Authors: Kathi Daley
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2015 by Katherine Daley
All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.
I want to thank the very talented Jessica Fischer for the cover art.
I so appreciate Bruce Curran, who is always ready and willing to answer my cyber questions.
And, of course, thanks to the readers and bloggers in my life, who make doing what I do possible.
Thank you to Randy Ladenheim-Gil for the editing.
Special thanks to Nancy Farris, Brandy Barber, Shirley Ericson, Joanne Kocourek, Connie Correll, and Marie Rice for submitting recipes.
And finally I want to thank my sister Christy for always lending an ear and my husband Ken for allowing me time to write by taking care of everything else.
Come for the murder, stay for the romance.
Zoe Donovan Cozy Mystery:
The Trouble With Turkeys
Big Bunny Bump-off
Beach Blanket Barbie
Turkeys, Tuxes, and Tabbies
Santa Sleuth –
Paradise Lake Cozy Mystery:
Pumpkins in Paradise
Snowmen in Paradise
Bikinis in Paradise
Christmas in Paradise
Puppies in Paradise
Halloween in Paradise
Whales and Tails Cozy Mystery:
Romeow and Juliet
The Mad Catter
Grimm’s Furry Tail
Much Ado About Felines
Legend of Tabby Hollow
Cat of Christmas Past –
Seacliff High Mystery:
The Grudge –
Road to Christmas Romance:
Road to Christmas Past
“Today, October 23, marks the one hundredth anniversary of the death of Isaac Wainwright,” I began. I’d been asked to tell ghost stories to a group of elementary-school-aged children as part of the Haunted Hamlet activities the town of Ashton Fall sponsored each October. This was the first of three story times I’d been asked to fill over the weekend, so I decided to share a story that some believed was actually true.
“Isaac came to the area as a stranger with a mission. A mission most believe he was unable to carry out.”
“What was the man’s mission, Mrs. Zimmerman?” a little girl with bright blue eyes and long red hair asked. My name is actually Zoe Donovan Zimmerman now that I’ve married the love of my life, Zak Zimmerman, but most people still refer to me as Zoe Donovan, so I found I was momentarily thrown by the girl’s question. I was half-expecting Zak’s mom to walk up behind me, which, trust me, would have been a lot more horrifying than the tale I was about to tell.
“You can call me Zoe,” I replied. I wasn’t sure I’d ever get used to being called Mrs. Zimmerman. Not that I wasn’t proud to be Zak’s wife, but it sounded so formal, and I’m an informal sort of girl.
“Isaac’s mission was one of the best-kept secrets around, but most believe he came to this area to find a sacred stone, although it’s hard to tell where the truth ends and the legend begins,” I continued.
“Like a diamond?” the girl asked.
“Perhaps. All we really know for certain is that Isaac came to Devil’s Den to find something that had been hidden somewhere in the area. While no one knows for certain where the item was concealed, many believe it was stashed away in the caverns that run under and around the town.”
“Devil’s Den?” a young boy with dark hair and dark eyes asked. “I thought the story was about someone who died here in Ashton Falls.”
I readjusted the pumpkin-stem hat I wore on my head to keep it from hanging over my eyes. “Devil’s Den is what Ashton Falls used to be called when it was a mining town.”
“Why’d they change the name?” the boy asked. “Devil’s Den is way more awesome than Ashton Falls.”
I couldn’t agree more.
“The mining camp closed in 1945 and everyone moved away.” I stepped behind the podium and pulled at the green tights that were threatening to give me a wedgie. “In 1955 Ashton Montgomery came here and decided to redevelop it. He named it Ashton Falls.”
“What does redevelop mean?” a blond-headed girl asked.
“It means he rebuilt it and fixed it up.”
“So if I find an old town and fix it up I can name it Jimmy’s town?” asked the dark-haired boy, who I gathered was named Jimmy.
“I want my own town,” someone else said.
Every child in the place began to shout out what they would name their own town should they have one. When had I totally lost control of this presentation? These kids were going to eat me alive if I didn’t do something fast. I stepped out from behind the podium and tried to make my five-foot frame, which was dressed like a jack-o’-lantern, look taller and threatening.
I clapped my hands and asked everyone to settle down.
“Perhaps we should save the questions and comments until the end,” I suggested.
The room quieted down after a few minutes.
“As I was saying,” I continued, “Isaac Wainwright came to Devil’s Den to find a sacred stone.”
“Why was it sacred?” the redheaded girl asked.
“It was purported to have special powers.”
“Could it make you fly?” a tall, thin boy asked.
“No, I don’t think it could make you fly.”
“If I had a magic rock I would want it to be able to make me fly.”
“The stone was sacred, but I don’t know if it was magic,” I answered.
“Was it real?” a petite blond-headed girl from two rows back asked.
“Yes, the stone was real. Or at least the legend tells of a stone that was real. I’m not really sure at this point. Like I said, it’s hard to tell where the truth ends and the legend begins.”
“My dad got my mom a ring for their anniversary, but she got mad ’cause it wasn’t real.”
I took a deep breath and prayed for patience. Normally I was good with kids, but these were kicking my butt. Maybe it was the tights and fuzzy pumpkin face around my middle. I looked like a pregnant Peter Pan.
“Anyway, as I was saying, Isaac came to the area to look for the stone, but on a dark and moonless night, not long after he arrived, his headless body was found in the old Devil’s Den cemetery.”
“Cool,” several voices from the crowd murmured.
“It’s said that on the hundredth anniversary of his death he will rise from the grave to enact his revenge on the man who killed him.”
“Wouldn’t the man who killed him already be dead?” asked a much-too-logical-for-a-ghost-story boy, who looked to be in the fifth or sixth grade.
“Yes, I imagine he would be. I guess maybe he’ll have to take his revenge out on his killer’s descendants.”
“What’s a descendant?” one of the girls in the front row asked.
“It’s someone who comes in your family after you. Like a child or grandchild.”
One of the younger girls in the crowd began to cry.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“I don’t want Isaac to enact his revenge on me.”
I got down off the stage of the auditorium and hurried to where the girl was sitting. I bent down so that we were eye to eye, although my big pumpkin belly prevented me from hugging her. “Oh, no. You don’t have to worry. It’s just a spooky story for Halloween. It’s not real.”
“I thought in the beginning you said your story was based on an actual legend,” the logical sixth grader said.
“Yeah, I did say that, didn’t I?”
“Did you lie? ’Cause if you did, you shouldn’t lie to kids.”
“No,” I defended myself, “I didn’t lie. Exactly. I just embellished the truth to make the story scarier.” I turned to look at the little girl who was still crying. “But I promise, no one is going to die. You’re perfectly safe. It’s just a story.”
I looked around the auditorium full of kids. Some looked bored; others looked terrified. Whose idea was this anyway? If the events committee was going to tell scary stories shouldn’t the kids be segregated by age? Maybe I’d bring it up at the next meeting.
“So who wants punch and cookies?” I asked.
Thank God Zak had thought to have me bring a snack. I should have let him tell the story. He had a way with kids that apparently I did not. Maybe I’d give away my other story times and volunteer for something like gravedigger or door monitor. Something safe, where I wouldn’t have to worry about traumatizing little girls or outsmarting much-too-smart preteen boys.
“So how did it go?” my best friend, Ellie Davis, asked when the story time had concluded and the sugared-up kids had been returned to their parents. I’d changed back into my jeans and sweatshirt and felt like my old self again.
“Horrible. Worse than horrible.”
“What’s worse than horrible?” Ellie asked.
“A word isn’t coming to mind, but believe me, my story time was a disaster. I should have brought Charlie. Kids love Charlie, but I wasn’t sure I’d have time to take him home between events so I left him with Bella and Digger.”
Charlie is my dog, Bella is Zak’s dog, and Digger is our ten-year-old ward Scooter’s dog.
“How did you do with the dunk tank?” I asked.
Ellie reached up and grabbed a chunk of her still-wet hair. “Let me tell you, agreeing to be dropped from a ledge into a tub of freezing cold water is not the sort of thing any sane and rational adult should agree to do. Why did we ever think it was a good idea to have a dunk tank anyway?”
“It seems like the dunk tank and the story time both came from the same source,” I reminded Ellie.
Duncan Wright was the newest member of the events committee. He’d moved to Ashton Falls less than a month ago but was already establishing himself as a mover and shaker. He’d joined our little group and in less than an hour changed half the plans I’d spent months coming up with for this year’s Hamlet.
“I was supposed to work at the ticket booth, but Leroy didn’t show, so I got stuck being the sucker who ended up in the water. At least I had a change of clothes in my car,” Ellie commented. “I really didn’t have time to go home before heading over to the pumpkin patch. What’s up next for you?”
“I’m heading over to the kiddie carnival to sell tickets for the games, and then I have the ghostly graveyard and haunted house tonight.”
“Oh, good. I have the graveyard tonight as well. I think Levi does too. Will Zak be there?”
“Hopefully. He had to fly out this morning to meet with a client, but he assured me he would be home in time to help out with the haunted house.”
“That new customer still giving him problems?” Ellie asked.
“Yeah. But he says he has it handled. Pi went with him. Maybe between the two of them they can get everything programed the way the man wants once and for all.”
Pi, aka Peter Irwin, is one of three minors Zak and I have taken under our wings. He’s a sixteen-year-old computer genius who attends the local high school for half the day and Zimmerman Academy, the private school Zak and I have established for gifted kids, the other half. After his mother died and he was put into foster care he’d gotten himself into quite a bit of trouble, but he seemed to be doing much better now that he was with us.
“Alex is helping Phyllis and the girls at the snack bar, but she wanted to help me at the pumpkin patch if it’s okay with you,” Ellie informed me.
Alex is the third minor in our care, a ten-year-old genius who’s much more mature than a ten-year-old should be.
“Whatever she wants to do is fine,” I answered. “Both Alex and Scooter are spending the night at my parents. I wasn’t sure what time Zak and I would get home and I didn’t know Pi’s plans. My dad is going to pick them up whenever I text him.”
“Okay, then I guess I’ll head over and pick up Alex and see you at the graveyard later. Don’t let them talk you into helping with the tank,” Ellie warned. “It’s brutal.”
While I had no intention of volunteering for the dunk tank I was certain it couldn’t be any more brutal than story time. Although I was brought up an only child and hadn’t had a lot of experience with children prior to the past year, I take my role as guardian to Scooter, Alex, and Pi quite seriously and am beginning to think of myself as someone who’s competent to deal with the preadult population of Ashton Falls. Not only did I provide parenting for Alex and Scooter, and to Pi, to some degree, on a daily basis, but I was room mom for Scooter’s class and a PTA board member at his school. I also help out as snack mom for soccer and assistant parent helper for the play Alex is starring in. Now, after my simply horrific afternoon, I’d lost all the kid confidence I’d thought I was starting to build.
The truth of the matter was, Zak was much better at this parenting thing than me. He seemed to have a natural knack with kids, while I’m much more comfortable with kids of the four-legged variety. When I’m at the Zoo, the wild and domestic rescue and rehabilitation shelter I own and operate, I feel confident and in control. I can stare down a bear or train even the most difficult dog, but apparently I’m quite helpless against a sixth grader with an attitude.
The kiddie carnival was in full swing by the time I arrived. Although I came into the month as chairperson of the Haunted Hamlet, it seemed as if Duncan had taken over since he’d arrived in town. It wasn’t that I minded sharing the work and responsibility—in fact, I hadn’t wanted to be chairperson in the first place—but I did mind the fact that he seemed to have taken over after I’d already done most of the work.
“I’m glad you’re here,” Duncan greeted me when I arrived. “I need you to head over to the pie toss.”
“The pie toss? I thought I was supposed to supervise the booths and sell tickets this afternoon.”
“I can do that. I really need you to fill in for Leroy. I guess he’s sick, or he had some sort of family emergency or something. I’m not quite clear on the details, but I know he isn’t here.”
“Okay, so what do you need me to do at the pie toss? Sell tickets?”
“No. We need you to provide the target.”
“The target?” My heart sank.
“Yeah, you know; I need you to stand behind the plywood form and let the kids throw pies at your face.”
I let out a long breath. “You know I’m a good sport, but I have to be at the graveyard in a couple of hours and I’ll probably be there a good part of the night. I won’t have time to go home and shower and change between the pie toss and the graveyard, which will make for a sticky and uncomfortable evening. Isn’t there someone else who can do it?”
Duncan frowned at me. “I thought you were a team player.”
“I am a team player. Ask anyone. But maybe the pie toss would be better served with one of the kids as a target. Kids like to do things like that. Or even an adult who doesn’t have other obligations afterward. Maybe someone like you?”