Pumpkins & Poltergeists Sneek Peek – Nyx Halliwell Author

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Pumpkins & Poltergeists 4

Chapter 4

Lazy mist wraps around me, clouding my vision. I swear it’s thick enough to taste and sticks to my skin like cotton candy. My body feels light as a feather.


I turn in a circle, the voice so familiar it hurts. “Aunt Willa?”

Heavy silence meets my ears. My mind must be playing tricks on me again. Aunt Willa is dead, I remind myself.

Aaavaa…” The voice again, whispering as if it’s flying right past me. It’s definitely my aunt’s.

Just a dream.

The dream takes shape, though, and the mist parts. Her face appears. “The trunk in your bedroom—there’s a false bottom…”

She swims in and out of the soupy air, as if something is trying to pull her away. I step forward, lifting a hand to reach for her. “Come back!”

She does, her upper body coming into a hazy focus. “All you need is inside, Ava.”

My hand goes through her. “Need for what?” My voice seems to echo against the mist in the air, bouncing back to me.

“My armoire…secret compartment…” Her voice drifts, her face begins to fade again. “Push the top left cor…”

My logical brain kicks in. “Aunt Willa, you know you’re…”

I can’t say it.

“Dead,” she supplies. “Yes, I know, dear. Don’t you cry for me, now, sweet girl. You’re not dead, and you have to…”

She fades again.

“Have to what?” I’m losing her. Grief floods me. “Oh please, Aunt Willa! Come back!”

“In the attic,” her voice drifts past me, incorporeal. “The book…”

I lose her again, but a few feet away I see the outline of her. Her head turns to her left to look at something. I squint in that direction as well but see nothing but the cotton candy fog.

“I have to go.” She looks over her shoulder at me. “It’s up to you, Ava. I love youuuu.”

She fades away.

“No!” I yell.

And then I hear her voice once more, “Now wake up!”

A heavy weight depresses my chest, hard and fast, shoving the air from my lungs. Once, twice—

It stops, and then out of nowhere, I feel the warmth of lips against mine. My mouth is open, breath rushing in. I taste mint and…

“Dead, is she?” a raspy voice asks.

“Not anymore,” another answers, and I recognize them.

I gasp, eyes flying open.

I’m still on the ground, wet and cold. The most beautiful cornflower blue eyes are looking down on me.


The man’s face comes into sharp contrast. Tousled hair the color of toasted pecans, classic nose, tanned skin. He’s clean-shaven and the smell of his faint aftershave fills my nostrils as I inhale a huge gasp again. For half a second, I see the boy he used to be floating under the man he is now. “Logan?”

Relief is like a washcloth wiping the worry from his brow. He sits back, blows out a breath between his lips, and rakes his hand over his face. “You just took ten years off my life.”

I wonder if I’m still in the dream or whatever it was. Logan Cross. What is he doing here?

The sky above his head is golden now with the  rising sun, pale strips of peach streaking across the sky between clouds. His face blurs, and I see two of him. My ears ring with a coarse blare that makes me flinch. “What happened?” I ask.

“You tell me.” He keeps a firm hand on my shoulder to stop my struggle to rise. I feel something warm and slippery drop onto my hand, and see a basset hound on my right. His sad eyes stare at me as another string of drool slides out of his mouth. “Mox and I were just coming back from our run. I saw you fall off the porch. By the time I got here, you weren’t breathing, and I thought you were dead.”

“Dead?” The memory of the fall sends fresh pain from my head down to the base of my spine.

The blare in my ears grows louder, but it’s not from the head injury. It’s a siren.

I draw a deep breath, reassuring myself I’m very much alive, and a new pain hits. I’m going to have a sore rib cage from the CPR he was administering.

The feel of his hands on my chest, his lips on my mouth, surfaces, causing my head to throb and my heart to kick. As a teen, I dreamed of Logan Cross’s attention. I would have died, figuratively, to have his lips on mine.

“Told you,” one of the voices I heard earlier says.

I tilt my chin to look toward the porch. The cat gargoyles at the top of the bannister stare back, the rising sun reflecting in their eyes and making them glow. One’s lips move ever so slightly. “She’s alive.”

The basset hound turns his head, as if he hears them as well, before he looks back to me.

I struggle to come up onto my elbows, ignoring all the various waves of pain, as an ambulance, siren blaring, careens to a stop at the curb.

“EMTs are here,” Logan says, as if it’s not obvious. “Stay put.”

Logan Cross is a lawyer these days. The only one in Thornhollow. A good one from what I’ve heard. His parents run the famous Cross Winery north of town, and his brother has a brewery two towns over. For whatever reason, Logan decided to go a different direction with his life, and his office is directly across the street from The Wedding Chapel.

People in Thornhollow either come from old money, like Logan, or they survive at the other end of the spectrum, like Reverend Stout. He rushes up to us with a plastic medic’s box and plunks down beside me.

Gray-haired and wrinkled, he’s wearing a white shirt and navy pants, a name tag penned over a pocket of the shirt that has a protector filled with pens and a tiny flashlight. Today he’s an EMT, working on physical bodies rather than souls. “Second time I’ve been here in the last twelve hours,” he murmurs in his deep Southern voice. His gaze rests on my face and softens. “Ava Fantome, my goodness, young lady. What in the world happened? So sorry about your aunty.”

Logan tells him what he knows—he saw me trip, fall down the steps, and hit my head. When he reached me, I wasn’t breathing.

I interject a few details, trying not to sound like a scatterbrain or klutz. Neither man seems to listen.

“Thank the Good Lord you were here,” Stout says to Logan. “We might have lost her, too.”

“I wasn’t dead,” I insist, but the voice in my head casts doubt. Was I? “I did have a weird dream though.”

“Did you see a bright light? Go down a tunnel?” the pastor asks.

“No. I saw my…”

Logan and Stout stare at me.

“Never mind.” I wave it off. “I’m fine. I fainted, that’s all.”

Reverend Stout’s partner rolls a gurney through the yard, bumping over the limestone pavers. Stout flashes his light in both of my eyes, declares I might have a concussion, and they insist on carting me to the hospital.

A flurry of activity continues around me. A police officer arrives—in Thornhollow anytime the ambulance is called out the police are, too. Preston Uphill, the owner of the B&B next door, runs over in a tartan-colored robe and slippers. I sense others gathering on the sidewalk outside the gate, their voices a background hum.

“Avalon?” Uphill calls. “Oh my goodness, are you okay?”

“Just tripped.” I push up to sitting and Logan grabs me as my vision blurs and I nearly tip over. “I’m fine.”

“Sure you are,” Logan murmurs. “You just died, Fantome.”

I send him a glare to silence him. That’s all I need—all Mama needs—is for word to get out I died and Logan Cross saved me.

“Is she okay?” a woman’s voice calls. I don’t look toward the fence, but recognize it all the same. Prissy Barnes, my nemesis.

“All I need is to check on Tabitha.” I ignore her and point toward the house for Logan’s benefit. “And take something for my pounding head.”

“I’ll take care of the cat,” Logan assures me. “She and Mox get along just fine, don’t you Mox?” He pats the dog’s head, and they move away to let Stout and his partner, a young kid named Wesley, wrestle me up onto the gurney. “You go to the clinic and let Doc check you out.”

Everyone is insisting on this, including the police officer—one who used to work under my father, before Mama insisted he quit the force and sent him off to pursue his dream of being a rock singer. If I weren’t still hearing the cats—including the door knocker—continuing to discuss my clumsiness and the fact Aunt Willa’s killer is near, I’d refuse.


I push Wesley out of the way and look at the gargoyle cats. Then at the gathering crowd. Most of the faces are familiar…I can’t believe any of them would hurt my aunt.

Since last night, I’ve felt, heard, and seen things that I haven’t since I was a girl. And the more I hear these voices in my head, the more fearful I become of the truth. Did Mama truly overhear Aunt Willa arguing with someone last night? Did that someone contribute to her death?

“Ava?” another woman’s voice calls. “Do you want me to call your mother?”

This one sounds familiar, but I can’t place her face when I meet her eyes. “No,” I call back. “I’m fine!”

A firm hand lands on my shoulder, and I glance at the owner, Reverend Stout, who stares me down with the righteousness only a preacher or Sunday school teacher can deliver adequately. “Ava, dear. You are going to the clinic.”

My eyes swim and the memory of Aunt Willa in the mist rushes over me.

If I’m seeing ghosts and hearing inanimate objects speak, maybe I do need my head examined.

“You’ll need a key, Logan. I’m sure Tabitha is safe and sound inside, but we need to check.”

He motions for me to lie down. “Got one. Don’t worry.”

How does he have a key to my aunt’s house? The pounding in my head is too much now, and the lightheadedness is returning with a vengeance. With Wesley and the Rev’s help, I ease down onto the gurney. “My cats…” I point in the direction of my car. “They’re inside.”

Logan pats my leg. “Ava, I’ve got it. I promise to take good care of them.”

All three gargoyles snort.

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Pumpkins & Poltergeists 3

Chapter 3

A sticky gloom wraps Aunt Willa’s house like a blanket, as if the life of the three-thousand-square-foot mansion died when she did.

I park at the curb. The front porch and grounds showcase her flamboyant decorating skills, covered in pumpkins in all shapes and sizes. Mums in burgundy, orange, and white add pops of color, surrounded by gathered and tethered corn stalks.

The lawn, bleached by the hoar frost, is enclosed with a black wrought iron fence, a fleur de lis on the top of each waist-high spike. A miniature wagon sits in the front yard, kissed with frost, holding hay bales and gourds.

The wide, wrap-around front porch is decked in garlands of fall leaves, weaving around the white columns. The two large windows on the first floor are filled with a display of what appears to be a woodland wedding, complete with gnomes with red hats and a bridal Snow White. Over the door is The Wedding Chapel sign showcasing the business in white letters. The Sorry, we’re closed! notice hangs limply from its hanger inside the glass door.

Leaving Arthur and Lance in the car, I cringe when the ornate gate lets out a hair-raising squeak as I tug it open. The ground is damp and smells of wet leaves and fresh soil, the big magnolia tree near the sidewalk dripping water from a brief shower an hour ago.

Plop, plop, plop. Fat drops fall, a couple landing on my head, as I take the stone-paved walkway to the house. The eastern sky eases into a pink-tinged gray, and everything is veiled in a dull pallor of fog.

I don’t plan to stay long, just enough to check on Tabitha, my aunt’s cat, and make sure the place is locked up tight. I also have an urge to walk down to the creek, near the old homestead, in order to see if I can find any trace of Aunt Willa and her possible guest.

Did Mama imagine it? Was Aunt Willa simply chiding Tabitha or one of the dozens of wild animals she often fed? Was there actually someone with her when she died? If so, why didn’t they try to save her?

A sickening thought, and subsequent chill, ripple through me. No, I tell myself. No one in Thornhollow would ever do my aunt harm.

At the top of each porch railing sits a gargoyle-shaped black cat. Part of the original house, the twins suit it perfectly for this time of year. Growing up, my aunt always told trick-or-treaters to pet the cats’ heads for good luck. I stroke the top of one of them when I reach the top step, an old habit.

A fake apple has rolled off the cornucopia display on the nearby wicker table. Picking it up, I realize it’s real, a slight bruise blooming on its highly polished red skin where it smacked the wooden floor boards when it fell. Aunt Willa must have just created or freshened up the display in the past day or so.

My heart squeezes at the thought of her bustling around, creating the beautiful display and smiling over it. Fall was her favorite season, and she reveled in the decorations.

The emotions I’ve been holding back in order to be strong for my mother crash over me. “Oh, Aunt Wilhelmina, what happened to you?”

For a heartbeat, the air seems to shimmer. “She was murdered,” a raspy voice says on my left.

I jump, dropping the apple.

It rolls toward the steps, my pulse skidding with it. I whirl to face the sidewalk and street.

There’s no one there.

“Hello?” I scan the yard, the mass of woods on my right, Mr. Uphill’s place on the left. The last of the night has given up to the rising sun, but all I see is the murky fog covering trees, a few bushes, and the empty street.

Plop, plop, plop, the rain resumes, falling lazily and rolling off the porch roof. I scan the entire yard again, more slowly this time, and the well-manicured flower beds edging the porch. Mums, green ferns, trailing ivy, and jasmine plants covered with fake spiderwebs sit quietly, the murkiness of the morning making everything heavy.

“Over here,” the thin, raspy voice says, and I jump again, turning toward the sound.

It’s coming from the door.

I edge closer, narrowing my eyes. The antique knocker—a cat head that matches the gargoyles—licks its lips.

My feet scramble backward and I blink. Then shake my head as if I can clear my vision by doing so. The foggy gloom is playing tricks with my eyesight, that’s all. The voice?

Um, yeah. I’m hearing things, too.

While everything in me wants to run, I ignore the flight instinct, move closer once more and peer at the knocker. “Hello?”

The antique cat head, complete with pointy ears, doesn’t change this time. It doesn’t move at all, even though I sense it’s watching me back. When it doesn’t reply, I blow out a sigh of relief. Straightening, I chuckle at myself. “You’re losing it,” I reprimand myself. “Totally bonkers.” 

And then the cat’s lips curve in a snarky smile. “You going to stand there all day and talk to yourself, or are you going to go in?”

I’m so freaked out, I leap like a jackrabbit, feet scrambling, arms flying, in an attempt to get off the porch.

Something rolls under my right foot and I fall, cartwheeling through the air. My feet fly up, the rest of me careening down. For a moment, I’m suspended, all three gargoyle cats watching with amused expressions, and my butt smacks the bottom step.

The wayward apple, also thrown into the air, lands on my stomach as my head whacks hard on the stone walk.

Pain like an ice pick ricochets through my skull. Above me, the last star blinks out in the sky as rain dampens my skin.

But the stars on the edges of my vision are bright and hot, until everything whites out in a brilliant flash, and I plunge into darkness.


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Pumpkins & Poltergeists 2

Chapter 2

The usual three-hour drive to Thornhollow is dark and rainy, filled with road construction and a washed-out bridge, causing it to take nearly five. Arthur is bedded down in the passenger seat, Lancelot in my lap. I focus on the road and give into my grief, listening to a variety of late-night radio talk shows, while I weep.

As I turn off the highway populated with signs for peaches, boiled peanuts, and the various wineries in the area, the sorrow comes rolling back. My chest tightens, hot tears build in my eyes. I haven’t been home in months, but it feels like years.

Victorian era street lamps softly illuminate Main Street, the numerous buildings from another time period, stately and regal, as I wind my way north to Mama’s. At the far end is the crossroad where The Wedding Chapel—Aunt Willa’s home and business—occupies the corner. She owns over an acre, the ground sloping toward the creek at the back, with limestone hills and woods on the side.

As I pass her large painted lady, I see light seeping from an upstairs window—the bedroom I used to call my own.

Another spasm hits my chest, and a tear slides down my cheek. It’s as if Aunt Willa has left a light on for me. Silly, of course, and yet I almost stop to see if someone is inside. Probably Rosie, her assistant, accidently left it on.

I don’t think I’m ready to go in and see my beloved aunt’s things, smell her perfume, or speak to anyone yet, so I keep going, chilled and exhausted.

Arriving at Mama’s, all the lights are on. She lives in a mid-century craftsman. This is not the house I grew up in, but it suits my mother. She thrives in this space filled with thick oak, stained glass windows, nooks for her endless books, and multiple beautiful fireplaces. The deep front porch showcases stately rocking chairs, pumpkins, and fall mums.

Since she’s mayor and my aunt’s death is big news in our town, reporters—all two of them—are camped outside wanting a statement. As I exit the car, both speak to me on my way to the front door, offering sympathy since they knew Aunt Willa as well.

They don’t ask me to make a comment, but I see the way they take in the pajama legs under my trench coat, my red nose and swollen eye. I did nothing more than throw a few clothes in an overnight bag, grabbed the cats, and headed here. Thankfully, neither of these two is interested in taking my picture.

The front door flies open as I climb the steps, and Mama grabs me off the porch. My hands are full of the cats, so I’m not able to hug her back as she embraces me, crying softly. Once inside, with the door shut, I put down Arthur and Lancelot, and Mama steps back to look me over.

“Why Ava,” she chastises, “what in the world are you wearing? Your picture will be all over the Thornhollow Tribune tomorrow.”

Even at this time of night, she’s dressed in conservative attire, somewhere between a casual suit and silk pajamas. I can’t quite decide which. Her hair is in a perfect coif of graying blond curls, and her makeup is demure but perfect.

“I imagine the Trib has more important news to report on than the state of my clothes in the middle of the night after my aunt has died.”

She clicks her tongue, and that’s the message that the state of my dress could affect her upcoming campaign. I’m not sure she even realizes she’s in that mode all the time, even when her sister has just died, because running for office has become her life.

Her eyes are bloodshot, her nose chapped. Her voice hitches as she talks a mile a minute while directing me to the kitchen. She doesn’t even ask if I would like a cup of tea, simply starts heating the water and pulling cans of loose flavors from the cabinet. As the cats roam, getting reacquainted with her house, I shed my coat.

“They think Willa’s heart stopped and she fell into the creek,” Mama says, dashing at the tears springing to life again and rolling down her cheeks.

Dropping dead from a heart attack is not the worst way to go, I think, but of course I can’t speak it out loud. Wilhelmina Duchamp was too young to die. Falling in the creek, though…

I shiver, thinking about my poor aunt.

“She was having a few issues, you know, but Doc thought it was angina. Panic attacks.” She places a cup on a saucer and digs out a flowery sugar bowl from the pantry to place on the table. “Ever since we were kids, she fought with buckets of anxiety. I just don’t know.”

I pull out a chair and sit. “Don’t know what?”

She waves a hand through the air as the kettle whistles. She doesn’t ask what flavor I want, picking one for me. “I can’t believe she’s gone.”

I can tell there’s more to this, but Mama’s having a dose of understandable anxiety herself and that’s why her mind isn’t tracking straight. “I never realized Aunt Willa had heart problems.” I try not to sound annoyed no one bothered to tell me. “When did this start?”

She brings the tea and sets it in front of me, steam rising. “You haven’t been home in a while.”

This is an accusation, a condemnation, and an explanation all in one. She fiddles with her fingers, rubbing each in turn, her gaze skittering around the kitchen. “I was there.”


Her eyes bounce to me then away. She peers into her lap. “I think I heard her arguing with someone right before it happened.”

I reach over to still her nervous finger twitching. “Mama, what are you talking about?”

She grips my hand like a steel vise and sighs audibly. “We were going out for an early dinner. I had a city council meeting and Willa had a bridal appointment, but she wanted to talk to me about something. Said it was important. When I arrived, she wasn’t in the house. I figured she was out back, prepping something for the bridal appointment. You know how she loves to show the place off, so the bride gets a feeling for what it would be like to marry in the gardens. I went out on the back porch and…”

The tension in her body washes through me. I see fear in her eyes. Her grip grows stronger still.

“It’s okay, Mama,” I cajole. How many times in my life have I had to do this? Talk her off the ledge so I can get into her head long enough to figure out what’s going on in there. “Just tell me what happened.”

“I heard her voice, and it was that argumentative tone that she likes to take. I figured someone was already back there with her. They were too far away to actually hear what was being said, and it seemed to be coming from the old Thornton Homestead.”

The homestead is the original home of Sam Thornton and Tabitha Holloway built on the creek bank. My distant ancestors founded this town. The home is a historic landmark at the edge of the property but fell into disrepair long before I was born.

Mama’s tension seeps into my central nervous system. I gently urge her to continue again.

Another deep breath racks her body. “I didn’t hear the other person. It was odd, but like I said, I couldn’t understand what they were saying. Really, all I heard was Willa Rae. She was upset, though. And then I got a phone call from Queenie and went back inside to answer it. When I was done, Willa Rae was still outside, so I went to look for her. I never saw anyone…and then I found her.”

The way her voice softens and trails off, the way her eyes look so sad, I realize the truth. Mama found Aunt Willa dead in the creek.

“I’m so sorry.” I give her hand another squeeze. “That must have been terrible for you.”

Tears wash down her face as she meets my eyes. “She was face down in the water. If I’d gotten there a little sooner…”

“There was probably nothing you could have done, Mama, even if you did get out there sooner.”

But I can see in Mama’s eyes that she’s thinking the same thing I’m wondering in the back of my head. “I told them about the arguing.” Her voice drops to a whisper. “What if she didn’t have a heart attack, Ava? What if…”

“Who did you tell?”

She gets up as if she can’t sit still a minute longer and paces to the sink. There, she begins washing out a dirty glass. “The police promised to look into it. But since I didn’t hear anyone else or see who it might have been, they’re not concerned about it. Everyone loved your aunt, so maybe they’re right. Who knows? Willa Rae often talked to herself. Maybe there wasn’t someone else there.”

Conflicting emotions war inside my heart. Snatches of the letter float through my brain.

Danger is afoot.

Oh, Aunt Willa. What happened?

It’s nearly sunrise before I get the reporters to leave and soothe Mama enough to get her to bed. Doc has prescribed some gentle sleep meds for her, and once those kick in, I know there’s not much else I can do.

I gather up the cats, and we head to Aunt Willa’s.

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Pumpkins & Poltergeists

Chapter 1

The summons to “come home” to Thornhollow arrives on a cloudy, drizzly day in October.

These types of missives normally come from Mama, but the scented lavender envelope is addressed to me in my Aunt Wilhelmina Rae’s handwriting.

In her sixties, she is a spitfire of a woman, and her wild penmanship is beautiful in its bold strokes. I can almost hear her voice as I tap the envelope on the table and wonder what’s inside.

It’s been a long day at the bridal salon and my feet are killing me. Setting the rest of the mail on the table, I turn the tea kettle on. Then I kick off my high heels and rub my toes.

Arthur and Lancelot, my gray tabbies, emerge from their hiding places to greet me with meows and chin rubs against my bare calves. I scratch each behind his ears, fill their bowls with kibble, and shrug off my sweater, hanging the damp garment on the back of a chair to dry.

As the water heats, I head to my bedroom to shed my business attire and replace it with my favorite flannel pajamas. There’s no one but me and the cats, and they don’t care if I’m in my comfy clothes at six o’clock on a Friday night.

Back in the kitchen, I absentmindedly tie my fuzzy robe around me and make a cup of mint tea. A slice of leftover pizza calls to me from the fridge, and I settle down with both to sort through the bills and junk mail. Once again my eye catches on the lavender envelope. Mama has no doubt recruited her sister to convince me to move back home.

Being an executive bridal consultant at Southern Bridal Flair Salon pays well and I enjoy the work, but every once in a while I wish I’d followed my dream to be a wedding dress designer. To live and work out of my aunt’s old Victorian house with its warm woodwork and welcoming open rooms. I long thought I’d one day become a partner in her event planning business, The Wedding Chapel.

Running my finger over the edge of the envelope, I feel the tug to return to Thornhollow and the comfort of my childhood. I have good memories there, but also the pressure to live up to my mother’s political and social aspirations. At least here in Atlanta, I’m surrounded by designer and couture dresses every day and not plagued by small-town gossip. Maybe one day I’ll get up the courage to show Darinda, my boss and the owner of the entire Southern Bridal Flair chain of stores, my sketches.

The scent of Aunt Willa’s perfume drifts up from the stationary as I tear open the envelope and slide out her letter.

The Wedding Chapel is embossed in flourishes at the top, with her business address, phone number and website underneath. Merely adding a website this year created enough drama with her that I nearly let it go. But convincing her to move into the modern age and reach beyond Thornhollow for customers was a good step. She’s already increased business ten percent since I set up the website in April.

Her Southern graces are evident even in her penmanship.

My Dearest Avalon,

I’m afraid it’s time for you to return home. Danger is afoot. Innocent people are getting hurt. 

I sip my tea and frown, rereading those words before continuing. What danger could there be in our sleepy town?

I’ve done my best to protect our family and Thornhollow from the curse, but I’m afraid I cannot do it on my own for much longer. It’s time for you to stop pretending you’re normal and use your gifts in the way in which the universe intended.

All my love, 

Aunt Willa.

Perhaps it’s the shadows of the evening closing in or the quiet of my apartment, but I find myself pulling my robe a little closer. While I scrutinize the letter several more times, it doesn’t make her message any clearer. What danger? A curse? Why has she been protecting the family and the town from it? What gifts of mine is she referring to?

Okay, I know that answer, but no way I’m delving into the ghost world.

Most importantly, why the heck didn’t she just call me?

I sip tea, rub my temples, and feel a smidge of frustration at the cryptic note. She and Mama have a definite flair for melodrama.

In the foyer, I dig my cell out of my purse and see that I’ve missed a call from my mother. My tired frustration vanishes for a second. Protecting the family. Is our family actually in danger? From what exactly?

My mother is mayor of Thornhollow, and while she’s had her share of people who dislike her politics, she’s on friendly terms with everyone. Plus, she typically calls me twice a day, so seeing a missed call from her shouldn’t trigger panic.

It does. I carry the phone back to the kitchen and plunk it on the table, debating whether to jump into my family’s craziness again or not. It’s one of the reasons I had to leave Thornhollow—they were making me crazy, too.

Aunt Willa is probably the least crazy of any of them, even though my mother claims the opposite. “Willa Rae is vexed,” she used to proclaim. She then would spin her finger around her temple indicating mental instability. “You can’t believe a thing she says.”

I resume my seat, finish off the pizza, and open the rest of the mail. The kitchen grows dim, and I get up to turn on the light.

When I flick the switch nothing happens. The kitchen stays steeped in darkness. That’s when I realize the lighted numbers of the microwave clock are out, and the living room ceiling fan has stopped spinning.

Stupid wiring. I’ve complained to the landlord multiple times about the fluky electricity, as well as the plumbing that bangs and rattles at all hours of the day and night. The house is a hundred years old and some of that is to be expected, I guess, but it’s extremely frustrating when this stuff happens.

I reach for the phone and feel a breeze pass over my hand. Aunt Willa’s letter sails off the table, the breeze rocking it gently back and forth, like a leaf falling form a tree, before it lands on the floor.

Goosebumps race over my skin. Pressure and a high-pitched ringing starts in my ears. I look around for the cats, but they’ve disappeared.


The voice sounds like it’s right behind me. I whirl but see nothing except shadows.

Shaking my head, I pick up the letter, returning it to the table. As I reach for my phone, it rings, the sound blaring in the kitchen and startling me.

It’s my mother again. “Hi, Mama,” I answer, forcing a deep, calming breath. “I just got home from work. Can I call you back in a few minutes?”

I swear I feel that breeze again tickle the back of my neck. My gaze falls on the letter and the words danger is afoot.

“Oh, Ava,” Mama sobs, her voice shaking with tears. “You have to come home.”

The hair on the back of my neck shoots straight up. “What happened?”

Another choked sob. An audible intake of breath. “Willa Rae is dead.”

Check back next week for Chapter 2!

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