Excerpt (Chapter 1): Woman in a Pale Dress:
Dora Brooks leaned over the bathroom sink for her daily wrinkle and age spot count. Why, she didn’t know. Perhaps it stemmed from her deep dislike of surprises. Dark circles and puffy hazel eyes stared back from the mirror. Great.
For the past three weeks, Dora scurried about the town like a rat in a maze: to the library, to the café, to various businesses, back to the library, the mayor’s office, and so on. As one of the dozens of volunteers for this years Founder’s Day Celebration, she found herself in charge of nearly every aspect of the event. Posters, flyers, invitations, decorations and even helping rewrite the Mayor’s speech for the opening ceremony.
All in all, she enjoyed the flurry of activity, especially researching for the mayor’s opening address. It allowed her to piggy-back her research with finding new tidbits for her novel. Yesterday, however, was a killer. She’d just finished up the last points to the mayor’s speech and then had to sit listening to him practice for hours. If it weren’t for her best friend, and the mayor’s wife, Cam McMasters, she’d probably still be there. She achieved parole sometime around midnight and dragged herself into bed—long past her normal 9 pm bedtime.
Dora tilted her head to the side and then ran her fingers along the edge of her jawline. ‘When did I get so old?’ She was only 57, not youthful, but definitely not dead. Despite the smaller imperfections that had crept in over the years, she hadn’t changed into the crypt-keepers mother…at least not yet. Turning her head, she suddenly stopped as a foreign entity revealed itself.
What is that? Dora leaned closer, focusing on her lower right jawline. A camouflaged, mole-like bump stared back, and protruding from the middle of this mini-mountain was a long, black hair. Grabbing the tweezers she went at the intruder with a vengeance. But it had friends. A lot of friends. With every successful extraction, another hairy soldier seemed to pop up in its place. Exasperated, she took out her rarely-used razor and whacked off the encroaching army. Looking back in the mirror, she sighed.
That’s one thing mothers conveniently forget to tell their daughters. And for good reason. What young woman wants to know they’ll eventually transform into hairy humanoids with a broken thermostat. Dora expected the occasional dark spot and even a few wrinkles, but no one ever told her that she’d need to daily defend her chin and nostrils from invading forces. If, as the song says, everything has a purpose under heaven, then she’d like an explanation for the purpose of longer than necessary nose hairs on a woman—or on anyone for that matter. And what’s with the temperature swings that could melt steel?
For many months, Dora’s hot flashes had been confined to a warm dry flush of her cheeks—similar to sitting under the boiling sun in a desert, but without the blisters. Yet, lately, her flashes swung from non-existent one moment to nearing internal combustion a few seconds later. Fortunately, if you could say that, she could sense the impending heat swings long before they overwhelmed her. In pre-defense, she’d throw open the window, toss off her sweater and fan herself with a paper plate until her less than sexy glistening skin subsided while its tormentor crept back into the netherworld from whence it came.
– – –
Dora tossed the previous day’s used coffee filter from her one-cup coffee maker into the trash. The pungent odor of the receptacle’s contents assaulted her nose as she pulled the bag from its container, quickly tying it shut. Reaching for a replacement bag, her hand felt only the cardboard interior of the empty box. Mental note: pick up garbage bags.
She washed her hands, and then placed a fresh coffee filter into the machine. Flipping the lid off the decaf container, she dug out a large scoop of her less-than-favorite coffee blend and dumped it into the receptacle. It was penance until she completed her first novel, though the ploy didn’t seem to be working. Each day she drank less and less of the vile liquid, reheating the drinks more often than she could count, only to regularly find, days later, cold mugs of the liquid sludge sitting in her microwave.
Dora yawned. Glancing toward the caffeine coffee canister, her mouth watered. She closed her eyes, envisioning a hot, steaming mug of her favorite, rather expensive, premium quality coffee, its tendrils of flavor and aroma tantalizing her nostrils.
A soft voice emanated from the imaginary heady steam: ‘It’s just one cup. What’s the harm? Go on, you’ve earned it.’
I have been working hard, haven’t I?
‘Yes, and no one deserves this more than you.’
You’re right. One cup, just to get me going. No harm in that.
She unlatched the lid and breathed in the heavenly aroma. Her old friend sighed as she dug deep into the heady granules and then held the filled spoon over the awaiting filter.
‘Go on. Do it,’ the voice urged.
Her hand started to tilt and then froze. A mental war ensued…her hand started to shake. Frowning she tightened her lips, and dumped the coffee grounds back into the open canister, snapping the lid shut.
– – –
The aging coffee pot complained and groaned, as it struggled to perform its morning duty. “I hear ‘ya,” Dora said as she pat the machine on the top of its plastic head.
Grabbing a poppyseed muffin from the freezer, she popped open the microwave. There sat an old mug of coffee from who knows how many days, a shiny, oily film floated on top of the dark amber liquid.
Pouring out the dregs, she placed the more-than-likely-permanently-stained mug into the dishwasher. Filling a fresh cup with store-brand medium-roast, hazelnut decaf coffee, and then she settled into her favorite chair overlooking the lake.
Moonlight turned the ripples on the water into exciting shapes that danced across its dark surface. Ashran Yudi’s lighthouse, a playhouse he’d built for his grandchildren, sat directly across the small lake winking a welcome of soft green.
Cool air gave birth to an undulating mist that crept across the warmer liquid surface. A silvery shape appeared in the middle of the lake. Someone’s fishing early today, she thought. Probably Mr. Yudi.
The no motorized vehicle, catch-and-release lake, rarely brought out early risers, especially on a cold morning as this. Mr. Yudi owned the small bait shop and fished more often than tending his store, but the locals didn’t mind. An honest lot, he always left the door unlocked, with a notepad on the counter for patrons to indicate what provisions they may have picked up while he was out fishing. Gossamer Hollow was certainly a community out of time.
She yawned, snuggling further into her soft flannel blanket, contemplating a nap. The silvery reflection, pulsing as it floated and bobbed on the water, was hypnotizing. It would be so easy to just snooze. She was exhausted, both physically and mentally. Draining the last of her coffee she reluctantly slipped out from under the warm folds of her cocoon and went to refill her mug.
The morning held a chill and she clutched her mug for warmth. The clock on the stove stated 6:30 and she wish she could just crawl back into bed, but she had final preparations to complete before tonight’s festivities kickoff.
Out of habit, she looked in the freezer. Mental note: get more muffins. She shut the freezer door and opened the refrigerator. She wasn’t hungry and stood there seeing nothing. Grabbing an apple, she closed the refrigerator door, and then screamed dropping both mug and fruit on the floor. A strange woman stood outside her kitchen window.
The woman’s eyes were vacant, staring. Her dress and hair moved as if underwater and there was a silvery-blue glow that emanated from her entire being.
Dora instinctively stepped backward, wincing in pain as a thick shard of broken ceramic pierced her foot. Blood oozed from the open wound as she lifted her injured appendage. She grabbed the kitchen towel off the counter, wrapped it around her foot, wincing as she applied pressure.
She glanced back at the window, but the apparition was gone.