Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. In the spirit of all things spooky, sereal, and spectral, here are a couple of excerpts from my books. The first two are from A Beckoning Hellfire, due for re-realease this November. The third is from its sequel, A Rebel Among Us. Don’t let the frights terrify you tonight!
(Excerpt from A Beckoning Hellfire)
Jake leaned in toward his friend. “You should ask him about your pa,” he reminded.
The other soldiers looked at David, waiting for him to speak. He took a deep sigh, and said, “My pa is buried here somewhere, and I was wonderin’ if y’all might know where I could find him.”
The Georgians exchanged glances.
“Can’t rightly direct you,” Michael said. “The burial site’s mighty large, and not every grave is marked. It could take days, or even weeks, and you still might not find him.”
David bit his lower lip and gazed into the fire, disappointed with the answer he’d received.
Jake quickly changed the subject and they were soon engaged in telling one chilling horror story after another, most of which the other soldiers made up. David enthralled them with “The Tell Tale Heart,” a story by Edgar Allen Poe, which none of the others had heard before. To his amusement, the others actually shivered at his telling of the story. The four soldiers talked on into the night until they realized it was late and decided to retire. As the Georgians departed, Jake leaned back, mumbling something unintelligible. David fell asleep but was soon startled awake by the bugler’s invasion.
(Also from A Beckoning Hellfire)
David shivered. Deciding to move around for warm, he slid from the saddle, but stumbled in the dark. He noticed a round, white rock, so he knelt down and picked it up. Oddly, it was much lighter than a rock. He turned it in his hands. Empty eye sockets bore into him, and the bony teeth grinned at him from death. Impulsively, he screamed, and tossed the human skull away in a panic, which sent it flying over the field. Horrified, he suddenly became aware his surroundings.
Long white bones stuck out from mounds of dirt that at one point must have served as makeshift graves. Weathered woolen uniforms and knapsacks, still intact, clung to the skeletal remains. Cannonballs sat scattered about, an eerie reminder of what had happened here.
Realizing that he was in a terrible graveyard, he shuddered. For some reason, the Yankee whose head he’d lopped off popped into his head. He glanced around, expecting the headless soldier to ride out of the darkness and attack him. An owl hooted. David nearly jumped out of his skin. Anxious to depart the frightening scene, he hurried back to Renegade, mounted, and prompted his colt to trot.
For the rest of the night, David walked Renegade along the side of a road, and carefully avoided the horrible scene of death. He had no need for coffee. His fright kept him wide awake.
When he returned to camp the next morning, he told Custis what he’d seen, and how he had held a dead man’s skull in his hand, just like a scene from Hamlet.
“Oh, that must be what’s left of those poor fellers who fought over yonder last year. We’re right close to Manassas. You didn’t know that, did you, Summers?”
Wide-eyed, David shook his head.
Custis giggled. “Reckon you got a good scare, then!” He guffawed.
(From A Rebel Among Us)
On October 31, Patrick arrived with a bottle of whiskey and invited David to partake with him. They stood shivering at the back door, passing the bottle between them.
“‘Tis Samhain tonight, lad. All Hallow’s Eve. Were ye aware of it?”
David nodded. “Where’d you git this whiskey?” he asked.
“Aye, ‘tis a grand thing the Meyers provide me with allowance for such an indulgence,” he replied. He pulled a pipe from his coat pocket and lit it. Puffing away, he shook his head and remarked, “Sure’n ‘tis a far cry from real tobacco.”
A thought crossed David’s mind. “I’ll be right back,” he said.
He went upstairs to his room, grabbed the pouch of tobacco, and brought it back down to his friend.
Patrick peeked inside before taking a deep whiff. “Ah!” he sighed, relishing the pungent aroma. “Might this be the Southern tobacco I’ve heard tell about?”
David grinned. “Jake brought it along for tradin’, and this here’s what’s left.”
Patrick loaded his pipe, relit it, and puffed euphorically, smiling all the while. “‘Tis a wee bit o’ heaven, indeed.” He glanced at his friend. “Now, have ye any scary tales from the Southland that might have me skin crawlin’?”
David thought for a moment, “There’s a story from north Alabama about a place called the Red Bank.”
Raising his eyebrows, Patrick said, “Let’s see if ye might be tellin’ it frightfully enough to send a shiver up me spine.” He happily puffed away.
David grinned. He lowered his voice so it was a threatening grumble and delved into his story. Once he had completed the tale of an Indian maiden who had killed herself after losing her baby and had promptly turned into a ghost, he paused.
Patrick puffed silently on his pipe. “Well, now, I have a scarier one.” He puffed again, took a swig from the whiskey bottle, handed it to David, and said, “‘Tis an old tale from the motherland.”
The wind blew past them, whistling off through the barren fields. Both young men shivered, suddenly aware of the ominous darkness surrounding them.
David forced a nervous laugh before taking a swallow. “All right, Patrick. Let’s hear it.”
He took a puff and slowly exhaled. “There once lived a wealthy lady who was courted by two lords. One of the lords grew so jealous of the other that he plotted to kill his rival. So one night, he snuck into the unsuspectin’ lad’s bedchamber. But instead of choppin’ off his head—”
He said this with so much exuberance David jumped.
“He accidentally chopped off his legs instead.”
A dog howled in the distance, adding to the nuance of Patrick’s eerie Irish story.
“His torso received a proper burial, but his legs were tossed into a hole in the castle garden and covered with dirt. The murderin’ lord deceived the lady by tellin’ her the other suitor had abandoned his proposal to her. She agreed to marriage. But on their weddin’ night, in walked the two bodyless legs.”
An owl hooted from somewhere off in the empty trees.
“The legs followed the bridegroom relentlessly until the day he died. It’s said the legs can still be seen walkin’ round by themselves. ‘Tis a true phuca.” Upon this conclusion, Patrick puffed on the pipe. Smoke billowed around his head like an apparition.
“What’s a phuca?” asked David.
“A ghost,” Patrick responded.
Raising a skeptical eyebrow, David snorted. “I reckon that’s the dumbest spook story I ever did hear.”
A gate near the barn caught in the wind and slammed loudly against the fencepost. The two men jumped. They chuckled at their reaction, but immediately felt the terrible chill. Reasoning they would be more comfortable inside, they entered the kitchen, consumed the remainder of the whiskey, and bid each other goodnight. Patrick returned home, and David retired quietly upstairs, careful not to wake the others. Relieved the fireplace had been lit for him, he undressed.
Climbing into bed, he snickered at the thought of two legs unattached to a body, chasing after a rival. Once he’d fallen asleep, however, the thought invaded his dreams. The legs ran toward him. Right behind them rode the headless Union horseman. The torso raised its saber and swung it where its head should have been. Just as the blade came down, David jolted awake. He gasped to catch his breath, realizing, once again, his imagination had gotten the best of him. Slowly, he lay back. Unable to sleep, he listened to the wind rattle the shutters and shake through the skeleton-like tree limbs from outside the frosty, lace-covered windows.