“Secrets of the Scarecrow Moon” – Kindle eBook Giveaway!

Beyond the confines of Barnesville, NY almost no one has ever heard of the Scarecrow Moon. And even among its less than 2000 residence, only a dozen or so truly understand the origins of this sacred time of year. A cross-breeding of the Native American tradition of naming each month’s full moon after seasonal events, old-fashioned New England witchcraft, and the small town’s deepest, darkest secret, the Scarecrow Moon is the full moon that falls in the month of April. In honor of it, the people of Barnesville build competition scarecrows, hold a funeral procession-like parade down Main Street, and conduct nothing less than a full-blown Pagan ritual in the center of town complete with a bonfire turned funeral pier on the weekend nearest to Beltaine, or May Day, as it is more commonly known.

But why? By all appearance Barnesville is your typical, American small town. There are no outward signs that this is a place rampant with witches practicing their craft. In fact, there are two prominent churches in town, both very active and well-attended.

And yet, every year come April, something shifts. That shift takes a considerably dark path one year when the body of an old man was found in the local cemetery. His death was ruled an accident by authorities, but very soon those that understand the secret of the Scarecrow Moon begin to see things in a way that hasn’t been spoken of publicly in almost two-hundred years.

To honor this year’s Scarecrow Moon, which will be on April 11, I have put five Kindle versions of “Secrets of the Scarecrow Moon” up for grabs over on Amazon.  Contest end April 12, 2017.

Interested? Follow the link to learn more about rules and requirements for entry.

Do the clicky-clicky here —> KINDLE GIVEAWAY – SECRETS OF THE SCARECROW MOON

 

Good luck!

 

Spring Is Coming!

A mysterious death sends one investigator deep into her hometown’s dark and bloody past.

 See The Trailer Here!

It’s a past the local coven of witches would rather keep buried. Can justice be served or will the witches succeed in keeping their centuries-old secrets intact?

For nearly two-hundred years the sleepy, little town of Barnesville has kept a secret, several in fact. Had it not been for the gruesome death of Peter Wakeley, those secrets may have remained hidden another two centuries. Authorities deem it an accident when an 85 year-old-man is crushed to death under a headstone during a particularly heavy March snow storm. Detective Sergeant Simon Michaels and his assistant, Angela Jennings, are two of the first on the scene. Angie grew up in Barnesville and almost immediately suspects that not all is at it appears to be. Without the help of police to back her suspicions, she quickly takes it upon herself to investigate.
The more she digs into the victim’s life and the role his family played in the founding of the town, the more bizarre things become. Even the town historian and librarian, a good friend of Angie’s mother and a self-proclaimed witch, is reluctant to discuss matters until after the passing of the Scarecrow Moon. It seems the past has come back to haunt and torment the current residents of Barnesville or at least those involved in the witchery on which it was founded.
Even Angie is not immune as vivid and gruesome dreams and uncanny hunches begin to plague her. Eventually she must face one of her deepest fears to unravel the mystery, break the spell, and reveal the dark secrets of the Scarecrow Moon; secrets laced with blood, witchcraft, and at least one scarecrow that refuses to stay where it should.
$14.99 trade paperback or $3.99 on Kindle

BUY IT HERE!

Book Review – Maledicus by Charles F. French

Roosevelt, Sam, and Jeremy are retired men living in a small town in eastern Pennsylvania. Each has suffered the tragic and overwhelming loss of a loved one. Together they have formed The Investigative Paranormal Society. The group is called to investigate the home of a local school teacher whose young niece is being frightened by a something in the house. Little do they know this no ordinary haunting, but one powered by a pure, unapologetic evil straight from the depth of Hell known as Maledicus.

I really like the author’s idea of using men of retirement age as his investigative team. I envisioned old wise men, the voices of reason and wisdom, and it seemed they would be a welcome change from the ghost taunting, over-dramatic, everything-bad-is-demonic, youngsters we see on all those ghost hunting shows.

What I got was a rather dry and somewhat academic-tainted story being told to me without a whole lot of emotion. The chapters devoted to the creation and back story of the title character were pretty interesting, but I found it next to impossible to envision or invest anything into what was going on with any of the other characters.

The dialogue doesn’t feel natural. Unnecessary exposition told me things I didn’t need to know nor did I care about it or I was told the same thing numerous times. On meeting the school teacher and her niece, I wanted to see and feel their bond, not just be told about it. Show them doing things together, don’t simply tell me about it and expect me to care. When the aunt is approached by her niece and told that a ‘bad man’ is frightening her, we aren’t shown how. Show me the child’s terror. The ghost hunters don’t even interview the little girl before investigating. Considering the stories we are told about Maledicus and his methods of torturing people while living, he wasn’t very creative in his semi-demon form. He gives the child a mysterious illness. That’s it? C’mon, Mal! You can do better than that!

Point Of View would change and jump around at very odd times. Quite often a section would begin with Character A’s POV, then jump for a paragraph to Character B’s POV, then back to Character A again.

I like a horror story that plunges me into the darkness, despair, terror and HORROR that the character’s experience. Take me down with them and scare me. Make me want to read the next chapter and stay up late doing so to see how they get out of it … if they do! This book did none of that.

Additionally, the font size used was too small and along with numerous typos, did not make for as an enjoyable read as I’d hoped.

TWO out of FIVE Ravens

A Turtle In A Field Of NaNo Hares

Apparently I created a NaNoWriMo account three years ago. I have no memory of creating it, but when I decided to join this year, I discovered one already existed. For those who don’t know, NaNoWriMo = National Novel Writing Month. The premise is that for the month of November you write 1667 words per day to reach a goal of 50,000 by the end of the month. This is supposed to be either a complete novel (I’d call that a novella, but anyway…) or a very good start on a longer work to be completed later.

As I was having such a hard time getting into gear with “The Witch’s Backbone” I decided to give NaNoWriMo a shot. It couldn’t make matters worse and from what I’d read it’s supposed to be all inspirational and you can find writing buddies to motivate you and join all kinds of chat forums to compare notes and talk about your book. So far, I’ve not been overly inspired by any of the automated messages I’ve been sent, I don’t have a single writing buddy, and I figured I had better things to do (um, like actual WRITING) than chit-chatting with others about the books we’re working on.

First off, I don’t have the time to write 1667 words a day. Sorry. I work a full time job and I sit at a computer from 7:30am – 4:00pm. Very often the LAST thing I am interested I doing when I get home at the end of the day is to sit down at my home computer for any reason. I’m tired. My mental focus isn’t always entirely intact. It’s certainly not going to be all that sharp to write anything I’d be proud of and frankly, I’d rather write something half way decent than crap just so I can say I made my daily word count. When it comes to my writing, that’s simply not how I operate. I’m a turtle not a hare. I’ll take my time and do quality over quantity.

That being said, you guessed it, with only ten days left I’ve not even reached 25,000 words towards this alleged ‘win’. I haven’t reached 20,000 either. I’m averaging 878 words per day. I guess that’s something interesting to know.

Will I do NaNoWriMo again next year? I don’t know. A lot depends on where I am with what is already out there and what stage other projects are at. I’m trying to stay positive, but lately it’s just not been going as well as I’d hoped. Sales are abysmal. What I have sold isn’t bringing in the amount of reviews needed to get anyone’s attention. Queries are answered with silence. Places I’ve been encouraged to submit to aren’t taking submissions. It all has a way of dragging a hopeful author down. All I have are a few little straws to hang onto and my hands are getting tired.

I’ve been told, “You’re doing all the right things.” and “Just keep writing great stories and putting them out there.” Considering the source of that advice and encouragement, that’s nothing to ignore or brush aside, but after so many other dead ends, I still feel very discouraged and lost. I’m doing my best and for the past five years, my best just hasn’t been good enough.

But, I hate to end a post on a negative note so …

On the positive side of this NaNoWriMo business, I have made progress on the novel! There are things I know about what’s going to happen that I never even imagined when all this started, some rather shocking things! Things I really DON’T want to have happen, but know they must to move the plot along in the way it needs to go. When I was reading Stephen King’s “Pet Sematary” a friend of mine who’d read it before would ask me every day, “Did the cat die yet?” The death of the cat in that book is pivotal to the novel. After the cat dies, all hell breaks loose! It’s that sort of little kick in the pants event that I really wasn’t expecting to have to deal with, but boy, will it get the point across! I look forward to it with a strange mixture of dread and delight.

I’d be interested to hear from others who have used NaNoWriMo and what your experiences were with it. Good, Bad, Indifferent?

Author Appearance & Book Signing

Witches, Shadow People, and Ghosts, oh my! Just in time for Halloween!

On Friday, October 7th, I’ll be at Riverow Books for the final 2016 First Friday Artwalk event in Owego, NY from 6-8pm. I’ll have hot of the press copies of my latest horror release, No Rest For The Wicked along with copies of my murder-mystery titles, Secrets of the Scarecrow Moon and That’s What Shadows Are Made Of.

We’ll be signing, selling, and chatting it up for two hours and we may or may not have cookies.

Hope to see you there!

Movie Review – The Boy (2016)

Movie Review – The Boy (2016) Rated PG-13 : Directed by William Brent Bell

Starring Lauren Cohen, Rupert Evans, and James Russell

Greta Evans arrives at the home of a wealthy English couple, Mr. and Mrs. Heelshire, to take on her duties as a newly hired nanny to their son, Brahms, so they can go away on holiday. There’s only one problem.  Brahms is a life-sized doll made in the likeness of their son who was killed in a fire years ago. At first Greta treats the doll as an annoying joke and does none of the duties assigned to her by the couple. Brahms quickly convinces her to follow the rules.

The concept behind “The Boy” isn’t unique by any stretch of the imagination. There have been a lot of haunted doll books written and movies made. The doll in this one is, from my understanding, roughly based on Robert, a supposedly real-life haunted doll that is now housed in a museum in Key West, Florida.

brahms

Brahms the Doll

robert

Robert the Doll

There were some genuinely creepy moments in this movie, though it fell short of truly freaking me out.  But then, it is only a PG-13 so maybe they had to tone it down for that audience instead of the hardcore horror fans like me. I was left with a lot of unanswered questions at the end. I can easily assume why things went the way they did and why the parents did what they did in part, but the ending was not a surprise and there were no twists that I wasn’t expecting.

Great potential, but terribly, terribly predictable.

Two Ravens out of Five

The Writing Process – Dark Hollow Road

Folks quite often ask how long it takes for me to write a book. As I’ve just finished the First Draft of DARK HOLLOW ROAD, I thought I’d use that as an example to answer the question. It just so happens I know exactly when the idea, the title at least, came to me, September 22, 2014.

We were driving through the wilds of eastern Pennsylvania just minding our own business, stopping at various junk and antique shops and enjoying the fall foliage when we zoomed by a small side road that led even further and deeper into those wilds. The road sign read, “Dark Hollow Road”. I laughed and said, “If that’s not the title of a book, I don’t know what is.” At the time I had no idea what that future book would be about. I had other things in the works. My Muse, who for some odd reason I envision as a dark, mysterious version of Tinker Bell, would do what she does best and find out what the story deal was and get back to me later.

She did so in June of 2015 by introducing me to Mary Alice Brown and her family. I started out writing exclusively from her first person perspective. I knew I wanted to keep her world, which in the context of the book starts in 1948, very separate from what was going on today so contained all of that to the odd-numbered chapters. I’d written at least five odd-numbered chapters before having a clue what the ones in between would contain.

One day, six-year-old Brandon Evenson showed up. He got me going on what would be happening in the modern even-numbered chapters. By October of 2015 I’d written sixteen chapters. In January 2016 I was forced to draw up a timeline to keep track of the two sections running simultaneously. In April 2016, I was sitting alone at a small campfire I had going in my backyard. As I sat there pondering whatever it was I was pondering, along came this old, slightly grouchy looking man. He introduced himself as Lee Yagar and told me who knew a fair amount about Dark Hollow Road, but had never been too keen on talking about it to anyone. He didn’t live there, but he knew the Brown family. That’s all he had to share. It wasn’t very informative, but it was something.

Then, last night, August 9, almost two years after we drove by that Dark Hollow Road sign, I typed the final, very satisfying sentence that ended it all. So, there’s your answer as far as getting to the end of the first draft to DARK HOLLOW ROAD goes. Of course there’s still a whole lot of editing and proof reading to do on it, but it’s written. It will likely be another year before it sees the like of day.

Normally there are at least two books in progress at the same time. They are at very different stages along the creation process timeline which is why it seems like I’ve come out with two new titles, rewrite and re-release a previous title, and finish a first draft for a fourth all in a year’s time. It really took a lot longer than that, but you get the idea.

I’ll take a break for a while. I’ll try to at least. Sometimes the Muse gets over-zealous and doesn’t allow that break. Sometimes she takes annoyingly long naps. She’s quite unpredictable.

Today after I have the first draft of DHR printed up, I’ll put it aside until after we get back from our honeymoon in September. I’ll give it a once over, make my own corrections,  then hand  it off to my editor friend who will have it for a few months more. The idea is that once I see it again, my eyes will be fresher and my mind will have maybe forgotten a thing or two. Makes it easier to spot errors that way.

As another example, NO REST FOR THE WICKED which is coming out this September, I started to write the summer of 2011!! It all depends on the book and what’s going on in the rest of my life, I guess.

Last night I was trying to figure out how to explain what it feels like when I type that last sentence in a novel. It never fails that I think, “I like it!” I wish I smoked so I could lean back and savor the moment. Maybe it’s like very satisfying sex, that instant when all is said and done and the parties involved lay back and bask in the afterglow of their passion. It’s definitely a mental high.

Not five minutes later I’m thinking, “What’s next? Now what do I do?”

Indeed, what do I do next? For now, nothing. Focus on the wedding, enjoy the honeymoon, and maybe getting that back deck finished up.

Stretch and breathe before taking a ride on … THE WITCH’S BACKBONE.

 <wicked evil grin>

Book Review – Dark Tower Series by Stephen King

Instead of going through and reviewing each of the books individually, I’m going to do a simplified, overall review of the series as a whole. You and I will both be glad I did.

I started reading “The Gunslinger” Book 1 of 7.5 in Stephen King’s Dark Tower series back in August 2015. As the pages went by, so did the months, until eventually I wrapped it all up last month by jumping slightly backwards to read what King places as Book 4.5, “The Wind Through The Keyhole”.

There’s so much here! King has truly created a world eerily familiar while at the same time completely different than our own. A future date is never specified for the time that the Gunslinger, Roland Deschaine, comes from, but it’s at least a few hundred years from now, if not a thousand or more. The world has changed, it’s ‘moved on’ as is worded in the books. Well-populated cities are few and far between. Machines and the electricity to run them are even more rare. We, you and me, or those closer to our timeline, are known only as The Old Ones. We are the faceless, nameless creators who pretty much screwed everything up at some point in the distant past.

Enter Roland, the Last Gunslinger, whose only mission in a long and troubled life is to reach the Dark Tower. He will do anything, go anywhere, kill anyone, in order to reach that destination. Roland is a highly trained killing machine and he does it all 19th century American Southwest cowboy-style, with a pair of ivory-handled revolvers that once belonged to his father. But, he can’t do it alone. He needs his posse, his ka-tet, to share in the adventure. And this is where the time travel comes in.

Through a series of free-standing, hovering doors scattered here and there along Roland’s route, he starts pulling people through into his own time. The first is heroin addict, Eddie Dean from 1987. Not to be confused with the Texas-born country and western singer of the same name. Next, comes Odetta\Detta Holmes aka Susannah Dean who is ripped from the year 1964. Again, try not to get her confused with the Civil Rights activist, singer and songwriter from the 1960s.  Last but not least we have eleven-year-old John “Jake” Chambers, who is rescued from an abandoned and seemingly possessed house in 1977 and brought into Roland’s ‘when’. The final member of the ka-tet is the billy-bumbler, Oy. A sort of long-necked dog that talks who very quickly wins over our hearts as Jake’s tried and true friend and loyal companion.

Obviously, if I spent somewhere around eight months reading this series, I must have enjoyed it. Very true. It contains a little bit of every genre out there; sci-fi, western, horror, fantasy, adventure, and yes, there’s even some romance going on. I really think it’s a must-read for any Stephen King fan. He does some pretty awesome writing here and yet…

For as much as I was impressed and for as much as I grew to love Roland and all the members of his ka-tet and their bond and adventures, I also found myself feeling disappointed with it. Some scenes felt like fillers and cop-outs. It was like King felt he needed to make this thing as thick and long-winded as possible so let’s add in this and that and the other thing and tie it all together in some obscure way that sort of makes sense. I questioned these scenes and their purpose in the grand scheme of it all; for example, the entire “Wizard of Oz” portion. Why? I honestly can’t recall for the life of me what this was all about. Why did we go there? Why did the dog need ruby slippers? And if King was going for some sort of how many other book references can he smash into this series theme, the shoes should have been silver as they are in the L. Frank Baum books. It all felt too contrived to me.

The other element I didn’t care for at all was the way King included himself in the end of the series, like some omnipotent God. I am King, the Great and Powerful. You are nothing without me.  If I die, you die. It seemed so self-glorifying and self-righteous and honestly, on some level, more filler to make this series much longer than it needed to be. Just get to the point already. Let’s get Roland and his ka-tet to the Dark Tower and let’s see what’s in there.

And once we finally do get there, all that time and build-up will be worth what Roland finds at the top, right? Um. Not so much. King should have spent less time blathering on about connecting this series to “The Wizard of Oz”, or “The Stand”, or “Salem’s Lot” and more time on this ending. It turned my whole perspective of the who, what, and why of Roland and his quest upside down.

Am I glad I read it despite what I felt was a horrible and disappointing ending? Yes, very much so. There’s a lot in the series to love and admire and at one point I found myself crying, yep. King wrung the tears out of me. For a writer to be able to get you so in love and involved with his fictional creations, you know he’s done an amazing job of drawing you into their lives and caring. Damn you, King!  Damn you, for being so awesome even if you disappointed me a bit at the end.

It’s not your typical King story. It’s not pure horror by any stretch of the imagination. Non-King fans will like this just as much as those who have been with him since the beginning.

I’d love to this is 5 Ravens, but… that ending.

4 out of 5 Ravens.

Excerpt from “No Rest For The Wicked”

     The following is the the intro and first two chapters of my upcoming ghost story, NO REST FOR THE WICKED scheduled for release Fall 2016. Please note this novel contains some explicit sexual content. If that sort of thing turns you off, you may not wish to read further. However, it is intricate to the plot and to the hauntings you will learn about further in the story. The rest of you brave souls … read on.
August 1882
     She didn’t have to see it to believe it. She could hear them just fine. She’d suspected the truth for months. It was time to do something about it. She’d waited and planned long enough. Lucy looked up the stairs, gripping the top of the wooden balustrade with a firm, steady hand. Oh, yes, he was up there. He thought her so meek and submissive, but he knew as well as anyone who had not hesitated to shoot those damned Yankees point blank during the War. Yes, Beauregard Addams and his little trollop really should know so much better than to do what they were doing up there. You didn’t cross Lucy Addams without paying a price.
     She dried her palm against the folds of her dressing gown before pulling the revolver from Beau’s holster. Idiot, she thought, keeping his gun loaded and ready on the table at the foot of the stairs like that. He’d done it for years, though and now it would be his undoing. Her footsteps were silent and slow as she climbed each tread. Sweat dampened the brow above her hazel eyes, but her heart had gone cold and the color of her rage was icy blue and lethally calm.
     “C’mon, suck it,” she heard him order. “Suck it, my little slut.”
     Feminine moans and grunts of pleasure shuddered through the closed bedroom door as Lucy’s damp hand wrapped around the knob. She turned it oh-so-slowly. Lucy licked her lips.
     He had his back to the door as a dark-skinned woman knelt on the floor in front of him, naked. Beau’s trousers were pushed down to just above his knees. He’d not even taken off his waistcoat yet. Both of his hands held the kneeling woman’s unseen face against his groin as he rocked his hips back and forth faster.
     Beau moaned.
     Lucy knew that sound well. He was about to climax. Let him, she thought as a smile touched her lips and she raised the gun, aiming it at the base of his skull not ten feet away. Her husband’s ass flexed as he pushed himself into the other woman’s mouth and tipped his face towards the ceiling with a helpless groan that bordered on a yell.
     “Beau,” Lucy said just loud enough to be heard over the noise of his release.
     His eyes shot open.
     Lucy exhaled slowly and squeezed the trigger just like he’d taught her to do.
***
Chapter 1
     Twin, square columns painted ghost white and topped with massive cast iron planters stood guard on either side of an iron gate into which had been worked an impressive letter ‘A’. Vines poured from the tops of the planters and reached out in opposing directions. Their delicate stalks twisted along the top of the fencing to create a thick, tangled drapery of vines and leaves. Behind the fence, two more sentinels loomed tall and foreboding in the guise of ancient gray elms. Their yellow-tainted leaves shivered as the Harley and its two riders passed slowly beneath the entwined branches of the trees.
     Hidden further back stood the house. A ripple of fear stroked Grace’s spine and set the hairs on her arms on end. She hugged Eric’s sides just a little tighter. Bone-white with black shutters, the entire front facade boasted a two-story porch where thick, lathed spindles held aloft paint chipped railings. Half a dozen steps led up to a wide door framed by a fan window on top and glass side panels. Two more urns, like the ones atop the front columns, squatted empty on either side of the front door.
     As they passed beyond the elms, Grace turned her attention to the left. A single story room of some sort jutted out from the main body of the house. Solid-colored drapes prevented any chance of seeing what was inside. More of the familiar vines spread their long, greedy fingers around the corner and had worked their way halfway across the front, almost touching the narrow windows.
     The grounds were unkempt and ragged. Wisteria grew at random lengths over the porch while shrubs stood tall and jagged at the corners. In the center of the circular carriageway they now rounded, a scantily clad statue of a woman stood poised above a brier of roses gone wild with dead and withered blossoms.
     Eric pulled the bike to a stop behind a white compact car while lowering his boot-shod feet to the ground. The engine was cut. For a moment, silence rang in Grace’s ears. The house would easily accommodate both of their businesses, but for what price? Grace put her hands on her husband’s shoulders and swung one leg over the back before landing with a soft hop on the dry, Virginia soil.
     Both worked off their helmets before speaking.“What do you think?” Eric asked. At just under six foot Eric was a lean one hundred seventy pounds and towered a good nine inches over his petite wife. He hung his helmet on the end of one of the bike’s handlebars.
     “It’s huge,” she said.
     Eric chuckled.
     “Oh, stop it!” she mock punched him on the arm, “Men are such pigs.”
     “Oink,” he grinned and leaned in to give her a tender kiss. Eric looked every bit the bad-ass biker dude with an unruly beard, made even more so after the ride, and long blonde hair he kept pulled into a ponytail that, even when braided, reached the middle of his back, but Grace knew all too well he was nothing but a teddy bear inside. In their eight years together, she’d never seen him start a fight. He’d broken up a few, but he was never one to throw the first punch or deliver the deciding blow. Eric used his hands for making music and when they saw the ad in the paper for this property, it had sounded a perfect space to set up the private studio he’d been talking about for the past year.
     The front door squeaked open and a well-dressed, balding man emerged carrying a single manila folder, “Afternoon, folks. Welcome to Greenbrier,” he grinned like some seedy, used car salesman. “Couldn’t help but hear you pull in.” He thrust out his free hand to Eric. “I’m James, James Fletcher. Pleased to meet you.” He shook Grace’s hand, too.
     “Eric McLaughlin, and this here is my ol’ lady, Grace.”
     “Pleased to meet you both.” The realtor looked slightly uncomfortable. “Well, let’s not waste any time, shall we? Let me show you around.”
     “Lead on,” Eric replied as he reached back and took Grace’s hand. “C’mon, woman. Let’s see what this boy’s got to offer.”
     Grace gave him a little smirk that the realtor didn’t catch, “Stop,” she mouthed silently and was about to punch her husband in the arm again until Mr. Fletcher turned around.
“This poor place really only needs some T.L.C., you understand? It’s been empty for years,” the realtor said. His thin lips turned up in a grimace. Grace didn’t like it.
     “How come?” she asked.
     “The last folks abandoned the property nearly five years ago. Just up and left. Some sort of family emergency, I’m told.” Mr. Fletcher pulled the grand front door open and motioned for the prospective buyers to proceed ahead of him.
     Even before she stepped through the door, Grace’s nose crinkled. “What’s that smell?”
The front entry was generous, but not overwhelming. To the left and right doors, led into what appeared to be twin rooms on either side. In front of them a large staircase ran up along the left hand wall. A wide hallway running parallel to this staircase led to rooms lost in a murky haze of dust and cobwebs. Grace sniffed the air again. “Do you smell that?”
Eric and Mr. Fletcher both sniffed but shook their heads.
     “What’s it smell like?” Eric asked.
     She shrugged. “Like something burning, maybe? Or like … like when we went to Gettysburg.”
    Eric’s eyebrows arched, “Gettysburg?”
     “Oh, you know how all that cannon smoke smelled.”
     “Gunpowder?”
     Grace nodded, “Yeah, just like that, just like gunpowder.” She sniffed again, but the air held nothing but the scent of an old, shut up house, dust and aged wood. “It’s gone now.”
     Mr. Fletcher chuckled, “Well, you’re near Winchester. We saw a lot of the War here. In fact, I’m pretty sure there’s a re-enactment going on west of here about sixty miles. Get the right sort of wind blowing and you can smell those things for miles. However, I can assure you this house saw no part of the real war. Greenbrier Plantation was built several years after it ended to replace the original house that burned down in 1862. The story goes that the owners, Dr. Addams and his young wife, Lucy, fled in the middle of the night and spent the rest of the battle torn years in France.” The realtor adjusted his glasses and walked into the room immediately to the right. “This was the front parlor, the ladies parlor as it was known, very bright and cheerful in its day. Just needs a bit of paint and new paper on the walls to bring it back to that.
     Grace hugged her elbows to her stomach, looking at the room and the cobweb-draped light fixture that hung from the ceiling. “I like it,” she said as she turned slowly in place. “Would make a great room for painting in. The natural light that comes right through is perfect.”
    Mr. Fletcher grinned his approval and ushered them towards the room across the hall.
“Originally, this was the dining room.” He headed towards another door along the back wall. “Kitchen is through here. Plenty big enough to be an eat-in if you’d like.”
     “Hold up,” Eric said. “What’s all this about?”
      The realtor paused and looked at the pile of sheetrock and stack of two-by-fours as if he’d not seen them at all before. “Oh, those, well, the last owners were renovating the place. Those are the materials they left behind.”
     Eric strode closer in long, easy steps over. “He left his toolbox,” he bent down and picked up what appeared to be nothing more than an old rag, “and his apron. Still has nails in the pockets.” Eric steadied his gaze at Mr. Fletcher. The biker knew how to look mean when he had to. “Tell us again why these folks left, Mr. Fletcher?”
     The older man licked his lips nervously. “In the night, quickly. They packed up their car as if a tornado was coming and were gone.”
     “I thought that was how the first owners left.”
     “Yes, well,” Mr. Fletcher stammered, “yes, they did. It was during the War and the original place was on fire. They had to run for their lives. These folks just had a family emergency.”
     Eric crossed his arms and planted his feet firmly on the hardwood floor. “That must have been some family emergency.”
     “I only know what the office told me, Mr. McLaughlin.”
     “It’s haunted, isn’t it?” Grace’s voice was edged with hope.
     Dust motes sparkled in the beams of sunlight that streamed through the dirty dining room windows.
     “I’ve heard that, too.” Mr. Fletcher conceded. “Most places around these parts claim to be haunted.”
     Grace felt herself smile, “How exciting. Who by, Mr. Fletcher? What happened?”
     The realtor nudged his glasses up on his nose again and was about to speak.
     “Another time, huh?” Eric said with a chuckle. “Let’s finish the viewing first. If we decide we’re interested and want to discuss price, you two can talk about ghosts.”
     “Party pooper,” Grace mock pouted, “ruining all my fun.”
     Eric reached back and swatted her ass playfully, “I’ll show you some fun later.”
     Fletcher cleared his throat and looked away. Eric chuckled, “Sorry. Back to the business at hand.”
     The kitchen had been updated completely by the last owners and from Grace’s perspective needed nothing more than a good, hard scrubbing and some fresh paint more to her liking. A narrow staircase led from the back left corner of the kitchen up to a small room that the realtor told them was probably used by a servant A second door led into the upstairs hallway, but Mr. Fletcher took them back to the foyer the way they’d come.
     “The den,” Mr. Fletcher said as he swung open the second door on the right. It was the same size as the ladies parlor but was dim and very little sunlight came in through the single east-facing window. Layers of brittle wallpaper clung to the walls. “Electric was put in sometime in the early fifties. Apart from the kitchen and bathroom, it’s not been updated as far as I know.”
     “Damn,” Eric let out a breath and shook his head. “All I’m seeing are dollar signs, babe.”
     Grace ignored the remark. “How long did the last people live here?” Grace eyed the walls, calculating how much work would have to go into peeling, scraping, priming, and repapering them.
     “About six months.”
     “Things that go bump in the night,” Grace snickered.
     Mr. Fletcher smiled. “Family emergency,” he corrected her. “After the family left, the estate was handled by their lawyer and the bank. They never came back. The house was foreclosed and has been empty and on the market ever since.”
     Eric nodded. He had never been one to believe in ghosts or any of that kind of thing. That was Grace’s fancy, not his, and he had always let her have her harmless fun with it. Her sense of wonder and fantasy had also helped make her series of children’s books and illustrations very popular. Who knew, maybe the house and its alleged ghosts would inspire that young adult novel she’d always wanted to write. She found inspiration in the oddest places.
     Mr. Fletcher stepped back out in the hallway. “Shall we go upstairs?”
     “Lead on,” Eric replied.
     Hand-carved woodwork greeted them throughout the house, from the carved balustrade to the floors, the wainscoted hallway, doors and frames, and windows casings All spoke of the finest craftsmanship. Sunlight streamed through the dust motes the three of them kicked up in the front bedrooms. A room in the back had been updated into a large bathroom. The claw foot tub with its draw-around curtain was lovely and nostalgic but not practical; plus, the thing was an oasis of rust. With four bedrooms and the servant’s quarters, the place was almost too much.
     “What about that little room I saw from the outside, along the west?” Grace asked as they descended the front porch steps.
     “Ah,” the realtor’s eyes lifted. “If you think the thought of ghosts is fun, you’re going to love what went on over there.” He pulled the ring of keys from his pocket and fished through them.
     “What’s over there?”
     “There were coffins,” Mr. Fletcher said, giving Grace a wink.
     “Coffins?” Her heart gave an excited extra beat.
     Eric pulled back to a halt. “Whoa now, wait just a fuckin’ minute. Why the hell were there coffins here?”
     Concern etched deep into the realtor’s forehead and the hopeful look of a sale dwindled. “Alright, I’m having a bit of fun with you two. Let me show you and I’ll explain.”
     Eric didn’t move even when Mr. Fletcher started to walk away.
     The realtor turned back. “I assure you, there are no coffins in there, not anymore. The original owner, Dr. Beauregard Addams, was a very successful undertaker until the time of his death. That little addition was his place of business.”
     Still, Eric didn’t move. “You’re saying this place was a funeral home?”
     “A hundred and thirty years ago, yes.”
     Grace giggled as she watched her husband’s face. “Don’t tell me big, bad biker man is afraid.”
     Eric scowled, “No, I just think it’s damn creepy, that’s all. Let’s go look.”
     Mr. Fletcher resumed walking as he fiddled with the keys in his hand. “If it helps any, Mr. McLaughlin, there is no access from this wing to the main house. From what I’ve heard, the doctor’s wife was about as thrilled with her husband’s occupation as you are. She requested the two areas be kept apart during the reconstruction.” He slipped the key into the lock and swung the door open. “Well, here we are…”
     Grace stepped forward and peered in.
***
Chapter 2
     Mr. Fletcher moved aside, letting Grace tug Eric into the room as if leading him into a cheap carnival spook house. It wasn’t a big room by any means, fourteen feet wide and maybe twelve feet deep, but with nine-foot ceilings, the emptiness gave the impression of being much larger. Sunlight poked through what remained of a shabby, brown curtain coated with dust and partially eaten by moths.
      Rubble from the crumbling ceiling crunched under Eric and Grace’s boots. From every corner, sheets of cobwebs sagged under their own thick weight. Each was filled more with dust and debris than food for the spiders that had spun them. Portions of the plaster walls that had not already fallen away from the lathe were bowed and cracked.
     At dead center, a trash can waited to be filled by the heap of wallpaper on the floor next to it. Grace let go of Eric’s hand and bent over to pick up the push broom from the floor. “Wow,” she whispered as if afraid her breath alone would send more of the walls and ceiling crashing down around them.
     “Just a little T.L.C., eh, Mr. Fletcher?” Eric chuckled, stroking the length of his foot long beard with one hand.
     The realtor moved away from the doorway and joined them in the dark staleness of the space. “You’ve seen the rest of the house. I assure you, this is as bad as it gets. Even the carriage house is in better shape.”
     The biker grunted and crossed his arms.
     “Someone started to work on it, at least,” Grace said, leaning the broom handle against the trash can from where it had fallen long ago.
     “Where’s that go?” Eric nodded his head towards a door on the opposite wall from the front one.
     Mr. Fletcher searched his key ring again, “That’s the embalming room.” He hesitated when neither of his clients said anything, “Do you want to look or …?”
     “Baby?” Eric deferred to his wife.
     She nodded and brushed her hands off on her jeans.
     The inner room was only slightly larger than the first, but instead of hardwood floors, these had been tiled in white. There was a large drain in the middle of the floor. “Lovely,” Eric muttered. “Bets on what went down there?” For him, at least, the place had lost all its Victorian charm.
     The walls matched the floor a third of the way up before yielding to more cracked and crumbling lathe and plaster walls. There were no windows. Eric noticed Grace’s nose crinkle as she tried not to breath in the bitter tang of what he suspected was formaldehyde. “The tiles aren’t in too bad a shape,” she noted. “Only a dozen or so would need to be replaced.”
     Mr. Fletcher smiled then laughed weakly, “See, no coffins. Just empty rooms.”
     Eric couldn’t help but shake his head, “I dunno. It’s a lot of work and what the hell would we use this for?”
     Grace sidled up to her husband and took his beefy hand in hers. “Let’s go see the carriage house.”
     Eric didn’t like the look he saw in his wife’s eyes. He knew that look and it told him she still liked the place despite the damn funeral home wing. “Alright,” he gave her hand a quick squeeze and looked towards Mr. Fletcher. “The Old Lady’s still interested. Let’s do like she says or I’ll never hear the end of it.”
     Mr. Fletcher broke into a smile, “Excellent, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.”
     “Better be,” Eric grumbled and followed the realtor.
     The lower level of the carriage house was much as Eric expected, a cobbled-stone floor, thick plank walls and open beams. The logs appeared hand hewn and were notched together at the corners. Both sets of double doors, one on the front of the building and the other at the back, moved with surprising ease on huge iron hinges. On the left and right hand sides were open-air carriage ports. Bright sunlight reflected on the single, but fairly good-sized, window over the front doors.
     “Would make a good garage,” the realtor offered.
     Eric hated to admit it, but Mr. Fletcher was right. He hated not having a garage for the bike and with the carports, they would have room for it as well as Grace’s car and his pick-up. “And up there?” he pointed to the window.
     “Let me show you. Entrance is around back.”
     It was clear the back stairs were a recent addition. They ascended along the back of the right hand port and ended with a nice-sized deck that ran the full length of the main body of the carriage house. Eric estimated it to be about eight feet wide. It was all pressure-treated lumber and not in the least bit unstable.
     “Oh, look at the view from up here!” Grace’s eyes sparkled.
     Beyond a gently sloping embankment that stretched several hundred feet, a stream sparkled in front of a line of trees. “That stream is the property line,” the realtor told them.
     “What’s the acreage again?” Eric asked.
     “Just under five. It was five times that originally. And you get the added bonus of a small slave’s cemetery just over there. It’s hard to see from here, but it’s there.” He pointed off to the east to an area that looked like nothing more than overgrown fields.
     “Ooooh,” Grace cooed with interest, craning her neck to try and see anything off in that direction.
     “Oh joy,” Eric sighed. “But five acres is plenty to keep the neighbors at bay,” Eric found himself smiling again. Maybe he could tolerate that old funeral home idea. He wasn’t so sure about being a cemetery caretaker though.
     “Let me show you inside.”
     Grace gasped as Mr. Fletcher swung open the door, allowing them their first glimpse of the interior. “Oh, wow! It’s an apartment.”
     “The previous owners were living here before they got called away.” He remained out of the way and let the couple roam the space at their leisure. “Bathroom is through there. It’s small but all redone five years ago.”
     “It’s incredible,” Grace was looking through the cupboards. “It’s perfect!” she added. “We could put the leather sleeper sofa up here, Eric, and decorate it all southwestern. Look at these beautiful beams. They must have taken ages to sand down like that.” She ran her fingertips over the glowing wood.
     “All it needs is a good cleaning,” Mr. Fletcher said. “You could do what the other owners were doing, live here while they worked on the house.”
     Eric nodded slightly, not wanting to seem too interested, but the realtor did have a very good point. They couldn’t afford to keep the apartment they had and the mortgage on this place, too. In all their house-hunting over the past few months that had been an issue they’d discussed at length, move-in-ready or no deal.
     “Were you expecting to show the house to others, Mr. Fletcher?” Grace was standing at the front window, looking out.
    “No. Why?”
     “I just saw someone upstairs, a young woman. She looked out the window at me and smiled. She’s gone now; went further back into the room.”
     Mr. Fletcher and Eric came up beside Grace. “Which window?” the realtor asked. Grace pointed it out. “That’s the room over the kitchen. We better go look. The last thing we need here is vandalism.”
     They took the shortest route, through the back door that led directly into the kitchen. A quick search of the house revealed no intruder or signs of anyone having been there other than themselves.
     “There was plenty of time for whoever it was to go out this way,” Eric offered as they stepped off the front porch.
     “We’d have heard a car, wouldn’t we?” Grace looked back at the house. Worry lines creased her forehead.
     “Not if it were kids, baby.” Eric could almost hear his wife’s imagination working. “It wasn’t a ghost,” he added.
     “You don’t know that.”
     He rolled his eyes and shook his head as he turned away, knowing to argue was pointless. “We’ll have to talk it over, Mr. Fletcher,” Eric said as he extended his hand to the realtor.
     “Of course. It’s a big decision.” Mr. Fletcher reached into his suit coat pocket and pulled out a business card, “Call me as soon as you’ve decided.”
     Eric handed the card over to Grace who tucked it into her purse without even looking at it. Her attention was still firmly focused on the house. He knew that look all too well. She was in love; funeral parlor, cemetery, ghost story and all.
     “Babe?” Eric nudged his wife’s shoulder.
     “Huh?” She snapped out of her semi-dazed state, then realized the realtor was extending his hand towards her. She gripped it and muttered some sort of nice-to-meet-you gibberish and smiled.
     Mr. Fletcher headed back towards the house.
     “You alright?” Eric touched her arm.
     “Yeah, tired. Long day.” She shuddered as if cold and gave him a peck on the lips. “And I’m famished! Let’s go eat.”
***
     Grace offered Eric full access to her already satisfied and sweat-dampened body. The sound of her moans alone made him twitch, but he wasn’t quite ready to fill her that way.
Eric drew his mouth back slightly to blow on her sex then slid two fingers inside her. He pumped them back and forth a few times before introducing a third digit. He wet the fingers of his other hand with her spent juices and pressed on her anus, easing them in slowly. Grace was not always receptive to ass play, but she’d had a couple of glasses of wine with their dinner and that was sometimes enough to make her more willing.
He was throbbing hard and he wasn’t sure how much longer he’d be able to hold off. “Come on, baby. Do it again for me.”
     Grace’s tempo increased in response as her hand slid down to rest atop his. Her whole body went rigid and still. Her breathing stopped then gushed back into her as he felt his fingers clenched and released by the involuntary throbbing inside her.
     He rose up between her fully spread legs and entered her with one smooth thrust of his hips. Grace’s legs wrapped around him, hands shifting to his flat stomach before finally coming to rest on his hips. She urged him forward and down until his chest pressed to hers.
     Her hands moved to the small of his back as her lips parted and pressed to his. Eric pumped harder until the muscles of his body clamped him into place as he shouted with the orgasm. Eric’s head grew light as his consciousness threatened to slip away. Then he was back, grunting and sweating over his wife again.
     “God, baby,” he mumbled, pressing his face into the side of her neck, tasting her damp skin and smelling her hair. Eric’s hips rocked unconsciously and he wished he could spend the rest of his life just making love to her over and over.
     She made a soft, soothing sound beneath him as her hands slid up his back and stroked the base of his skull with a tenderness he found unreal. Grace kissed his shoulder and sighed, “I love you, hon.”
     “Love you, too, babe.” He knew he should roll off her but this felt so good right now. Eric flexed his ass, giving another playful nudge into her.
     “Mmmm…” she clenched around him, teasing. “We should sleep,” she whispered against his ear.
     Reluctantly he withdrew and rolled to his back to lie beside her in the bed they had shared for nearly ten years.
     Eric was half asleep when Grace spoke again, “What?”
     “The house, what do you think?” she repeated.
     “I dunno, babe. Too tired to think about it right now.”
     “Oh,” she was quiet, but after a few minutes he felt her roll to her side, away from him, and sigh.
     “What do you think?” He gave up trying to sleep and turned to wrap his left arm around her waist, pulling her close under the blankets.
     “I like it.” “It’ll be a lot of work. I thought we’d decided we wanted a place move-in ready?”
     Her shoulders sagged a little. She didn’t just like it, he could tell. It was the house she wanted. “But with the price so low, we could have a lot left over to fix it up with, maybe even hire people, too. And we can live in the carriage house. It isn’t much smaller than what we have here.”
     She was right on all counts. “Let’s sleep on it, okay?” He really was tired and if he let her go on much longer, she’d have him signing the paperwork in his sleep. She had a way about her that sometimes he just couldn’t say no to.
     “Deal,” she said, hugging his arm tight and kissing his forearm.
     Eric closed his eyes. Few things in life felt better than laying with her like this, except maybe the way they got to this point in the first place. His mind drifted, letting the feel and smell of her and their lovemaking sink deep into his muscles and bones.
     “She was naked.”
     His eyes popped open again. “Huh? Who?”
     “The woman I saw in the back window of the house. She was naked.” She said it rather timidly which was somewhat unusual for her.
     “You sure you weren’t just seeing some sort of reflection in the glass? You know how the glass in those old houses can be warped and rippled. Maybe it was a cloud or something.”
     “It wasn’t a cloud,” she insisted. “It wasn’t a reflection of anything. I saw her, Eric, clear as I would see myself in the mirror. She was young, early twenties, I’d guess, and real pretty. I saw her face, her breasts, and they were bare. She looked right at me.”
    He pulled her a bit tighter into his arms. “I believe you saw something, baby. Can’t we just sleep and talk about all this tomorrow?”
     “Sure,” she said, her voice dull and resigned to dropping the subject for now.
     Eric kissed her again. “Go to sleep.”
     Grace said good night, but it was hours before she was able to sleep. The woman’s face would not be erased from her inner eye, the soft tilt of her dark brown eyes and the curve of her full lips turning up ever so slightly. She’d told Eric and the realtor that the woman had smiled and she had, only it wasn’t a happy smile. It was forced and pleading and it begged to be seen. Their eyes had locked for a split second before the woman seemed to step away and fade back into the darkness of the room behind her.
    Or maybe, Grace thought as sleep did finally pull her down, she’d not stepped back at all. Maybe she’d simply dissolved like the ghost Grace believed she was.
***
    The warm aroma of brewing coffee tickled the inside of Eric’s nose before he opened his eyes. Grace’s side of the bed was cold. She’d been up awhile. Pity, he thought rather selfishly as he lightly fondled his morning erection. His initial idea was to toss off right here and now in bed. Grace would have a fit, though. She’d either be upset she’d missed out, or pissed off he’d made a mess, or both.
     Naked, Eric padded to the bathroom and closed the door, still holding himself. He lifted the toilet seat and gazed into the blue water with a blank, just-woke-up stare. Having Grace know he still jerked off now and then never sat comfortably in his head. He didn’t want her to think she was doing something wrong or maybe she wasn’t enough. Women were weird like that. The only time she ever turned him down was when she was having her monthly.
     With a generous amount of toilet tissue, he cleaned himself and the edge of the toilet bowl off, then flushed. As he washed his hands, he looked in the medicine cabinet mirror. “Damn, you’re getting old.” He scowled a bit, wondering where all the wrinkles had suddenly come from. The wild days of his ill-spent youth were catching up way too fast. Eric ran his fingers through the head of hair that was already starting to gray even at thirty eight. “Better old than dead,” he said, quoting his grandfather now many years the latter.
     A pair of arms snaked around Grace’s waist as warm lips and the brushing of long whiskers tickled her neck. “G’morning,” Eric’s soothing voice whispered against her ear.
     She let out a soft purr and turned her back on the eggs she was scrambling up in a bowl. “And a good morning to you, too,” she kissed him on the mouth. “Sleep well?”
     “Yes,” he grinned and was on the verge of adding how he’d waken up with a hard-on but decided against it as soon as the thought crossed his mind. He didn’t want her asking what he done about it, and she would. “Whatcha making?” he asked instead, eyeing the eggs.
     “Scrambled eggs, omelets or French toast. Name your poison.”
     “Omelet,” he decided and pulled away slowly from her inviting body to pour himself some coffee. “Going for a smoke,” he continued, lifting the half pack and lighter from the countertop and heading out to their small patio. It was just off the kitchen through a pair of sliding glass doors and just big enough for two lawn chairs. Eric lit up and looked at the cityscape below. He found himself imagining standing on the back deck of that carriage house in Virginia instead. Maybe he had made up his mind.
     He had grown to dislike city living more and more lately. Twenty years ago when he’d been a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed high school graduate it was everything he wanted. He’d landed a job with a security company helping to install and update systems. This led to designing layouts for contractors, builders, and pre-existing businesses all over the city. The pay was good, real good, and he enjoyed doing it. The rest of the time he’d spent with his band mates getting way too drunk and stoned after practice and gigs. They were good, or at least he thought so. But, as it goes, people meet new people and end up not wanting to, or being able to, hang out with the old ones.
     Eric was just as guilty as the rest of them. He blamed Grace.
     There she was, sitting off to the right one night during a show. He could barely take his eyes off her. His playing suffered. He’d never believed in soul mates or love at first sight until that night. Maybe it was the dusting of freckles on her otherwise flawless skin or her light brown eyes. Whatever it was, Eric was hooked. This one was not going to get away. The whole thing had felt crazy. After only a month of dating, he’d popped the question. Without a moment’s hesitation, Grace had said yes. He’d do everything in his power for that woman.
     He drew in the last bit of smoke from the cigarette and crushed out the butt in the clear ashtray. “Good-bye, city lights,” he said to the gray steel and brick buildings nearby then went inside to tell his wife the good news. She cried, just like he knew she would.