Well-Hidden Secrets – First Two Chapters

Well folks, I’ve decided to go ahead and put the first two chapters of my debut historical mystery on my website, and I would LOVE your feedback on it! Give it a read and let me know what you think in the comments or by getting in touch with me here. If you like it, hit the like and share button below! Many thanks, and I hope you enjoy it!

The pitch:

When a murdered ancestor needs Jennifer’s help, she must hone her long-ignored psychic abilities to find his killer. Jolted back to 1859 like a modern-day Quantum Leap, she must solve the murder and get back in one piece or her daughter and future descendants will suffer his haunts.

The premise:

Jennifer has been terrorized by ghostly visits for as long as she can remember. One particularly paralyzing encounter leads her to a who man has been visiting her maternal line for decades, but she’s the only one who can communicate with him. With much trepidation, Jennifer visits a psychic where she hones her skills and learns the man, Jared, is a murdered ancestor not listed on her family tree. If she can solve the mystery of his murder, he’ll leave her family alone—the most important one being Jennifer’s daughter, who she’ll do anything to protect.

By connecting with two of her ancestors, Jennifer is catapulted into 1859 England and gains incredibly real experiences of the past through their eyes. But when she’s out of clues from her Ontario hometown, she must travel to ancestral lands overseas to unbury family secrets and find the physical evidence she needs to prove the identity of Jared’s murderer. If she doesn’t, the family curse will never die.


Chapter One

The Makings of Nightmares

  

Jennifer was trapped. Skin prickling, tears puddling at the corners of her eyes. Every ounce of her soul was willing her to sit up, stand up, run, speak, scream—anything. But no matter how much she tried, she just couldn’t do it. Fear was taking hold, like vines reaching out of the ground, wrapping around her as tentacles envelop prey. Her lips felt sewn shut, like they did for the dead. She felt she was in an invisible coffin, screaming and scratching and banging against the inside walls, but no one could see or hear her. Fight-or-flight instincts were coursing through her senses, but her body was stuck in neutral. Like a car unable to shift forward or back, she had the pedal to the floor, but it simply would not move.

A man in a bowler-style hat stood and stared at her, but where there should have been a face, there was only darkness. It seemed like he was from another era with his beige trench coat, a brown suit with creased, wide legs, and pointed brown leather shoes. In one hand, he held a briefcase—the kind with sharp corners and buckles that held it shut tight. In his other hand was an old, tattered photograph of a woman, but Jennifer couldn’t make out who it was.

A key jiggling in the lock on the front door brought her out of her horrid reality and into wakefulness. Her mother returned from dropping her younger brother off at school, and the man disappeared when she walked in the door, like he was never there at all. Jennifer sat up and tried to catch her breath. Her heart pounded in her chest, mouth like sandpaper. What just happened?

She opted not to tell her mother. It was just one more instance of the same old thing, and her mother got increasingly worried over the years. Jennifer needed to forget it ever happened, and hope he never returned. But seeing ghosts was like a never-ending nightmare that plagued her ever since she was a child.

So, at fifteen, Jennifer Leighton was used to seeing ghosts—but none scared her as much as this faceless one did. The level of terror during episodes of sleep paralysis was unmatched. She was helpless and afraid for her life. To wake up and realize there’s a ghost in her room was one thing. But to wake up, realize there’s a ghost in her room and be unable to move or speak was another level of horror entirely. Her mind was awake, but her body did not follow suit. A delayed reaction, perhaps. Or… stuck in some place between dreaming and wakefulness. And Jennifer thought: This must be where they catch you. The ghosts—this is where they stop you, grab you, and try to get you to listen to them.

In the typical rebellious teenage stage of life, Jennifer chose not to bother with school that day. She was finding herself, finding her independence, fighting internal battles with her self-esteem. Exploring with hair dye and makeup and various changing tastes in clothing. She did her best to shelf what happened that day. Her mind tried to convince her that nothing actually happened, but her soul knew better. Somewhere deep down, the choice to dismiss the experience with this particular ghost would fester and gnaw away at her for years to come—fifteen years, to be exact.

 

*** *** ***

 

Jennifer had her first daughter, Kaitlyn, at the age of twenty-nine. At the age of one, Kaitlyn was just starting to talk and learning more words by the week. They lived in a big, beautiful, rented home on a small, private lake shared with three other houses. Jennifer’s husband, Andrew, was working a night shift.

The howling wind made the trees dance shadows across the walls. It was late into the evening, and Jennifer, hugely pregnant with her second child, was watching the latest episode of Medium and snacking on Peanut M&Ms. She heard Kaitlyn crying and let a couple minutes go by to see if the baby would soothe herself back to sleep. Kaitlyn was, after all, just getting used to being in her crib. She didn’t stop crying though, so with much effort, Jennifer paused her show and climbed the long flight of stairs to check on her. As she did, Kaitlyn’s cries became more alarming.

There were two bedrooms on the upper level; on the left was Kaitlyn’s. Jennifer opened the door to the large, sprawling darkness. Inside and straight ahead was a door leading to a small balcony, and Kaitlyn’s crib was in the far-left corner. As soon as Jennifer entered, the baby stopped crying and began giggling in between sniffles. She’s just happy to get my attention, Jennifer thought. Crossing the room, she whispered to her baby and asked what the matter was. When she lifted Kaitlyn out of the crib and into her arms, her daughter craned her neck to look beyond her mother’s head. She pointed and enthusiastically said, “Man! Man!”

At that moment, the hairs on the back of Jennifer’s neck stood up so straight they could’ve pierced skin. She froze, unable to turn her head in the direction those tiny fingers were pointing—the dark corner where the balcony door was.

Jennifer’s heart pounded in her chest, pumping adrenaline through her veins, booming in her ears. Filled with horror, her breath was heavy and shaky. Her back faced the “man” that Kaitlyn tried to draw attention to, but Jennifer couldn’t bring herself to look. There were only two possibilities she could think of. One, the balcony door was unlocked, and an intruder came inside. This was unlikely because the door was never used and was always kept locked. Or two, Jennifer gulped, there was a ghost in her daughter’s bedroom.

Kaitlyn smiled and waved her hand in the little fist-unfist way that babies do, seemingly greeting an unknown and uninvited guest. Jennifer’s voice cracked as she said, “What man, baby girl?”

Even though the babe’s voice was jittery, she kept smiling, waving, pointing, and saying “Man!”

Jennifer needed to get the hell out of that room. The corner in question somehow became even darker and scarier. Her body was covered in goosebumps, but they felt more like thorns popping out of her skin. Tears pricked her eyes, and it took every ounce of courage to look into the corner to confirm no one was there and the balcony door was locked. Still, Jennifer felt there was some sort of presence. Out of all the times in her life that Jennifer was visited by spirits, she was reminded of one in particular: that morning in her room many years ago when she was trapped by a faceless man in the space between dreaming and waking.

The floorboards hard and cold against her bare feet, Jennifer held her baby close and bolted for the door, slamming it behind her. To hell with the crib, she thought, as she brought Kaitlyn to bed with her that night. It dawned on her then that her daughter might be embarking on a life riddled with ghosts, just as she had growing up, and this possibility chilled her to the bone.

 

*** *** ***

 

Some years later, Jennifer’s mother, Mary, was visiting. Jennifer and her husband, Andrew, were now separated, and the three kids they shared were at his house for the night. There was a pleasant fire going, and Jennifer poured a glass of wine for her mother and one for herself.

The topics of ghosts and past lives came up, and her mother, almost shivering, told Jennifer of a time when she was pregnant with her in 1979. Mary laid down on the couch to have a nap during the day. When she woke up, she was unable to open her eyes widely or move a single muscle in her body. She desperately tried to move but couldn’t. Mary felt the impression in the couch cushion as someone, or something, sat down beside her. Petrified, her breaths became short and loud as panic spread through her chest and prickled her fingers and toes. She couldn’t see his face, but she sensed it was a man. Her barely opened eyes showed her brown trousers, brown shoes, a beige trench coat, and a brown leather briefcase. A hand at his side, the man held an old photograph.

As her mother recounted her terrifying tale, Jennifer felt the tiny, all-too-familiar bumps rise and spread around her body like a cold wildfire. She never mentioned her experience with the man to her mother, nor Kaitlyn’s. To listen to her mom describe these details was surreal.

Then it hit her. The time span. The man visited Mary in 1979. Fifteen years later, in 1994, the man visited Jennifer. And fifteen years after that, in 2009, Kaitlyn had some sort of encounter that Jennifer was now sure must have been the same man. It was a little too coincidental to be anything other than that, and she didn’t believe in coincidences, anyway.

When her mother’s story was discussed at length, Jennifer confessed what happened with the spirit when he visited her and then, with Kaitlyn. Mary’s eyes glazed over as she listened intently. There was a connection here, Jennifer could sense it.

“My whole life,” Jennifer thought aloud, “I’ve been visited by spirits. I’ve been pretending they aren’t there because I don’t want them to be there. But for whatever reason, they see me, and I see them. It’s like they’re trying to tell me something. Make me listen to them. But I never did, not even now.”

“You mean you still see them?”

“All the time.”

“You haven’t spoken of them in so many years, I assumed it wasn’t happening anymore.”

“It definitely still happens. It’s a part of who I am. Sometimes I get annoyed and yell at them to go away and usually, they listen to me. It’s the sleep paralysis that gets to me. I can’t handle that. It’s the worst.”

“The sleep paralysis?” Mary took a sip of her wine.

“Yeah. When your mind is awake and aware, but your body isn’t. That’s when I feel trapped because I don’t know what they want to do to me or how to protect myself.

“Well, if that happened to me back then, why don’t I see ghosts all the time like you do?” Mary’s brows furrowed and lines of confusion crossed her forehead.

“I don’t know… maybe I’m marked somehow. Maybe my ability to see them is stronger. He clearly didn’t get what he needed from either of us, so he must’ve moved on to Kaitlyn. I’m almost positive it was him she was pointing to that night. And if it was him, he seems to be visiting every fifteen years. Who’s he going to visit next? Is it going to be Kaitlyn again, since she won’t have had a child by then? I don’t want that for her.”

“What are you going to do?” Mary’s eyebrows gave way to a look of concern, but Jennifer didn’t answer. Out of being unsure, or afraid to say it out loud, she couldn’t determine.


Chapter Two

A Haunting Past

 

When Jennifer was a little girl, she frequently had scary experiences that she couldn’t understand. Her mother would often find her screaming out in the middle of the night, drenched in sweat and terrified—but of what, Mary didn’t know. She couldn’t see what her daughter was describing: people in her bedroom. When Jennifer was a little older and could articulate her thoughts better, she tried to explain that what she was seeing was ghosts, but her mother didn’t want to believe her.

As Jennifer grew, her fear remained, but she learned to control it. She wanted to ignore them, so she told herself it was just her wild imagination. Sometimes she would feel a hand on her shoulder—or maybe it was just her mind playing tricks on her. She would catch a movement from the corner of the room and would try to pretend she saw nothing. People walking along the sidewalk would all seem normal except for one or two. Inside, she knew what they were, but she pretended not to notice.

At the age of nine, she experienced a memorable encounter, but still not entirely out of the norm. She was in her room doing homework one evening. Her eye caught a glimpse of movement in the far-right corner. In less than an instant, the hair on her skin raised and her chest tightened. She didn’t look. But pretending it wasn’t there didn’t chase the spirit away. As it inched closer to her, she kept her gaze on the paper at her desk but was unable to focus on her work. The spirit stared at her and slowly, soundlessly made its way to the spot right beside where she sat in her chair. As it came into better focus, she could tell through her peripheral vision it was a boy around her age. Pin-straight black hair hanging in his eyes, pallid skin. She froze as he came within inches of her face, boring his unblinking black eyes into her soul and willing her to look at him. Her breaths increased in frequency and sound as she felt each individual nerve snapping internally under the weight of her terror, like tiny twigs under the weight of someone’s foot. The air temperature dropped markedly in his presence, and Jennifer’s shoulders shuddered. Paralyzed with fear, she closed her eyes and let out an ear-piercing shriek, sending shockwaves down her spine.

Her mother barreled into the room. “Jennifer! What is it? What’s going on?”

Jennifer said nothing as a couple tears escaped down her cheeks. She was afraid to open her eyes.

“Was it another scary person?” her mother asked.

“Yes,” Jennifer replied, her voice trembling as she dared herself to look. “He came from that corner over there,” she pointed, “and when I wouldn’t look at him, he came over to me until he was right beside my face, staring at me.” She stifled a sob.

Mary’s hug was warm and comforting. “Maybe it’s time we figure out what’s causing these things to happen. It’s been going on your entire life.” She stroked her daughter’s hair and held her close.

“No.” Jennifer nervously shook her head and buried her face deep into her mother’s pink cashmere sweater. “I don’t want to know what they are. If I know what they are, they’ll know I know, and I think it’ll get worse.” Deep down, Jennifer knew they were ghosts, but she didn’t want to admit it. At least it didn’t happen often. She was learning to handle the frequency of their visits, which was a few times a month.

“What if there’s something that could make it go away?” Mary pressed her cheek against her daughter’s head, holding her close to comfort her.

“What do you mean, like medicine? No way. I don’t want to take medicine.” Jennifer was certain of that. She hated medicine and immediately pictured the time when she was very young and ill, and her mother gave her penicillin. The thin, grotesquely yellow syrup was so bitter and disgusting she spat it out, all over the kitchen—including onto the Ziggy cake her mom baked and painstakingly decorated for her dad’s thirtieth birthday.

Mary sighed as she brushed the hair out of Jennifer’s eyes. Holding her daughter’s cheeks gently between her hands, she said, “I just worry about you, sweetie. What if it’s something inside your head?”

“He’s gone now. I’m sorry, I didn’t want to scream, but he wouldn’t leave me alone. The scream made him go away. If I can learn how to control them, they won’t be able to control me.”

Jennifer was wise beyond her years. At times, she talked like an adult and her thought processes seemed to astound Mary, whose expression showed both a sense of pride and a bit of concern. No child should feel they have to grow up fast in order to escape something.

“Honey, I’m so worried about you. These… episodes make me feel like you’re being robbed of your precious childhood. Whatever the demons you’re fighting, I want to help you, but I think it might mean taking a trip to the doctor.”

“And what if that makes it worse?” Jennifer looked up at her mom, her eyelashes long and wet, shiny circles under her eyes.

Mary let out a deep sigh, which seemed to oscillate between concern and uncertainty.

Leaving it undecided, Mary took her daughter’s hand and led her to the dining room, where Jennifer could work on her project surrounded by the safety of others.

Jennifer saw many ghosts by that time, but she couldn’t come to grips with trying to understand why. She was tired of being scared all the time, never knowing when one would show up. Sometimes it would happen when she was just waking—a sleep paralysis. Other times it was simply sensing a presence. And sometimes, it would happen in broad daylight when she was awake, where they looked like any live person, but she knew they drew no breaths, had no warmth. There didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to it, and she felt very alone in her experiences because she didn’t know anyone else who could see what she saw.

The practise of ignoring them didn’t make her any less of a beacon. She could handle the visits most of the time, but for those few that stood out, she was afraid they would do something to her. What, she could only imagine.

And so, when she was fifteen, she experienced the sleep paralysis that introduced her to the spirit that scared her the most—the man in the bowler hat. And now, years later, she understood that he had been haunting her family for many years, which stirred in her an inquisitiveness that wouldn’t be silenced. Jennifer was exhausted from trying to ignore the seed of curiosity that was sewn into her soul long before she was ever born. Spirits seemed drawn toward her like a lighthouse on a stormy sea, eager for help to rest their weary, unsettled souls. It was time for her to awaken. Since she was now, at the age of forty, convinced that the curse might affect her daughter and future descendants, the protective mother in her awoke. An urgency had risen; she needed to figure out what the hell was going on before Kaitlyn had another terrifying experience with the man.


Published by kathleenfoxx

Author of thrillers, mysteries, and action/adventures.

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