There was the green slime--there were the creeping vines--there was a Louisiana mansion, haunted by a malevolent and vibrating force more powerful than the humans who lived there, whose terrifying history remained buried in 18th century France. There was a young girl of virginal beauty who slept--some said in a coma--in that mansion, and in her dreams she was possessed by the demonic ancestors who plagued the house, the land and its swamps, the sepulcher. And then there was Chill, who came for a birthday party and stayed to fight the evil forces that threatened them all with supernatural powers beyond comprehension. Dr. Russel V. Chillders (Chill) is a private investigator of the supernatural. His special lady and assistant is Laura Littlefawn, half-Sioux, with psychic powers, a "sensitive," who sees beyond the natural world. This is the second in their spellbinding explorations into the realm of psychic phenomena.
A Hard Shell Word Factory Release
Jory Sherman began his literary career as a poet in San Francisco's famed North Beach during the heyday of the so-called "Beat Generation." His poetry was widely published when he began writing fiction.
He has won numerous awards for his poetry and prose and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for his novel, GRASS KINGDOM. He was a Spur Award winner from Western Writers of America for his novel, THE MEDICINE HORN.
He now lives on a prime fishing lake in East Texas.
There it was again. She looked quickly away from the house.
The tug at her abdomen, the tilt of the ground, the giddiness. The wicker basket at her feet seemed so far away. She drew a breath and stood up in her garden, trying to get a fix on the horizon. She looked down at the neat rows of vegetables, and the straight lines seemed to curve.
It was the house.
Every time she looked at it too long, this dizziness assailed her senses, this awful wave of sickness came over her. It wasn't sickness, exactly. It was more like a sickening premonition of fear, of dread.
The nausea would pass. It always did-after she looked away from the house.
She tried to align the horizon, to stabilize her senses. Her forehead was drenched with sweat. Not perspiration-sweat. Streams of it trickled into her eyes. She wiped the moisture away. Her brows were soaked. The horizon danced for a long moment, then steadied.
For a week it had been like this: the ground turning to rubber beneath her feet, the house seeming to move, imperceptibly, every time she looked at it. Maybe there was too much white against the green landscape. It was a big old house, a mansion, really. But she and Tom loved it. Six months ago they had inherited it. Well, she had. They thought it perfect, a summer place, their own acknowledgment of the back-to-the-land movement. It was their retreat from the hectic, scrambling world of television production.
It was a week ago that she had first pitched forward into the garden, feeling off-balance and disoriented. She nearly fainted. And she had rushed into town, fifteen miles away, to see the doctor, Stanley Morgan, M.D.
"It's probably not Meniere's disease, although the symptoms are similar," he had said. Kindly Dr. Morgan, one of Shreveport's finest. A friend of a friend. Middle-aged and paunchy, with those huge horn-rimmed glasses, a bristly moustache, and fat, sensuous lips that were too small for his face and too wet to look at.
"What's Meniere's disease?" Patty Brunswick had asked. "I've never heard of it."
"It's what you likely don't have, Patty," Dr. Morgan had said, laughing. "A pressure in the balancing mechanism of the ear. You probably don't have it. It usually comes with age, between forty and sixty, and men get it more often than women. You can hear out of both ears all right, can't you?"
"The disease usually brings on deafness. No deafness here. No tinnitus?"
"Ringing in the ears. Buzzing. Hissing. No strange noises in your head?"
"No, none of that. Only the giddiness and the dizzy spells."
"Your symptoms are probably psychological. I mean, I could send you to an ear, eyes, nose and throat specialist, but I think it would be a waste of time and money. Any unusual excitement lately? Any emotional upheavals out there at your place?"
Dr. Morgan knew that Patty had inherited the Grandier place from a great uncle she'd never really known. And he knew that she and her husband were really out of their element. The place was so run down. Bernard Grandier had been a recluse, and no one had seen him for the last several years of his life.
"No, Stan," she had said. "Nothing big. Oh, it's Joan's birthday this coming Sunday. We're having a few friends out over the weekend. I'm planning a big party on Saturday."
"Hmmm, I thought maybe the country life had gotten to both of you. Chiggers, ticks, mosquitoes, cottonmouths. Can be a shock to city folks."
Patty had laughed.
"Well, I don't like the bugs, but you get used to them. And, no, Stan, Tom and I aren't fighting, if that's what you're thinking. Tom thinks the house is just great. He's been reading Mother Earth News ever since Chill gave him a copy."
"Chill. He's that psychic fellow your husband did a television program on, isn't he?"
"Yes. Chill and Tom are good friends. Anyway, Chill isn't really psychic. He just investigates supernatural stuff."
"Then you two really are happy out there?"
"Sure. So why am I dizzy?"
"Maybe you're going through the ?change' a little early," Morgan had said. "What are you, thirty-nine?"
"Ah, call it thirty-nine, Stan. I'm forty-one. And I'm not getting hot flashes. I'm still attracted to Tom. And I had a hysterectomy five years ago."
"I see. Okay, Patty, I'll give you some pills. Call me in a week if you have any more spells. You may be allergic to the sun. You only get this when you're outdoors?"
Had she told him that? Probably. It was true.
The nurse had given her a packet of pills with instructions scrawled on the white envelope: Take one if dizziness occurs.
She fumbled for the pills in her pocket. Did she have them with her? They were big as horse pills and she wondered if she could swallow one without any water. Besides, she was feeling better now. It wasn't exactly dizziness, anyway-well sort of. She had told Dr. Morgan she felt dizzy. That had been the only way she could describe it then.
Now, however, she knew it was more. Her stomach had turned over. She had the distinct impression that the house had moved.
But that was impossible, wasn't it?
Patty looked up at the serene blue sky. Should she take the pill?
Tom didn't know about her visit to Dr. Morgan. She didn't want to worry him. Tom would turn it into a major clinical investigation. He had worried himself sick over her hysterectomy. Well, they had thought she might have cancer, but she hadn't-only an infection of the uterus. So it had been removed. No more children. But Joan was child enough. She had filled both their lives. She would be sixteen on Sunday. The party was to be a surprise for her. Some young friends, some neighbor children, Tom's friends from New Orleans, Chill, a single female for him, which had been Tom's idea. Everything would be very joyous and pleasant.
So why was she having these feelings of queasiness?
Anxiety. Maybe she was emotionally over-wrought, too excited about the party, too anxious to show off the place, to show the guests what they had done in just six happy, busy months. The garden, especially, was her pride and joy, and Tom's too. The vegetables served at the party would be only those they had grown themselves. They had only about a quarter acre under cultivation, but the rich soil was producing more vegetables than the three of them could eat. She canned the harvest, too, and that was a new and rewarding experience. She had put up green beans already and soon she would be able to can squash, tomatoes, corn, and a host of other home-grown vegetables she could serve next winter with pride.
Did she dare look at the house again?
What was so frightening about it? It was an old house, but not ugly. In fact, despite its disrepair, it was quite beautiful. It was like any number of old Southern plantation mansions-two stories, gables, stately columns on the front porch. But she never could get the style of architecture straight. Greek, she supposed, or maybe it was Roman, perhaps a combination of both. The front lawn was huge, wide and long, bordered and inset with flower beds.
Old Moses Petitjean had taken care of the grounds for years, and he was still there. He came with the Grandier place.
The interior of the house was shabby, but that contributed to its decadent charm. The house was of another time, another world. It was deliciously anachronistic, and Tom had fallen in love with it from the first. It was similar, in fact, to Chill's place up near Atlanta, although Chill's home was reputed to be elegant. She had never been to his home, but Tom had featured a shot of it in his documentary about Chill.
Why was she thinking of Chill just now? Because he was arriving tomorrow? Or because she thought there was something strange, something off-key about the house? Well, she liked Chill. He was handsome and charming-sexy, even. But just because she liked him didn't mean she could believe the world was inhabited by ghosts and demons. There was something worldly about Chill, yet unworldly at the same time. She couldn't see herself talking to him about her problem, but maybe she would. It might be interesting to hear his theory.
She let her eyes drift over the landscape. She loved the stately trees, the big oaks and hickory trees. There was a pecan grove and another orchard where peaches and plums hung on leafy branches. There were apple trees as well. To her right, the land was densely wooded and overgrown, rising to a green bluff that overlooked that section of the property. She had inherited more than 200 acres and they had seen but a small portion of it. She and Tom had vowed to pack a picnic lunch one day and take Joan and explore the property. But so far, they hadn't taken the time. Besides, the density of the under-growth was somewhat forbidding, even formidable.
She realized that she must get back to picking the vegetables for their evening salad.
It was silly to think that the house had made her feel so odd. Well, she just wouldn't look at it again until she was through. She took a deep breath and bent over to pick some more radishes. They were thick and needed thinning; some were starting to split. She picked a dozen, then walked over to the lettuce bed. Bibb lettuce was the only variety she could get to grow. Head lettuce grew straight up but wouldn't come to a head. She tore a few leaves off and put them in her wicker basket. She picked some fragrant coriander. Tom had planted that. He loved coriander. He'd called it cilantro, however, ever since he'd done that documentary in Mexico. She snipped a leaf, held it to her nose and sniffed deeply of the pleasant aroma. The scent seemed to clear her head. It was difficult to find coriander in grocery stores, so they grew their own.
She felt better. She plucked a ripe bell pepper from its mooring. Its deep green color was almost hypnotic. She would cut up part of it for the salad and save the rest for the pot roast she planned to cook on Sunday.
Patty lifted the basket. She had picked enough. Why was she hesitating, then? She would have to go back to the house eventually. She looked off toward the end of the garden. Beyond was the huge barn, almost empty now. They had no cattle, no livestock-just the cats that Abigail Dailey, their cook, kept around the house to keep the rat and mouse population under control.
She looked once again out over the bottomland. Tom said they should try to cultivate more of it next year. It was a shame to let such good land go to waste. Honestly, she wondered if he was reverting to a country boy, which he never had been until she had inherited this huge place from her father's uncle. She was the only heir, apparently, and that was that. Still, it had been a shock. There were no liens or mortgages on the property. The taxes were low. There had been some money, too, which had been enough to pay off the inheritance tax.
She remembered her great uncle Bernard Grandier, but hadn't seen him since she was a child. Her parents, Norman and Ida Grandier, had spoken of him little during their last years.
The attorney had been tight-lipped, the officious type. A small man with a thin moustache and a bristly, cockroachy manner, scurrying amid piles of ancient, dusty papers in an old, smelly office. He had handled the Grandier affairs for years. "Here's the deed, Mrs. Brunswick, and the check from the trust account. It's all in order. Thank you. Good-bye." Just like that.
His name was Pierre Duchamps. When Patty had called his office, the intercept operator told her that the phone had been disconnected and was no longer in service. The office in Shreveport was now occupied by a mail-order firm. Mr. Duchamps, it appeared, had retired. Address unknown. The letter she had mailed had been returned: "Undeliverable as addressed."
She had never seen a copy of the will.
Patty turned, lowering her eyes. She picked her way through the rows, heading on an oblique angle back toward the house. The soil between the rows was nicely manicured, thanks to Tom and his motor-driven tiller. The weeds grew insanely after every rain and if he didn't keep after them, they would take over the garden, like those vines that grew near the bluff and crawled up the oak trees that shaded the house. Nature was possessive in Louisiana. Without the tilling, the vegetation would choke out the garden.
She would have to look up at the house. She couldn't avoid it. She stepped over the last row and walked along the fence to the garden gate. They had put up wire mesh to keep the rabbits out, then planted peas and beans along the fence so the plants could climb the wire. The peas had been planted too late and had not done well. The beans, though, had grown over the fence and become entwined in their own tendrils. She opened the gate.
The basket was heavy in her hand. The house was not far now. She took another deep breath, letting it out quickly as her stomach knotted up. She should have worn a sunbonnet. It would have shaded her head and face, kept her from...from what? Looking at the house again?
She wanted to laugh at herself. Tom would, she knew. He would think she had stayed out in the sun too long. Maybe that was it. Maybe it was the sun's heat that made her lightheaded, dizzy. She took a step and looked up at the house. For a moment it seemed small and far away. She squinted into the sun. The house stood out in relief. It was like looking through an old-fashioned stereopticon.
Maybe it was the expanse of white that made her react so strangely. The white walls of the house glared in the sunlight, against the green of the foliage of the trees surrounding it. She stared, transfixed, wondering if she had conquered her hysteria.
She took a step toward the house, her shoulders rising with a deep breath. She would not let the hysteria grip her this time. Forewarned was forearmed. Mind over matter. The clichés piled up, comforting little adages that gave her a grip on reality despite their triteness. She needed them. She needed something!
The earth tipped underneath her feet, like an unsteady table.
The house turned into a rubbery image and she saw the sky shimmer before it began to spin wildly above the roof. Blue and white and green kaleidoscoped, and she felt herself falling backward, the basket of vegetables flung spastically from her hand. She screamed in terror.
She hit the ground with a thud, her scream blown into silence by the sudden impact. Her eyes brimmed over with stinging tears.
"Tommmm!" she shrieked, when her wind returned. "Tommmmmmm!"
She saw the stone wall that bordered the backyard patio, the umbrellas, the lawn underneath her stretching out like some turbulent swollen sea. The house blurred and expanded, seemed to grow larger, seemed to rush up toward her as nausea curdled up from her stomach.
Through it all, she thought she saw the back door open and Tom running toward her. From the corner of her eye, she saw, or thought she saw, another figure in slow motion. A strange dark man in overalls and a straw hat, carrying a stick, a hoe, a scythe-something big. Moses Petitjean. Yes. And Tom, far away. He was coming, too. She fought to hold on, to keep from vomiting.