Thursday, October 8, 2009
Ghostly Research with Candace Morehouse
Hanging on to her feathered headpiece with one hand, clutching her flimsy black lace shawl with the other, Candace sauntered through the swinging doors of the haunted saloon, her satin dress rustling.
The lights were dim and the sultry vocals of Patsy Cline floated through the room, the bitter-sweet lyrics laced with heart-wrenching pain. Legendary outlaws sat around card tables, shuffling decks of cards while doing shots of whiskey. The smell of tobacco singed the air. As Candace sacheted her way up to the bar, Jessie James looked up and gave her a wicked wink before resuming his card game with Frank, the brothers Cole and James Younger. Candace’s high-heeled boots tapped rhythmically on the hardwood floor as she joined Mae West at the bar.
“Howdy, Candace,” Mae smiled, crossing one leg. Dressed in a black satin dress with red ruffled bottom, she raised her wine glass to the bartender. “Another one here, darlin’ and one for my friend.”
Posters of wanted outlaws framed the walls and empty whiskey jugs lined the scarred surface of the mahogany bar. Peanuts in cowboy boots were on either side while the cactus candles flickered, displaying bullet holed walls.
The bartender placed two glasses of shiraz down and smiled. “Courtesy of the James brothers, girls.”
“Thank you, Oliver,” Mae winked, turning to smile at Jessie and Frank.
“Aren’t they something,” she turned to Candace.
Candace: “Sure enough. But I’ve got my eye on that hunky sheriff prowling about. He can do a strip search on me anytime, Mae.”
Mae: “So tell me, surely you are aware of the ghosts that haunt this saloon. Why, the brothers James and the brothers Cole and James Younger are all dead and gone. But their ghosts come by every night to drink, play cards and socialize with the saloon gals, just the way they did back in the days of the Wild, Wild West. So why are you here, m’dear?”
Candace: “Research, Mae, research. One cannot write effectively about a topic like ghosts unless one has experienced it for herself.”
“Do you really believe in ghosts?” Mae swiveled around on her bar stool to openly gawk at the outlaws, noticing with a gasp their images are not reflected in the mirror above the bar.
Jesse throws his deck of cards down and stands up and approaches the bar, walking straight through the table where two cowboys sit doing shots.
“Did you see that? Mae gasped, chugging down her shiraz in one gulp. She holds it up to the bartender. “Another round, Oliver.”
Jesse James materializes behind Mae and Candace, his handsome face a tad pale up close. But his beguiling smile is dazzling. “Even’, ladies. Me and the boys would like to request the pleasure of your company. Come join us at our table.”
Mae and Candace join the outlaws, drawn into the scene of the Wild, Wild West.
“So what brings you ladies to the Haunted Saloon tonight?” Frank asked, the wooden legs of his chair squeaking on the floor as he moved closer to Candace. “How’s about you, sugar?”
Mae adjusts herself to reveal her legendary bosom. “Well now honey, I belong here, being dead and gone myself. But my friend Candace is an author and she’s doing research on her book Suspicion of Love. And in one of her scenes, a ghost appears to her main character. Go on, tell them about it, Candace.”
“Sure, sugar,” Frank winked, ordering more shiraz. “Tell us all about it.”
Candace: “Well, this is what I came up with for a scene in an old, drafty English castle. Tell me what you think.”
Jacqueline was now lying abed, a thick wax candle dripping into its heavy pewter holder on the table next to her, a mountain of fluffy bed linens piled up around her body, and a book open in her lap that she’d barely read two lines from. There was a listless fire burning in the grate of the fireplace; it, along with the thick wool rug on the wood floor, the soft shine of the highly polished oak paneled walls, and the fine linen drapings about the canopied bed, should have made the room comfortable and cozy. It did not.
Although she was well acclimated to the bitter cold winters in Wisconsin, the castle’s brisk humidity and the cool, dank air seeping in beneath the door and around the windowpanes of her room brought on a chill that Jacqueline could not seem to shake.
She was tired enough to yawn continuously, but her mind refused to follow suit, replaying, instead, the events of the day over and over in an unending loop: Hayden avidly taking the role of tour guide throughout the long coach journey, Stephen standing rigid and stony-faced before the immense fireplace in the priory parlor, the somber view of the gray-cloaked river and churning sea visible beyond the heather and nettle-covered cliff as seen through the castle’s lead-paned windows. Abruptly Jacqueline tossed the book to the side of the bed and blew out the sputtering candle, drawing the fine bed linens up tight beneath her chin and closing her eyes, willing sleep to come quickly and cease the pictures in her mind’s eye.
She must have slept for some time—how long she was unsure. Something had awakened her with a start. Disoriented, Jacqueline slowly opened her eyes and strained to make out shapes in the unfamiliar chamber by the dim light of dying embers in the stone fireplace.
It was the odor that had first awakened her, she thought, waking up fully. She sniffed at the air, and the scent of lilacs in the room became suddenly overwhelming. It didn’t make sense. Where could it possibly be coming from? How could there be lilacs blooming in a castle next to the sea?
As her eyes adjusted to the dark, Jacqueline propped herself up on her elbows, recognizing the shape of the bedside table, the rocking chair, the embroidered ottoman next to the fireplace, and the massive bureau with wide mirror above on the wall opposite her bed. As she peered at the far wall of the room between panels of soft green linen draped over the bed’s canopy, a flicker of movement was reflected in the looking glass opposite. She squinted her eyes and swiveled her head left and right, trying to determine what might have caused it.
There it was again—a wisp of white curling about the edge of the mirror. She looked behind her, finding nothing and knowing it could not be her own reflection. There was no movement of any kind save for the strange white miasma in the mirror.
Goose pimples freckled Jacqueline’s arms, and the hairs at the back of her neck danced with fear as Jacqueline lay frozen in one spot, the wisp of white swirling and twirling alongside the bed now, elongating and dangling just inches from the floor. The smell of lilacs was even more pervasive, wafting about on the breeze created by the white wisp. The temperature in the room plummeted, and Jacqueline shuddered with the cold.
Although she was frightened, Jacqueline found she could not look away from the scene unfolding before her. The smoky tendrils started to bond together and lengthen into something more substantial, although she could see right through the mist clear to the fireplace beyond. A face began to form, a woman’s face surrounded by a cloud of white-colored hair. A pair of ethereal hands fisted at the sides of the white mist, but then the image trailed off into nothingness.
“Stay…help…,” it whispered, the transparent mouth opening and closing with each syllable, “help…please…”
One of the ghostly white hands reached out to touch hers, and it was when she felt the ice-cold mist across her hand that Jacqueline finally found her voice. She cringed, hunching back against the headboard and let out a scream, the likes of which would surely disturb any lingering occupants of the room.
Mae West: How ‘bout it, boys. Think she’s come to the right place for research?”
A low chuckle erupts as Frank and Jessie exchange a wicked wink.
Suddenly Oliver appears, costumed in a sheriff’s costume. And as the Monster Mash blasts on the CD player, he handcuffs Candace, but not before frisking her. As the ghost of the headless horseman gallops through the saloon, the candles flicker once then go out. And when the lights come on, all the Halloween guests have arrived, masquerading as characters from the Wild, Wild, West.
To read the entire Suspicion of Love to learn more about Jacqueline’s ghost, visit Champagne Books at:
Or visit Candace Morehouse at her website:
Tell us your favorite ghost story. We’d love to hear it!