Greetings and Salutations, to quote the world's second most popular spider. Although, in my book, Charlotte is the hands down favorite. (Take that Itsy-Bitsy.) Although the truth be known, I don't care for spiders much, but a lifetime of living in old houses has helped me to grow accustom to their existence and as long as I don't see them, spiders and I get along just fine. (Please don't send me hate mail, spider lovers.)
It's been an early summer here in south Mississippi. The azaleas are long gone, the roses are holding on and my walking schedule has been greatly diminished because of the heat. Oh well, I'll just have to stop binge watching Destination Truth episodes and go to bed on time. Maybe then I can get up early enough to walk without dying of heat exhaustion.
I'm still walking in the evenings, just when it's getting dark. Dark enough for the shadows to come out and play during the last mile home. Even at this age, with all the "knowledge" I have about ghosts and shadows and things that go bump in the night I find I often walk faster after dark. Unlike some, I know things lurk in the shadows. And even in the corners of your bedroom.
I know it for a fact.
Which is why I write ghost stories.
I have had sleep paralysis all my life. It started about the time this photo was taken. Maybe a little before. It has been a horrible unending experience that has shaped my life in ways I could never expect. If you don't know what I'm talking about, count yourself lucky. Older folks call it Old Hag syndrome. Professionals call it Sleep Paralysis. Moms call it Night Terrors. (Except mine. She wasn't much comfort.) Yes, this kind of thing has all kinds of names and none of them are nice.
Imagine falling asleep. You're in that place between awake and asleep and you suddenly become aware that you aren't alone. There's something in your room with you, watching you and it wants you to know it's there. As your eyes become accustomed to the dark, you see it. It's perched between the door and the dresser or it's beside you. It's usually all black but sometimes it has a horrible face. And then it touches you. It chokes you, assaults you in ways I don't want to explain. It's not a ghost story, y'all. It's a real thing. And it happened to me. For years. And I'm not alone. It happens to a lot of us.
I can go for months, even a year or two without a paranormal event and then suddenly, it's there again. Without sleep medication, I know I'd have to face it. I'd have to experience it and I never want to experience it again. Granted, I'm less afraid since I became a Christian. There really is power in the name of Jesus but sometimes, you can't speak during these events and in those cases, I have to think the name of the Lord and even then I have to command the thing to leave repeatedly. And no matter what, I'm always left wondering why.
Why did this happen to me?
Some will say I did this. But this was happening long before I wrote the first ghost story. Before I thought much about the paranormal at all. Some will say, that I brought this on myself. That somehow, I am to blame. Trust me, I've searched my soul. I've pleaded, prayed and I know it's not just me. It just happens. There is a hostile side to the paranormal world. It's not always K2 meters and friendly EVP sessions. (Which I do neither in case you are wondering.)
Maybe this is why I write ghost stories. (I write other things too but people seem to love my ghost stuff the most.) I write about dreams and the past, and family secrets and horrible things because all that happened to me, to people I know and love. I write about hauntings because I have to make sense of it all. Sleep paralysis frightens me. And yet, I can't stop studying and searching for answers, I can't stop trying to understand. I can't stop wondering why it happens at all. Maybe one day, I'll write a book about THAT.
Periodically, I watch documentaries about it. When I'm feeling brave. This one is next on the list.
Chances are, I won't be able to watch the whole thing at once. And I sure won't watch it before bed. But I will watch it. Because I have to know.
Until then, I'll write ghost stories. I'll make my ghosts people, real people not creepy shadow things that want to choke me. I can understand dead people. People, I can relate to. I like ghosts much better than the shadows that swirl beside my bed from time to time.
Yes, I like them much better.
Hey everyone! It's me! I'm back from the land of the Near Dead and feeling better everyday. If you follow me on Facebook (the place where I tend to overshare the most) you've probably heard that I'm recovering from bronchitis. To say it took the wind out of my sails is an understatement. I went from walking five miles a day to unable to get out of bed for almost a week. It was terrible! I wouldn't wish that on my worst enemy, if I actually had any. But at least my spoiled cat kept me company and the Mister took good care of me. However, I waited a bit late to do a final proofread on my latest book, The Ghost of Harrington Farm so if you find a typo, please let me know. I'm sure I missed a few things. But overall, I loved telling the story and especially enjoyed the ending. It was very exciting to tell Plum Darcy's story.
It will be a few months before the next Gulf Coast Paranormal book comes out but since there are already eight in that series, I figured you wouldn't mind waiting a bit for the next one. After my informal poll last month (also on Facebook) I have decided that next year, probably in January, readers will get the crossover they've been asking for--Midas, Cassidy, Carrie Jo and Ashland will meet and of course, investigate together. Won't that be a hoot? I can't say more than that as the story is in the early stages of development . So mum's the word. But you know I can't keep a secret when it comes to my books so I'll have more information to share soon. Quick mention here, if you happen to be in the Mobile area on May 25th, come by the Renaissance Riverview. I'll be speaking at MobiCon, Mobile's version of ComicCon and I'm pretty excited about it.
And the last bit of news I want to share, my new Shabby Hearts series begins at the end of the month. The first three books in that series, A Touch of Shabby, Shabbier By the Minute and Shabby By Night will be released in rapid succession beginning at the end of May. Meet Arcadia Shabeaux, y'all. She's sassy, smart and totally shabby and so much fun to write. It's a paranormal cozy mystery with a lot of humor and hopefully good summer reading. Here's the promised first chapter. (Unedited and subject to a small amount of change.)
A Touch of Shabby
A Shabby Start
“Hey! Have you called the all clear yet?” A scrappy, female voice whispered like a freight train from the nearby open window. I didn’t have to look. I knew who it was.
“Why are you whispering from the window, Aunt Mavis? The front door is wide open.” I shuffled the paperwork around and tossed a few pages in a manila folder. Actually, I wasn’t as irritated as I pretended to be. I liked having Aunt Mavis around, even if she wasn’t quite all there. I scribbled the name Broussard on the file folder tab and immediately couldn’t read it. My handwriting was horrible and there was no guarantee that I would be able to read it when reached for the file again. This idea of mine to “get the family business organized” was for the birds. I hated this part of my job and no amount of fancying that up was going to change it.
Give me yard work any day of the week. Paperwork sucked. How ironic considering I am a business school graduate. Wasn’t I supposed to adore all types of paper shuffling?
“What about the all clear?”
Feeling generous, I glanced around my office and announced, “All clear, private. Come on inside.” Now that I actually caught a good glimpse of her, I tried not to laugh at the ridiculous sight. My great aunt sported full combat gear today, complete with an oversized camouflage jacket, a boonie hat, and a painted face. Seeing her white curls poking out from either side of her military jungle hat made her appear even sillier.
“Roger that,” she answered, disappeared and reappeared on my front porch. The screen door slammed behind her as she took the seat opposite me.
Man, she was fast for a seventy-year-old. That water skiing accident might have smacked her brain around but she was as physically fit as I was.
“I hope you aren’t going to let that woman live here, Arcadia Shabeaux. She would ruin our entire operation—she’d gum up the works, so to speak. Rumor has it,” she dropped her voice and leaned across the desk, “that woman is a spy, you know.” She slapped the desk once to emphasize her opinion before she continued with her stare down of me.
What do I do? Laugh or cry?
“I assume you’re talking about Rita Broussard? You might as well get used to seeing her face around here. Ms. Broussard is Shabby Hearts’ newest resident. So yes, she’s in. In case you haven’t noticed, we’re not exactly the Ritz Carlton, Aunt Mavis. Rita’s check cleared and we need all the paying customers we can scrounge up.”
Mavis pursed her precisely painted red lips. My decision did not meet her approval. I sighed and met her steely gaze with one of my own. “Rita has a good casino job and great credit.”
“And three dead husbands. If you ask me, that woman is a black widow and a spy. Those Russians can whip up good credentials just like that.” Mavis snapped her fingers, plopped down in the chair and leaned back with a deflated sputtering of her lips.
I smiled and did my best to lighten her mood. “She’s not Mata Hari, Aunt Mavis. And you’ve known Rita all your life, remember? She’s not a Russian. She’s as homegrown Louisiana as we are. I think you’re making a mountain out of a molehill.”
“You should listen to me on this, Arcadia Marie. I know a spy when I see one.”
Okay, this must be placebo day. She’s using both my first and middle name. If I wanted to move this conversation along I’d have to play her game.
“Fine.” I put the pen down and looked her square in the face. “Who told you Rita Broussard was a spy? I need actual proof, please.”
Mavis narrowed her eyes. “I won’t identify my informants--not even if you torture me.” She sat up in the pleather chair and popped the top on a can of cola that she pulled from somewhere.
With a smirk, I said, “I don’t think it will come to that. I’ll keep my eye out but I don’t think we have anything to worry about. And since when did the military put stock in snitches, Aunt Mavis? You need actual proof before you can accuse someone of being a spy.”
“Don’t get smart with me. Nobody likes a smartass, Arcadia. You know, you weren’t this mouthy before you hooked up with that Dubois fella. I blame this attitude on him. I didn’t raise you to be a sass-mouth.”
“Yeah, you did.” I shook my head as I tossed the file into the filing cabinet and closed the drawer.
“Speaking of that two-timer, you hear anything from Armand lately? He still hanging out with Kitty?” I flinched at hearing his name spoken out loud, especially in so close a connection to my cousin. My backstabbing, betraying cousin. I had spent all winter trying to forget about the both of them which had proven harder than I expected. Some small part of me wanted a little revenge. But how? I wouldn’t kiss Armand’s cousin with Aunt Mavis’ lips, much less mine.
“No, and if you’ll excuse me, I do have work to do, general.”
She smiled at the title I used. My change in subject worked. “Don’t rub it in. I know it’s shameful that I’m still a private. Can you believe that? I’m this old and still a private? Well, I’ve got a mission in mind that will put me on the big wigs’ radar. It’s a doozy.”
That was worrisome. “Aunt Mavis…”
“Nope. Can’t tell you nothing else but you remember what I told you. That Broussard lady isn’t to be trusted with anything important. Not even a mailbox key, if you can help it. And she’s not the only suspicious character living here.”
I didn’t ask for further details. I knew she was referring to Duval Lorette. He was Shabby Heart’s official curmudgeon and he and Aunt Mavis had tied up more than once in recent years. But then again, who hadn’t tied up with Duval? No need to mention that now. My confused aunt was already stirred up this morning. “I’ll keep that in mind, Aunt Mavis. Thanks for the heads up.”
“Always glad to pass on whatever intelligence I can to my favorite niece.”
“Thank you,” I laughed as I lazily arranged the rest of the paperwork into a kind of neat pile on my flimsy desk. I’d deal with this later; maybe tomorrow or next week. I had too much to do outside. Shabby Hearts Trailer Park and Campground needed some love and a whole lot of repairs. And I only had a few weeks to get it all done. I had potholes to fill, a garden to prepare, trailers that needed power washing and grass that needed cutting. What I needed was a twin. Or a few volunteers.
Hmm…maybe I could drum up some this afternoon. Wonder what Tiffany and Esme were up to?
“You coming to the crawfish boil this afternoon? I’m sure Gus expects you. Everyone here at Shabby Hearts will be there.”
“Anything I should know about? It’s not your birthday yet.” She pushed her hat up to scratch her head thoughtfully.
“No. It’s not my birthday but Gus thought it would be nice to have a get together before the tourist season begins.” I was exaggerating, of course. Despite my attempt at positivity, the truth was, nobody was knocking the down the door to book a spot at the Shabby Hearts Trailer Park and Campground, even after I nearly broke the bank on a horrible, low-budget radio commercial. But I had to give it a shot.
The trailer park ran year round but the campground was only opened seasonally. We had twelve fire pits, ten RV hookups and a wonderful view of Lake Dennis. Not to mention we were a bonafide Bigfoot hotspot, at least, according to the locals. Five years ago, this place was always busy but then Uncle Ray Gene died. Aunt Mavis did her best to keep things going but as wonderful as she was, she was no businesswoman. To be fair, she’d done a decent job until she tumbled head over feet last year on a water skiing dare. Now the future of the Shabeaux fortune rested on my shoulders.
No pressure at all.
“Hmm…it’s tempting but I’m enlisted now. Can’t spare the time, Arcadia. I’m working up the details on my new operation. Over and out.” She took a big slug of her soda, belched and waved before she walked outside.
Yep, this would be my first year running the Shabby Hearts Trailer Park and Campground all by myself. True, some of the trailers needed major repairs and the campground needed some tending to but I felt sure I was up to the challenge. Our property butted up against Lake Dennis and although it was a pristine lake, it was smaller than nearby preferred Lake Camberleigh. It was bigger and had more amenities, not to mention a tour boat that everyone knew was a floating, illegal-as-heck casino. Of course, the sheriff’s nephew owned it so nothing was ever done about it.
Oh well, I would make Shabby Hearts a success come hell or high water and I wouldn’t have to break the rules. A girl could go a long way with a business degree. Not to mention a pair of high heels, blue jeans and an ever-growing collection of tank tops, my preferred uniform. Unless I was working in the yard and in that case, my uniform was shorts, tanks and flip flops. Which I needed to change into now. Maybe I could get some grass cut before the crawfish boil. I really needed to focus on getting some of this yard work done. With Aunt Mavis running around like Rambo, Gus and his sons trying to catch Bigfoot every weekend and my cousin Tiffany’s ever-growing cat colony, it was becoming more challenging each day.
I closed the windows and tried for the tenth time to record a decent business voicemail. I couldn’t afford to miss any phone inquiries. After five minutes, I felt like I had at least a small win. I grabbed my purse and locked the filing cabinet. I smiled as I said goodbye to the end of my first week as the new manager of Shabby Hearts. Uncle Ray Gene would be proud, and so would Aunt Mavis if she knew what the heck was going on in the real world. At least I still had her with me. Sort of.
Today was the last day of February and it was already warm outside. My stomach grumbled in anticipation of the tasty meal Gus would kindly prepare for our Shabby Hearts’ family. I just hoped Armand didn’t stop by.
I didn’t have time for that cheating so and so. I can’t believe I wasted a whole year of my life on that loser.
If we hadn’t been so good together behind closed doors we wouldn’t have made it past the first month. He had a big mouth and even bigger arms and once I believed a big heart but I’d gotten it wrong. Completely. I sighed thinking about the whole situation. Maybe I should forgive and forget. He’d apologized about a hundred times since I busted him.
Nope. I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t act like nothing had happened. It’s not like he wiped his mouth on his t-shirt or took my parking spot, as he had a habit of doing. Yeah, I missed him, or more to the truth, missed having someone around but not enough to sacrifice my dignity and my good sense. Not twice. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice and you might get cut. Nope. He wasn’t worth jail time. I flipped off the lights and locked the door behind me.
The sun would be going down soon and even though we were located in the sticks, the place had an exciting vibe to it this evening. Almost a kind of hum.
Without much more thought about it, I headed home to shed my business clothes, pull up my hair and get ready to cut the grass by the road.
What a great way to start the season. Gosh, I can’t believe how great things were going.
I should have known better.
So what do you think? Let me know in the comments!
Patch Town, Mississippi, 1864
Lieutenant Bart Humphries was no friend of mine but we wore the same uniform which made us brothers, at least until this war was over. Although I had no siblings I had cousins and that was as good as having brothers or sisters. I hoped that Leevale and Thomas survived this damned dust up; I hoped it and prayed it every day. My back ached, my feet were swollen in my shoes and my hands shook from hunger but I swore on Aunt Ruby’s bible that I would find my way back to Kentucky. We’d all done it, all us Darcy boys. She’d insisted on it and the three of us didn’t fear much of anything except Aunt Ruby and her bible.
I’d find a way back, Aunt Ruby. All I had to do was make it one more day.
With Bart leading the way it was not going to be an easy task to trek back to Pointe County, Kentucky. I never considered myself to be a deep thinker but war had a way of making all men philosophers. After what I’d seen in recent days I came to the sad conclusion that you could be a good man and a bad leader all at the same time. Lieutenant Humphries was living proof of this horrible truth. Maybe I would have been his friend if this war hadn’t have spilled into our backyards. Nah, probably not. I wasn’t pedigreed. Not like him. His father was a judge, a politician. I never knew mine. Seen him once is all.
Even without Humphries’ poor leadership surviving to see another sunrise proved a difficult thing nowadays. But I’d have to survive. Aunt Ruby needed us to come home and plow the field. We needed to set the new fence posts as we all swore we’d do as soon as we made it home. I’d probably have to track down Lester who had a tendency to wander whenever the mood struck him. How that old mule had lived so long was beyond me.
Yes, ma’am, Aunt Ruby. I’d just have to make it one more day.
I encouraged myself with that thought as I stared at the bottom of Bart’s worn boots which were just inches from my face. We’d been perched in this spot for the past thirty minutes or so. The sun beat down on my neck and intensified my perpetual burn. My gun was as empty as my cracker tin but it felt like it weighed fifty pounds and the pain in my stomach increased by the minute. We were lying on the side of a hill, one covered in blackberry briars but there wasn’t a berry to be seen. Nothing for our trouble except scratches. Better to be scratched than dead, Darcy. Better to pluck out a few stickers than a few bullets. And from what I seen of the lieutenant’s knife work I was not sure I would survive his ministrations.
So I remained completely still on the side of the hill waiting to see if we would advance or retreat to the tree line. If I’d had my druthers, I would have opted for the retreat. We could hunt for food easily enough. I could at least. We’d been wandering the woods for three days now. Got separated from the battalion back in Jackson. I told the lieutenant we needed to flank to the left to take up the slack in the line but he insisted we follow the creek and position further south to pick off the stragglers. Any idiot could see that we were going in the wrong direction. The Kentucky 21st needed us, the Union army was set to take Jackson yet here we were traipsing down a creek.
And now Young Springfield and another man whose name I did not know lay dead; picked off by an unknown sniper in those very woods. The Jasper boys called me a fool when I told them we needed to follow the lieutenant. I spat at the sight of him turning tail but I did not dally. After he lit out for the woods I ran after him and somehow, by God’s mercy, I successfully avoided the bullets that flew around me. The air was thick with bullets and shrapnel, and everything moved so slowly. As I ran I was amazed at how many there were; the rebel barrage were as thick as a swarm of black bees floating around me. Yet I didn’t flinch. I ran towards whatever fate was mine.
All my life I had never seen a man run from a fight. Not even during this year of war I had never seen a coward like one Lieutenant Bart Humphries. And when I ran after him all I could think about was bringing him back to the battalion commander. Humphries had to answer to somebody. Maybe not Plum Darcy--the bastard son of a failed preacher but I would not forget my friend Young Springfield. I would not forget seeing his head exploding beside me. His body falling to the ground like a bag of rotten potatoes. I blinked the sweat of my eyes and tried to forget that sound. That terrible sound. But here I was, three days later still with the lieutenant. I told myself I was keeping an eye on him, that I would bring him back to the commander but maybe I was a coward too.
God, kill me dead if I’m a coward. I’d rather die than be a coward and don’t let Aunt Ruby believe that.
Whenever I did wrong, Aunt Ruby would take to reading and praying and preaching. She’d read from her bible a good long time before she whipped you and I think enduring her painful reading was worse than her attempts at actually administering physical correction. In fact, one time Leevale pleaded with her to move on to the beating cause he couldn’t take it anymore. He felt powerfully grieved and convicted; and also he had chores to do. Aunt Ruby’s fire and brimstone preaching vexed his soul back on to the straight and narrow. I had a strong inkling that Bart Humphries had never heard any of that kind of preaching. Nothing about mighty King David or the flames of hell. Nothing vexed his soul. Not the death of a young man who had a new wife and baby.
“Move up, Darcy. I can see someone in the window.” I scurried up beside the lieutenant and steadied my gaze in the direction he indicated. Sure enough, there was a small shotgun house standing under a bent oak. There were no curtains in the lone window and there did appear to be a figure moving around. Maybe more than one but it was hard to tell with the light bouncing off the glass.
“I don’t have any ammunition left, sir. You got any?”
Bart shook his head and crawled back down the hill a few feet presumably so we could talk without being spotted. “Nah, but they don’t know that. We’ll have to come up with a plan. We should surprise them. Run in screaming and we’ll surprise the hell out of them. I’m starving and so are you, Darcy. I’ve been listening to your stomach complaining all morning.”
“That don’t sound like much of a plan, lieutenant.”
He frowned at my lack of enthusiasm but I wasn’t anxious to get my head blasted off. Not like Young.
“I can smell the food cooking. Can’t you? Don’t be stupid, Darcy. We need that food and if there are any Johnny Rebs in there, we need them too. We need to take something back to battalion.” Bart had that glazed over look in his eye. That one that said he’d made up his mind and he was going to do what he wanted to do. Bart was one to take risks that weren’t necessary, especially if it presented a solution to his immediate problem. Usually those problems were ones he created himself. Like this one.
Yeah, I smelled food but I could live another day without a stolen meal. In the hills of Kentucky it happened that way sometimes. You had to eat when you could. During the drought a few years ago, we’d gotten so hungry that Leevale threaten to eat Lester but Aunt Ruby wasn’t having any of that. She loved that old mule. Yeah, I could wait a little while longer to eat besides I had a greater hunger. A hunger for justice. I couldn’t let this fool of a lieutenant get himself shot out here. If I did, nobody would know what he’d done. Lieutenant Bart Humphries would be just another dead body on the war front, maybe even celebrated as a war hero, which he was not. But his fine, stiff collared father wouldn’t want to believe anything else, not unless he confessed the truth. And nobody would know that he caused the death of at least two men. Maybe more. Probably many more. Nobody but me.
I wasn’t about to let his crimes go without treatment. He would have to answer to someone.
When Humphries began to spider crawl the hill and then creep toward the back of the house I was hot on his heels. Maybe it would be easier to kill himself myself and be done with it; I’d be like an avenging angel from Aunt Ruby’s bible. But it would be an empty kill like so many I’d already sent God’s way.
For now I would satisfy myself with watching over Lieutenant Bart Humphries as best I could; he had to stay alive. As we raced towards the flimsy wooden door I prayed; not for my life but for his. If I died, no one would miss me but Young had a wife named Emmie and a baby girl he had not yet named. Humphries kicked the door open and we ran screaming into the house. Although a battle cry sprayed from my lips and I continued to pray in my mind. As the shouting ceased and the bedraggled rebels stared at us, each of them looking more starved than the other, I prayed yet again.
I pointed my empty gun at one boy’s face while the lieutenant bashed the nearest man with the butt of his rifle. He didn’t kill him but I could hear the man’s bone crack. He’d have a broken rib, probably is all. Better a broken rib than a blasted head. Bart Humphries cussed and swore and stomped around the poky cabin like he’d taken the whole county and not one dilapidated shack and four defeated soldiers.
God, I hate this man. Please help me not to kill him.
He ordered me to tie the men up with some rope he found. I secured each man while he railed at them and then when the lieutenant was satisfied with my work, he immediately helped himself to the burning pot of beans. He offered me a spoonful but I shook my head and avoided the stares of the hungry men.
Funny how even though we were on different sides we were all thinking the same thing. I didn’t talk to them but I knew. I could see it in their eyes. Undoubtedly they could see it in mine.
We all wanted Bart Humphries dead.
So what do you think? Are you ready for more? Leave me a comment below!
Hey, y'all. It's me, Monica Leigh. Like my cool sign says, it's been a month of Sundays since my last post. Well, maybe not quite that long but long enough to make me feel mightily ashamed. You all are like family.
If your city celebrates the Big Boom Boom, I hope everyone made it safely through the Mardi Gras season. As usual, the Bullock family ate a lot of King Cake but we didn't actually head down to see a parade. I kind of thought we would this year, it's been a while but nobody else wanted to go so I stayed home. I do love a good parade but wisdom says don't go alone. Maybe next year.
I've been busy working in the flowerbeds, when I haven't been hunched over a computer. I've got a Blue Girl rose that's going in the ground this week, just in time for the rain that's supposed to be headed this way. My sweetheart has the pasture ready for new calves and the hens have decided to work overtime. We have a bumper crop of fresh yard eggs. Too bad you can't freeze those suckers.
The weather has been positively fine. So fine I spend most mornings, and evenings on the back porch. It overlooks the pasture and the woods behind us. We've got new wild ducks visiting us. One beautiful one we've named Turkey Lurky has really taken to the Mister. He stalks him, hoping he'll toss some corn his way whenever he's out in the coop. I'll take a photo soon to share with y'all. He's got beautiful, iridescent black, green and blue feathers. He's sweet.
Here recently, I had a moment of nostalgia. I started searching for old paperback copies of the books I loved growing up. I really lucked up and found a Goodreads list of ghost stories from the 1980s. I printed the list and started searching and I was able to find and order quite a few of them. I tried local second hand shops but couldn't find much. (We don't have a used book store here. Can you believe it?) But once the first few arrived, I've been in heaven ever since. While the Mister watches John Wayne movies I'm thumbing through a book. At least we're together. If I ever wondered why I write ghost stories I shouldn't know. I used to consume these books as a kid.
As you may already, I have a new book coming out in a few weeks, January 15th, 2018. As it is a new ghost story/southern family drama, I thought it would be fun to post the first chapter. I do hope you love Harper, Jeopardy and all the people who call Summerleigh home. Both the living and the dead! Here's your SAMPLE CHAPTER!
Desire, Mississippi 1942
Dressed in nothing but a cotton slip and a head full of rag rollers I tiptoed to the rusty screen door. Poised impatiently with my hands on my skinny hips I frowned at my sister’s shadow as she crossed the front porch.
“Momma is going to kill you D-E-A-D, Jeopardy Belle! You better get in here before she finds you’ve been out all night,” I whispered disapprovingly at her silhouette as I reached up to unhook the screen door latch. My eyes felt like someone had thrown a handful of sand in them but I could very clearly see my sister’s petite frame and the outline of her long, wild hair.
Didn’t she know I needed my beauty sleep? How could I sleep when I had to wait for the sound of her footsteps on the porch or her fingers tapping at our bedroom window? I’d just about given up hope that she would ever come home until at last, I heard the creaking porch boards, the evidence of her late arrival. Maybe instead of covering for Jeopardy, I should have told Momma everything--that Jeopardy went out smoking and drinking with whatever boy she took a fancy to just about every night of the week but I couldn’t bring myself to break her confidence. Doing so would mean I would abandon my role as the family peacemaker; I may be a lot of things but never disloyal. Especially disloyal to Jeopardy — she had so few friends. She needed me. How strange that I loved her so deeply yet secretly loathed her.
‘Honestly, Jeopardy. All you think about is yourself.” I whispered in frustration as I struggled with the latch. It didn’t want to budget this morning for some strange reason. Daddy had installed it too high, I had to stand on tiptoe to pop it open but I finally got a good grip on it. Easing the door open slowly to avoid its obnoxious squeaking I waited for Jeopardy to stumble inside. Once I smuggled her back in our room I was going to give her a real piece of my mind, and good too. Lightning popped across the dim morning sky; I expected it to illuminate Jeopardy’s guilty face. How was it that she was the oldest? Not only was I the most mature of the Belle sisters but I was also the tallest and plainest. And this morning, I was certainly the most tired.
Was tiredest even a word? Thank goodness I didn’t have school this morning and thank goodness today wasn’t the George County Spelling Bee. My brain was too sticky and exhausted to put two letters together much less o-n-o-m-a-t-o-p-o-e-i-a. I couldn’t abide it if Martha Havard won the spelling bee. I’d have to move to Mobile just to escape the shame of it. Not that anyone in this house cared. Momma would show up for the Harvest Queen competition but never the spelling bee.
Suddenly the bottom fell out of the sky and rain trickled through the leaks in the tin roof porch but to my surprise, my older sister was nowhere to be found. I closed my eyes and opened them again but she did not appear. I flipped up the hook and opened the screen door completely puzzled by this turn of events. I had seen her—I had certainly seen her! Suddenly, my tummy felt like a bowl of jelly, all wiggly and uncertain.
Something was wrong. Was I dreaming? Had I fallen asleep?
“Jeopardy? Don’t play games with me.” I stepped onto the wet concrete of the screened-in porch and even though it was predicted to be a scorcher of a day after the rain, my feet were freezing. It was as if I were standing nude in the soda shop, the only place in town with air-conditioning and every hair on my body stood at attention. An unholy cold crept into my bones. Where could she be? We had no porch furniture except Momma’s rocking chair and a full grown girl of fifteen couldn’t hide behind it. Even one as petite as Jeopardy Belle.
This must be some sort of joke. “Jep?” She hated that nickname but seeing as she wanted to play games with me I had no alternative but to insult her. I searched the porch and even the narrow stairs leading up to them but there was no sign of Jeopardy. I know I had heard her footsteps; I had even seen her figure a minute ago. No way could she move on and off the porch that quickly, especially not in the clunky high heels she wore last night unless she had managed to lose them somewhere. I prayed that was not the case for those were Momma’s high heels and her only pair of white ones but Jeopardy was one to take risks. Momma would be fit to be tied if her favorite pair of heels came up missing. She had to send away to Montgomery Ward’s to get those shoes.
A voice from behind me surprised me, “Harper? What are you doing out here? It’s raining cats and dogs. You’ll catch your death. Are you walking in your sleep again, baby?” Lightning flashed again now illuminating my guilty face. I had no choice but to lie to Momma. She and Jeopardy carried on a lifelong feud and I was one strive for peace, even if that meant lying to one or the other if need be. I would do as much for Jeopardy to make her think more highly of our Momma. In some ways, it was as if I were the grown-up in our family.
Where are you, Jeopardy Belle? Maybe I had been dreaming or sleepwalking. I used to do it all the time before we moved to Summerleigh.
“Sorry, Momma. I didn’t mean to frighten you.” To my surprise, she hugged me. Hugs were distributed infrequently in our home and were rarer than a rib eye steak dinner. I breathed her in, enjoying Momma’s particular fragrance, peaches, and cold cream.
“Come inside and you can help me make biscuits. You girls have choir practice this morning.” She kissed my cheek and patted my back as we walked into the house. I swallowed the lump in my throat and resisted the urge to spill my guts to Momma. Maybe if I knew she wouldn’t unleash her rage on Jeopardy I would have been more forthcoming. In hindsight, I would regret not telling her everything right then and there but hindsight is always twenty-twenty, as they say. I heard the baby crying and offered to get see about her before she woke up the rest of the household. Caring for Loxley would provide me enough of a distraction to gather my wits and come up with some sensible explanation for Jeopardy’s absence.
Momma lit a slender cigarette and took a puff and I said, “I’ll get Loxley, Momma. She’s probably soaked through her clothing.”
My mother looked tired this morning. I clearly saw the fine lines around her mouth and between her eyes despite the thick layer of powder she had applied to her face. She wasn’t even thirty-five but she didn’t smile much anymore. When was the last time I’d seen Momma smile? It sure wouldn’t be this morning. “I don’t know why Loxley has to wet the bed every night. You girls aren’t giving her water at night are you?”
She frowned again, “She’s four now, too old to leave puddles behind.”
“Yes, ma’am,” I agreed. “I will clean her right up.” Maybe if I softened the blow with some good deeds, my mother wouldn’t get crazy angry when she found out that her oldest daughter was nowhere to be found.
“No, I’ll go tend to Loxley, dear. You start sifting the flour.” My stomach did a double clutch as I watched her walk away. Hopefully, she wouldn’t go to my room and discover one Belle missing. Momma walked down the threadbare carpet runner towards the bedroom where Loxley and Addison slept. Jeopardy and I shared the smaller room just beyond but Jeopardy usually slept on the couch or on the floor in one of the upper rooms of our dilapidated mansion.
I dumped flour into the sifter and added the salt and baking powder. “Darn you, Jeopardy!” I thought as I tapped the flour through the sifter pausing only a few seconds to light the gas stove. The stove was the only luxury in this big old house; at least Daddy had come through for us with the new Wedgewood Stove. It was a beauty and cranked up with just one strike of the match. Now if he could do something about the indoor plumbing he would truly be my hero.
Daddy was something of a dreamer but you couldn’t help but love him anyway. He was so handsome and kindhearted, even Momma loved him, even if most of the time his head was in the clouds. I heard Momma once tell her friend Augustine that even when daddy wasn’t at the war he was there in his mind. War does things to people’s minds. Or at least that’s what everyone says. I miss you, Daddy. How long had it been since he’d come home? Six months now? I wished he would write me. He always promised to write but he never did. And now Jeopardy was missing.
Oh, Daddy. What do I do?
Reaching for the biscuit pan I greased it with a faded checkered kitchen rag and set about finishing up the biscuits. Loxley must have made a real mess for it was ages before I heard Momma again but at least Loxley wasn’t crying which meant she hadn’t been spanked for her accident this morning. That meant Momma was in a good mood. How long would that last now? Once the biscuits were in the oven I started the coffee percolator going and took the peach jelly and butter out of the refrigerator. Augustine Sims called Momma to share the news that there was a new opening at the church. She accepted the call and put a pouting Loxley in the chair behind her. From what I could hear of the conversation, Reverend Reed needed a new secretary now that Ola got married and there was going to be quite a bit of interest in the position. Even Momma thought it might be nice to apply for the job.
I must have looked out the kitchen window a half dozen times but there was no sign of Jeopardy. A bright June sun rose over the thick clump of peach trees in the backyard and still nothing. It was early for the peach crop but the trees that already produce copious amounts of the succulent fruit. Any day now, Momma would send us girls up the trees to collect peaches so that we could sell them to our neighbors. Jeopardy had always been the best at climbing. Where are you, sister? I suppose in some homes it would’ve been strange to have a child missing for breakfast. But then again that’s how things were around here. Sometimes Momma and Jeopardy when days without speaking to one another or facing one another. I didn’t understand it but I had to believe they loved one another. I kept my silence during breakfast and thankfully, Momma didn’t ask about her. Loxley chomped on her food, Addison picked at hers but only ate a few bites and I pretended to eat while Momma finished her phone call. She and Augustine made quite a meal of Ola and Reverend Reed. I guess they’d closed their ears during the pastor’s latest sermon about gossip and the dangers of a “wagging tongue.”
Despite the evils of gossip, I was glad that Momma has something to distract her Jeopardy’s latest escapades.
“Girls, get dressed for practice. I’ll tidy up here and Harper can walk you down to the church. I guess your sister doesn’t plan on participating?” Momma raised an arch eyebrow at me over her chipped coffee cup and I stumbled over an answer. Nothing sprang to mind and my stomach churned as if at any moment it would reject the few crumbs of biscuit I’d eaten and the glass of milk I’d swallowed. I was no good at lying and knew I would fail miserably at any attempt.
“I am going to fail you, Jeopardy. I’m can’t do it,” I thought as tears filled my eyes. Before I could open my mouth and confess my sins someone banged like a freight train on the screen door. Startled at such an early caller, we all trailed behind Momma as she went to answer it and she didn’t shoo us away. Unlike me, she didn’t have a head full of rag rollers but was as always looked pretty as a picture complete with neat dress and perfect makeup.
To our surprise, the caller was Sheriff Andrew Kennedy, a nice man with short brown hair, serious eyes, and a tidily pressed uniform. He spoke to Momma in low, serious tones but I couldn’t hear a word he said. He clutched Jeopardy’s purse in his hands, along with Momma’s stolen high heels and my sister’s clothes. Momma’s white hand clutched the doorframe as she listened to the sheriff continue to talk. Another vehicle pulled into the driveway at a high rate of speed. It kicked up dust and rocks and Loxley began to cry. All I could hear was the beating of my own heart. Something bad had happened to Jeopardy. Something really bad.
This can’t be right! I saw her—she was here! Momma turned around with Jeopardy’s items in her hands. Her blue eyes wide, her lips moved but I couldn’t hear her either.
Suddenly I heard something heavy hit the ground beside me and the world went black.
Is it too early to talk about New Year’s resolutions? Probably so but that’s never stopped me before. For this writer, creating New Year’s resolutions combines two of my favorite things: daydreaming and thinking about the future. So I’m doing a bit of both today in my Monday Musings and I’m sharing my thoughts with you, as a way to make my accountable to someone.
This year, the word for 2017 was FAMILY. I count myself lucky that I was able to spend the time I had with my younger brother before he left us. I will never get over the loss and I will certainly never forget Lance Matthew. From the first day to the last day he was a blessing to us all. As we said at his going home ceremony, “Han var den basta av oss!” (He was the best of us.)
I have decided that the word for 2018 is ADVENTURE!
Short of setting my hair on fire, I'm up for most anything. In fact, I am going to try new things, see new places and re-examine places I have already been. (I love the Gulf Coast in case you didn’t know that.) Hopefully, this new focus on adventure will be reflected in my writing and somehow, through my adventures, maybe you’ll get to see some new places too.
So rather than make a bunch of lame New Year’s resolutions that I know I’ll never keep (lose weight, reverse the hands of time, yada yada yada) I’m focusing on one word. Just one. No matter what I’m doing, no matter what my schedule, I will make time for an adventure or two or a hundred. I refuse to spend another year of my life chained to the keyboard.
That doesn’t mean I won’t write a bunch of books. Oh, I’ll always do that but I’m working on my time management. If I’ve learned anything this year, it’s that time is short and only we can determine what we do with it.
So what are your plans for 2018? I’d love to hear about them. Share your plans in the comments!
As far as writing goes, the Return to Seven Sisters books will come to an end with Blooms Torn Asunder, Garden of Thorns and A Wreath of Roses.
In Gulf Coast Paranormal, I play to write at least four books in that series.
I've got three books for Guinevere Forever, total.
I'm not sure how many books will be in the Belles of Desire, Mississippi series. I think at least three. There's quite a bit of a story to tell there.
I know this post is kind of short but I've got a book to write.
And don't forget The Ghost Lights of Forrest Field comes out Wednesday!
We are into November and I’m thinking about the New Year. What will the New Year hold? I’m looking forward to a HAPPY year with family and friends and I’m looking forward to finding new ways to connect with all of you, my extended family.
As you know, my 2017 publishing calendar was jam-packed and I had hoped to end this year delivering to you all the books I had promised. I never like to disappoint my readers although I do so occasionally. However, due to my personal issues this year, I’ve had to scale back my writing goals for 2017. I would normally feel bad about doing so but you know what happened, with my brother's passing, with my husband's surgery — it’s been one thing after another. But I’m not the girl that likes to make excuses so I do plan on finishing the year strong.
In November you will get the sixth book in the Gulf Coast Paranormal series and that is The Ghost Lights of Forrest Field and at the end of November you will receive Christmas at Seven Sisters. Please note that if you are on my mailing list last year you already received this particularly novella as a PDF. However, not everyone got to read the book so I put it on Amazon as a $.99 deal and it releases on November 30. Christmas at Seven Sisters is a vignette, a trilogy of Christmas stories featuring some of your favorite and maybe least favorite characters from that novel.
So that’ll be all that I can deliver for the rest of this year but I do believe that with some focus in planning I can cover all the books that were promised you and then some in 2018. I’m really looking forward to what the year brings and I also want to spend a little time getting to know all of you better.
PS You won’t believe what my assistant and I have planned. Let’s just say were making this whole ghost hunting thing a reality. That’s all I can tell you for now but until next Monday or perhaps the Monday after that have a good one!
After an eventful weekend, (thanks Hurricane Nate) I'm happy to report that all are well here at Seven Sisters Farm. No hens, roosters, biddies, ducks, ducklings, goats or pigs were harmed. The Siberian Husky, Chihuahua and angry parakeet are doing well too. I won't lie, it was a frog-strangler and the winds were incredible but we've seen much worse. Nate was nothing compared to Irma and Harvey yet we feel incredibly blessed to have survived such an ordeal relatively unscathed. Thanks to everyone for the prayers and the well wishes.
As promised last week, I'm sharing a snippet from my new title, Halloween Horror: A Halloween Short Story Collection. In it there are nine original, new stories and one of my favorite but classic stories, Being With Beau. The excerpt below is from the story Maarta's Baby and it's a real scream.
Maarta had never actually seen a goblin but fancied she’d heard one near her mother’s house when she was a small child. Looking out the window now, into the darkness, she wondered if anything looked back. The moon illuminated the fresh blanket of snow that covered the ground around the cottage. It smelled cold and fresh. For a second, she believed she could see a shadow—yes, there! Just there at the edge of the wood! She stared hard and avoided speaking but didn’t see anything else.
“We must build up the fire, Enid.”
“I am warm, mother.”
“We need more light, daughter. We must build the fire.” An unmistakable chill swept over her soul. The urgency grew by the second.
“Mother, we need more wood, and it’s hot in here.” As if he agreed, the baby began to cry again.
“Can’t you stop crying for once, Kristof? If you don’t stop, I’m going to give you to the goblins!” Enid’s little mouth fell open, and as if he understood his mother, the boy quieted and cried softly. A shudder went through Maarta’s body, and her ears began to buzz.
“Mother, don’t say that. Come sit with me and tell me another story. A happy story—please!”
Another wolf howled, this one very near to the house. The hair on Maarta’s arms rose, and she clutched her daughter’s hand as they stepped away from the window. She didn’t want to go outside, especially if there were wolves about, but they needed the wood if they were to keep the light bright through the night. One basket was all she needed. She prayed that Conrad had cut and stacked it already. Maarta leaned over the crib and stared down into the face of her unhappy son. “Be quiet, now, Kristof. I will feed you when I return. I must go out and gather wood. Be good for your sister.”
“Mother, do not leave me here by myself. What if the goblins come?”
She smiled at the child, happy to see that she took the stories seriously. “Then give them what they want, Enid.” The girl whimpered at her answer, and Maarta squatted down in front of her and hugged her. “Hush now. Are you a baby like Kristof? I will be just outside. I will hear the goblins if they come, I promise you, and I have your father’s ax to protect us. Now go, care for your brother.”
The boy wailed loudly again as if he too protested. Maarta covered her thin body with a coat of furs, wrapped her boots and left the cabin.
Just a few minutes away, that’s all I need. Just a few minutes!
The snow crunched underfoot, but her feet were warm in her deerskin boots. She walked to the white clump of wood, which she recognized as the woodpile. Unfortunately, Conrad had not cut the wood, so she would have to do it.
So like him to think of nothing but himself.
If she ever doubted his unfaithfulness, she didn’t anymore. A man who loved his family would never leave them without wood on a cold night. He might as well have sentenced them to death.
The baby howled in the cabin behind her, but all else was silence. Maarta felt the sensation that she was being watched. There was no time to waste! As she chopped wood with her stiff fingers, tears rolled down her cheeks. She had done this—there was no one to blame but herself. Maarta had married a man who did not respect her or her people or her ways. That would change now. She would go home, home to her parents if need be, as soon as she could. She would have to prepare—in secret, of course—but she thought she would remember the way.
Then she heard rustling in the wood and heavy clumps of snow hitting the ground. Yes, there it was again! Rustling and a strange snorting sound! It didn’t sound like a wolf or a bear. Maarta listened carefully and imagined she heard talking, two men talking. No, it must have been three or more, talking in low tones in a language she did not recognize. Foreigners here! She hunkered behind the woodpile and waited, the ax in her hand. Wolves howled, their shrill calls piercing the chilly air. The sounds of breathing were all around her, and whispers—so many whispers! Their voices demanded something of Maarta, but all she could do was fall to her knees and whimper.
And she heard another sound. Kristof’s cries echoed through the woods, and she heard the voices getting louder. Oh no! Are they near the house? Enid will be terrified!
Grabbing her wood and stuffing it in the basket, she began to run toward the cottage with all her might. The cold stung her lungs and her legs felt like stones, but she pressed on. She had to get inside and latch the door. The thick latched wood would keep strangers out. And she had the ax. As she ran, Enid’s name on her lips, she tripped and landed on the ground with a loud thud. Pain shot through her head, and her eyes refused to open.
And then she slipped away, into blackness. As she moved in and out of consciousness, she heard the voices again, and the screams of a child. Was that Enid? The footsteps circled her, the wolves howled, and the deep grumbling of voices filled her ears.
Then she heard nothing.
Leave your comments. Tell me what you think!
Which is kinda crazy since I just hired a talented narrator, Dara Kramer to bring the GCP's story to life. However, with some renegotiating, (Thanks, Dara!) I am definitely working with Tantor and the lovely and talented Dara will be working on Wife of the Left Hand, the first book in the Sugar Hill series. I'll have big news on audiobooks in the next few months. You guys lucked out!
And on that note, just a reminder that The Ghost Lights of Forrest Field (Gulf Coast Paranormal 6) will be out in November. The next book in the Return to Seven Sisters series, All the Summer Roses comes out on the 15th and Halloween Screams, my short story collection comes out on October 30th. It's my goal to continue to release books in the Gulf Coast Paranormal and Return to Seven Sisters series every six to eight weeks. I want to keep faithful readers happy! But I am facing a dilemma and I need your help. I can squeeze in another first book in one of two new series but I'm wondering which. Which do you think?
I absolutely love both these series! Each will be four books but I can't choose which. I need your help.
Help this writer pick her next series,
My completely overworked but extremely talented editor, Lady K, we'll call her, completed All the Summer Roses (Book 2 in the Return to Seven Sisters series) and kindly made it available for pre order. Release date is October 15th so you'll get a double dose of me next month because Halloween Screams comes out on October 30th. I love that!
Speaking of which, I have to confess, I've discovered that short stories are a completely different animal than the novellas and novels I typically write. To be effective, they have to be succinct and you know me. I do like to tell a story, and a backstory...and a flashback. LOL But I am excited about this set of stories. It took me a couple of days to write each one and I think each story is something special. Naturally. I fell in love with one particular story so much that I plan on making it into a novel next year. More about that later.
I had such a great response to the idea I posted on my Facebook page (if you're not there, please check it out) that I'm moving ahead with my Lost Camelot trilogy. Queen Guinevere as a vampire? Holy smokes! Of course, there will be lots of glimpses into the past and a battle for the men she loves, Arthur and Lancelot. Here's the description I posted on FB.
King Arthur is dead and the dream of Camelot has ended. Guinevere thought her life was over, that she would spend the rest of her days in a convent or hidden away in Avalon but she couldn't have been more wrong. Cursed by Morgan LeFay, Queen Guinevere is banished from Avalon and must face the ages alone, hiding in the shadows as a vampire. Through the centuries, she's watched Arthur and Lancelot return over and over again but her love for them both has kept her away. Until now. Morgan LeFay has returned with an ominous threat and once again Guinevere is forced to make an impossible choice but one she cannot avoid. Supernatural forces are arrayed against the once powerful queen but can she overcome them and settle an ancient score?
But, it won't be available until February. I plan on releasing her on Valentine's Day! I can't wait to tell this story and I hope you love it.
For all my ghost story lovers, I'm not leaving my ghosts behind. I'll always have a spooky tale to share with you.
All my best, Monica Leigh Bullock
As a kid, I never wanted to be a superhero but I would have traded all my Barbies to be Nancy Drew. That love for mysteries and a total obsession with ghost stories is what led me to become a writer. I just love a mystery!
I'm a true blue Southern girl who loves living on the Gulf Coast. When I'm not playing the trumpet or hanging out with the people I love, I'm probably daydreaming.
It's really what I do best.
I'm a true blue Southern girl who loves living on the Gulf Coast. When I'm not playing the trumpet or hanging out with the people I love, I'm probably daydreaming.
It's really what I do best.