Hi, everyone. We’re slap-dab in the middle of September. Can you believe it? This year is sailing past us but at least it saved the best for last. Spring leaves me feeling inspired; summer reminds of happy moments and is the perfect background for making more but there is something about fall…I think it is my favorite time of year. Not just the theoretically cooler temperatures (I live in south Mississippi) or the crunching of leaves underfoot or the smell of a roaring fire and hot chocolate. This time of year is much more than football and hayrides. Yes, fall is so much more to me. It’s storytelling time!
I thought it would be kind of neat to share a story with you. I’ll add to it every few days. Here’s one for September. Let me know what you think.
The season comes with long shadows and hiking boots and you love it. It is a combination you can’t resist. You put on comfortable jeans, a warm sweater, and lace up your boots. You aren’t the only one that is excited. Your dog jumps around excited to take a walk with you. The two of you play in the leaves for a few minutes but you really want to stretch your legs so you hook up his leash and head down the road. It is quiet out here. This is no busy highway but a lonely country road. You don’t regret the decision you made to leave the city behind and live in more peaceful surroundings. The cottage is cozy and you’ve gotten a lot of writing done recently. The new book should be finished right on time. You breathe in the air and let it out. Yes, you love everything about your new life.
Except that house.
The abandoned house down the road is no longer hidden with overgrown foliage. The leaves have fallen away and revealed the skeletal remains of a once friendly farmhouse. You can see it plainly as your dog tugs you along towards it. You aren’t one for dramatics but you feel as if ghosts must wander there. And they beckon you subtly. As you turn your head away, your eyes are immediately drawn back. You can see someone moving around on the top floor, just out the corner of your eye. You stop and stare but there’s nothing to see.
You cross the red dirt road. Best to avoid the place altogether. That’s what the postman told you and you had every intention of taking his advice but you pause again. Just there! You see a hand on the window pane, white and small. A child’s hand.
But that can’t be right. There is no one living there. The mailbox is missing; the front door is hanging on one hinge. A few windows are broken. But your dog sniffs the air as if he catches a whiff of something too. Fear grips you and you tug at his leash as you fight the urge to run and then the fear vanishes almost as suddenly as it appeared.
That’s so odd, you think to yourself as you remain rooted to the spot.
The aroma of musty leaves and rotten wood fill the crisp, autumnal air. You want to leave but you’re transfixed by the house. You manage to coax your dog away from the house and the two of you travel down the road and up the hill. You have no intention of staying out late, you just wanted to take a quick walk to stretch your legs. Yes, up the hill to take a few photos with your camera and then back home again. You have friends are coming visit; they have been dying to see the new cottage.
As you walk, you can’t help but look over your shoulder. The sound of footsteps behind you frightens you but you are determined not to look back.
But your dog does and he begins to growl. You pull him close to you and steel your nerves. You don’t want to look, you really don’t but the dog’s hair is standing up on the back of his neck. He is immovable. Slowly you spin on your heel, you clutch his leash desperately.
There is no one there. Your dog remains at attention as if he can see something or someone you can’t. Feeling slightly sick you decide to go home. The beauty of the late September afternoon has quickly faded and you want nothing more than to hide in your room. In your bed, if possible.
Suddenly, your dog lurches forward, the leash slips from your grip and you watch in horror as he barrels down the road barking ferociously. And he is running full speed towards the house. Not your house but the empty, broken one.
The empty house, the one you wanted to avoid.
The sound of footsteps behind you let you know that you aren’t running alone…
What do you think? Do you want to hear more? Let me know in the COMMENTS section.
Mobile, AL, 1883
As the horses’ hooves clopped heavily on the dry, red dirt road, I tugged on the black thread that I had tied around my finger. My eyes gazed past the driver of the carriage, but he was not my focus at all. I was seeing beyond this moment in time into another world. There were many interesting things to see here past the veil. Oh yes, the air was thick with sorrow on both sides, the atmosphere so saturated with grief and loss it was almost tangible. And I felt power. Slowing my breathing, I stared intently into the beyond—I had to see more! Yes, you could feel it with your fingers and taste it in your mouth. I could see it all now, all except them, the dead who hid from me. Why would they? But I would wait, I would remain focused. They could not hide from me forever. No, not forever.
Ah, the sorrow. Yes, the air was heavy with regret, and just like dew on the morning grass, it would fall upon someone sooner or later.
“Almost there, ma’am,” the driver said with a friendly smile, but I paid him no mind. I gave him no answer, no sign that I valued the information he offered me. I knew exactly where I was—I was no stranger to Seven Sisters. My late husband had been in the employment of the Delarosa family, a fact that he had taken great pride in.
You should have listened to me, Max. I warned you that Death wandered the halls of Seven Sisters, but you didn’t believe me. You never believed in my powers, and now you are gone. But I am not gone. I will see you again, my clever one. You spun your web too quickly, Max, my darling. Too tightly and too quickly, and you snared yourself. I have real magic, my poor husband. Watch and see.
Although our marriage was legal, it had not been widely publicized. Max and I agreed upon this. It was rather scandalous for a young man to marry an older woman, but the difference in our ages had not mattered to either of us. We had been like two old souls, born for one another. Max had been my fourth husband—I’d been widowed three times—but he was the one I had loved the best, despite his moral turpitude. His scheming repelled me at first, but Max had a rare elegance about him; he was a charismatic spellbinder, and I could not help but fall under his power. But he became too ambitious, too sure of himself in the end. He was not the purest of souls, but he had been my husband, and upon learning about his death, I realized just how much I loved him.
Through some difficult spirit work, I delivered a kind of justice for Max, but my dead husband was not satisfied. Oh, I can feel such power here! Yes, there were many restless spirits associated with the grand old home. I tugged the thread tighter, my gray eyes focused on the space in front of me. Contrary to what the driver might believe, I wasn’t watching the road rise up ahead. I wasn’t studying the flickering amber lights of the fine home that welcomed her arriving guests. Although the sound of the creaking oak boughs above me briefly caught my attention, as did the occasional cascade of leaves and Spanish moss that flitted about, I saw none of it. Only sensed it.
Tug tighter. Feel the pain. Endure it. Pain frees you, Margaret. It is the catalyst.
Dr. Maxwell had been an excellent mentor, a patient teacher and a student of the emerging world of spiritualism, but in the end, I had grown past him. In all ways. I had not realized how true that was until the day I left the institute. I’d been so young when I came under his wing. He’d treated me like a daughter, but his refusal to acknowledge my emerging gifts had frustrated me beyond words. In the end, I had to leave. But even today, as the sun beat down on my face and the air chilled my bones, I could hear him coaxing me on, instructing me.
Still your mind. Focus on the veil. Feel the pain, Margaret. It is the key.
I tugged harder on the black silk, so hard that I was sure my finger was bleeding. Suddenly, the air moved and I gasped at the double sight that appeared before me. No, he couldn’t hide forever! I could see the road, yes, but also a dark figure. A shade, a ghost. It was as if the two images were superimposed on one another, the figure and the road. And as we moved, he moved. A man! Like an arrow from a taut bowstring, he raced ahead of us now, his black hair fluttering about his face. He paused and hovered at the crux of the road where it turned to the long drive that would lead me to Seven Sisters. I did not question the vision, for I could see Jonatan Delarosa clearly. And I smiled at him.
I whispered, “Oh, yes. You remember me, don’t you, Jonatan? But you are dead now, dead like my Max and like Memphis. Tell me, Jonatan, does she haunt you? Can a ghost be haunted by another?”
The carriage driver cast a glance over his shoulder and asked, “Ma’am?” but I didn’t break my focus. I waved him silent with my bloody finger, and he moved the carriage along at a more hurried pace, but the damage was done. The change in speed broke my trance, and I unwound the black string and tucked it in the pocket of my black dress. Smothering the wound with my handkerchief, I shot the driver a look of disapproval, but he did not look back again. No, he wouldn’t look again. Oh, but he could feel me. I stared at his back and imagined raking my fingernails across his flesh. I smiled as he shivered briefly and then popped at the reins.
Jonatan was gone from my vision now, but he had not gone far. He’d faded into the background of falling leaves and was carried away on the icy, late-fall breeze. I smiled as I watched the tangle of red, brown and gold leaves scurry toward the house as if they too wanted to shield the Delarosa family from my arrival.
But it was too late now. I was here.
I didn’t smile and clap my hands as I so wanted to do. I kept my composure as the carriage came to a halt in front of the house. The driver made no move to assist me, which was just as well as I did not like to be touched by strangers. I shoved my mossy green bustle behind me and escaped from the carriage as smoothly as possible. I had not brought my trunks with me. Not yet. But they were packed and ready to go at the hotel if I should need them, if the work here took me longer than expected. I could send for them later, at the appropriate time.
Jacinta Delarosa alone came to greet me. Her once-handsome face was pale except for the bold red patches on her cheeks. This color came not from rouge but from liquor. Was she drinking now? Oh, that would work in my favor. With a false expression of concern, I climbed the steps and offered my gloved hands to her. She clutched them like a drowning man would clutch the hands of his rescuer. Then she kissed them, and I bit the inside of my lip to keep from smiling.
“Thank God you are here. I have so wanted you to come, Madam Serena. Welcome to my home. Welcome to Seven Sisters.”
“I am glad to do so, Mrs. Delarosa. I am happy to be of service to you, my dear, and I have good news. I have already seen your son; he greeted me on the road. A handsome boy with long, dark hair. He waved me down the driveway.”
My half-true confession drew a gasp from Jacinta’s pale lips. “My Jonatan! That is my son! Then he is here. I knew it. Please come in!”
I released her hands and stepped through the open door. “Yes, I think I will.” My eyes took in the grand entrance, and I could smell the promise of a delicious meal. Someone slammed a door above us, but perhaps it was only the wind. In a house as large and fine as this, that was possible. Things would move. Doors would close. No doubt there were many spirits here. Yes, the air was rich with all manner of negative emotions. No wonder Max loved this place and wanted so desperately to claim it. Seven Sisters drew you in. It had a presence about it, a strange charisma, like it wanted you to love it and it would always love you back. Forever.
I knew what Dr. Maxwell would say about the aging antebellum home. The place has a powerful energy and great potential for important spiritual work. What fun I would have here! I would open every door I could. I would uncover every Delarosa rock; in the end, I would leave them with nothing.
Not even their dignity.
I smiled up at the big empty staircase. Someone unseen watched me from the highest step. I could hear her sighing at me.
Watch and witness my power, all you dead. Watch and witness…
Y'all ready to get a little shabby?
Here's your sneak peek!
“I have makeup remover, Tiffany. In the bathroom.” She sprinted off to get her freebie towelette and came back looking sort of normal. “If you’re here to talk about Ginger’s text, I don’t want to hear it. I have to power-wash trailers today. End of story. I already told her that. Did she send you over here?” I dumped about three teaspoons of sugar in her mug and handed it to her.
To my surprise, she wasn’t disappointed at all. She stirred her coffee and grinned at me. “No and thank goodness because I really want to be the first one in our unit to earn those dragonfly wings. I mean, I am your recruiter.”
“My what?” I asked her as I tried not to laugh at her.
“Your recruiter. It’s up to you to spread your wings, pardon the pun, and find customers outside our mutual friends. Seriously, Arcadia. You, me and Esme know pretty much the same folks. Is it too much to ask? I’ve gotta pay for Buddy, Partridge and Elvis’ vet appointments.”
I frowned at her. “Are you serious, Tiff? I told you the same thing last night, but you insisted that I join your team. I spent a hundred bucks plus tax on a Bevvy Jane kit, remember? I’m entitled to sell to whoever I want to. But may I remind you that I didn’t want to do this in the first place?”
She sneezed and sloshed coffee on the cheap plastic flooring. Obviously, her springtime allergies were kicking in. Or at least that’s what she called them. I suspected she was allergic to her colony of cats, but she would never admit it. She set the cup down and began dabbing the coffee up with paper towels. “I know, I know, but can’t you sell outside the park? I’ve already got an order from Rita. I called her as soon as I got home last night, and she was really sorry she couldn’t make the party. I think she had a date with Gus, but she spent well over a hundred bucks on that tape. Old ladies love that stuff, you know. Do you know Aunt Mavis bought almost the entire product line? She’s crazy about that tape.”
“Tiffany, don’t tell me you sold Mavis anything. She’s not to be trusted with checks or debit cards. How much is she in for?” I opened the trash can for her so she could deposit the paper towels.
“She’s good for it, and she believes in the Bevvy Jane products. Look, just do me a favor. Don’t sell to anyone in the park, at least not right away. I want those wings, girl. I really need a win in my life, what with Jeb gone and all.”
I rolled my eyes. “You’ve got to get out more, Tiff.” Before I could talk her down, someone banged on my trailer door. “Who is it now?” I called as I handed my stressed-out bestie her mug again.
“It’s me, Esme.”
“Good Lord. I’m so popular this morning,” I said under my breath. “Hey, girl. Come on in. I think I have some coffee left.”
“Okay, thanks.” Esme flashed her beautiful smile at me and joined Tiffany and me in the kitchen. “I see I’m not the first one here. You’ve got a lot of nerve going behind my back to get Rita, friend.”
Tiffany ratcheted up her saggy blond ponytail as if she were getting ready for a fight. Before she came back with a smartass comment, I asked, “Any chance either of you will help me power-wash today? I sure would appreciate the help.”
“Tiffany is off today, right? You should help her out, bestie,” Esme said in an accusatory tone of voice. Uh-oh. What is going on with these two?
“I’m going to earn those wings before I go into work tonight. It’s all-you-can-eat shrimp at Fry Me a River, and I plan on putting that pin right on my t-shirt.”
“You better wear your pushup bra, Tiffany, or the customers might not see it.”
Tiffany slapped the counter and stepped closer to Esme. “What does that mean? My chest is bigger than yours, Es-mee.”
I stepped in between them. “So no takers on the power-washing? I’m happy to spring for lunch. But I’m not having this squabbling going on in my home, so cut it out, you two. Now, any takers?”
“I’ve got back-to-back hair clients today or you know I’d help you out. I help out friends when they need me, and I don’t stab them in the back.”
Tiffany sputtered but didn’t dare step any closer. “I never stabbed you in the back, Esme; I just made a phone call. But I’m getting those wings first. Hide your clothes and watch. And I’m not going to forget that crack you made about my bosom. Brave words from someone who has no behind to speak of. Wearing your padded drawers today, Esme?”
“I don’t have any padded drawers, Tiffany. That’s only for bras. I know you nabbed that Victoria’s Secret collection from the Goodwill, and you knew I was going to buy them. You just had to undercut me.”
“I did not!”
“You can have Shabby Hearts and Fry Me a River, Tiffany! I have a beauty shop! When I’m not shampooing, cutting or styling, I plan on selling Bevvy Jane to every woman I know. At least my customers won’t smell like crawfish.” Esme glowered at Tiffany as she put her hand on her hip and continued to cock an attitude.
“That’s fine, Esme, but you remember our agreement. Everyone in the trailer park is mine. I get to sell here. You can have that snobby beauty shop crowd.”
Can you believe it is June already? I sure can’t. I know I sound like an old-timer here but why does it feel as if time has sped up? Just yesterday I was taking down my Christmas tree, dragging out the Mardi Gras stuff and searching for the Easter decorations. I swunny, it’s enough to make a girl’s head spin. Well, there isn’t much I can do about the speed which the hands of time move. All I can do is enjoy each day as it comes, be thankful for it, and make it as special as possible. And not just for everyone else but for me too. That’s a hard thing for a mom to do, isn’t it?
I get that.
But please, friend. Do something nice for yourself. Take that walk in the evening. Pick up a bouquet a flowers for your nightstand or desk. Buy the good chocolate and hide it from the family. You have my permission to hug yourself, be kind to yourself and stop and smell the roses. Or hydrangeas. Don’t let time get away from you.
I have a nephew getting married next month, my youngest is learning to drive, (y’all pray for me!) and the Mister has a few more aches and pains than he used to. I don’t like any of that. My family is in a season of change. I recognize it because we've been here before. Time to do what I asked you to do, stop and smell the roses. Or in my case, smell the chlorinated swimming pool. I plan on taking a few days off this week to hang with two of my three besties. I’m going to float around the hotel pool, dilly dally, have a nice dinner and maybe hit the dance floor. Of course, I will write a few words here and there but for the most part, no working. One day, I may not have the chance to hang out with my girls. I love my tribe.
As you all know, when it’s not hot enough to melt your face off, I do love to walk. And when I walk, I listen to podcasts. Some of my favorites are author podcasts but I have some other favorites too like Haunted Places by Parcast (which I’ve mentioned before) CoastToCoast and probably my hands down favorite, the Sasquatch Chronicles.
There’s nothing like taking a walk through the woods (I live on a 16 acre farm) and listening to witnesses recount their Bigfoot encounters. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve moved a little quicker because I thought I heard something while listening to Wes Germer and his guests. (Which the sound was probably a squirrel or a rabbit. We have plenty of those. But we also have coyotes, bobcats and black bears.)
I love the way that Wes treats his guests with respect. It's so important to give people a platform to talk about the things that matter to them, things that make them scratch their head and wonder. Wes does that in a professional yet entertaining way. All respect for that, Wes. I try to do the same with my ghost stories.
I know ghosts are real. I've seen, felt and experienced them. Unlike Wes, my stories are fictional (but some are based on legend) but I do my best to treat paranormal believers with respect. There's a big paranormal world out there full of strange creatures and ghostly beings. Let's not pretend that they don't exist. Okay?
If you get a chance, check out the Sasquatch Chronicles. What an entertaining listen and if you happen to walk through the woods, it might help you to pick up the pace. I’m not affiliated with the podcast nor did Wes, the guy that hosts it ask me to mention him. In fact, we’ve never spoken. So go have a listen and get your scare on.
So, as we get closer to summer, don't forget to have a good time, Mom and Dad. It's okay to be a kid again. Time doesn't slow down for us just because we get older and life isn't always about the kids. No matter how loudly they scream or persistently they beg for the car keys. You have to live a little too. Remember the things you used to love. For me, that's swimming, riding my bike (guess what I bought) and watching Jiffy Pop rise over an open flame. So go, Adventurer! Stop letting your age tell you that you can't have fun anymore.
Jump into the river. Go for a walk. Have a bonfire. Host a block party. Celebrate old friends and make new ones.
And don't forget to bring the Jiffy Pop.
After last week's heavy duty subject, I decided to go with something a little more lighthearted today. Just a peek into my life. Sorry, y'all. I'm as down-to-earth and no frills as they come. And apologies for posting so late. The Mister has bronchitis (Yep, I passed it on) and I'm playing chief cook, maid and bottle washer for one sick cowboy. I don't mind. He always takes good care of me when I'm down. And he's a cutie pie which helps.
My long, sugar-filled obsession with Pioneer Woman, Ree Drummond’s recipe collection continues. Like many of my heroines, I'm not the world's greatest cook – with the exception of a few tried-and-true recipes. (Remind me to tell you about the time my then six-year-old asked me at the dinner table, "Mom, are you sure about this?")
Still, I'm tenacious – borderline obsessive about things I am interested in. That includes ghosts and writing and cooking. (And the Mister :0) And not to mention how much the Pioneer Woman and I have in common.
She loves earrings and so do I. Ree's husband Ladd is a cowboy and my husband has two cows. And she's a style junkie, in a laid back sort of way, which at my age, I can appreciate. Ree always looks so put together in her boots and jeans whereas I prefer capris and flip-flops but still, she's the first to admit she feels overwhelmed from time to time. As do I.
I know there are differences. She’s a redhead and I’m a blonde (kind of) but aside from those two things we are very much alike. Just two post-forty women working hard, trying to keep the family together, fed and happy.
This week's recipe inspiration from Ree Drummond was No Bake Peanut Butter Bars. Since they were “no bake” desserts I figured I was a shoo-in.
Of course, it was not. For some reason, my food processor went berserk on me and didn’t grind up all of the vanilla wafers so I ended up with big chunks of cookies. Not very appealing look but I made it work. I think.
Then I had to spread the cement-like material into the casserole dish. That was a struggle, especially as I forgot to butter it first. I had to "unstuck" the bottom layer, butter the dish and reapply it. I got my work out. (Notice all the cool Pioneer Woman gear? It did not help.)
Not very appetizing looking but at this point I had chocolate melting on the stove. No turning back now. Note to self, when Ree says double boiler what she really means is a Pyrex bowl in a saucepan of boiling water. And further note to self, said bowl should be round and not oval-shaped. But that's another story.
Okay. This proves that chocolate makes everything look better.
So far, this part was my favorite. Who doesn’t love pounding something into small pieces? Mission accomplished. Just like Ree. Except I used a can of tomato sauce. I couldn't find my mallet until after the nut banging session was over. But it looks good posing in the photo. However, it's doesn't look like Ree's mallet. Darn it. (Add that to the Pioneer Woman must-have list. She gets me every time.)
And with a sprinkle of the nuts, everything looks kosher. Right? My family obediently smiled and chewed on the bars but I noticed that the initial leftovers were not moving out of the kitchen very quickly. So like the good aunt that I am, I passed a plate off to my nephew. Still waiting on the plate to come back. He also smiled and nodded encouragingly.
Probably not going to try this particular recipe again. Back to the beginner's class for me. Nope, I'm not the world's greatest cook but I continue to look forward to trying new things. And I’ll keep trying until I get it right. Just not this particular recipe.
Which brings me to my next point. Some of you have probably heard that I am starting a brand-new series. And what's surprising is that this series has no ghost in it. Zero. That's right, no ghosts. It's not that I'm off ghosts or giving up on that aspect of the paranormal but I thought it would be fun to write something wacky for summer.
Namely, stories about a smart, sassy yet shabby trailer park owner named Arcadia Shabeaux. In Arcadia's world, family is everything—even if that family member is running short on brain cells. Set in fictional Lake Dennis, at the Shabby Hearts Trailer Park and Campground, everyone pulls together in a crisis. You know what they say, teamwork makes the dream work. And Arcadia has big dreams.
There are paranormal elements to the stories including a mysterious Bigfoot and an unusual curse that makes Arcadia irresistible to the opposite sex. And even… Well, I can't spoil everything. Needless to say I've planned a fun romp for summer readers. I do hope that you love it.
The first book in the series is called A Touch of Shabby which will be followed by two other books, Shabbier by the Minute and Shabby by Night. The first book in the series will be $.99 for the first 24 hours when it goes live which is May 31. Pick it up before June 1 to get that price. I hope you love Arcadia and all her crazy Cajun family and friends. I can't wait to see what kind of trouble she gets into.
One more thing. I'm working hard behind-the-scenes to put together the rest of the remaining two books of the Return to Seven Sisters series. Those books will include A Garden of Thorns and A Wreath of Roses. I have so much more to share, so many more surprises but I think that's enough for now. I'll be sharing updates on new releases on my Facebook page. I usually try to put up covers along with the links to preorders but not everything will be available for preorder, I'm thinking.
Contrary to popular belief, there are no ghost writers here. Just little ol’ me, banging on a keyboard for on average, six hours a day.
So that's it. Thanks for coming along on this ride with me. And more than that, thanks for listening and reading and being a friend.
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.