Authors: Zoe Winters
Tags: #Teen Paranormal
Save My Soul
Preernaturals – Book 2
By Zoe Winters
The house on Cranberry Lane breathed and had a soul. Black shutters glared ominously down at Anna, watching her like fresh prey as she regarded it from the front yard with a mixture of fear and fascination.
It was a white two-story monstrosity with plantation-style columns and rocking chairs that beckoned from the expansive front porch. She imagined the porch had hosted many a lemonade drinker as they’d fanned themselves, praying for relief from the sweltering Georgia sun. The generous lawn was shaded by peach trees that lined the drive like sentinels.
A realtor stood before Anna, her hand outstretched, a vision of professionalism in a powder blue suit and gray pumps. She smiled broadly as if she hadn’t kept Anna waiting for the past twenty minutes.
“Ms. Worthington. Hi, I’m Cathy Lindley.”
“Please, call me Anna,” she said, her eyes never leaving the house.
She hadn’t been back to Golatha Falls in years. Her father had been so cold when she’d left. He’s much colder now. She shook that morbid cobweb from her mind.
Her mother had passed when she was still very young, and Quinton Worthington had left her everything. His business, his money, and a house she couldn’t live in and equally couldn’t bear to part with. The plan had been to leave immediately after the funeral. She’d been almost free of the cloying southern town until she made the mistake of detouring down Cranberry Lane.
The For Sale sign had teased her from the edge of the lawn. And although she would happily ignore her father’s house; this house she couldn’t ignore. It had been as if an unseen force had guided her hands to turn the wheel and pull into the driveway.
Anna took a deep breath and followed Cathy inside. She’d expected a hollowed-out cavern, but the place was filled with priceless antiques as if it were still inhabited.
Her black heels click-clacked over the hardwood floors as she shadowed the realtor. The hair on her arms rose with each echoing step. They were alone in the house. Of course they were, but she still had to turn around to make sure.
As she stood in the foyer trying to look like she wasn’t having a mental breakdown, she realized the house felt sad. No, she was sad. There was no sense projecting buried emotions onto an inanimate object, imposing though it was. A house couldn’t emote.
“These are the original fireplaces . . . ” Cathy’s voice droned on, blending in with the buzz of a bumblebee that had slipped inside the open front door.
The entryway flowed into the living area, one unbroken room with a door leading off to the kitchen. Rich drapes framed the windows, while lace curtains dripped down to end in a puddle of fabric on the floor. An antique burgundy sofa and chairs sat comfortably around a cherry coffee table.
The kitchen smelled of freshly baked bread. No doubt a ploy by Mrs. Lindley to make the house more inviting to prospective buyers. It had been touted as industrial-sized. Anna didn’t have the heart to tell Cathy that her version of cooking was reheating take-out.
“Do the furnishings come with the house?”
“Oh, yes. No one ever seems to want the furniture. It’s been here from the beginning.” She lapsed back into her sales pitch then. “It’s believed a relative of Margaret Mitchell once lived here, and this staircase was the inspiration for the house at Twelve Oaks.”
“Mrs. Lindley, not to be rude, but somehow I really doubt Margaret Mitchell was ever inside this house.”
Cathy’s cheeks flushed a shade of pink that would have been adorable on anyone but a real estate agent. “Um, well, that’s what they told me. Shall we move on to the library?”
Yes, please. Maybe if she could distract herself with books, she wouldn’t feel so watched.
The library was a dark cave of a room, a place for drinking brandy and having philosophical conversations into the wee hours of the night. There were high ceilings and shelves with books that stretched to the top and a rolling ladder attached to a railing that went the full circumference of the room.
Anna’s inner voice wouldn’t shut up. What are you going to do with this house? Throw parties? Or maybe you can be the pathetic cat lady. Yes, get a hundred cats to fill up the place.
She’d loved the house as a child, but she was twenty-nine now. And no matter how much money they had, twenty-nine year old women didn’t go around buying real estate based on a prepubescent fantasy life.
“The master bath has been updated,” Cathy said when they reached the second floor. “You could fit five people in this tub.”
“I’ll be sure to do that when I have my orgies,” Anna deadpanned.
“Nothing.” Now that the image of several brawny men in a tub filled with bubbles had entered her mind, she couldn’t seem to shake it free. Bad Anna.
“Well, what do you think?”
She hadn’t heard half the presentation as Cathy pranced around, lovingly stroking each piece of furniture like a game show hostess. She’d instead been trapped in the internal fight not to buy the house. What harm could looking do? Clearly a lot if she was considering moving into a throwback from Gone With the Wind.
Buy the house. The thought flowed through her mind like a whisper, and she turned once again to see if someone had spoken.
“I’ll pay the asking price,” she heard herself say.
“Wonderful! I know you won’t regret it.” Cathy pumped her hand with all the vigor of a slick, used car salesman, and Anna wondered if she was buying a lemon.
Anna placed a half-eaten carton of Chinese food on the coffee table. Scarlett looked up from the nearby chair with interest, a happy little purr interrupting her previous activity: upholstery clawing.
Sweet and sour sauce trickled down the side of the carton and onto the cherry surface. The cat hopped onto the table and sniffed at the contents as if it might be a biohazard. Satisfied it was safe, she began to lick up the sticky sauce.
“That’s fantastic,” Anna said. “You decide to broaden your horizons after I buy a fortune of that gourmet cat crap.”
“Mrarrrr.” Scarlett blinked innocently.
Anna was going insane. Talking to your house cat was the first step. She was pretty sure it was in a warning signs pamphlet somewhere. Probably right above hearing voices and below swatting at imaginary flying insects.
She peered out the front window. A couple of elderly ladies stood on the sidewalk, whispering and pointing. Knowing Golatha Falls as she did, Anna thought it best to face the firing squad before it got any bigger and uglier. She slipped into a pair of daisy-covered flip flops.
Scarlett meowed again, drawing Anna’s attention from her mission.
The food carton sat on the floor several feet away, while the cat perched on the tabletop complaining loudly. A frisson of fear crept up the back of Anna’s neck.
Scarlett couldn’t have moved the food that far on her own. Not without making a mess. And yet the white box sat upright, and was even closed, the cardboard tab neatly curved into the slot.
A childhood memory bubbled to the surface without warning.
She was ten, sitting on the back terrace at Cecelia Townsend’s house, drinking lemonade. Cece was the only old person she was friends with. She was something like fifty. Anna always came to her house after school.
This afternoon Cece was teaching her how to cheat at poker. Occasionally, Anna looked out through the sparse grouping of trees to see the empty house on Cranberry Lane. There had been stories.
“ Do you really think she’s in there?” Anna whispered, afraid the house might hear her if she talked too loud. It was up for sale. “Again” Cece had said, though Anna wasn’t old enough to remember the last time.
“ I don’t know, I’ve never been inside.” Cecelia shuffled and cut the deck before dealing five cards to Anna. A bit of long black hair had come loose from her bun, and she swept it back behind her ear.
“ Not even when she was alive?” She thought Cece had been friends with the woman who’d lived there, and found it weird Cece had never gone over to her house to play.
“ Beatrice’s father didn’t approve of me. I acquired my money later when I married.”
Anna didn’t understand that, but didn’t ask more questions, her thoughts too focused on the fact that the house was finally empty. She jumped up from the chair, tossing her cards onto the table. “Let’s go over there and check it out.” If there was a ghost, maybe they could see something.
Cece stared at the house, her eyes going distant as if she were remembering something sad. “Maybe some other time.”
Anna turned from the window to look again at the food carton. Little old ladies or potential ghost? When framed that way, it was a tough call, but she chose to go outside and brave the elderly.
She’d barely reached the sidewalk when one of the women squealed.
“Anna Worthington, my dear child. I thought that was you. We’re so happy to see you back in Golatha Falls. We just knew you couldn’t stay away forever.”
“And we were so sorry to hear about your father. He was a good man. I’m glad you finally got over your pride and decided to live like he would’ve wanted you to.”
Anna gritted her teeth. Perhaps she should have taken her chances with the ghost. Bitsy and Mimi Baker were two of the most trying old women she’d ever come in contact with. If her driveway wasn’t so damned long, she would have recognized them and stayed inside where it was safe.
The twins were dressed in matching dark raspberry suits, their knee highs rolled all the way down to the ankles, ending in orthopedic shoes. Bitsy wore a hat with a feather in it. Mimi also wore a hat, but instead of a feather, she’d opted for a matching berry-colored veil that went over her face. Probably for the best. Both hid their wrinkled hands inside pale pink gloves and carried an overstuffed handbag looped over one wrist.
Mimi’s little black poodle yapped at their heels. Anna took a whiff of the air, at first thinking she was smelling Bitsy and Mimi’s perfume. If only that were the case. It was the dog. They’d smothered him in White Diamonds . The sisters themselves had opted to slather on a too-sweet vanilla lotion.
Bitsy snaked an arm through one of Anna’s, while Mimi flanked her other side. “Tell us, dear, what made you buy the Johnson house? Why, the house has been on the market forever and a day. Surely you heard about all the troubles they had.”
“Um . . . no?” It wasn’t as if the goings on of a small southern town routinely made their way to Atlanta.
Bitsy got a rabid gleam to her eyes, looking like some rogue squirrel had gotten hold of her. “You haven’t heard?” She lowered her voice as if the house itself might overhear. “They say it’s been haunted for fifty years now. But it’s just gotten more angry recently.” She shivered.
Anna thought there should be a wolf howling in the distance, but the only ambiance was the Baker sisters’ poodle, still on high alert.
“Poor Caroline,” Mimi said, in reference to the previous owner.
Her sister nodded. “Yes, poor Caroline. You’re a very brave girl living here. But then, you’re a Worthington.” She clapped Anna on the back with more vigor than a woman her age should have been capable of.
Anna changed the subject. She wasn’t about to let Bitsy and Mimi scare the crap out of her with embellished bedtime stories. She didn’t believe in ghosts. Well, not since she was ten, anyway.
“So, what has the town been up to while I’ve been away?”
The sisters exchanged a glance, conveying an entire telepathic conversation in mere seconds. “All right dear,” Bitsy said. “We’ll leave you alone about the house . . . for now. But when you need answers, you know who to come to.”
Anna smiled weakly as they guided her down the sidewalk, intent on involving her in their ritual morning walk. They chattered on for the next seven blocks about Old Widow Saunders’ unfortunate tooth incident, and a series of house toilet paperings that the Sheriff was taking very seriously. They didn’t stop talking until they’d herded her into the Java Junkie.
The coffee shop sported a tattered Grand Opening banner over the doorway. It was a big step up from the diner on State Street which had always smelled of tuna fish and day-old grease. In contrast, the Java Junkie smelled of cinnamon rolls and mocha. After Bitsy and Mimi had placed their orders, they maneuvered Anna to a corner booth, fully intent on getting every last detail of her life in the big bad city of Atlanta.