Paranormal Romance Novel
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Nestled on Lake Superior in northern Wisconsin is a small, secluded town called Bloodmoon Cove with volatile weather, suspicious folk…and newly awakened ghosts.
Don’t close your eyes…
Some doors, once opened, can never be closed again…
Orphan and widow Corinne Zellman is stunned when she receives several urgent letters from a lawyer, telling her she’s the only surviving heir of Edward Buchanan, a relative of her recently deceased husband. Though Corinne ignores the first few summons, too grieved to consider them anything but cruel hoaxes, she takes notice when yet another arrives, this time with a family ring identical to the one her husband wore and lost just before he was killed. Stuck in a dead end job and curious about the family the love of her life seldom spoke of, she reluctantly pulls up stakes and heads to Bloodmoon Cove, where the persistent elderly gentleman lives. There, with her best friend Ruby, she finds Crooked House, the family “estate”. Crooked House certainly lives up to its disturbing name, as does Edward Buchanan, who is old and pale and disappears so frequently she can almost believe he’s nothing more than a ghost. It isn’t long before Corinne begins to suspect that her new family member had ulterior motives for insisting she come live with him. But to believe that is to believe that Rafe Yager, a hardened soldier, is entirely correct when he says Crooked House is dangerous. The longer she stays, the less chance she’ll ever leave again.
Ghost hunter Rafe is one of the last descendants of the Mino-Miskwi Native American tribe whose elders disappeared during a ritual at their sacred place at the top of Bloodmoon Mountain. Rafe has come home based on a terrifying vision of wide-eyed, wholesome dreamer Cori losing her soul to an evil she doesn’t recognize. Crooked House is falling and its sinister legacy demands recompense for her husband’s death–something that was no accident, as she supposed. Can Rafe save Cori from a sacrifice she never meant to make when she unknowingly came to love a monster?
Crooked House Excerpt 1
© Karen Wiesner
“There was a crooked man,
and he walked a crooked mile.
He found a crooked sixpence against a crooked stile.
He bought a crooked cat
which caught a crooked mouse,
and they all lived together in a little crooked house.”
Just once I’d like to exorcise a ghost that actually looks like bubble-headed, sheet-covered Casper, Rafe Yager thought as he sketched in his journal the latest nebulous spook with skin stretched so tightly over the skull, every bone was delineated sharply, eyes sunken deep into the sockets, the hunger for vengeance glowing menacingly in those dead-but-not-quite-gone depths. He sighed, stroking his thin goatee. In any case, another one had bit the dust, gave up the ghost as it were, finally departed for parts unknown and unknowable. And he was exhausted. This journal was one of the many he’d been keeping of his misadventures as a ghost hunter since he was eleven.
Eleven, he mused sleepily, setting the journal and pen aside and laying back on the pillow on top of his sleeping bag. The age when most Native American boys’re undertaking their first vision quest…
Rafe hadn’t grown up in a tribe and he knew so little about that life–what little his mother and grandmother had imparted and then only reluctantly. He was a descendant of the Mino-Miskwi band whose elders vanished during a ritual at their sacred place at the top of Bloodmoon Mountain. Overnight, all the men “of age” had disappeared without a trace. What was left of the band had scattered like scared sheep, many leaving behind both Bloodmoon Cove, Wisconsin and the Old Ways. His grandmother had broken from that life completely, taking the name of the tribe meaning “good blood” and calling it what she believed it really was: Maji Miskwi. Bad blood.
When she was old enough, she’d fled Wisconsin, moved to the other side of the country in Arizona, shunned anything to do with the mysticism that’d destroyed her people and raised her out-of-wedlock daughter alone, teaching her things that his mother, in turn, had learned to shun. Instead of becoming a nomad without faith, without purpose, without tribe, Rafe’s mom married a white man of faith and, in her time, raised a son who didn’t know or understand his place in any world.
From the time Rafe was barely old enough to comprehend, he’d been different. He’d realized he didn’t belong. Tribe or no tribe, vision quest, mysticism or whatever else there was tangible and intangible on this earth, he’d helplessly followed in the footsteps of his ancestors…the medicine men, the “holy ones”, of the Mino-Miskwi band. He’d had his first vision when he was seven, seen his first ghost when he was eleven, and no matter what he did to try to escape the spirit world, it followed him. The more he ignored the spirits, the more “reality” faded and he lived in that netherworld with beings who rarely seemed to know where they were, let alone why, nor how to escape beyond following the one single-focused course that had haunted them in life and they couldn’t abandon even in their half-life. Until closure was brought about, they couldn’t move on to wherever it was souls were supposed to go when they died.
Rafe had joined the military right out of high school, following in his father’s footsteps, believing he’d detour the curse he’d been plagued with most of his formative years. Except the situations he’d been in as a soldier–military conflicts, disputes, uprisings, skirmishes, insurgencies, ops, and even a war–had only brought him closer to what he’d been trying to avoid. With all three of his loved ones whispering in his ear as long as he could remember about what he couldn’t do, getting involved in that kind of “spiritualism”, he’d finally had to conclude they were wrong.
The first time he gained peace had been after exorcising his first ghost, helping the apparition–in that case, willingly (not true for so many of them since then)–move on. For the most part, he hadn’t really known what he was doing beyond following his instincts. Nevertheless, in the years that followed, he’d realized the only way he could have a semblance of a normal life was to do what he now believed he was born to: Ghost hunting. Spirit exorcisms. Whatever. He’d found some things that worked, more that didn’t, new approaches when all else failed, and he’d gained a modicum of peace. Despite having almost nothing else to call his own, sometimes he had enough peace to go on. He’d learned the hard way that it was all a person really needed in life…
His eyelids closed in anticipation of the tranquility that usually followed a nagging spirit departing the physical realms. He opened his eyes what felt like a moment later to find himself in a room lit only by a black candle. The cloying scent of oil burning all but suffocated him. Movement and an intoning voice from the center of the room diverted his attention from the choking smoke. Sitting on opposite sides of the candle were two women. One, by far the prettier of the two, appeared skittish and wary, uncertain about something–probably what was taking place across from her. The other woman was dressed in black from head to toe. Her nails and lips were also black. She was chanting what Rafe recognized as Psalm 94 in a low, dispassionate voice:
“…judgment shall return unto righteousness: and all the upright in heart shall follow it. Who will rise up for me against the evildoers? or who will stand up for me against the workers of iniquity?”
At the same time Rafe recognized this as a vision he was having, he recognized the chanting female for what she was. On her forehead, beneath an extremely short, crazy-punk hairstyle dyed red and black, was a glowing symbol, dark even against her coffee colored skin–three fiery, blood-red scratches. The mark of the beast. The Witch’s mark.
The pretty, uncertain girl with heavily-lashed, sapphire blue eyes shivered despite the warmth in the room, murmuring, “Ruby, maybe this isn’t such a good idea…”
But the witch continued as if she hadn’t heard her:
“Unless the Lord had been my help, my soul had almost dwelt in silence. When I said, My foot slippeth; thy mercy, O Lord, held me up. In the multitude of my thoughts within me thy comforts delight my soul.”
Fully aware now that he was in a vision, unseen by either woman, Rafe moved around, looking closely at the wide candle in the center and running his fingers over what was carved into the wax. Though only the last word remained, he’d seen a ritual similar to this one before and recognized what the words that’d been carved on the upper part of the candle before must have been: “Eel kanno taf” (so-called “divine” names). The candle was rapidly melting away to nothing, implying the ritual had been going on for the past several nights. Given that the candle was almost gone, this was surely the final night of the spell.
Moving even closer, he saw a photograph of a gawky-looking yet sophisticated Englishman man sporting a handlebar moustache and a Van Dyke beard in the bowl beneath the candle along with a piece of parchment with the name “Thomas Buchanan” written on it. On top of the photograph and the parchment, Rafe saw a ring. His gaze lifted. Only the witch could see it from her angle. The ring was large, stainless steel and obviously heavy, with what looked like an onyx and gold-tone, ion-plated coat of arms on it. The crest looked a lot like the Witch’s mark burned into the chanting woman’s head. That, or a pitchfork.
That thought led to another. Does Sapphire Eyes realize that ring is there? Or did the witch put it there and hide it so she couldn’t see it?
Rafe had had some experience with witches before, and as this one continued her chant–sacrilegiously using the Bible to do her evil–he wondered if this wasn’t a banishing spell to rid someone of a troublesome person. To rid Sapphire Eyes of someone–Tom Buchanan?
“Ruby, maybe I should talk to Tom before we finish this. Maybe there’s another way. I don’t want him to get in trouble…more trouble, at the hospital. I know you said this was a ‘get what you want’ spell, but I’m not sure this will fix Tom’s situation. Maybe that compromising situation will resolve itself and he won’t lose his license…or his job.”
The witch was either purposely ignoring her friend’s pleas or lost in her spellcraft. Ruby’s previously passionless voice was becoming louder, her tone intense as she spoke over the delicate-looking woman with shiny dark hair, the back pulled up in a high ponytail, her long bangs hanging over her beautiful, vulnerable eyes.
“Shall the throne of iniquity have fellowship with thee, which frameth mischief by a law? They gather themselves together against the soul of the righteous, and condemn the innocent blood. But the Lord is my defence; and my God is the rock of my refuge. And he shall bring upon them their own iniquity, and shall cut them off in their own wickedness; yea, the Lord our God shall cut them off.”
No, Rafe verified. This wasn’t a spell for getting what Sapphire Eyes wanted. Not at all. Either this witch is totally incompetent, a novice who doesn’t know one spell from another, or she’s doing a banishment spell on this Tom guy on purpose–for God only knows what reason.
When Ruby opened her eyes, Rafe started at the sight of the blood red irises (contacts or something else?) and the fervency in them. As she all but shouted the last words of the Psalm, something happened that made both women jump back in terror. The candle flared violently, and a spirit arose from it with a shriek like a banshee let loose, sent to deliver a death omen.
As the form solidified, Rafe saw that it was an old man, shrunken and bent crooked, his skull showing through plainly beneath the bloodless, thin skin. The Devil’s mark burned on his forehead. He started to shake his head. This spell is going wrong. Does this novice even realize it? Her beautiful friend can’t have any idea what’s going on there…
Across the room, Corinne’s wide eyes met Rafe’s for a moment. In her eyes, he saw someone or something coming awake as if from a long, unaware slumber. She drew in a breath, the sound of rattled disbelief. But there was something more in her eyes, something like pleading. She has no idea where she is, what’s happening to her—maybe she hasn’t known for a long time. Everything inside of Rafe wanted to reach out to her, to assure her that he’d protect her, he wouldn’t let the evil touch her, hurt her.
The conjured thing dragged her attention back to it. The wraith looked at the spiritual medium for only a second before turning toward the beautiful woman, who screamed in such horror she fell back as the creature drifted toward her with a bony finger pointed at her. Standing over her menacingly, the spirit delivered his imprecation, “A life for a life. What was taken by force will be taken back from willing hands.” Just like that, the apparition vanished, plunging the room in near darkness with the black candle all but spent.
The witch gasped, crying out, “Oh, God. Oh, no. What have I done? Corinne…Cori…” as she rushed to her friend. Rafe could only guess Corinne of the sapphire eyes was alive, based on Ruby’s cry of relief, but she’d clearly fainted. The witch began scrambling around, turning on the overhead light, flying to the oversized bag nearby and pawing through it wildly. When she had everything she needed, she lit incense, letting the smoke build. While it did, she carved a deep X into another candle with a knife. Then she set up two small mirrors on stands so they were facing each other. She positioned the candle between them and lit the wick before beginning her invocation that she repeated over and over, more and more frantically, as if becoming increasingly afraid her spell wasn’t working. Rafe guessed she was trying to reverse the spell that had conjured the creature with the fiery marks on his forehead. Ruby followed this up with another chant while sitting directly beside her friend, this one obviously a spell of protection.
Before she could finish, the phone rang, so loud and shrill, the witch let out a scream that made Rafe jump and Corinne stir. Ruby rushed across the room, muttering, “It’s okay. I made it okay. Nothing happened. It didn’t work…”, and snatched up the cell phone from the coffee table. She talked into the device and then silence fell like a heavy cloud as she listened with unmistakable shock.
“What is it?” Corinne asked behind her, blinking as she sat up. She huddled into her sweater as if violently cold.
Her friend hung up, holding the phone limply in her hand for a moment before she turned and set it back on the table.
Corinne blinked. “Ruby…what happened? Did you…finish the ritual?”
“No. No, sweetie, we didn’t finish. You…you decided not to go through with it. You got too scared and fainted dead away while I was still doing the invocation.” Ruby turned away, moving toward the first candle that had melted over the photograph and gone out.
Rafe circled the room to watch her, noticing for the first time that the crested ring that’d been hiding between the photograph and the parchment was gone. Had Ruby pocketed it? When? She’d done a lot but picking up that ring hadn’t been one of them. Or had something happened to it when the spell went horribly wrong and she’d summoned some kind of apparition instead of banishing this guy Tom, someone Rafe was beginning to suspect Corinne loved and Ruby felt the opposite about? Why else would the witch tell her friend she was performing a “get what you want” spell when she was actually trying to banish this guy?
Corinne’s fragile features lit up as she said softly, “Oh, Ruby, I’m so glad. I got so scared. I thought I saw something…come out of the candle. A demon…”
Ruby shook her head. “No. You passed out. You must have imagined it, sweetie.”
Corinne drew in a shaky breath, allowing her friend to draw her into her embrace. But then Ruby was talking in a low, comforting voice. “Cori, that phone call I just took…”
Something in Ruby’s tone alerted both Corinne and Rafe to some impending doom. Corinne backed away to look at her. “What? Ruby, what happened? What’s going on? Something happened, didn’t it? Oh, God, not Tom. Please tell me something didn’t happen to my husband…”
Ruby reached for her once more in sympathy, but her words were anything but consoling. “Oh, sweetie, I know you’re devastated, but he’s not worth your grief. Think of all the times he cheated on you, all the times you blamed yourself. You never required him to so much as apologize before you took him back. He doesn’t deserve you. He’s not worthy of your undying loyalty and love.”
Corinne drew away. “Tell me what happened, Ruby.”
Despite the strength in Corinne’s command, when Ruby said the words–telling her of Grimoire Hospital’s call, the car accident that had killed Tom–Corinne screamed her grief, her legs giving out as she collapsed as though everything that had mattered in her life was gone. Rafe found himself reaching for her, too, though his vision was already fading, drawing him out of its reality. The last view he had were her sapphire eyes, so blue, so bright and devastated. The scent of fragrant, exotic fruit and flowers filled him so that even when he woke in his tent in the Florida campground, still hearing her broken cries, he felt consumed by the perfume and misery of this tender-hearted, fragile woman. His heart was beating a million miles an hour, and it took him a long time to find his equilibrium and sort out the vision.
His best evaluation led him to conclude Corinne had married a man unworthy of her, one who’d cheated on her countless times and might have compromised his job in doing so, a man this novice witch had obviously disliked enough to attempt a banishment conjuration on under the guise of some “get what you want” spell her unaware friend had agreed to in an desperate attempt to free her husband from a predicament of his own making.
Sitting up, Rafe grabbed his journal and pen. As fast as he could, he sketched what he’d seen, lingering over the image of Corinne that remained vivid in his mind. He didn’t have to struggle too hard to deduce that his vision had taken place in Grimoire, Wisconsin. His grandmother had spoken of “Erie County” which contained both Grimoire, a larger city, and Bloodmoon Cove, the very small town an hour away where their ancestors had met their doom. Even if the witch hadn’t spoken of Grimoire in the vision, something inside, something unexplainable, insisted that Rafe had to go home.
Home? How can Bloodmoon Cove be home? I wasn’t born there, never been anywhere near that place in my entire life. Nan was born and raised there. She disowned it, disowned the few people left of her band. We moved around so much with my grandmother while I was growing up, with Dad in the military, I’ve never really had a home. Nan called Erie County, especially Bloodmoon Cove, cursed, haunted. Warned me to never, ever go there because, as long as the tribe was missing, the evil would remain centered there. Even in Arizona, in the place we settled after Dad resigned his commission, I lived with people who loved me and put me first in their lives…yet I never belonged there. Because my home is Bloodmoon Cove. I’ve always known that, regardless of the lack of logic in that conclusion. This vision only solidifies my longtime belief.
Rafe’s dad had died with their opposition between them, unreconciled. His father believed he was “chasing demons”, and Rafe couldn’t deny that maybe he was, sometimes. He’d seen evil firsthand. Like it or not, he couldn’t ignore the spirits that came to him because, whenever he tried, they tormented him more. To rid his life of their nagging, he helped the good ones find whatever they were looking for that’d haunted them beyond life, and he drove the bad ones out of the earthly realms by fire, salt, and iron.
He had no idea why he’d been given the vision of Corinne with her beautiful sapphire eyes, of her desperately foolish love for the wrong man and her bad choice of friend, but he knew sooner or later he would have to heed its command and go there, go where he’d been begged to stay away from by his mother and grandmother who were both gone from the earth, and, thank the good Lord, hadn’t returned as spirits. Still, he was alone. He was lonely. He had no one and almost nothing to call his own. Whether led by fate or some higher power, he would heed this call he’d been given because it was his destiny. He would do it for the promise of peace, however transitory. And for those sapphire eyes he already knew he’d never forget…