This novel started as a class project. I was sitting in Hawaii babysitting my sleeping grandson with a deadline looming. Playing a game of what-if and having some experience with online dating, this idea was born. What if a serial dater starts finding her old dates dead all over Savannah? Two hours later I had almost 2,000 words. Here’s the original opening for Ghosts of Dates Past. Let me know what you think and sign up for my newsletter to keep up with when it will be available.
Ghosts of Dates Past
“Nothing like a night chasing ghosts and spirits,” I said as I raised my plastic cup of margarita. My friend and college roommate, Carol Dawson, was in town researching her latest manuscript for the weekend. Our goal tonight is to eat well, drink a lot, and have a paranormal experience. Given the number of calories we consumed at The Grey eating fantastic food and the amount of tequila in the margaritas, we were primed to have a paranormal experience whether ghosts existed or not.
“Nothing like being able to drink in the street,” Carol said with a laugh as she raised her plastic cup. “I never knew we could do this in Savannah, Lydia.”
“One of the many perks to counter the heat, humidity, and bugs.” I downed the last of my drink and tossed the cup in the trash. “You ready to do this?”
Savannah, Georgia, provided excellent ghost tours in the old houses in the historic district. Living and working nearby at the Savannah College of Art and Design, I only got to do the fun stuff when friends came to visit. This particular tour came highly recommended.
Carol chugged the remainder of her drink and threw the cup in a nearby trashcan. “Let’s do this before I lose my nerve.”
“Bring on the ghosts.” I dug out the tickets I had purchased for the ghost tour of Savannah’s homes. We were at the Mercer-Willams house. I also dug out my cell.
“Why do you need your phone?” Carol asked. She had that suspicious look on her face that knew I was probably up to no good.
I grinned. “I promised your husband that I’d video your experience.”
Carol rolled her eyes. “Ron would have you think I’m a wuss.”
“When it comes to this stuff, you are a wuss, but we love you anyway.” Ghosts and spirits were about the only thing that spooked Carol. She’d spent twelve years working as an ER nurse. If it had to do with the living, she was a rock star, but give her a few ghosts or paranormal activity, and was the elephant terrified of the mouse.
We arrived at the back gate of the Mercer-Willams house, the starting place for the tour in the historic district of Savannah. The house was reportedly one of the more haunted houses in the area. It certainly had the right mix of macabre in its history.
Carol paused. “You don’t think we’ll really see any ghosts, do you?”
“Haven’t you done this tour before?”
“I’m a local, and while I live nearby, I usually only play the tour guide when I have guests. This will be a first for me.”
I handed the attendant our tickets, who punched the cards for this particular house. It was late, almost midnight. The witching hour. “Shall we?”
Carol was nervous, but she often got spooked in places rumored to be havens of paranormal activity. She had a sixth sense about things that I couldn’t begin to understand. She could tell the fake from the real. Given my record for failed relationships, it was a trait I wished I had. I was completely swayed by a handsome face and some decent manners only to discover the truth about a man later.
“How’s the woo-woo going? Getting any vibes?” I asked Carol.
We were in the tiny courtyard of the house. Tiki torches flickered in the small square patches of roses. The path was uneven, squares of stone broken up by tufts of grass, and I cursed the stilettos I had on as my heel sunk into the ground between the rocks.
“It’s kind of creepy.” Carol was close behind me as we made our way through the garden and into the house’s ground floor. “There’s this overwhelming feeling of sadness and anger. I’m not sure I like it.”
I felt nothing but the anticipation that something might happen. Perhaps someone would jump out of a closet to scare us, so we got what we’d paid for. “Should I keep going?”
I stepped through the dutch door and into a small, dark room lined with shelves. Lights flickered from fake candles placed strategically on the shelves to guide us. A bright red exit sign cast a bloody glow over the room. We were the only ones here.
Carol stepped closer to me. “It’s so dark in here. Are you sure we went into the right place? Where are the others?”
I laughed. “Hey, you wanted the full paranormal experience. Do you want to hold my hand?.”
“Shut up. You know what I mean.”
I led the way into a large room that looked like it had been used as the servants’ dining room. Candles and lanterns lit the room with just enough light to illuminate the pamphlet with the tour map but nothing of the room’s corners. The team that had set this up sure knew their stuff. It was better than any horror movie or haunted house that I’d seen, and I’d seen a few. Horror was my specialty, and I taught a class at SCAD on the topic.
I had chosen the self-guided tour at Carol’s request. She was fascinated by anything paranormal and fancied herself someone who could “sense” things. She wrote paranormal romance and was good at it. If anyone could pick up anything in this old house, she could.
I stopped. We had two choices: follow the group into the kitchens or go on our own. “What will it be? Group experience or go exploring?”
“Let’s take the servant stairs over there,” Carol spoke softly. “I can use that in the book.”
“Sounds good.” I made my way carefully up the narrow stairs, my hand clinging to the handrail on the left. The steps were shallow but wide enough for two people to pass. My big feet in my designer stilettos could barely fit on the tread. I’d kill for light as I carefully made my way up the stairs, afraid that I’d miss a step and trip.
The landing widened into a larger area as the stairs turned for the next flight into the first floor. I could only see the dim light from the room we’d left and the flickering light at the top of the stairs. Carol was behind me, taking the steps as carefully as I did. From here, we could hear nothing but the muffled footsteps of the group downstairs and the creaking of the old wood of the landing.
“Stop,” Carol said. Her voice was sharp in the quiet.
I stopped. Even with the light from the top of the stairs, I couldn’t make out the corners of the landing. I had this desperate urge to get away from this spot as quickly as I could. I was definitely feeling something unusual. “Do you sense something?”
“No, I felt something.”
“I don’t know, but it’s heavy.”
“Carol, it’s probably a piece of furniture or something. Let’s catch up to the others.” I had a terrible feeling that something wasn’t right about this spot. I had no woo-woo sense at all, so this couldn’t be good.
“It didn’t feel like furniture,” Carol said. She had that matter-of-fact sarcastic tone in her voice that she got when someone was trying to pull one over on her. She might have the woo-woo feelings, but I knew she was no pushover.
I shivered, suddenly cold. My senses were going kind of crazy right now, and I didn’t like it. I felt weird, like there were Dementors all around me. Yeah, I was a Potter fan. Best books ever written. “Do you sense anything?”
“Evil. It’s powerful.”
The tone of her voice rattled my nerves even further. I may have made fun of Carol’s woo-woo abilities, but she was rarely wrong when her sixth sense kicked in. She would get these feelings, and shit would happen. I may have teased, but I did believe.
“They got the marketing right on this place. Even I have a creepy feeling.” The joke fell flat.
I could hear Carol nudge her foot into the object in the corner on the landing. The thing moved a small amount. Something scraped across the wooden floor like a boot.
“Turn on a light, Lydia.”
I clicked on the flashlight on my cell phone and shined the bright light along the staircase behind us, up the steps past the landing, then to the dark corner of the landing. I almost dropped the phone as I gasped. “Holy shit, Carol. Is he real?”
Crumpled into a heap was the body of a man. His pale white ass glowed in the bright light. His pants were down around his ankles, and his hands were behind his back, duct-taped together. There was duct tape around his head.
I expected him to jerk up from his position and scare the crap out of us at any moment.
Carol bent down and tipped the man’s head to one side as she tried to find a pulse. “He’s real.”
Shock ran through me like an electric current as I recognized the man. The crooked nose from being broke too many times, the unibrow, the squareness of the jaw. “I know him.”
Carol continued to check for life. “How?”
“That’s David Reilly. Professor in the graphic design department. I dated him a few months late last year. Was a bit too adventurous for me.” I started to tremble so bad that the light from the phone danced over David’s vacant eyes, staring into nothing.
Carol turned David over onto his back. “Should we throw something over him?”
“Not until the police say so. Call 911, Lydia. I’ll let the attendant know at the door.”
“He’s really dead, then. Not just unconscious?” I knew the answer but needed confirmation. I had just seen David in the coffee shop near the school. He was chatting up a pretty blonde as I walked by. I found it funny that all the women he dated look the same. I had never noticed.
“Lydia, honey, he’s dead. Don’t touch anything else. And make that call.”
“You’re not leaving me here with a dead guy.” I could feel the hysteria rising inside me. David was dead. I couldn’t look away from his body, his half-naked body. But I couldn’t stay here either.
“Then go to the top of the stairs and don’t let anyone come down unless it’s the police.”
Practical Carol. Woo-woo or no woo-woo, she was good in an emergency. I punched 911 into the phone with shaky fingers and waited until someone picked up as I made my way up the steps to the second floor. I wanted to run away as fast as my fancy heels would let me. A man I knew was dead, and I was alone with him. David had been a fun guy. We’d gone out on a few dates, but when he hinted that he liked to be suffocated and that he got off on it, I was done.
But to die like this, here in this old house, was just sad.
“Chatham County 911. What’s your emergency?” The voice was flat, calm, clinical.
“I found – I mean — we found a body at the Mercer-Willams house. It’s David Reilly. He’s dead.”