Wanagi

Stan is best known as "Spooky Stan", a medium who makes a living vlogging about de-spooking houses and interacting with restless spirits. When he gets a call from a wealthy widow in South Dakota about a haunted mansion, he and his cohort Abby are on the case. What he thought would be an in-and-out job turns complicated, especially when Stan comes across a desperate spirit that leads him to the remains of a girl who vanished five years ago. Even worse, her cousin is Craig Marshall, a Sicangu Lakota man who catches Stan trespassing on his land. Convincing Craig of his talents is easy, but getting deeper into the disturbing mystery behind a missing teenager and a haunted mansion could prove more dangerous than Stan thought.


Includes: elements of horror, mentions of suicide, depression & torture, frank discussions on race and issues that affect indigneous people. If you think the term "redskins" is an A-OK name for a football team, this novel probably isn't for you.

Does Not Include: non-con, dub-con, a 100% HEA (more like 80%?)

A/N: I am not native. I'm not even someone who will claim to be 1/32nd Cherokee princess. I have done research in Lakota traditions, history, language, and customs, but nothing will ever stand in for lived experience. Should anyone find fault in the portrayals here, I highly encourage you to let me know and I will fix them to the best of my ability. Thank you.


Chapter One

"Do I know you from somewhere?"

I looked up from the depths of my wallet, squinting at the barista as if I weren't wearing my usual thick black-framed glasses. "Excuse me?"

"You look so familiar to me."

The barista was twenty, at most, and since I hadn't made a habit of befriending college-aged people after college, I had no clue who she was. Maybe a sibling of someone I knew? A distant relative? That would have been near impossible, considering the majority of my family lived in Georgia. Chicago was much too cold for their southern blood.

"Oh my God, now I know." She waggled a finger at me as she grinned. "You're Spooky Stanley! Jesus, my little sister is obsessed with your videos."

Did being recognized in public make me a celebrity? By now I was making a decent chunk of change off of my Youtube channel, and each of my videos had about five hundred thousand views. But I didn't get out much. I hoped this wouldn't lead to a request for an autograph, especially with the curious elderly couple waiting behind me. Could I explain to them what a vlog was?

"Uh…"

"Those are some neat stunts you pull. I mean, I don't know how you do the special effects or whatever, but they really are believable. My sister's totally into ghosts now, which I guess is better than lame vampires or something, right?"

Can I have my coffee now, I almost said before pressing my lips together and swallowing the words down. Even during my weakest moments, I was never rude. That was something all grown-and-raised Southerners learned.

"My sister will shit herself if she knows I talked to you. Can I get a photo or something?"

I looked at the elderly couple behind me. The woman just nodded and smiled, and I figured she didn't have anything else to do today. That was the beauty of being retired.

"Okay, sure."

The barista whipped out her phone, leaned her whole torso across the counter, and gestured me closer. With a strained smile, I positioned myself over her shoulder as she snapped a selfie.

"Wow, thanks! She's gonna be so jealous." Finally she seemed to remember what she was here for, so she put her phone back into her pocket and gripped the sides of her touchscreen register. "That'll be six-oh-nine."

Five minutes later, I scored a table by the window and chugged down my latte, regretting that I even left the house. Perhaps I should have talked to Abby over the phone, but considering how important the matter was, I thought it should be discussed in person. Like always, I had arrived twenty minutes early. And, like always, Abby was twenty minutes late.

When she did arrive, I was not the only one that noticed. Standing nearly six feet tall with bleached hair and a body only gym obsession could achieve, Abby had a way of drawing people's attention. She lifted her bug-eyed sunglasses when she caught sight of me, then reached me in three strides. I didn't know how she got around Chicago in four-inch heels, but she practically slept in them, so she had plenty of practice.

"You get me anything?" Abby asked as she sank onto a stool across from me.

"Just a smile."

"Smiles aren't worth shit." She reached into her bottomless pit of a bag and withdrew a thermos. "Nevermind. I made some juice before I walked over here."

"What's in it?"

"Apples, bananas, kale, and spirulina."

"What the hell is spirulina?"

"It's some kind of green algae. I buy it as powder. It's got three hundred percent more calcium than milk, and two hundred percent more protein than meat."

Abby had a tendency to sprout facts like these, as if she'd taken a class on it, opposed to spending her afternoons browsing health nut websites.

"Algae?"

"Oh, whatever. You eat hot dogs, which is, like, pig intestines."

"You're talking to someone who grew up in Georgia. If it comes from a hog, we'll fry and eat it."

"So gross." She took a swig from her thermos. I gave her kudos for hiding her wince. "Anyway, you didn't call me here to complain about the contents of my juice."

"No, I didn't." I dug into my satchel and pulled out a piece of paper I'd printed an hour prior. It had the notes I'd taken. "I got a call this morning from a nice old lady who said she heard about me from one of her grandchildren. She says her son's house is haunted, though she claims the spirits are malevolent."

"How so?"

"She couldn't really explain, but I was inclined to believe her."

"Really?" Abby lifted a plucked and carefully outlined eyebrow. "Spirits can be angry, but not malevolent."

"Wait until you hear the rest, cuz it's nuts. She said her son had done something 'monstrous', and when I got the address, I did some research. Turns out he tortured and killed at least four different women, then buried them on the property. Their remains have been exhumed and put to rest elsewhere, and he committed suicide while in jail."

Abby was stunned into silence for a moment, then lowered her voice to say, "So you think his spirit's roaming around the house?"

"Maybe. Usually spirits haunt places they lived or died, so it wouldn't surprise me. This woman mentioned she'd had two exorcisms done, but none of it seemed to work."

"What kind of haunting are we talking about?"

"She wouldn't really say. I could tell she didn't want to discuss it in detail because she was too freaked out."

"Why not just bulldoze the house and start over?"

"It's a two million dollar house. Turns out this lady is the widow of some oil baron, and she had the house constructed for her son only fifteen years ago. She'd like to keep it standing if possible, but if not, she wants to make sure that if it's pulled down and another is erected, the land's not haunted."
"Were the women tortured and killed in the house?"

"No, in the barn. The barn's already been torn down for obvious reasons."

"Wow. Shit. That's crazy. Sometimes nice old ladies are a little superstitious, but this sounds like prime real estate for angry spirits. You think we can handle it?"

I would have laughed if I were in a more humorous mood. "I've never met anything we can't hanlde."

"Even the spirits of tortured women and a psychopath?"
"Look, spirits are only leftovers. They lack the energy to do much more than make noises and knock stuff over. Psychopaths are human like the rest of us. He can go ahead and do his worst, but I don't think it's anything we need to worry about."

"All right, so where is this place? Somewhere around Chicago?"
"No, actually. It's in South Dakota."

Abby nearly spit out her drink. "South Dakota?"

"Yes."

"Why would we want to go to South Dakota? It's almost eight hundred mi—" She broke herself off and peered at me as if unsure. "How much would we get paid for this?"

"Fifty thousand each."

"Shut up."

"I'm serious. That was her offer. She'll pay us a fourth when we get out there, and then the rest once the house has been de-spooked."

"Wow. Well, I was going to say fuck South Dakota, but now I'm all for it."

"Really? It might involve taking leave from your job."

Abby waved her hand dismissively. "Whatever. I'm hardly employed at that joint anyway. I show up four nights a week when they call me. I'd rather be ghost hunting with you."

I wasn't sure whether I could believe that. While Abby and I worked great together, our social lives were on different planets. She loved the party scene, loved to socialize and dance and spend whole weekends away from home. Me? I'd probably never leave my house if I didn't need to buy food to sustain myself. I could waste weeks on Youtube alone. After a few cat videos, Abby was ready to play outside. Needless to say, we maintained different social groups. At least she did. My social group consisted of two cranky cats that tolerated me on a good day.

"How long do you think it'll take?" she asked.

"We'll have to see when we get there. But I was actually planning on staying a while, even if it only takes a week or two to despook the place."

"Why? You wanna go sightseeing or something?"

"I'm getting paid to write this memoir, so I figure I should start writing it. I can't concentrate on that if I'm connected to the internet. Does South Dakota even have the internet?"

Abby snickered. "I think they still travel by horse and buggy." She sobered. "But where will you live? You can't rent a hotel room for six months. And if you drop off the face of the Earth for six months, your Youtube channel's gonna have tumbleweeds when you get back."

"Oh, I'll still update and stuff. I'll definitely upload the work we do at the house, granted Mrs. Cairns grants us permission. But the internet probably won't be as fast, and a different atmosphere might grease my creative gears."

"Promise to come back by the time winter blows around. I don't want you caught in some snow drift."

"You realize South Dakota has civilization, right?"

Abby scoffed. "I grew up in Wyoming. South Dakota is practically a metropolis. But I moved to Chicago for a reason. I can't stand the sticks—there's never anything to do."
That would bother Abby. I wasn't a fan of rural places either, but for different reasons than Abby. As a conventionally attractice straight blond woman, Abby would be welcome anywhere, even if it bored "the tits" off of her, as she always said. I left Georgia for more political reasons.

We started to hammer out a plan—a timeline, housing, transportation, supplies. I'd have to start looking for a short-term lease on an apartment, at least if I planned to stay for the summer. I promised Abby that I'd do further research at home, because I knew she wouldn't. She had an excellent Sense and balls made of steel (as she always said), but she wasn't much of a business woman.

After throwing down the rest of her super healthy juice and promising to call me tomorrow about finding a vehicle big enough to transport our luggage and other items to South Dakota, Abby headed out. I knew finding something like that wouldn't be hard for her. Her contacts list printed out would have rivaled a dictionary, and it was chalk full of old flings who owed her favors. She had a thing for big Neanderthal-type gearheads, and they all had a thing for extremely attractive blond strippers, so surely one would provide us with a car he wasn't using at the moment.

After gathering all my notes and doing a bit of extra research, I headed back outside. The back end of spring had finally arrived in Chicago, bringing with it the warmth I never thought would arrive. It had taken me at least four years to accustom myself to winters, but I never liked them. I only tolerated them because I loved Chicago, which could probably be said of everyone else who lived here.

I took the brown line to my house in Roscoe Village, where I was greeted by one of my cranky cats while the other glared at me from her usual perch on the bay window. After nudging Glamor away with my foot, I headed into the kitchen, dropping the bag of goodies I'd purchased on the way to the train station. I felt glad to be at home, my sanctuary. My mother would often ask why I wanted to live in a big city if I didn't like people, but there was no better place to be anonymous than the third largest city in the country. In Georgia, I couldn't go to the grocery store without being stopped by some PTA mother who wanted to know my plans for college, dating, and careers. Here, I knew one of my neighbors but not the other, which was fine with me. During the one time my mother had visited, she found it very odd and complained about it the whole time.

Hence why she'd only visited once.

Glamor meowed at me from between my ankles, but I ignored her. I pulled some lettuce and tomatoes out of the fridge, intent on making a salad. I had just started cutting the cherry tomatoes into halves when the stereo in the living room abruptly began playing Come Fly With Me halfway through.

I stopped chopping and turned to the archway leading into the dark room beyond. Glamor trotted up to the threshold and arched against it, purring loudly. The song flickered with spurts of static before continuing, growing louder during the chorus.

With a sigh, I put down the knife and headed to the living room. When I flicked on the lights, everything looked as it always did—pristine and quaint. The only difference was the scroll of digital words across the stereo's face. I crossed the room, but before I touched any of the buttons, the old record player in the opposite corner began to spin. Now it was I'll Be Seeing You by Billie Holiday, but it only made it through one verse before it died with a scratch.

The light above me flickered.

"Are you trying to romance me, Henry?" I asked with a smile.

Warmth surrounded me as if I'd slid into bath water. It was fleeting, but it left me feeling content. I smelled a hint of sandalwood, and maybe I was imagining it, but I could have sworn someone was whistling Oops I Did It Again upstairs in the bedroom. It felt like being transported back in time when the house hadn't been so empty, when I'd be making dinner for two, when Crochet would leave her perch on the window and visit with the only person she didn't despise.

The warmth faded, and the light stopped flickering. The stereo went silent, returning the room to its eerie emptiness. I avoided this room when I could because we used to spend time in here, me and him, and I couldn't stand to be in it very long.

I reached out to run a hand along an armchair that had belonged to Henry's grandfather. It had never been comfortable, but Henry wanted to keep it as a momento. Wielding internet tutorials, we'd refurbished and reupholstered it with trendier fabric. Henry had fought me on that but eventually caved, because of course he did. He so often gave into my demands that he'd taken to calling me Your Majesty as a joke. I could still remember our last morning together, before he went off to work and I headed out to Champaign for an assignment. I had asked him to pick up some groceries, even though I'd be gone three days.

"You know I'm just going to get takeout when you're out?" he'd said. When I gave him a look, he deferred to me with a smile and a bow. "Whatever Your Majesty requires."

I collapsed into the arm chair, feeling hollow. "Henry?" I whispered to the void.

Like the approach of a cautious dog, I felt his presence grow closer. It was hard to describe, especially to people without the Sense. Spirits rarely ever had recognizable forms. Sometimes they could manage the energy to expose themselves in flashes or fragments, but Henry had never done that. His spirit could adjust dials on the stereo and sometimes move the needle on the record player, which was not abnormal. He'd been a music lover, and spirits most easily operated items that had been important to them during their lives. A whole cabinet full of vinyl records stood as a testament to his devotion, and such an affection carried into his afterlife.

Henry stopped in front of me, at least in an abstract sense. Spirits were not an exact science, and it wasn't so much a matter of seeing as it was feeling. To someone who hadn't known him, he might be harder to detect. But I knew his presence, both living and dead.

I reached out a hand. Tendrils of heat wrapped between my fingers and around my wrist.

"I guess it would be asking too much if I needed you to take care of the cats while I'm away?" I joked, but I had trouble keeping my expression neutral. "They don't like me much anyway. I know they'd rather have you."

A hand touched my upper arm and then moved on my neck. When I reached for it, there was nothing to grasp—only air.

This was all that I had left.


It took an entire day to film and edit my next video, in which I gave vague details about where I was going and what my viewers could expect. Mrs. Cairns agreed to me filming but not to broadcasting any details about the house or why it was haunted. That made sense, considering the grim nature of it all. After I uploaded it and checked all my social media accounts, I dashed downstairs to answer the knock at the door.

Abby stood on my front porch with a tall and well built man I didn't recognize. That was no surprise, since Abby had a long line of admirers she juggled with natural ease.

"This is Mason," she said, jerking a thumb at her companion. "His brother's in the army right now, so he agreed to let us use his old Explorer."

I looked past Abby and Mason to the street, where a red SUV with rust along one fender was parked. It wasn't a Mazzarati, but it would do just fine, as long as it held itself together for the trip.

"What do we owe you for that?" I asked Mason.

"A date," Abby replied, clapping me on the arm before stepping into the house.

"Wait, what?" I turned wide eyes to Mason.

"My brother likes your vlog," Mason told him. "He also came out recently, and I thought… why not?"
"Your brother is in the army."

"He'll be back for Christmas."

"Um…" I didn't know of a polite way to say that army guys weren't exactly my cup of tea. As lovely as Mason's genetics were, I didn't go for "tall and beefy" since several of that ilk made my life miserable in high school.

"You don't have to go on a date, okay? Jeremy didn't want the car sitting around all year anyway. You're doing him a favor by taking her for a walk. But if you're still on the fence…" He pulled out his phone and shuffled through a photo album. The picture he showed me was of clean cut brunette wearing sporty sunglasses and a muscle shirt. He was cute, but definitely not my type.

Mason must have been waiting for my comment, because there was an awkward moment of silence before I forced a smile.

"He seems nice."

"Oh my God," Abby muttered over my shoulder. I thought she had gone inside. "Mason, leave the poor little cave troll alone. He doesn't interact with humans much."

Mason winked at me before stepping into the house.

By the time I closed the door and situated some fake flowers in a vase that Abby had nearly tipped over on her way in, I found her and Mason raiding my fridge. Mason was pulling a bottle of scotch out of a plastic bag he'd carried in.

"What are you two doing?" I asked.

"Oh, are you packed? I brought Mason over to help with the heavy lifting. Not that you can't lift or anything…" She trailed off and gave me a little once over, which I couldn't even be mad about. Abby could probably lift more than me. "Anyway, I bought him scotch for the trouble. Said you'd make him lunch, too."

"You make him lunch. You're the health nut."

Abby pouted. "I was going to help Mason get all your crap in the SUV."
"What about your crap?"
Abby pried open a container with cookies inside and grabbed one. So much for health food. I avoided fake ingredients when possible, but Abby was much more of a fanatic than I was. "My crap's already in the SUV," she said through a full mouth.

"How much crap do you have?"

She shrugged. "Big duffle bag. That's about it."

I, of course, had all of my film equipment, as well as anything I thought I'd need at an apartment for a few months. Henry had called me a pack rat, but I called it "well prepared". Should the plague or tragedy strike, I would be there with canned food, a flashlight, and enough batteries to power an electric generator.

"Look, you guys are an hour early, and I've got a subletter coming in, like, five minutes—"

"Can you make me that chickpea hummus sandwich that's so good?" Abby asked as she and Mason headed toward the living room.

"What? I never agreed—"

"Mason will take ham." When she was out of sight, she called, "Thanks so much, sweetheart!"

I sighed and opened the fridge. I was tempted to "accidentally" make Abby a tuna sandwich to get out of it. I suppose she had bought Mason scotch, so now it was my turn to show gratitude. I hadn't even known we'd need some muscle; it wasn't like I needed to move furniture. I figured Mason was one of Abby's newest flings and they wanted to spend more time together. Henry had loved me more than anything, but I doubt even he would have been up for a "schlepping boxes back and forth for two hours" date. Then again, Henry wasn't a gym bunny who enjoyed showing off like Mason.

Once both sandwiches were made, the doorbell rang. At the door stood Aisha, a chubby girl with dreadlocks, wearing a maxi dress and cowboy boots. Two years ago she'd asked for my help de-spooking her college dorm, and ever since she'd babysitted my cats when I went on assignments outside of Chicago. Normally she went home for the summer, but when I asked her if she'd like to sublet, she jumped on the opportunity. I trusted her enough not to trash the place or starve my feline companions, though I made her promise not to have any crazy parties that would spook the cats.

"Looks like we aren't alone," Aisha said, and for a wild second I thought she was talking about Henry. Then I heard the thumping upstairs and let out a breath.

"Oh, yeah. That's my friend and her latest boy toy. They're just packing up my junk."

I instructed Aisha on how to care for the house, including the cats and the finnicky hot water. She was a bit of a loner, so I didn't have to worry about orgies or raves destroying any antiques or picture frames around the house. Upstairs I showed her into the guest room I had prepared for her arrival.

"This is probably the cleanest house I've ever been in," she joked.

"Please keep it that way, or make a note of cleaning the shit out of it before I get back."

She saluted me lazily. "Sure thing, Captain."

When we went back downstairs, I found Abby and Mason in the living room looking at all of Henry's vinyl. I clamped up, afraid of what Abby might sense. I had never told her about Henry sticking around, for good reason. However, Henry rarely made appearances unless I was alone, which was why I wasn't terribly worried about Aisha calling me up at two in the morning complaining about music playing downstairs. Angry, fearful, or confused spirits haunted houses with little regard to who lived there. Henry was different.

"So where are you going again?" Aisha asked as Abby and Mason consumed their sandwiches at the dining room table. "North Dakota?"

"South."

"Are you going to film it?"

Abby gestured to the film equipment resting in the hallway. "Of course."

"You think it's gonna be good? I mean, if you're going all the way to South Dakota…"

"It should be very interesting," I said. "It'd be great if we can catch something major on film."

"It's been a while since we've gotten something drastic," Abby said. "Stan refuses to fake it, even when people call him a con artist."

"Yes, faking it would definitely show those people I'm not a con artist."

"They wouldn't know it was fake."

"I'm not faking anything. Mrs. Cairns sounds really freaked out. I asked if I could stay at the house instead of renting a place for a few months, but she refused. Said she wouldn't let her worst enemy stay in that house any longer than an hour."

"The woman is the widow of an oil baron living in Bumfuck Nowhere. She's bound to have a few screws loose."

"She sounded perfectly sane on the phone." This wasn't entirely true, but I had a high tolerance for hokey accents and irrelevant tangents. Most Georgians kept that stuff on tap.

"Stan is an expert on sanity," Abby said with a wink. Aisha chuckled, and I decided to let it drop.


A/N: I waffled on putting this up, because I wasn't sure which one of my novels would be the one I decided to offer as an e-book only. But I'll instead be doing that with another novel that's much racier (sex sells, yo), so here ya'll are. This has more plot than, like, 90% of what I write, lol. Hope you like ghost stories!

As always, check out my Tumblr (wandaluvstacos) for updates and drawings. Please leave reviews to let me know this is getting read, thank you!