Read A Strange There After Online

Authors: Missy Fleming

Tags: #ghosts, #paranormal, #savannah, #haunted house, #series, #ga, #body swap, #desperation, #paranormal investigator, #ancestor, #alliances, #happily never after, #missy fleming, #savannah shadows, #a strange there after, #dangerous entity, #dark presence, #talk to ghosts

A Strange There After (7 page)

Marietta had hired a man to come in once a
week to take care of the lawn and trees, but we rarely spent a lot
of time outside. Of course, she and her offspring were definitely
more the ‘indoor’ type. At one point, I remembered the twins
begging their mama to put in a pool. Having a place to cool off
would have been nice. I wasn’t really sure why it didn’t happen.
Probably because Marietta ended up with a soul-sucking parasite
attached to her. Judging by the overgrown grass, Catherine must
have neglected to take over the bill paying. Typical.

Century old trees shaded the whole area,
which sat nestled away from any surrounding streets, beds of
flowers added pops of color, but most of the blooms were dried and
dying. When I pictured the future, I used to imagine digging
through the rich soil, introducing some of my own touches to the
landscape. Maybe, once I returned to normal, I’d look into it. Add
in a big patio and barbecue area, too. As far as I knew, the
Historical Society allowed some modern updates. Other homes in our
neighborhood had done the same.

It unsettled me a bit, to plan for a future I
didn’t even know I had.

Thinking of plans, my eyes were drawn to the
carriage house. The dilapidated building sat to the rear of our
property, abutting the yard next door. I wanted to renovate it,
convert it into a photography studio, once I finished art school.
Another part of my future put on hold until I figured out this
whole body snatching thing.

Sighing, I tucked away the longing and the
ideas. One step at a time. I had to keep my mind trained on the end
result and cling to the hope Abby and Boone would find a way to
come to my rescue. Or, for now, focus on the task at hand, which
meant finding whatever I saw back here. It knew something. I’d bet
my life on it.

Tiptoeing onto the lawn, I paused for half a
second, wishing I could kick off my shoes and feel the grass
between my toes. Tilting my face to the sun, I only sensed a bare
trace of its warmth. Then I continued on. While I possessed
courage, I wasn’t sure it would stay once evening fell. The memory
of the figure nearly chased me inside to safety.

Passing near the carriage house, I stepped
into the shade of a towering oak. Its gnarled branches arched out
in a hundred directions, twisted fingers reaching for the sky.
Sunlight filtered down, broken in places by the many leaves. As a
young girl, maybe five years old, I stood beneath it and marveled
at its size, its age, how it’d survived for so long. I’d felt so
tiny.

“Nature is amazing, isn’t it? It can endure
anything.”

Startled, I spun, expecting to once again
find the terrible woman, but it was only Jackson. Standing under
the ancient oak, in his uniform, with the antebellum mansion at his
back, he belonged in a Margaret Mitchell novel. He reached up to
swat at one of the low-hanging limbs and made it move slightly.

A little jealous, I reached up and mimicked
his action, hoping my hand became solid like it had the other day.
It didn’t. Not even after three tries.

“If only we are as strong,” I mused.

“You are.”

I didn’t answer him, not sure I believed it.
He tried another route.

“Why are you out here?” His question was
laced with exasperation, reminding me of the day he compared me to
a child.

“Are we really going to have this
conversation again? I’m looking for answers, Jackson. Let me say it
so you can remember—I’m not giving up. I still have fight in
me.”

He slid to the ground, stretching a leg out
in front of him and crooking the other so he could rest an arm on
his knee. “Your passion is exhausting, but it also reminds me of
what it’s like to have something to fight for.”

Optimistic he might actually be in a rare
mood to talk, I sat near him, leaning against the crumbling brick
wall of the carriage house. “Do you mean the war or Catherine?”

“Both.” He rubbed his chin, scratching at the
faint whiskers there. “War is easier to talk about. It takes the
sting off of talking about her.”

“Were you scared?”

“Foolishly, no. At least, not in the
beginning.” He cocked his head. “You must understand, we
southerners were exceedingly confident. It came from how we were
raised, believing our way of life was best, and no stiff-necked
northerners were going to tell us it wasn’t. We thought it would
take months to defeat the north, despite the fact we didn’t have
any armories or factories. We had slaves and bravado.”

Shadows passed across his expression. “I
didn’t get scared until we marched halfway into the north, when our
supplies began running out, and we had to trudge through two feet
of snow with holes in our boots. I watched boys of thirteen die
during the night, huddled under nothing but their coats for warmth.
Screams were a constant throughout camp, especially after a battle.
The surgeons ran out of morphine too early. Many of the amputations
were done without. Marching into the hellish roar of battle. Men
falling on either side of me. One cut clean in half by a
cannonball.” Jackson’s eyes became glassy, and I watched him
swallowing numerous times, fighting against a swarm of dark
memories as his chest rose and fell swiftly. Finally, he got a hold
of himself, and his tortured gaze met mine. “Through it all, my
visions of a future with Catherine drove me on. She kept me
anchored to something besides blood and the stink of rotting
flesh.”

He paused long enough for me to prompt him to
continue. “You were engaged?”

“Yes.” His features lightened, chasing away
some of the ghosts and transforming him into the carefree man I
imagined he once was. “We would have been married within months if
I hadn’t enlisted. I asked her, begged her really, to wed me before
I left. She joked, telling me we’d wait so she could marry a
decorated war hero. I desperately wanted to make her proud.”

“Instead, she waited for years.” I considered
how it would affect me. In the 1860s people didn’t have the instant
communication we did now, thanks to cell phones and email. Letters
arrived months apart, sometimes longer. Stories and rumors trickled
into the homes of those with loved ones fighting, terrible and
unbelievable. It had to be torture waiting to hear if your fiancé
lived. How had it changed Catherine? Did it push her into what she
became?

“None of us knew how dire conditions were at
home, but it didn’t take much imagination to guess.” His words
regained their hollowness. “If our army was running out of money
and provisions, what did it mean for our families? I wasn’t sure if
mine was starving or not, if Catherine’s had been forced to give up
their properties. Apparently, it was worse than I thought. They
were desperate enough to marry her to Jennings.”

I didn’t want to aggravate Jackson by
pointing out her daddy had basically been blackmailed into agreeing
to their union.

“If I recall, it’d been an entire year since
she heard from you.”

“I wrote, but matters such as postage were
out of my control. I never imagined she wouldn’t be there, waiting
for me. My faith in our love carried me through the worst days of
my life. Gettysburg,” he choked, stumbling over the words. “I’ll
never get those visions out of my mind. Years later, it torments
me. Waking nightmares. This is the biggest reason I keep to myself.
There are days I feel like I carry more ghosts on my back than
there are in the entire city of Savannah.”

I shuddered at the bleakness surrounding him.
I’d seen other soldiers wandering the city and the old fort out on
the river. Each one held the same empty expression. To be trapped
in an eternity of reliving those horrors would be maddening. Did
PTSD last for centuries?

Jackson sat up, glancing around frantically,
as if he only then realized how dark it was. He rose to his feet on
shaky legs and turned to me, abject fear blanching his features.
“We should not be outside once darkness falls.”

I stood as well. “What is it? What’s
here?”

I shivered at the utter fear warping his
voice. Something tickled me, a sensation that wasn’t physical,
prying at the edges of my consciousness. Spinning in a complete
circle, I didn’t find anything threatening, but I knew it was
there, hidden. Strangely enough, I also desired it. I recognized
what it offered. This wasn’t the creepy figure who tried to pass
through the attic window. This was different, worse. The unbridled
power intimidated me, causing me to shrink into myself.

Child, I am not that poor woman. I can
assist you and will not harm you.

I tried to ignore the assault on my mind, but
this invader was everywhere. It penetrated me, held me immobile,
locked in its grasp. Definitely male, unlike what I’d seen from my
room, and vibrating with power. I couldn’t believe it. Another new
entity.

You can have your life back.

As denials bloomed, they were replaced by
images of me and Jason. The flickers were too quick, but they were
moments we’d shared, kisses and looks. My heart burned with an
intense ache for him, to feel his arms embracing me. It was one of
the only instances I’d ever felt safe.

Warmth filled me, the feeling of being alive.
The scent of jasmine filled my nostrils, mingled with sunshine and
other flowers. I turned my head to find I was lying in the grass
with my head in Jason’s lap. In his hands, he held a script,
reading from it as I gazed up at his strong jaw and full mouth.
Sighing in contentment, I glanced back to the book I held, a
textbook on black and white photography. In the background rose my
house. We were home, my home.

We can make all this happen, you and I.
Together. All you have to do it let me in.

Next, I saw a flash of me and Abby walking
across the campus of a school, laughing, our arms weighed down with
books. It morphed into a picture of me in a dark room, developing
photographs. Last, I witnessed a vision of me in a long gown,
showing what I guessed to be art critics around an art exhibit.

Let me help you, and you can be happy again.
Will you accept my assistance?

Although I knew the vision wasn’t real, I
clung to it with all my might. Letting go meant returning to this
cold, unforgiving life I’d been stuck in for two weeks. I missed
feeling as alive as I did in these hallucinations. I wanted this
entity’s help, didn’t I? No one else had any answers for me.

All of a sudden, a solid figure crashed into
me. I sensed the entity trying to maintain his hold, but I was
swept off my feet and carried away.

 

 

Chapter
Eight

 

Everything hurt. The emotions the man
implanted in me continued to flow, a residual haunting of being
alive. Longing reverberated through me. I didn’t have a clue what
this new entity was. Sitting up, I held my head to make it stop
spinning, only to find Jackson sitting beside me. His sandy hair
fell forward, brushing his jaw, and he regarded me with a solemn
blue-eyed stare, holding my hands tightly in his.

“You’re lucky I stopped it when I did.”

I squinted at him. “How did I get
inside?”

We were in the attic, on my old bed, and
light from a full moon streamed in through the window. My feet
itched with the desire to run down the stairs and into the yard, to
call out to the being and say “yes, help me”. Realistically, I
should find out more about it first. Had it always been here? Was
it connected to the other ghostly activities centered on my
land?

Jackson interrupted my musings. “You froze,
staring off into space, laughing and smiling at things that weren’t
there. Nothing I did recaptured your attention. So I interrupted
and carried you up here.”

Carried me, like the pitiful damsel in
distress I was. Seriously, I hated people having to take care of me
or come to my rescue. I wasn’t ungrateful, just unused to it. It
was like my life splintered around me, pieces flying off into
space, pieces I couldn’t grab hold of again. Then, the moment I
thought I’d have a chance to return to normal, someone messed it
up. Someone came in and snatched a genuine opportunity right out of
my hands.

I sent Jackson a cold look. “It wanted to
help me. To give me back my life.”

He flinched, loosening his grip. “And if you
believe that, you’re no better than Catherine. You asked for my
help, so listen to me when I say nothing that thing offers will
come without a price. A price you cannot afford to pay.”

“How do you know this?”

“Because it is what controlled Catherine.”
Jackson shook his head. “You must be careful. I learned once it is
often the sweetest, prettiest bloom that is the most deceitful, the
one carrying the most deadly toxins.”

I scowled. The warm glow from my visions was
still too fresh for me to let go of. Jackson didn’t need to hear
about how my curiosity had only been piqued. I had to be cautious.
Once he heard I actually harbored intentions of contacting this
entity again he’d probably lock me up and throw away the key.

“This one is male,” I muttered. “Different
than what I’ve seen before.”

“There are two,” he shared grudgingly. “A
male and a female. The one you just experienced feeds off a
spirit’s will, offering irresistible temptations. It needs a host,
such as what Catherine provided with your stepmother. It must be
searching for another since she succeeded in taking your body.
These beings are old.” His voice trailed off at the last part.

“Older than you? I mean, were they here
before Catherine’s family?” I tried to digest the fact some creepy
soul sucker had been plaguing my ancestors possibly since the
beginning and just offered to fix all the wrongs in my life. Maybe
a malicious spirit followed them over from Ireland, where I’d
traced our roots.

Jackson interrupted my train of thought.
“Before me, but we never knew entirely. There were rumors, stories
of vengeful slave spirits. I always believed Catherine figured it
out. Growing up, the lives of the slaves captivated her, especially
their religions, what you call voodoo. She paid more attention to
the rumors than I did.”

Other books

The Deadly River by Jeff Noonan
Thwonk by Joan Bauer
Primal Calling by Jillian Burns
Texasville by Larry McMurtry
Wrong About Japan by Peter Carey
To Seduce an Angel by Kate Moore
Blood Deep by Sharon Page
The Clue by Carolyn Wells