The Body Finder Page 1

PROLOGUE

VIOLET AMBROSE WANDERED AWAY FROM THE safety of her father as she listened to the harmony of sounds weaving delicately around her. The rustling of the leaves mingled gently with the restless calls of birds and the far-off rushing waters of the icy river that lay beyond the trees.

And then there was another sound. Something she couldn’t quite identify. Yet.

She was familiar enough with the meaning of this new, and misplaced, noise. Or at least with what it signified. She had been hearing sounds, or seeing colors, or smelling smells like these for years. For as long as she could remember.

Echoes, she called them.

She looked back at her father to see if he had heard it too, even though she already knew the answer. He hadn’t, of course. Only she could hear it. Only she understood what the haunting sound foretold.

He walked casually behind her, at his same slow and steady pace, keeping a watchful eye on his eight-year-old daughter as she ran ahead of him.

The sound whistled past her again, carried on the breeze that sent crisp, golden leaves swirling around her ankles. She stopped briefly to listen, but once it passed she continued on ahead.

“Don’t go too far,” her father dutifully called from behind her. He wasn’t really worried about her out here. These were their woods.

Violet had practically been raised in this forest, learning about her surroundings, learning how to tell which direction she was facing by the lichen growing on the tall tree trunks, and knowing how to tell the time of day by the position of the sun…at least on those days when that sun wasn’t obscured by the gloom of cloud cover. This was easy territory, even for an eight-year-old girl.

She ignored her father’s warning and wandered off the path, still listening to that something that was beckoning her forward. Her feet felt propelled by a will of their own as she struggled to make the sound into something coherent, something she could identify. She stepped over fallen branches and walked through a sea of fern fronds that grew up from the damp ground.

“Violet!” She heard her dad’s voice breaking through her concentration.

She paused, and then called back, “I’m right here,” although not as loudly as she should have, before she started walking again.

The sound was getting stronger. Not louder, but stronger. She could feel the vibrations practically resonating beneath her skin now.

This was how it was with these things. This was the way these feelings came to her. They were indescribable, yet to her they made perfect sense.

And when they called to her she felt compelled to answer.

She was close now, so close that she could hear a voice. That was what this echo was, a voice. Single and solitary, seeking someone—anyone—to answer it.

Violet was that someone.

She stopped at a mound of damp dirt covered with a thick layer of rotting leaves. The soil was oddly out of place amid the undergrowth, with nothing living springing up from it. Even Violet knew that the soil was too newly placed to have fostered life just yet.

She knelt down, feeling the pulsating echo coming from beneath. She could feel it reverberating within her veins, coursing hotly through her small body. Without waiting, Violet brushed away the leaves and debris with a sweep of her coat sleeve, before she began earnestly scooping at the soft earth beneath with her hands.

She heard her father’s light footsteps catch up with her and his gentle voice ask, “Find something, Vi?”

She was too lost in her task to answer, and he didn’t pry. He was used to this, his little girl searching out the lost souls of the forest. Without speaking, he leaned against the soaring trunk of a nearby cedar and waited without really watching.

Violet felt her fingertips brush against something hard and smooth, cold and unyielding. She shuddered against a disturbing awareness that she couldn’t quite name and kept digging.

She sank her fingers into the moist soil once again. And again, they touched something chillingly firm.

Something too soft to be a rock.

And it was back, that nagging something that was trying to get through to her.

She reached in again, this time not to dig, but to sweep away the thin layer of dirt to get a better view of what lay beneath. She had captured her father’s interest, and he leaned over her, looking into the shallow hole.

Violet worked like an archaeologist, carefully sifting and brushing across the top of her discovery, so as not to disturb what might be buried there.

She heard her father gasp at the same time she recognized what she had uncovered. She felt his strong hands reaching for her from behind, pulling her firmly by the shoulders away from the fresh dirt and gathering her into his strong, safe arms…away from the sound that was calling to her…

And away from the girl’s face staring up at her from beneath the soil.

CHAPTER 1

THE SOUND OF THE ALARM CLOCK WAS AN irritating intrusion into the comfortable haze of sleep that wrapped its arms around Violet. She dragged her hand out from beneath the warm cocoon of blankets to hit the snooze button. She kept her eyes closed; trying to let the haze reclaim her, but the damage had already been done. She was awake now.

She sighed, still not ready to untangle herself from the covers, and she tried to recall what she had been dreaming about before being so rudely interrupted. For a moment, she thought she might remember, but the elusive whisper of her dream escaped her.

She made a disgusted sound to herself as she finally threw off the blankets and sat up in one not-so-smooth motion. She turned off her clock before it could reach its nine-minute snooze interval.

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