It’s Halloween! Or at least it will be this coming Friday. So I thought it would be a good idea to have a sale on my ghost story – no brainer, don’t you agree? I thought it’d be a good way to put you in the mood for one of my favorite holidays. The best way to do that is to give you a little snippet of the spine tingling events that are part and parcel of Cooper’s Grove. It’s available for just $1.99 from October 28 until the end of the day on October 31. Reviews are encouraged. So without further adieu…
At first she thought it was the sound of the wind that woke her. The noise was a howling moan, mournful and angry at the same time. Lucinda pulled the blankets up around her head to blot out the sound, but instead of abating, the intensity of it rose until she was driven from her bed. Not wind, no, it now sounded more like the howl of a wounded animal, a wolf maybe. But there were no wolves around here, were there? And instead of being from the outside, the howling sounded as if it were coming from within the house. A shudder of fear engulfed Lucinda. Was there something in the house? And if so, how had it gained entrance?
She grabbed the chenille robe that was draped over the chest at the foot of her bed and wrapped it around her, then crept from her room to the hallway. Still the howling continued, echoing off the walls and ceilings, filling the house with the awful sound. As she stepped into the hallway, she felt a rush of frigid air that seemed to go right through her, and she gasped in surprise. From downstairs she could hear the outer front door as it slammed against the jamb, buffeted by the wind of the storm outside.
Carefully making her way along the hall, she turned on the light, illuminating the dark corridor, then proceeded down the stairs. When she got to the bottom of the steps, she was greeted by the sight of the front door standing open, snow blowing in to form a white mound on the carpet of the foyer. She ran to pull the storm door shut, making certain the latch was secure, then closed the front door as well, turning the deadbolt and wondering how she could have left it unlatched. It was only when she had done this that she realized the howling had stopped.
Shivering, she switched on the foyer light and looked around. Nothing seemed to be disturbed except for the snow in the entryway. The echo of the howling was still with her, making her feel that she might not be alone in the house, and it was with trepidation that she went to the kitchen to get a bucket and some rags to wipe up the now melting snow on the floor. She proceeded slowly, watching as she went for movement. If there was some sort of wild animal in the house, she didn’t want to be caught unaware. Although if there was, she didn’t know what she would do about it. Run and hide maybe. A nervous laugh escaped her.
After cleaning up the snow, she took the bucket and rags back into the kitchen, then went from room to room to check and make sure no animal had sought refuge from the storm in her home. Her fear had abated by this time, for if there had been some dangerous beast lurking in the house, surely it would have made itself known.
It was in the living room that she found the mess. On the desk where she kept the lists of people to invite, caterer’s quotes and halls to contact, there was now only a pile of crumpled and torn paper. The sight of it stopped her momentarily and all of the fears she had felt coming down the stairs washed over her again. She took a deep breath to calm herself and went over to the desk. Not only were the lists destroyed, but ink had been spilled on them. It had leaked on to the wood of the desk and trickled down to stain the carpet. Slowly her eyes took in the damage, and then she turned and surveyed the rest of the room. A picture on the mantelpiece, one of her and Billy Joe, lay on the floor, the covering glass in shards on the hearthstone. Nothing else had been disturbed.
She went over and picked up the picture, taking care not to cut herself on the broken glass. The wind could have blown the picture down but no wind could have torn and crumpled the papers, then opened a bottle of ink and spilled it all over the surface of the desk. Someone had done this, and whoever it was might still be in the house. She looked around for some kind of weapon and grabbed a fireplace poker, the only thing at hand.
“Is anyone here?” she called, afraid of getting a reply.
Her only answer was the sound of the wind outside. Not a howling, just the hushed susurration of the wind through the trees.
Once again, she crept through the downstairs, poker raised and ready. In the kitchen she looked toward the door to the basement. It was shut, as it had been when she was in the room earlier. But that meant nothing. Someone could have escaped there when they heard her coming downstairs and shut the door behind them. They could still be there, lying in wait. They could just as easily have run out the front door, she told herself. She opened the door leading to the cellar below. Flicking on the light, she called out again with a bravado she didn’t feel.
“Is anyone there? You’d better answer! I’m locking the door and calling the police!”
Silence was her answer.
She slammed the door shut and latched it with the hook, then, seeing the flimsiness of the latch, she grabbed a chair and braced it against the door.
Upstairs! Someone could have gone upstairs when she’d come to the kitchen for the bucket and rags. She came out to the foyer again and eyed the staircase. Suppose there was someone up there? What could she do? They would hear her coming, would have the advantage. A million things raced through her mind. Maybe she should make good on her threat and call the police. After all, it was obvious that someone had been in the house, had vandalized it, even though the vandalism was confined to her wedding lists and the picture, and nothing seemed to be missing. But still, someone had done it for reasons unknown.
She looked at the clock. It was nearly two. Her stomach churned. Yes, she should call the police. Keeping her eyes on the stairs, ready to bolt if she saw someone coming down, she picked up the phone in the hall to dial the sheriff’s office.
A dead silence greeted her. The phone wasn’t working. Most likely the storm had knocked out the lines, she thought as she replaced it in its cradle. She was truly isolated now and the thought was unsettling. She went to peer out the front window to see if there were some sign of anyone being out there. But there was nothing, except for the unbroken expanse of new-fallen snow extending from the road up to her front steps and on to the porch. No, that couldn’t be right. There had to have been footprints in the snow if someone had come into the house. Maybe she was looking at the snow from a strange angle that fooled her eye. She switched on the porch light and opened the front door. The snow outside, both on the porch and in the yard, was undisturbed. It was windy and the snow was blowing around, but it had ceased to fall so heavily. Now just a few flakes drifted down from the heavens. If there had been footprints they may have been covered up, she reasoned to herself. But a little voice inside her head kept insisting there would still be some evidence of them, some smoothed over depressions on the steps and up the walk. But the front yard was an unspoiled blanket of white. Opening the storm door, she crept out on to the porch and looked to see if there were indentations in the snow that were hidden from sight from the vantage point of the door, but she saw nothing. She closed the door, puzzlement creasing her brow. Looking down at the hall runner, it occurred to her that there had been no footprints there either. Only the snow that had blown in from the outside. There should have been wet prints, shouldn’t there?
Maybe whoever it was had come in from the back. She hurried to the kitchen and checked the back door but it was securely latched, just as it had been when she went up for the night. Still, she flicked on the floodlights to the back yard and peered out the window. There was nothing to indicate that anyone had come up the steps. Could they have come up over the side railing and stuck close to the house? Hands trembling, she opened the door and looked out on to the small porch and saw there were no footprints there either. Wrapping her robe tightly around her, she edged out on to the porch and walked to each end of it, looking for telltale prints in the snow, but there were none.
The beating of her heart sounded loudly in her ears and she shivered: from cold, from fright, she couldn’t tell the difference. No matter that she hadn’t found any evidence of someone in the yard, someone had been in the house, had made that mess in the living room. Still clutching the poker she went to the kitchen phone and grabbed the receiver from the wall to see if by some miracle the lines had been fixed in the last few minutes, but there was still only silence. As she replaced the receiver she saw the stains of ink on her fingers. She hesitated. Had those stains been the result of her cleaning up the ink? Or had they been there all along? Maybe she had sleepwalked. That had never happened to her before but now, in the face of the fact that there was no indication of anyone coming up to the house, she began to wonder if it were possible. Besides, by this time, if there were someone inside, she was certain they would have made their move, whether to attack or escape. What would the sheriff see if he came out here? Some crumpled up papers and a broken picture. Nothing missing. No footprints. No signs of forced entry. Just one woman alone with ink stains on her hands and a wild story to tell. Was she going crazy?
She wished Billy Joe were here with her. She needed the feeling of his arms around her, his warmth, his smile. She needed him! But he was over a hundred miles away in Baltimore, and it was the middle of the night, and she was alone.
She was not crazy! No matter how it looked, someone had been in here, and she was calling the sheriff as soon as the phone was working again.
The snow had stopped completely now and the wind had died, making the night as still as death. Lucinda turned off the porch light and turned to go back to the kitchen. It was nearly three in the morning, and although she was exhausted, she didn’t think she’d be able to fall asleep easily. A cup of tea might help to calm her frayed nerves.
Maybe she was feeling a bit overwhelmed at the fact of her and Billy Joe making plans to get married and fueling the town’s gossip mongers. Maybe she had walked in her sleep. Maybe, maybe, maybe.
Sitting at the kitchen table, sipping the tea, memories came to her unbidden. Memories of hearing someone calling her name just after she’d moved into her house, just after Billy Joe had come over for the first time. Memories of the coldness that seemed to stalk her wherever she went, especially when Billy Joe was around. Memories of the lamp falling for no reason in Billy Joe’s house, her front door blowing open this past Christmas. The feeling that there was someone in bed with her when there was no one there. A cold dread clutched at her.
Involuntarily she looked quickly around the kitchen, seeking—what? She was alone in the house, she was sure of it. So why did she feel as if there were someone or something there with her? Watching. Waiting. She shivered violently and almost choked on the mouthful of tea.
No. No. She was merely having a nerve attack. She was tired and it was the middle of the night and she missed Billy Joe and…again she looked over her shoulder, sure that she would find someone—who?—standing behind her, ready to pounce. She looked down at her ink-stained hands and found they were trembling.
There was a thought in her head that she didn’t want to confront, but it would not be denied. The voice that had called her name. She’d known that voice and hadn’t wanted to admit to it. But now the admission was screaming to get out. The last words of John Dawson echoed in her ears “You watch out for Billy Joe Dean. He’ll be coming around you now. But never forget, Lucinda—you are mine!”
No, this was crazy, this was absolutely insane, but even as she thought it, she knew it was true. The things that had been happening, all those odd occurrences, and now the destruction of her wedding lists and the picture of her and Billy Joe as a couple, now it made some terrible kind of sense. John was here with her. She drew in her breath and swallowed hard. He was with her, and he had been with her ever since the day he died.
As the thought formed in her mind, the sound of a distant laughter filled the house and she knew she was right.