With one cozy mystery series underway, I’ve decided to launch a second series. While the first series focuses on two young women just starting out in life, this one features a weathered and wizened sleuth. Hetty Fox has a nose for scoping out trouble. But first she needs to resolve the problem in her own house.
Here’s the first chapter of my current effort. This is a rough draft and is subject to revision:
Bones & Boxes
“Admit it. You’re thrilled I’m here.”
I pulled more yarn from my skein of wool and kept on knitting. I didn’t believe in ghosts.
“Hetty,” he said, “tell me that you still care about me.”
I harrumphed. Visits from dead sweethearts didn’t happen. This thing wasn’t real.
Yet an exact image of Andrew Peters hovered in my living room. Dark hair, dark eyes, dark shirt. He looked entirely the same as he had in his youth, while I would turn sixty-five next month — and looked every minute of it.
“You’re still beautiful to me,” he said.
I paused to count my stitches.
How dreadful of me to pull up an image from my youth and put such flattering words in its mouth. Was I really that desperate?
Outside the winter wind whipped around the corners of the house. I pulled free more yarn and shook my head.
Obviously, I needed to get back out into the world. I’d spent too much time locked up alone in this house. But there had been all the unpacking to finish. Plus, my cat had been terribly upset by the move. He had only recently settled back to his normal self.
The ghost moved closer to me.
My fingers faltered. My breath caught in my throat.
“I am not your imagination,” he said.
But my gaze flitted back to the creature. His image pulled at my heart. I’d loved him completely in my youth. But shortly before high school graduation, he’d died in a deadly car crash.
Now, he hovered before me in my living room.
I glanced down at Alfred. The cat looked up at me and blinked. He yawned. He stretched. He turned onto his side. I found his calm behavior comforting. If this ghost were real, Alfred would be hissing and bounding about the room.
The phone rang. I shoved my knitting aside, fled to the kitchen, and drew the receiver to my ear. “Hello?”
“Hetty?” a woman’s voice asked.
“Yes, Rose, how are you?”
She and I had met in the mystery section of the library a couple of weeks ago. We’d learned we were both widows who loved mystery books and had formed an instant bond.
“I’m a little stressed at the moment,” my new friend said.
“What’s the matter?”
“I’d rather not say on the phone. Can you come over?”
I listened to the wind roar outside. It was a bitterly cold night. Then, I glanced back at the thing hovering in the center of my living room, its feet not quite touching the floor.
“I’ll be right there,” I said.
“Guard the house,” I told him. “And while you’re at it, chase that thing…. away.”
If only solving my problems could have been that easy,
In short order, I was out on the sidewalk, my coat collar gripped tightly about my neck. Both Rose’s house and mine sat atop a steep cliff in a small town located near the middle of Illinois. The dwellings came with a stunning view of the Illinois River and the houses beyond its rushing waters.
As for the town, Hendricksville didn’t have much to offer. A big box store and two nursing homes were its main attractions. Even its trees were old. But at least they were tall, and graceful. and provided welcome shade in summer. But at night, when lights from the windows in the houses below twinkled in the clear air, I found the house a charming place to live.
If it weren’t for this wrinkle with the ghost, I could be quite happy here.
I gave myself a mental shake and scurried on, covering the short distance between Rose’s house and mine in record time. When I reached her porch, Rose threw back the door before I’d even knocked..
She beamed at me. “You are a dear for coming.”
My new friend was an attractive woman with twinkling blue eyes and a bright smile under a full head of fluffy, white hair. Once a sales clerk in a shopping mall, she was now retired. She ushered me to the kitchen. “It’s not a fit night for man nor beast out there.”
“At least it’s not snowing yet.”
She took my coat, hat, and scarf. “Tea?” she asked.
“Yes, that would be lovely.” I stamped my feet to warm them up.
The room I stood in fit the town. Antiques were the norm here, and Rose’s house fulfilled that pattern. A pine hutch displayed old china. A braided rug lent warmth to the wide-board floor. Her cat laid stretched out in front of the heating vent. It lifted its head briefly to view my entry, then returned to its winter’s nap. I smiled, he certainly had his priorities straight.
I sat at the small drop-leaf table and watched as Rose carried a tray containing a tea-pot with matching sugar and creamer toward me. The set was obviously old and had violets painted on its cream-white surface. She settled the tray on the table and seated herself opposite me. “Sorry to have called you out on such a nasty night, but I’m so worried.”
“It’s Carrie Flynt,” she said. She grabbed the pot and poured the dark, steaming liquid into one of the dainty cups. “Do you know her?”
“The name doesn’t sound familiar,” I said, nodding my thanks for the mug of steaming tea she slid before me.
“You probably wouldn’t. You haven’t had time to meet many people yet.. Plus. she’s about ten years older than we are.”
“Is she in trouble?” I lifted the cup and blew across its surface,
Rose sighed. “I’ve been checking on her daily for about a month now. She can’t afford to pay for the service. So I started calling her… just to check on her as a friend.” Rose shrugged. “I touch base about six each night. But tonight, she didn’t answer. And that was even with me calling back several times. It’s been three hours now, and I’m so worried.”
“Maybe she’s visiting family… or perhaps she’s gone on a vacation.”
“I don’t think so. I made myself very clear. If she was going to be away from home, she was to let me know. So far, she’s always done so.”
“How can I help?”
“I have a key in case of emergencies. I feel I should go over and check on her. But I can’t face doing it alone.”
“You want me to go with you?”
“Of course, I’ll go. Hopefully, you’re making too much of this. But I can understand your concern. If she’s fallen, it would be criminal of us to leave her laying there.”
Rose let out a sigh of relief. “On such an awful night, I was afraid you’d think it terribly nervy of me, calling you out of your warm home.”
“Nonsense.” I gulped down another swallow of tea and rose from the chair. “Does she live far?”
“Not really. Come on. We’ll take my car.”
We’d tossed on coats, and a short time later Rose pulled her little Honda from the garage and pointed its nose south. At Wilmot Street she turned right and proceeded straight for another two blocks. She slowed at the beginning of the next block and eased the car to the curb before a two-story house.
“This is it?” I asked, eyeing the dwelling. Not a light shone from any of its windows.
“Yes.” Rose switched off the engine.
We stepped out of the car and took off down the sidewalk. The strong wind hurried us along. Rose fished a key from her coat pocket. I could tell from the deep lines on her face that she was worried. I crossed my fingers behind my back and prayed we weren’t walking into a disaster.
At the door, my friend knocked three times without raising anyone. She glanced at me for a quick second before inserting the key. Then, she swung the door open.
Backlit by the street light, I saw a long narrow hallway stretch out toward the back of the home. To its right, a stairway rose to the upper floor.
“Carrie?” Rose called out.
I felt along the wall and found a light switch. I flipped it on. An overhead light bathed the hall in a brilliant glare. Everything looked normal. Pictures hung on the walls. A small table in the far corner boasted a lamp and a small piece of decorative china. Nothing had been disturbed. Nothing was broken.
“How about you look around down here,” Rose asked. “I’ll check the second floor.”
I crossed the hall to a set of French doors and entered the living room. Again I turned on lights. In the distance, the furnace rumbled. The scent of vanilla from a bowl of potpourri caught my nose. I checked the rest of the room for signs of trouble but found none. After I’d satisfied myself with the living room, I entered the dining room.
Again, all things seemed to be in their correct places.
I was just about to step into the kitchen, when something to my left attracted my attention. It was almost hidden by the dining room table. I bent over to get a better look. And when I realized what the object was, I instantly bounded up and screamed.