Ghosts, Part II

SH-abandoned houseAs always, your recommendations to friends to stop by and visit here are deeply appreciated so please do not hesitate to spread the word. As long as you keep visiting, I’ll keep writing.

You can visit Carding any time in my novels, The Road Unsalted, Thieves of Fire, and The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life. The fourth in the series, Lights in Water, Dancing, will be out later this year.

You can subscribe to the Carding Chronicles by clicking the subscribe button on my home page. When you do, my stories will speed from my keyboard to your inbox every Thursday without any further effort on your part.

This week features the second part of an excerpt from my next Carding novel, Lights in Water, Dancing. I thought it appropriate for this spirited time of year.

If you need a refresher on what happened last week or liked Ghosts, Part I so much that you want to read it again, here’s the appropriate link.

—————————————————————–

As the leaves fall and the ferns die back, the woods reveal secrets hidden at other times of the year.

Cassie shivered.

This couldn’t be the same house, could it?

Of all the places she could have ended up in her flight for life, Cassie had thought it was pre-ordained she’d find her way to Carding. And if she was right, she’d just tripped across the reason why.

A gust zigzagged down the hill to hop across the surface of Half Moon Lake, making the water slap against the meager remains of a dock. She moved closer. She had been a girl the last time she stood here. Back then, there had been a clutch of docks in front of the Carding cottages, built by the summer visitors. Was this the one her father made with her?

She placed herself on the pebbly shore about halfway between the dock, and the more substantial remains of the cabin now revealed by the baring branches of the trees pressed close to its walls. When it rained on their summer vacation, Cassie had spent hours reading in a chair by the window in her bedroom, and just as many hours gazing at the lake.

Was this the right angle? She squinted at the dock’s remains, willing it to be what she wanted. But she couldn’t be sure.

She dipped her fingers into the water to take its temperature. Certainly not what you’d find in August but she’d plunged into colder stuff in her time. In a second, Cassie stripped off boots, jeans, and underwear, and waded in, gasping at the lake’s icy grip.

If you’re in for a penny, you might as well be in for a pound, she told herself as she pressed on.

Fortunately, the lack of summer rain meant the lake’s level had risen no higher than mid-calf by the time Cassie reached her target, the intersection of the last intact piling with the front edge of the dock.

Like many daughters, Cassie had revered her father, Frank Markham. No one had a better smile or laugh or hugging arms than he did. No one was kinder. No one had ever loved her like he had.

She’d always known, as kids do, that her father was the stronger of her two parents, the one she could count on, the one who was smarter and braver. Her Daddy would never let her down…until he did, dying of cancer when Cassie was a confused fifteen-year old.

Now thoroughly chilled, Cassie reached under the edge of the dock, looking for the back of the bolt that held the two pieces together. They’d built the dock together that last summer, she and her Dad (her mother was too lazy and her seven-year old sister Margie not really helpful).

It was the end of the day with one last bolt to go when Cassie realized she had two nuts left in her pocket. Her father had put her in charge of all hardware—nuts, bolts, screws, washers, nails—and she took the job seriously.

“This one’s too big,” she told her father while peering at him through the hole in the center.

He put out his hand. “Huh, right you are? Did these come from the same package?”

“Yeah. I only opened one. That’s all we needed.”

“Well, waste not, want not is my motto,” her Dad said. “Let’s put them both on, and that way, if we need another one later on, we’ll know where to find it.”

Cassie howled out her years of accumulated grief when her fingers found the spot where two nuts still lay cheek by jowl against the rusted washer. She shoved the wooden dock’s remains back and forth to loosen everything up, praying that the Carding winters had not made the rusty bonds between the hardware pieces permanent.

She was so surprised when the nuts and bolt fell out as a single unit that she nearly dropped them into the lake.

Now shuddering uncontrollably with the cold, Cassie leaped out of the water to dry her goose-fleshed thighs with her sweatshirt, grateful for its sun-enhanced warmth. Then she jammed herself into her jeans, and holding the hardware next to her belly, jogged in place until she could tell which foot was attached to her left leg and which to her right.

That took quite a while.

As she did, she turned in place to look at the abandoned cottage. Both she and Amos had been told that the summer cottages on this sweep of the lake’s shore had been torn down when the Mount Merino Landowners Association bought this face of the mountain. So why was the Markham family’s “usual place” still here?

Brushing sand from her feet with her underwear, Cassie coaxed her toes into her boots, carefully stowed her newfound treasure deep in a pocket, and then tied the sleeves of her sweatshirt to a tree limb where it could play flag in the drying breeze.

What had been a short open stretch of land between house and lake had, over the years, filled in with a thicket of Vermont’s most invasive plants—tall stalks of Japanese knotweed, twisting box elder trees, and Norwegian maple embellished with loops of fox grapevine that gave it an air of poignant romanticism, if you were into that sort of thing.

Cassie wasn’t. To her, romance was a tall glass of red wine at the end of the day with some good cheese and bread, and a man who would spend the better part of an evening rubbing her feet after she’s spent eight hours in the garden.

It took a while to negotiate her way to the front door. Cassie notice that the cottage’s siding had been stripped as had the shingles on its roof, indicating that the long-ago demolition team had started its work. But the sliding door on the front—twice the width of a normal entry door—was intact as were the windows. If Cassie had been stripping a building for demolition, she would have started there. Windows and doors are far more valuable than siding and shingles.

In spite of the bright sunshine, it was difficult to see much inside. She leaned with her forehead pressed to the glass of the large front window for a long time, willing herself to go inside. As she did, she worried the angular nuts and the threaded bolt between her finger and thumb.

When she tried to force it open, a loud shriek of protest from the door backed her right up against a teenaged Norweigan maple. Cassie shivered again but this time it was not because of the cold. She angled her face toward the opening, and her nose caught the distinct odor of rotting wood.

As her eyes adjusted to the dim interior, Cassie realized that the center of the big downstairs room—the place where they did everything but sleep on their summer vacations—had caved in, taking a pile of building supplies with it.

Storage, that’s why the building wasn’t torn down, Cassie thought. She had lived in Carding long enough to know that this was Harry Brown’s doing. He had charged the landowners’ association for taking down the cottage. But instead of making it disappear, he’d converted it into a temporary out-of-sight, out-of mind warehouse for supplies he “diverted” from other construction jobs.

She backed away, glad that Brown’s well-known greed had snapped her back to reality. But the sadness of the place pressed on her, and as she stood in the sun of that glorious fall day, Cassie let her tears flow silently down her cheeks.

“It’s been awful since you’ve been gone, Daddy,” she whispered. “I think I finally came out okay, living here with Uncle Amos and Tupelo. But Reggie’s been here…with Margie. He’s in jail but she’s…she’s…she’s become someone I don’t know. So bent, so strange.”

Cassie didn’t finish. With one quick check in her pocket for her new talisman, she sprinted back up the hill toward home, leaving the vapors of the past to weave their mournful patterns among the trees.

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