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Prologue: Shadow Runner

The lamplighter was making his rounds, a ladder over his right shoulder, a pair of brass wick trimmers hanging from his belt. A boy of seven or eight trotted beside him carrying a can of whale oil.

The man whistled the usual cheery tune to let the locals know he was there. A black wool cap sat low on his brow to prevent him from accidentally looking into the homes of his betters. The boy didn’t know his place yet. He looked everywhere and talked about everything.

Eighty streetlights lined the avenue: Argand lamps to boot. Aristocrats lived here. They liked their streets well lit, their bobbies smartly dressed and ever-present. It made them think they were safe.

An army of wicks to be trimmed and reservoirs to be filled, and the dutiful pair had to light them all before dusk.

“Don’t dawdle, boy,” said the man. “Give me the can.”

“Yes, sir,” said the boy. He snugged his hand-me-down coat tight against the chill.

“You’ll do this one day, when you’re taller and I’m old and bent. You’ll light the way and I’ll carry the can.”

“What’s that?” said the boy.

He peered into the twilight, trying to pinpoint the figure he’d just seen. Low clouds rolled down the cobblestone street like behemoth ghosts, soundless and drifting.

“Ain’t nothin’.” The man clipped a wick and topped off the reservoir.

“There in the shadows. Pitch-black and hooded. Just popped into sight.”

“Light’s playin’ tricks on yer eyes.” The man lit the lamp, climbed down from the ladder, and moved on to the next.

“No, I saw somethin’. Looked like a person, it did. But the eyes was scary.”

“Best remedy for beasties is a well-lit street. That’s our job.”

The boy saw it again: a shape stepping out of a blue cloud, mist trailing at its heel. The cloud abruptly disappeared, but the figure remained, making its way toward a gray Gothic Revival on the corner.

“I’m tellin’ ya it’s there. Its eyes is all glassy and haunted. Look!”

“I ain’t got time to look, especially at nothin’. Keep movin’. We’re losing the sun.”

An auto carriage trundled past and backfired. Startled, the boy dropped the can. Whale oil splashed out before he could snatch it back up.

“Look what you’ve done!” The man gave the boy a sharp cuff. “We’ve no time or coin for oil. Better hope we don’t need more. You’ll cost us the job.”

“Sorry, sir,” said the boy. But he knew he wasn’t wrong. The indigo cloud blossomed again in front of the house and the specter disappeared inside

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