A harsh wind blew through the graveyard, whistling over the tops of the tombs. It moaned above her as it coursed through the passageway of her hiding place, bringing with it a surge of snow flurries.

Isobel shuddered against the rush of frozen wind. She took in a deep breath, drawing the cold into her lungs. Exhaling again, she reminded herself that her questions would have to wait. Right now, she needed to keep her mind clear.

Whenever and however Reynolds chose to appear, she would have to be ready.

There was no sign of him yet, however, just the audience of the dead, and that of the living, too. The Greene Street crowd continued to chirp and chortle from their barrier point, a few of them inserting comments as the reader within their ranks bore onward with Poe’s poem, his resonant voice rising above the rest.

“‘Prophet!’ said I, ‘thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!—

Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,

Desolate, yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted—

On this home by Horror haunted—tell me truly, I implore—

Is there— is there balm in Gilead?—tell me—tell me, I implore!’

Quoth the raven, ‘Nevermore.’”

Leaning out again, Isobel saw a set of metal steps a few feet away to her right. They extended down from the back door of Westminster Hall and led out into the yard. At the top of the stairs, a tall and slender set of double doors made entirely of glass revealed another small gathering of people she hadn’t noticed before. Unlike those huddling in the cold outside the gates, this group stood within the warmth of the hall, sharing an unobstructed view of Poe’s original burial site.


These, Isobel thought, must be the Poe scholars Mr. Swanson had told her about—the ones who gathered every year to oversee the ritual and to protect the Poe Toaster.

Seeing them there made her doubly glad she’d decided to stay put.

At the front of this cluster stood a man with a beard and glasses; stern-faced, but not unkind-looking. While the others behind him continued to chat among themselves, this man seemed restless. He kept taking his hands in and out of his pockets, checking his wristwatch, and occasionally glancing toward the Greene Street gates.

What was he so worried about? Did he think the Poe Toaster wasn’t coming? If nothing else, his anxiety assured her that, as of yet, Reynolds had not shown. Then she remembered what Mr. Swanson had said about people climbing the gates in years past, attempting to intercept the rite.

How fast could security get there if they were called into action? Probably within seconds.

A low scraping sound called Isobel’s attention away from her thoughts and back to Poe’s marker. Silence spread over the cemetery as the crowd of onlookers watching from the gates settled into hushed tones, shushing the man who had been reading aloud.

When the scraping noise came again, Isobel’s gaze narrowed on the crypt that stood catty-corner to Poe’s old grave.

She stared in disbelief as the slab door, which faced Poe’s marker, began to wobble in its frame. Then, gradually, an inch at a time, it started to shift inward, with the heavy, thunderlike rumble of stone sliding against stone.

A gust of wind rushed out of the open tomb, sending forth a burst of white substance, something heavier than the snow, denser. The ash flowed out to mingle with the frozen flakes in a flurry just before one black boot appeared at the threshold, imprinting itself into the virgin snow.

Isobel’s heart jarred in her chest. She rose to her feet, the rush of blood in her ears blocking out all other sounds. She kept her eyes on the figure that emerged from the black mouth of the tomb. Like caressing hands, the inky darkness within clung to his form, as though reluctant to let him go.

Isobel stood in shock within the recess of her hiding place, her body tingling from head to foot, a vibration starting inside of her and growing so intense, so electrifying that she wasn’t certain she would be able to bring herself to move at all when the time came.

She watched as the masked man strode forward toward the grave marker. As he came out into the open, she forced herself to take a step back, allowing the shadows to envelop her fully.

Flurries began to light on his black hat, filling the wide brim, their whiteness matching the scarf that concealed the lower half of his face. Tall and straight, his shrouded form cut a sinister figure amid the scattering of tombstones. His cloak swirled around his feet as he walked, the fabric nearly brushing the ground.

He moved slowly, his chin down, the brim of his hat pulled low over his eyes so that no part of his face showed.

Midway to the grave, he paused, causing Isobel to stiffen. He stood motionless for a moment, his head remaining bowed. In one gloved hand, she saw the three long-stemmed roses she had read about in the article. In the other, Reynolds carried a bottle, and a brandy glass was tucked between his fingers.

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