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DOWN CELLAR
Looking for free chapters from Down Cellar? They’re here.   And while you’re at it,  Click HERE to leave an email and get Down Cellar updates!

GRAVE STONES
Below, in my blog, is the serialized short story, “Grave Stones“. Pretty good story, for October! Take a look. The first installment is here.

AND MORE!
Looking for something else to read? Click here for a short read or two, or here for some excerpts from my other novels.

 

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Sneak Peak! Chapter 18 of “UpStairs”!

I was letting the dust settle from Grave Stones, thinking I should be hitting it hard on Upstairs. But the feeling that the end of October would be a personal disaster made me disinclined to write. I prepared my mind and heart and, sure enough, the disaster came in the form of change. Change of places to live, more than anything. Change of relationships in some ways.

Looking back, not so much disaster as upheaval, changes, and probably for the good. And with that behind me, I am ready to face UpStairs, the sequel to Down Cellar. I have avoided this story, trying to structure it properly and coming up short. The structures I came up with sounded canned, sounded like all the best-selling authors that I find boring to read. So finally, tonight, I said Hellwithit! Just Write.

The chapter below I didn’t write tonight. Or rewrite. Because… I like it! What I had already written of UpStairs, doesn’t look so bad to me tonight. In celebration of that, here is …

Chapter 18

So there I was, no income, no jobs in the pipeline, with a reputation that guaranteed no work, at least not on Freiberg.  Maybe it was time to move on. It wouldn’t be the first time I’d had to start over, maybe not the last. I went back to my favorite bar for a drink, to relax and to think things through. Maybe all I needed to do was wait this out. Kyle wasn’t against me; his hands were tied. John was solidly behind me. And more than anything or anyone else, there was Sherri.  She was healthy and looking for work and still madly in love with me. I’d spent a few nights there, but we both agreed we needed a little space. I kept my place at John’s for now.

I got my beer at the bar and sat down at a table in the back again. I needed to focus. Whatever decision I made tonight was going to affect me for a long time. In a spiral-bound notebook, I began to write down the plusses and minuses of staying. The same exercise for moving on would come next.  I was engrossed with the process when I realized someone was standing just behind my shoulder. I looked up and a woman moved forward into my line of sight. It was Lizzy.

“Hello again! What’re you doing here?” She was  swaying a little, and she steadied herself with one hand on the table. Without asking she spun my notebook around and peered down at it. “Oh. Planning your getaway?”

“Just working through some things, Liz.”

“That’s hard work for you, isn’t it?” She steadied herself on the table again.

“Sometimes. How are things going with you?”

“I’m dying. I have another 5 months according to the doctor’s estimate. And there’s no reason for it other than what you did to me!” The last was a little loud and a few people glanced over before they went back to their conversations.

“Oh. Is that what the doctor said, too?” I tried to keep it conversational. Her loud drunk act was annoying but I knew this woman. Telling her to shut up or walking out on her would set off a screaming fit.

“There’s no reason for me to have pancreatic cancer. I don’t fit the profile. Something triggered it out of the normal, and the only thing abnormal in my past is you and your damn fire!”

In the months between our daughter’s death and our eventual divorce, things got pretty bad at our house. Lizzy blamed me for Rebecca’s death and she recruited anyone she could to her side against me. For months I was numb. I didn’t respond, didn’t try to defend myself. When I finally tried, it was too late. Her family, our church, our neighbors, her workmates—everyone knew her version of the story and believed it. Nothing I said made any difference.

Eventually I cracked. Liz and I weren’t speaking. I’d been drinking all day and I decided to grill myself a hamburger. It was windy and the grill was too close to the house. The charcoal was damp. I couldn’t get it to light, so I threw some gasoline from the lawnmower on it. It flared up of course, and the flames set the garage on fire. I was too drunk to put it out, too late calling the fire department. The fire destroyed most of the garage before they got it out. In the mean time, the house filled with smoke from the paint and plumbing chemicals I had stored in the garage. Lizzy was sick for a week from the fumes and had lung problems for months after. Apparently that had become her ‘reason’ for her now having cancer.

The music in the bar seemed suddenly loud. I glanced around the bar: nobody was looking our way. Pointedly not looking our way. I had enough. I stood up.

“So,… what? You’re going to walk out now like you did before?”

“Liz, you’ve been drinking. How about you walk out? Call a cab, go home and get some rest?”

“I don’t need a nap, goddammit! I need a miracle!” Mascara was already drawing a black streak down one cheek and her lower lip was tremble.

I had heard the same words while she clung to me outside the Intensive Care Unit an hour before our daughter Rebecca died. Back then, she wanted Rebecca back and she wanted things to be the way they were before the accident. Back then she wanted me. But the answer now was the same answer then.

“Liz, I can’t do miracles.”

Her palm hit my cheek like a bold of lighting. Just like back then.

And I walked out.

 

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Grave Stones – Conclusion

Part 14

Adam teamed up with Stuart, a friend of Ed’s. They talked about the old days and about how dry this spring season had been, and the odd tomb stones.

“Yep. Some of the ones that turned are relatives of mine,” Stuart said.

Over Stuart’s shoulder Adam  saw someone standing in the shadows staring at him. It looked like the Pastor, as Adam remembered him in his childhood. Only now he looked very, very angry.

Stuart  noticed and turned to look, too.

“What? You seeing things too?” He was honestly concerned. “I hear your lady friend does.”

“I thought I saw Pastor just now.”

“That’s new! Never heard of anyone seeing him. I hear Miss Esther has a word for us before the hymn sing tonight. Maybe its related.”

“You don’t seem surprised.”

“Oh no! They don’t come across very often, but you know, there is a spirit world. They’re bound to show up here once in a while.”

At that moment, there was a thunderous crack and a blinding flash. Lightening struck at tree less than ten feet from the two men. The shock threw the two men to the ground, momentarily stunned. Thunder crashed again. With ears ringing and eyes temporarily blind, they scrambled to get away from the heat of the fire and the shower of sparks from a tree nearby.

“What do we do now?” Adam shouted to Stuart.

“Look for the other men! Make sure they’re O.K.”

“What about the fire?” Adam pointed at the tree.

“Nothing we can do about it!” He added, “Pray for rain!”

Billy ran up, covered with dirt, scratches on his face and arms. The strike had knocked him down, too.

“You two all right?” he shouted. The fire roared now and the noise of that and the popping of the sparks made it almost impossible to hear.

“Yes, Stuart and I are looking for the others now.”

“ Did you guys see something in there? Just before the lightning?”

“Yes!” Adam said. Billy wasn’t sounding as belligerent as usual. “Been a strange day.”

“I’ll say!” Billy snorted. “I thought I saw Pastor!”

“Yes! What the hell is going on?!”

“I don’t know but we need to get the other men back to the Parsonage before the rain hits.”

Again lightning struck, not as close as the first time. The wind picked up, whipping the fire through the treetops.

Billy saw the fear in Adam’s face. “The rain will have to take care of the fire—nothing we can do about it!”

A gust of wind sent down a shower of sparks, as Stuart and four other men came towards them at a trot.

“Is that everyone?” Billy shouted to Stuart.

“Far as I can tell.”

“Let’s get going then. The wind is blowing this fire toward the parsonage and we need to beat it there!”

The six men headed down the path at a trot, toward the Grove and the Parsonage. Up ahead, a bend in the path hid the remaining hundred feet to the Grove.  As they rounded the bend and came face-to-face with a huge tree laying across the trail. The second lightning strike had struck a fifty foot high fir tree. Half of it lay across the path, blazing and spitting sparks that threatened to ignite everything around it. In front of the tree a figure stood, dressed in black, shrouded in swirling smoke.

“Pastor!”

Part 15

Iris, the girl in the spring, the girl in the Chapel, stood in the doorway, feet still on the porch as the wind and rain pelted her, trying to get past. The women—it was mostly women in the kitchen—shrank back, stumbling over each other in their haste. Angela stepped up behind Esther, who turned to see who it was. She nodded once, her approval, and turned back to the girl.

“Iris Davenport, I owe you an apology. I kept silent when I should have spoke up to my husband Adrian. He had no business interfering in your romance with Ben Williams. He had no business going to your family and telling them not to let you two marry.”

The girl put her hand on her stomach. It seemed to bulge under the sodden dress.

“Yes, you were pregnant with Ben’s child. I didn’t know that at the time, but I found out soon after. My husband Adrian had no business calling you to the Chapel the night you drown. I don’t know what happened there or afterwards. If my husband drown you or if you took your own life, I don’t know.  If it matters, I was afraid for my own life then. I wasn’t sure what he would do to me, to keep his reputation. And I didn’t know how far he would go with you.”

Iris pointed at Esther.

“No. I didn’t fool around. We almost did, Ben’s daddy Byron, and me. Compared to Pastor, Byron was manly, gentle and strong as an ox. And he knew how to sweet talk a woman, how to make her feel special. I was tempted to leave Adrian for Byron, but no, I never gave in to that.” Esther paused. “Your Ben was a lot like his daddy Byron. I don’t blame you for giving in to Ben, for wanting to marry him. He was… he was all a woman wants in a man.”

Esther was silent, remembering. The girl waited.

“We couldn’t have children, Adrian and I. We got tested: I was fine, but Pastor—I don’t know what happened to him overseas, but when he came back he couldn’t. We tried, oh, we tried for a long time! He finally gave up. That was why Ben was such a temptation to me. Pastor knew it, too.”

Iris suddenly turned, her wet hair flinging to one side. She looked toward the Grove, as if she heard something and turned to go. Then she stopped, looked back at Esther, a question in her eyes.

“Yes, you have my permission. Go find my husband Pastor Adrian Morgan and tell him I won’t keep quiet for him any longer. The truth is out now, where it belongs. God bless you.”

Iris Davenport turned and walked off the porch and into the rain. In a moment, her figure disappeared.

Part 16

“Billy.” The one word overflowed with disappointment and suppressed anger. It hit Billy like a gut punch. It stunned him for a moment. Then he  fought back.

“Shut up, you bastard! Your wife told me what you did to my father, to my family! You have nothing to say to me. Or to anybody here. Get out of the way!”

“Oh, Billy.” Another wave of guilt and shame washed over Billy’s smudged face.

“Go t’ hell! You took advantage of my family since Grandpa came home from the War! You guilted him into staying drunk and then blamed him for drinking. You stole Pop’s wife with that same guilt and…and … she drown herself for shame. Well, it won’t work with me, not anymore, you bastard! Go To HELL!” He screamed the last.

“Billy?” Again, the voice accused.

“Shut up, you old fool! You weren’t man enough to get your own wife pregnant so you took it out on my Dad who was getting all of them…

A flame shot out from the dark figure, engulfing Billy, setting his clothes on fire. He screamed and Adam and Stuart wrestled him down and rolled him in the dusty path.

As the last of the flames died, Adam stood and faced the figure.

“Ben was my father too, Pastor. Or did you know that, and that’s why you hate me, too? Is that what the memorial stone was really for? To remind you how bad we are and how good you are? The stones, the grave stones, they turned their backs on you! Everyone knew what you were like, they saw it, they all know! Finally, they refused you, abandoned you, you and your ‘memorial stone’! You and your damned self-righteousness deserve to be left alone!”

The tree—or was it the figure in front of the tree?—groaned. Sap began to sizzle and scream like it does with burning wet wood. The snapping and crackling of the fire in the dead branches sounded like curses.

“Can’t handle the truth, Pastor? Maybe you just don’t want to face it?  Or are you the only one who gets to accuse somebody of doing wrong? I thought you preached that that was the Devil’s job, to accuse the brethren!”

As he spoke, the dark figure grew higher and higher. Flames flickered inside the smoky body, red eyes that flashed yellow stared malignantly down. A tremendous roll of thunder sounded and lightning flashed, momentarily lighting the scene in silver stop-motion.

Iris Davenport, small and powerless in her soggy, worn-out dress suddenly  stood between Adam and the huge form. The rain hadn’t started but she was soaking wet and dripping everywhere. She stretched out one arm and pointed at the towering shape.

“No.” One word, softly spoken. But all six men heard it.

Rain started to fall, fat drops that splatted as the hit the dusty ground . A hissing—whether from the burning tree or the dark figure, it was impossible to tell— began and grew louder and louder.

Iris shook her pointed finger at the figure. The rain increased, faster, thicker. Now sheets of rain fell, waves of cold, clean water from the dark sky above. Slowly, only slowly, the smoke dispersed, the fire in the tree dimmed and sputtered and died. Without waiting, the men ran past to the Grove and the Parsonage.

Part 17

“Here they come!”

Stuart’s sister was the first to see the men as they trotted out of the Grove and across the grass toward the Parsonage.

Soaking wet, muddy, sooty, the men were hugged without regard to the consequences. Adam thought Angela was never going to let him go again. Over and over she whispered. “I thought I lost you! Oh God!”

“I’m here. It’s O.K.” he answered . “I’m here.”

“Oh Adam! It was horrible. So painful! It was beautiful! She walked right to us, on the porch. Esther talked to her, told her the truth. She told her she could go after Pastor and then she left! Just walked away!”

“We saw her too.” He told her about the lightning strike, the downed tree in the path and the appearance of something pretending to be Pastor. Then the girl—what was her name? Iris, yes.—Iris showed up and brought the rain down on him. He decided to leave out the part where she saved his life. Well, probably did.

Angela’s mouth hung open.

“She saved your life! From a demon!”

He grinned. “Women to the rescue.”

They both looked around then. Those whose loved ones had returned were talking and shaking hands, some laughing, some still looking pale. There was a lightness about the crowd, like a darkness or heaviness had been lifted.

The rain had slowed to a gentle shower and the temperature had dropped to almost comfortable. Before long the rain stopped altogether and the congregation began to drift outside, drying off places to sit at the picnic tables.

Billy didn’t care anymore. Based on what the pastor’s wife told him, he had already turned in his resignation. He was taking his daughter to Atlanta, for doctoring and school and to get away from this place.

He talked with her again, upstairs in her room, the door shut.

“I understand, Billy. I think it will be good for you. Maybe good for this congregation too. Time for them to begin taking care of themselves, stop hiring it done, or waiting on a memory of the good old days.” She looked off into the distance. “Bless you Billy, for standing up to him. Whoever that was.”

“Yes Ma’am.” He waited, but Esther said nothing. As he turned to go she spoke.

“I believe we can all leave soon. You, me—and Iris.”

 

-o-o-o-   The End   -o-o-o-

 

 

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Grave Stones -Part 13

A few had run for the barn or the chapel but the majority of the crowd had bundled into the parsonage. It was crowded and sweaty, and there was no room to get comfortable. The wind began to pick up like it does just before a bad storm—first gentle but shifty. If you were outside you would feel streaks of noticeably cold air weaving through the hot, humid breeze. As it picked up speed, a general chill would become noticeable. Then the gusts would become cold, wild, and unpredictable, smelling of smoke and rain. Sparks like manic fireflies would whirl past you, lighting small fires that would blow out moments later. But no one was outside to see or feel that. No one but the six men who had gone hunting wood for the marshmallow fires.

A dozen women, wives and mothers, peered out the kitchen windows. Crowding beside them were grand-daughters and sons, barely tall enough to peer over the bottom of the window sill.  All eyes were fixed on the Grove and the path that led from the woods into it and out onto the lawn in front of the parsonage. All watched but no one came.

Then the heavens opened and icy curtains  of water poured from the sky, wave after wave sweeping over the lawn and splattering half way across the porch floor. Behind the curtains of rain, the Grove became invisible.

Then one of the women screamed.

“There’s someone out there!”

There was a rush to the windows and more shouts and gasps.

“It’s her!”

The Girl—the one everyone had heard about, the one everyone looking out the window knew about but had never seen—was walking barefoot toward the Parsonage in the pouring rain. Dress faded almost to white, long blonde hair drenched with rain, holding her stomach.

“What do we do?”

“Go get Esther!”

“She’ll know what to do!”

“I’m right here.” Esther Morgan, the Founding Pastor’s wife, stood just inside the kitchen, leaning on her cane. “I expected this. Open the door.”

No one moved in the ensuing silence.

“Open the door,” she repeated, as she shuffled toward it.

The crowd parted, leaving her a clear path. The woman closest to it hesitated. Esther nodded and she turned the knob. The door flew open and rain blew half way across the room. Esther leaned a little forward as she continued toward the open door. She slipped once, caught herself and steadied herself with one hand on the door frame.

“Come here.” It was an invitation, not an order.

The Girl took a few steps up onto the porch and stopped.

“Come in.”

 

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Grave Stones – Part 12

Adam, Angela and Marydell found a Denny’s and had a late lunch. Adam didn’t say much but Angela had enough questions to keep the conversation going. Adam hadn’t asked anything more about his birth mother and neither woman brought it up. Once, when Adam was in the rest room, Angela looked at Marydell.

“You’re his birth mom?”

“Yes. All three of us were pregnant, Iris, Celia and I, same father—Ben, Billy’s dad. He was so handsome, so…irresistible! We knew about each other, of course. But Celia lost her child early, and Iris…with Iris gone, I couldn’t bear to see Billy marry anyone else. I was angry, hurt—I was scared too! And I was already an outcast. Stupid teen that I was, I gave Celia my baby and ran away. My family was happy to see me go.”

“How are you going to tell him?”

“When he’s ready, it will be easy.”

 

According to the flyer Adam got in the mail, the day’s activities would be the Sunday Sermon and Dish to Pass Dinner followed by swimming and games. After supper, there was a hymn sing and, for those so inclined, a marshmallow roast as well. A full last day, and a good day so far. Everything was going well in spite of a few sprinkles and rumblings in the clouds.

By the time they arrived back at the Church compound, it was supper time. Ed still had their plates saved, but they declined for now.

“You sure, Mary? It’s some of your favorite,” Ed coaxed.

“I’m not really hungry but, if you two will excuse me,” she looked at Adam and Angela, “I would like to do some catching up.”

Angela smiled and took Adam by the arm. “Let’s go for a walk.”

Adam didn’t feel like a walk, didn’t feel like being around Angela, but he needed something to take his mind off the day’s revelations. When a group of men formed to gather wood for the marshmallow roast, he looked at Angela.

“Do you mind if I go help?”

“Go! Have some man-fun,” she smiled. “I can take care of myself.”

The weather was threatening, more than before. Occasional flashes of lightning and rumbles of thunder had cleared all the children out of the spring and there was talk of cancelling the marshmallow roast. The optimists were strong, however. ‘It’s been a great day, a great weekend so far. Why spoil it on just a rumor?’ So a half-dozen men, most of them in their 60’s and 70’s, plus Adam and Billy, set off into the woods beyond the Grove, looking for dry fire wood.

Less than five minutes after they left, there was a thunderous crack and a blinding flash as lightning struck a tree not far into the woods. Kids shrieked and ran for their mothers. Mothers called out children’s names. Deacons shouted for everyone to get into the parsonage.

Within moments, smoke and flames twisted and leaped from one  treetop. It quickly spread, and the dry grass—it had been a record dry spring season—began to burn. The grass was not long and it had remained green where it was mowed around the buildings. The trees in the woods were a different story. They were untrimmed, with an abundance of dead wood in them and there were many pines, tinder dry. The wind came up, blowing the smoke and sparks toward the parsonage with its wood shake roof. The sparks were lighting small fires closer and closer to the buildings.

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Grave Stones – Part 11

Adam froze. “I know my mother.”

“Adam… things aren’t always what we think…”

“I KNOW who my mother is!”

“The woman who raised you was the only mother…”

“STOP! I don’t want to know anymore!”

“… you needed to know about, back then. And she didn’t tell you the whole story because…”

“SHUT UP!”

“Adam! It’s too late to stop now. Let her finish.”” Angelica didn’t want to get in the middle of this, but he had to calm down.

“ I don’t want to know anymore.” Now the tears were on his cheeks. “It’s bad enough not knowing who my father is. Was.”

“Adam, your father is dead,” said Marydell softly.

He clenched his jaw and swallowed hard.

“Who was he?”

“Ben Williams.”

Adam whirled to look at Marydell. “Billy’s dad?!”

“Yes. It’s a long, involved story, and… maybe that’s enough for now. You know who your father is now.”

Adam pondered this new information at arm’s length.

“How do you know?”

“I was there.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Just that. I was there the night you were conceived.”

Angela went white. Marydell squeezed her hand for silence.

‘That’s weird.” Adam turned away. “That’s just weird.”

Marydell didn’t answer.

“That makes me and Billy half brothers. No wonder we fight. We were always trying to prove who was better.” Adam paused. “Does he know?”

“I don’t know. I left right after you were born. Has he ever mentioned it to you?”

“Hell no! I wouldn’t believe him if he did!” He paused again. “This is weird. Go get your ladies things, whatever it was we came here for. I’ll wait in the car—I want to think.”

* * *

“Billy Williams, I have some things to tell you.” Esther Morgan sat in her rocking chair in her room, the door shut. Billy Williams was standing, uncomfortably, just inside the door, fumbling with his hands. He was scared, of course. She was scared herself, almost as scared this afternoon as she was the night she found out what her husband had done.

She was not one to lie or withhold the truth, not normally, but that time, back then, she had no choice but to keep quiet or die. She wasn’t afraid to die now, but even if doing it killed her she would tell.  It was the right thing to do, and the time was right

She had almost told him this morning when he walked her up to the house and up the stairs to her room. But when she saw what the graveyard was doing, she decided she needed to gather her strength first. She had laid down to nap but sleep had not come.

“Yes Ma’am?”

It had to be done today, the truth had to be told before anything else happened. She wasn’t afraid for her safety, unlike thirty year ago when she first found out. But she was worried how much harm would come to Billy, when he heard the truth.

Esther took a deep breath.

“I have withheld information from you. And I think this afternoon, right now, is the time for me to set things straight. Sit down on that chair. This is going to take a minute.”

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Grave Stones – Part 10

spring

“Oh, they believe it all right! But they’re scared. She knows something.”

“What could she know? She seems like a scared little girl to me.”

“Yes, that’s her. Always asking for help.”

“Yes!”

“And soaking wet,” Mary interjected.

“Yes! Yes!”

“But she’s not asking for help from them and she won’t ask anyone in the congregation. That is what scares them.”

“Why?”

“There are lots of theories, of course. But the main one is that she’s afraid of the congregation, that someone in the congregation hurt her.”

“Or murdered her? Maybe drown her in the spring?”

Marydell nodded but the look on her face spoke volumes.

Quietly, Angela asked, “Marydell, what was her name?”

Tears were already running down her cheeks. “Iris,” she managed to choke out.

“Was she one of the outcasts too?”

Mary shook her head. “She was pretty, popular, and… she was the Pastor’s favorite.” Marydell broke into sobs. “She… was… a friend!” She took several deep breaths to get herself under control. “We were friends, her and me and Celia.”

Very quietly Angela asked “How did she die, Mary? Were you there?”

Mary shook her head trying to throw the emotion off, but the sobs started again. It was several minutes before she could speak clearly.

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry!” she sobbed. “I never told anyone before.”

“It’s Ok.”

“No! I should have told. But I just ran. It’s been all these years…”

“There wasn’t anything you could do, was there?”

“I could have told! I could have… but they wouldn’t have believed me.”

“Who was it, Marydell?” Adam asked. His voice was gentle but very firm.

She choked and began coughing. Several time she began to speak and couldn’t.

“It was Pastor.” Adam said it in a cold, flat voice. “Wasn’t it!?”

Marydell nodded yes and began crying in relief.

When she could speak again, they were in the Walmart parking lot.

“There’s more,” she managed to say. “More details. And also something really important, Adam.”

They were parked now, the engine shut off. Angela had reached back, holding one of Marydell’s hands. Adam sat in the driver’s seat, looking straight ahead.

“You know who my father is, don’t you.” It as a statement more than a question.

“I do,” said Marydell. “But there’s more than that, even.” She took a deep breath. “I know who your mother is, too.”

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Grave Stones – Part 9

spring

“There you are!”

They had just finished their short goodbyes to Miss Esther and Billy when Marydell Piersol came around the corner of church.

“I was worried when I saw you both leave. Is everything all right?”

“Yes,” said Adam.

“No!”said Angela.

Marydell looked between the two, and let out a nervous laugh that sounded like a bark.

“Well, I was hoping for a ride to Wal-Mart. I need some, um, ladies things.”

Angela looked at Adam.

“OK with me,” Adam said.

“And we can talk on the way,” Angela said. “No interruptions.”

“You ok with missing dinner on the grounds here? Wal-Mart will take most of the afternoon.”

“I need to get away, Adam. I just need to be away from here.” Angela said.

“And I’d like to talk to the both of you, in private,” said Marydell. “There may not be another chance.”

As they rode out, the men were setting up neat rows of folding tables and chairs on the lawn in front of the Parsonage. Homecoming  meant a dish-to-pass, all-day dinner on the grounds. The barbecue grills were already smoking and the teens were organizing water balloon games for the younger kids. One of the men, the Head Deacon Ed Wilson, flagged them down and asked if they’ll be back soon.

“Food will be ready in about an hour. Hate to see you miss out!”

“Not sure,” Adam said. “Emergency store run,” he nodded toward the women. “If we’re not back, start without us!”

“I’ll save y’all plates.” Then he caught sight of  Marydell in the back seat. “Marydell? Marydell Piersol? Where have you been hiding?”

Marydell blushed. “Hello Eddie”

“Anything special I should save for you, Mary?”

“ You know what I like, Ed Wilson. I haven’t changed.”

The electricity between them was almost unbearable.

“I’ll try to get her back here for you, before too long” Adam winked.

“Thank you, young man! See you all soon. Mary? I’ll be waiting for you!”

Mary didn’t answer, and Adam let off the brake. As the car rolled down the dirt road, Mary was staring intently out the window. A rumble of thunder sounded in the distance.

“Some things never change,” she said, softly. “I almost married him.”

When they got to the County Road, Angela turned around in her seat.

“Marydell, you haven’t been back here even once in all these years?”

“No. I have a past here. Adam knows what that’s like.

“Yes, I do!”

“Add to that I was friendly with your mother and Billy’s father, two more of the outcasts!” She halted, obviously wanting to say more. “Let’s talk about the girl, first, though.”

“What girl?”

“The ghost girl you’ve been seeing.”

“How do you know about that?!”

“The tour guide said you saw her in the Chapel yesterday. The whole congregation knows about it by now.”

“What?! Why didn’t somebody say something?”

“Because nobody there has ever seen her. She only shows herself to strangers.”

“So they don’t believe it?”

“Oh, they believe it all right! But they’re scared. She knows something.”

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