- Unhallowed Ground
She went to the kitchen and reached into the refrigerator for a cold can of soda. She looked around the room, curious to see whether she would feel anything. Fear. Discomfort. Anything. She smiled after a minute. It was a house, made up of building materials and the imagination of an architect.
With her soda in hand, she walked up the stairs to her bedroom.
She was moving back in tonight. Taking possession again. This was her house. And everything would be okay, because…
Caleb would be staying there with her. At least, she was pretty sure he would be.
She jumped when she heard something, a bang from downstairs. She tensed, her heart thundering. What the hell?
Had the sound come from inside the house—or outside?
Another question: had she remembered to lock the door?
She looked around for her purse—and her cell phone—then realized she’d left them in the kitchen. She had a landline from the cable company, but she hadn’t bothered to have them run it into her bedroom.
Of course, even if she had her phone, what was she going to do? Call the cops and tell them she’d heard a bang downstairs? And maybe it hadn’t even come from downstairs. It could have come from the street.
She walked over to the wardrobe, determined not to be a total coward. She reached in, past her clothing, and found her old softball bat. It was good and sturdy—and she knew how to use it.
Cautiously, she started down the stairs. When she reached the main hall, she saw no one, and nothing seemed to be stirring in the house. She looked out the front window, then stepped out to the porch—relieved to find that she had remembered to lock the door. A couple of tourists waved to her, and she waved back. For a second she thought they were going to ask about the house, even ask for a tour, but then they turned away and kept walking.
She went back into the house, feeling like an idiot. This was her home. She wanted to be comfortable in it. Deserved to be comfortable in it. She walked from parlor to parlor, through the library-to-be, the dining room and, finally, back to the kitchen.
The basement door was standing ajar. It hadn’t been open before…had it? Could someone—maybe Gary—have come back for some reason?
She walked over to the open door and looked warily down the stairs.
There was a light on down there, a lone naked bulb hanging from the ceiling. Over the years, the basement had been used to store bodies and as a hiding space for a totally different kind of spirit—booze during Prohibition. Now it was pretty much empty.
“Hello?” she said again, cursing the tremor in her voice.
She told herself that she wasn’t actually going to go all the way down the stairs, just a few steps so she could look around. And if someone was there-someone who didn’t belong—she would hightail it back up. She could just imagine Caroline reminding her that in bad horror films, only fools went down into dark basements alone.
She started down the steps, but all she could see were shadows cast by the stark light of the naked bulb.
Okay, that was it. She’d been determined not to be spooked out of her own house, but she wasn’t about to be an idiot, either. Time to return to the kitchen, grab her purse and head over to Hunky Harry’s. Later, with Caleb beside her, she would come back and try to figure out if anyone had even been there, or if it had just been the drafts common to an old house that had caught and opened the door.
If Caleb returned. It wasn’t as if he’d promised her undying devotion or anything.
If he didn’t…well, she had Will and her friends. She wasn’t alone here.
She had descended four steps, her softball bat in hand, when she heard the door above her creaking.
She looked up just as it slammed shut.
At the same time, that single glowing lightbulb below her flickered and went out, turning the world around her to black.
T he Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp Association had been founded in 1894 by a man named George Colby. It wasn’t an actual camp, but spiritualist meetings had once been referred to as camps, and the term had persisted. There were only fifty-some homes in town, and at least half of them were inhabited by mediums.
Caleb had never been there, but he knew that Adam respected many of the inhabitants and had once explained to Caleb the way legit mediums, not the sideshow posers, operated. First, mediums weren’t fortune tellers. The best readings didn’t zero in on something that was about to happen but focused on what was, giving a person guidance to help forge his own future. And because mediums communicated with the dead, they didn’t always have instant answers—even the dead had to think about a question sometimes.
Martha Tyler was not just a medium but an ordained minister of a religious group called The People Faith, and she saw people at her home for readings. Caleb found the house without difficulty, a charming whitewashed Victorian. As he shut his car door, he realized with an inner smile that he felt as if he were going home to Grandma’s house—the porch boasted a swing, beautiful flowers in planters and vines twining through the railings, and two cushioned rocking chairs.
The sense of coming home to Grandma’s house grew stronger as he walked up the steps toward the door and smelled fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies.
As he lifted his hand to knock on the wooden frame of the screen door, he found himself trying to picture the woman who lived here as a murderer who lured young women to their deaths.
“Hello? Mr. Anderson?” The voice from within didn’t sound like a murderer, either.
The door swung open, and Martha Tyler smiled at him in welcome.
His immediate thought was that this couldn’t be the same woman who had approached the kids on the beach.
Martha Tyler was tiny, no more than five feet. She was also eighty, if she was a day. She had brilliant, sparkling blue eyes and couldn’t have weighed ninety pounds soaking wet. Despite that, she didn’t look frail. Her hair was snow-white and smoothed back in a bob.
“Yes, I’m Caleb Anderson,” he said, thinking that this was a complete waste of time. She clearly wasn’t the woman he was looking for. “I’m awfully sorry,” he began.
She cut him off pleasantly. “Come in, come in. You’ve come this far, young man. If you’ve changed your mind about a reading, that’s just fine. Have some cookies and tea, anyway.”
She drew him into the living room, and talk about Grandma’s house…
As she steered him to a seat on a quilt-strewn sofa, he told her, “Ms. Tyler, I have to be honest with you. I’m a private investigator. I’m here because your name was given to me by a young woman when I was questioning her about the disappearance of another girl. I believe someone is impersonating you.”
“Please, call me Martha,” the woman said. “I can only imagine this has to do with all the terrible troubles going on up in St. Augustine?”
She was heading for the kitchen. “What is your pleasure, young man? Coffee, tea? I’m fond of tea myself, and I’ve just brewed a pot, but don’t let that stop you from asking for something else.”
“Tea is fine.”
“It’s my pleasure,” she told him.
She disappeared into the kitchen but returned quickly with a tray holding two kinds of cookies—not just chocolate chip, but shortbread cookies, as well—and an old teapot with a cozy wrapped around it, along with cups and saucers. She set the tea tray down on the coffee table in front of the sofa, took a seat in a huge wingback chair and began to pour the tea.
“I do love tea,” she told him. “Not just drinking it but serving it. It’s such a pleasant old custom. In our world today, everyone is moving at the speed of light. It’s nice just to take time in the afternoon to sit down with a pot of brewed tea. Sugar? Milk?”
“No sugar, and just a drop of milk, please,” he told her, leaning forward, anxious to waste as little time as possible.
And she seemed to be aware of it. Though her eyes were on the tea service, she was wearing a small, patient smile.
She handed him his cup and said, “So now you’re worried that someone’s using my name.” She leaned back and sipped her tea. “You must have a cookie. I couldn’t call myself a proper hostess if I let you out of here without tasting one of my fresh-baked cookies,” she told him, her patient smile more obvious.
To his own surprise, he blushed. “I’m sorry. I don’t intend to be rude, but several girls are missing, as you know, and yesterday we found a body. I’m not sure how much you know, though there’s been a fair bit written in the papers and on the news.”
“I read about it on the Internet first, actually,” she told him, then added, when his eyes widened, “even we old folks have discovered the Internet, you know.”
He blushed again and started to apologize, but she waved him to silence and went on.
“Let me tell me you what I know, and then you can tell me if you think I can help you,” she said.
“I don’t think this is a matter for a palm reading,” he said.
“I didn’t intend to read your palm. And I didn’t suggest that my help would be of the spiritual kind. Don’t you think it’s time you stopped patronizing me?”
“I’m sorry,” he assured her. “I don’t know why I—”
He broke off, startled, when she took his teacup and set it down, then put her hands on his cheeks and looked into his eyes.
“You suffered an early trauma, and your dedication to what you do stems from that. I believe you have an exceptional soul, but not a trusting one, maybe because of everything you’ve seen. You like to go by the book—although I admit yours is a rather unorthodox book—because you’re convinced that methodology can take you where you want to go. But there’s more to you—others have seen it, but you don’t accept it yourself. Yet.” Then she sat back and was suddenly all business.
“All right, let’s start with what’s going on. Are you here because of Winona Hart or the woman whose body was found?” She must have seen something in his face, because she suddenly said, “You found the body, didn’t you?”