order something to keep my boss off my back. Club soda and bitters. Cranberry and lime. Whatever. It’s on me.”

Doreen’s wet, red-rimmed eyes suggested that she’d have a hard time waiting. Or that she’d had a few drinks before she arrived. Maybe both.

“Hey,” one of the regulars called, and Charlie turned away to take his order. Made a cosmopolitan that spilled ruby red out of the shaker. Topped it with a tiny pellet of dry ice that sent smoke wafting up, as though from a potion.

She checked on another table, a guy who was nursing a beer, trembling fingers applying a third nicotine patch to his inner arm. He wanted to keep his tab open.

Charlie poured a shot of Four Roses for a tweedy guy in dirty glasses who looked like he’d been sleeping in his clothes and told her he didn’t like his bourbon too sweet. Then she crossed to the other end of the bar, pausing to make a whiskey-and-ginger for Balthazar himself when he waved her over.

“Got a job for you,” he said under his breath. With his flashing eyes, light brown skin, and curls long enough to be pulled back into a disreputable ponytail, he lorded over his shadow parlor, making the town’s corrupt dreams come true.

“Nope,” Charlie said, moving on.

“C’mon. Knight Singh got murdered in his bed, and the room was trashed. Someone made off with his personal folio of magical discoveries,” Balthazar called after her, unconvinced. “This is what you were best at.”

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