My name is Veronika Kane and dying, dying was just the beginning.
How was I supposed to know that getting smashed on my 21st birthday would lead me to becoming the 9th victim of a serial killer that’s been stalking Philadelphia’s streets for months? Now I’m a ghost and unlife is pretty scary. Reapers, wraiths, ghouls, gargoyles: all of the monsters that I thought were storybook characters are real! On top of it all, the powers that be in the ghost world want to enslave me and use me in their own diabolical plot to manipulate the people of the living world. Too bad I didn’t turn out to be the kind of ghost they wanted me to be, and I’m not about to let them turn me into one of their puppets. These ghosts are responsible for my murder and the murders of eight other women.
A rebellion is coming, and the ghosts that run this place are about to find out just how big a mistake they made when they had me killed.
My name is Veronika Kane and being murdered isn't the end of my story.
Wail of the Banshees is an Urban Fantasy Novel and the first book in the exciting Ghost Wars saga which features paranormal horror and action set in living Philadelphia and the ghostly world of Limbo.
Getting your throat slit in a dark alley really sucks.
Even worse than that is having to watch your blood spill onto the garbage strewn pavement of that dark alley and being powerless to do anything about it.
I stood above my crumpled form watching in sick fascination as a dark pool of blood gathered around me. It really is amazing how much blood there is in a human body; you really can’t imagine it until you’ve seen it.
I was rooted to this spot from the first instant following the brutal attack. I was forced to watch as I died at my own feet. I wanted to cry out for help but my throat refused to produce any sound, and I couldn’t seem to move my new spirit body. It was after three in the morning and the shadowed streets of West Philadelphia were quiet; no one came to help as I watched myself gasp for the last time.
I waited for the white light, for my spirit to rise up into the celestial city of the Almighty. When this didn’t happen, I braced myself for the impending descent into the fiery pits of hell. Still nothing happened.
A half hour passed before I saw the flashing lights of a slowly moving patrol car. An officer was moving along the sidewalk peering into the dark alleyways of the street while his partner trailed in their squad car. After a few more minutes of searching, a beam of light swept over my still body. The young cop let out a cry of discovery and ran forward drawing his pistol while calling out to his partner. Philadelphia’s finest had found me; unfortunately they were too late.
My name is Veronika Kane and I guess I’m a ghost now. Today, or I should say yesterday, was my twenty first birthday.
I’d gone out with some of my friends from the University of Pennsylvania to celebrate my now legal drinking age. We’d partied late into the night, getting smashed and having fun doing it. As the night wore on, friends left and new ones arrived, but in the end I was the last to say goodnight to my favorite club: The Electric Factory in Center City. I rode the bus back to West City where my apartment was located, but rather than transfer to a second bus I decided to walk the remaining seven or eight blocks to my home. The fall evening was comfortably cool and I wanted to sober up a little before bed. This was only my second time getting drunk, and I wasn’t used to the dizzying feeling that came with it. My ears were buzzing like the crackling speakers before Motley Crew took the stage, and the earth wouldn’t stop moving even when I paused to catch my breath.
The attack came suddenly, without warning. I was grabbed from behind by powerful arms. One quickly wrapped around my neck while the other pinned my arms to my sides. The man was tall. I’m five-nine but he towered at least six to eight inches over me. He picked me up off the ground and whispered in my ear.
“Shhhh…be a good girl and be still,” his voice was gruff and he stank of onions and rotten meat.
Fear washed over me like a bucket of cold water being dumped over my head. My stomach lurched and sudden nausea threatened to make me puke. I tried to struggle, but the intense fear that wracked my gut and the sickening vertigo that was overwhelming my senses conspired to make the attempt at resistance futile. I fought against the rising panic that threatened to engulf me and tried to calm myself through meditation exercises. It was the most difficult thing I’d ever done, but the years of grueling training in my dad’s dojo kicked in and I was able to calm myself enough to think past the terror that made it near impossible for me to breathe without hyperventilating.
The man slung me over his shoulder and I promptly barfed all over his back. He growled in anger and disgust but didn’t flinch or put me down to clean himself off. He just started walking. He carried me several blocks until he turned into the dank alley that I now found myself in. Throwing up had made me feel a little better. The world wasn’t spinning anymore, but I still felt weak and sick. Once we reached the back of the narrow alley, he swung me back around to his front but didn’t put me down. Instead he maintained a tight hold on me with one powerful arm. I heard him fumbling around for something in his coat, and I instinctively knew that I had to get away now. This was probably the only chance I’d get; I slumped against him as if I’d fainted. Fear and hope warred over me and threatened to make me puke again as the man loosened his grip on me and began lowering me to the ground. As soon as my feet hit the dirt and garbage strewn pavement I shot my right elbow back and connected with his ribs. He let go of me in surprise, and I launched myself forward, running for the street. But I was still intoxicated, and he was quicker than me. He cried out in rage and caught me from behind before I could escape. I whirled around and tried to push him back with a front kick but he sidestepped my clumsy move, and I stumbled past him and fell into a pile of garbage. Desperation overwhelmed the hope that had filled me just a few moments ago. I scrambled ungracefully back to my feet and started run- ning. Laughter chased me and all hope died when I realized I was going the wrong way. The back of the alley was blocked off.
My attacker didn’t bother trying to catch me this time though. He simply came up behind me as I desperately searched for another escape route: perhaps a basement window that I could crawl into. He reached around me and slit my throat with the long knife that he’d drawn from a concealed sheath. I watched, stunned, as my body fell forward. My spirit though remained erect, rooted to the spot.
I got my first glimpse of my attacker’s features as he stared down at me with wide and unblinking eyes. He was a giant of a man, standing almost six foot five and muscled like a body- builder. He was quite handsome with long, chestnut brown hair that was bound in a ponytail. His nose was long and narrow, while his cheeks were dimpled. He had a sharp chin and full lips; straight white teeth gleamed in the darkness as he smiled down at my crumpled form. His eyes were midnight black and seemed to hold a madness that was all consuming. He licked the blood coated knife that he’d slit my throat with and shook his head at me.
“That’s what you get bitch,” he said. “I could have taught you so much. You would have screamed so prettily, and you would have learned so much. But you had to ruin it all by trying to escape. I couldn’t let that happen. There’s still too much work to do, so many pretty things to teach how to scream. I can’t serve the Dark Master if I get caught. It’s such a waste, I know, but I just couldn’t take the risk with you.”
He removed a thin brush from an inner pocket of the jeans jacket he wore and dipped it in the expanding pool of blood at his feet. He then used the brush to write words upon the wall of a nearby building. I stared at the writing in surprise; it appeared to be in Akkadian, one of the later cuneiforms. Ancient languages were a particular interest of mine: Akkadian culture had figured prominently in several of my projects at Penn. I didn’t know what the words said though. I wouldn’t be able to decipher them without a few books that were in my apartment. As you might imagine, dead languages take a very long time to master. I couldn’t begin to imagine how this guy could write this language, let alone understand it.
Satisfied with his handiwork, the killer surprised me once more by looking directly at me: the ghost me, as if he could see me. He grinned and then walked out of the alley leaving me alone to die.
The young officer bent over my still body reaching for my wrist to check my pulse. After a moment he rose, shaking his head at his partner who had parked the police cruiser facing into the alley so that its headlights could offer more light. The second officer used his hand radio to call for the forensics team and a homicide detective. The two men then set about making sure that the area was secure. I watched numbly, still unable to move or make a sound. Within minutes of the call-in, distant sirens could be heard; they grew louder as the emergency crews approached the crime scene.
The ambulance crew was the first to arrive on the scene; jumping out of their vehicle they rushed forward, medical kits in hand. The officers tried to wave them off but one of the EMTs, a young lady about my age, ignored them and continued to move towards me while her companion, an older male, changed directions and ambled over to talk to the officers. The female medic froze when she saw the pool of blood around me, and I saw the light of hope die in her eyes. She came forward anyway and checked my pulse before withdrawing and beginning the long wait for the forensics team to start their work. Once all the evidence was gathered from the crime scene, the EMTs would transport my body to the city morgue. Two more sector cars arrived on the scene next, followed by a homicide detective in an unmarked vehicle, and finally the forensics team was last on the scene. A crowd of onlookers had begun to form on the opposite side of the street. They were kept at bay by a uniformed officer.
The homicide detective, wearing a cheap dark suit, entered the alley as soon as he arrived. He inspected the scene without touching anything. He was of average height with piercing blue eyes, curly dark hair and a neatly trimmed mustache. He stayed near me until the forensics crew arrived. He had a sad but determined look about him; his presence somehow comforted me. The forensics team did their work quickly but carefully, taking photographs of the scene and then collecting various samples. The city medical examiner took charge of my body: he was a pudgy balding man with glasses. He examined my body thoroughly and spoke quietly into a mini-recorder. The detective had moved off to consult with the original officers on the scene and he was joined by a second detective. She was a tired looking woman in her middle to late thirties. As soon as the forensics team was done with the preliminary cataloging of the scene, the detectives joining the medical examiner and began to search through my pockets and hand bag.
“Hey Bob,” said the male detective. “How’s it fucking hanging?”
“Still got that potty mouth I see,” Bob, the Medical Examiner, retorted. “I would have thought you’d have cured him of that by now Wendi.”
The female detective, Wendi, shook her head with a sigh of the long suffering.
“Not fucking likely,” the male detective replied. “You find anything unusual?”
“Not really,” Bob answered with a shake of his head. “It’s what it looks like: her jugular was slashed with a very big knife. She bled out. The attacker was strong and big and knew how to use a knife; the cut was clean and very precise. There’s bruising consistent with large hands on her arms and shoulders. She was killed here in the alley but was probably grabbed elsewhere. There are also signs that she vomited recently.”
“Veronika Kane, age 21,” said the male detective as he read my license. “God damn it. It was her fucking birthday.”
“Hold it together, Frank,” said Wendi. “At least this one didn’t have to go through what the other ones did. I wonder why he killed this one so quickly.”
The male detective, Frank I guess, didn’t say anything for a moment. As he continued to search through my purse, Wendi searched my body; both wore latex gloves.
“I’ll leave the rest of this in your capable hands,” Bob said standing up and heading off towards his car. “Come by tomorrow for the autopsy report. Maybe preliminaries will be ready from toxicology.”
Wendi waved goodbye to the departing medical examiner, but Frank didn’t seem to notice his departure.
“I’m guessing she put up more of a fight than our guy is fucking used to,” Frank finally said in reply to Wendi’s question. He’d retrieved another card from my wallet. “She’s a fucking jiu-jitsu master with credentials from the University City Dojo according to this.”
All those years working out, learning to defend myself, the competitions, the grueling hard work, the broken bones, all of it had been a waste. Why was God punishing me? Why had He let me be killed in such a brutal way without even a chance to fight back? Why was I being forced to stand here, unable to move or speak? Why was I being forced to watch this horrific scene out of a Law & Order episode? I suddenly recalled what a born-again friend had once told me, “Hell isn’t a fiery pit. It’s existence without God, all alone for eternity.” Was I in Hell? Had I truly been so bad that I deserved this end?
I had worked hard my entire life, earning A’s and always com- ing near the top of the class in school. I was athletic. I had played several sports but favored the martial arts, both hand-to-hand and sword forms. My parents were immigrants from Russia; they had fled the Iron Curtain of the early sixties to find a new life in America. My father opened the University City Dojo and my mother worked for a telecom company. I was a lone child. Now my parents would have nothing. I never did drugs, and last night had only been the second time I’d ever gotten drunk. I had overcome the teenage peer pressure to have sex, saving myself for someone I truly loved. Was it because I went to church infrequently, didn’t confess my sins every day, wasn’t born again, wasn’t a Jehovah’s Witness or a Mormon? Somehow, I’d always believed that being a good person was good enough, that God as a loving father would accept me for who I am. Apparently I was wrong.
“It’s really a shame,” said Wendi. “She might have been able to kick his ass or at least get away if she hadn’t been drunk.”
“How do you know she was fucking drunk?” Frank asked. “A little deductive reasoning,” Wendi answered. She raised my limp hand and turned it over so that the purple entrance tattoo that had been stamped there was visible to Frank. “She spent some time at the Electric Factory. The stamp is dated. We can start tracking her movements from there. I’ll bet you twenty bucks that when toxicology comes back it will show that she was drunk. It was her twenty first birthday after all, and Bob said she’d vomited recently.”
Frank shook his head, a sad expression on his face.
So, a short life’s hard work came down to one mistake. One failure. Some people spend a whole lifetime avoiding consequences; apparently I wasn’t so lucky. The truth of what Wendi said hit me hard. Though my attacker had been much bigger and stronger than me, I knew that things would have been different if I hadn’t been smashed. The chances of my having been able to escape were very high; I had managed to free myself of his grasp twice. With my full faculties I was sure that I could have eluded him. I wanted to cry, to scream, but neither tears nor sound would come. I just stood there frozen, surrounded by lights and people, but I was dead and alone now. I would never see my parents again, never hold my mom or laugh with my dad. A whole life of promise and hope was lost to me. I’d never marry or have kids of my own.
“Hopefully the fucking forensics team will turn something up,” said Frank. “If Veronika’s death gets us the fucking clue we need to nail this asshole, her death won’t be completely meaningless, though I fucking doubt that that will be much of a consolation to her parents.”
Frank stood and moved to the nearby wall where my assailant had written on it with my blood. He withdrew a sheaf of paper from his pocket and compared the notes on it to the writing on the wall.
“It’s fucking exact,” he said. “The wails of the spirits shall herald the Dark Master’s victory over death.”
“I still think there’s something wrong with that translation,” said Wendi. “It just doesn’t sound right.”
“Look Wendi, we’ve fucking been through this before,” exclaimed Frank in exasperation. “If you want another fucking translation bring it up to Templetown. Just because Penn is preeminent in archaeology doesn’t mean they fucking know everything. Since there might be a fucking religious context involved in this case maybe your old man will be able to help.”
Wendi grimaced in frustration but finally nodded. She was a pretty woman in that girl next door sort of way and unlike her partner, she was dressed elegantly in a grey Theory suit with red silk blouse and stylish but utilitarian shoes that matched the suit. Her eyes were brown as was her curly, shoulder length hair.
“Alright,” she replied dejectedly. “I’ll take it over in the morning. I think we’re done here.”
“Rest in peace Veronika Kane,” said Frank as he looked over my fallen body one last time before he and Wendi withdrew from the alley and headed for their respective cars.
The paramedics were finally allowed to come forward. I watched with a sense of finality as they lifted my body onto a gurney, wheeled it to the ambulance, and a few moments later quietly drove away. The forensics team returned to bag all of the trash and debris they could lay their hands on. When they’d taken everything that wasn’t nailed down, a clean-up crew was called in to get as much of the blood off the ground as they could. The result was that this alleyway was now the cleanest in the city, though it was now haunted by a ghost and marked with a water proof chalk outline of a body. The writing on the wall was also cleaned away, it had been extensively photographed, and the ubiquitous yellow police crime scene tape remained as evidence that a crime had taken place here recently. Once the clean-up was completed, I was again left alone, still unable to move or call for help.
I waited for hours, alone with my thoughts. I feared that I would be stuck to this place for eternity. As the hours passed and dawn approached, a mist began to fill the alley. Within minutes the street was obscured and the buildings around me were barely visible; their looming shadows seeming to brood over the landscape. I shivered as a sense of dread washed over me.
Another hour passed. Dawn bloomed over the city, but the mist did not die out. The city was strangely quiet; no traffic seemed to move on the street beyond the alley. Suddenly two large shapes appeared at the mouth of the alley. They looked vaguely human but something was weird about their forms. They were dark and massive, probably around seven feet tall, and their shape reminded me of the Thing from The Fantastic Four comic books. I wanted to run, to scream for help, but I was still stuck in place, unable to do either. I closed my eyes tightly, praying that I would wake up from this obvious nightmare.
“Here it is,” one of the monstrous creatures said in a deep guttural voice. “It be another shade.”
“This be the last one to harvest,” said the other creature, this one’s voice was grating, like fingernails on a chalkboard. “This one not banshee like supposed to be. Great Master will be angry.” “Yup,” echoed the first black monster. “We hurry now; tell
Great Master what we find.”
I opened my eyes futilely hoping that I would be back in my apartment. The things were standing just a few feet from me now; one of them reached an enormous clawed arm towards me. The creatures were black as night with glowing red eyes, no noses that I could see, and red gaping mouths with unnaturally white, jagged teeth that a great white shark would be jealous of.
I was still clearly in the nightmare.
I tried to shy away from the things touch but was still unable to move. I convulsed in agony as the creature’s claws tore into me; they sank deep into my ghostly body. I was finally able to scream; all of my fear, anger, frustration, and pain bubbled up in a long wail that seemed to shake the buildings around us.
The demonic apparition that held me paused to peer more closely at me.
“This one scream like banshee,” it said.
“It be a shade,” said its companion. “See it? It not a pretty banshee; it all foggy like a shade. Now we go.”
I looked down at myself, noticing for the first time that my body was different. In life I’d been beautiful: long straight black hair and piercing blue eyes had framed a delicate face. My lips had been full, my nose perfectly shaped. I had an athlete’s body with long, perfectly toned legs, small hips, a flat stomach, and boobs that guys couldn’t take their eyes off of. Now, my body was wreathed in a grey, misty fog. My features weren’t visible beneath the thick cloak of fog that wreathed my form. The brute that held me had buried its claws deep into me; there was no blood, but it still hurt like hell.
The ghostly thug pulled on me. There was resistance for an agonizing moment and then a tearing feeling. Once more I screamed, more in hopelessness than pain. As the creatures carried me to god knows where, I wept, the tears finally flowing. I also found that I was able to move, for all the good that did me now. I knew instinctively that the tearing that I’d felt a moment ago was my last connection to the living world. I was in hell or something near enough to it. My life was over; there was no going back now.