Many people have messaged me, telling me how much they’ve enjoyed my true paranormal stories, but most of them aren’t aware that I also have two fiction trilogies as well. I’d like to introduce you to Winter Woods. Here are the three chapters.
In my dreams, I’m not paper white.
I’m golden brown like my twin sister Summer with hair the color of my mother’s wedding band and eyelashes that flutter like black butterflies above storm cloud eyes.
I can run in the golden sunshine with the tall green grass whispering at my ankles without worry that I’ll develop second-degree burns. I can see without benefit of thick ugly glasses and can tilt my face to the heavens without my insides exploding like shattered mirrors.
My waking life is a bit different.
My skin is as pale as my long white hair. People say that I have delicate features, which really means they think I’m as weak as my color, a tepid cup of tea that is missing its constitution. What they don’t know about me is that the outside doesn’t match the inside.
Inside I am fierce. I am a silent warrior, steadily seething bit by bit. The only thing that holds me back from total rebellion is the glimmer of hope that finds me when I am at my darkest. It soothes the rough edges, always making me search for the bright side of things. In this way, I am like a tornado. Cold and hot blowing together, swirling and pushing. Sometimes I think it won’t take much to push me over the edge one way or another.
A flash of movement catches my eye. I glance up as a black crow lands on the tombstone beside me.
I want to move away, because he’s too close for comfort, but I find myself rooted to the ground nonetheless. I’ve never been a big fan of birds, not since my old neighbor’s cockatiel tried to remove a chunk of my finger, but something about him is mesmerizing. I couldn’t look away if I wanted to.
“Hey buddy,” I say to him.
He eyes me boldly, fluttering his wings as though he wants to tell me something.
“What?” I ask him.
The cemetery is always full of crows, but he’s not like the others I’ve seen. While his feathers are the same glossy black, his eyes are pale blue, almost the same color as mine. He continues to stare me down.
Despite my mistrust of birds, I find myself reaching out, hoping to touch him, imagining him climbing onto my wrist like a pet.
He tilts his head sideways like a puppy and continues to watch me, unmoved by my gesture.
At first, I think he’s probably never seen a girl with white hair that matches the color of her skin, but then I realize he’s looking at the silver bracelet dangling from my wrist.
It has a small cross on it, something my mother gave me on my seventh birthday. Summer has one that’s exactly the same, except hers is gold instead of silver. I wear it out of habit, but if the truth were known, it means nothing to me. It’s just another reminder of our differences.
I unclasp it and toss it on the ground in front of me.
He watches it fall, the excitement almost vibrating off him. I’ve read that crows love shiny things, and he is no different. After a few seconds, he flutters down to the grass to see what I’ve offered him. His inky feathers ruffle in the breeze as he hops over to the bracelet.
“You can have it,” I tell him.
He stares up at me, as if he’s trying to figure me out. Intelligence swirls below the surface of his gaze. Something about him makes me think he is more than merely a bird.
Finally, he snatches the bracelet off the ground and takes flight, leaving me alone again.
“You’re welcome!” I call after him.
I watch him until he disappears into the distance, feeling the loneliness fill all the empty spaces around me once more.
I sigh, wishing for more.
I pull myself off the ground and tuck my Diary of the Dead under my arm. If I don’t leave the cemetery by dark, people will think they’ve seen a ghost.
I find the spirit board quite by accident.
My bedroom is dark when I come into the house, the shadows knitted together into one black mass, turning my room into a place of unknown truths.
There could be a monster standing in the corner or a ghost sitting on my bed. In the darkness, anything is possible. I switch on my nightstand light and chase the fantasies away, almost disappointed to find my room the same as normal.
Something is missing in my life, and I yearn for it, even though I don’t know what it is. I just feel like there should be more to my existence than this unending trail of boring daily routines. I want, I want…
I sigh and flop down on my bed.
I don’t know what I want, but it isn’t this.
I look around my room, bored with everything in my life. I thought that moving to a new town might bring some excitement to my life, but Harmony is as dull as the last city my family lived in.
I stretch out on my stomach with my chin propped on my hands and watch the cemetery for a moment. It shares a hill with the caretaker’s cottage where we live, giving me a perfect view. I love the way the moon glints on the stones, making them look like headboards, a final place for people to rest their weary bones. If I’m patient, sometimes I can see hazy shapes moving between the stones, but nothing is stirring tonight.
I give up after a few minutes and reach for my Diary of the Dead.
I started the diary a month ago when my family moved to Harmony, Indiana. After spending the first seventeen years of my life in Massachusetts, the move was difficult. I needed to find something to occupy my mind. The cemetery provided me with an easy hobby.
When I get bored, which is pretty much every waking moment of my day, I sometimes meander around the graveyard and study the stones. If one captures my attention, I copy the name from the tombstone and then research it at the library, learning everything I can about the person. Most people would probably think I’m off my rocker, but I don’t care. It gives me something to do.
Today, I’ve jotted down two names that seem interesting. One is a woman named Mary Davis who died in 1920 at the age of twenty-five. Another is a man named Frank Jeffries who died in 1978 at the age of eighty-nine. Frank’s was fascinating because his epitaph read, “I lived a good life, but I’ve had enough,” making him sound like someone I would have liked. I love the weariness in his words, the way he was ready to hang his hat and move on.
My mother appears at my doorway, frowning when she looks around my messy room.
“Winter, please put away that last box. It’s been a month. You’ve had plenty of time,” she says, as though the world might end because of my clutter, and then disappears again before I have a chance to protest.
I groan, looking at the box. It’s filled with board games and old photo albums, things I didn’t need right away. If I’m truly honest, if I haven’t needed them in a month, then I probably don’t need them at all, but I’m too lazy to figure out what else to do with them. The only empty place left to put them is in my closet.
I try to slide a box onto the shelf in my closet, but it catches on something, refusing to budge.
“Great,” I say with a sigh.
I drag my desk chair across the room and climb up. Even on my tiptoes the shelf is still too high to see, so I run my hand across it, immediately finding something square pushed up against the back. It feels like the panel for a board game. I pull it down and carry it to my bed. When I unfold it, I can’t help but smile. It’s a spirit board. Maybe things won’t be so boring in Harmony after all.
Summer hears me and pops her head through my doorway.
“Everything okay?” she asks.
“Check out what I found,” I tell her, my thoughts as happy as Christmas morning. My sister doesn’t seem quite as enthused.
She tucks her hair behind her ear and walks over to get a closer look. The way she looks, one good “Boo!” and I might have to peel her off the ceiling.
“Is that one of those spirit boards you talk to ghosts with?” she asks.
“I think so, but I can’t find the triangle piece,” I say. I return to the closet to feel around for the missing planchette, but don’t find it. I look around the room, my gaze landing on the penny jar on my desk.
I unscrew the lid and draw an arrow on the top with a permanent marker. I’m a wiz at improvising a situation. I once unfroze my mother’s car lock with hand sanitizer. Making a homemade planchette is a piece of cake.
“There. This will work. Wanna give it a shot?” I ask.
Summer takes a hesitant step backwards, her blue eyes widening. She’s dressed for bed in an oversized navy jersey, making her tanned legs look even longer than they already are. We are similar in height and weight, but everything looks better on her. Sometimes I imagine us being items in a catalog, offered in two different colors and I can’t blame anyone for choosing Summer over Winter. I’d do the same thing if I had a choice.
“I don’t know if this is a good idea, Winter,” she says, retreating to the doorway. “Let’s play Monopoly instead,” she suggests, but I make a face at the suggestion. Monopoly is for losers and kids under the age of ten.
I climb onto my bed and sit cross-legged in front of the board. “Just try it for a minute?” I ask, using my sweetest voice, one Summer can never resist.
She holds my gaze for an eternity, fear rising to the surface of her face.
“Are you sure about this?” she asks. “I’ve heard of people getting possessed from these things.”
I roll my eyes at her. I don’t know how I became the braver twin, especially given our profound differences, but I’ve always been the risk taker while she takes the safe route.
It’s something my parents have commented on since we were babies. I was always the adventurous twin, the one who tried to climb the stairs repeatedly, while Summer was content to sit back and watch me. As we grew older, it extended to more dangerous venues, like exploring the abandoned house down the street from us, or approaching stray dogs that wandered onto our lawn. Summer would stand back and watch as I took the lead, time and time again.
“We’ll be fine. Don’t worry so much,” I scold her.
She bites her lip, like she does when she’s teetering on a decision. Finally, she pushes away from the door and joins me on my bed.
“I don’t like it, Winter, but I’ll try it for a minute,” she says.
I place the jar lid on the board and rest my fingers lightly beside the black arrow. Summer does the same on the other side. If something paranormal is supposed to happen, I can’t feel it. Maybe we need to set the mood.
“Hang on a second.”
I jump up and flip off the overhead light, plunging the room into darkness. Before Summer can protest, I grab a Mason jar candle off my desk and light it with a match. It sends an amber glow around the room, making the shadows dance on my wall like apparitions. I return to the bed and resume my position.
“What do we do now?” Summer asks.
I stare down at the board, looking at our fingers on the lid. “I don’t know. I guess we ask a question and see if anything happens.”
“Is there anybody here who wants to talk to us?” Summer asks, surprising me.
The lid doesn’t budge.
“Can you give us a sign that you’re here? We won’t hurt you…it’s okay,” I say.
After a second, I feel the slightest nudge on the lid. It sends a chill down my spine. I look around the room, examining the shadows.
“Did you do that?” Summer asks.
My breath catches in my chest as I watch the lid. The candlelight quivers for a moment, as if caught in an invisible breeze. I feel a tingling in the air, as though it is filled with sparkles of electricity. I don’t know whether to be afraid or excited.
“Can you spell out your name?” I ask.
Something changes in that minute. The slight flicker of electricity in the air becomes a massive surge, making every hair on my arm stand up.
The candle flickers and sputters, drawing a gasp from my sister. She looks at me, seconds away from pulling her fingers away, when the lid scoots halfway across the board, stopping on the letter S.
“Did you do that, Winter?”
“No. Of course not,” I tell her, and then look back down at the board. “Can you give us a second letter?”
The lid slides back to the left, stopping on the letter A.
“Thank you. S-A…can you give us the next letter?” I ask.
The lid slides to the right again to the R, then makes a quick turn back to the A, before stopping at the H.
“Sarah,” Summer says, pulling her fingers from the lid. “That’s enough for me. This is creepy.”
She slips off my bed and wrings her hands, as if trying to wash off the spirit energy. “I don’t like this, Winter. I don’t think it’s a good idea,” she says. She toys with the cross on her bracelet for a minute before retreating to her bedroom.
“Good night,” I call after her, but don’t hear anything in response. A few seconds later, she pops back into my room and flips on my overhead light, her face consumed with worry.
“Winter, please don’t do that again. Plain and simple. That’s not right. You don’t know what you’re messing with. I read that demons will pretend to be little girls to get you to talk to them. Just because it spelled out the name Sarah doesn’t mean that’s who it really is,” she says.
My mother comes up behind her and looks over her shoulder at me.
“What are you two doing?” she asks.
Summer shifts over, giving my mother room to pass through the doorway. As soon as she sees the board on my bed, her eyes narrow.
“Where’d you get that?” she asks.
I nod my head towards the closet. “I found it in my closet.”
She walks over to the bed and touches the lid that I’ve marked with an arrow. “One of my friends had one of these when I was a teenager. They always made me a little nervous. They remind me of Pandora’s Box. You never know what’s going to happen when you open it,” she says, eyeing me, knowing instinctively that I was the instigator.
When we were little and something showed up broken, she never even glanced in my sister’s direction when she asked what happened.
“We asked if there was anyone here and we got the name Sarah,” I tell her, hoping she will catch at least a small trace of my excitement. “How cool is that?” I say, but she shakes her head.
“I don’t want that in our house. Give it to me so I can throw it out,” she says, her eyebrows arched in a way that defies argument.
“Winter, don’t test me,” she says firmly.
I scowl under my breath, but I close the board anyway and hand it to her.
“This isn’t something you want to mess with,” she tells me as she grabs the board and leaves my room. Summer follows her out, giving me an “I told you so” glance over her shoulder at me as she leaves. I breathe out a sigh as their footsteps trail down the hallway.
I don’t understand their irrational fears. I found the entire experience to be perfectly exhilarating.
I was actually communicating with the dead.
I think about all the mysteries and unanswered questions I could solve if the dead were willing to share their secrets with me. I could find out what happens to us after we die, and if there’s such a thing as a soul. I can’t imagine not using it.
I turn off the light and climb into bed.
I listen to the sound of my mother walking through the kitchen to the back door. The door opens with a squeak, and is followed by the thump of something being tossed into the metal trash can.
Something fierce rises up inside me. I don’t care what they think. I’m going to try it again. I have a lot of questions I want to ask.
I wait for thirty minutes, until the house grows quiet, and slip out of the bed to retrieve my spirit board. I tuck it back onto the top shelf of my closet where it belongs. If my mother finds it, I’ll profess my innocence and tell her that it must have moved all by itself.
The thought makes me smile.
As I roll over onto my side, I glance around my dark room, wondering if the ghost is still with me. The shadows on my wall remain the same, giving me nothing to work with.
“Good night, Sarah,” I whisper, just in case.
I think I hear something in return, but I can’t be certain if it’s real or only my imagination.
Sleep finds me in an instant.
At midnight, I’m jarred awake by the sound of tapping at my window. I roll over onto my side and try to make sense of what I’m hearing.
Before I can figure it out, something white sweeps past the window. I reach behind me and snag my glasses off the nightstand, but by the time I have them on, it’s long gone.
I sit up in bed and stare out the window, wondering what it was. Did a ghost come to visit? Was that who tapped on my window? I think about the name from the spirit board.
“Sarah?” I whisper.
I push open the white framed window, allowing the aroma of fresh-cut grass and lilacs to fill my room. I study the darkness outside, but all I can see is the occasional flicker of fireflies in the shadows.
The moon is high and full, hanging in the clouds like an omen. I pop the screen out on my window and slip outside.
I feel as though I’ve escaped into a fairytale landscape. The languid moon paints the cemetery in shades of sapphire and indigo, making it feel magical and surreal. The crickets and cicadas sing from the shadows.
I tiptoe barefoot across the soft green clover, feeling the edge of my pale pink nightgown brush against my knees as I make my way to the old oak tree that separates our yard from the cemetery.
“Hello?” I call softly.
The crickets grow silent for a moment, as if frightened by the sound of my voice. The night engulfs me, making me feel like I’m standing in a bubble.
I pause at the tree, putting my hand on the firm, rough trunk as if steadying myself. I look upwards, taking in the weighty branches that reach up to the heavens. I’ve been drawn to the tree since the moment we moved in. I sometimes bring a book here in the pretense of reading, but my attention is always stolen by my surroundings. I sometimes imagined being agile enough to climb the boughs all the way to the top, hiding among the leaves while I take in the glorious view of the world below me.
Tap, tap, tap.
I pull my hand away from the tree and stare into the darkness, trying to will it into better focus.
“Who’s there?” I whisper.
I strain my eyes to see, but nothing stands out. All I can see is the picturesque view of the cemetery, backlit by the bright night sky.
I take a step forward, leaving the shelter of the tree, my heart hammering in my chest.
The larger tombstones standing beneath the cover of the tree are nothing more than black obelisks against the blazing stars, casting dark shadows behind them like the train of a black gown. They stare up at the moon, reminding me of a silent army gathering on the hillside.
Without warning, a dark shape flits down from the oak tree and lands on a tombstone.
I step backwards, wanting very much to retreat to the safety of my bedroom when I realize what I’m looking at. It’s a crow. My crow.
“Oh, dear God…”
I find my way to where he landed, stopping several yards away so I don’t frighten him, curious why he would be here at night. I kneel down, feeling the short prickly grass poke into my knees.
“Why aren’t you home in your nest?” I ask him.
He cocks his head at me like he did before, making me laugh. I spent some time earlier researching crows online. I don’t know everything there is to know about them, but I know more than I did before.
“You are a member of the Corvus family,” I tell him. “Judging by your blue eyes, you are probably a Jackdaw.”
He regards me silently. The moonlight glints on his inky feathers, bringing out the sheen of blue. Some of the folklore suggests that finding a dead crow is considered lucky. Others think of crows as bad luck or a sign of impending death.
“A crow in the thatch, soon death lifts the hatch,” I tell him, reciting what I read online.
He tips his head again, making me smile.
“That’s okay. In Tanzania, people kill albinos like me because they think it brings them good luck,” I hold out my arm to display the long stretch of white skin. “A body like mine could bring in as much as two-thousand dollars. Not bad, huh?”
The crow regards me for several seconds, before tapping his beak on the tombstone. The sound is softer than before, but still recognizable as the sound I heard earlier.
“Were you tapping at my window?” I ask him.
He regards me with his pale blue eyes.
“What should I call you?” I ask. It doesn’t seem right to keep calling him The Crow.
He taps on the tombstone again, as if in answer. I squint at the name on the stone. The letters are large and bold, spelling out the name Edgar.
“Edgar?” I wrinkle my nose. “How about Poe instead, as in Edgar Alan Poe?” I ask.
He eyes me steadily.
“Of course that would be your name. Why would I have thought any differently?” I say, amused.
He taps on the stone again and then flies to another stone, apparently not a fan of my humor.
Tap, tap, tap.
His beak hits the stone. It’s almost as if he wants me to follow him.
I glance behind me at the caretaker’s cottage. It’s small and squat with a wide front porch and dormers on the second floor. My parent’s bedroom window flickers with a faint blue light, but is otherwise quiet. My father often falls asleep with the TV on. Sometimes he pops his head into both of our rooms to check on us before going back to bed, which means I’ll need to be back before he wakes up.
“I don’t know, Poe. It’s late and I should be in bed,” I tell him.
He taps on the stone again.
I smile and shake my head.
“Seriously, Poe. You need to work on your patience. I’m coming!” I tell him.
As I reach the next stone, he taps again and flies a little further ahead to another stone. The ground is soft beneath my feet, something that has always unnerved me a little. I know the bodies are buried in concrete boxes at least four feet beneath the soil, but it still makes me squeamish. I imagine dead people reaching their hands through the soil to grab my ankle as I walk past. The thought makes me move a little faster.
A gust of wind blows across the cemetery, causing a floral grave topper to sail through the air. It bounces across the dark lawn, coming to rest in front of another gravestone. I think about the filmy white thing I saw pass by my window and wonder if it was merely something caught in the breeze. Before I can ponder the thought further, Poe flies to another stone.
I look back at the cottage again, not comfortable being so far away. If something happened, will my father hear me scream? I study the darkness around me, not confident that he can. My mind begins playing games with me, bringing up every possible worst-case scenario. What if the crow is actually someone’s trained pet and they are luring me away from the house?
“I don’t know, Poe. This is creeping me out a little,” I tell him.
He holds my gaze before tapping on the stone.
“Maybe we can play again tomorrow, in the light of day,” I suggest, but the bird doesn’t waver. He continues to stare at me. I watch him for a full minute, while my curiosity battles with my common sense. Why am I following a crow through a dark cemetery? What could he possibly want with me?
The only problem with this line of reasoning is that I’ll never find out unless I follow him. Chances are, he’s simply moving further away from me, and it has nothing to do with him attempting to lead me somewhere. My overactive imagination has gotten the better of me again.
“Okay. I’ll go a little further, but not into the dark part,” I tell him, eyeing the bottom of the hill where the tree line hugs the edge of the cemetery, creating a ring of shadows that terrifies me to the tips of my toes.
The crow cocks his head and lets out a sound before flying to the next stone. Instead of tapping his beak, he flutters to the ground in front of the stone and stares at me.
I feel silly for following him, but I can’t leave until I know what’s going on.
“What is it Poe?” I ask.
He waits until he knows I’m watching and then hops over to the stone to tap on the front. As I approach, he flies up to the top of the stone, seemingly unconcerned by my close proximity.
“What?” I ask him.
He stares at me with his pale eyes.
I run my fingers across the front of the stone, feeling the engraved letters, but it’s much darker here in this part of the cemetery. There’s no way I can read the words in the moonlight. With my poor eyesight, I’ll barely be able to make them out in broad daylight. I sigh and look up at the heavens for inspiration.
“This is crazy. I’m following a crow that I’ve named Poe through a dark cemetery in the middle of the night.” I start to get up to head back to my house when an idea comes to me. I rip off a strip of fabric from my nightgown and wedge it into one of the engraved letters. Chances are, the wind will blow it away by morning, but I don’t know what else to do. I’ll come back when the sun comes up and see if there’s something on the stone that seems important.
“All right, Poe. I’m going back home. I’ll see you tomorrow if you’re still around,” I tell him.
As I start back across the cemetery, I glance back to take one more look at the bird. What I see nearly makes me faint. Standing directly in front of the crow is the filmy white shape of a man.
I finally remember to breathe again as I bolt towards the cottage.
If you’d like to read more of Winter Woods – The Spirit Board, please click the photo below.