This is another excerpt from, “Wherever You Go,” my unedited novel. I swear I will get back to editing the darn thing, but I’ve been sidetracked with another writing project. Have an open mind, please. This is the (rough) first draft.
The large red brick, black-shuttered colonial plantation house sat at the end of the historic, “Avenue of Oaks,” which was nearly a mile long with oak trees on either side. It took a little over two centuries for the trees to meet overhead, which were now covered with Spanish moss and draping over the road. The historic mansion had ivy growing halfway up the house and gave it an English garden feel. It had four massive white Corinthian columns below the portico and the mansion sat at the end with a square driveway where two wooden pergolas sat on either side of the sidewalk leading to the front door. Underneath the shade of the pergola were a half dozen round wrought iron tables with matching chairs so visitors could take a break from walking or enjoy a family picnic. Also on the plantation were several slave houses, replicas of the ones occupied by sharecroppers and too many flower gardens to count. Boone Hall Plantation is still one of the oldest working plantations, growing strawberries, seasonal vegetables and melons, and even pumpkins in the fall.
Nick arrived just as the plantation was closing and a few visiting stragglers were packing up their cars with tired and hungry children. Nick smiled at the families, hoping that he, Angelica and their new baby would soon be out enjoying everything Charleston had to offer. He began cherishing memories that hadn’t even started. In a way, it kept him going because it gave him something to look forward to.
Nick looked around, but Paul and his so-called crew were nowhere in sight. He walked up to the house in search of someone who worked there to see if they could point him in the right direction, but he couldn’t find anyone. He could see the glow of lights on the inside and he peeked inside, but there wasn’t any movement so he figured their investigation was somewhere outside. He walked around to the side of the house and saw a few people off in the distance, volunteers still dressed in clothing from the Civil War Era. He tried calling out for them but they didn’t turn around. He walked a little faster, thinking that he could reach them before they got to their cars, but they were soon in them, donning their seatbelts and starting the engines. He walked back toward the front to check the parking lot, hoping to spot Paul’s truck, but the only one he saw was a navy blue Chevy. He had a gut feeling that he was in the right place and figured it must be Mike’s truck. Doug’s truck was red, or so he remembered when they all went out to Blast Cemetery and interviewed the infamous Beatrice Harris.
Not knowing where they could be, Nick decided to walk around on the grounds, hoping that sooner or later he would run into them and found himself at the entrance of what appeared to be a corn maze. Feeling like a kid again, he thought about going in to see how fast he could make it to the center, but he didn’t want to take the chance of getting lost. It would be getting dark soon anyway and he didn’t have a flashlight with him.
He remembered when his dad brought him and Paul out here to run through the maze and pick pumpkins when they were younger. Their mom was working that afternoon — as she so often did because money was tight in those days — and couldn’t go out with them. After much pestering from the boys, their dad figured that since it was a nice day, he would take them to the plantation and hopefully tire out the energy stored in their adolescent bodies just begging to be released. After picking a few pumpkins and putting them in the trunk of the Oldsmobile, they quickly ate some ham and cheese sandwiches they packed earlier and headed off to the corn maze. Paul wasted no time and had run ahead of them, eventually getting lost. Their dad asked a group of people if they’d seen him and said they saw a young boy matching his description running toward the west side. They found him about an hour later, sitting in a corner, crying. Nick had teased him all the way home, making Paul angrier as each mile passed, their dad yelling at them to be quiet and swearing never to try and do something nice for the boys. His commanding voice made them cower in silence for the rest of the ride home, making Nick vow to himself to make Paul pay for running off and ruining their day.
Shaking him from his memory, Nick heard some voices over his shoulder off in the distance and started to jog toward a field on the other side of the driveway. He could tell that this was fertile soil as his feet sank in the softened loam. It smelled like organic compost and manure combined and probably held a summer crop, maybe tomatoes. He wasn’t sure and honestly didn’t care. He had a task at hand: find Paul and confront him about his delusional romance with Nick’s wife, whose life now clung in the balance, and to set Paul straight once and for all.
As he neared a clearing, he saw a man stooped on the ground, yelling out for help. Nick ran over and asked what he needed. The man looked up at him and yelled, “They breached the wall and started firing, sir. We were ambushed!” Nick glanced around but didn’t see anyone else. Looking at the man that lay at his feet, he saw blood seeping through his white cotton shirt and vest.
“I called for an ambulance, but they’re takin’ their damned time,” the man said.
“Do you have a cell phone?” Nick asked as he kneeled down and helped apply pressure to the wound.
“I want to call 9-1-1 again. Do you have a cell phone?” Nick asked, more exasperated.
“What are you talking about? I sent a butternut to fetch the ambulance cart,” he said.
“What in the hell is a butternut?” Nick asked.
“That there soldier,” he said pointing in the distance. He took off his shirt and ripped it into shreds to seal the bullet wound. “Hang in there, Davis!”
The injured man coughed up blood and with eyes widened in fear, stared at Nick. Unable to speak, he mouthed the word, Help.
Nick stared at the man in front of him and slowly removed his hands, releasing pressure on the wound. He stood up and asked, “Who are you?”
“Private William Porter, sir.”
“And what are you doing here?” Nick asked.
“I told you. We were breached,” he said, his frustration more evident.
“No, I mean, what is this? Where am I?” Nick looked at his hands that were once covered in blood, flipping them over. There wasn’t any blood was there now. They were spotless.
The man looked up at Nick, pondering for a moment, and then replied, “Battle of Secession, sir.”
“T-T-The battle of what?” Nick stuttered.
“Secession, sir?” The man continued to look at Nick.
“Um-m-m, what year is it?”
“Excuse me?” he asked, now even more puzzled.
“What year is it,” Nick repeated.
“1862, sir. Why do you ask?”
Nick stumbled backward, falling to the ground. He raised himself up and turned to leave, but was almost run over by the ambulance cart. Nick continued to run back to the parking lot and over his shoulder, he heard the soldier yell, “You won’t forget, will you?”
Nick turned back around, but there was nobody there. He ran back to the red Chevy parked in the lot near the pergolas, deciding to wait for Paul there. As he got closer, he saw someone standing there and ran over to meet them. It was Emma.
“What’s wrong? Is Angelica okay?” Nick asked between gasping breaths.
“She’s doing fine, Nick, but we need to talk,” she said, averting her eyes.
“You’ll never guess what I just saw,” he said as they began walking back down the Avenue of Oaks.
“A ghost?” She asked and shook her head, “I’m not surprised.”
“How did you know?”
She didn’t answer.
“I can see ghosts now because I can see you,” he asked.
“Not exactly. Here, let’s go sit on that bench over there,” she said as she pointed in the direction of a bench seated between two oak trees. “It’s a nice spot, I think. Don’t you agree?”
“Yeah, nice,” he said, sitting down. He wiped the sweat from the back for his neck with his hand and then wiped it on his pants.
The shade of night had fallen and the stars that twinkled were barely visible under the canopy of the Spanish moss. The air was cool, almost frosty, and Nick could smell hints of smoke from nearby fireplaces. Crickets were doing their part to add to the cacophony of nature.
“Tonight is Halloween,” Emma said, interrupting his thoughts. “You know what that means, right?”
“Yeah, it means that kids are out collecting sugary substances so they can get more cavities,” he scoffed.
“Well, yes, but that’s not what I’m talking about. Halloween is the time of year when the veil between worlds is very thin. Remember?”
“Yeah, you said that earlier.”
“What it means is that spirits can freely travel between here and there.”
“Here and there?” he questioned.
“Yes, between this world and the spirit world.”
“What are you trying to tell me?” he asked.
“It’s a time of year when spirits come to contact the people who seek communication from their loved ones. Those that are living might be seeking wisdom or insight.”
Nick just sat there, not trusting himself to speak.
“People who are living have trouble accepting death, but it isn’t really death at all. Spirits are just living in a different realm. The only thing missing is their physical bodies. Sometimes, spirits return to offer comfort.”
“Just like you did, right?”
“Sort of,” she said.
“But what about those soldiers back there,” Nick asked as he looked over his shoulder and motioned in their direction.
“Those are souls who are lost and cannot accept that they need to move on, so they keep reliving their deaths over and over.”
“But that one solider wasn’t dead yet. He was trying to help the one who was shot.”
“Ah, yes, but what you didn’t see is that the ambush wasn’t finished yet. He was also shot by the oncoming mob of Union soldiers. Anyway, we should get back to the hospital and see how Angelica is doing.”
Nick nodded, still confused, and stood up. Emma joined him and as they reached the end of the oak trees, back out to the main road, it seemed that time stood still and before they knew it, they were back at Angelica’s bedside. She still hadn’t told him what all of this meant and why he could now see and speak to ghosts.