Paranormal Mystery Novelette
By Elizabeth Eagan-Cox
$1.45 retail, at Ebook retailers,
Copyright September 2014
by Elizabeth Eagan-Cox
by Elizabeth Eagan-Cox
Ebook formatting by Jesse Gordon
All rights reserved.
This is a work of fiction. All characters and non-historical events portrayed in this story are fictional and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental.
Primary Characters, in order of appearance:
Corlah Kellian. Present day. Owner and operator of the antebellum-styled River Ghost paddlewheel gambling boat, docked at Vicksburg, Mississippi. Mid-twenties, petite, dark hair worn at shoulder length, hazel eyes. Born in Vicksburg. Corlah’s sideline is paranormal investigations. Her ancestry is Southern.
Jubal McRaven. “Jube” is in his late-twenties, tall, lanky, brown hair and gray eyes. He is a distant Kellian cousin to Corlah. Corlah calls upon Jube to assist her in ghost investigations.
Rebecca Jane Roberts. Civil War-era bride of Elijah Andrew Calhoun. “Becca” went up river from her home in New Orleans to marry Elijah in a wedding ceremony held at Oak Grove Plantation.
Elijah Andrew Calhoun, known as “Drew” or “Eli” to family and friends. Elijah is the Civil War-era groom to Becca Roberts and son of Oak Grove Plantation owners Charles and Marjorie Calhoun. Eli, his brother Rance, and their cousin Theo, were born and raised in Vicksburg.
Charles and Marjorie Calhoun. Owners of Oak Grove Plantation. Charles died in 1859, prior to the Civil War. After his death, his wife “Miss Marjorie” continued in residence at Oak Grove. She hosted the wedding of her son Eli to Becca Roberts.
Mammy Lulah. Slave and personal servant to Miss Marjorie, she was born at Oak Grove Plantation, she raised the Calhoun children.
Caniel Calhoun and his wife, Amy, are the present-day owners of Oak Grove Plantation. Caniel inherited the plantation through family lineage. Caniel is in his late-thirties and an architect by profession. Amy is an interior decorator; she is in her early-thirties.
Maria Bennet. Vicksburg Medical Examiner/Coroner. Maria has a penchant for helping Corlah in paranormal investigations.
Chapters 1 and 2 follow:
I stood in the gravel driveway with my notes in hand, re-reading what I had written for my assignment’s summary:
Caniel Calhoun’s home is a three-story Greek Revival plantation mansion called Oak Grove. At present, the mansion contains nine bedrooms, one reception room, two great rooms, a large country kitchen, a gentleman’s smoking room and a sewing room. Detached from the main house is a wing of servants’ apartments located a hundred feet behind the back porch. The horse stables are off to the side of the servants’ quarters. When the country kitchen was added to the interior in 1905, the original cooking cabin, that was situated between the main house and the servant’s quarters, was torn down. In the late 1950s, owners, Seth and Anna Calhoun renovated the main house so that each bedroom had a bathroom. And they added a guest bathroom on the main floor. And according to the background information the Vicksburg Heritage Society provided, the present-day servants’ apartments were originally slaves’ cabins.
As I admired this grand dame of Mississippi architecture, I contemplated how the Calhoun family had built a magnificent home the likes of which mirrored Scarlett O’Hara’s beloved Tara, from the movie Gone with the Wind. Hmm, on second thought, I reconsidered my description. Maybe this was vice versa? After all, Oak Grove was here long before Margaret Mitchell penned her legendary novel in 1936, upon which the movie was brought to the silver screen in 1939.
Staring up at Oak Grove, I fell under a spell of nostalgia remembering my teenage years and how every Southern girl grew up under the shadow of a grandmother who held Gone With the Wind as a sacred example for social standards and etiquette. In my family, Margaret Mitchell’s novel was second only to Elvis Presley in cultural pride. Well, Scarlett and Elvis be damned, I thought then, and pretty much now. I was then, and now, far more attracted to the soulful sounds of Missippi Delta Blues. And I certainly was more intrigued with the story of Robert Johnson’s devilish trade at the crossroads than some silly Southern belle and a hound-dog crooner. I sighed and turned away from memories of my rebellious teen years. From behind me a low melodic whistle gave notice. I heard footsteps on the gravel drive and turned around in time to see my cousin, Jubal approach.
“Hey Corlah.” He gave me a hug and then kissed my cheek. “This is some fancy place, ain't it?”
“I’d say you ain't whistlin’ Dixie, but, you were.”
Jube blushed. “I suppose I was. Ya know Corlah, old habits die hard. One can’t help but to think in the old ways while strollin’ the grounds at Oak Grove. The Christmas of 61, I attended a wedding here. I had mustered up that fall, but was on leave at Christmas because of my father’s illness. My captain favored my father because he had been my father’s pupil at the university. He plain told me to go home for Christmas and I was due back the morning after. The Calhouns knew how to offer hospitality. In its day, Oak Grove was a showcase home, almost equal to Raven’s Hall.
I gazed up at Jube. He was still in Confederate uniform. “Jube, the McRaven family plantation is long gone, and besides, remember, I’m a Kellian cousin? Now, about your apparel, we need to get you into something less conspicuous.”
Jube glanced down at his lanky frame fitted out in gray trousers and jacket; both had seen better days. He looked at me and smiled a wistful sort of grin, apologetic and very dear. “Sometimes, I forget. How long ago was it?”
“Late in June of 1863,” I answered. “You fought bravely Jube, as did all the soldiers here. The Vicksburg battle made history. No person has ever forgotten it.” I patted his shoulder. “Not in all these years,” I added.
Jube looked puzzled. “And how many years has it been?”
“It’ll be one hundred and fifty-two years next summer.” I paused a moment to allow Jube enough time to appreciate the difference between then and now. “Jube, let’s not dwell on the past. In the here and now we have a mystery to solve. Let’s get you dressed in a style that will allow you to pass for the living.”
“As you wish cousin Corlah. And rightly so, I’ll be of scant assistance to you, if I go around spookin’ folks,” Jube said, and then laughed.
I chuckled. “Jube, I’m happy to report that in present time, people are a little more understanding about ghosts. There are organizations that make it their business searching for ghosts, in a friendly and respectful manner. And here in Mississippi, people still live close to their bones, so to speak, and their blood memories cast long shadows. However, it is true you might scare the daylights out of anyone who saw you. So, with that in mind, I brought along some contemporary clothing for you. Let’s go back to the River Ghost and you can change your apparel.” I turned from the gravel driveway and walked toward my car parked in front at the street’s curb.
Jube stayed at my side, and when we reached my car, I opened the door for him. Before he folded his tall skeleton into the passenger seat, Jube turned to me and said, “Hey Corlah, this time around, let’s pretend we are betrothed. I favor the times when I am your suitor, even though it is a mere charade.”
Jube’s comment made me pause. I looked up at him. He stood perfectly still. Even as a ghost he was as handsome as the old photo I kept of him on my bedroom bookcase. It was taken the day he first mustered up with the Mississippi army. Today, he did not look a day older than when he died during the Union siege on Vicksburg in the summer of 1863. Twenty-seven years young, fair complexion, dark brown hair parted on the left. A lock of bangs fell across his gray eyes.
I reached up and brushed back the stray lock of hair. “I’d like that Jube. I'd like that a lot.”
“Corlah, your River Ghost calls forth fond memories,” Jube said as he entered my office and walked over to the window. He stopped in front of the wide picture window that looks out on the Mississippi River. With his back to me, he said, “Though for the life of me, I can’t figure why you would choose to live on a gambler’s boat. Seems contrary for a young lady to live this way. Tongues will wag, Corlah.” He turned to face me and his concern was one I knew I would have to address, once again.
“Aw, Jube, don’t be judgmental. The River Ghost is not an ordinary boat. It’s a casino and I own it. These days, gambling is legal and respectable, at least the way it's handled here. You won’t find strumpets parading the deck soliciting their charms. And, Jube, the boat appears to be a paddle wheeler, but that’s a facade. Its bones and engine are modern and in superb shape.”
Jube settled for my answer. It was a compromise on his part. He turned back to the window and looked out over the river’s lazy water. “Do you ever see Old Percy?” he asked.
“Not for a long time, now,” I answered. "In a week or so, when autumn makes up its mind and decides to stay, I’ll fetch a bag of persimmons for him; he’ll come around then.”
Jube ginned. “Ain’t no catfish on the Mississippi who can resist persimmons.”
“And Old Percy is no exception to that rule. Jube, come on over and relax. Let me explain why I called upon you.”
I gestured him over to the sofa where I sat. I needed to get Jube fixed into a frame of mind that would stay put and not wander down long paths to years gone by.
Jube sat down, straight of back, like a gentleman of his era. In his calm manner he turned to me and asked, “Why have you called upon me, cousin Corlah?”
“Jube, I would like your assistance. This time around, I’ve been hired to research and investigate reports of a haunting at Oak Grove. I need a person I can count on to guide me and watch out for me. Will you do that, Jube?”
“Corlah, it would be my honor. But I must make my protest known. I find no logic in the way you make a living, running a gambling boat on the side and then going about scaring up the long dead. Why can’t people just let them be?”
I placed my hand on his arm and explained, “Jube, I restrict my investigation assignments to crucial situations. You know I leave ghosts and spirits alone, that is, if they aren’t scaring the living daylights out of people in the here and now. And of course, the only reason I call upon you is because I always have in these situations, that is your doing, remember?”
Jube nodded his head. “I recall. Ever since you were knee high, you’ve had the Kellian gift. The first time I saw you, kneeling down to place flowers on my grave, I knew I was fated to assist you. I’d not have it any other way.”
“Nor would I. Jube, the reason the owners of Oak Grove hired me is because they want to save the old place and turn it into a small hotel, in today’s world we call this kind of hotel a bed-and-breakfast inn. The owners cannot rent out haunted rooms; it wouldn’t be good for business. Vicksburg needs this kind of enterprise. So often these days, the cost of preserving historic homes and buildings is beyond the means of our current economy. More times than I can count, I’ve witnessed historic places bulldozed to the ground to build ugly bunny-hutch apartments.”
Jube’s face lit up. “Bulldozed! Now, wouldn’t that be a spectacle to witness. I suppose it would take at least a dozen bulls, and some oxen, to do that proper like?”
Uh-oh, I did it again, I completely forgot about Jube’s lack of contemporary vocabulary and knowledge of its origin. Of course, to him, bulldoze would mean using gargantuan livestock to demolish a structure. I thought about this conundrum a few moments, allowing Jube to picture in his mind numerous horned and snorting bulls hitched to the corner columns of the old plantation, struggling to demolish it brick by brick, slat by slat. I had to rule out using the brand name of Caterpillar for describing motorized heavy equipment, knowing darn sure that using a bug-named mode of destruction would only add to Jube’s confusion.
“Jube, today we use motorized vehicles to bulldoze a structure. You know, like the car we rode in just now? We have gigantic motorized vehicles equipped with steel claws and shovels that reach out to tear down buildings and excavate ground. For now, let’s get past this confusion. I promise after we are finished with this assignment, I’ll take you to see a motorized bulldozer.”
“I’d like that, Corlah. I’d certainly love to see a bulldozer in action.”
Whew! I got through that jam. “Jube, I need to ask you questions regarding what you remember about Oak Grove. And, I need for you to recall every detail you can, but stay on course, okay?”
He nodded agreement. I reached over to the sofa’s side table and grabbed my notepad and pencil. I had taken to using a pencil around Jube because of his never-ending fascination with ballpoint ink pens. The last time I allowed him to have a pen, he kept it handy and entertained himself by clicking it incessantly. At one point he made it musical and clicked out the melody to “Camptown Races,” Stephen Foster’s famous pre-Civil War song.
“Okay, Jube, think back to Christmas of 1861 when you attended the wedding at Oak Grove. Who got married?”
"I do recollect that Becca Jane Roberts wed Elijah Andrew Calhoun. Of course, Becca's proper name was Rebecca. And, Elijah went by Eli, or Drew. His brothers favored calling him Drew, most other people, myself included, called him Eli."
"Which name did he enlist under?" I asked.
"Oh, his proper name, Elijah. He had a cousin near the same age, named Andrew. They enlisted together, the same month I did. That Christmas, he was on leave to get married."
"Jube, what else do you remember? Was the wedding and reception eventful, in any way?"
“Because the war was on, none of the men, self included, donned our uniforms to the party. And Vicksburg was not in the fray, at that time. I expect that’s not what you are asking.”
Jube turned away from me to stare out the window. "Let me ponder a moment."
I was accustomed to Jube's need to ponder. I sat in easy silence and watched him, waiting for him to give me his attention. And all the while, I studied his manifested form. I knew if Jube traveled too far back into memories, for too many minutes, he would vanish before my eyes. And would remain lost in the mists of the past, traveling back in time to a place that was real to him.
Jube turned to face me. His face clouded and his peaceful expression turned dark. He said, "Oh, Corlah, it was calamitous!"
"The wedding and reception?" I asked.
"No, afterward. The wedding and party were blissful. At gloaming, when most guests had taken leave, and only a few of us lingered, that's when all hell broke loose. I was standing in the drive, waiting for the stable boy to bring out my horse. Eli and Becca had departed an hour before. They took a carriage to the dock for passage down to New Orleans. Nearly all guests had taken leave shortly after seeing the newlywed couple on their way. I stood in the drive, waiting for my mount, talking with Eli's brother, Rance, and his cousin, Theo. The moment was jubilant, we were in good spirits, until all hell broke loose."
"What happened?" I queried.
"We heard a banshee scream. God-awful wailing from behind us. We turned, and there was Mammy Lulah running down the front steps, crying her heart out. She was shouting and crying at the top of her lungs. Declaring Miss Marjorie had been murdered by a voodooiene. She grabbed hold of Rance and begged him to come see, up in Miss Marjorie's parlor. I'll never forget the look on Mammy Lulah's face, her ebony complexion was ashen."
"Jube, tell me about Miss Marjorie and Mammy Lulah, and why was voodoo magic suspected?"
END OF SAMPLE.
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