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Fiction by L.K. Campbell

Haunting Evergreen

Justin’s car crept along the Blue Ridge Parkway behind a string of vehicles carrying fall tourists. Thousands of people flocked to the mountains each year for the transitioning of the leaves to gold, orange, and red. His trek down this road had nothing to do with leaves, but he couldn’t deny the beauty of his surroundings.

As the road climbed the rocky slopes of Grandfather Mountain, a blanket of fog enveloped his vehicle making visibility almost nil. On the roadside, a tree branch, resembling a clawed hand, reached out of the mist. No wonder this place is rife with ghost stories, he thought. As soon as that thought popped into his head so did Lisa Ryan.

“Ghost finder. What a joke,” he said aloud. “Ghosts would hide from that woman. The teenagers who reported seeing the ghost in the cemetery had as many credentials as Lisa Ryan.”

The road wound down to a lower elevation, and the clouds dissipated. He watched for the brown parkway exit sign that would lead him to his destination. She couldn’t find a ghost if it crawled into bed with her and kissed that lovely neck. He didn’t want to think about Lisa Ryan—in or out of bed. So why was he imagining it?

He slowed his car. A roadside sign advertised Christmas trees. Under it, a smaller sign pointed the way to Evergreen. He still hadn’t decided how to deal with Kristy Miller. She had rebuffed Lisa’s cold call so it would be best to watch his step.

The wrought-iron driveway gate stood open. A sign read, “Gate closed from nine p.m. to seven a.m. Use key code during those hours.” Tall blue spruce and pine trees that lined the driveway and road concealed the B&B from the travelers on the road. Only the slate-shingled roof peeked out above the treetops. He parked on the other side of the road and studied the satellite images his assistant had emailed him. Perhaps he could come up with another way to get a better look at the house without charging up to the front door.

He pulled back onto the road and went past Evergreen’s driveway. As he rounded the curve, a billboard-sized sign sat at the entrance to the Christmas tree farm. He parked in the designated area and trudged uphill to a wooden structure filled with pumpkins and other late-fall crops. He glanced toward Evergreen. From that vantage point, he could see a large gazebo and part of the house. It didn’t fit the description of most haunted houses. Instead of being foreboding, it appeared to be warm and inviting.

The crisp wind penetrated his wool suit jacket, making him glad to see hot chocolate and apple cider for sale. He motioned toward the apple cider, and an older woman with weathered features handed him a ceramic mug filled with the warm, sweet liquid. An elderly man approached him.

“We don’t usually cut trees until Thanksgiving week,” he said. “But you can pick one and tag it today.”

“That sounds perfect,” Justin said.

The man took out a clipboard, a red tag and a white tie wrap from under the counter. Using a black marker, he copied onto the tag the number from the form on the clipboard. He handed the clipboard to Justin.

“Fill this out with your name, address and phone number,” he said. “When you find the tree that you want, tie the tag securely onto one of the top branches. Then, when it’s ready to cut, we’ll call you.”

“Thank you,” Justin said. “I’ll look at those next to the fence over there.”

“Take your time,” the man answered.

Justin swallowed the last of his apple cider and set the mug on the counter.

“That’s a beautiful house next door,” he said. “I noticed it when I drove up.”

“It’s a bed and breakfast,” the man said. “But I remember a long time ago when it was the Dickerson house.”

“Oh so you’ve been here many years, then,” Justin said.

The man chuckled. “I’d say so. My great-grandpa started this farm. When I was a kid, old Mr. Dickerson used to get a tree from my pa every Christmas, and he’d always bring me some kind of little toy. I wish I had saved them. They might be worth a few bucks today.”

Justin smiled. “So, did he pass away there in the house?”

“Oh, no,” the woman answered. “He died in a rest home down in Charlotte. His son rented the house out to tourists for a while. Then several years ago, Leslie Miller bought it and fixed it up the way it is now. She was such a nice lady. From what I heard, she fell dead in the post office in Blowing Rock. Her niece owns the place now.”

“She’s the one who turned it into a bed and breakfast,” the man said.

Justin took out his wallet and handed the man thirty dollars for the Christmas tree plus two dollars for the apple cider.

“I’ll tag my tree,” he said. “I live in Atlanta, but I have a local friend who will pick it up so I’ll give you her phone number.”

“Good enough,” the man said. “Be sure to pick up your receipt on the way out.”

Justin headed toward the fence that separated the tree farm from the Evergreen property. Once out-of-sight of the man and woman, he took his smart phone from his pocket and snapped some pictures. He noticed a new structure that hadn’t appeared on the satellite image of the property. It was a small cottage connected to the house by a covered walkway. Unfortunately, it obstructed much of his view. He moved further down to the gazebo that he had seen from the bottom of the hill.

A sweet, herbal scent wafted on the cold breeze. Different from the pines and firs that surrounded him, the odor smelled like a woman’s perfume. He scanned the area and saw no one. A familiar twinge in his chest radiated to his extremities. He felt as if he weren’t alone. He closed his eyes and concentrated. Are you here? Who are you? The type of music his grandmother played on old vinyl records surrounded him. He opened his eyes and looked around. Was the music emanating from the house? It didn’t seem to be. It definitely came from nearby. Maybe there were speakers mounted along the fence.

Another noise grabbed his attention—the sound of footsteps on brittle leaves. He moved to where he could see the rear of the house. He lifted his sunglasses to get a clearer view. What the…? Is that Lisa Ryan peeping into a window on the bottom floor?

“Lisa,” he called out in a loud whisper. He doubted that she could hear him. Maybe he should let her get caught. That would put a swift end to the baloney she called an informative T.V. show. Instead, he picked up a rock and threw it at her. He hadn’t meant to hit her on the back, but that’s where the rock landed. She turned toward him and gestured in the same sign language that she had used on the highway.

“Get over here,” he whispered.

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Blurb

Paranormal researcher, Justin Marino and T.V. ghost hunter, Lisa Ryan each receive an email that leads them to the Evergreen Bed & Breakfast. When Justin realizes that he and Lisa are investigating the same haunting, he makes it clear that he doesn't approve of her brand of ghost hunting. Lisa tricks Justin into helping her gain entrance to Evergreen, and the two rivals end up spending the night together in the honeymoon suite where the alleged haunting took place. What they discover will take them both by surprise.

Category: Fiction, Ghost, Paranormal Romance

Published: April 2015

Words: 28,150

ISBN: 9781310193675