(Kilted Dave is suffering the pre-holiday ritual so many parents have past and present. His two precious little ones are ailing. Nothing serious, just enough to make them — and the rest of the household — miserable and tired. So I volunteered to jump in and help out. The only problem is, I’m pre-coffee and don’t have a topic. Sooooo, I’m going to do what any good writer would do. I’m going to post a snippet and then link you to the book. After all, I’m sure there’s at least one Christmas gift you still have yet to buy. Yes, shameless plug but, as I said, I’m still pre-coffee.)
It’s never easy going home, especially when you left under less than ideal circumstances. But that’s the situation I found myself in. It might never have happened if it weren’t for my daughter, the light of my life. Four months ago, Ali turned five. A month after that I finally admitted she presented challenges I didn’t know how to deal with. Fortunately, at least in some ways, my mother did know how to handle my special little girl. Like it or not, that meant returning home to Mossy Creek, Texas, smack dab in the middle of the buckle of the Bible belt.
And that made life very interesting for the citizens of Mossy Creek where normal was not something you encountered every day.
So I called my mother, scheduled a leave of absence from work and made our plane reservations. There were a few stops and starts and the trip had been delayed twice. But now our bags were packed and Ali and I were about to walk out the front door. That’s when my pocket started vibrating. Well, to be honest, it was the cellphone in my pocket that started vibrating but you know what I mean. For a moment, I considered ignoring the call. I knew from the ringtone it wasn’t my mother or any of the rest of the family. As far as work and most of my friends knew, Ali and I had already left town. Even so, years of conditioning had my hand digging into my jeans pocket before I realized it.
“Momma, we have to go!” Ali tugged at my free hand, pulling me toward the door.
“Hang on, sweetheart.” I glanced at the display, recognizing the area code if not the number. “Go make sure you didn’t leave anything you want to take with you. This won’t take long. I promise.” I waited until she raced toward her bedroom before answering the call. “Hello?”
“Moira Quinn O’Donnell?” a woman asked.
“Yes.” A hint of concern fluttered in my stomach. She might have been calling to sell me siding or solar panels or the like but I doubted it. Something about her voice not only sounded serious but official. Besides, she had used my full name, something very few knew.
What can I say? When you grow up with the name Moira and your mother insists on the proper Irish pronunciation and you live in Texas, let’s just say it is easier to go by your middle name, especially if that name is easily pronounced.
“Ms. O’Donnell, my name’s Carli Sanderson. I work with Julianne Grissom.”
My brows knitted into a frown. “What can I do for you, Ms. Sanderson?”
“Ms. O’Donnell, I don’t want to worry you, but have you spoken with your mother recently?”
That flutter of concern spiked and I swallowed hard. Whenever someone started a statement with “I don’t want to worry you,” it usually meant there was something to be worried about. If that wasn’t enough, Julianna Grissom and I were friends going back to childhood. If trouble wasn’t brewing, the call would have been from Annie Caldwell. Julianna Grissom was her very professional, all attorney persona. I closed my eyes and counted to ten. Then I looked toward the hallway, making sure Ali was still safely in her room. Whatever was going on, I most definitely did not want to worry her.
“I spoke with her two days ago. Why?”
“Ma’am, Ms. Grissom asked me to check with you. We don’t know any of the particulars, only that the Sheriff’s Department attempted to do a welfare check on your mother after she failed to meet friends yesterday. While there’s no evidence of foul play or, to be perfectly honest, of anything being wrong, they haven’t been able to make entry into the house to be sure.”
I closed my eyes and breathed deeply. I had a pretty good idea why the deputies hadn’t been able to enter the house. Unless I was badly mistaken, they hadn’t even been able to enter the yard. That was just one of the reasons why I’d moved to Montana more than ten years ago. In Mossy Creek, when someone said you lived on the wrong side of the tracks, they weren’t talking about your financial status or social standing. Far from it, in fact. Life in Mossy Creek had been different from the day the town was founded. Mundane mixed with supernatural and, well, my mother might not be Serena Duchamp but she had been known to cast more than a spell or two.
Then there was the house. I swear it is more alive than a lot of folks I could name. If it did not want to let someone in, nothing, not even a battering ram, would get the doors open. The only thing keeping me from panicking was the belief the house would not keep help out if my mother needed it. Me, it never hesitated to try to lock me out. But Mom belonged there and it would protect her.
At least I hoped it would.
“What can I do?”
“Ms. Grissom said you were coming to town today. Is that still your plan?” Sanderson asked.
“It is.” I glanced at my watch. Ali and I were going to have to hurry if we wanted to make our flight. “Assuming no problems with our connecting flight, my daughter and I should be in town by five.”
“With your permission, I will let the sheriff know. Ms. Grissom would like you to stop by the office when you get here. Hopefully, we will know more by then.”
“All right.” I thought for a moment. “Have you checked with either my sister or my brother to see if they’ve heard from our mother?”
“They are my next calls, ma’am.”
“All right. Tell Ms. Grissom I will give her a head’s up when I reach Dallas.” I didn’t wait for her to respond. Instead, I ended the call and stuffed the cellphone back into my pocket. I had a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach but there was nothing I could do about it, at least not until I reached Mossy Creek. But it did necessitate a slight change in what I packed and in my plans not to check a suitcase.
“Ali, you about ready?” I called from my bedroom as I knelt just inside my closet. There, bolted to the floor, was a safe. Inside were my service weapon, several other handguns along with my badge, ID and a few other items. Blowing out a breath, I retrieved an HK .45, pancake holster, ammo and my badge and ID. “Ali?” I repeated as I secured everything in a small, hard-sided case which I locked and then dropped inside my bag that now would have to be checked.
“Momma, can I take Ruffles?” She stood in the doorway, a battered teddy bear almost as big as her in her arms.
“No, baby. Not this time. Why don’t you take Freckles instead?” I asked, referring to a smaller but equally beloved teddy bear.
“Okay.” She grinned and raced back to her room.
Five minutes later, we pulled out of the driveway and I did my best to put Sanderson’s call out of my mind. This was Ali’s first plane ride and I knew she was excited. The last thing I wanted was to worry her. After all, as far as she knew, this was a fun trip to see her grandma. She did not need to know that grandma had apparently gone missing and we might not be able to get into the house because it didn’t like me.
Heaven help me, how was I going to explain the house, not to mention everything else, to a five-year-old?
Witchfire Burning takes place in the same “universe” as Slay Bells Ring and Skeletons in the Closet (Eerie Side of the Tracks). Slay Bells Ring hints at the supernatural that is a part of Witchfire Burning and Skeletons, well, Skeletons is something else. It has humor, the supernatural and dead who return to their homes the day after their funerals. They aren’t zombies but they aren’t alive, not in the strictest manner of speaking. Oh, and one of the characters sends the Catholic priest who came to exorcise her and the rest of the family running back to his parish, after giving him a lecture about how no self-respecting demon would possess the body of an old woman. Of course, Granny still regularly attends Sunday services, reads the Bible and is a good, God-fearing woman. She just happens to be dead. And she’s the “sane” one of the family.