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Emma L Adams

Ghost Property: A Reaper Witch Mystery Book 5 (Paperback)

Ghost Property: A Reaper Witch Mystery Book 5 (Paperback)

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Book 5 of 9: A Reaper Witch Mystery

Welcome to Hawkwood Hollow, where the dead outnumber the living.

Maura and her ghostly brother Mart are finally making progress on revamping the Riverside Inn as a haunted tourist attraction. Now all they need to do is recruit some ghosts, which shouldn't be too hard in a town with more dead inhabitants than living ones.

Unfortunately, the first spirit who shows up to try out for the job refuses to believe he's dead… at least until his zombie appears and attacks Maura. Furious and intent on finding answers, the ghost pressures Maura into helping him find the person responsible for his death and reanimation.

Alongside Drew, her boyfriend and the head of Hawkwood Hollow's police department, Maura finds herself entangled in a mystery that goes beyond a single ghost. With zombies showing up all over the countryside and their ghosts not talking, Maura may have bitten off more than she can chew.

Can Maura catch an elusive killer or will she be the next to join the walking dead?

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Writing a job advertisement targeting ghosts was harder than one would think. 

Tonight, the Riverside Inn was quiet. Few people were in the restaurant, so my co-workers and I had decided to start on our next business venture—namely, transforming the inn into a hub of haunted ghost tours. Our first step? Recruit more ghosts. So far, all I’d done was write Ghosts Wanted across the top of a page and drawn a picture of a ghost that looked more like a blob underneath. Hey, I never said I had any artistic talent. 

I showed the drawing to Carey, the daughter of the inn’s owner and the teenage ghost blogger who’d got me a job here in Hawkwood Hollow in the first place. The ghost tour venture had also been her idea. She had far more entrepreneurial spirit than I did. And artistic talent, judging by her raised brows at my blob-ghost, though she was too polite to say anything aloud. 

“Good start,” she said. “Now we need to make our pitch.”

“What are we offering the potential recruits again?” I asked her. “How do we make the idea of working for us sound appealing? Offering a salary to a spirit isn’t exactly a viable option.”

“Hmm.” Carey’s expression turned thoughtful. “There’s got to be something all ghosts want. Except attention, of course.”

“That part goes without saying.” In my experience, ghosts wanted nothing more desperately than for the living to notice them. The allure of tourists gawking at them might be reason enough for some to apply, but recruiting the spirits was only half the battle. Getting them to behave themselves was another matter entirely. “Any thoughts on the requirements? Not everyone can see ghosts, so at a minimum, they’ll need to be able to make enough noise to qualify as a haunting.”

“We don’t want to discourage anyone from applying,” Carey pointed out. “We can stick to simple requirements at first to see how much interest we get.”

“How about this: ‘the job requires a keen interest in hauntings… and an enthusiasm for meeting new people.’” I paused. “If you classify ‘scaring the crap out of people’ as meeting them, anyway.”

“Good start.” She pulled out a notebook and began scribbling a list. “Right… I think we can go more in-depth on the requirements in the in-person interviews.”

“True.” We’d have to meet all our contenders in person, since ghosts couldn’t fill out application forms, which meant I had the dubious honour of vetting every candidate. “Some can be taught on the job, if they have enough potential, but I’m not doing that for everyone.”

“Good enough.” She lifted her pen. “Perks of the job: an audience. Think that’ll be enough?” 

My brother, Mart, drifted past us, rattling the glasses on the bar.

“Help us out, Mart,” I said to him. “You’re the ghost here. What would inspire you to respond to a job ad?”

“Free showers,” he answered.

I rolled my eyes. “I’ve never met another ghost who’s as obsessed with showers as you are. Besides, if we did the same for everyone, we’d run our hot water bills up too high to profit from these ghost tours.”

“You did ask for my opinion.” 

“What aside from free showers would attract you to work on a ghost tour?” I asked. “We can’t pay cash, and I’m not sure ghosts would much care for benefits. Or time off.”

He thought for a moment. “Entertainment.”

I blinked. “What, you want me to set up a movie night for the ghosts?”

“Not a bad call.” My fellow bartender, Jia, emerged from the kitchen door behind the bar. Today, the short Asian girl wore a scarf pattered with images of the TARDIS atop her work clothes. Like me, she could see and interact with ghosts, so at least I wouldn’t have to handle the interviews entirely on my own. “It’s cheap and easy to organise.”

“There is that,” I agreed. “Definitely cheaper than showers, at any rate. We can host movie nights in the games room so nobody will have to volunteer their room.”

By “nobody,” I meant me. I might have agreed to interview our upcoming ghosts, but I drew the line at letting them trash my room. Having one ghostly roommate was quite enough, thanks.

“Because I gave you the idea, I get to pick which movie we watch first,” Mart decided.

“We both know you’ll just pick Star Wars: A New Hope again.” Some things never changed. Including my brother. He’d been dead for over eight years and still found new ways to annoy me. Possibly because he was forever stuck at age eighteen and therefore had no incentive to act like a real adult. 

“A ghostly movie night every weekend?” Carey suggested. “Would that work?”

Despite the bright red goggles perched on her head, Carey was the one person here who couldn’t see our ghostly companion. Her goggles enabled her to detect ghosts, in theory, but they were a work in progress, and she could only hear half our conversation as a result. When you lived in the same building as a Reaper in the most haunted town in the magical world, that kind of thing came with the territory, but as a result, Carey couldn’t interact with any of our spirits. Tricky for someone who wanted to run ghost tours. 

“Put that on the list of perks,” I told Carey. “Mart claims that ghosts want to be entertained, which is probably true of most of them. They must get bored watching the same old sights day in and day out, and I think they’ll appreciate the change of scenery when they come to the inn. Add in a few movie nights, and they’ll be delighted to sign up.”

“Excellent.” She wrote that down. “That’s it for perks. Anything else?”

“We might need to narrow down the requirements a little more,” I acknowledged. “Otherwise, we’ll get every ghost in town wanting to come here to watch Star Wars.”

“And why would that be a bad thing, exactly?” Mart interjected.

“We don’t want too many ghosts in here,” I said. “Not more than one per hotel room.”

“I didn’t realise we had a ghost quota,” Jia said.

“We don’t, but it might get too confusing if we have half the ghosts in town wreaking havoc at the same time,” Carey agreed. “The people on the tour won’t know where to keep their focus if there’s too much chaos around them. We want to give them a good experience.”

“You’d better not kick out any of the ghosts who are already here,” Mart warned. “We got here first. Also, I’m a staff member.”

“We know that, Mart,” I said. “Nobody is getting kicked out, but I think we need to define the criteria when we start the interview process.”

The inn did have a couple of other resident ghosts, but they’d turned out to be apathetic at best at the idea of entertaining tourists, so they’d already been struck off the list of potential employees. I certainly wouldn’t be kicking anyone out, mostly because trying to get a ghost to do as I wanted was as futile as negotiating with a toddler.  

“See, this is why you should have kept your old Reaper textbooks,” Mart said. “You’d have a built-in list of criteria.”

“Mart, you built a fort out of my textbooks and then set it on fire when we were students at the academy.” I shook my head at him. “Also, the criteria for classifying how dangerous a spirit is aren’t the same as grading them on their ability to haunt people.”

“Some of the classifications are in the regular textbooks on ghosts,” Carey added. “The lowest level includes things like messing with the temperature in a room or turning lights on and off. Then the higher levels are things like slamming doors and levitating objects. That’s still pretty basic for a haunting, right?”

“You try lifting things without any functioning limbs,” Mart said defensively. 

“You aren’t going to get much more than that without straying into poltergeist territory, and we don’t want one of those in here,” I said. “Otherwise, skills can be individual to each ghost. We can start off by asking each ghost what they can do and then test to see if they’re being honest on their applications.”

“We’re doing application forms? Can ghosts even lift pens?” Carey asked. An instant later, her pen leapt out of her hands and clattered to the floor, startling her.

“You’ve made your point, Mart,” I said. “Most spirits won’t be able to lift a pen, much less write their own names, but I don’t expect them to. We’ll do the entire application process face-to-face. Right, Jia?”

“Yep.” As a couple of customers came in, she waved them over and served them drinks while I worked on adding “perks” and “requirements” sections to our job ad. 

After listing the criteria, I then drew a few more cartoony ghosts, creating a banner at the top of the poster. “There we go.”

Mart peered over my shoulder. “That looks like a drawing of a birthday party. Are those supposed to be balloons?”

“It’s a draft.” I looked at Carey. “Someone else can do the final design. That is, someone who can hold a pencil.”

“Low blow.” Mart scowled. My pencil jumped out of my hand and hit me square in the nose. 

“I said hold a pencil, not throw it.”

Mart sent a rude gesture in my direction that made me glad that our customers couldn’t see him. “You asked for my help, didn’t you? So ungrateful.”

“I didn’t ask for a critique of my drawing abilities. I’m a Reaper, not an artist.”

“You’re a bartender.”

“Hey, it’s a respectable profession,” said Jia. “I can’t even draw stick people anyway, so don’t ask me.”

“I’ll handle the design,” Carey said. “I’ll do it on my laptop, so we can print as many copies as we want.”

“Good idea,” I said. “I don’t want you to take time away from your blog, though.”

Carey was still working on assembling the footage of the recent trip out of town we’d taken a week or so back, when we’d gone to hunt for ghosts in another magical town called Fairy Falls. We got less footage out of that trip than we’d wanted to, and the creepy ghoul we’d found was probably too scary for Carey’s subscribers, so she’d put it on the back burner while she caught up on schoolwork.

Come to think of it, we didn’t need to traumatise any of our guests, either, so I added “no ghouls” at the bottom of the poster before handing it to Carey.

“It’s no bother,” Carey insisted. “I always planned to advertise our ghost tours on my blog as well. Or the other way around, I guess.” 

Carey’s ghost blog was growing slowly, though she now had some subscribers who weren’t her mother or me, which was a starting point. I figured she was better off keeping the channel low-key. Not just because she didn’t need to deal with the pressures of a rabid audience but because—and the same applied to our ghost tours—we needed to strike a balance between attracting enough customers to keep afloat and avoiding unwelcome attention.

Specifically, from the Reaper Council. They didn’t look kindly on unofficial Reapers, and I’d already come close to accidentally landing in hot water with one of their officials. I didn’t need them to show up on the doorstep and shut us down.

Carey opened her laptop on the table in front of the bar. “Do you think it’s worth advertising online as well as putting posters up around town?”

I raised a brow. “Do many ghosts browse the Wizarding Web?”

“All the time,” said Mart. “I do, anyway.” 

“That’s because you like to steal my phone and laptop while I’m not looking.”

And sometimes when I was looking as well. My brother’s habit of messing with technology had got me fired and evicted on multiple occasions, since the average person didn’t accept “my ghostly brother did it” as an excuse.  This was the longest I’d stayed in any given location, and to be perfectly honest, it was largely because of the others’ patience with his shenanigans. Such as leaving the shower running until it flooded the hotel room I now inhabited. I’d rather avoid hiring ghosts with the same sensibilities.

Granted, I’d found this job online when Carey had emailed me out of the blue, so maybe we could find a ghost or two that way. You never knew.

“I’ll put up the ad in the same places we put up our bartender ad, for a start,” said Carey, typing on her keyboard.

“Are you sure that’s a good idea?” I asked. “Until Jia, our applicants left much to be desired. If it’s anything like that, we’d end up with ghosts who couldn’t understand the word ‘haunting’ or who didn’t know what doors are.”

Jia snorted. “If you ask me, ghosts who search for jobs online are likely to be the enterprising sort.”

“I think it’s worth a shot.” Carey tapped more keys on her laptop. “Give me half an hour, and I’ll have the poster ready to upload everywhere we can think of.”

“I should have added that we wanted local applicants where possible,” I said. “If they aren’t local to the area, they’re going to be disappointed.” Most spirits were bound to a specific place, and while Hawkwood Hollow’s ghostly population could move around the town at will, outsiders would have difficulty getting here. 

While Carey worked on adapting my poster to a digital version, Jia and I took turns serving any customers who entered. My job was much more relaxing now that I didn’t have to handle everything alone, as I had during the difficult period after Jia’s predecessor was locked up for murder and we couldn’t find a decent replacement. The inn hadn’t exactly been a popular tourist spot to begin with, since Hawkwood Hollow’s only draw was its population of ghosts, but our reputation among the locals had taken a serious hit. Between that and the unpopularity of my decision to oust the local witch coven’s leader for covering up said murders, it was a miracle we’d stayed in business at all.

By the end of the evening shift, a stack of posters lay on the table, courtesy of Allie, Carey’s mother, who’d helped us print them out.

“Good job.” Allie surveyed the posters approvingly. “Whereabouts are you going to put these? Are there places in town where ghosts are more likely to hang out?”

“Definitely not the werewolves’ corner of town,” I said firmly. “Or anywhere popular with the shifters in general. Maybe the high street, but I can think of certain ex-coven members who’d just tear our posters straight down again.”

“Where else is there?” asked Carey. “The academy?”

“The ghosts there might be a bit young to take on a haunting job,” said Jia. “Though it’s hard to put an age limit on a job when spirits are stuck at the same age forever.”

“True,” I said. “I think creepy children might be a draw, though they might be hard to train.” 

“That’s a good point,” said Jia. “We don’t want angry ghostly five-year-olds running amok in the hallways.”

“Especially as some of us have to sleep here,” I added. “We’ll have to have set rules and working hours for all the ghosts, or else they’ll bug me all night.”

“You’re overthinking,” Mart told me.

“No, I’m drawing on my years of experience in wrangling ghosts,” I said pointedly. “Meaning one ghost in particular who makes all these rules look like an underestimate of what we might need.”

Jia grinned. “For a start, I can put a poster up on the door of the inn. By morning, at least a few ghosts will know about it, I guarantee. Ghosts are worse than the coven for gossiping with one another.”

“You’ve got that right.”

While Jia went to put up the first poster, I helped Carey sort the others into piles for distribution throughout town. I fixed one to the wall of the restaurant, and Jia came to help me put another on the wall in the lobby.

“I’ll put one upstairs,” she offered. “Where else? The games room?”

Just then, the restaurant door opened. A pale wizard with white-blond hair entered, dressed in a smart suit. 

“We’re closed,” said Jia. “Oh, wait, never mind.”

My mouth parted, then I saw Carey’s puzzled expression and realised the man who’d walked in was a ghost. A fairly strong one, in fact, considering that he’d opened the door in an exact imitation of a living person.

“Can I help you?” I asked him. 

“I’m here to answer your job ad,” he said. “Unless I’m too late.”

“You came to answer our ad?” I echoed. Not the online one Carey had just posted, surely. We hadn’t even distributed any posters yet, unless you counted the ones already inside the inn. 

He drew himself upright. “Yes, that’s what I said.”

Wow. This had to be some kind of record. “We weren’t going to start doing interviews until tomorrow. Did you read about us online, or did you see one of our posters?”

“No, I saw the ad in a newspaper.”

“You…” I trailed off. “I think you have the wrong place.” Typical. 

Jia cleared her throat. “Erm, Maura, I think he’s responding to the original bartender ad. The one I applied for.”

Oops. “We took that down weeks ago.” Also, that ad had been for a living bartender, not a ghost, so he was a little late for that one. 

“Oh,” said the man. “If you’re still looking for someone, then I’d be willing to help out. You can always use more bartenders, right?”

He had to be joking. “I’m sorry, but that ad was aimed at living people.”

You’d think that would be a given, but apparently not. 

“What do you mean, ‘living people’?” He looked affronted.

“Ones who aren’t dead.” Talk about stating the obvious. “Deceased. Beyond the veil. Not ghosts.”

He gave me a furious stare. “I am not a ghost.” 

Oh, boy. He didn’t know he was dead. Well, this was awkward.

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