373 pages

(November 12, 2007)




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A chill rushed through Constance Baptiste's body as she ascended from her armoire and set aside her needlework to shut the window. It was mid October and it always got a bit cool in the evenings when the sun vanished its autumn sky and the breeze began to blow. She walked to the window, but discovered to her dismay that it wasn't open. She looked around the old, colonial house that had been passed down to her family from generation to generation. Her incense stick was still burning strong filling the room with the pleasant aroma of cinnamon and apples. It was dark except for the light of a burning fire she had crackling in the hearth and a small kerosene lamp by her chair to guide her through her needlework.

None of the other windows were open. Yet she was cold. Not just the typical nippiness associated with a large house in late autumn. No, it was as if someone was blowing a fan directly at her. How was that possible with the roaring fire burning?

Maybe she was coming down with something, she thought as she headed for the closet. The door gave a slight creak as she opened it to grab a chenille quilt she had sown to drape over herself. Not bothering to close the closet door, she made her way back to her armoire and cuddled in her quilt to try to finish the embroidered pumpkin on the pillow she had quilted for her son. The handcrafted pillow was of a beige shag material, square, with dark brown ruffle feathers bordering it. It didn't take her that long to make it. It was the design on the pillow that was a bit more intricate. A big, fat blackbird was perched on top of a checkerboard pumpkin that was punch needled in various silks of luscious russets, moss greens, golden and striking black. Her son William absolutely loved Halloween. It was his favorite time of the year and he requested a pillow from her some time ago. Although he wanted one with a scarecrow embroidered on it. Ever since he saw his daddy in the fields plowing away and had seen that hideous thing hanging in the midst of all those corn stalks, he had been ever so curious and inquisitive about it. George explained to his son that it was there to protect their harvest from the greedy birds and other creatures that wanted to take all their hard labor and claim it as their own. He was so fascinated with scarecrows ever since.

But Constance had already begun quilting a pumpkin so the scarecrow would have to be used in some other project, which there was sure to be many since Constance's one and only hobby was crafts. And now that it's Halloween, the possibilities of what she can quilt were endless.

It was an unusually cold and rainy day, although autumn in Connecticut was usually on the cool, crisp side and held the potential for rain from time to time, but a lightning storm of this magnitude was uncommon.

Then suddenly, the closet door she was sure she left open slammed shut as the light from her lamp simultaneously turned off and the fire in the fireplace began fading, even though she had just lit it not too long ago.

Her heart thumped so vigorously, she was sure it was louder than the thunder outside. She crossed herself several times before muttering a silent prayer to Holy Mary. Her fears were confirmed. It had returned. And it was trying to tell her something. What? She didn't know. But it was angry. This was how it showed its wrath. Constance put her needlework aside and found some candles to light just as the light from the fireplace completely burned out. Shivering, she placed her candles on the fireplace mantle and took a deep breath, instructing herself to calm down. If George saw her now, she would never hear the end of it.

It was a year ago in autumn, just a little after they had moved into this house and were told of its hauntings and bizarre activities, that everything transpired. Surely they were aware of the house's history and its maker, but George insisted there was absolutely nothing creepy or sinister about it. She, too, admitted to having a tendency to be superstitious. And she did fall in love with the house's old charm and rustic appeal.

Until all the peculiar signs and warnings. It went beyond the footsteps and tapping that she heard sometimes in the middle of the night as though an insomniac were pacing the grounds of the attic above. Of course, George attributed that to an old house that creaks and settles with the cold. But that didn't explain the shadows or the apparition she saw walking down the hallways in the evenings just after the sun settled for the night. George attributed that to her overactive imagination.

But she was sure it was a warning for them to leave. The spirits of the past dead occupants of the house, and there were many, didn't want anybody living in this place; at least not them. But George only laughed at such foolish talk.

Still, Constance had consulted the Reverend Malone who couldn't deny the possibility that paranormal activities do occur in older houses that were occupied by previous people who all fell tragically to their deaths after having moved in it. And given this house's history and its origin, it was certainly no exception. So behind George's back one day, Constance had the Reverend come and sprinkle holy water in every room of the house, just to be safe. And sure after that, the bizarre activities ceased, for a little while. But every now and then, Constance felt its presence near. She felt the ever-so-delicate fingers run across the nape of her neck and the warm breath of someone on her back. She heard the creaking of the ground above that was unmistakably the sound of footsteps and not just old wood settling.

Then there was that time William had come bursting into their bedroom in the middle of the night claiming and swearing up and down that he had seen a monster in his closet. George explained to his son that there was no such thing, but when Constance looked as though she was considering the possibility, George looked at her as though she were crazy and reprimanded her for digressing in such childish fantasies. But the following morning, Constance casually asked her son to describe the “monster” he had witnessed.

"He was an older man," he said.

Fearing what she knew would be true; Constance had opened up an old photo album with her great grandfather’s picture in black and white and was horrified when William screamed, "That’s him! That’s the monster I saw in my closet."

The only reason Constance knew this was because it was the same apparition she had seen wandering the house in the late hours of the night when she couldn’t sleep.

Constance had to admit that prior to moving into this house, she never believed in such hogwash either. But she was convinced that the apparitions she saw were not mere figments of her imagination. But trying to convince George of that was impossible. So she kept her beliefs to herself.

Another lightning struck and awakened Constance from her reverie as she remembered the time and was horrified to discover how late it was. Where was George? She hoped he was all right in this storm. It was dreadful to be out in such weather. This reminded Constance of William. Her son was staying at a friend's house that night and she wanted to call and see how they were doing, but there was no electricity or phone lines due to the storm. That was probably why George couldn't call to tell her he'd be late.

But Constance couldn't shake the premonition growing stronger with every passing second and filling her body with dread. She lit more candles and scattered them about the living room hoping that the light from the various flames would chase away the shadows that kept lurking.

That was when Midnight frantically began screeching and running around as though she was suddenly possessed. "Midnight, what is it?" Constance cried in alarm bending down to try to pet the feline that refused to be touched.

She acquired the name Midnight from William who felt it was an appropriate name since the cat was black as midnight. She was generally a calm animal who minded her own business and only gave an occasional purr when her tummy was being rubbed and she wanted it to continue, lying on her back and wiggling her paws in ecstasy to indicate not to stop. This was why her behavior was rather peculiar.

Midnight ran toward the glass door, her howling continued as she began scratching at it madly with her paws. Constance slowly approached the cat in bewilderment. Surely she didn't want to go out in this weather, she thought.

The cat, with her captivating dark green eyes, glanced from Constance to the door indicating she needed to show Constance something.

Out in this weather! Constance thought as the feeling of trepidation returned with stronger force within her.

"Okay, Midnight, you win. Just wait a minute," Constance told the cat as if she would understand her.

Yet somehow, the cat did comprehend and softened her screeching, turning it into more of a soft snivel.

Constance grabbed her raincoat and slowly opened the latch that unlocked one of the doors leading to the backyard.

The cat was frantic, almost as though she was trying to escape a burning building. "I'm coming already," Constance cried, her raincoat already drenched in the downpour.

She felt silly allowing a cat to drag her out in the rain, but she felt that she needed to follow her. Needed to see what awaited her in the midst of this insatiable tempest.

She had already prepared herself for something awful due to her growing sixth sense. But nothing in the world could have braced her for what she was about to encounter.

Constance Baptiste let out a shriek of pure terror. For right in front of her, in a straw hat, dressed in the same overalls as the scarecrow out in the fields with even the identical patch sowed on the side of it, dangling from one of the maple trees, was George's body

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