Fog Descending (House of Crows)
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
Text copyright © 2021 by Lisa Unger
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Published by Amazon Original Stories, Seattle
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Cover design by Anna Laytham
Ian liked to come at night, alone. The house had to be empty, its residents asked to take a break by staying with family or spending a night in a hotel.
Treat yourself. Relax, he advised. His clients were people of means and understood the concept of self-care—to a fault.
People who were struggling to pay their mortgages generally didn’t seek his services. And if they did, he’d like to think himself ethical enough that he’d turn them away. But he wasn’t so sure anymore. Liz would have done the work for free, all of it. But Liz was gone, and along with her, all the best parts of himself.
The owners had given him the lock code. In the chill evening air, he parked his van in the circular drive and unloaded his equipment from the back, rolled it to the door, and entered the code. The lock opened with a satisfying click, and he put his hand on the metal knob and pushed open the double-tall, glass-paned door.
He stepped into the ridiculously posh foyer with its glittering chandelier and marble floors. There was a tall round table in the center and, on it, a gigantic glass vase filled with fresh flowers—a riot of lilies, hydrangea, snapdragons, branches, sprigs of green—that he knew cost more than some folks made in a week. He’d seen the bill on the kitchen counter. He’d spent a lot of time at the home of Astrid and Chaz Lowe, models and Instagram “influencers”—whatever the hell that meant.
He set the dolly upright, the black boxes stacked neatly one on top of the other. The air was filled with the smell of sage. He’d asked Astrid to smudge the space, burning the bundles of sage he’d dropped off on his last visit. She needed to feel involved in the process, she’d said. She wanted to be a part of cleansing her home of the negative energy she perceived here. Chaz had barely hidden his eye roll, but he’d handed over his credit card, as heavy and black as a ninja star.
The charge was steep, out of reach for most. Of course, most people—people who actually earned their money—had more sense than to pay out a sum that would send a kid to college for a year to “space clear” their extravagant home. In this case, it was a six-thousand-square-foot modern nestled on twelve acres of wooded property in the middle of nowhere, more than three hours from the city. It was their weekend house. Our retreat, Astrid had enthused, from the madness and inauthenticity of city life. She was willowy thin, with a silken mane of golden-blonde hair. Astrid was nearly as tall as Ian, who was just under six feet, but she still managed to seem tiny, vulnerable.
Chaz, he was pretty sure, was gay. Truly, Ian had never seen a straight man more angelically featured—those lips, the cheekbones—and stylishly put together, always in some wild outfit, getting ready for an influencer shoot. Yesterday, he’d been wearing a kilt with leggings and a pair of Doc Martens lace-up boots, a white shirt open to reveal his enviable physique, and more jewelry than Ian’s rich grandmother wore—thick gold chains around his neck, and so many rings on his fingers that he’d had a hard time signing for the credit card charge. Liz would have loved them—how they were larger than life, sweet in spite of being utterly intellectually bankrupt, how they, especially Astrid, believed.
On the kitchen island, Astrid had left a care package for him. A big basket of health-conscious goodies—vegan energy bars, nuts and dried fruits, organic chocolate. A note: Good luck tonight!! There’s a green smoothie in the fridge, and some gluten-free sandwiches!! Call me if you need some support!!! Astrid xoxo
So many exclamation points! It was a punctuation mark that had lost its way with this younger generation, who seemed to think it was required to infuse enthusiasm and brightness into their hollow, stripped-down communications. Chaz and Astrid, by Ian’s calculations, were at most maybe ten years younger than he was and Liz would have been, but honestly, it was like they were from another planet. The world was changing so fast; Ian was barely keeping up. Barely wanted to.
He was hungry, so he ate one of Astrid’s sandwiches, which was actually delicious, washed it down with the smoothie, and then inhaled a vegan energy bar. The night ahead was long. When Liz was alive, it was like an adventure every time. Every time, they were looking for something, too, always hopeful that they were going to find it. Always having fun even when, night after night, in big houses and small, old houses and new, isolated properties and city dwellings, all they’d found was each other. It had been enough.
He set up the equipment in the rooms where Astrid felt the most unease: the living room, the master bedroom, and the basement studio, where she practiced her yoga and meditation. He carefully placed the EMF monitors, the night vision and thermographic cameras, and the digital audio recorders. He had bundles of sage; a Tibetan singing bowl and mallet; a set of chimes that were Liz’s personal favorite, given to her by a psychic she’d visited; Liz’s prayer book and journal. He had a