The Haunted Lover
“What we fear comes to pass more speedily than what we hope.”
—- Publilius Syrus – Moral Sayings (1st C B.C.)
“I don’t know. How can I ever explain it to you? I miss him, and I don’t think I’m ever going to get over it.” Cissie wiped the tears spilling down her cheeks. She lost her true love a mere two years before, but his legacy allowed her to follow their lifelong dream of owning a Bed & Breakfast.
Magnolia House, the mansion of former oil magnate Caleb D. Clemmons, had been built shortly after the war of northern aggression. Clemmons recovered after the Civil War and the South’s enduring occupation by carpetbaggers when he discovered oil on his property. Old family name, new money, a match made in the dreams of entrepreneurs everywhere.
Caleb’s family still owned land in the county, but the mansion, although well built, had been abandoned for more than eighty years. Magnolia House was certainly desirable enough as property. Its location at the far edge of the upper echelons of the town’s prestigious historic district ensured that desirability. There was only one problem; the place was, in a word, haunted.
Cecelia Lee Shelby, Cissie to her friends and family, purchased the mansion in anticipation of her marriage to Jacob Edward Brown Clemmons, Jeb to his friends and family. She understood the place was haunted and claimed she didn’t care. Jeb, ever the charming southern gentleman knew Cissie to be a psychic, frequently consulting those who had passed over, but insisted he did not care.
When the funeral and the mourning period—for all intents and purposes—ended, Cissie began her restoration. With advice from “Cal” her friendly ghost, she restored Magnolia House to its former glory. Of course, “Cal” attended her on each buying trip. The matriarch of the Historical Society, Mrs. J.B. Stuart the current esteemed President of the Glorious Daughters of the Confederacy, assured Cissie her colors were spot on authentic to the houses original plans. Cal informed her where she might find most of the missing furniture. Everything that could be restored was, and those things beyond restoration were replaced with reproductions.
Cissie ended her call and wiping her eyes, hurried to answer the knocking at the front door. Scott Hancock stood with a hand shielding the glare peering through the glass into her front hall. She felt her mouth turn down at the corners but knowing he was the only general contractor in the area willing to work on the haunted house, she feigned pleasure at his arrival.
Turning the locks and opening the door she smiled and waved him into the entry. “I didn’t think I’d see you today.” She turned back to close the door behind him and take a fortifying breath. “The weatherman says thunderstorms, and I thought you only had the roof and electrical work to finish. Do you believe it’s a good idea to try either of those things during the storm?”
Don’t let him work on the house today. Caleb whispered in Cissie’s ear. He shouldn’t be here, alone with you.
We’re not really alone, Cissie thought. Caleb’s here with me. She smiled and headed for the kitchen where she’d been going over bills at the table when the phone first rang.
“You know, I could help with more than the odd jobs around the house,” Scott smiled at Cissie and put a huge hand on his crotch, adjusting himself. “Help you forget things.” The smile became a leer as Scott moved forward to stand next to her. Way too close.
She shivered in revulsion and stepped back placing her hand, palm flat on his chest, to push him away. Panic rose in her, along with a remembered warning from Caleb. He wants to see you naked and he pictures you succumbing to his vilest desires.
“I have told you time and again, Scott. It’s not mourning for Jeb that allows me to resist you.” She stepped around him to exit the room. I’d rather be alone the rest of my life with only Cal for company.
“You’ll come around.” He tugged his jeans down then up and adjusted the rise once more. “Sooner or later, they all want to see what it’s like.” He smoothed a hand over his hair and grabbing his tool belt stepped around Cissie. His arm brushed up against her breast and she heard him chuckle, but decided not to call him on it.
Who else would even come to the house? And she was anxious to open the B&B. Once the work was finished, he would be gone and she could get on with her life, no fears, no regrets. Besides, this far from the town, she didn’t think it smart to alienate the only contractor who could and would finish the job.
“It’s dangerous Scott.” She picked up a stack of bills and the letter opener she’d been using and followed him back into the hall. “Besides, Cal says it’s not a good idea.”
Scott watched her walk towards the back of the house. I bet Cal thinks it’s a bad idea. Scott had done his homework. He knew all about the girl, who “talked” to ghosts, and the spirit who hid the gold from the Confederate treasury, probably in his own house. This house. The house only Scott was brave enough to venture into. The house “Cal” was helping Cissie to restore, to its original grandeur. The house Scott had been searching for months, trying to find the stash of gold bullion. Cissie herself? Bonus points.
She was the sweetest thing, but her money was running out. She needed Scott to do the manual labor, and soon she would need his money to finish up. But they wouldn’t stay here, no. He’d convince her to travel with him, see the world, spend the money her buddy “Cal“ gave him access to, and all the luxuries it bought them. What a life. Perfect!
He knew her rejections of him were for appearances. She claimed to still be mourning her lost fiancée’, but Scott knew better. It had been two years after all. Scott recalled the night like it was yesterday.
Cissie and Jeb met Scott at the Roadhouse to discuss the potential renovation. Jeb wanted the work to start after the wedding, and Cissie wanted to begin right away. Scott wouldn’t let their impending marriage interfere with his plans. Jeb had to go. He sat straight faced and detached while they argued. He offered Cissie a ride home, after all, Jeb wanted to stay and have a few more beers, watch the game with his friends. Cissie declined, of course, the perfect lady. He anticipated her refusal. Scott left the bar a little while after Cissie and long before Jeb climbed into his Doulie to begin weaving down the road.
Scott had positioned himself perfectly for this encounter. He pulled out of the cornfield, high beams straight on and roared across the road cutting Jeb off. The doulie’s direct hit into the county’s oldest live oak did him in, plus he never saw Scott coming.
Cal watched Scott pry lose the panels of the original wainscoting in the long entry hall. The ghost’s amusement and frustration made the air around them ripple with energy. Cal knew Scott wouldn’t find the treasure without help, his help. But this obsession with Cissie? Infuriating. Cal was tempted to teach Scott a severe lesson. But then who would Cissie get to finish the house? The house. Magnolia House, always the center of post-war life, had been a dream of his and his wife. His dream, not hers.
It wasn’t that she didn’t long for the finer things and regret their losses during the war, she just wasn’t willing to spend the gold. Confederate gold. Gold Caleb believed belonged to him. He’d spent his life protecting it, guarding it. Not only his life but most of his afterlife as well.
Cal needed to intervene. But the timing needed to be perfect.
Scott spent the afternoon working on the lighting in the grand entryway. He knew there was a hidden panel which, once revealed, would present him the treasure he sought. He knew the gold was here, he simply needed to find it.
Before the job ended, which was way too close.
Cissie told him the job would end when the B&B opened–whether he was finished or not.
Normally he wouldn’t pay any attention to single women trying to get him to commit to something like that. He didn’t make commitments. Nobody pushed Scott into guarantees. Nobody. Except Cissie, who made him sign a contract. So once the B&B opened, he was history. She wouldn’t have any trouble getting someone else out here to work once the public started showing up.
The isolation would only last until the B&B opened.
Scott wanted the job finished. This old house really got under his skin. He’d been creeped out several times the past week, constantly feeling as if someone was watching over his shoulder. And the tools. That was freaky. He’d put down a hammer, or wire cutters and when he went to grab them again, just a second or two later, they’d be gone. He was being toyed with or perhaps he was losing his mind.
Probably not. Just the stress.
Anxious to get back to town he gathered his tools. He had more research to do, requiring a trip to the library before it closed. Besides, the young librarian was relatively hot. She’d come on to him the last time he’d stopped in there. Maybe he’d get lucky.
Clouds drifted across the late afternoon sun, causing a shadow to creep across the stairs. Cold chills fingered their way down his spine and he looked up to find Cissie watching him from the foot of the stairs.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“Um, checking out the outlet here.” He pointed to the top of the staircase. He’d added an outlet so the maid wouldn’t have to plug-in a vacuum in a guest room.
He’d insisted on adding the outlet, easily explained and not on the original plan, enabling him to search for panels on the staircase. He’d already exhausted his other options in the attic, basement, dining and kitchen areas. The great rooms and the reception hall offered no place where hidden panels might conceal the Colonels stash.
“I want you to finish up. There’s a storm coming and I don’t want you stuck out here all night if the road turns into a mudslide.”
As she turned on her heel to return to the kitchen, she dropped the letter opener.
Scott ran down the stairs and grabbing her by the waist, reached around her to retrieve it.
Cissie yelped in surprise and pulled away, knocking a vase of flowers off the entryway table. The crystal shattered and the water ran in rivulets from the table to the hardwood floor at their feet.
Cissie pushed him away and he slipped into the water, hand clutching the letter opener. His legs went out from under him and his arms windmilled with the letter opener connecting with the electrical outlet at the same time the storm began in earnest.
Lightning struck the rods on the roof of the old mansion and the charge traveled down from the roof through the house.
Every electrical outlet, old and new exploded in a flash. Snap, crackle, pop. Light bulbs popped, current slid across any available surface, and appliances unfortunate enough to be plugged in immediately blew out. The lightning arced, bouncing around the sinks in every room.
When Scott landed, with the letter opener in his grip connecting with the outlet at the foot of the stairs, he began to jerk and flop like a trout on the shoreline deprived of air.
Cissie could only watch in horror.
She stood frozen in shock. Her hands covered her mouth holding back a scream of terror. Time stood still. The next flash released Scott from the outlet, the letter opener flying loose with his break from the wall.
Cissie leaned forward to feel for a pulse, attempting to place her fingers on his neck. A fierce wind whipped around her stopping her movement.
No. Don’t touch him. Not yet.
“Cal, let me help him,” she pleaded tears streaming down her face.
Don’t risk yourself. Wait until the next flash passes before you touch him.
Her mind couldn’t release the sight of him, back bowed, facial muscles rigid, arms and legs askew while he jerked like a live wire coming from the wall outlet.
Sobbing, Cissie searched her pockets for her cell phone, fumbling while she dialed 9-1-1. She didn’t even like Scott but no one deserved this. His body had settled, lay still on the hardwood floor. She grabbed a pillow from the settee in the foyer to place under his head.
When Cal finally let her touch the rigid handyman on the floor in front of her, it took a few moments to realize it might be a while before help arrived. She began CPR. He had no pulse, but she’d heard during her CPR training the important thing about resuscitation was to keep the blood circulating until help could arrive. She pushed down in the center of this chest, rapid, forceful movements sending the blood from his damaged heart to the limp limbs. She stopped every two minutes to provide what she hoped would be lifesaving air into his lungs. Basically, the mouth to mouth portion repulsed her. Even knowing it might be the difference between life and death, she simply didn’t want to go there. Too much like kissing. And she would never kiss Scott. Not in this life or the next.
She continued her lifesaving efforts until she thought her arms would fall off in exhaustion. Her back ached, she became breathless with tingles running from shoulder to wrist making her believe she’d done the CPR all wrong.
As the flashing lights of the rescue squad barreled up the drive, she finally burst into tears of exhaustion. Cal enveloped her in a cloud of cold calm. Don’t cry. You did everything you could to help him.
She turned as if she would place her head on Cal’s shoulder when she realized he was close to full materialization for the first time in their relationship.
She drew back in shock as the paramedics pounded on the front door, flashlight beams dancing over the entryway.
Cissie ran down the entry hall throwing the doors wide open. As paramedics burst into the room firing questions at her, she shrank back against the staircase, shaking and crying.
“How soon did you start CPR?” the tall one pulled equipment from packs they’d carried into the house.
“Did he have a pulse?” The short one pulled the shirt open, exposing Scott’s chest.
“I started right away. There wasn’t a pulse, but it was my first time,” she wrung her hands to still the trembling. “Please, help him.”
The paramedics knelt on either side of Scott’s chest. The tall one placed pads and switched on the AED monitor. Cissie watched the machine go through its motion, assessing, evaluating, calculating. Finally, the tinny command came from the small black box, “Stand clear”. “No Pulse detected. Stand Clear, delivering a shock.”
It won’t do any good. He’s gone.
“Will this help him?” Cissie moved restlessly shifting her weight from foot to foot.
“Ma’am, we’re doing the best we can, please give us a chance.” The machine whirred again, “Begin CPR”.
He’s gone. He’ll never bother you again.
“Cal, please,” Cissie muttered half to herself.
“Is Cal your husband?” The short one was placing an airway while the tall on worked on Scott’s chest compressions.
He was weak. He was greedy. He was not worthy of you, or your concern.
“Cal, it’s not right. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone. No one deserves to die like this, before their time.”
“Switch,” the two paramedics traded positions after the last lifesaving breath pushed into Scott’s chest. The machine sat, lights blinking on the side of the scene.
Life was wasted on him. He did not appreciate what he had, or all he could have. Sad. Stupid.
“Cal please, not now.”
The paramedics sent furtive glances in her direction. They’d been working with Scott for more than thirty minutes. The storm had begun to abate, and the clouds pushed off onto the horizon. The lights flickered electricity returning with a surge. The lights flickered at first, then steadied and they could see the burn marks along the electrical outlet on the wall. Black streaks smeared Scott’s cheeks and his hair stood out at odd angles all over his head. The two paramedics sat back on their heels. “Time to call it. There’s nothing more we can do.”
The short one glanced down at his watch, “7:06 p.m., code ended.”
A fierce wind whipped around Cissie and the doors flew open at the front of the house. Icy dread slipped down her spine, making her tremble anew. She pulled herself closer to the wall, wrapping her arms around her waist. The last gush of air raced past them out the front door and the doors slammed, glass rattling while the key turned in the lock. The two men and Cissie gaped at one another.
Scott’s chest heaved. His back arched while he drew in an enormous gulp of air. A croaking sound came from his mouth as he tried to sit upright. The paramedics pulled away at first, then snapped into action. Re-attaching the pads to his chest, they let the monitor make its assessment. The short one grabbed a flashlight to check Scott’s pupils. No reaction, the eyes were dark, almost black. “Normal sinus rhythm, no CPR required,” the machine announced.
“You need to lie still, sir.” The tall one jumped to his feet, grabbing the equipment as he raced for the front door. “I’ll get the gurney.”
“No, wait.” Scott’s voice croaked. It didn’t sound like him at all, at least not to Cissie’s ears.
“I don’t need to go to the hospital.” He lifted a hand to his temple and shook his head. “I’m fine, really.” He looked over at Cissie and winked.
“Ma’am?”, The tall paramedic waited for Cissie’s response. The short one slowly rose to his feet, head turning to watch the exchange bouncing around the other three in the hallway. He stumbled back, away from Scott. Cissie wanted to do the same. Put some distance between herself and the man slowly getting to his feet from the floor.
“I’ll be okay here. This house belongs to me.” He reached out a hand and slid cold fingers down Cissie’s cheek, “Home at last.”
She looked into his eyes but all she could see was darkness.
Be careful what you ask for. She could hear Scott’s voice in her head.