Seduction of Souls,
SEDUCTION OF SOULS
COPYRIGHT PATRICIA GAUTHIER 2013
COMING SUMMER 2013
HITTING BELOW THE BELT
RayeAnn placed the old books from the historical society carefully on the back-seat of her car and climbed into the drivers side. Though she sweltered in her car she would soon feel cool air as she rolled down the windows in her ancient car. A shiver of fear ran down her spine and the hair on the back of her neck stood at attention. She sensed someone behind her. With a quick jerk she checked the backseat again. No one was there, of course. Weird. Usually she wasn’t the jittery type. A shiver ran through her as the windows slowly eased their way back up. She watched the crank handle whirl furiously in circles without her touch. Her hands began to tremble. She blew out her breath and put the key into the ignition. She turned the key, but nothing happened. Dead battery? Shit, now what? Before she could turn the key again all the door locks clicked. She jumped as fear gripped her stomach and made her heart race. She shivered again and looked around warily. Suddenly she felt like a cold blanket had been draped over her. She could see the vapor of her warm breath against the cold air filling the car. The windows were covered with a thin coat of frost. Frantically she tried to wipe it away with her hand, but it refused to leave. Her body shivered uncontrollably. When her jaws chattered she clinched them tightly together. One of the books fell to the floor behind her, and she glanced into the rearview mirror and froze. The ghostly face of an enraged man glared back at her. She turned to confront him and saw only a face floating in a dark cloud of anger. It hovered above the books, rippling. Panic consumed her. She slammed her hand hard on the horn, hoping to get someone’s attention, but it wouldn’t work. She rested her forehead on the steering wheel and tensed every muscle in her body while she waited for the blow she was sure would come. She only had one weapon left. Silently she prayed, “Our father, who art in heaven…”
As suddenly as the nightmare had begun, it was over. Her skin warmed, the frost was gone, and the locks popped up. She looked around the car. No evil entity hovered over the books and they all sat just as she had placed them. What the hell? Had she just suffered a hallucination? Maybe she shouldn’t have skipped her lunch. She sat there for a moment and tried to make sense of what had happened. If she ever told anyone about this, they would lock her up in the funny farm for the rest of her life. She definitely needed to take better care of herself. She vowed to herself to eat more nutritious food, drink plenty of water, and get eight solid hours of sleep each night. The plan would have her right as rain in no time. With new resolve she turned the key and drove home.
By the time she had reached the parking lot of her apartment she’d convinced herself that nothing had happened. Her imagination had just run away with her. She walked into her tiny apartment, arms loaded with the research materials for her latest article on the 100 anniversary of the Cassidy County Historical Society. She pushed the door closed with her foot. With her key fob still stuffed in her mouth, she yelled a garbled hello to her roommate. She allowed the books to tumble out of her arms and onto her desk, sneezing at the cloud of dust that rose from the old books, not because of her housekeeping. Though she tried to keep things neat and organized, the thought of dusting and scouring broke her body out in hives. Thank goodness Bryn took care of most of that, besides being the resident chef of the household and her best friend. More accurately, the dicer and slicer, since salads were their food most days. They saved real meals for date nights, not out of cruelty but as a weight control measure. Neither one of them was very committed to an exercise routine. Only using guilt and shame would make either of them head to the gym, just one of the many reasons they were such a great team. It had been that way for them since the moment they’d met in middle school.
RayeAnn remembered vividly the first time she laid eyes on Bryn, the new girl in a sea of selfish, evil, clickey classmates. She’d sensed the fear emanating from Bryn as she’d stood in the front of the class, arms held tightly around her waist, keeping her head down while Miss Wilkins introduced her to the rest of the class. Immediately RayeAnn’s heart had gone out to her.
“Hey, how’s it goin’?” Bryn walked into the room and plopped onto the couch with a muffled ooph.
“Good. Got all the research materials I need for the article. I’ll start it tomorrow. You working at the Blue Bull Inn, tonight?” RayeAnn sat on the avocado green third-hand couch, straddling the worn arm and playing with the keys now in her hand.
“Yeah, six to closing. Cocktail waitressing sucks, but it pays the bills. Don’t change the channel on the television though, I have the DVR set to record my favorite shows. Tomorrow is couch potato day for me.”
“Ahh, which shows are you recording?” RayeAnn rolled her eyes.
“The usual paranormal reality shows. They’re so cool. I love learning all about ghosts and shit like that. Chuck at the bar swears the place is haunted and if the stories he tells are true, I believe him.”
“Bryn, you are sooo gullible! All that stuff on television is such crap. I thought you were too smart to fall for all that mumbo jumbo. Don’t you know it’s all fake?”
“No, it’s not, otherwise they wouldn’t call it ‘reality’ t.v,” Bryn answered smugly.
“Please, don’t tell me you believe everything you see on television. I thought we covered the differences between reality and fantasy back in middle school. Let me guess, you believe everything you read, too, right?” RayeAnn crossed her arms over her chest and tapped her foot impatiently on the floor.
RayeAnne grinned. “As a person holding a degree in print journalism, I’m here to tell you what a fool you are if you do. Heck, I even embellish the obituaries I write in our little hometown newspaper. Even people in Cassidy crave the embellished details of someone else’s demise.”
“I distinctly remember working on the school newspaper with you and us sticking adamantly to the who, what, where, when, how and why principles of writing.”
“Sorry, honey, that’s so old school. Now it’s all about grabbing the readers by the throat and squeezing until their eyes bleed. It’s a messy business, especially the area I’m going into. Investigative reporting can literally be a mater of life and death if you don’t do it right.”
“Just to be clear, you haven’t started investigating anything since you graduated from college. Human interest stories about a dusty old historical society’s birthday don’t exactly qualify as gritty, hard news.” Bryn stretched out on the couch, her bare toes touching RayeAnn’s thigh.
“I know. I’m stuck on which industry I want to bring to it’s knees, begging for mercy. I think I need a little more hate and cynicism added to my sunny disposition.” She crossed her arms over her chest.
“Just write it before your first cup of coffee. You’re really mean and cranky then.”
“Oh, you’re so funny, I forgot to laugh. Don’t worry, I promise on my honor as a Girl Scout to not change the channel.” She held up her fingers, giving her the official Girl Scout salute.
“Honey, you were kicked out of the Girl Scouts, remember?” Bryn sat up and patted her shoulder gently.
“I told you, that was all just a terrible misunderstanding.” RayeAnn stuck out her bottom lip like a two year old who couldn’t have any candy before dinner.
“Then why didn’t they invite you back once it was cleared up?”
“Oh, shut up. You know perfectly well why, and I’m not going over it again.” Her crossed arms tightened over her chest now, her lips were drawn in a straight, thin line of anger.
“All right, settle down. We’ll just skip over that sor
“Good. I’m going to soak in a hot bath with a glass of wine, maybe even light a few candles. See you tomorrow.”
RayeAnn lay back in her bubbly suds with her glass of wine in her hand. She enjoyed the silence that was only broken by the occasional popping of bubbles when she moved. Ahh, peace and quiet. Setting the wine glass on the floor next to the tub she closed her eyes and let her mind wander, never focusing on any one thought for more than a moment. Her eyes drifted closed. Before she knew what was happening she began to dream.
As if a movie played in her mind, the girl in her dream strolled in an open field of wildflowers, the slight breeze blowing the few strands of hair that had escaped her bun at the base of her neck. Her blonde hair shimmered in the golden sunlight. No cloud moved in the sky above. She wore a long sunny yellow, calico print dress with a high collar and long cotton sleeves, but somehow wasn’t overly hot in the sun. Freckles spread across her pale ivory complexion.
As the girl walked, she gathered an assortment of flowers to adorn the dinner table tonight. Humming to herself, as she drifted along, throwing in an occasional twirl of her skirts as she performed some dance steps, pretending to be at her upcoming sweet sixteen party, only two short months away. She curtsied low to her imaginary partner before placing her hand in his, gliding along as he led the way.
When she realized a man was watching from the tree line by the creek, a scream escaped her lips before she took off in a full run back to her house nearby. Scared and breathless, she only stopped running, looking behind her quickly once she reached the front steps of their house.
RayeAnn startled awake, breathless from running with the girl. Her heart raced from fear of the unknown man in the dream. Splashing barely sudsy, cold water made her shiver. When she raised her glass to take a sip of wine, it tasted soapy. Wow. What a weird dream. Usually she didn’t even remember her dreams, let alone have one she actively participated in, not to mention a totally different century. Victorian era, she guessed. What creeped her out the most was that it felt as if she’d had an out of body experience. She had watched her own actions as if she were a spectator in a movie theater. Yet she still felt the emotions as if they were her own.
With a shake of her head, she tried to slough-off the dream. Her conversation with Bryn had probably been the catalyst. Yet for some reason it still haunted her for the rest of the evening. There was a meaning to the dream that eluded her, waiting just barely out of her grasp.
Frustrated, she popped some popcorn and started to do her favorite part of her job, research. The nerd in her came out in full force, becoming absorbed in her research and forgetting about the bowl of popcorn almost immediately.
Everything about research intrigued her, though she would never admit that to anyone but Bryn. She had never met anyone in the field of journalism who enjoyed research, or at least anyone who admitted to liking it. It was considered a necessary evil by most. Many famous journalists had started out paying their dues by doing research for the big guns who considered it beneath them and therefore pushed off to the underlings at the very bottom of the ladder of success. The only jobs lower on the prestige ladder were mailroom clerk and custodial services, not necessarily in that order, hence the necessity of keeping her love of research a secret.
Before RayeAnn knew it, Bryn was turning her key in the door.
“Hey, how was your night?” RayeAnn sat back in her desk chair for the first time in several hours, feeling the muscles in her back protesting at being in the same position for so long. Stretching out, she spoke.
“Great. There was a meeting in the banquet room tonight, so tips were good. I know I shouldn’t say this too loud, might get jinxed, but I love that job. It’s so much fun to meet new people and flirt with the pudgy bald guy no one else pays attention to.” Bryn plopped onto the couch, as she always did, and grabbed the remote for the television.
“Let me go out on a limb here and guess you got lectured by your mother again today about the direction of your life.” RayeAnn put her hands on her hips and let out a huff of disgust. “How you’re such a smart girl, too smart to work at a nowhere job, blah, blah, blah…”
“Bingo. She’ll never understand or accept that college just isn’t for everyone.”
“True, but she loves you in her own degrading way. She never did understand you, even in high school. Cripes, you two even fought about what color backpack to buy. You’re total opposites, but you love her anyway.”
“Oh yeah, I love her, I just don’t like her very much.”
“And she loves you enough to never give up on you, you lucky gal, you.” Laughing, she brought the cold bowl of popcorn over to Bryn on the couch. “If you’re going to put on those fake shows you recorded, I’m leaving. Because of you I had the weirdest dream in the bathtub tonight.” She stood with her hands on her hips, giving her friend the evil eye she was famous for.
“What did I do? I wasn’t even here.” Speaking despite a mouth full of popcorn, she began to choke and coughed until she grabbed the bottle of water RayeAnn held out.
“It was all that fake ghost talk. It was like I had this out–of- body experience or something. Anyway, it creeped me out, so of course I had to start my research to distract myself.” Her body involuntarily shutddred at the memory. “I’m going to bed. Hopefully I’ll sleep and not remember a thing.”
“Nighty, night.” Bryn waved her fingers goodbye, not taking her eyes off the television screen as eerie music began to fill the room. Snuggling deeper into the lumpy cushions of the couch, she grabbed the throw off the back and settled in for a night of fright. The anticipation she felt for the rush she got from being scared had nothing on the real thing.
Sweat poured out of her while her breath came in uneven gasps even as she tried to scream. Was this real? Bryn rubbed her eyes roughly. Then peeked through her spread fingers again. She trembled from head to toe as she looked at the young woman in the sunny, calico print dress. Tears streamed down the girls contorted face. The sorrow as she held her arms out to Bryn, pleading, made her cold all over.
“Wh…what do you want? Go away!” Her voice came out in a small squeak.
“Help me. Please, I beg of you.” The apparition clutched at her heart.
“I can’t. You’re not real. Go away now. Shoo.” Bryn made a shooing motion with her hands toward the apparition.
“I assure you I am most certainly real. My name is Charity Meriwether and I require your assistance, for I am a lost soul. Look for me in your tomes upon the table. There you shall see.”
Then she was gone, disappearing into one long line of vapor right before Bryn’s eyes.
She sat there, stunned and staring into space when RayeAnn came stumbling into the room.
“What’s wrong? I thought I heard you talking to someone. You look terrible, are you all right?” She stood by the couch in her tank top and shorts pajamas, waiting for a reply. When none came immediately she touched Bryn’s arm gently before speaking again.
“Honey, you’re scaring me a little here. Answer me. What’s wrong?”
“Promise not to laugh?” Her pitiful eyes looked up as they filled with tears.
“Promise.” She made the sign of the cross over her heart and held up her hand as if taking an oath.
“I saw a…I guess you’d call it a…ghost. I don’t know any other way to describe it. It was a young girl, late teens maybe, in a pretty long yellow calico dress. She looked just like you, Raye. The spitting image, except her hair was longer and in a bun at the back of her neck. She told me her name was Charity Meriwether and that we could find out more about her in your books on the table. It was soooo sad. She said she was a lost soul.” Now tears freely streamed down her cheeks.
“I believe, that you believe, you saw what you say. Don’t you think maybe those television programs you’ve been watching might have something to do with this?”
Saying the words didn’t in any w
“No. This was real. When she was done talking she, like, evaporated into thin air. Poof, and she was gone. I can still smell her. Do you smell the lily of the valley in the air?”
RayeAnn took a deep breath, thinking she would humor her obviously daft friend, but stopped suddenly when she realized that she did smell lily of the valley. Moving around the room now and sniffing wildly, she realized that the smell was strongest near her desk. Placing her nose directly on the stack of books, she sniffed each one individually. Satisfied that the smell wasn’t coming from any of the ancient books, she turned back to her friend.
“Come on Bryn, this is insane. You and I both know there are no such things as ghosts, spirits, orbs and any other supernatural stuff.”
“Then how do you explain it, huh? Please, enlighten me. I’m all ears.” She spread her arms out wide, signifying her openness.
When a book from the bottom of the pile suddenly flew across the room both women went running into the bathroom, slamming the door behind them as they screamed and held each other in fear. She clamped her jaws so tightly they ached, but she could still feel them chattering. Together they stood and listened for sounds from the living room.
“Hear anything?” RayeAnn whispered
“Just you, breathing.”
RayeAnn released her death grip on Bryn.
“I had the strangest dream last night,” she began. “I saw a young girl in a calico dress, picking flowers and dancing in a large field. When she spotted a man watching her she ran home. The girl was terrified,” RayeAnn said.
“Why didn’t you tell me this?” Bryn yelled. “This is far more than a coincidence, Raye. Stuff like this is a sign.”
They sat facing each other in the empty bathtub, drawing the shower curtain just in case an entity decided to eavesdrop. Both of them whispered as if someone were listening in on their conversation. They whispered back and forth for hours, hashing and rehashing all the possibilities. Was someone playing a practical joke? Maybe the books were possessed? Possibly a shared dream? Did the popcorn bring on weird dreams? Anything was possible. Eventually both of them fell asleep in the bathtub, still facing each other.