We’ve got some great pieces for you to read, enjoy and choose from in our Scavenger Hunt Writing Contest! Below you’ll find four entries in the prose category and one in the poetry category (which automatically wins, so no need to vote on it). Below those, you’ll see our poll. Please choose your favorite.*
Polls close at midnight Nov. 2.
Winners will be announced at our Nov. 3 meeting!
*Submissions are posted anonymously. Entrants are welcome to encourage their friends and family to come vote, but please don’t tell them which piece is yours. That ruins all the fun.
The Fifth Wheel
Lori closed her eyes. She could feel her damp hair matted to her forehead as wet beads streamed down her face. She clinched her fists tight and fought to slow her breathing. She had to be quiet. He was somewhere in the building and she knew he was probably close.
Cool air brushed her skin and enticed her to open her eyes. The windows were broken and books were strewn across the floor. He had been through here – his temper obviously out of control.
She realized she was kneeling on a pile of open books. She studied them as the blood on her face dripped from her chin and stained their white pages. For a moment her mind drifted. She had no thoughts – no fear. Then she heard a door moan as it slowly opened in the distance. The floor creaked and the almost undetectable clicking of shoes moving across the wooden floor joined its cadence.
Her heart began to race again. The steps grew closer. Her glances darted around the moonlit room trying to find some means of escape. The door on the other side of the room seemed a mile away.
He stopped. She could hear him breathing. He was on the other side of the shelves she was hiding behind. She held her breath.
“I’m sorry Lori.” His voice was frighteningly calm. Her skin tingled as it went cold. “This isn’t your fault.” He moved around the bookshelves. Her muscles were locked. “But I can’t let anyone find out. It would destroy my family.”
A sharp pain ran down Lori’s shoulder and then there was no more fear. “I’m sorry,” was the last words she heard as the world faded away.
The fifth wheel
Anthony unfolded his legs and climbed out of the rear seat of the Rav4. There were four people in his group and he could see five people walking over from the library where the other group had parked. He allowed both groups to pass him until he was the last person in the crowd. It was a cool night and he swore the temperature had just dropped another ten degrees. He wondered how he allowed himself to get talked into this waste of time as he zipped up his windbreaker.
“Dude, Mark of the Ghost Trackers. This is awesome!” He heard John – one of his friends – exclaim as he led the crowd following Mark up the sidewalks to the large mansion in the distance.
It was an annual event. This was Anthony’s first – and probably last – time to attend it. They were joining a couple of ghost hunters who visited haunted sites professionally – if only in their spare time. Tonight’s hunting would bring them to three different purportedly haunted locations. “Normally we would have all of our equipment with us.” Mark was addressing the group. “However, it’s being recalibrated right now for an investigation planned for next weekend.” His arms gestured to their surroundings as he progressed up the sidewalk. “We’ll have to rely on our own senses to tell us if there’s any activity here.”
They had only been given permission to walk around the outside of the buildings, so the mass of people broke into smaller groups and went off to study whatever shadows caught their interests. Anthony moved away from the other groups and found himself drawn to a small white building. “This was the workers’ quarters.” A voice said quietly beside him.
Anthony turned quickly to see an attractive girl standing next to him. He wasn’t really startled, but he didn’t realize anyone was near him. “Slaves lived here?”
She shook her head. “No, not slaves.” He studied her while she spoke. “This wasn’t a plantation… they had no need for slaves.” She was about his age – twenty-four – with long red hair that had been braded into a thick rope that ran down her back. She wore wire rim glasses that enlarged her eyes and enhanced the sense of innocence that emanated from her. A long black coat covered her thin, but shapely body. “The men and women who lived here were freedmen.”
“You know a lot about this place?” Anthony was curious.
“Oh yeah.” Her eyes seemed to sparkle. Her red lips glistened in the moonlight. “I’ve been around this area a long time.”
As beautiful as she was, there was something intangible that was even more attractive about her. He couldn’t help but look at her. He realized she was blushing and turned his head quickly. “I guess we should get back to the rest of the group. Looks like we’re heading out.”
“Mind if I join you?” She walked close to him as they moved toward the vehicles.
“Sure.” He said – hoping there was enough room for three in the back seat of the SUV.
Their next stop was an old cemetery. Again they were only given permission to walk around the outside of the grounds.
Anthony waited for Elizabeth (he had learned her name on the way to the cemetery) to get out of the vehicle before closing the door. They didn’t speak much in the Rav4. She seemed fascinated by the city as they drove, so he sat quietly and glanced at her from time-to-time when she was looking away. They joined the rest of the group at the rod-iron and brick fence guarding the cemetery. Mark was speaking.
“Right there you can see the mayor’s grave… the man they named the cemetery after.” He pointed through the fence. “And over there – just past those trees – you can see part of the tomb of Roger Landries. We’ll be visiting his home after we leave here.” He faced the crowd around him and smiled. “There are a lot of very interesting stories tied to that old place.” He turned away and began walking. “And over here….”
Anthony started to follow, but realized Elizabeth wasn’t with him. He looked back and saw her standing by the cemetery’s gate gazing in. Her expression was empty. Her eyes seemed to be fixed on something in the distance. He returned to her side.
“Are you ok?” He prompted.
She turned to him and smiled. “Yeah. Sorry about that. I guess I just got lost in thought for a moment there.” They joined the group as they followed Mark who provided more history on the cemetery.
The last stop of their tour was the Landries Home. It was smaller than the mansion they had visited earlier, but the large white wooden home with its small garden yard and white picket fence still had all of the southern charm of the larger estate. An attractive lady of about fifty greeted them at the door. Her gray hair, straight-seamed clothing, southern accent along with her prim and proper mannerisms gave the illusion that she had been a resident of the home her entire life. In fact, she was only one of several caretakers and tour guides.
“Ya’ll gather with me here in the living room, now.” She stood in front of a large painting. “This is Roger and Grace Landries.” She pointed to the other side of the room. “And over there – on each side of that door – are his son and daughter.”
Anthony noticed that Elizabeth was standing next to the girl’s portrait – studying it. She didn’t budge until she noticed Anthony walking past her as he followed the crowd. She then moved with the rest of the group up the spiraling staircase to the second floor. When they entered the main bedroom, Elizabeth stayed in the hallway fascinated by the trinkets that filled the wall shelves. In the children’s rooms she took time to study each of the toys that decorated them.
Walking back downstairs the tour guide continued. “According to rumors of the time, Mr. Landries was said to have had an affair with a librarian who worked at the library his children frequented.” She stopped at the side of the base of the stairs and let the group move past her. “Lori Bailey worked at the library across the street from the mansion you visited earlier tonight.” When everyone was downstairs she moved into the foyer and continued. “She left town before anyone could find out if the rumors were true.” The guide looked around at the people who listened intently to what she had to say. “There are no reports of anyone seeing her ghost, but Roger and Grace have been seen in different parts of the house on numerous occasions.” She pointed to the living room where the portraits were hung. “The children moved out as they got older and married. Both are buried in a cemetery on the other side of town.”
Mark stepped forward and smiled. “But not the one we were at.”
“No.” The tour guide agreed. “They were laid to rest with their own spouses and children. That would be another great place for ya’ll to visit. I understand people have spotted a number of ghosts out there.”
As they left the tour guide handed each person a flyer with detailed information on the Landries Home, its family history and the different stories and rumors that surrounded the home. She addressed each visitor with a warm “thank you for coming” as they left and a reminder that the home could be rented out for weddings and other such events.
The groups piled into their vehicles and headed for a final rendezvous at Samuel’s Pizza Palace. There they would discuss all they had seen on their tour and determine if they had encountered the supernatural along the way.
As everyone headed into the pizza shop, Anthony noticed that Elizabeth was standing near the street corner looking at the park that sat across the road. As he approached her, she turned to him and smiled. “I need to go now. It’s getting late.”
Anthony’s heart sank. He had gotten comfortable with her being near and did not want the evening to end. “I understand.”
She gazed once again at the park and then looked back to Anthony. “Could you give me a ride?” Her eyes widened behind her rimmed glasses. “It’s on the other side of town.”
“Sure.” The words were out of Anthony’s mouth without thought. “I’m driving the blue Mustang.” He led her to the car. It chirped twice as he unlocked the doors and helped her into the passenger seat.
“I truly appreciate this,” she said as he drove.
“No problem. It’s on my way home.” He lied.
The trip was far shorter than Anthony would have liked. As they reached the end of a small neighborhood she asked him to let her out.
“I can walk from here.” She kissed him on his cheek and stepped out of the car. “It was really nice to meet you, Anthony. Thank you very much.” She closed the door.
Anthony had no chance to reply. He thought about stepping out of the car and saying something, but he did not know what to say. His courage left him and he drove away. At the end of the block he noticed an old cemetery. He glanced in his mirror and she was gone.
He stopped his car and looked over his shoulder. She was nowhere in sight. He looked down in the seat where she had been next to him and saw the flyer they had been given. Something caught his attention and he picked it up. The name of the librarian rumored to have been in an affair with Roger Landries was Lori Elizabeth Bailey.
A cold chill covered Anthony’s body. For just a moment he let his imagination entertain the idea that he had met the librarian that night. But then reason set in. He laughed and drove home.
The Killing Tree
“Jesus, it’s creepy out here,” Jakes whispers. He sneaks a glance at me like he hopes I won’t think less of him for saying so.
He’s right. The shadows cast by the full moon should send my blood racing. The wind rushing through millions of live oak leaves should make me shiver. And being outside after midnight on haunted grounds should feel … wrong. Illegal.
But it doesn’t. There’s nothing more beautiful and peaceful than a world asleep under a glowing moon. Just me and the spirits who have kept me company each of my sixteen years.
“I want to start with that tree,” I tell him, nodding at the gnarled giant in front of Oakleigh House. “Earlier the Ovilus kept saying ‘tree’ over and over. That’s got to mean something.”
The Ovilus is a strange-looking device, like a cell phone and a stud finder had a digital baby. It has a series of red lights on it and two knobs. Ghost hunters say it scans frequencies we can’t hear, frequencies spirits use to communicate.
“How do you know it’s this tree?” Jake lifts his chin.
“Dude, really? The empath is questioning the psychic?” I punch his arm. He digs the Ovilus out of his pocket and hands it over.
“You ready, Dylanie?”
“Show time.” Slowly, I turn the knob. The device immediately drones out words: “Tree. Tree. Bad.”
Jake and I stare at each other with matching expressions. Then the Ovilus pipes up again with a different word: “Run.”
I laugh. “That’s a little dramatic, don’t you think? What?”
Jakes closes his eyes and shakes his head. “You’re the weirdest girl I ever met, you know that?”
“You’re not afraid of anything, are you?”
Ignoring his question, I turn and head toward the gnarled live oak. I tune out this world to focus on the other one. It shimmers just under my eyelids, my brain tingling with input that doesn’t come from my five senses, but the sixth one. After a few deep breaths, they come closer. There are five, six … so many of them. When I open my eyes, they’re still there. Men, everywhere. Some in uniforms, but most in old-fashioned pants and shirts with suspenders and hats.
“Jake, can you see them?”
“Can you feel them?”
Jake’s gaze turns into a thousand-yard stare. I watch carefully for any flicker of emotion, but his face is curiously blank. “Touch the tree,” he says.
“But I asked if you could feel anything.”
“Too scared?” He smirks. It doesn’t look good on him.
“As if.” I set my jaw and approach the tree. Ghost men still wander by, not noticing me at all. Jakes stands a few feet away with his arms crossed. Something isn’t right. I can’t put my finger on it, but my gut says something’s off. I take another step toward the tree. I’m not scared. Another step through the darkness and I’m standing at its base, just outside the ring of giant finger-like roots that reach through the ground. I hold out my right hand, lean forward, and with one last look back at Jake, I touch the—
All the air leaves my lungs in a giant whoosh. The gray ghost men have gone Technicolor, their clothes taking on shades of white and brown. The air smells like smoke, excitement and more than a small amount of foul body odor.
None of these things are what make my knees weak, though. It’s the voice that carries above the rest, one that reeks of desperation and fear, cracking and breaking like a wounded animal. With each passing moment, it grows louder. Its fear penetrates my skull, becomes my fear. I put my hands over my ears—I can’t listen to this. Can’t imagine what they’re doing to him to produce this inhuman sound.
A group of men breaks through the surrounding forest carrying a long, wedge-shaped split log on their shoulders. There is a naked man sitting atop the rail with his hands bound and tied in front of him. Bright red blood stains the wood rammed between his legs where they have been rubbed raw. The rest of his skin is an angry red, blotchy. The overwhelming smell of paint thinner burns my nose as the crowd draws closer. They stop and lower the rail.
A small man emerges with more rope and slings it up and over a branch on the other side of the tree from where I stand, fixed in place as this horror unfolds. He fashions a noose while the man tied to the rail whimpers. I want to reach out to him, save him from this cruel punishment, but it’s impossible. I can’t change this fate that claimed him decades before I was born.
When the noose is in place, the men lift the rail once more, setting off another round of pathetic yowls. The man’s lost so much blood I don’t know how he’s conscious. Pat, pat, pat—it drips to the ground, stains the tree roots underneath. A soldier on a horse tugs the noose around the man’s neck and pulls it tight. He leans in and whispers to him, then spits in his face. He cuts the ropes on the man’s wrists, flicks his reins and disappears into the darkness.
This close, it’s easy to see the extent of the cruelty inflicted on him. His skin is mottled red and purple. He smells of chemicals. Whatever they put on him, it’s burnt away patches of his flesh. But the worst is between his legs. The sharp point of the split log and rough texture of the wood has not only shredded his inner thighs—he’s missing most of his anatomy.
Someone grunts out, “One, two, three,” and on three, they drop the rail. The man doesn’t have far to fall, not nearly far enough to snap his neck and give him a quick death. His feet don’t even kick. He doesn’t struggle at all. Can’t.
I stare, transfixed, at the man’s tight face. He blinks a few times, eyes rolling into the back of his head.
I yank my hand away from the tree, double over and empty my stomach. Jake is by my side, patting my back. “Dylan, what the hell?”
I wipe my mouth with the back of my hand before answering. “We found it, Jake. We found the killing tree.”
What Comes Around
I was sitting in my “parlor” listening to the umpteenth housfrau pour out her troubles to me that day. I glistened in my garments and heavy jewelry, sparkling in the candle light that were all part of the completely manufactured setting.
This one wanted to talk to her dearly departed. I gave her a good show. I moaned, I weaved, and I triggered a switch that would produce sounds of winds blowing eerily, along with a few other sounds I had come up with. One sound I found particularly believable was the crinkling of tin foil.
Finally, I spoke in what I thought sounded like a ghostly voice, to let her know that her old drunken, verbally abusive husband was doing absolutely fine, that he had departed up instead of down, and that he was fine with her dating the second Mr. Right from the grocery store.
My life was great. I ate my supper most nights in the best restaurants in Mobile. I only went clothing shopping at those tiny little boutiques that I felt offered a touch of style, and a big dollop of expensive. I wasn’t worried about John or Jane Q. Public (mostly a couple Bud’s short of a six pack). I knew if I didn’t take their money, they’d head down to Pensacola to buy lottery tickets, or to the boats over in Biloxi, and blow it there anyway. It might as well go to little old me.
My next client was a wrinkled up old geezer whose few hairs were gray. He moved slowly and carefully, and looked at me with troubled, pleading eyes. Though when he thought I was looking away, I thought I saw a furtive look cut to the side of his face. Later I thought I imagined it.
“Well, miss, I don’t say as I believe in any of this spirit stuff. I never have before. You sure look the part, don’t ya? What am I supposed to do?
“Mr. Lucas, in order to communicate with your loved one who has passed over, I need to know a little about you, and what you are seeking today. So why don’t we just start with that?” I drew him in with my most soothing, yet mystical voice.
“Well, sure, Miss Moon. See, my wife passed recently. Now she was a good woman, but that’s not what I’m here about. She used to visit you, so that’s how I knew to come here.
“Oh, what was her name?”
“It was Emmaline, Emmaline Lucas.”
“Of course. I remember Ms. Lucas. Lovely woman. I’m so sorry to hear she is among the departed.” I didn’t even remember her.
He shuffled nervously in his farmer clothes.“My granddaddy was in the Civil War. Then, he was thrown out of the army, but no one in the family ever could figure out why. Then one day, he was found hanging from a tree limb. They buried him in the old Church Street Cemetery. I was hoping I could get you to go out there with me. I want you to go see if you can find out why he was thrown out of the army, and why he was hung.”
“What an interesting story, Mr. Lucas. You haven’t been able to find out anything through the usual channels, like through the army records, or church records?”
“I checked, all right. Nope, could never find out. I want to speak to him, ask him myself. I promised myself I’d find out somethin’ before I passed away myself, so here I am. I wanna go tomorrow.”
“Well, let me see. It will be exhausting work. I will be meditating, and in fellowship with my spirits for the entire time between now and tomorrow. I’d also have to change the appointments I have with my regular customers. It would cost extra. Would that be fine with you?”
“Yes’m it’ll be fine with me. Got nothing else to spend my money on, now my wife’s dead, bless her soul. I’ll be back first thing in the morning.” Once again, I thought I saw him giving me a hard, sneaky look as I turned, but I didn’t give it a second thought.
I was going to charge this old guy a king’s ransom to go all the way out there to that cemetery. I would have to go and set up a little bit of magic by the grave today, wind chimes, and such. My mind was already racing with ideas.
I also dropped in on my friend Mike for a little bit of help. Mike was a starving but very talented musician. Sometimes when I needed extra help for a gig, I would toss Mike a few bucks, and he was happy to help.
Mike saw me from across the bar where he was getting paid to sit and play the piano. He quickly wound up the song he was dribbling, and came over to me with his usual, “What’s up?”
“Hi there sweetie. I’ve got something for you, if you’re interested.”
“If there is money involved, I’m interested.”
I gave him a run-down of the story. “I already checked out the grave. There’s a tree nearby. I just need you to be up that tree early tomorrow morning. I have a couple of old ‘mementos” I want you to drop down on us from there. They are an old handkerchief and some white feathers. I already have them hidden around Joe Cain’s grave. Anyone who goes around will think someone left them there for him. Can you handle it? You may need a ladder.”
“Sure thing. I’ll be up there and you’ll never see me. Just e-mail me the location of the grave and the tree.”
“Already done. Thanks, Mike. I appreciate it.” We settled on the price, drank up our wine, had a little chuckle over gullibility in general, and I moseyed on home.
Early the next morning, when I met Mr. Lucas at the entrance to Church Street Cemetery, Mr. Lucas seemed to be looking around, and mumbling to himself a bit. I felt like I could handle a bit of crazy behavior. Most of my clients were a little disturbed. I smiled a bit at that and kept walking. As we walked through the gates, I reassured myself that Mike had picked up the items I left on Joe Cain’s grave. We walked quietly through the cemetery. I held my head down and gestured with my hands a bit, just to get the party started.
The grave of old Sylas Lucas was at the far back of the cemetery, and within a circle of huge old oak trees. The sun was shining, but it managed to be gloomy enough around the grave, with the shadows from the trees. It was an excellent place for pulling a little scam. I was thinking that if it was really good, this could be a regular gig. Then I quickly re-thought when he began mumbling something like, “Emmaline, Emmaline, honey.” I asked, “Who’s that you’re talking to Mr. Lucas?”
“Oh, no one, no one. Just got to thinking of my wife.” I kept on walking.
We finally arrived at the grave. All the stone would allow was, ‘Sylas Lucas’ and ‘1905’. It seemed stark, and dark, the kind of dark you see in a doll’s eyes that makes your skin crawl.
It was hard to read Mr. Lucas’s expression. When we first walked out, he seemed very preoccupied, but now, it was like a cloud was gathering on his face. Mr. Lucas grabbed my hand. I looked at him questioningly, and he said, “Isn’t this how you do it?”
“Sure, Mr. Lucas, that’s right. Let’s begin.” I smiled at him. He didn’t smile back. In fact, he looked with me with a kind of revulsion that I didn’t understand. I decided it wasn’t important, and I wanted to get the show on the road so I could get out of here. The place was beginning to seem pretty odd, and I was feeling more and more hinky about my client by the minute. I could feel the hairs on my arms begin to stand up.
I began “calling forth” the spirits. I began my spiel about my spirit guides finding the dear departed, and I noticed that Mr. Lucas’s grip was getting tighter and tighter on my hand. He was becoming very antsy, like he just couldn’t contain something that had to come out. “You know,” Mr. Lucas said, suddenly, just as I was getting warmed up, I always knew you were a fake.” “Yep, my wife, poor thing, she wanted to believe she could talk to our son. She just kept coming to you, every week like clockwork. I couldn’t even tell her you were a fake, ‘cause it would have broken her heart.” He had dropped all semblance of an even temper, and his voice was getting more and more angry.
I told him again that he was hurting me. But instead of letting me go, he grabbed me tighter, and shouted, “You don’t know what you’ve done! You low, greedy, piece of trash! My dear Emmaline gave all our money to you! She was trying to get in touch with our dead baby son, for years! I didn’t know it until she got cancer, but we didn’t have enough money left for all the medicines she needed. She was my whole life! She died in horrible pain and I’m left here without her!” Tears began to run down his face, and he turned his back to me. He held on to my arm, and leaned down to pick up a big piece of rock. He gave the tree a hard smack with a rock. “Get outta there, varmint!” he cried. Mike came scrabbling down and took off over the stones.
He dragged me over closer to the grave, into a pool of cold air, as cold as ice. I tried to reason with him. I begged him to let me go, but he wouldn’t. I started screaming for help. He just kept raving, like he had just lost his senses, but the worst was yet to come. “Now we’re alone, but not for long. You’ll see, Miss Moon!”
“Sylas my grandfather! Sylas!” he shouted into the air. “Look at her. She’s just your type. Ain’t she pretty?”
“See Ms. Moon, see! I know all about my granddaddy. I just wanted to getcha down here. He was thrown out of the army, and ya know why? He would sneak out of camp at night. They got him for desertion. He would go cut up and torture a bunch of pretty ladies, like that old Jack the Ripper! They never knew what he did. He was a sick bastard. Even after the war, women just kept disappearing, and they suspected, but nobody could prove who it was!”
I fought him like a tiger now. Things were getting too real. He was raving, screaming like a madman, and I knew that if I didn’t get away my life was at stake. I kicked with my spike heels, and scratched with the nails of my free hand. I was screaming, too, like crazy. Blood from the scratches was running down his hands, but he wouldn’t let go.
“Ms. Moon, my granddaddy Sylas got hung by a husband, not too far from where we’re standing! My uncle just got sloppy drunk one night, years later. One of those husbands of the dead women happened to be there. That old husband caught Sylas and had his way with him until he told the truth!” Finally I grew too tired to fight. No one had called the police over his crazy yelling.
I began to hear a chuckling sound over his yelling. The shadows deepened around the grave. A grizzled shadow began to loom over us.
“Sylas is too mean to stay in that grave, Ms. Moon. WAY too mean. He’s coming. Can’t you hear him?” Now there was a big stretched out grin on Mr. Lucas’s face. He let go of my arm, but I couldn’t move. The shadow grew into the shape of a man with a leer. It leaned over me, and I heard it whisper, “Gooooood boy.” There was a reek of old blood and mud and rotting canvas.
I felt something cut into my neck, deep and sharp. I struggled, but I couldn’t move. The world became blacker and blacker as the shape came down to my body, and I began to feel more sharp cuts rip my body. Filthy talk was mumbled as I was being cut apart, and in the side of my eye, I saw old Mr. Lucas, first on the ground, laughing hysterically, and then getting scared for himself, and running off like the devil was after him. The man shape became even more defined. I could see a decomposed, twisted grin on a shredded face, and worms from the earth he had been buried in running in and out of his tattered uniform. My mind was torn apart from the horrible apparition, and I knew no more.
I sit here today, writing this like the doctor says I should. I’m sitting here in this window overlooking a park. I’ve exchanged my Gucci and Hermes for a hospital gown and slippers. They finally found the right medications to bring me back to the living again, though they know I’ll never live outside. Too scared. They have to fight me and put me in a rubber room when they try to make me go out. I don’t walk around like the cat who swallowed the canary anymore. I shuffle along with my head down.
They tell me that I was found out in the cemetery, murmuring only gibberish, and unable to control my body. They had to admit that the police officers were not too sad to see me there, after they hadn’t ever been able to get me for fraud.
They let me know that a man named Lucas committed suicide the day after my psychic break (which is what they call a nervous breakdown these days.) Of course, they don’t believe my story. I don’t blame them. They think that I wandered into the cemetery, and was confronted by guilt over my own father’s death, or something just as lame. They think I scratched myself up convulsing all over the ground that was covered with sticks and acorns and leaves and rocks. I wasn’t really stabbed, or cut, or anything else. I’m safe here, that’s all that matters.
But there is one thing I know. Whatever Mrs. Lucas went through because of me, Mr. Lucas got back again from me a hundred times. It was no hallucination. I wish it was. Because whenever I look underneath my left breast, where the nurses don’t even notice, I see a small carving inside a heart in a spidery handwriting: SL
Even though the August air of Mobile was past warm and heavy with humidity, a chill ran down Lydia’s spine as she opened the front door of the beautiful, old home that she had become the owner of only six weeks earlier. Today was her first day to return to her new home alone since the accident had happened. The grand hallway was empty
unless you counted the sawhorses and tools as furnishings. They were becoming fixtures it seemed to Lydia, since they had been sitting there for the past five weeks in exactly the same spot.
Oh well, Lydia thought as she walked past them and climbed the regal staircase to the second floor. As she made her ascent up the spiraling steps her focus again drifted over to the sawhorses. “I really should move those for now,” she said to the empty air of the
The second floor master bedroom was fully restored and Lydia was extremely glad of that fact right now. The past weeks had been exhausting and she was more than a little tired of keeping her game face on through all that had happened. But she was strong, and didn’t
crumble under pressure. She was the proverbial tower of strength; everyone knew that about Lydia Rain. The auburn-haired pillar made her way to the master suite through one of the other two bedrooms that flanked the second floor landing area of the stairway. Her four poster bed with its navy blue comforter looked extremely inviting even if it was only two in the afternoon and she kicked off her shoes and climbed up on the bed, snuggling in amongst the half dozen or so pillows that adorned it.
Closing her eyes felt so good. She lay there with her eyes closed and listened to the sounds of the old antebellum home. This was her dream house. Ever since she had been a little girl growing up in this city full of history and charm and everything southern, she had
imagined that one day she would own this house and bring it back to its previous glory. She had walked past it nearly every day on her way home from school; her own modern ranch house not holding a candle to the richness and romance of the old, abandoned house. Her little girl imagination pictured her grown up self sitting on the second floor balcony smiling and waving as she watched future children on their way home. Now here she was, her grown up self, owner of her dream house and in the process of making it the showcase she knew it could be.
The satisfaction Lydia felt in being the owner of her dream home quickly faded as she felt a cool breeze against her bare arms. Her eyes popped open with the abruptness of the temperature change. Weird, she thought. The fan isn’t on. The windows are closed. She
dismissed the incident quickly though and again closed her eyes, letting her thoughts go where they might. She drifted again back to her childhood days and a smile came to her face as she remembered peeking in the dingy, dirty windows of the old house. Through the ornate glass of the front door she could see the staircase in the main hall, an old piano still sitting there gathering dust. Her vivid little girl imagination had pictured herself sitting at that piano playing sweet melodies as her future children played around her. Yes, she had plans for this house.
When she had met Jacob she knew immediately he was indeed Mr. Right. His dazzling smile was enough to make any girl’s heart skip a beat, but meeting him in an evening class on local architecture and history was the thing that clued Lydia into him being the guy for her. They shared a passion for the old homes of Mobile as well as an attraction to each other. That evening class turned into an every evening dinner together and any other occasion they could think of to be together. When Lydia took him by the old house one Saturday afternoon and told him of her dream of restoring it someday, his eyes lit up just as hers did when she thought about it. It didn’t take them long to decide to work on making her dream their reality.
Jacob had tracked down the owner of the long abandoned home and had made arrangements to lease the house in exchange for restoration work to the property. Soon evenings and weekends were spent working on making the house habitable again. The couple worked side by side cleaning the dirt and grime of the years of sitting empty away and assessing the damage of the neglect. They focused on the kitchen and the master suite with thoughts of moving in and continuing the work until the house was fully restored and theirs.
Their shared vision had become reality too. Just six weeks ago, they had signed the papers making the house theirs, only one week after they had become Mr. and Mrs. Jacob Steele. Their honeymoon had consisted of a trip to Lowe’s for the paint to finish the kitchen.
“Buttered Biscuit?” Jacob laughed, “Are you serious? That’s what color you’ve picked out for the kitchen?”
“Well can you think of any more appropriate color for the kitchen of our fine Southern mansion, sir?” Lydia teased back.
“Guess not… Should we paint the trim Chicory Brown or Brewed Tea?”
“Definitely Chicory, darling, definitely!” Lydia gushed in her best Southern Belle voice.
Lydia grinned remembering that first afternoon of being married, painting with Jacob. She knew she certainly wasn’t the typical bride opting for painting a kitchen in a house with 10 foot ceilings over spending a week lazing on the beach with her groom for a honeymoon. But that was perfectly okay with Lydia. She never had been one to follow what other people did. She had always been the girl who knew what she wanted and did whatever it took to make it happen. It was easy for her to fall for Jacob because he was that kind of man as well.
Their first two weeks as man and wife had flown by. The honeymoon painting had finished what had to be done to make the house livable. The upstairs master bedroom and bath were fully restored and the kitchen downstairs was fully functional again. All they lacked was finishing up Jacob had joked as they signed the papers making the house officially theirs.
Again, Lydia felt a chill and she sat up on the bed. The house was eerily quiet with no sound of hammering or sawing in the background as she had become accustomed to hearing nearly around the clock the last few weeks. She swung her legs over the side of the bed and stood up and stretched, again dismissing and forgetting the chill just as quickly as it had come upon her. She walked over to the bedroom window and stared down into the courtyard. The impatiens she’d planted five weeks ago were doing well.
“Give me back that trowel, please sir” Lydia pleasanty implored her new husband as he stood over her, holding her trusty trowel above his head and far out of her reach.
“This trowel?” Jacob laughed, taunting her with the garden tool.
“Yes, that trowel, Mr. Troublemaker.” Lydia chirped back at him, “Give it back so I can finish planting this last section and then I’ll go get us some of that cheesecake you love so much. We can sit out here in this beautiful courtyard and enjoy it while we gaze upon these
gorgeous flowers I’ve planted.
“Mmm, you’ve convinced me, my love.” Jacob chuckled as he placed the trowel in her hand, “Hurry, I’m starving!”
Lydia make quick work of the last row of impatiens in the raised flower bed under the old oak. She left Jacob sitting at the little bistro table they had added to their courtyard. The Buttered Biscuit walls of her kitchen made her smile as she cut the pieces of cheesecake and placed them on a tray to carry outside.
“Cake, my sweet?” Lydia called over her shoulder as she turned to make her way out the kitchen door and back to the courtyard.
Jacob was beaming at his bride making her way toward him when a branch high in the oak suddenly came crashing down onto the bistro table and Jacob as well. Shock enveloped Lydia as her new husband lay bleeding on the ground underneath the massive oak branch. “Jacob!” Lydia screamed, dropping the tray as she ran to Jacob’s side. She grabbed his cell phone and dialed 9-1-1. The rest of the day was a blur of sirens, and nurses, doctors, and friends and family.
Lydia had spent the next five weeks at the hospital watching Jacob lay in a coma. She had held his hand, adjusted his pillow and covers, and talked to him about their future. She detailed for him just how they were going to restore the grand living room and entertain friends there around a fire in the Italian marble fireplace during the Christmas holidays. She told him how they would restore the children’s rooms upstairs for their perfect little boy and girl due to arrive in years 3 and 5 of their marriage. She filled his days with stories of how they would spend their lives in their house.
John Steele carried two bags of groceries on one arm and helped his son up the back steps of the old home with the other, “You sure you’re ready for this, Jacob?”
“I’ll be fine Dad. You and Mom are just a phone call away and I really just want to be alone.”
“Okay… If you’re sure…” the older Steele looked at the younger with worry etched on his face. He hugged him and made the standard ‘you know where to find me’ statements as he made his way out the door.
The afternoon sun was beginning its westward descent and Jacob made his way out into the courtyard. He couldn’t believe how his life had changed in five short weeks although they had seemed an eternity. Jacob looked at the bright pink and white impatiens and remembered taunting Lydia with her trowel. She had been so happy digging in the dirt, planting those flowers.
He turned and made his way slowly back into the kitchen. The walls really did look like butter on a biscuit as the afternoon sun filled the room. He walked through the formal dining room that was still unfinished into the living room with its marble fireplace and out into the main entryway of the house. The steps of the staircase were a bit daunting but Jacob wanted to go to the bedroom he’d shared for a week with the love of his life.
Slowly he made his way there and stood in the doorway looking at the navy and white comforter that Lydia had so carefully picked out for them. He walked over to the window overlooking the courtyard and looked down to those pink impatiens again. He couldn’t help but smile thinking how happy Lydia had been planting those flowers that day.
Then the accident had stolen that happiness. A tear rolled down his left cheek as he remembered how she had stayed by his side during his hospital stay. He couldn’t believe that he was now standing here while she lay in a cemetary, the victim of a car acccident leaving the hospital just a week ago.
“They’re beautiful, aren’t they? Perfect for our house.” Jacob heard Lydia say.
“Yes, they are.” He replied.
As we headed out into the night,
In our town of old Mobile,
In search of haunted places,
I wondered, are spirits real?
Do they walk among us,
In silence on hallowed ground,
Or are they lost forever,
With no chance of being found?
As we came upon the Richard’s House,
From the antebellum time,
I wondered what fate was waiting.
I wondered what we’d find.
Captain Richards once lived there,
And this was where our journey started,
And his children laughed and played,
Do they know they’re now departed?
As I walked into this bedroom,
Although I felt no spirits there,
What I felt surprised me,
There was heaviness in the air.
As if once oppression lived there too,
Whence it came who can say.
What secrets lie in the past?
I had to stop and pray.
Next our journey took us,
To the Oakleigh Home in all its’ glory.
I stood in awe and listened.
Will the voices tell their story?
We found our way to the stairs,
But someone said beware,
As you go up to the balcony,
Up to the balcony, if you dare.
We played patriotic music,
Out of respect and just to see,
If I recorded from my cell phone,
Would I capture an EVP?
And at the cemetery,
Where old Joe Cain lay dead,
I just heard him laughing,
Laughing, laughing, in my head.
But what I will remember,
Of our search forever more,
Is the haunting whistle,
I Recorded the night before.
Do I hear them knocking,
Knocking, knocking, at my door?
Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord those souls to keep,
If I should die before I wake,
I pray the Lord made a big mistake.
October 24, 2011
[POLL IS CLOSED]