JO JANOSKI resides in Pittsburgh, PA, USA with her husband, Ron.
The Storyteller's Muse, Chapter 21, Pt. 2
The Storyteller's Muse
Her wedding day. The time every girl dreams of, arriving late in Sara's life but here it was, all the same. She pulled the veil down over her face. Her large eyes loomed behind the gauze, filled with astonishment that it was finally happening. She and David were getting married.
He moved in as soon as they arrived back after delivering Margot to her brother. More as an escape from an angry wife than any other reason. They co-habited like brother and sister for a time, until one night he leaned over on the couch and kissed her. The rest was history. She was happy. But a shadow dulled her joy...the presence of Justin lurking in the corners. She'd hadn't seen him. That was true. But an other-worldly aura still draped the house in feelings of yesterday, yesterday longing to be set free. Did she imagine the tread of his heavy buckled shoes brushing along the floor. Or was it a sound locked in time never intending to leave the premises? Could Justin be embedded in the memory clouds of this old house as well, brushing by in a cold draft or a flash of light when least expected?
Wedding plans took her mind off the problem. But now that would soon be over, and she and David would return to the Victorian to live the sublime quiet life. Or would it be quiet? She wouldn't be surprised if Justin made the floor boards rumble or some such nonsense to protest her marriage.
"Sara, are you ready?" It was Brigid hovering in the open doorway, in from England to celebrate her friends' marriage. Time to begin.
She walked down the aisle on rubbery legs as all eyes watched. But it was a dream. The scent of white roses cavorting in free-spirited leaps and bounds with organ music sent her heart racing. Spying David settled her, evoking a tear of intense emotions. She'd waited so long for him. Their gazes met, melding.
The pastor's words were a rumble as they exchanged rings. She murmured her vows in a torrent of excitement until finally the pronouncement rung clear, "I now pronounce you man and wife."
Immediately upon entering the Victorian, when David carried her over the threshold, Sara sensed Justin. A chilly, familiar draft brushed her, like a strange movement.
"Huh? Who?" Her new husband scanned the room in alarm.
"Justin. I can feel him. He's here."
"I thought you said you hadn't seen him around. We thought he'd finally moved on." David's intelligent eyes focused with concern. "You don't think he'll bother us, do you?"
"Well, he hasn't all this time we've been living here, why should he now?"
"Because, my dear, now you've married him. How could you?" Justin appeared in his resplendent glory. At first a filmy gauze, then brighter and more real.
"My God! Sara, I can see him!" David murmured. "This is extraordinary."
"Yes, my old foe. I am extraordinary. That's why I don't understand why Sara would marry you instead of staying close to me."
Sara broke in. "Justin, besides the fact you're a ghost. You chose to live eternity with that other woman."
"Yes, my dear. But I haven't joined her yet. I wished we could spend some time here, in this house, enjoying each other's company. I find the finality of this marriage of yours upsets me." His figure flashed in and out with blinding bolts of color. "I'm thinking I do not intend to leave, to leave you two with any peace. I'm here to stay."
David stepped forward. "Justin, I will not have you threatening us. We're not afraid of you. You're nothing more than a blast of hot air, and if you think you can intimidate us, think again."
"Oh, the new husband is quite a lofty fellow. Are you threatening me, my friend?"
"I'm just telling you to stay out of our way. If you truly love this lady as you say you do, you would want her to be happy, and you need to let her go."
"Let her go! Never!"
Sara's outrage exploded. "Will two please quit talking about me like I'm some helpless waif? I can make up my own mind and take care of myself. Justin, I've made up my mind." She held up her hand, pointing to her wedding band. "I've married David. End of story."
Justin's image wavered before coming back in true colors. He stood poised, stroking his chin, his mischievous eyes surveying her until he sighed, not a little sigh, but a long heartfelt disappointed moan. "My dear," he said. "Your new husband has made a valid point. I shall back away from you and give you peace." He paused, stroking the chin in short nervous movements. "But I cannot go; I cannot leave you. I'll be here for a time...in the shadows...watching your movements, savoring your perfume, breathing in your graceful beauty."
David bolted forward. "Hey, stop talking like that about my wife!"
Justin raised his hand in defiance, then continued. "I'll be here, but I won't bother you...unless you want me to." He shot Sara an endearing smile. "Simply call my name, and I'll come," he added in a murmur. With that being said, the ghost disappeared in a puff of vapors. Sara and David stood, stunned. Finally, David spoke.
"Should we be alarmed?"
"I don't know."
He grabbed her in his arms. "Well, here we are--you, me, this grand Victorian...and the resident ghost."
"Yeah. It should be quite a party."
Posted: 09:07 AM, September 27, 2007 in My Online Novel in Progress
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The Storyteller's Muse, Chapter 21, Pt. 1
The Storyteller's Muse - Chapter 21, Pt. 1
"I'm not certain," David replied. "We walked in the room. You saw Margot and you fainted. Luckily, I had some smelling salts for Margot handy. Are you all right?"
"Yes, I guess. I just had a bad dream or vision or something." The episode with its eerie, yet romantic revelations had set her heart on fire. Touching her lip, the warmth of "Stephen's" sensuous kiss lingered. She studied David. His lively, intelligent face denied the stark implications of his graying hair. Did she love David as Jessica loved Stephen? Of course she did. She always had. It took a trip to another dimension for her to admit the simple truth.
"I called Margot's family in Britain. Her brother is flying over to take her back. I promised I'd meet him at the airport tonight around 10:00. You're welcome to come along if you'd like."
Sara nodded. She felt overwhelmed with the need to be near this remarkable man.
Driving Margot to the airport proved to be dreadful. The woman cried the entire time and no amount of comforting words helped. It was with great pleasure she and David turned Margot over to the care of her brother. Sara missed being in the quiet of her own car with only her old familiar Justin for company. That flighty spirit had pulled one of his disappearing acts again. She hadn't seen him since the surreal episode in the motel room.
Later, in the car they finally got to speak frankly about what happened.
"I could tell from the energy in the room something was going on," David said.
"Well, you got that right," Sara replied. "Margot seemed to see everything."
"Well, after speaking with her brother, I discovered she has psychic powers of some sort." He turned to her. "She sees ghosts, in other words. She has always been the odd duck in the family."
"I wonder why she wasn't more open with us at my place when she first saw Justin."
"Well, her brother claims she has been ridiculed her entire life because she was 'different.' So she probably hesitated to admit it to us." He paused, then shot Sara a sideways glance. "So when are you going to tell me what was happening in that room? You fainted, for Gawd's sake."
Sara blushed. "Well," she stammered. "It was a sort of unreal experience...sort of a dream."
"Well, what was happening in this 'dream?' What frightened you enough to faint?"
"Justin was in it...he threatened to shoot a man I was with..."
"A man? What man?"
"You. Well, sort of. I mean, you had a different persona, but the spirit was you. Your name was Stephen. I was different too."
The car swerved as David lost control. "Me?" His knuckles clutched the steering wheel.
"Well, it was a dream, that's all."
"And then what happened?"
"A woman and her brother and father arrived and talked him out of it. That was when I woke up."
David didn't reply at first, then spoke. "Sara, I've been meaning to tell you. Brenda has asked me for a divorce."
Later, in her room, Sara remembered how her heart thumped when David made the announcement. A week ago she never would have thought it was possible he and his wife could be splitting up.
"Really, darling. I'm hurt by the excited expression on your face. You're thinking of that man, aren't you?"
Sara swung around on her heel in surprise to spy Justin, back again. "Justin, I wasn't sure you were coming back."
"Well, it is true I gave up the chance to be with you yet a second time. That is settled. But you know, I have several other pieces of unfinished business in this realm before I follow the Light."
"Like what? No, wait! I don't want to know. So why are you still lurking around me?"
"I may have chosen another, but my heart still yearns to see you now and then."
"Should I be worried?"
He chuckled. "That's something you'll have to figure out on your own, my dear."
In an instant, he was gone.
Posted: 08:44 AM, September 14, 2007 in My Online Novel in Progress
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The Storyteller's Muse, Chapter 20, Part 2
The Storyteller's Muse
Chapter 20, Part 2
Sara daydreamed on a bed of soft green grass, surrounded by trees, boughs spread to make ample shade. The sky was blue like a lover's eyes with wispy white puffs moving across. The feeling was one of absolute tranquility and isolation. Somewhere else the world spun in its busy fashion, hurling out problems like a cyclone, tormenting its inhabitants, testing their patience. Here, in this spot, time didn't exist. It was a place along the continuum where traveling souls might collide, sometimes by accident, other times by appointment. Sara's heart throbbed with the need to meet someone. She knew this was a planned meeting; the problem was she knew not with whom.
"Jessica!" The voice was one she knew well. It had counseled her on many occasions. He called her Jessica. That was her name, after all, in this faraway time and place. And the voice, it was the voice of David. Not David's voice with his tone or diction, but the pulse and meaning screamed his identity. When he came into view, the young man didn't look like her David either, but the soul of that man shined through this fellow's brilliant blue eyes. As she reached a hand out to him, a strand of her own strangely blond hair brushed her arm. Ah, she was not looking like herself either. And yet, this place, this man, all of it comprised a warm familiar event, a collision of the familiar that had awaited her this day.
"Stephen!" The name escaped. Calling this man "Stephen" felt right, just as did these surroundings, this thin air, a place she'd been to many times and a man she spoke to daily...long ago. A man named Stephen. They'd walked together in this sunny field many times before. She was certain.
"I thought I'd missed you today. I ran all the way here." His breath came in short gasps.
"I don't know what I'd do if you hadn't come. I would miss you so." She rose to kiss him on the cheek. He grabbed her close. She remembered. They met here every afternoon at twilight, met to profess their love in this secret place. She kissed him now with ferocity, remembering the intensity of their love as her tongue dug deeper...and how she was promised to another.
"You have betrayed me, my friend." The voice, edged in anger, sliced them apart. Justin, the old familiar Justin she knew, stood in front of them. He was rigid, the usual merriment of his eyes replaced by fierce animosity.
"Justin!" David looked to Sara in alarm. They'd been found out. He stammered. "I'm sorry. It just happened..."
"It just happened! I find you in the woods kissing my fiancé, and you tell me 'it just happened.'" That man looked away in pain, next pulling a gun from his vest. He turned to glare at David, lifting the weapon to aim.
"Justin, no!" Emily with her father and brother appeared. She stood now wringing her hands as her brother rushed to Justin, stopping short as Justin's grip tightened on the gun.
"I say, man! You don't want to do that," the brother murmured.
Justin shot wild eyes at the fellow.
"Justin, I thought you loved me. Why are you chasing that whore?" Emily had stepped forward.
Sara's heart thumped louder than any of their angry words. The drama playing out before her astounded one moment and engulfed her the next. This place, these people, she's seen it all before. An uneasy feeling nipped at the edges of her memory. The last time it hadn't ended well. Of that, she was certain.
"Emily, I do love you. But I love her more." Justin turned to face Sara.
"You must choose, my dear," Emily murmured. "Surely you would not give up the wealth my family has to offer you."
Justin's hand dropped, dangling the gun, as he gawked at Emily. Her father nodded knowingly while a tiny smile danced across Emily's face.
"The last time you pulled the trigger," she said, "You took my father's money but ran away chasing her instead of staying with me. I hope you will be wiser this time."
"Yes, old man! Wouldn't it be better to be a rich man rather than a murderer and a thief." A wry smile passed her father's face.
At the word "murderer," Sara felt David shudder next to her. She feared, as well, what the crazed Justin would do.
He raised the gun and pointed it at David. But the resolve had left his eyes. His hand trembled under the weight of the weapon. Finally he dropped the gun and walked to Emily. That lady smiled with assurance.
Sara shut her eyes and sighed in relief. When she opened them again, she was back in the motel room with David and Margot.
"What just happened here?" she asked.
Copyright 2007 JO Janoski
Posted: 08:34 AM, August 26, 2007 in My Online Novel in Progress
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The Storyteller's Muse, Chapter 20, Part 1
(To read the previous 19 chapters, please see the Blogroll, opposite)
The Storyteller's Muse
Chapter 20, Part 1
Well, now is about time to freak, Sara thought. In a room with ghosts fighting about her...what next? With knees knocking, she fought to keep from fainting. Looking to Justin, she feared her welfare was not at the front of his mind, but instead were the elements of this ghostly squabble. That fact frightened her more.
"Well, my good man, we can't kill you since you're already dead. Perhaps we should simply take your "true love" back with us." The younger man's image, standing next to Father, glowed brighter as he spoke, with colors bursting rich and true, reds, blues, a rainbow of ghostly implication.
"Do not go near her!" It was Justin's turn to emit blasting hues.
The woman spoke. "Justin, I loved you truly. How could you be so cruel as to see other women while we were together?"
"Sweet Emily, I think you gave me more honor than I deserved. I was a young fellow then. It's true! I was a bit of a scoundrel, and I did treat you badly. But I beg you to make allowances for the fickleness of youth. When I met my true love, this lovely lady next to me, everything changed. I wanted to protect her and stay with her always."
"Father, let's kill her now."
A scream from Margot went unnoticed as David grabbed her and dragged the woman out of the room. Don't leave me, Sara wanted to yell, but she couldn't move her lips; she couldn't move anything.
"You murdered her once. Wasn't that enough? Why do you threaten her again?"
"So, she's come around again in a new persona with a new face. I still hate her."
Father broke in. "Enough of this nonsense! You stole my fortune, you scoundrel! I don't care about the woes of your lovesick meandering. You took my money!"
Sara didn't hear his remark. ... she's come around in a new persona ... This was unbelievable. Had she lived before, and now she was reincarnated?
There wasn't time to think. With her spirit colors bursting in starbursts beyond her form, the woman raised her hand and shot a bolt at Sara. It pinned her chest with a blast like a thousand knives slicing in, hot knives that burned and tore with electric pain. She fell to the ground and all went black. ...Continued
Posted: 07:39 PM, August 10, 2007 in My Online Novel in Progress
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The Storyteller's Muse, Chapter 19, Part 2
The Storyteller's Muse
Chapter 19, part 2
When they arrived, Margot was sitting on the edge of the bed wringing her hands. The poor woman's eyes radiated despair. Dressed in wrinkled clothes with her hair flying off in all directions, it appeared she had spent most of the time lying in bed. Spying Sara, she shot up.
"Sara!" The woman's face filled with animation.
Sara stood back. What had she walked into?
"They've been asking for you! Maybe now they'll let me alone!"
Sara's pulse raced like galloping horses. A headache's pounding alarm blared in her head. Who were they? It was hard to think until unexpectedly, a comforting air washed over her...Justin! Closing her eyes, she could feel him close. When she opened them again, he stood next to her in alternating strength, sometimes full of color and next fading to nothing. But his soothing ways fueled her regardless of the strength or weakness of the vision.
"It's him!" Margot's wail sent Sara jumping, so startled she bumped into David, toppling him. That man regained his balance and stood by with a puzzled expression.
"It's that ghost from your house!" Margot whined through her tears.
As Sara rushed toward the other woman, a blast of light pounded her in the face, knocking the breath out of her and leaving her woozy as she wobbled on unsteady feet. She stood back in awe as three wavering light forms assembled in the glow, taking on pastel hues, reverberating until finally they turned into three ghostly figures. Sara blinked in surprise. Was this really happening? Was she going to faint? They were a woman and two men. The lady dressed old-fashioned with flowing skirts dusting the floor and abundant curls piled on top of her head; and the gentlemen matched her, dressing in the same style breeches and waist coats as her Justin.
Margot yelled again. "They're ghosts! I can't get rid of them! They keep appearing!"
Sara's feet were glued to the floor. She looked to Justin and his image was vibrant. With gaze fixed on the other three, he stroked his chin while cocking his head in thought.
David, in the meanwhile, darted his eyes about in confusion. "What are you looking at? I'm sensing some really strong vibes here," he said. He could see and hear nothing.
"David, there are four ghosts in this room, and I only know one of them," Sara stated through clenched teeth. This was where she needed one of David's easy going explanations for the unexplained.
One of the male spirits stepped forward. "Well, Justin. We meet again at last."
"Yes, this is, I must say, a surprise," Justin returned, continuing his concentrated study of the others. "Emily, I see you are here," he murmured to the woman.
"You brute! I hoped never to see you again, but we do have unfinished business, do we not?"
The third spirit, who had remained silent, spoke. "You pitiful fop! If you weren't already dead. I'd kill you now." He lunged at Justin.
"Father!" The woman held him back.
The other fellow stepped forward. "I see you've chased down another of your conquests." He nodded toward Sara.
Hearing her name slammed Sara into the middle of it all. So she was part of this...pulling her eyes away from the dazzling sight, she scanned the room. Margot sat on the bed, as starstruck as Sara, eyes wide and face pale. David sat next to her, hugging the lady, looking perplexed. To be continued...
Copyright 2007 JO Janoski
Posted: 09:46 PM, August 4, 2007 in My Online Novel in Progress
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The Storyteller's Muse, Chapter 19, Pt. 1
The Storyteller's Muse
David crossed the room, his expression rigid, unaware of Sara. She rushed to him, placing a hand on his shoulder.
Chapter 19, Pt. 1
He stopped short. "Sara?"
"David, what is going on? I barely got your message."
Looking away, he ran a hand through his hair. "It's Margot. She's up in the room. I've been with her."
For the first time their eyes met. His were soft and pleading. "She called me. I didn't know what to do. I knew she was missing, and I knew I couldn't let her out of our sights. So I went to her. She was here, in Smithton. I've spent the last few days trying to settle her down."
Sara had never seen the usually confident David so rattled. He looked exhausted, the lines on his face reached desperately downward and gray smudges encircled his eyes. Stepping back, she studied him. In the quiet, a sudden warmth filled her. Justin! She could feel the spirit close by. He would help her through this. Her heart pitter-pattered in her chest. Why did the spirit affect her so?
"She'd been wandering aimlessly," David continued, looking more relaxed. "I found her on the edge of town. That's when I tried to call you and Margot grabbed the phone. She kept wanting me to bring you here, but our cell cut out. Once we arrived, I had second thoughts about pulling you into this."
"David, even Brenda doesn't know where you are."
He got a faraway look in his eye. "She wouldn't understand," he snipped. "She never will."
Sara's head was swimming, so much coming at her at once. "Well, what's been going on with Margot? Why is she wandering around in such a state? Why did she come here?"
David looked back, his eyes set deep in concern. "Let's go where we can talk. Over there."
The coffee shop was empty except for them. One waitress was on duty, but once she served the two, she settled at the other end of the counter, a Harlequin romance in hand.
"She sees ghosts."
Sara nearly tipped her cup over. "What!"
"She says she sees ghosts."
"I don't understand, especially after she freaked at my place when she thought she saw a renegade spirit."
David glared back, then turned his attention to his coffee, stirring it thoughtfully. "She says it all started then, at your place. Even after she left, ghosts still visited her, telling her to do things."
"What kind of things?"
"She won't tell me, but I think they involve you. She keeps asking for you."
Sara's jaw dropped. What in the world did Margot and her so-called ghosts want with her? She felt Justin tugging at her. He wanted her to do something. Sara's world came crashing in. How much could one person take? It was bad enough trying to figure out Justin. Now she a whole slew of ghosts were gunning for her. Justin persisted in washing through her with feelings of need, a hunger that needed fulfilled. A sense of unfinished business...
Go and see her. Go to Margot.
Justin! The command cut through like a sharpened blade. He wanted her to go and see Margot and her ghosts. Great, just great!
Copyright 2007 JO Janoski
Posted: 08:14 PM, July 25, 2007 in My Online Novel in Progress
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The Storyteller's Muse, Chapter 18, Pt. 2
The Storyteller's Muse
Chapter 18, Pt. 2
A brisk wind flipped the leaves over, predicting rain, as Sara steered the car down an old country road, going faster than the law allowed. They hadn't spoken for an hour, with Justin sitting next to her, his spiritual form wavering, but ever present. It was a comfortable silence for Sara with a gentle friend, ready to help but not interfering. Finally, as road signs for Smithton appeared, she spoke.
"Here we are. I'm not sure where to start." The car bumped along a rocky lane leading to the center of the tiny town, revealing a main street dotted with half a dozen stores, offering the essentials. She spied a grocer, a drug store, and a hardware before spotting a small hotel. The street was dusty and empty. Sara parked in front of the hotel.
"I'll check in there." She paused to study Justin. "Can you...will you...come with me?"
"My dear, I'm always with you...in spirit."
She shrugged her shoulders and got out of the car. The wood frame hotel was not much to see, badly in need of paint and a carpenter, a flophouse, not the sort of place she wanted to be seen. Sara flushed with embarrassment pulling open the squeaky door by its filthy battered knob. A bald man with a grizzled face looked up as she entered. His eyes were blue marbles staring in surprise.
"Can I help you?" The eyes grew smaller.
Sara let loose a nervous cough. "I don't know. I'm looking for some people. A man and a woman. They may have been here."
The fellow's face darkened. "Ma'am, there are a lot of men and women who pass by here."
"No, I mean they would be travelers, looking for a place to stay."
"Those kind of folks don't stay here. They stay at motels out on the interstate."
"I guess I'll try there then. Thanks." Justin's face signalled a smirk as she climbed back into the driver's seat.
"I could have told you it was useless, but I wanted you to find out on your own," he said.
"You know, sometimes you make it very hard to trust you, just by virtue of what you don't bother to say."
"My dear, you can always trust me."
"A likely story." She turned to offer him a smirk. His company on this journey heartened her. But if anybody saw her talking to thin air! A Holiday Inn came into view.
Justin craned his head to look at the motel. "Honestly, everything looks alike in this world of yours, no charm, no individuality."
"You're right about that. Boring, isn't it?" Pulling into the parking lot, her heart shivered and began a soft pounding. "I've got some really bad vibes about this place," she murmured.
Feeling a warmth rush through her, she looked to see Justin's hand on her arm, transparent but sending electrical bolts through her. "We've got to move forward, but I'll be with you."
The warmth stuck with her as she approached the front desk. Why did she have such intense feeling about this motel? They must be here.
It was a big spread with a bar to the side, spewing out laughter and music into the lobby like brightly colored ribbons. The man at the desk was clean-shaven with neat hair, cut short. He was younger than Sara, exuding youthful innocence with his bright blue eyes that followed her as she walked across the room.
"May I help you?"
Sara felt foolish. This was a clean, retail chain-driven establishment--it couldn't be more ordinary with its spotless lobby couches and shiny windows. How could a tragedy concerning David and Margot take place here?
"I'm looking for a man and a woman who may have checked in here. She would have a British accent, and he is an older fellow."
"I'm sorry. We don't give out information about our guests."
Devastated, Sara felt ready to freak. She hadn't traveled all this way to be done in by silly regulations. About to protest, her eyes fell on David coming off the elevator.
Copyright 2007 JO Janoski
Posted: 02:14 PM, July 4, 2007 in My Online Novel in Progress
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The Storyteller's Muse, Chapter 18, Part 1
Sara woke to the laughter of children playing outside. Glancing at her watch, she yawned and stretched. Then it hit her. She'd cried herself to sleep after an all-night writing session. Griffin and O'Malley had visited, too. The depression that had clenched her returned. Suffocating misery. She marched to the kitchen.
Opening and closing cupboards she searched until the tall brown bottle revealed itself, stuffed in a corner with old pots and pans. Whiskey, good Irish whiskey. Ripping off the cap, she poured a generous portion, next swallowing half in one gulp. Her throat caught fire. But it felt good. Drinking was one way to rebel against dire circumstances.
"Take that! You ghosts, goofy friends, stupid cops!" Taking a seat at the kitchen table, she was surprised by the relaxing whoosh that rushed down to her toes. Dumping there, it left her listless, feeling dead in her heart, in her mind, empty.
"My dear, it's hurtful to see you like this."
Justin, back again, sat across the kitchen table. His image reverberated with color, fading and then growing stronger. The sight was beautiful to see, luminescent and magical. His hands were folded on the table and he leaned forward to speak in soothing tones.
"Darling, we can find your friends and make it right again." Flashing a smile, he cocked his head to one side.
"Justin, I'm beginning to think even you can't get me out of this mess. I mean, you can't control what those people think of me, and you can't control what happens to them either."
"You're right. There's only so much you or I can do to influence things. But, dear lady, I know your heart. And it is a powerful force that can move mountains if it wants. It certainly moves me on occasion." With that remark, he rose and approached. Sara watched in awe as his ghostly figure moved closer, without steps but floating on air, wrapping his arms around her shoulders, hugging her.
When he touched, his filmy arms disappeared into transparent mist, blending into her sending a bolt through her, emotional, a warmth like she'd never felt before. Her body took up the theme and answered. Exhilarating love raced through her with all its giddy insouciance and glittery pleasure.
The longer he hovered, the more intense the feelings, growing stronger, overtaking Sara in a crescendo, pulsating her heart in pleasuring waves. She sighed like a school girl in love. Her entire being was his, if only for a moment. And that instant was spent in glorious communion. But the delicious sensations when he touched her...was she making love with a ghost?
The thought blew the moment to pieces, and in a whirl she looked across the table to see Justin sitting there where he belonged, a smirk curling his lip.
"What just happened here?" she asked, her heart still drumming love beats in her chest.
"I took your mind off your problems, Sara. And I showed your the power of your own heart. Aren't you going to thank me?"
Sara's mind whirled in torrents. He had succeeded in showing the tremendous power she held in reserve, the ability to lay aside the petty and reach in to find forces of love, powers she never dreamed existed deep inside. But this ghost! Should she be worried he could take command of her at will?
"I can see you're worried, Sara. But please, don't be. I only brought out the best of what you are. I didn't control you. Although I did hint at how much I love you, dear."
She shot him an uneasy glance, not certain how to reply. A dark silence took up the air between them until finally Sara spoke. "Well, I guess it is time to get in the car and head for Smithton. Are you coming with me or not?"
Moments later, as she started the car, he appeared in the passenger seat sitting quietly as if to show respect for the seriousness of their mission.
Continued in Chapter 18, part 2
Copyright 2007 JO Janoski
Posted: 03:18 PM, June 17, 2007 in My Online Novel in Progress
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The Storyteller's Muse, Chapters 11-16
Chapter 11 - Part 1
In her sleeping state, the phone ringing sounded like something mechanical, a big shrill machine coming to cause mischief. Sara shook her head wondering what she was dreaming beforehand to inspire such a ridiculous image. She was sleeping on the couch again. The room upstairs last night with its weird dreams and visions scared her away. She'd not go back again, to sleep or otherwise. The door was now closed and locked.
"Sara? Sara? Is that you?" The rich full voice was unmistakable.
"Brigid? I've been so worried. I haven't heard from you and I..."
The other woman broke in before Sara could finish. "Margot is missing!"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, she disappeared on line, and when I called a number she'd given me for her family, they said she was missing. Missing in real life!"
Sara collapsed in the chair. "Oh my God," she murmured.
"I'm sorry, by the way, about quitting the book lovers to avoid you. It was Margot's idea, and I felt a sort of loyalty to her."
"It's okay. We've got bigger problems now. Do they have any idea where she is?"
"No, but they said she'd been acting strangely, ever since the trip to America to visit you."
Odd things kept happening! First last night's vision, now this. What next? Sara wanted to lay down the phone. It was a bother, a nuisance, while her mind whirled like a tornado on the horizon warning of danger. Justin, help! The plea rushed past her lips in a murmur. She startled. Why did she say that? Was she losing her mind? Were her thoughts no longer her own?
"Brigid, can I call you back later?" If she couldn't be alone with her thoughts, she'd go crazy.
"Sure, Sara. Are you all right?"
"I'm fine. Someone is at the door, that's all." The blatant lie would have to do, anything to get rid of Brigid. Murmuring a farewell, she slammed down the phone. It was heavy like lead. Sitting back, she realized her heart was slamming like runaway claps of thunder. Beads of sweat cooled the skin on the back of her neck. She had to make sense of things.
David. She needed to call David. Her finger searched for the numbers on the keypad, a clumsy endeavor, her mind refusing to connect with her hand. The phone rang. She found it impossible to count how many times. Finally, an answer.
"Hello." It was Brenda, David's wife.
"Brenda, I was wondering if I could talk to David." She shot out the words like bullets, fired by her tension.
"Who is this?"
The question brought Sara to rapt attention. "Oh, it's me, Sara! I'm sorry. I thought you knew my voice."
"Sara, do you realize it is 7:30 in the morning. Don't you think you are calling a little early?"
She looked at her gold watch on the table, 7:32. "I'm sorry, Brenda. I had no idea it was so early. Brigid just called me..."
"I don't care who called you. As a matter of fact, I've been meaning to talk to you. Do you realize how often David is at your place? I've got to tell you, it's making me uncomfortable."
Sara's heart slammed to the floor, then rose in a crescendo of hot humiliation to her face, warming her cheeks. Her heart pounded. "I'm sorry, Brenda. I didn't realize it was upsetting you. I'm in this new house, and I..."
The other woman cut her off. "I think you should stay away from David."
The conversation ended with a click from Brenda's end. Sara held the phone to her ear in silence before finally placing it on the table. She'd never felt so lost and alone.
What a disaster! She'd gotten a warning about David from a ghost, strange dreams, Margot missing after being at her house, and now David's wife was angry and forbade her to go near him. Tears welled in her eyes as Sara grabbed her coat and headed for the door.
A snowy December day had painted a Christmas card outside. White mounds, each rounded to an uneasy peak several inches high, loomed on every bush and fence post, making an array of ghostly personages looming at every corner. Eerie glowing headlights accompanied by the soft crunch of tires on the otherwise silent, still streets offered up a surrealistic world. Sara heard her every step cutting through the frozen snow as she walked, making swift progress toward the city park.
Holding back her tears, she let her eyes feast on the beauty of the snowfall. The park took on a picturesque charm with its surrounding black iron fence contrasting against lawns now coated white. The trees, with their bark a deeper brown kissed by the moisture of blowing snow, were bold brush strokes, strongsilhouettes again the snowy hills, with expressive bare branches stretching to the gray sky like graceful ballet dancers on their toes with arms reaching up.
It is beautiful, isn't it?
It was the whisper in her ear again, Justin. Outraged, the pounding in her head returned in a clamor loud enough to block out any rational thought. Was she losing her mind? Why was she hearing the voice? She ran. Across the snowy park, passing the trees whose branches now did a macabre dance, taunting her, waving in the wind. Gasping for breath, she staggered on unsteady feet. Where could she go? Crossing the white lawns to the street, a patch of ice sent her feet flying, slamming her body to the ground to land on her back, her head hitting the sidewalk. That was the last she remembered.
Chapter 11 - Part 2
When Sara tried to open her eyes, she was blinded by a sea of white and chrome. A hovering figure reached over and took her pulse. "Are you feeling better, Ms. McNeil?" It was a nurse, a skinny girl with well-pressed whites and a nervous slit of a smile that looked anxious to move on.
"Where am I?"
"In the hospital, you took a fall in the snow and hit your head." The girl smoothed the sheets and plumped the pillow behind Sara's head.
"Will I live?"
The joke was lost on her care-giver. "You're fine. They wanted to keep you overnight for observation. Just a little concussion. Now that you're awake, I'll get the doctor." She bustled from the room.
Sara struggled to sit up. A glance around revealed an empty bed next to hers, neatly made with smoothed sheets and waiting. A bath was across the room and scattered about were gizmo's with assorted electronic readouts, probes, and tubes. Heaven only knew what they were all designed to do. She could think of better places to be.
Remembrances of her fall worked to the surface. The events that had sent her running through the park presented themselves for her renewed consideration. Margot was missing, David's wife hated her, and she was still hearing voices, although now she's had a vision of Justin, who in the process had warned her about David in an eerie dreamlike revelation. In this new hospital-sterilized environment so far removed, it all had less sting, a part of some other place, perhaps only a dream for that matter. The entrance of David through the door reminded her the warning about him was no dream, while his wife's warning sent shots of guilt through her veins.
"Sara! I heard. Are you all right?"
"I think so. I just woke up. The nurse went to get the doctor."
"I was so frightened for you. Why in the world were you out in the park in such bad weather anyway?"
Sara studied him. What had Justin meant with the warning, "David beware"? Did he mean David should be aware, or did he intend to warn her to be aware of David, as if he were a danger. Suddenly, she wasn't sure. At first, she'd assumed it was a warning to protect David. But she'd been upset and not given it much analysis. With all that happened, a new dark awareness knocked loose in her mind, propelled by an ominous air.
"How did you hear about me?" she asked. Sara felt certain his wife didn't tell him. Should she mention to David what that lady had said?
"You're all over the news, my dear, what with being found unconscious in the park."
"Well, I suppose that will do wonders for my reputation as a good, solid citizen."
A doctor, stethoscope flying, bustled through the door, his hand extended to shake hers and speaking as he walked. "Well, you're a lucky lady they found you before hypothermia could set in." He paused with an abrupt stop and a curious eye to David.
"I'm a friend." David explained, without being asked. In the awkward silence, he coughed and murmured, "I was just leaving. Talk to you later, Sara."
They watched him go before the doctor turned his attention back to Sara. "I'm Dr. Sullivan," he stated, perusing her chart with restless eyes as he spoke. "It looks like we can discharge you. You're in good shape physically, although I am curious as to what you were doing wandering in the park on the coldest day of the year." His eyes lifted from the papers and shot at her like bullets.
Sara felt accused of something. Looking away, her face flushed. "I just needed some fresh air."
"Well, you got that all right." He paused. "Ms. McNeil, we have counselors available if you think you might benefit from one."
A chill washed over Sara in icy waves. Were her troubles that obvious?
Sara closed the Victorian's front door and made her way to the sofa, plopping down onto its soft comforts, still wearing a heavy coat. A night in the hospital, what a treat! And the doctor recommended a psychiatric consult, even better. What had happened to her life? Okay, she used to be depressed, bored even, engaging in a daily writing process, trying to drum out another book to keep her agent happy. Now she was up to her neck in a supernatural reality, a mystery if you will, that far surpassed any tale from her own imagination.
That was it! Perhaps she should scrap her current novel and start writing this one, her story...if she didn't go crazy in the process. The irony made her laugh--an author writing her own story and it read like fiction. What would the ending to this ghost story be?
It will be whatever you want it to be.
The voice whispered with a crackle, so real she jerked back and looked behind her. Nothing. Only the dead silence of an empty house. Justin the ghost again, but was he nothing or something--something big, very big. What did he want with her? The phone's shrill ring woke her from the reverie.
"Sara? David told me what happened? Are you okay?" It was Brigid.
"Boy, word travels fast. I'm okay. I guess."
"That doesn't sound very confident."
"I know. I'm just a little confused after the fall, I guess." Sara paused, her heart beating loud and relentless. She had to talk to someone, but how much to say. "Brigid, I'm worried about David."
"Worried about David? Well, cripes Sara. You should be taking care of yourself. Why would you be thinking of David?"
She could hardly say a ghost told her to. "I just have a bad feeling about him, that's all...kind of a foreboding."
"Oh, Sara! You're just shook up from all that's happened. Don't worry."
Easy for her to say. Well, that was going nowhere. "Any word on Margot?"
"No. No one knows where she is. It's strange. You haven't heard anything, have you?"
"No." A bump across the room. Glancing to the fireplace, Sara spied a glimmer, pulsating, first bright, then dimmer. It reflected off the metal grate like fireworks. What was happening? Justin's signature was all over the demonstration. A breath caught in her throat as her hand struggled to hold the phone steady. "Brigid, I'm going to have to call you back later. Something's come up."
"Sara, your voice is shaky. Are you all right?"
Was she? The light was startling, captivating. Dancing, glowing, talking to her in a language without words. She couldn't take her eyes off the glowing spectacle. "I'm...fine, Brigid. Talk to you later." With that remark, she hung up, laying the phone on the table in a blind reach that somehow found its destination.
The beam struggled to take form.
Sara, think of me. Think very hard.
She froze. Justin! What was he asking? To help him to take form with her thoughts? Would that be like digging one's own grave? Was he dangerous? The question of the hour. She didn't know, really. Her frenzied contemplation seemed to give the blurry light form. Justin appeared in ghostly pastel shades.
"Sara, at last!" Brown eyes studied her from across the room, like beacons on a dark night.
She felt her heart running a marathon inside with bumps and screams. Beads of sweat cooled her skin while she formed enough thought in her muddled brain to wonder if her head was next going to explode. Was this real?
"Sara!" The ghostly figure reached out to her, one arm extending in her direction. His hands were dressed in sleek, brown leather gloves that matched his shoes which were adorned with gold buckles. A proper shirt with cloth buttons was visible under his waistcoat. He leaned on a walking stick with the other hand.
She backed away.
"Sara! Please..." He walked toward her. His footfalls making soft thuds in the quiet room, further proof of his physical form.
"What do you want?" Sara gulped. The words seemed made of glass, fragile and ready to break.
"I want to talk to you, be with you again."
The form pulsated and in a glowing light grew stronger, the olive color of his brocaded vest rang rich and true while the buckles on his shoes glimmered with new life. "We knew each other once. Don't you remember?"
Sara stared, her mind racing while instincts screamed to run away.
He tilted his head to one side. His face was clean-shaven, gentle. "I've frightened you. I'm sorry. I thought you would remember."
"Our time together, long ago. I'm worried about you. I've come to warn you..."
"Warn me?" About what? Wasn't she frightened enough already?
The phone rang--blasting, dissipating the sanctity. Sara jumped. But when she looked again, Justin was gone. She trembled, while the phone continued it rude interruption. Sara stared at it. She'd just had a conversation with a ghost.
The Storyteller's Muse (new title)
The days passed. Sara went about her routine trying not to think of all that had happened. No word from Margot. And David was noticeably absent from her life. Sara did not pursue it since Brenda, his wife, has versed a strong opinion that the two were together too much. Sara figured his wife had gotten to him. A pity. she counted on his help. Now she was alone with Justin.
But that fellow hadn't come around either. Sara hated to admit it, but the absence bothered her. On the one hand she was frightened by the ghost; and on the other, he tantalized her with his ethereal romps into her life, highly charged, cutting to her core. Something inside responded to his presence. Something deeply satisfying a part of her wanted to not only accept but to gather close.
"Almost like being in love," she murmured, yawning and stretching. It was safe to say that when he wasn't around. Shutting down the computer, she yawned again. The writing was not coming. She'd toyed with the idea of starting over, telling her own story instead, a woman haunted by a ghost. But that was an outrageous idea, wasn't it? What would the publisher think? She was tentative about everything lately. Terrified of commitment. She was lost between two worlds, jumping between today and then a Victorian yesteryear in the accompaniment of a restless spirit. Who could survive suspended between two lives? Small wonder the doctor told her to get counseling.
Restless, Sara got up, leaving the dead weight of her keyboard, the useless keyboard that had failed her lately, failed to produce the stunning prose she expected. It was a lifeless gadget these days, not the twinkly, turbo-charged vehicle that shot her imagination from mind to paper in bolts of genius. Well, maybe not genius, but she had written one best-seller, right?
It was later the phone rang and startled her. She'd fallen asleep on the sofa and the ringing filled her with pangs of alarm. She'd been dreaming, not one she could remember, but an uneasy fog still lingered. That coupled with the sudden blare of the phone set her heart thumping in fright and confusion.
"Hello," she murmured. The change from deep slumber to instant alarm made her voice unsteady.
"Sara? Is that you? It's Brenda, David's wife."
Before Sara could respond, the other women launched. "Sara, have you seen David? I know he's probably with you. What are you trying to do? Leave him alone!"
"Brenda, what are you talking about? I haven't seen David for days." Her heart stepped up its troubled rhythm.
"A likely story! I know you're probably having an affair with him. Is he there now? Put him on the phone!"
"Brenda! What are you talking about?"
"Sara, I haven't seen David for two days. I know he is with you."
The Storyteller's Muse
Chapter 13, pt. 2
Sara caught her breath. Was Brenda crazy, accusing her of having some sort of sordid affair with David?
"Brenda, I can assure you I haven't seen him."
"Well, he's been missing for two days, and you can be sure I'm going to do something about it." With that, Brenda hung up.
"Crazy woman!" Sara muttered. The conversation left her reeling. To be accused, especially with such rancor, upset her.
Later, a bump in an upstairs bedroom set her heart thumping. She'd been dozing on the couch, and the thud, heavy and blunt on the floor above, startled her. An unexplained sound in the old Victorian was alarming, but shuffling around in the old house to investigate was not an idea she savored. Finally, Sara reasoned it could be something serious that needed checked on.
With rubbery legs, she made her way up the old staircase. At the landing between floors, a memory of David's collapse haunted her. And she remembered Margot's meltdown when that lady saw Justin in the upstairs bedroom.
"You'd think I'd conjure some pleasant thoughts to get me through this," she murmured. "Something soothing, like flowers or butterflies." Arriving on the second floor, her pulse raced so fast, other functions couldn't keep up.
A sound! The first bedroom. She tread with wobbly feet toward the entrance way. A closet door had swung wide open and now lay ajar. Boxes had fallen from a shelf, and they, on their descent, had knocked over a large, flat box that had been leaned against the closet interior wall. So many old storage containers were left over from the previous owner. There hadn't been time yet to clean them all out.
Sara rushed in and stretching high, placed the little boxes back on the shelf. They were full of old hats--derbies and veiled women's hats. When she lifted the large, flat one, its weight surprised her. The top flap dangled open. Peeking inside, she spied a strip of wood with an ornate profile, a picture frame. Placing the box flat on the bed, she struggled to pull the old wood gilded frame out. A trail of dust spread across the bedspread as she tugged. The top of an oil painting emerged from the dust, a woman's head, her hair piled on top in abundance. Tugging further, Sara got the rest out. The lady wore a Victorian frock with an ornate bodice, her hands folded delicately on her lap. Sara brushed away more dust with her hand.
The woman in the portrait wore jewelry in abundance, rings and a bracelet with amethyst stones. And a necklace, captured on the canvas with a delicate hand that defined each little detail. Gold chain, amethyst brooch, and pearl droplets...Her jaw dropped. it was Sara's necklace! The one she wore for good luck. The one she wore in high school and had lost a few weeks ago, only to have it mysteriously return. Her head went into a spin. How could a Victorian lady be wearing her necklace?
Feeling faint, Sara collapsed on her knees. Enough already! Too many weird things were happening. She was beginning to doubt her sanity.
The necklace is yours, you know.
Justin! Startled, she turned to see his wavering image behind her.
"What do you mean?" Her voice was barely a whisper.
The necklace. It's yours. The lady is you, as well. The vision glowed brighter as he spoke, emitting bolts of color with each syllable.
"What are you talking about?" This time Sara's voice was raised in outrage.
We knew each other, you and me, long ago. The vision reached out his hand to her.
Sara drew back. "I've never known you."
Yes. We were married...we lived here. This was our house. That's why you were drawn to it. That's why you're drawn to me. He said the last part in a soft voice that rippled like water.
"That's just crazy." Sara couldn't move. Could this be happening? Or was she crazy for sure?
I've missed you, you know. That's why I'm still here. We never got to say good-bye.
"I don't know you." She said one word at a time to emphasize each one.
But you do! You just need time to remember.
"I've never known you, and I don't ever want to!" Sara burst into tears. She said she didn't want to, but she did. When she looked up, he was gone.
When Sara realized he was gone, her heart sank. Justin had a hold on her, that was for certain. And now, he claimed they were married once, in another age. And that they lived in this house. And most astounding of all, she was the woman in the painting!
The ancient canvas was dusty and dull, grayed with filth placed there over the years. Brushing away more of the gray film, she held the canvas up closer to view. Long face, black hair...the woman didn't look like her. What foolishness! Except for the eyes. Sara gawked at the gentle brown irises. These were eyes she knew, had spied in the mirror for ages. The eyes were hers! They looked back in soft murmurs of recognition as though she were looking in the mirror. It was undeniable. They were her eyes. Dropping the painting, she sat back in shock.
A rush of long ago feelings washed over her. The dress the woman wore, the Victorian, Justin, her heart...they all danced in her mind begging her to remember. A delicious warmth washed over her, and longing, an intense longing to return and know more of those times.
She sat alone in the room, clutching the painting for hours. The next morning she woke on the bed, still dressed, with the picture at her feet. She glanced again at the lady in the painting with her eyes.
A new day. A new outlook.
Later, as she made coffee, a knock at the front door interrupted her. Wiping coffee grounds off her hands she rushed to answer. Perhaps it was David.
Through the flimsy curtain the shadowy figures loomed tall on the porch. She opened to see two men dressed in dark suits. One stood with a hands wrapped around a clipboard while the other shifted restlessly from one foot to the other. They turned her way when she appeared.
The restless one was younger with short reddish hair and a few rebellious freckles dancing across the bridge of his nose.
The other was older, dark hair, long face, more intense. "Miss McNeil?" he asked.
"We were hoping to ask you a few questions. Pittsburgh Police." He flashed a gold badge he'd produced like magic from his breast pocket.
"Police? I don't understand."
"We're investigating the disappearance of David Martin. According to his wife, you are a friend of his."
"Oh! Well, yes, come in." She opened the door wide to let them through. "Although I can assure you I haven't seen him for days." She nodded toward the sofa and waited until they were seated, then took a side chair for herself.
"David Griffin." The older one extended his hand. "He's Patrick O'Malley." The younger man merely nodded.
"I hope you are not thinking I know something about his disappearance."
"You may know something without realizing it. Mrs. Martin said you and he were very...close."
Sara wondered what Brenda had really said, blushing at the thought. She'd probably called Sara a whore or some other vulgar term. What these men must think of her!
"We were close friends, but that's all."
"Did he ever come here?" David Griffin scanned his clipboard, running a pen down some columns, as he spoke.
"Well, yes. I just moved in and I...had some problems...well, he came by to help me settle in. That's all."
"And you haven't seen him lately?" His gray eyes met hers, point blank.
"No, not since I was in the hospital recently. He came to see me."
"Would you mind if we looked around?"
Sara felt taken aback. But it seemed the only way to extricate herself from their grasp.
"Okay." It was revolting. They thought she had David hidden away in a little love nest here of their own making.
The two men rose together in perfect timing. "This won't take long," the younger one, O'Malley, said.
They covered the first floor in only a minute or two. Sara showed them the open pantry off the kitchen. Did they want to open the oven door and check there too?
They climbed the stairs single file with Sara leading the way. Reached the landing, she remembered David's collapse from the overwhelming presence of Justin. She glanced at the two, but neither showed any sign of a bad reaction. Sara herself always had a twinge of dizziness where she went to the second floor.
"Just a quick look through these rooms," Griffin stated. "Won't take long."
Sara nodded and stood back to let them through. Opening the first door, O'Malley stuck his head in and pulled it out. "All clear," he stated.
Griffin had already peeked in another doorway and had now one more room to check. He opened the door wide and looked in. Glancing over, Sara saw Justin standing inside, vibrant and alive in his usual glowing mist to her eyes only, smiling mischievously in her direction. She gasped in spite of herself.
"Something wrong?" Griffin asked.
"No." Just a ghost in the room.
"Well, what's on the third floor."
"It's an attic. To tell you the truth, I've never been up there."
"Well, it's a good time to start."
Surveying the hallway, he spied a door that opened to a narrow staircase. He nodded to O'Malley to follow his lead. Sara took up the rear, grabbing a flash light from the wall by the door.
They arrived to total darkness. Sara clicked on the flashlight and panned it.
"Let me try," Griffin said, grabbing the torch. He scanned more slowly, pausing in the corners to study those areas. Sara was amazed to see junk stacked up everywhere. Boxes of old clothing, books, and knick knacks of every color and description filled the area, leaving not even a walkway through the stacks. Some day she would have to come up here again and look around.
"This is clean," he said, switching off the light and turning to go. They headed down the stairs in somber silence.
Sara sighed. Maybe now they would go and leave her alone. Feeling relief, her head cleared and the purpose of their visit finally hit her like a boulder, the idea that David was a missing person. With all that happened, that fact had eluded Sara.
"Well, we appreciate the opportunity to look around," Griffin said in dull tones. "Do you have idea where he might be?" Once again, the gray eyes assaulted hers.
"No," she replied. "But if I knew anything, I would certainly tell you."
"Yes, I suppose you would. Well, thank you, Ms. McNeil."
The two left, leaving Sara to wonder what had happened to David. Perhaps Justin knew.
The Storyteller's Muse
The festive blues, pinks, and creams of the coffee shop failed to cheer Sara during her morning ritual. The chatter, usually a source for feeling in touch, today annoyed her, displacing her thoughts.
Where was David? Was he in danger? Did Justin, with his numerous warnings, know something? She'd tried to communicate with Justin for two days to no avail.
Pouring in more cream, she stirred, watching the dark liquid swirl like a sultry dance. She'd always been a positive person, believing only the best could happen, and good always prevails over evil. A sort of blind faith that refused to acknowledge insurmountable trouble in this world. Now she confronted the supernatural on one hand and the bizarre disappearance of her friend on the other. To top it off, she'd come under criticism for something she hadn't done...namely, an affair with David. He was a good friend. That was all.
The idea of being taken to task, guilty or not, upset her. Okay, so she was one of those people who goes through life apologetically sidestepping confrontation and avoiding sticky situations. The irony was she worried just as much as if she had jumped in full guns to annoy people...a never ending worry trying not to offend. Such was the life of the eternally polite. A knock, bump, and a voice startled her.
"Sara! Good morning!" Diane Wojakowski stood next to her, holding a steaming cup and waiting to be asked to sit. Their last encounter, where Diane insinuated Sara was seeing too much of David, made her an unwelcome addition to Sara's morning. She offered up a forced smile. "Diane! I guess you come here a lot."
"From time to time," the other lady replied, laying the coffee down and pulling out a chair at Sara's table. "Not usually this early though."
"I wondered because I don't see you all the time." Sara took a sip as though the coffee was more important than the conversation. It was.
Diane studied her, eyes wide and questioning. "Didn't I hear you were in the hospital? How are you?"
"Fine. Just a little concussion."
"Oh yeah! You were wandering in the park on the snowiest day of the year and hurt yourself. Honestly, Sara! What were you thinking?"
Sara shot back a fiery glance. "I like snowy days. I just didn't realize the walking was so treacherous." It was alarming how well Diane could zoom in on her weaknesses.
"Well, I bet you don't do that again soon."
Diane's eyes continued a relentless cut through Sara. "So do you hear from David much these days?"
"No. As a matter of fact, he's missing right now. He disappeared and no one has seen him for days."
Diane sat up. "Really? Isn't that interesting?"
"You're looking at me as though I have something to do with it."
"Well, honey, I know he goes to your place a lot. So if you've got him, I think you should let him go."
"I don't know where he is!"
"Right." Diane patted her lips with a napkin. "But if you see him around that big old house of yours..." She leaned forward to murmur, "I'd let him go."
She rose with a flourish, slinging her handbag over her shoulder. "See you around!"
When she got home, Sara was still steamed about Diane. How dare she? How dare she make such absurd accusations? But, of course, it was what everyone was saying. No wonder Brenda was upset with her. She had to do something to clear her name. She had to find David.
Later, Justin appeared as though he sensed her need. He came while she sat by the window, watching the wind blow snow through the trees. Something about snow made it a timeless thing. It looked and felt the same, no matter what age you were, brought the same quiet excitement. The ten-year-old she once was stirred.
In this thoughtful state, Justin's arrival slipped right in. He spoke in a quiet voice.
It made her jump, and yet she needed someone to talk to. "Justin, I'm glad you are here." For the first time, Sara paused to see the man, to study his face. Other times when he appeared, she'd fought the experience, but this time she needed him. She needed to know him, to trust him.
His eyes were blue and excited, dancing out with a playful air that invited her in. Thin lips formed a musical grin. It was a long face, but high cheek bones gave him an air of intelligence made stronger by the vivid contrast between his sky blue eyes and sleek dark hair.
"I am always here for you, my love."
Sara blushed. "Love" when he said it, was a pink rushing thing. "Justin, I need your help," she said.
Why was it Justin's appearance made her believe in fairy tales? At first, she'd been alarmed, but lately... Normally, she trusted the good in people, but that took a while with this ghost. What am I thinking? Whether or not to trust a ghost!
The sad truth was she didn't know where else to go. David had shown an interest and trust in Justin which seemed a subtle indicator pointing in his direction now. She could almost hear David instructing her to move forward with Justin to find him.
"I know. You are worried about David."
"Well, yes! How did you know?" Sara felt her pulse quicken.
"I know your heart, Sara."
"I know your heart, and I know David's, too. I know David's because you know David's heart, and I know it through you."
"What?" Were her thoughts not private? "And just how can you know so much about what I think?"
"Sara." He moved closer. "I exist in the spirit, so all things of the spirit are here with me. Your thoughts are here for me to see and touch."
"Okay." Enough of that. It made her uncomfortable. "Well, can you help me find David? Do you know where he is?"
"No, because you don't. And your thoughts are mine. But I share your memories and heart. Together perhaps we can find him."
His eyes spoke to her, wanting to help, gleaming with a willingness to do so, strictly so she could be happy. Justin wanted her to be happy.
"I don't know even where to begin," she said.
"Begin at the beginning. Begin with David. What is he like?"
"Well, he's kind, intelligent, energetic. I think his foremost characteristic is how much he cares for people."
"He certainly cares for you." His eyes registered complaint.
"He cares for everybody...Justin, are you jealous?"
"Ridiculous! How can a ghost be jealous?"
"I don't know. It just seems to me if you claim to love me, then you must be capable of jealousy."
"So where do I begin to find David?" she asked.
"Well, if you know the man, then you know where to find him. Think about it."
The Storyteller's Muse
Sara took Justin's words to heart and scoured her mind, dissecting every aspect of David's personality. Nothing concrete occurred to her as to where David might be. They first met at the Carnegie Library by the university. She wanted to choose from a more diverse collection of nineteenth century authors and had made a special trip to the main branch. It was while she was walking up and down the aisles of the stacks panning titles that he turned a corner and bumped into her.
"Excuse me!" he'd said, flashing one of his exuberant smiles. "I didn't think anyone else would be in the Dickens section."
"I love Dickens," she had replied, and a friendship was born. Later, they joined the online book club together, eventually meeting Margot and Brigid. Books were not his only passion. David dabbled in the arts; astronomy--even to the point of setting up a telescope in his attic; gardening; photography; and travel. He made occasional trips alone, lugging his camera and notebooks, while his wife, Brenda, chose to stay home. "I don't like living in a camper," she'd say. David loved his 20 ft. trailer, purchased three summers ago after years of saving for it. Perhaps that was where he was now, off on one of his little excursions. He loved those solitary trips away from it all. He was always full of stories of local folk with pictures to share when he got back. She'd have to drive past his house and see if the trailer was gone. Brenda hadn't mentioned it.
She was just finishing dinner when the phone rang.
"Sara? It's Brigid! Margot's still missing."
"What? It's been weeks. I assumed she'd shown up by now."
"That's what I was hoping. But I got an email. The police have no clue. Sara, they told me the cops dug your name and address out of her computer. Her family thinks the authorities over here in the states may come knocking on your door. They're convinced she's here."
"Oh great! I already had cops around asking about David."
"David? What are you talking about?"
"Yes, David's been missing a while now, too."
"You mean just like that? Like Margot? That's interesting. If I didn't already know they'd fought at your house, I'd wonder if they were having an affair or something. But I'm sure Margot would want nothing to do with David."
"Yeah, not after that ghost incident. She probably swore off both David and me." Sara recalled how angry Margot had become, frightened and threatened by the "ghost."
"Well, I just wanted to warn you."
Not long after Brigid's call, a knock at the door confirmed her suspicion. Griffin and his younger sidekick, O'Malley, were back.
"Ms. McNeil. May we come in?"
"Sure." She opened up.
"Well, it seems you are a friend of another missing person, Margot Hare from London. Did you know she was missing?"
"Yes, I knew."
"She was also a friend of David, right?"
"They were friends, but not likely companions. They'd argued recently."
"What about?" Griffin's eyes gleamed.
Sara's mind raced for an innocuous way to explain Margot's encounter with Justin as the impetus for rejecting David. "She was frightened when staying upstairs. She lashed out at us all."
"Staying upstairs? Frightened? Lashing out? I don't know where to begin questioning you on this one."
"Look, we were all friends from the internet. I invited them all to come and stay, meet one another, a house warming sort of. I'd just bought this Victorian."
"That explains a lot, but why was she frightened enough to lash out at friends?"
Sara hesitated. "She thought she saw a ghost."
His pen stopped in mid scrawl. He looked up. "A ghost?"
"That's what she said! I'm just telling you what she said."
"Okay. So she was angry at David. Why?"
"Well, she was mad at me, too. In fact, she packed up and left right away. She blamed me for inviting her here with the ghost, and she blamed David by extension, since he was here so much. That's the last I've heard from her."
"He was here frequently? Ms. McNeil, are you sure you don't know where he is?"
"And you don't think they could be together?"
He pocketed his pen and rose to go. O'Malley moved with him.
"Thanks, Ms. McNeil," he clipped. "We appreciate your time. I may have more questions later."
When they had left, Sara slumped into a chair and put her head in her hands. She had to find David simply to clear her own name.
Sara tossed the carry-on bag into the trunk of the PT Cruiser and slammed it shut. She'd tried to figure out where David might be, spending an entire day remembering every conversation. All night her eyes remained wide open while the frustration of unanswered questions bolted like lightning through her thoughts. A drive by his house revealed the camper was still there. He must have taken off on one of his trips without it. The only thing left to do was get out and hope on the open road some idea would come. Jumping in the car, she tried David's cell number one more time.
"Tell him I'm trying to reach him. This is Sara." she yelled rather than spoke when the voice mail beeped for her to speak.
Where to begin. She was prepared for a long trip but with no destination in mind. To think like David was her only hope to figure his whereabouts. Then it hit her. Start with books. David loved books, and perusing the stacks to take books home was his favorite pastime. Making an abrupt turn, she pointed the car toward the busy streets of the university campus, where the main branch was located.
Stepping through the doors of the ancient building from glaring sunlight to dismal darkness was a shock to the eyes. Dizzy, she paused to take in the towering walls with borders of antique murals along the ceiling depicting steelworkers with broad shoulders and helmets. It was like stepping back in time, Justin's time rather than hers. The historic building had always been an inspiration to her Victorian-minded heart, although she rarely made the trip to the main branch these days. She remembered weekly trips with her father with whom she shared a love of books. The murals had been there for her and countless generations.
A flock of librarians, resolute and stern-faced, sat perched on high chairs, looking like birds on a wire in an elevated booth designed for checking out books. These days they worked computers rather than with stamps or cards. The closest one nodded as Sara approached.
"Excuse me. I just wanted to ask a question," Sara said.
"Yes." The lady offered a sidelong glance as she gave her principal attention to the monitor.
"I was wondering if a fellow has been in lately, David Martin."
"David? Yes, I know him. He comes in all the time. Now that you mention it though, I don't recall seeing him lately."
"When was the last time?"
"You know, it must be about a month. Let me check the records." Her fingers flew across the keyboard. "He took out some books four weeks ago. They're overdue, as a matter of fact."
"I see. What kind of books were they? Travel, perhaps?"
"No, best-sellers. Fiction, actually."
Sara's heart fell. No clues there, except the fact the books were overdue. "Thanks," she replied and turned away, wondering what to do next.
The Storyteller's Muse
The decision to take old Route 40 came to Sara in a flash. David was enamored of the scenic route and had shown her countless photos of barns, quaint little churches, and majestic mountains. The little towns and compelling sense of history drew him back again and again, especially for camping in the Appalachians while stopping in each little town to seek out locals and study the rich regional history and lore. He told her it was like seeing America built from the ground up. Sara listened to his stories in awe, wishing she could go along to enrich her books and characters from observations. But since he was married, that was out of the question. Brenda, in refusing to travel, made Sara wonder if that married couple had anything in common. But David was a man of numerous interests, and apparently he and Brenda touched base on some of them.
He had taught her so much about life simply by example. She followed the trail in his pictures and conversations. His poignant photos and astute comments about regular people helped Sara develop her characters. Each picture told a story; each character glinted new life in her eye. And the vistas David brought home on film helped her step out of her world and into others. Yes, surely that was where David was now, out there studying people and life with his usual passion.
"Perhaps we are getting closer."
The voice sent her slamming the car into a reckless swerve, propelling it into roadside bushes with resonant bumps and thuds, while her heartbeat drummed even louder. Shaking, Sara turned to see Justin sitting in the passenger seat, an anachronism in his breeches and antique coat with ornate shoes that had never stepped inside a modern auto. She couldn't speak.
"You look surprised," he murmured.
"I've never seen you outside of the house before. I mean, you've spoken in my ear, but that's all."
"Yes, I know. The more you get to know me, the stronger my image becomes. Soon I believe we will be able to chat at will." Thin lips formed into one of his characteristic wry grins.
Sara froze. She loved him.
The realization hit in the surprise of the moment. His eyes, his voice, his persona so in tune with hers, and he seemed so familiar, like she'd known him...loved him forever, a long lost friend back in her life. The familiarity broke down all barriers. But a wariness lurked in the corners, an uneasiness about his gaining power in her life. Ultimately, could he be trusted? How could you know about a ghost?
"I'm wondering if that's a good thing, chatting at will." She said it off-handedly, not wishing him to perceive her hesitancy.
"Of course, it is." He leaned closer. "We were once a dazzling couple, you know."
"Really," she replied, her lips tightening.
"Well, are you going to make this 'thing' move like you do, so we can look for David, or aren't you?"
"It's called an automobile, and yes, I'm going to make it move now." She hit the accelerator and reversed the PT Cruiser out of the shrubs and back to the highway, straightening it out with rash, aggressive motions.
Justin eyed her accusingly. "Honestly, I've noticed how you are always rushing about in this 'thing'! When are you going to stop and take a simple walk. Smell the fresh air and feel the sun."
"Not now. I've got to find David." She felt guilty being short, adding,. "Everybody, his wife, the police--they all think I killed him or something."
For a moment, it all came tumbling in on her... trying to clear her name, riding with a ghost in the car, fighting off the police and a jealous housewife. What was happening? Life had been so simple once. Each day was an exercise in order and thoughtfulness, starting with the coffee shop, then home to write, stopping only for meals and errands, ending before midnight as she tapped out the last words for the day.
She was just Sara McNeil, once a good Catholic school girl with promise in language skills, later a university student--although not one to lose her head and do anything radical. After graduating, she worked writing simple copy in advertising and moonlighted writing fiction, first just for her, later she sent it out to publishers. So many rejections, until finally one book made it, finding a publisher and jump-starting her career.
She was just Sara Ann McNeil, pleasant, conservative, never daring to take a chance, just plain Sara Ann McNeil. People called her "too good to be true." She was that trustworthy. And now, a friend's wife accused her of stealing her man...or worse, and a ghost was sitting next to her in the car. How did all this happen?
"His wife, she's a bit strange, you know."
Justin's voice brought her back to the present. She glanced at him and wondered where reality had gone. Shaking her head, she mused to herself, Sara Ann McNeil is a bit strange, too, you know.
"Were you about to say something, darling?" he asked.
"No. So where are we heading? Any ideas?"
"No, my dear. I'm just along to keep you company."
Sara shot him a sidelong glance. "I don't know. I figured you ghosts know everything. I mean, you exist on another plateau, so to speak, right? No superpowers up there or something?"
"Superpower? What is that?" His elfish smile again, was he enjoying this?
Her cell phone rang. Its jaunty music broke the spell, and when she looked up from pulling it out of her handbag, Justin was gone. Her mind felt cluttered wondering on the one hand where Justin had gone, and on the other who was on the phone. The caller ID indicated "private."
The voice on the other line was unmistakable. David! She swerved the car again. His tone was weak and distant.
"David, is that you? Where are you? Everybody is looking for you." She pulled off the road and parked. Her hand holding the phone trembled.
"Sara, it's Margot. Help me...Smithton... ."
The phone went dead.
Copyright 2007 JO Janoski
Posted: 05:11 PM, May 31, 2007 in My Online Novel in Progress
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The Storyteller's Muse, Chapters 7-10
Sara held her own in the grocery line, balancing two cans of soup and a box of corn flakes in one arm versus in the other a jumbo roll of paper towels and three small cartons of yogurt pressed against her belly. One small push and she'd be a goner. Was she six items or less? It was too late to get out of line now.
Remembrances of the ghostly encounter pushed these mundane concerns from her mind. As quickly as the strange welcome home had echoed through her thoughts, it was gone. But the voice's power, the certainty, still lingered cementing its worth. Its whisper walked with her now in her mind like an old friend. She'd met someone, and she couldn't go back to before it happened. To her consternation, the friendly warmth hugged her, instilling a hunger for more, much more.
Sara starred blankly at the fellow, her eyes finally resting on the "Food Town" label on his jacket. "Oh, yes!"
Reaching in her pocket, she wiggled her fingers in its empty space. The pocket was empty. "I...ah...seem to have forgotten my wallet," she stammered.
Lips pursed, eyes glaring, the clerk stood in one place, staring back. No sign of mercy there.
"I'll have to come back later." Her face felt hot as she reached to place items back in the cart.
"We'll put them away," he snapped.
Speechless, she nodded and headed for the exit. How could she forget her wallet? A woman of fanatic attention to detail, how could she have forgotten to lay it out where she would see it. That ghost! Her world was turned upside because of Justin. The words struck her. She was speaking about a ghost, a ghost she knew. Stopping outside the store, Sara leaned against the wall as her heart pounded in an excited rhythm. Lifting a trembling hand to her forehead, she murmured, "Why did I buy that house?" In a rush, the answer came. Why would you buy the house if you didn't want to meet me?
Sara froze. Justin, speaking to her again! What was happening? Did she on some level make a straight line to this Victorian, knowing her destiny collided there with a ghost? Or was this a subterfuge where she was drawn there with her own will not playing any role at all? She waited for an answer. Nothing.
Later, as she sipped tea in the kitchen, indistinct emotions rattled in her brain. Was this a good thing, being friends with a ghost whom she had no idea whether she could trust. Friends with a ghost? What was she thinking? But David seemed convinced the spirit was friendly. Could he really know that? The entity's allure captivated, its warmth lingering long after each experience. But Sara knew that impression didn't guarantee it was a friendly ghost. It could be just a devious one.
"Maybe I shouldn't decide on my own," she pondered. Back at the computer, she squashed headphones over her ears and pulled the keyboard close, proceeding to call her friends. By the time she was done, she'd invited David, Brigid, and Margot to stay the weekend at the Victorian.
Sara dusted the old parlor tables one last time. They would arrive soon. Margot had flown in from London, landing in New York within two hours of Brigid who was coming from Boston. From there, they would take the same flight to Pittsburgh where David planned to meet them at the airport. Everything had fallen into place like a well-choreographed ballet.
Sara's new bell chimes announced their arrival, earlier than planned. This was the first time David and Sara were meeting the other two, and the first time either Margot or Brigid had met any other member. The group had chatted for three years on the Internet, but living miles or even continents apart made meeting face to face difficult.
Sara raced to the door to greet her guests. The first smile she spotted was Brigid's, chubby round, facial lines all reaching up, short carrot-top hair enhancing her autumn complexion. She stood only five feet tall, but her radiating energy made her taller.
Next Margot, older, blond, taller than Brigid, smiled from a tiny mouth that barely seemed big enough when open to reveal a line of straight, gray teeth. Next to Brigid she was dull, dressed in drab olive green and gray; and she was stiff--not animated like Brigid.
David stood behind the two with a wide grin, enjoying himself.
"Come in! Come in! All of you!" Sara ushered them to the parlor, taking coats and instructing David where to place the women's suitcases by the staircase.
"This is so amazing!" Brigid bubbled over in smiles. "I can't believe we're finally meeting, all of us."
Sara stood back and reflected. These were friends, although up until today they existed for each other only in cyberspace. They now presented themselves as flesh and blood people...people you could reach out and hug...not like some flimsy fly-by-night ghost that whispered sweet nothings in your ear scaring a person to death.
"I'll start some tea. You girls get acquainted," David said. The ladies followed his exit with their eyes.
"He knows the kitchen well. He's been here a lot since I moved in," Sara murmured. "Moral support."
"Oh, I see. I thought maybe you had a little fling going on," Brigid remarked with a giggle.
"No, David is married. His wife just doesn't...answer to this part of his personality--the Internet, ghosts exploration...you know...the weird encounters," Sara said.
Both ladies laughed as Margot's eyes studied the room. "Oh, I see your computer over there," she said.
"Yep, that's where I talk to you ladies."
"I'll be picturing you there now when we chat," the older lady observed.
"Well, so, how are you girls getting along?" David asked, carrying a tray of cups and saucers. He placed it with care on the table in front of them. "Does everybody look the way you thought from pictures?"
"The features are the same, but the animation is something a photo can't show. And I am pleasantly surprised!" Sara said.
Suddenly a dizzying rush grip her. Her pulse raced off with a mind of its own while a message pushed into her ear through the chaos of her surroundings. A voice! The animation is a picture of the person, not the material body. It was the ghost again, Justin. Sara's teacup wobbled in her shaky grasp. She feared she might faint.
"Sara, are you all right?" David asked. He paused, a faraway expression crossing his face. "I feel something. Do you?"
Sara nodded without speaking, her eyes wide, her mouth a nervous slit. This thing of Justin speaking to her in a crowded room, it was different. Before she had been alone and in a meditative state. But this voice, and in front of other people, it upset her.
David rushed over. He took her wrist and rubbed it. "It's okay, Sara! Now tell me what is happening."
Sara turned to him, her face blank.
"It was real. Like a whisper..."
"I knew it. I sensed somebody or something in the room."
Brigid shot Margot a glance, shifting her position on the couch to lean back, away from Sara.
"What did he say?" David asked.
"He said animation is a picture of a person, not the physical body."
David leaned back in surprise. "I see."
The room fell silent. The only sound the hall clock thunderously pounding out the passing of each second.
Finally, David spoke. "Are you all right now, Sara?"
"Yes, I think it passed."
"Maybe it was just your imagination," Brigid threw in, perhaps hoping to lighten the heavy atmosphere.
"No, it happened," Sara shot back, her voice weak but distinct.
Brigid shook her head in disdain glancing at Margot, who remained motionless.
"Well, let's not worry. It's over now and Sara made us a wonderful meal out in the kitchen." David stood to start the exodus. He helped Sara up.
Later, gathered around the tiny table, all was soon forgotten. The sunny kitchen, with light streaming in the line of windows chased away any inclination to believe in ghosts.
Brigid was a born comedian and kept the others laughing with her tales of on line adventures and mishaps.
"Anyway, I wiggled out of Internet sex with this fellow and went looking for a new group. That's when I found you folks," she said, raising her glass of red wine in salute.
"To Friendship!" Sara added, raising her glass.
The others joined. Sara sat back and reflected. Here they were, all those funny names on the computer screen, traveling across the ocean or across the country just to sit in the kitchen of my new house to get to know one another. Smiling faces, matching up on line impressions with real people. Like meeting storybook characters, with the childlike happiness of discovering they were real.
They had met in an on line group for lovers of books. It was a natural attraction, they being the only ones interested in classic writings, especially Dickens. The other group members took their fancies in modern commercial novels. So the Dickens crowd stuck together.
These people were family. For Sara, living alone with only the computer for company of an evening, these friends were there to listen, to laugh, to offer anecdotes about their days. Amazing!
"And then I found out what those letters stood for in Internet slang!" Brigid was at it again, making the others roar with laughter. Here they were, in her kitchen, like a fairytale come true. The evening ended on an upbeat note. Sara tucked the girls in an upstairs bedroom next to hers. David stayed over in a room down the hall.
Later, a noise woke Sara. She fumbled for the lamp, bumping her clock, while grabbing for the switch in the dark. A scream, she heard a scream, loud, shrieking. The residue of a dream lingered, one about running, running in search of something...running...the dream hadn't wanted to let her go. But someone had screamed. Here. In her house. She found the switch and the new light blasted against her dreary eyes.
In an instant she was out of bed and racing to the room next door. David was already there, an arm around Margot's shoulders. She was crying, not gentle little sobs, but big gasping sob-screams. Brigid was near the window examining the area like some sort of detective.
David, seeing Sara standing dumbfounded at the door, spoke first. "She saw your ghost." He said it in a matter-of-fact tone which amazed Sara. Was he attempting to appear calm so Margot wouldn't scream louder. In an off moment, Sara's mind wandered...what did the ghost look like? Shaking it off, she rushed over and sat next to the crying woman.
"Margot, it's okay. We're here."
"A lot of good that does! That beast could kill all of us as easily as only one! He was standing there by the window!"
"Margot, I'm sorry. But you all came to stay to help me figure out about this ghost, and now he has presented himself...we're here to help one another."
"He could have killed me!" Margot jumped from the bed and faced off in front of Sara. "You shouldn't have invited us here!" Rushing to the closet, she grabbed her suitcase and threw it open on the bed. Clutching undies from the dresser, she slammed them into the open case.
"Margot! What are you doing?" Brigid asked. She grabbed hold of her arm, but Margot pushed her away, sending the poor woman stumbling backwards.
"I'm leaving!" Margot shot the words out through gritted teeth while continuing to pile her belongings--now it was shoes, each pair wrapped in its own plastic bag which she stuffed now recklessly into the valise.
David stepped in. "Margot, are you even sure you saw a ghost? I mean, this house, it stimulates the imagination with all the antique furnishings..."
"I most certainly did!" By this time, Margot was in tears. She crammed the lid down, then laid out slacks and a sweater to rest on top. "Now are you all going to give me some privacy so I can dress!"
The three exchanged worried glances before turning to go. As David closed the door, Margot was calling a cab on her cell phone.
Outside, Brigid stepped back toward the room. "I'd better go with her. I wouldn't want Margot to travel alone to New York. By then, I hope she'll have calmed down." She turned the knob to reenter, then paused.
"Sara. I can't believe you invited us here. Honestly, I came on a lark, thinking it was sort of fun...Sara's ghost and all that. I thought we'd just laugh it up. That's all. You could have gotten us killed." She pushed the door open and paused. "I never want to speak to you again, and neither does Margot....Oh, and one other thing. Get the hell out of this house. It's dangerous."
The door slammed in her face. Speechless, Sara turned to David. He walked over and hugged her. "Don't expect them to understand, Sara. Just let them go."
Later, Sara sat in the parlor, blackened inside and miserable. "I can't believe this happened," she murmured to David.
"Sara, don't take it so hard. They'll get home and think about it. Then they'll come around."
"No, they won't! I can't believe this! Two of my dearest friends--three years on the Internet, talking everyday...in one night all that love and trust, obliterated."
David remained silent for a spell until Sara spoke again. "David, is the ghost dangerous?"
"That remains to be seen," he replied.
ue, Nov. 7th, 2006, 02:40 pm
After David left, Sara sat alone in the kitchen with a cup of coffee and her shattered dreams. Would she ever be able to win back her friends' approval? The loss weighed heavily with her to the point of pushing aside the idea Margot claimed to have seen the ghost. The frightening intrusion became lost in the crushing disappointment of Margot and Brigid's untimely exit. Now, alone in the house, the reality of Justin's spiritual presence struck home.
Had Margot really seen him? Apparently so, considering how she had freaked and left in fear and anger. Unless, their ghost stories had simply activated her imagination.
Don't be silly. Of course, there's a ghost. It's all you've been talking about.
Justin! Whispering in her ear again. "Oh my God!" she murmured. Her heart raced. He was here. In the house. Alone with her. Justin was presenting himself more and more each day, first being just an idea in her mind, an inspiration of sorts. Then the necklace went missing. She had the dreamy episodes stepping back in time, and now the whispers in her ear. What next?
Sleep. Maybe she should sleep. A nap in the living room. Perhaps the commotion had frazzled her, and when she woke up, all would be fine again. Making her way to the sofa, she stroked her neck remembering the necklace, the one that gave her moral support with her writing. The one that made her feel whole. What confidence the jewelry always brought, inspiring confidence when she wore it. During her turbulent teenage years, it made her a social butterfly; now as an adult, it propelled her as a writer. She would clutch it each time the page stared back, empty and white. While wearing the necklace, her fingers danced across the keys spinning stories of wonder. It made her believe in herself.
Sara wished she had that necklace now, just to feel it around her neck, to draw from its powers. To be a person who would cope with this situation better. Someone who would be curious, inquisitive, seeking out this entity to know him, to find out his secrets.
You could be that person.
The voice again! Was she losing her mind? Lying on the couch, she grabbed a pillow and clutched it to her chest. Could sleep obliterate her fears? Or would her pounding heart chase away slumber? But she slept. She slept to avoid the inevitable, for a while at least.
David called later while she sat in the kitchen sipping tea, his voice a welcome interlude from her thoughts. She'd been having the sensation of being watched.
"Hello, Sara! How are you?"
"David! I'm so glad you called. I'm so nervous I don't know what to do."
"Relax, Sara! Do you want me to come over?"
She eased back in the chair. That would a relief, to have company. With Margot and Brigid leaving in a huff and her fears about Justin, Sara never felt so alone. "David, could you? Would your wife mind? I realize I'm dragging you over here a lot lately."
A pause, and then he answered. "She'll understand. I can be there in 20 minutes."
He arrived wearing his characteristic smile and toting a pizza with a bag of drinks, straws protruding from the sack. "I figured you didn't need to worry about dinner," he announced heading for the kitchen with his usual energy. Sara raced to catch up, her heart fluttering in relief for the company.
As they finished the last morsels, Sara eyed him and stated, "David, this house, I feel like I'm being watched."
"Oh, Sara! You poor girl! Has it been hard for you?"
"I should think so. I don't even feel like I have privacy in my own home." She leaned closer. "I'm afraid to go back upstairs, after Margot saw him up there."
"I see." The older man pondered before responding, stroking his chin. "Sara, how can I make you understand I don't think this ghost is dangerous. I really don't."
"That's easy for you to say! You don't live here by yourself."
"I know. But I think I know a little something about ghosts. And I don't sense any rancor in this one. Honestly, the vibes I get are from a lonely heart...a lonely heart, indeed."
Sara didn't reply.
"I wish you would just give him a chance. Be a little more accepting. I think you might be pleasantly surprised." David sat back, waiting for her to answer. Sara glared at him while her heart pounded and her pulse raced against time. How could he expect her to do that? The ghost could be a killer, like Margot said.
Margot didn't know me. David does.
Justin! Whispering in her ear again.
"I can try," she stammered. The answer came from outside of herself.
That night they chose to sleep in the parlor, with David slouched on an overstuffed chair by the fireplace and Sara sprawled out on the sofa, a crocheted afghan draped over her. She snuggled under its warmth, more to hide from her problems than the cold. It provided a psychological cover from all that had happened. Lying in the darkness hearing David nearby and snoring, brought comfort as her thoughts dared to peek out from under the blanket. The clock in the hallway ticked in its monotonous rhythm with the accompaniment of creaks and bumps typical in old houses. All such sounds obscured during the busy day took center stage at night, giving the Victorian personality. Sara listened, feeling removed from the present as the house spoke for itself in the nebulous aura of its past and present movements. A sudden loud thump brought her back to reality. It was just the furnace, but nervousness made her jump.
What was happening? How did she ever get into all this ghost business? It all began with the decision to buy this house. Maybe she shouldn't have. And yet she couldn't resist. Or was that all part of Justin's plan, manipulating her? Thinking of the ghost sent her thoughts flying into another world, as if propelled into one of her fiction books, and it was science fiction at that. Surely none of this could be real.
And yet, there was David, encouraging her, pushing her forward, telling her not to worry. This aspect of the man was new to her. As a ready friend both in the chat room or as a chum about town, he had never given away his belief in or experience with spirits. Or perhaps she had never asked. Well, now she knew, that was for sure. With a sigh, she rolled over and covered her head with the afghan.
In the morning, soft light filtered through the lace curtains, marching a trail across Sara's face. She woke first to its warmth, then to its glare as opening weary eyes, the light assaulted her in a bombastic glare. At least they had passed the night without incident. Struggling she sat up, stretching, glancing over to see David still asleep. Sara yawned and stretched, rubbing her chin and neck, her skin itchy from the afghan. Her fingers stopped at the cold, hard object around her neck. With a trembling hand, she touched it and strained to look down. Her necklace was back!
"David! The necklace! It's back!" Sara shook him by the shoulders as he opened weary eyes and sat up in alarm.
"David, I woke up and the necklace was around my neck! Look!" She lifted the chain up. It glittered.
"You didn't put it on last night?"
"No! I lost it. I haven't seen it for days ... until now."
"Oh yeah. I remember." He paused, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes. "What do you think happened?"
Sara sat across from him and clutched a pillow close. Her heart was awash with a disturbing sense of longing. She felt Justin.
She sensed his presence. Her mind swirled in an eerie daydream of being in the Victorian long ago. The intricate petal design on the fireplace blazed out with electrified familiarity while its swirling vines echoed loneliness in sorrowful sweeps around a skinny stem. How could she be feeling so much emotion looking at a fireplace?
"David ... I think ... Justin may have taken the necklace."
"The necklace. I have it back now, but I feel him. I feel him in the room and I think he is communicating his emotions to me or something. I think he had something to do with the necklace's disappearance."
David leaned over and took her hand. "I didn't want to say anything, but I sense a presence here today, too."
"David, what should I do?"
"First of all, relax. Let him connect with you. He is taking the path past your logical mind straight to your emotional core. Justin wants something. Let's find out what it is."
"Oh my God! David!"
"It will be OK, Sara. I promise."
The Moonlight Sonata
broke into their conversation as David reached in his pocket to retrieve a cell phone. He murmured a soft hello. "What? I'm at Sara's. I told you I was staying over ... What? OK. I'll come home."
He frowned at Sara and picked up his jacket. "Sara. I've got to get home. It's daylight now. You'll be OK."
"I hate to see you leave. But I guess I need to understand you have a life beyond helping me all the time," she replied, walking him to the door. She watched David go while thinking, I may have a life beyond even your help.
After she dressed, Sara couldn't stand to be in the house. Grabbing her laptop and purse, she went out and closed the door on her fears. Coffee and a donut. That was a nice, normal thing to do, part of her world, something she did as a ritual. Writing at the coffee shop in its busy atmosphere always inspired.
The Donut Hole was within walking distance, cozy, well lit, and warm. One of her favorite places. But she always went out of her way to speak to no one, needing the peace and quiet to work. If she made friends among the regulars, her work time would be sacrificed to idle chit chat.
On the outside, the shop was white brick with pink trim around the windows and a pink door. The gay colors continued indoors with powder blue and pink booths lined up along the white walls while a busy counter area was dressed up in a matching blue. In that candy room setting, the white walls reminded Sara of powdered sugar. She didn't think it was possible to be out of sorts when addressing a steaming cup and a powdered sugar donut. Ordering exactly that, she made her way to her favorite booth in the corner.
Sara sipped her steaming cup and studied soft white rays of sun streaming through the windows. It was a cheery place and most mornings blessed by sun. Excited voices hummed as customers greeted each other to start the day. Sometimes Sara regretted her aloofness. It would be nice now and then to chime in with a hello or how are you doing.
As if to allay her regrets, a voice sounded over her shoulder. "Sara McNeil, is that you?" The high shrill voice was not at all familiar.
Sara turned to see a woman her own age gawking at her. Something about the frizzy haired lady seemed familiar.
"Sara, don't you know me?" The woman stood with her hands on her hips, faking aghast reaction to Sara's reticence.
"Uh, no. I'm sorry ... "
"It's me! Diane Wojakowski, from high school!"
Sara studied the other woman. The name rang true, but high school was a long time ago. She's seen that smile before, and the placement of the eyes and nose. The face had beamed back at her many times in the past, of that she was sure. Their eyes met, and the old connection reinstated itself accompanied by the old warmth. Yes, this was her old chum from Sister Mary's home room.
"Diane!" Sara ran to hug the other woman. "Join me, won't you?"
The other woman settled in and motioned for a cup of coffee, then turned to study Sara, folding her hands on the table. "You know, I thought I saw you around a couple of times." An expression of intense concentration crossed her face. She stared.
Sara flushed with embarrassment. "I've probably seen you, too." Really, this meeting was becoming bizarre. Running into someone after so many years is strange enough; now Diane's scrutiny seemed to have no end.
"Did I see you lately with David Martin? You know, around town?"
Sara flinched. Was there an accusatory tone to the question? "Yes, we meet for lunch now and then."
"Yes." The word came out elongated, lingering in the air. Diane made a face. "You do know that he is married, don't you?"
"Yes, of course!" Sara's hand shook as she stirred her coffee. "We're just friends."
"Well, all the same. It doesn't look good."
Sara flushed again. She hadn't done anything wrong.
"Oh, look at the time." Diane dabbed her mouth with a napkin and rose to go. "When I saw you, I just thought maybe I'd better say something ... for your own good."
For my own good, indeed!
"Well nice to see you again," Sara said. Yeah, real nice!
She and David were close friends with much in common, nothing more. Sara knew his wife, Brenda, and the woman and she were friends, meeting sometimes at the market and exchanging kind words. There was no reason for anyone to think she and David were having an affair! Hopefully, she wouldn't run into Diane again!
The days blended together in a gray monotony as Sara got back to work on her novel. With the necklace now strung around her neck for inspiration, the words came without resistance. It was a happy time, especially since the ghost, Justin, had not bothered her for several weeks. She wondered if perhaps that spirit had found his way home to the mysterious ever after.
No word had come from either Margot or Brigid, a fact Sara found troubling. She emailed each lady to no avail, and they no longer appeared in the book lover's group on line. Sara confided in David, but he had no solution since both women lived far away and remained unreachable by normal means, except to call which Sara found she didn't have the courage to do. David offered to make the call, but she declined. He hadn't heard from the ladies either, indicating Sara had already estranged the ladies from him, as well. She was left with a hurt, empty feeling.
Finally, Sara worked up the courage to sleep in an upstairs room, the parlor couch being an uncomfortable place to stay long term. The room where Margot stayed with its windows and big soft bed proved the most comfortable. Recalling Margot's vision, Sara felt uneasy; but with the recent calm, she relaxed about it.
Christmas was fast approaching, and Sara kept busy making preparations. She bought gifts for the few friends she had, including an elegant pen set for David and a designer scarf for his wife. She baked date nut loaves and sugar cookies covered with red and green sprinkles, preparing baskets of goodies to go with all the gifts. The baking took a long time since Sara was not the handiest in the kitchen. But she was determined to bake from scratch, measuring out cupfuls of flour and spoons of butter over and over for the baked goods. If she worked in the kitchen at night, the day was available for writing. On the last evening of her baking marathon, she fell into bed exhausted.
Her dreams took a chaotic route where in every dream she put tray after tray of cookies in the oven while needing to make more and searching for a measuring cup which always got lost. Over and over again, the cup was missing. In her search she wandered outside hoping to find it only to stumble onto an eerie backstreet, a futuristic drama scene with abandoned buildings and dangerous characters at every corner, a world of neglect at the mercy of its darker angels. Breathing in the excitable air, Sara's impulse was to quickly find the measuring cup and get back to her kitchen. She continued on to search along the alley's crooked path until a voice jumped out at her.
"Who are you?" It was a mix between a raspy whisper and a growl.
A man, as gray as the monotony of the dark alley, glared at her with red eyes. When he opened his mouth only a few luminescent yellow teeth protruded at ugly angles. He was an animal at best. She hurried away.
Turning a corner, she stopped. Something was wrong. Listening to the silence, Sara knew someone was there, but she couldn't see anything through the night's gray vapors. A queer urgency tugged at her. It grabbed her heart and whispered in sad waves made of nothing but air and restless dreams. Real and yet not real. Lost in it, she startled in surprise when a hand reached out to her through the fog. It was elegant, with long fingers, but large, a man's hand. The owner was a blur, an undecipherable presence reverberating in the mist, a ghostly image, featureless yet smooth and luminous, like a pearl. Her head pounded with a cacophonous mix of fear and adulation as the figure emanated a strangely alluring emotional tug, but what was it? With a trembling hand, Sara reached out to take the other hand's grasp. The extremity felt filmy and light, like gauze. It accepted her hand as the ghostly substance stirred up suddenly with a glorious motion and proceeded to pull her through crowded streets as if she were floating, while actually moving at record speed. Streets and buildings flew by in a blur. The dream ended at the Victorian's doorstep. Sara was left trembling from the raucous trip. She had been frightened, but she was certain she followed the figure with solid steps because she wanted to, had to--the strange longing demanded extreme satisfaction. But now just as she wanted more, the dream ended with an abrupt bump.
Sara rolled over and opened her eyes. Spying the safety of her bedroom was a welcome relief from darkness and confusion, although it also meant letting go of the mysterious but alluring emotions. Their residue lingered in her sensual memory, lapping like waves of satisfaction against her heart.
The swishing sound of a footstep next to the bed made her turn with a start. Perspiration beads formed on her forehead while her heart beat with a furious motion. A figure stood next to the bed. Bolting up, she stared at the vision. Her body wouldn't move. A man in old-fashioned breeches and waistcoat, clutching a top hat in one hand, wavered in the dim light. The head turned to her and his lips moved. Was he trying to speak?
Sara steeled herself and reached a trembling hand over to the man. She touched him, her hand going right through the flimsy figure. When she did, the man's lips stopped. Then he did a curious thing. He closed his eyes and hunched his shoulders and appeared to take a long deep breath.
The vision took on an array of colors, glowing, becoming more solid as he inhaled. Relaxing, he turned to look at her again. His lips moved.
Words came out in a whisper, cutting through the air with an urgent crackle he cautioned, David beware!
The vision snapped with a flash of brilliant white light, then vanished through a flaming core in the center of the blast, leaving Sara alone. White and cold with her drumming heart threatening to exhaust itself, she couldn't move. It was not a dream. It happened. How could it be real? Sitting in the dark transfixed and frightened to make the slightest movement while time marched on without her, Sara's mind zig-zagged, trying to place what had happened.
Copyright 2007 JO Janoski
Posted: 05:03 PM, May 31, 2007 in My Online Novel in Progress
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The Storyteller's Muse, Chapters 1-6
FIRST DRAFT - Untitled New manuscript - JO Janoski
My God! I could imagine Justin living here! It was as though the character in her current, inchoate novel stood close, hand on her shoulder and murmuring, "Welcome home."
Sara's next breath stuck in her throat as she stared at the sprawling Victorian dwelling. The dirty wood siding glared at her along with window frames badly in need of painting--why did she want to buy this house? It would need a lot of work. And yet, it seemed so familiar...
"Ms. McNeil? What do you think?" It was the real estate agent, clipboard dangling in a loose grip, eyes captivated by the view.
"It's quite beautiful." Sara hoped her voice did not reveal trepidation. "After some repairs," she added.
"Yes, quite a bit needs done," Julie the agent replied, her clipboard now front and center to review a list of the house's shortcomings. "Let's see...a new fence in the front--that red thing right now is atrocious; new gutters and painting; some brick siding; porch repair..." Her glasses slipped down from a perch high on her nose, sliding to rest on the very tip. "Oh, and a few new shingles."
Sara could not tear her eyes from the long elegant windows to respond. The windows...she imagined being inside looking out. Pulling back snowy white lacy panels that reached to the ceiling like angels in flight, she would look for her love to arrive...his carriage due any moment.
His carriage! What in the world was she thinking?
"Ms. McNeil? Are you okay? I have water in the car."
Sara cleared her throat. "Yes, certainly. May we go inside?"
The other lady smiled and nodded for her to go forward.
The door creaked like an old lady's joints as the agent pushed against it, finally adding a sound hard thump with her knee. The portal sprung wide open.
Sara strained to see, but the lights were off, and only bumps of covered furniture and other ghostly visions filled the dark void. Even when Julie shoved aside the drapes to let soft morning light in, the room emanated visions of gray anonymity.
"It's dusty. The man who lived here died quite some time ago." Julie attacked her clipboard like a hungry animal looking for more information. Perhaps she feared losing the sale if she couldn't put a human face on the dwelling for her customer to relate to. "Two years ago! He died two years ago!"
"I see. I wondered why things seemed so neglected."
"Yes, it says here he was ill before that. That explains the repairs not getting done."
"Yes, I suppose it does." Sara lifted a cover to reveal a beige and gold brocaded chair. Tinges of aged gray filth smothered the fibers. Running her hand along its bumpy contours, visions paraded through her mind of Victorian ladies seating themselves, with cups of tea daintily balanced on their laps. "Is that why it's being sold? An inheritance to be divested among his heirs?"
"I presume so."
"I see," Sara replied. The furniture was old, making it appear no one had dwelled in the house for generations. "Are you certain the man lived here just before he died?" she asked. "It doesn't look like anyone has made this a home since the furniture was still in style."
"Hmmm...I don't know," Julie replied, her eyes darting up and down the columns in her chart of notes.
Sara waited. Julie was a good agent; she trusted her because the woman came recommended by a friend. If something was suspicious about the house, Julie would not be part of the subterfuge. The squat little woman in a red dress probably didn't have an ounce of deceit in her.
"You keep checking. I'm going to see the kitchen," Sara instructed as she pushed through double doors to arrive in a spacious room with a generous row of windows all along one wall. They were designed to offer a grand view of the now defunct apple orchard. These days green overgrown branches reached out attacking one another like warriors in battle, obscuring what used to be neat straight lines of trees like outstretched arms reaching perpendicular from the windows to the horizon.
Once bright yellow, the kitchen was now a dull gold, but it still emanated some of its former good will with sunlight shining through the windows in soft rays and chairs with a table cozily arranged close to the welcoming stove. Sara walked to the room's center and breathed in the golden aura of the place. The oven, boasting a black iron cook top, squatted against one wall, and an undersized porcelain sink with tarnished brass faucet and handles stood next to that. They looked tiny compared to today's standards...like a toy kitchen. Across the room, Sara spied an old-fashioned ice box. She opened a side door to see a cavity where a huge frozen block would be placed to keep food in other compartments chilled.
The floor was linoleum with white and black squares in a checkerboard pattern. The white ones recorded the decades with scuffs of gray disturbing their clean look; while the black squares suffered with white streaks where the black had been scraped away by busy feet. This had been a happy room once, no doubt with the laughter of family and the antics of children. Their giggles murmured to Sara straight out of the walls in eerie cascades of the imagination. The room satisfied the heart and made one smile.
Content, Sara turned on her heel and returned to find Julie missing. A glance out the window revealed that woman in her car, poring over volumes of listings in the back seat. Perhaps she had more info about this house in those papers.
The ornate wood railing gracing the bottom of a staircase in the hallway caught Sara's eye. She dashed across the living room reaching for the shiny brown wood even before arriving. So beautifully sculpted, smooth and cool and rounded. The form surprised her releasing pangs of excitement by her touch. It felt so familiar, as though she had smoothed her hand along the old wood many times before. Cupping her grasp over a scrolled adornment at the railing's end, she closed her eyes to shut out the world for the moment.
For an instant her mind flashed with a memory from the depths. Or was it a memory? She stepped into another time but in that same room. Breathing in air that was still and as quiet as supreme emptiness would be...the stillness of a time before machinery. The persistent lingering of time punctuated only by the distant tick tock of a clock, so every second burst with the potential of that one loaded swing of the pendulum. Nothing rushed her, she needn't hurry...the day was a fulfilling dance, propelled by the self with no other thing to do, no other place to be. Time was burning gently at the hearth of life, welcoming her to stay.
A draft brushed by her rigid hand, still cupped on the railing, the coolness arriving in a sudden rush as its icy flare penetrated her knuckles and reached down in strokes to her elegant fingers. It felt like a freezing hand cupping hers. Dizziness took over as her body reverberated with bolts of confusion and then flashes of electric white joy while she tried to decipher the curious iciness and eerie familiarity of the grip itself. It was unexplained and yet delicious. Should she be frightened? Wavering in place, her mind spun into a blinding ragged shock while a beguiling love...was it love?...jet-rocketed from the cold draft enveloping her hand, to soaring on a direct path to her heart, bursting in an emotion of familiar, yet long lost reverence and awe. What was happening?
A whisper trickled in her ear...was it a whisper? It seemed little more than a spark, but it welcomed her. She felt welcomed to this house. Someone here knew her. It was home.
"Julie!" she called out. "I'll take the house."
Sara pulled up a chair to the computer and tapped out a password. She needed to talk to someone. What was she thinking? Making an offer on that house?
First of all, she couldn't afford another month's rent here plus the down payment and a monthly payment on a new house all at the same time. That meant she would need to move into the Victorian, ready or not. Moving in early guaranteed pounding hammers and grubby workmen would have to be tolerated as part of her existence while necessary repairs were being done.
Sighing, Sara pondered what the disturbance would do to her work. An author needs quiet and solitude to hear the voices of characters emanating in ghostly streams through the writer's mind. How in the world could she concentrate with remodeling going on?
Her first novel, a historical about life in 19th Century America, proved successful, enough so the publishing company paid her an advance for another. That advance was already spent. What was left would barely cover the costs of buying the Victorian, with no room for the luxury of keeping two households at once. So move she must!
To tell the truth, she had acted with her heart instead of her brain. It was just the energies in that house spoke to her. That dilapidated old house begged her to take it.
"Oh, sure! Now I know you're losing it, Sara!" she muttered. "Right! The house 'talked' to you."
The Victorian did seem familiar in a way. Well, she loved everything from that era, bay windows, towers and stained glass; so it didn't come as a surprise the house would be appealing. And it seemed identical to the one in her current book which was, not surprisingly. a Victorian love story. She had reached an impasse with the plot, realizing the tensions were not right. Something was missing. Deep inside, perhaps she wished being in the new house would inspire her. Sara didn't know what she would do if things didn't work out soon, not being in a position to pay back the advance she'd been given.
With a dissatisfied sigh, she placed the headphones on, which flattened the thin sweep of brown hair that hung down in a page boy around her face. Adjusting the small microphone in front of her full, curved lips, she punched out Margot's number in England, pausing while it rung.
"Hi, Margot! It's Sara in America. Do you have a minute?"
"Certainly! I was just thinking about you. How are you?"
"I think I found a house. In fact, I made an offer."
"That's splendid news! Congratulations!"
Grasping a pen, Sara started a circular doodle that spiraled around the page like a slinky toy gone wild. "Margot, I think the house is haunted." The doodle ran off the edge of the tablet with the pen thumping on the desktop.
Silence at the other end left the air blank between them. Finally, Margot spoke. "What?"
"Oh, I know I sound crazy, but I had the weirdest feelings in that house ... like I'd been there before."
"Well, older homes give off that impression just by virtue of their unique designs and such. They have personalities. It does mess with your mind ... insinuating time travel or something."
"No, Margot! It wasn't that! It felt like I knew this place in intimate detail. Like I'd been there before or knew the ghost who lives there."
"Oh dear! Have you talked to the others? Why don't you try David? I've heard he has experience in these things."
"He has experience in haunted houses?"
"Actually, yes, he does. But don't tell him I told you."
Later, Sara didn't feel so confident. Talking to David about the haunted house was an undertaking she dreaded. David was a professional--a lawyer with money, position, and a cut-out doll of a perfect wife who between PTA meetings and church bazaars had never shown any interest in her husband's unusual collection of on line friends. Sara would feel foolish if David mentioned her haunted house to his trophy wife.
The phone's shrill ring knocked her out of the reverie. She picked it up to make the annoying ring stop.
"Hello, Ms. McNeil? Your bid has been accepted. Congratulations! You're a homeowner!"
Sara's heart dropped to the floor. If she wanted or needed to get out of this deal, she'd have to act soon.
"Oh, yes! Thank you, Julie."
"The closing will be Friday at our office, 9:00 a.m."
"Thank you. I'll be there," Sara murmured.
That afternoon, she made her way to the tiny public library in town square, printouts of real estate records tucked in a folder under her arm. One of the perks of a writing career is the research ... leaving one's usual haunt on a sunny day to relocate in the library among its stacks to find information to add detail and texture to your story. On this occasion, however, Sara simply hoped to find out more about the Victorian. The Internet had provided the names of the most recent owners, all of whom were presumably of the bloodline of the original owner, Justin Sinclair. The Internet had no further information on him, but Sara was counting on the local library to fill in the blanks.
The little library was her favorite place in town. As a girl, she read her fill in the dusty old reading room, frequently pulling musty volumes off the shelves to take home--some of them had not been touched for years. Sara hatched her love for the written word in those warm dark corners.
"Hi, Sara!" elderly Mrs. Johnson called out. The head librarian had greeted Sara every week over the years wearing the same cheery smile.
"Good morning, Mrs. Johnson!" Sara beamed back as she headed to her usual table at the computers. For the next hour, she worked, hunched forward, one hand clutching the mouse, scrolling through titles about local people and places, hoping to find some information about Justin Sinclair. Finally, she found something.
"Justin Sinclair, Philanthropist or Scoundrel?"
The newspaper headline leaped off the screen burning her eyes with its huge blaring letters.
Scoundrel? Sara couldn't suppress a smile at the irony. Her current novel was not near as exciting as the real life story of her own house. Curious to know more about Justin, the scoundrel, she scrolled to find the articles revealed that no formal charges were issued against Justin Sinclair. Only innuendo shadowed his movements, with nothing ever proven. He crept around in the bars and local gambling establishments in his time, and it was implied he lent money out at a high rate of interest to needy gamblers who, desperate, had lost their paychecks. It was not revealed what was done concerning bad noncollectable debts, but a shadowy reference to barter was made. Secondary to that, one article alluded to the growing list of lovers Justin laid claim to, some of which at exactly the same time heavy IOU's were due.
"Well, it looks like our Mr. Sinclair may have been quite a scoundrel, indeed," Sara murmured.
The necklace's gold chain first sparkled and caught her eye at an antique store on Fifth Avenue. It was years ago, when she was just a teenager. The pretty piece cost more than she could afford, forty dollars; but the clerk, perhaps enamored by her fresh eager smile gave the girl a discount, charging only thirty dollars. It was a steal, although at first you might not think so. The gold was dull, and the stones and pearls blackened with filth from the grim passage of time. She had held it up to the light, surveying the tiny gold chains with pearl droplets that dangled down from a center gold and amethyst brooch and chain. It was a magical piece of antique jewelry, a treasure from another era. How could she not buy it?
Fondling it now, her eyes filled with memories of being young and free. The necklace had always been mysterious in what it did to her. Her first wearing instilled a sense of style, culturing a confidence she had never known. A light radiated from her, from deep inside in sparks of exhilaration. Joyfully, she felt like someone else. Someone beautiful from another era, another world. Putting on the necklace, she'd actually taken center stage to play a role. She was a bejeweled and elegant lady from the Victorian era and not a plain schoolmarmish-looking woman. She was a princess.
Sara was wearing the necklace the first time she fell in love. Well, not love at first; but within a few moments of being asked to dance. As soon as Jeff took her hand and led her to the floor, her heart tap-danced, pounding out little tunes of eager infatuation.
It was the necklace. When she wore it, she felt pretty...and worthy of romance. Not like before, when she was only a skittish wall flower. She dared to taste her first kiss that night. But the magic didn't last. Alas, her later dates with Jeff never sparkled again like that first night while wearing the jewelry. The exhilaration must have been rooted in the necklace and not the man.
Even now, as Sara held out the dangling piece to admire, a rush of emotion took her by storm. The necklace mesmerized every time, sending her into a tizzy. Although a delicious sensation, self-control staggered on unsteady feet when the power of the necklace swept over her. For that reason, she placed it in a drawer, to wear only rarely. These days, she hung by the computer to provide comfort and balance when she wrote. Its antique charm inspired her historical novels.
Moving day was soon, and she still wanted to talk to David, the fellow Margot mentioned, since he knew a few things about haunted houses. To be honest, she had been putting it off, thinking perhaps it would be better not to get herself worked up over ghosts before moving to the spooky house. The papers were signed, her boxes were packed, and the movers were coming in two days. This was not the time to become frightened by spirits from the beyond.
* * *
"Why not let me give it a run-through before you move in?"
"Oh, David. I don't know." Sara actually felt like screaming, knowing it was a bad idea to let David frighten her about ghosts on the eve of moving day. Just her luck, David had a chat with Margot on line, and that lady spilled the beans about Sara's creepy new house. "I don't want to scare myself before I've even moved in," she added.
"Oh, nonsense! I'll be right over!" With a click of the phone, Sara's fate was sealed. David was on the way. He lived a short drive from her, so he'd be here soon. She gathered her purse and keys for the new house and settled to wait by the window. Outside, a purple twilight mist was rushing in. It would be dark soon. Normally, a visit from David was a festive occasion. The lanky, gray-haired fellow exuded an energy unlikely for a man in his late 70's. David Martin had no intention of letting old age slow him down. It was not surprising to hear he knew of haunted houses; the man had so many varied interests, it was difficult to keep up with his lightning pace of books to read and documentaries to watch. Heaven only knew how he became interested in ghosts, but one thing was for sure. When he researched an item, he did it down to the last detail. And he was a man of sound instincts. He could announce your words to you before you could speak them. It wouldn't surprise her if he could indeed ferret out elusive spirits in a haunted house.
"Good to see you, Sara!" he declared, his usual brilliant smile preceding him up the walk. "Talking to the ladies on line lately? I've been a bit busy myself."
"I called Margot by Internet phone the other night, but I guess you know that already."
A tiny smile danced across his lips. "Yes, we were talking about you and your new home, I'm afraid. Truly, I can't wait to see it."
Later, when they entered, David reacted immediately. His first step into the foyer, he went rigid, turning on his heel, lips tight, his pale blue eyes punctuated by pupils shrunken to tiny black dots. The usual smile was replaced by tight lips holding back a load of emotion that screamed to be let loose. "Oh my God!" he murmured. "An intense spirit lurks here."
He lifted his eyes, looking to the cathedral ceiling and back down again to the floorboards, clearing his throat with a tiny nervous cough. "Very intense..." Walking into the old parlor, he murmured again. "Intense ... and I'm not sure what this ghost's intentions are..."
"David, what are you saying?"
He turned to make his eyes melt into hers. "Sara, this place is alive with energy. And I don't quite know what to make of it."
"David?" Sara's heart slammed to the floor, leaving her rigid and hollow.
"Usually the energies are nebulous, somewhat elusive. But this ... " Words failed him as he turned around once more in wonder at the surroundings. "Let's try the bedrooms. They are always bursting with vibes," he said heading for the staircase.
"Are you sure you want to go up there?" Sara asked. "You are obviously pretty shaken!"
"Oh yes!" A curious smile crossed his lips. Was the expression greedy in nature or perhaps even evil? Did his tooth-baring grin dance with some sort of malicious pleasure? Sara followed with tiny, hesitant steps. She feared this ghost more and more.
When they reached the second story, David suddenly doubled over as if in pain, grasping the railing at the top of the stairs. "The force! It's almost overwhelming!" He struggled to make the remark through strangled gasps. "I don't think I can continue." He panted like he'd just run a mile.
Sara swooned at the sight of him. Her body, already deadened by fear, now witnessed a man weakened by the forces around him. Her thoughts got tangled in a mesh of confusing emotions and senses. She couldn't feel what he felt, but seeing his agony solidified stabs of panic in her heart. She ran to him and grabbed the poor man by his shoulders leading him back down the stairs in measured steps. "Come on, David! You've done enough!" she murmured. Her legs wobbled on the steps as much as David's. Would they ever get back down? The bottom of the stairs looked miles away.
It stopped them in mid-step, loud and sharp, right over their shoulders like it meant to yell at them. Their hearts fused as the two stood motionless. In the quiet of the huge house, the noise had sounded like a locomotive slamming into a wall, crushing metal at furious speed. Surely, the building should be flattened. They waited. Nothing. The waiting continued. Sara thought she could hear their hearts beating in the electrified silence. She bit her lip, it being the only movement she dared.
Finally, a bird chirped outside a window on the landing. Its gentle song broke the spell. David spoke first in a trembling voice. "Ghosts do tend to knock and bump around in these old houses." He ended the remark with a nervous chuckle that contrasted strangely with the deafening crash they'd just witnessed.
"Oh, David! I can't move into this house!"
He turned to look at her, appearing the wizened old fellow that he was. "OH yes! You must! This house is haunted by an exquisite ghost, one that must be explored. You must move in! The sooner, the better! This spirit demands to know you! I can feel it!"
"This place is creepy." Sara had heard one of the movers, a burly fellow, bearded and sweaty, make the comment as he paused in the hallway to wipe his brow. "You got that right!" his companion agreed, a skinny fellow whose abilities to lift her oak bedroom set seemed dubious. She heard the comments while lurking in a doorway unseen. They were right, of course. The Victorian was a dark, ominous place. Luckily, the average musclebound furniture mover seemed immune from the mystifying powers that had overwhelmed David.
Well, the movers were gone and now she was getting settled. They placed each of the dusty cardboard boxes in the proper room to which she assigned, each one labeled with a location on the outside in black marker. A stringy looking "kitchen" was scrawled across the one she worked in now. Removing an everyday plate, she placed it on the table. In the morning when she'd first arrived, the kitchen glowed, warm and friendly with its cheerful windows and sunshine. Now, as night began to fall, those windows sighed with a darkness to match the night. Gazing out and seeing only black, she realized anything could lurk out there in the shadows. It made her feel weak and exposed. Even worse, later she'd have to go to the desolate second floor for bed. The very idea of spending time in the place that collapsed David turned her veins to ice. On second thought, perhaps tonight would be a good night to sleep on the living room sofa. Or she could write until the wee hours, hugging the familiar glow of the computer monitor.
Her cell phone rang. Its sudden sharp trill made her jump. But her heart gladdened at the idea of someone to talk to. Even a solicitor would be welcome now. She pulled the phone out of her pocket.
"Sara! How are you doing?" It was Brigid, a friend from the on line group with David and Margot.
"Oh, surviving I guess. Did David tell you about this place?"
There was a pause. "Yes, he did. Sara, are you going to be all right there?"
Sara pictured the other woman--comical, all of five feet tall and roly poly, fidgeting on the other end of the line.
"Brigid," she answered, "I wish I could say 'yes' without hesitation."
"Oh, that's what I was afraid of! I'm going to call David and tell him to come over there! You know I'd come myself and sleep over, but I live in another state."
"Brigid, I don't know. He was really rattled last time."
"Nonsense, that's what friends are for. Oooh, I've got to call him. I'll talk to you later."
With that remark, Brigid hung up, leaving Sara enjoying a wave of relief if David actually did come and spend the night keeping her company. If she could just put in this first time overnight in the Victorian, she'd be all right...perhaps. Unpacking the last plate, she laid the box aside and decided to go to the parlor sofa and relax. Enough work for one day and that room had a welcoming air about it with the old fireplace and a beautiful bay window in the front.
Settled in the soft cushions, she leaned back and sighed in exhaustion. Was she trying to replace dealing with her uneasiness by substituting nonstop labor? Her eyes rested on the fireplace. A dizzying sunflower, with electrified petals surrounding a bulbous head and sculpted leaves vining around the stem, decorated the sides of the ironclad mantel. In the center plate above the hearth, two lovebirds posed before a huge sunflower, its petals spread like a halo behind them. These older houses, with such detail, were so unlike today's antiseptic straight lines. Underfoot, the hardwood floor was worn and well-traveled. What memories lurked here? Who put wood in that fireplace and who wore down the floorboards? Leaning back, she closed her eyes and drifted to sleep, enveloped in her surroundings.
A knock at the door interrupted the slumber. Her waking thought was that the room seemed chilly and she'd needed to put a log on the fire. Confused, she stood up and felt the hard floor under her feet. The hardness seemed the proper companion to the fireplace until she realized it was the 21st century and there was now central heating, and a plush new rug was due next week. Shaking off the vestiges of another time, she rushed to the door. But the feeling lingered in her surprise at seeing a modern storm door where she expected there to be no outer door at all.
"Sara, are you all right? You look strange." It was David.
She rubbed her forehead with the back of her hand. "Yes, I think. I was dozing. Come in."
"So how is it coming with your new house and its resident ghost?"
Sara flinched. "Do you have to be so direct? About saying there's a ghost, I mean."
"But there most certainly is!"
"Well, we'll see. Would you like some coffee? Thanks for coming, by the way. After the last time, I was afraid you might not want to come back." She was already heading for the kitchen to start the coffeemaker.
"Yes, I'd like coffee. I think we may be up most of the night, judging by your obvious nervousness."
She turned to see him smiling at her.
"Don't worry," he said. "This night can't last forever."
Chapter 5, Part 1
"'Simile'--Let's see, it's on a double word score space...I think that's enough ... .Yes! I've won another game!" Sara leaned back and smiled.
"That will teach me to play Scrabble with a writer. Who else uses the word 'simile?'"
"You look tired, David. Would you like some coffee?" The two were planning to sit up all night, so Sara could spend her first evening in the Victorian with David and a pot of coffee for companionship. Once she put in the first night, and nothing happened, they hoped she wouldn't be afraid anymore.
"Yes, if you don't mind. I could use a shot of caffeine...So how are faring, Sara?"
Sara folded her hands on the table and smiled. "Well, thanks to you, I'm not afraid. If I had been alone tonight, I don't know what I would have done. When you showed up on my doorstep, I felt the fear just drain away. And, of course, yours is always a welcome smile anyway."
"I'll get the coffee." She excused herself to go to the kitchen. Warm yellow light blared a welcome from the open doorway. Sara had allowed herself the option of keeping all the rooms lit, so she wouldn't have to enter any dark areas. David had agreed it was a good idea, for this night anyway. Busying herself making coffee, the aroma, after so many cups that day already, sickened her. With a sigh, she considered a cup of tea instead. The idea rushed through her with a stabbing need. Yes, it was definite...tea. Crossing to the cupboard, she carefully gathered two cups and saucers and placed them on the table, next gathering two spoons and napkins. Picking up the kettle, she turned toward the stove and froze. Aghast, her stiffened hand released the metal pot to go crashing to the linoleum floor. It rolled and rattled across the tile as she stood shaking. Staring at the burner, she watched as a tiny flame pulsated around the burner, already lit and instilled there by some magical power beyond herself. It flickered contentedly as though she had just created it, but this flame had materialized out of nowhere.
David appeared in the doorway. "Sara..." He looked at her questioningly.
"That burner...I didn't light it..." she stammered, feeling for a chair to ease into. She sat, holding her hands limply by her sides.
"It lit by itself?" David joined her in the kitchen, rushing to the stove to examine the bluish flame as it flickered and glowed. "Very interesting. I've heard of this sort of thing. What a thrill to actually experience it..."
"DAVID!! Will you quit being so rational? The damned stove lit itself!"
"Calm down, Sara. Now let's talk about it. What happened just before that?"
Sara ran her finger through her short brown hair. "I don't know. I had an urge for tea, and when I turned..."
"Sara, I thought you hated tea."
David knew her well. She hated tea, and now here she was craving it. "I know, David. All of a sudden I just really wanted some."
He sat studying her for a moment. "Sara, I don't want to alarm you, but I think that urge came from outside of yourself. I noticed you've set the table for two, but they're your good china cups, something we never do when we're together. I'm beginning to think you were planning on having tea with someone else."
Sara glared at the place settings. She only barely remembered setting the table. It really wasn't their plan to have tea in the kitchen. They were playing board games in the other room. And she always used mugs for everyday use. The good china was for company dinners. "Are you saying the 'ghost' made me do it?"
"Yes, but don't panic. I think we have a lonely ghost here. I mean, he lives by himself in this Victorian apparently. Can you blame him for wanting to sit and sip tea with you?"
"DAVID, are you crazy?"
"I know. I know I'm thinking of this in a romantic fashion; but for me, ghosts are a romantic notion...poor lost souls between here and there, looking for peace in the unknown. Does life get any more poetic and poignant than that?"
"We're not talking about 'life!' We're talking about the walking DEAD!"
David grimaced. "Touche. But still, the 'unknown' dances with one's sense of whimsy, speculating and filling in the blanks from one's own identity. The ghost is on a wondrous adventure."
"Oh, let's get out of this kitchen." Speechless, Sara stormed back to the parlor and took her seat at the Scrabble board. "I wish you could understand how afraid I am," she murmured as he approached.
He sat across from her and grasped her hand. "I do, Sara. But don't you see, that's the point. In your mind, it's all about you and the fact that you're afraid. In reality, I think the ghost doesn't fear you in the least. I sensed a strong presence here, and not an anxious or malicious one. Your obsession with your fear is pointless."
"What are you saying? I should 'make nice' with the ghost?" Sara stood and threw her hands up in disgust.
"No," he replied in a soft voice, "just give him a chance."
"I don't know," Sara replied shaking her head in doubt, sitting again. "What makes you think it's a 'him' anyway?"
"I can sense it. Now why don't you try and calm down?"
Sara took a deep breath. "Okay, I'll try. If it will shut you up with your nonsense." She paused. "Look, David. I'm sorry if I was short with you, but I'm afraid for my life here. Desperate times, desperate measures..."
"Don't worry, Sara. I'm certain you'll be okay. Now try to calm down." David threw one of his infamous smiles her way. It helped.
What could she do to cope? She remembered the antique necklace. The jewelry had helped her through other little fits of nervousness and added to her creativity when stress was making it difficult. Excusing herself, she soon returned with it, running the gold chain through her fingers in appreciation.
"Well, I guess I'd call it my lucky necklace. I thought it would calm me down. I always feel better when it is near." She studied the luminous pearls and rich amethyst stones.
"Why don't you put it on? Consider it a talisman," David advised.
"Perhaps I will." She slipped the necklace on and clasped it in the back. Yes, it felt right.
It wasn't long before Sara was asleep on the sofa.
* * *
Chapter 5, Pt. 2
Restless dreams haunted Sara through the night, sending her wandering through nondescript busy street scenes, lost and not knowing where to go, but knowing she needed to be somewhere, searching, peering down littered alleys and taking nervous two-steps across thoroughfares. The need took many forms in an endless array of delusions, the same monotonous beat performed by different drummers in a concert that went on and on. Another sequence, she found herself at high school again, an adult out of place and looking for a scheduled class; but she didn't know what room and was running late. Wandering the halls, she observed how the school had changed over the years. Blaring shops filled to brimming with the latest crazes now lined the hallways. Music and gaudy colors spilled out onto the slick marble hallways. So unlike the old days, and the classroom she sought was nowhere to be found. The need to find it ate away at her. In another dream, she wandered the stacks at the library, looking for a book with no title. Not having the book in hand filled her with a sense of loss that struck like a knife in jab after jab. She needed the book. But the cold, relentless thrusts were emotional hits, producing the most tearful, hopeless sadness she had ever felt. In despair, she was fighting her way through clouds of sorrow, thick and sticky, when David's voice woke her.
"Sara! Wake up! He's here!"
The words were cold steel cutting into her dream and dispersing the torment in a splash of relief. She opened her eyes and looked around, glad to be rid of the never-ending loss and melancholy. David sat on the edge of the sofa looking at her.
"Sara! I could sense him! He was here! It woke me up!"
"What?" She rubbed her eyes and tried to focus. The dreams were hard to shake. "You saw who?"
She stiffened, now alert. "Oh my God! How do you know?"
David's eyes glistened like stars. "Sara, I was asleep and my dreams got sort of...I don't know...charged and excited. I felt this need to wake up. I had a vibrating sensation...like I was in an earthquake and at the same time about to jump out of my skin. When I woke, I felt a presence. I knew he was here."
"What? How would you know that?"
He smiled in a tiny sliver that put light years of distance between them. "I just knew. I could sense it." He paused as though remembering. "When this kind of thing happens, I feel like I'm filled with this white energy--but this force today--it was full of personality. I mean, it wasn't some vague super-charge--For want of better words, I'd say the essence of this entity met my own spirit, I think, and shook hands. It's a person, not a thing."
"You shook hands with the ghost?"
"Figuratively speaking, yes."
"Right... ." Sara leaned back to absorb the information, reaching for her antique necklace for solace. She ran her fingers along soft skin, but no chain, no gems felt rough under her touch. She cupped her hand around her neck groping for the chain. Nothing. "David!" she exclaimed.
"What is it, Sara!"
"My necklace! It's gone!" A sense of loss did a cruel dance in her heart. The jewelry served as a crutch. Whenever she needed inspiration, it was there--when writing or otherwise; or if she wanted comfort, the necklace was there. Now it was gone.
"It must have fallen off when you were sleeping," David replied, lifting a cushion to search.
"Yes, that's it. It must have." Lifting two more, she jabbed her hands into the sofa crevices, searching every inch. She worked her way back, checking and rechecking, tears welling as the loss of the necklace became a reality. Her heart was squeezed dry.
Finally, David stopped her. "Sara, it's not there."
"Well, where is it?"
"I don't know, Sara. It will turn up. Relax. Let's have some coffee."
"I don't want coffee. I want my necklace."
"I'll make the coffee," he said. "Come to the kitchen with me."
Sara followed, falling into a chair to watch David work. She eyed the stove burner suspiciously, half expecting it to light by itself. It didn't.
"Where do you keep it?" he asked.
"The cupboard over the sink, right side, bottom shelf."
He shot her a glance. "Sara, have you ever wondered who this ghost is?"
She looked back in surprise. Figuring out who the ghost was seemed beyond reach. At the moment, she was simply afraid of the unknown. That was all.
He continued. "I'm just saying if you can figure out who it is. It will help us to understand him better. Did you find out who used to live here?"
Flashes of Justin Sinclair, in an artist's rendering at the library, passed through Sara's mind. Could it be him? She shot David a glance. "Well, there was a rather colorful character who owned this house."
"Do tell? And who might that be?"
"A fellow by the name of Justin Sinclair, quite a ladies' man and a gambler in people's fates, if the historical accounts are true." She fondled the mug David had laid in front of her. The idea of such a rowdy fellow within these walls was disconcerting.
"I've heard of him! He owned half the town in his day. Well, now, see--perhaps we have found our ghost."
Sara felt a cold rush. There was something about the prospect that terrified her.
David saw her and leaned over to touch her hand. "Let me tell you a story," he said. "And perhaps in the process you will learn a little about yourself."
David shot her a pensive glance and ran his hand through rugged gray hair. "This isn't easy. I've never shared this information with anyone before. I was young, at the university, doing research at the library. It was late. They were due to close soon. I skipped two meals and hadn't had any sleep. Finals were the next day, and I still hadn't figured how I was going to answer the expected essay questions on the works of Plato.
"I was dreary-eyed, poring over reference books and deliriously groggy; but Sara, when I looked up from my studies, I saw a figure of a man leaning against the middle bookcase of the stacks in the next room. His arms were crossed across his chest and he stared at me, directly in the eye. I was shocked because he was wearing clothes from the 1800's I think. I mean, he looked like pictures I've seen from Dickens' times with the pants and funny waistcoats. I just stared, I guess.
"He tilted his head to one side, then sauntered over to where I sat, stopping right beside me, standing tall and imposing, one hand resting on the back of my chair. I swear it started me shaking like crazy. I could feel his hand touching my back, just a flutter, like a butterfly or something. I shot a glance around the room, but the one librarian left on duty was gone, and we were alone--this character and I. I couldn't stop my knees from knocking, but I took a deep breath and turned my head to look up, and the most intelligent, electric, and meaningful eyes looked back. I think my heart stopped in the wake of his gaze, so riveting it was.
"Then I blinked, and he was gone. I was shaken. Who was he? What did he want? Especially with me. My head was spinning, my heart pounding. A flurry of movement to my left revealed the prune-faced old librarian ambling back to her desk. This lady I wouldn't ever confide in because she was rude every time I ever asked her a question. So, I gathered my materials and went home...on rubber legs, I might add.
"I didn't sleep that night. Would you? My eyes were glued open while my mind was totally out of control, whirling with anguish, curiosity, who knows what else? Had I stepped into the paranormal? Who was that apparition? Was I mad?
"My sense of reality was shaken...destroyed. I mean, now in a world where I thought everything is rational, I discovered the great unknown that lurks in the shadows. We think life is so solid and predictable and that we know it all. Then an event like this occurs, and one realizes there is a whole other dimension...watching us."
Sara stopped him. "David, you're not helping the way I feel."
"Sara! I didn't mean to frighten you. I just wanted to let you understand, I know what you're going through. I've been through a similar experience." He looked away for a moment as though those earlier days had grabbed and dragged him off.
"David, did you ever see him again?"
He looked back at her, his expression blank, then replied, "Sara, this ghost is with me to this day. I don't always see him, but I feel him. When I'm in trouble...or need a friend...I'll feel him next to me. In a rush, I'll hear him--in my heart, soothing me." David's words dashed out like bullets. Unstoppable. "When I need it most, he'll 'tell' me information I need to know."
"He tells you things?"
"Well, there's no speaking, but the information zooms into my consciousness, undeniably not my own thoughts, because the information is nothing I could think of. It floods into my mind--sort of warm and enlightening."
Sara studied her friend in silence. What was he talking about? Did he communicate with ghosts? Good grief! Could she make the same claim? In fact, was Justin Sinclair attempting to reach her? Why?
"Sara, you look overwhelmed. Don't be. I want to emphasize this ghost of mine has always been of a high moral character. I mean, I've never felt anything malicious about him. He is sort of a spiritual guide if anything."
She shuddered. Dawn was breaking. A warm morning sun projected its soothing rays through the row of kitchen windows. But she didn't notice, her mind being tangled up in a mass of unresolved questions and jittery emotions. She glanced at David, attempting to decipher his words amidst the racket of her own worries. Clarity pushed it way to the surface. "Did you ever see him again? David, did your ghost tell you that my ghost is a friendly one?"
When he was gone, Sara reflected how David had answered in the affirmative but insisted the revelation was the usual vague impression without any details. "It's always just a flighty thing," he said. "A thought without words, really."
They had dropped the topic as David, glancing outside to see a new day emerging, stated he needed to go. Now Sara found herself alone, unsettled, and frightened. "Work. I need to work," she murmured. That book wasn't going to be written on its own. Her agent wanted to see more chapters and moving to the Victorian had thrown off her schedule. Resigned to the necessity of it, she made coffee and settled at her newly purchased antique desk. Normally, she wouldn't buy antique pieces, but the old house's cozy air asked for appropriate furniture.
Scouring through shops, she'd found the Queen Anne desk, white-washed, with ample drawer space and a generous top to place her laptop, reading lamp, and reference books. It contrasted with the hardwood floors, an inspiring light space in a sea of monotonous dark. At least her creative mind liked to think so. The parlor's white lace curtains blended with the desk to conjure up an air rife with feminine instincts. Despite those good vibes, the computer screen now lurked, white and empty, with no creative ventures on it.
The novel had lost direction and texture. She felt empty, releasing her eyes and mind to wander the room. Nothing. How could one release creativity when ensconced in a haunted house anyway? Her mind was erratic, confused, frightened. How could she be expected to think? The clock in the hallway drummed out a one-second beat that hung in the air waiting for the next one to sound and rise to linger next to it. Sunlight trickled through the lacy curtains splattering raucous dots of yellow across the floor and up the wall. She watched the spots flutter, like dancers on a stage jumping and pirouetting. Time slipped away as the shadows of history, usually too pale and quiet to be noticed in the din and clatter of everyday life, peeked from the corners and emerged. The worn floorboards released the whispers of women in lengthy skirts swishing along the surface, and emitted the airy lights of happy children--the girls in dainty pinafores and the boys in knee breeches, all squatting on the hard floor to play close to the fireplace for warmth. Kitchen aromas of baked bread and pot roast suggested their presence to greet ghostly family and friends dropping in. Sara smiled. Ideas for her book took shape in her mind.
The room fulfilled her and she became a player, a quiet visitor perched in the corner waiting for company. It wasn't hard to imagine a long ago lady of the house, pulling back the white curtains to peek outside or scurrying to the kitchen, skirts bustling, to check on dinner. She imagined a woman in a dignified gray dress with a flowing skirt, neatly pressed, patting her hair in place and checking her face powder in the parlor mirror; Sara could almost see her...feel her thoughts... know her mind.
It's you...you're seeing yourself...
The words, a whisper, a flutter in the ear. Or was there a sound? The message swept over Sara with certainty and force. White-tinged and electric, in its wake tracing cement trails through her mind, heavy with truth. She was that woman. This was her parlor; dinner in the kitchen belonged to her company. But whom was she waiting for? Her pounding heart make it impossible to latch onto the knowledge. She had known the information once, but no more. And she couldn't grab it back again. If she could, she'd remember. She'd remember who was coming. The waiting was familiar, like a yearning that had lasted forever. It hurt. She needed the joy the memory could revive. She needed it to relieve the pain. The mystery company. Who was it? The longing cut deep as Sara's mind swirled.
And then it was gone. The picture, the senses, the feeling of stepping back in time. But Sara knew she had touched reality, albeit a different one than the one we know. This was her house and that was her life. It had waited a century for her to come home.
Copyright 2007 JO Janoski
Posted: 04:54 PM, May 31, 2007 in My Online Novel in Progress
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The Storyteller's Muse, Chapter 17
This is my online novel, being written right here before your very eyes. It is an alluring ghost story I know you'll love. The previous chapters can be found here.
The Storyteller's Muse
Sara laid the phone on her lap with a slow-motion movement. Pulling over to the side the road, she turned off the ignition and leaned her head against the steering wheel. How much could one person take? What in the world was that phone call about? Was Margot in trouble? Why did she hear David's voice in the background?
"I've got to find them," she murmured, turning the key in the ignition with a shaky hand. "Smithton. I've got to go to Smithton." Good grief--she sounded like a crazy woman.
A tap on the window sent her jumping. It was a cop, his badge glinting in the sun, blue uniform hiding a body firmed from working out. He hovered like a huge dark mountain outside the window.
"Is everything okay, Ms?"
Now would be a good time to ask for help. But she didn't understand exactly what was happening with her friends. Maybe it was an innocent situation. She wouldn't want to get them in trouble.
'Yes! I just...got something in my eye. I pulled over to take care of it."
"Okay, just checking. Have a nice day!"
Have a nice day--not bloody likely, the way things were going. She watched his hulking form return to the squad car. It pulled away in a cloud of dust.
"Are we going to Smithton?"
Justin again. He sat resplendent and calm, perched in the passenger seat.
"Not today. It is way off in the other direction. We'll have to go home and start out tomorrow."
"Do you have any idea what we will find?"
"No. But I have a feeling you do!" She shot him an accusatory glance.
Justin's aura wavered before coming back again with strong colors, as though the affront weakened him. "Really, darling! Stop trying to give me supernatural powers. I'm just a lost soul, by the way, nothing more."
"Aren't we all?" Sara murmured. Her mind wandered. When she looked again, Justin was gone.
Arriving home proved to be an exasperating experience. Phone messages from her publisher, frantic and loud, reminded her she'd missed a deadline for her next chapter submission. That, and Griffin the cop was dogging her again, leaving three messages. He wanted to speak with her. One day out of the house, and all this happened.
With a sigh, she made her way to the kitchen for tea. Tea, the great soother, a vehicle to send her mind jaunting to some other place with each savory sip. It was a drink that transcended time and space. The beverage always put her in the mind of the characters in her stories. Those folks were tea drinkers, sipping it during their best conversations. When she drank it down, she was anywhere but here, stepping into the drink's dignified and significant history. Coffee was out of the question. What magic did coffee hold? None.
The tea worked. She relaxed, sorting out her problems. Of one thing she was certain, she would prefer to avoid Griffin altogether, not liking his accusatory nuance. If she told him about the phone call, he would find a way to loop her into its negative mystery. Besides, maybe the call was innocent and Margot and David just needed help. Perhaps they were in a bad cell zone. It would be a fine thing to show up with the cops when all they needed was to jumpstart the car or some extra cash.
Am I being delusional? The thought irked her. Was she avoiding the obvious? Were Margot and David actually in trouble? Surely, with a cell phone they could have called a car mechanic on their own. But the cell cut out on Margot in mid-conversation. So how reliable was it?
"I'm going to Smithton," Sara stated. "Just as soon as I finish a chapter." The publisher's deadline still loomed. She owed them a chapter, and she hadn't begun yet. What to do--save your friends or save your book deal? Well, she'd just have to find a way to do both.
Splashing the tea down the drain, she put on a pot of coffee. Time to pull an all-nighter.
Eight o'clock in the morning, and she finally finished. Clicking "send," Sara sighed and leaned back in the chair. Finally, the publisher would leave her alone for a time. She could get back to the business of helping her friends. She'd worked all night, and now finally she was free, and exhausted. As she wrestled with the idea of a nap, the doorbell rang. Stumbling over, she pulled back the white lacey curtain and peeked. Griffin and his sidekick, O'Malley. The younger one looked up and nodded to her. Busted! They'd seen her through the tiny glass.
She opened the door.
"Ms. McNeil! Sorry to call so early, but you are hard to get a hold of. I figured I'd catch you before you could take off somewhere for the day."
Was that right? Damn him. She forced a smile, trying to be civil. They were cops after all.
"I guess you want to come in?" She opened the door wide.
The two entered in businesslike fashion, brushing past her and settling in the parlor as though it was their own home. Griffin flipped out a notebook and fished a pen out of his pocket. Sara followed with reluctant steps, sitting across from O'Malley at her desk, chair turned to face them.
"You don't seem to be home much these days." It was a statement of fact, but followed with a questioning glance from Griffin.
Sara's heart thumped louder than the monotonous tick tick of the hall grandfather clock. She didn't want to tell Griffin about the phone call, about her search, nothing.
"I've been having a bit of writer's block. I went for a drive...to get ideas."
He watched with rapt attention, his eyes scrutinizing her face until she felt pain. This guy wouldn't be easy to lie to.
"You realize, of course, you need to cooperate with us, tell us all you know." He spoke with flourish, staring at her point blank. "If you're holding back anything, you could end up being charged as an accessory in a crime, if your actions have helped someone in the commission of an unlawful act."
The man was frightening. Was he slap-happy and trying to haul to jail anyone within reach, just to call the case solved? She was glad she'd kept her silence. She didn't like Griffin, and she didn't like his puppet sidekick, either.
"Well, I've nothing to tell you."
He stared back, next reaching into his pocket to extract a business card. "Well, if you change your mind, give me a call."
He rose and started for the door, O'Malley close behind. He turned to face her.
"You know, there's still time to save yourself, from jail or from trouble, whichever applies. You just need to be honest with me."
The two slipped through the door. Sara watched them go, frozen in place. When she heard their car pull out, she stumbled to the sofa and plopped down, bursting into tears.
Was she going insane? How much could one person take? What had she done? Turned away the very help she needed? She'd caused her friends grief and maybe even put them in danger. Who knows why they'd disappeared, but guilt lingered, hinting of trouble. Everything has been fine until she had them here at the house. Then strange things began to happen. Margot got weird after being here. And David, being with Margot now, was a continuation of the problem.
She was evil. Sara Ann McNeil was an evil woman who lured her friends into her circle of ghosts and mysteries and dragged them down with her. If anything happened to David and Margot, it was her fault.
Copyright 2007 Jo Janoski
Posted: 09:16 PM, May 10, 2007 in My Online Novel in Progress
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