I’ve been working on a new book, another paranormal mystery, tentatively titled “Death on the Dock: A Lake Agate Mystery”…set to come out in October. *fingers crossed*
Today, I thought I’d share the first (unedited) chapter so that everyone could give it a read…and then give me some feedback. I’d really like to hear everyone’s honest thoughts.
So…here’s a free bit of writing. Read it. Make a comment. That simple. Or don’t…I know that nap might be calling you…
Standard day-to-day operations do not normally involve having the front office open at the ungodly hour of one o’clock in the morning. Normally I would be in bed, my head on the pillow, eyes long closed, a book tented on my chest, and two cats that are only spirited by day sleeping lazily at my feet. At that time of night, renters have been comfortably nestled in their beds in their cabins for at least two hours. Embers barely glowing in the fire pits in front of each cabin, blueish curls of smoke drifting languidly skyward, would be the only sign that any activity had transpired throughout the day. In the morning, life would begin again, but soundless was the camp throughout the darkness of night.
The Cabins at Lake Agate keep pretty strict operating hours, and I’m pretty stringent about the front desk policies. In the morning, the front office opens at seven o’clock so that breakfast can be served, such as it is, and equipment rental may begin. Hours of operation are until six o’clock in the evening or until the last cabin is rented. Of course, I always try to honor late arrivals if arrangements are made, but late arrivals are not very common. Most people would get lost in the dark trying to find the camp anyway. Far enough from the nearest town, and not having many street lights on the road leading out to the lake, it can be problematic navigating the way to the camp after dark.
Regardless of the policies, it wasn’t entirely uncommon for me to have to meet renters at the front office in the middle of the night, especially if they had insisted on renting Heron’s Haven. I simply referred to Heron’s Haven as “Cabin 6” when I wasn’t dealing directly with customers. Heron’s Haven was the biggest and nicest cabin in the camp, thus the reason that so many renters were adamant that they must rent it. Normally, if customers showed up to rent a cabin on the spot, I could talk them out of it with one excuse or the other. However, many renters booked Heron’s Haven online, and no manner of calls or emails could change their mind. So, when they showed up, confirmation in hand, keys to Heron’s Haven were handed over while I did my best to keep a smile on my face.
Look, I can’t exactly put a warning on the booking website about Cabin 6 being haunted, nor could I look a renter in the face and say it. Appearing completely out of my head to paying customers is not the best way to stay in business. Even if a warning about a haunted cabin didn’t get strange looks shot my way, surely it would bring in the wrong sort of renters. Those looking for the thrill of ghosts and spirits were not exactly the clientele I had in mind when I bought the camp. Nor did I want to field requests from television ghost hunters looking to come and investigate Cabin 6. Peace and quiet is what The Cabins at Lake Agate are about—not thrills and scares. I was perfectly happy to have the occasional scared renter in the middle of the night to avoid the endless headaches a known haunting might bring about.
When rumors started to fly that someone caught a nearly ten-pound largemouth bass near the camp, it was all I could do to keep up with the incoming reservations. Fishing for largemouth bass is not something that I mind the camp being known for, but a haunting certainly is not desirable. People might say that any publicity is good publicity, but the influx of ghost hunters and the ensuing calamity would surely drive away all other types of customers for good. That was definitely not something that I was willing to risk. Far from retirement age as I was, it was still my long-term goal to retire at the camp. That would never be possible if the cabins didn’t continue to generate income. So, no warnings, no hauntings, no ghost hunters. End of story. The ashen complexions of the man and woman dashing into the front office told a different story, though.
“Having trouble sleeping?” I asked with a sympathetic frown as the couple moved cautiously across the office and approached the desk.
“Um, yes.” The man replied, his face pale and his eyes sunken.
“I hate that.” I frowned a moment longer, then tried to brighten the mood. “You said on the phone that you just felt uneasy in such a big, quiet cabin? Would you like me to put you in a smaller cabin? Still nice and full of amenities, of course.”
“I want to go home.” The man’s wife whispered in his ear.
He “shushed” her lowly before turning back to me, a shaky hand reaching out with the key to Heron’s Haven clasped within.
“Another cabin would be fine for tonight.” He mumbled, some color slowly returning to his face.
“As long as it won’t be…” the woman blurted out and then caught herself.
I raised an eyebrow, awaiting the rest of her sentence as I took the key from her husband. The two of them exchanged a quick look, then turned to me once again.
“As long as it won’t be…the same.” She swallowed roughly, looking as ashen-faced as her husband.
“Of course.” I gave an understanding look. “No two cabins are the same at The Cabins at Lake Agate, I assure you. And there isn’t a single cabin like Heron’s Haven. I promise.”
We all looked at each other for a moment, and in that moment, we all had an understanding. No renter that fancied themselves to a be sane minded individual wished to believe in ghosts or hauntings. Nor would any want to admit that they had been scared enough to grab their bags and run off into the night terrified to death. Though I had had almost this exact same exchange with at least a dozen renters over the last two years, none had been forthright (or crazy) enough to admit that they had seen a ghost. It was for the best. Having to call a renter a liar was not something that was beneath me.
“Thank you.” The man replied and the tension seemed to drain from both of them immediately as I set about getting them the keys to Moon Pool—or Cabin 1.
Cabin 1 was the furthest cabin from Heron’s Haven, so I figured it would make them feel the safest and quickly forget about their haunting experience. With more gratitude than I would have managed in a similar situation, they accepted the key and left the office, much more able-legged than they had entered. I sighed to myself as I shoved the key to Cabin 6 in my hip pocket and headed for the door. Out on the front porch of the office, I could see the shaken renters stepping tentatively through the front door of Cabin 1. Once I was sure that they were inside and not coming back out for the rest of the night, I walked down the front office steps.
Hanging a left, I caught the trail that took one up the hillside towards Heron’s Haven. At first, I walked up the trail, but within moments I was marching towards the cabin, a man incensed. After a dozen times of being woken up in the middle of the night by panicked renters, I had just about enough of my undead, and seemingly permanent, tenants. Halfway up the hillside, I turned onto the front walkway up to the cabin, memory helping me in the dark. I marched up the six steps to the front porch, jammed the key in the lock, slung the door open, and slapped on the light switch near the entry way. Light flooded the cavernous main room of the cabin as I jammed my hands onto my hips.
“Ethel! Nicholas!” I bellowed. “We had a deal!”
“This is the twelfth time that I have had to move renters because of you!” I continued, ignoring the lack of response. “Twelve times! You promised to not bother any paying customers if I promised to leave Heron’s Haven empty two days a week! Are Mondays and Tuesdays not good enough for you?!?”
Still silence. They were no fools, even in death.
“And don’t think that acting like I’m not here is going to solve the problem!” I growled towards the loft. “I will stay here until we have it out, or I’m coming back with a priest and a drum of holy water! Come down from there!”
I’m down here…
Ethel’s gossamer body floated through the wall that separated the main room of the cabin from the kitchen and dining area. The breathy moan-like quality of Ethel’s voice still made my spine tingle every time I heard it. She counted on it to make me lose some of my resolve, but twelve incidents were enough to give me a steel backbone.
“Where’s Nicholas?” I grumbled as I turned to face her.
He won’t come out while you are out of sorts…
Ethel floated before me, inches from the ground, her opaque white form shimmering as she spoke to me. As always, Ethel appeared in a voluminous, heavy dark skirt, pin-striped long-sleeved shirt buttoned up to the neck, her gray hair tightly wound into a bun on top of her head. I kept one hand on my hip as I pointed a finger at her.
“You two have gone back on the deal.” I snarled. “And I think these two might actually say something about it to others.”
Our intention was not to startle them…but, they were the most awful sort…
“What did this pair do?” I threw my hands up. “Did they leave a wet wash cloth on the floor of the bathroom like that one couple? Or did were they using the ‘picture box’ to watch scandalous shows like the others?”
Dishes in the sink, sir.
Nicholas, in his thick trousers and billowy shirt floated down the stairs form the upstairs. His clipped, precise manner of speech, though no less ethereal than Ethel’s, flowed from his mouth. He floated down next to Ethel and shimmered with his transparent form next to hers. I rolled my eyes and jammed my hands into my pockets, trying to swallow my anger before speaking again. Both Ethel and Nicholas floated before me, awaiting my next outburst.
“Look.” I kept myself calm as I looked at the pair of ghosts. “When renters are in here, you’re going to have to forgive a few indiscretions on their part. We’ve discussed this. Sometimes dirty dishes, wet wash cloths, and trashy T.V. are just something you will have to learn to cope with. If you put up with that, then on Mondays and Tuesdays, no one defiles your personal space. Isn’t that what we agreed upon from the very beginning?”
Yes… Ethel moaned breathily.
Yes, sir. Nicholas nodded.
“I don’t even want to know what you did to them, but…”
Ethel opened and closed a few doors and banged on the walls a bit. Nothing too scandalous, sir. Though they were incredibly terrified. The man left his tea on the counter without even drinking it.
I turned to Ethel. “Cut. It. Out.”
But the dishes…
“No.” I pointed a finger at her. “You two need your home. I understand and respect that. But you’re going to cost me money. If you keep this up, word will get out, people will stop renting the cabins eventually, and then I’ll have to sell the camp. Do you think the next owner will be as nice? They might even bulldoze the whole camp for condos. You’ll have no home at all then!”
Ethel and Nicholas exchanged a quick look.
No more, sir. Nicholas replied. We will abide these people.
“You’ve promised that before.” I pointed at Nicholas now. “Make sure this time you mean it.”
You are most kind… Ethel moaned.
“Not so kind that I won’t stick to my threat of a priest and holy water, Ethel.” I grumbled and shoved my hands back into my pockets again and looked down at my feet.
Being unkind or short with Ethel and Nicholas did not make me happy. However, losing money, or the camp itself, because the two couldn’t mind their manners was something that would definitely ruin a man’s day. I sighed to myself and looked up at them both again.
“Do you want me to turn on Discovery?” I offered. “They’re playing Planet Earth all night tonight.”
Without an actual response, they both floated quicker than I had ever seen to hover a few feet in front of the flat screen television over the fireplace. I gave an amused roll of my eyes as I went over to the coffee table and picked up the remote. A few clicks later and the favorite television program of my two resident spooks was playing on the television. I turned the volume up to a reasonable level and laid the remote back on the coffee table. Ethel and Nicholas floated in front of the television, transfixed.
“I’ll have Rhonda shut the T.V. off in the morning when she comes to clean.” I announced as if they were actually paying attention. “And don’t give her any trouble or there will be no Discovery for at least a month.”
Both of their forms shimmered brilliantly, which I took to be an acceptance of the terms. Feeling as though we had come to another agreement for the time being, I slipped out of the cabin, turning the light off on my way. Once the front door was secured and the key was back in my pocket, I made my way back down to the front office again. As I was ascending the stairs of the front office, the lights in Cabin 1 were off, so I knew that my previously startled renters had fallen back asleep. Inside of the office, I deposited the key to Cabin 6 in its little cubbyhole behind the desk and left again. I locked up behind myself and walked down the main path towards my cabin at the north end of the camp.
Within minutes I was walking up the front steps of my lighted porch, two pairs of eyes watching me from the window next to the front door. Inside of the front door, both of my legs were immediately assaulted by two cats, one orange and one calico. I chuckled as I did my best to shuffle into the cabin and close and lock the door behind myself. Rufus, the male orange tabby cat was large and lean, with a sweet face and even disposition. Tammy, the calico Munchkin was round and dumpy, as the breed often is, and with a feisty mood about her.
“Good to know you both missed me.” I chuckled again as I fought my way towards the loft stairs.
Once at the stairs, the cats moved from my legs long enough for me to ascend to the sleeping area above, then bounded up the stairs after me. I stripped down to my boxers once again and climbed into bed, pulling the covers up to my chest. Tammy and Rufus took up their posts next to my legs, purring loudly as I grabbed the book from the other side of the bed. I slipped the flyleaf flap into the book to mark my place and laid it down on my bedside table. Once I had twisted the knob on the lamp, Tammy moved up to lay against my chest as Rufus draped himself across my legs. With no further thoughts of startled renters or the ungrateful ghosts in Cabin 6, the three of us were off to sleep.
Until next time…