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Ghost Fever Excerpt

“I’m a writer and I’m in town working with Camp Hiawatha on their marketing materials,” I tell Hazel. “Now that the pandemic’s slowing down, they’re planning to open in June for campers and they need me to update the website and create ads….”

 

She waves her hand and her face scrunches. “I’m not talking about your job.”

 

I’m really lost. “Then what?”

 

“What are you?” she says a bit too loud and too strong.

 

I don’t know how she suspects my paranormal abilities but I’m not too keen to rush into admitting them to this stranger. I take a deep sip of my coffee, relishing that Hazel indeed makes a damn good cup. “Good coffee,” I offer.

 

I gaze around the room looking for clues, anything that would prove this woman isn’t going to call 911 to have someone haul me off to a mental clinic. After a few moments of silence, Hazel breaks the tension. “I’m not crazy.”

 

I look back and there’s a sadness lingering in her eyes. How many times have I felt the exact same thing? The pain of being different.

 

“I’m a SCANC,” I tell her. “It stands for….”

 

“Specific communication with apparitions, non-entities, and the comatose.”

 

I’m speechless because it’s a rare person who understands, let alone knows about my condition. We’re not your standard mediums, although most people guess that from the silly acronym. Thanks to a weird twist of nature, SCANCs are selective in what ghosts we can see.

 

Hazel leans in close. “So, how does it work? This just came on suddenly one day?”

 

“Not quite.” I take another long sip of my coffee. Wow, it’s really that good, think to ask Hazel where she gets her beans. Did I mention I have ADHD? My mind wanders the world.

 

I sigh. “I was born with the talent, would see ghosts everywhere, ever since I was a kid. My parents were academics so they rarely believed me when I mentioned the dead janitor at school or the long-gone neighbor who talked to me from her porch. My friends used to make fun of me because no one was there. At least no one that they could see.”

 

Hazel nods. “The world is a skeptical place.”

 

“I think if I would have had someone explain to me what was happening, I could have learned to turn things off when I needed to. But, I grew up with these spirits driving me nuts, especially this coed in college who killed herself and haunted my dorm. She never let me sleep.”

 

I shiver at the memory and Hazel surprises me by patting my hand.

“Anyway, I told them to go away and they did.”

 

Hazel removes her hand and straightens. “That’s it?”

 

I wish. “You become a SCANC when you repress your abilities like I did and a later trauma reopens that door. For me, Hurricane Katrina blew my door wide open so now I only see ghosts that have died by water. Specific communication with apparitions, meaning only one kind. So, in my case, water.”

 

Hazel nods taking it in. “Good thing it wasn’t wind, considering the storm. Then you’d probably never see ghosts.”

 

Never thought about that. “But then, think of all the fun I would have missed.”

She totally ignores my sarcasm. “I’ve heard of people like you, but never really understood it. Are y’all everywhere?”

 

I feel a soft rub against my leg and look down to find one of the ginger cats purring at my ankles. I reach down and give her a loving massage behind the ears and she purrs loudly.

 

“That’s Scully. The other one’s Mulder.”

 

“Fan of The X-Files?”
 

Hazel seems surprised. “Didn’t know people your age knew of that show. It’s from the ’90s.”

 

I want to laugh. I grew up on that show. “It’s a classic.”

 

“It’s also real.”

 

She’s dead serious, gazing at me with a newfound fire in her eyes.

 

“Real as in…?”

 

“UFOs, aliens, the government telling us lies and covering it all up. Did you know UFOs have been coming to this area for years?”

 

Now, I’m all about being open-minded. I see ghosts after all, plus I’m a witch, my husband is descended from angels, and my best friend in the FBI has some strange connection with trees that he won’t explain. But I’m on the fence about aliens. And the journalist in me distrusts people who follow conspiracy theories.

 

“I didn’t know that,” I say politely.

 

“Years.” Hazel’s eyes narrow. “I have a book on it if you don’t believe me.”

 

Before I can answer, she gets up and retrieves a hardback titled Outer Space Visits, slides it across the table to me. The cover sports a strange airship in the right-hand corner that looks manufactured. I stifle a laugh.

 

“Read it and get back to me.”

 

I nod politely. Might make for good entertainment since my cabin lacks TVs.

 

“Back to your SCANCy abilities,” Hazel starts up again. “Do you think your friend at the camp died in Murder Creek?”

 

Everything about that statement makes my blood run cold. The last time I saw Jasmine she was standing on the opposite bank of that horrid creek, sending me a wave and a smile. I pull my sweater tight across my chest and cross my arms.

 

“Actually, I was fifteen at the time and seeing all manner of ghosts so water had nothing to do with it.”

 

“Oh, right.”

 

Hazel pours herself another cup and motions to me to do the same but I shake my head. I love coffee but if I don’t stop at three cups I’ll soon become a caffeinated earthquake.

 

She’s about to ask another question, and I’m suspecting it’s whether I’m seeing Jasmine now, but it’s my turn. “How do you know about me?”

 

Hazel sighs. “I’m not a big fan with the local Poe-Poe.”

 

“Okay.” I’m not sure where this is going.

 

“The sheriff and his minions don’t trust me, ever since I stole something of theirs a few years back.”

 

“What did you steal?”

 

She glances at the folders on the table, then back up at me, cocking one eyebrow. I pull the folder off the top, the one with the clipping hanging out the side, and slide it in front of me. I take a deep breath. I’m not sure I want to go here but here I am. I lift the flap.

 

The clipping lies near the bottom so that’s not the first thing I see. Instead, it’s my name. At the top of a police report. I look back at Hazel who’s leaning back in her chair, two legs off the ground. She twists her lips in a smug grin, setting off a few wrinkles at last.

 

“I may have slipped that one into my purse.”

 

“You stole my police report? From 1991, when I had to make a statement?”

 

“It’s everyone’s police report.”

 

I shake my head, because I’ve taken mass media law in journalism school, know what constitutes public record. “I don’t think so, Mrs. Callaway.”

 

She drops the chair and it makes a loud bang. “I’m no Mrs. Callaway.”

 

“You stole something from the police. Did they know about this?”

 

“Of course, they did. Call me Hazel.” She nods toward my coffee cup with its last sip at the bottom. “Drink up. I have more.”

 

I glance at my almost empty cup and wonder if this crazy woman is drugging me, ready to hide my body in the swamps surrounding Morrow, then flip off the police when they come looking, chalk it up to a UFO abduction. I hate to be suspicious but then I’ve had quite a few run-ins with malicious people in my line of work chasing ghost stories.

 

“You don’t trust me, do you?”

 

I wonder, also, if this woman reads minds. “What are you?” I ask.

 

Hazel laughs and rises from her chair. She heads to the kitchen and I hear dishes being moved around. “I’m a lunatic if you ask anyone in town. I’m a criminal if you ask the police.” She returns with a plate of what looks like homemade banana bread.

 

“I’m a plant witch to those I trust.”

“I knew it,” I say before I have time to think. “I have two in my family.”

“Did the front yard give me away?”

 

“And how.”

 

She sits back down, shaking her head with an “honest-to-goddess” smile, as my Aunt Mimi likes to say. “Witches and SCANCS. That’s a fun combination.”

 

I relax and take a piece of banana bread that’s offered. “Makes for wild holidays.”

 

“And you? Are you a witch too?”

I’m more reluctant to discuss my witchy skills than my ghost-seeing abilities. The world isn’t ready to accept women like me communing with nature in powerful ways. We’re either the nicely dressed, nose-twitching housewives on Bewitched or the hags who ride brooms and eat children on Halloween. When Congress suspected that Russia infiltrated the U.S. election in 2016, the president called it a “witch hunt,” and no one connected that phrase with the thousands of women burned and killed over the centuries.

 

In other words, I’m still in the broom closet.

 

“I’m in the learning phase. My Aunt Mimi, who runs a senior center in Branson, teaches me things now and then, but she’s like you, of the plant variety.”

 

“And you?”

 

“I’m more attached to rocks.”

 

Hazel smirks. Rock witches are few and far between and the rest of the witch world doesn’t look down on us but I suspect they don’t always appreciate our abilities either. We don’t grow plants and we don’t instinctively understand alchemy. People like me don’t feel the weather changing or that someone’s about to visit, nor do we easily concoct spells to attract money—the IRS can attest to that one. I love the ancient holidays but I’m not one to dance around the May Pole and, being that I see ghosts on a regular basis, I’d rather not celebrate All Hallow’s Eve.

 

I consider myself a solitary witch and, because of my love of rocks, lean more toward healing if I fully establish my craft, which I have not—who has the time? Aunt Mimi doesn’t relate to my connection to stones and I hail from a town that has none; New Orleans sits on Mississippi River mud. I know these are all excuses and if I could find time to sneak away from husband, kids, and freelance writing work, I might seek out a teacher and learn more. From Hazel’s reaction, she’s not the one.

 

But, now that Hazel mentions it…. I reach into my pocket and massage the piece of fluorite there, a lovely octahedron of purple I carry with me to help me focus and gain mental clarity. As I touch the smooth surface of the stone, the world becomes sharper, the distractions melt away. I see Hazel in a new light. There are acute wrinkles about her eyes but that pain lingering in her gaze intensifies. Her aura waves erratically about her body, dark, dense colors almost screaming at the edges. But there’s soft light underneath, something smothered by the anger.

 

I’ve never had such an intense reaction to my fluorite, never had it allow me to delve so closely into another person. If I had, I might not have responded so impulsively. “Why are you so angry?” I ask.

 

Hazel stands and nearly knocks her chair over. She grabs my coffee cup and plate and heads to the kitchen, never saying a word.

 

“Can I help with the dishes?” I ask her back, trying to be polite and smooth over whatever happened here.

“Take the folders and the book,” I hear her bark out from the kitchen. “There’s a copy place in town. Drop them back off at the mailbox.”