Long graceful fingers tapped against the steering wheel, in perfect time. A strong contralto sang along as the CD player blasted out Melissa Etheridge's "I Wanna Be In Love". Big copper penny eyes glanced to the passenger seat and back as the smile sneaked across the lips and then darted back into hiding.
Randi, or Miranda according to her mother, enjoyed watching her best friend, partner and lover wrinkle her brow in concentration. As much as Ginni loved Melissa, Randi knew the tapping was about to make the writer blow a gasket. It worked every time. Randi grinned inwardly at how easily she was amused these days.
The smile did not go unnoticed.
"Is there something amusing in that song? I must have missed it the first six MILLION times you played it….this trip." Ginny's dark blue watched as the single brow lifted, right on cue. She responded by silently lifting both of her light brown eyebrows and widening her eyes in question.
Randi snickered softly as she reached over and turned the volume down…a little. "Oh. Did you wanna talk? I'm sorry. I thought you were considering a new plotline or listening to the muse or chatting with ghosts or whatever it is you writers call it when your eyes close and you are NOT dosing."
"I was not dozing." Ginni indignantly replied.
"Of course not," smirked Randi.
Quickly changing the subject, Ginni resettled herself into the seat of Randi's Land Rover. "Isn't it great that the conference this year was in New Orleans? I mean, it's nearly perfect. We wanted to check out some of the plantation homes of the south for the new book and here we are. The conference was great and it's always nice to get awards but I'm really excited to check out some more of these old homes. Aren't you? The ones we saw in Louisiana were certainly interesting. Don't you think? Oh and hey, isn't it awesome how perfect the timing is and all?"
Randi lifted a well-sculpted dark brow and glanced to her right, shaking her head slightly. "Timing?" she asked.
"Well, yeah. The timing is absolutely perfect. The last day of the conference coincided perfectly with our five year anniversary, October 30th." Ginni all but beamed as she smiled at her partner.
Randi flipped off the driver who had just cut her off before winking at the blonde seated next to her. "Actually," she smirked, "it was closer to Thanksgiving."
"What are you talking about? We met just before the company conference exactly five years ago." Ginni announced. "And stop flipping people off. This is the south for God's sake. These good ol boys carry guns in them thar trucks."
"Funny. Very funny, Ginni. You know, some people might say that was just a tad bigoted. Not me, of course, but some."
Laughing, she gave the writer one of those lecherous waggling brow smiles that won her heart so long ago and watched to see if it still worked. It did.
"Yes," the woman continued. "We met five years ago. However, if you will recall, it took me another five weeks, four days and seventeen hours to get you to admit we were absolutely made for one another. Some psychic abilities you got going there, cutie." Randi teased.
They laughed. It was a rich harmony that often filled the vehicle as they drove, much as it filled their journey through life.
"Why don't you just park that POS you stupid..."
"Move over you dumbass. You might be able to drive that thing if you would get off the fucking phone."
"Randi, for heaven's sake. It's not a race. Why don't you just slow down? Look, it's after six o'clock and you've been driving since before nine this morning. Why don't we find a place to pull over for the night?" Ginny began scanning the signs along the highway for interesting options.
The brunette scowled. "You saying I drive too fast or something?"
No one inside that vehicle could have missed the snicker or the snort that followed the half-serious question.
"Oh no." Replied Ginny. "You don't drive too fast at all…for a JET pilot!"
It was Randi's turn to snicker. "Yeah? Well I think I can make it home tonight. Or I could if SOMEONE would get off the cell and DRIVE!"
"Don't be ridiculous. We are not going home tonight. I thought we were on a research vacation. Checking out southern plantations and history. Besides, we should be getting close to that part of Georgia that man at the gas station told us about. The one where he said there had been a skirmish with some of Sherman's men that the history books don't tell about. Wasn't that around here somewhere?"
Randi nodded as she sped around the idiot in the beat up Buick. Ginny continued to scan road signs as she unconsciously tightened her shoulder harness. Copper eyes took notice and a broad smile spread beneath nearly perfect, high cheekbones.
"Magnolia Manor. Stop by and enjoy a touch of the old south. Bed and Breakfast. Owned and operated by the same family for nearly a hundred years. Hospitality galore with Southern Cooking to die for. Next exit." The blonde read aloud.
"Sounds expensive." Randi commented.
"Sounds interesting." Ginny rebutted.
"Sounds expensive." Randi repeated but moved into the right lane, knowing her partner well enough to know they would be exiting the highway soon.
Noting the change in lanes, Ginny smiled. "Southern cooking. You love southern cooking. The picture certainly looks like an old plantation home. I wonder if that is what it is. Maybe they turned it into a Bed and Breakfast in order to keep it. Restoring those old houses can be ghastly expensive."
"Like the fees for staying there, no doubt." Randi grinned as she slowed slightly to exit the highway.
Quickly, a hand darted across the space and smacked the long arm turning the steering wheel.
"You are so bad. Randi, slow down a little. Didn't that sign say something about Magnolia Manor?"
"Thanks. And yeah. It said to go half a mile and turn right. This must be it here." Randi made a sharp turn and noticed the change in pavement almost immediately. "Damn. They sure didn't spend many of those remodeling dollars on the road, did they? What the hell happened to the streetlights? Don't these people believe in letting a person see where the hell they're going? Jesus! This must be a freaking gravel road the way it feels."
"Um, Randi. I don't think its gravel honey. It looks like red clay from what little I can see." Ginny peered out the passenger window and down toward the ground.
"What? Red clay! Red DUSTY clay! All over my pearl white truck? Someone is going to pay for this. Someone who thought a southern bed and breakfast sounded INTERESTING." The smile in her voice took most of the threat out of the statement but the writer nonetheless prayed no real harm would come to the beloved vehicle.
Wrinkling her brow slightly, Ginny listened, as the engine seemed to cough. "What's wrong with the Land Rover?"
"Nothing's wrong with the Land Rover. It's the damned road or whatever they call this thing. I can't see much with it getting dark and no bleeding street lights but it looks to me like the place hasn't seen a mower in a coon's age."
"Well it looks better up ahead. Look, Randi. The trees are incredible. They look like someone planted some young maples and oaks here with all these magnificent old Magnolias. Isn't that a house up ahead?"
Both women leaned forward in their seats to peer out the dusty windshield, trying to get a better look as a huge old mansion slowly came into view, just as the car sputtered again. When they got close enough to see the rickety buckboard sitting in front, the engine stopped and wouldn't restart. A red orange glow spread outward from the post that held what looked like a very old lantern, lighting the path that led to the steps.
Two men and a woman stood at the top of the stairs leading to a large porch that seemed to wrap around two of the three sides which were visible. The men wore costumes of some sort and it didn't take long for the women to notice there were other people on the porch itself. They also appeared to be in costume.
"Wow. This place is really something, Randi. They even have old oil lamps out and those appear to be real candles in the windows. I wonder if the costumes are because of Halloween or if they do this all the time for their guests. I bet this place is fascinating." Ginny oozed.
"I bet it is expensive." Randi lifted the well-used brow.
"Well the car won't start so we're stuck here anyway. We might as well enjoy it, right?"
"Oh Yeah. This is gonna cost me." Randi grinned.
The quick hand reached out and smacked her again.
"Hey!" Randi whined. "I didn't say you aren't worth every nickel!"
"Mmmmmmmmmm Hmmmmmmmmmm." Ginny took the strong hand in her own and kissed the chilling knuckles.
Just then a very large cat darted in front of the women who had left their vehicle and begun to walk toward the house. In its rush to get to wherever it was going the cat nearly knocked Randi over. However, once it reached the third step the cat turned around and settled itself, managing to take up nearly the entire step in the process. Bright green eyes blinked twice and then looked at Randi and Ginni as if it were about to speak.
"Good girl, Ghost." A rustling sound, almost like the gentle movement of autumn leaves in the wind seemed to surround the voice.
"Who said that?" Ginni asked.
Randi looked around but the light was so limited she could not see anything but the people on the porch, those at the top of the stairs and a shadow where they had left the truck.
"Hell if I know. You want me to go check it out?" She questioned Ginni; all the while hoping she knew already knew the answer. She did.
"Um. No!" Ginni tightened her grip on Randi's arm. "Have you ever seen a cat that big? It must weigh thirty pounds."
"Not many but I'd say it weighs closer to forty, Gin. Looks like a Maine Coon but I didn't know they came in white. Did you?"
"Hell no. I don't even know what a Maine Coon is, or I didn't until you just mentioned it. It sure seems comfortable enough though. It must live here. Damn thing looks big enough to be a small bobcat."
"Yeah. Well maybe we better go on inside. It's starting to get chilly out here with only tee shirts and jeans." Randi looked up the steps to the two men and the woman who seemed embroiled in some kind of argument. "Excuse me. Do you folks know whether they have any rooms available for the night or maybe a phone we can use to call the auto club?"
The cat moved to block their progress up the stairs and was doing a pretty good job of it when a young woman darted past the trio at the top of the stairs, snatching up the cat.
"Ghost! Where have you been? Shame on you. You know I can't leave the house and come running after you all the time. Bad girl. Now git on in the house and eat yer supper." Looking back over her left shoulder the attractive blonde with deep green eyes spoke to Randi and Ginni. "Ya'll are welcome to stay. Just come on into the house and we'll git ya settled right after supper."
"Thanks, we..." Ginni began but it was too late. The smaller woman had vanished inside the house, leaving the front door wide open like a silent invitation.
"No need to fret none, Ma'am." The young man in the ragged gray uniform assured her. "Miss Virginia does that a lot. She cain't leave the house a' tall and has to come and fetch Ghost ev'ry now and again. Poor cat hain't been the same since Miss Miranda done left us. Ya'll really oughta c'mon inside and eat. She's a might good cook and it smells like fried chicken tonight too."
Randi and Ginni looked at one another, trying to sort through what had just been said.
The woman they had observed earlier with the two men spoke next. "She really is a fine cook and her fried chicken is heaven on earth. I heard you ask a little bit ago whether there were any rooms to rent. I'm sure Missy Virginia can find a couple of rooms for you two. Were you planning on staying long?"
The woman was barely more than a girl from the way she looked and was dressed in a costume that must have been from the roaring 20's as best as Ginni could tell.
"One room will be fine," Randi explained. "Fried chicken sounds great about now too, thanks. I'm Randi and this is Ginni. We'll only be staying tonight hopefully. Is there a phone inside we can use to call the auto club?"
A tall man dressed in a costume from the same period as the girl spoke up. "They don't have any phones here Randi. I suppose you could get someone to take a message to the local mechanics in the morning if that will help."
By now they had moved onto the porch and about five other people had gathered around them. Everyone seemed quite interested in the newcomers to the Bed and Breakfast but none were rushing to make alternative suggestions. In fact, they seemed almost to be waiting for something as they all slowly moved into the main hall.
Once inside the house Randi and Ginni were amazed by the change. The darkness that seemed to hover over everything outside was replaced by the warm glow of candlelight and beautiful antique oil lamps that hung along many of the walls. The floors were dark wood and must have been well cared for judging from the way they reflected the light about the room. High ceilings reached well above their heads and the wallpaper was a near perfect reproduction of some Ginni had seen in a museum not long ago. The tiny rose buds mixed with the full blossoms in muted tones that went very well with the wooden floors and antique furniture.
Randi had taken Ginni's hand and gently guided her as they followed the group into a large dining room. It was the portrait hanging over the fireplace at the far end of the room that nearly robbed her of the ability to breathe.
"Oh my god." Ginni whispered.
Randi only nodded and looked at her partner, wide-eyed, and then back to the portrait.
"My god, Randi. That's you. I mean, I know it isn't but it is." Ginni stopped staring at the huge painting long enough to glance at Randi. The ashen look on the face of her well-tanned lover immediately took precedence over everything else. "Randi! Are you all right? Here, sit down Sweetheart." She drew a chair away from the table and pulled Randi toward it.
The similarity had not escaped the others in the room either from the muffled whispers the women were hearing. In a few minutes Randi was able to breathe deeply again.
"That picture gives me the creeps, Ginni. If my truck hadn't stalled I swear we would be so out of here."
Ginni nodded as she gently stroked Randi's strong arm. "I know what you mean. It looks just like you. I don't know who it is but I swear whoever she is she could be your long lost twin or something. You didn't have family this far south did you?"
"I honestly don't know, Gin. I mean, Mom and Dad and Jonathon have been gone a long time now and I don't remember much about any other family. I know I was named for my great-great Aunt and that is about it. I never knew where she was from."
"Well, you don't suppose she could have been from around here do you? No. That is just too bizarre." She looked up to see nearly a dozen strangers standing around the table, watching them. "Do any of you know who that is a picture of, by any chance?" she asked.
"Mmmmmmmmmm." Randi murmured.
Suddenly the large dining room was filled with the heavenly aroma of fried chicken, hot biscuits, fresh green beans, mashed potatoes and what looked like old fashioned pan gravy - the kind all the doctors warn you about.
The young blonde who had invited them to supper earlier entered the room with two young girls following closely behind. They carried a variety of platters and bowls, all of which smelled absolutely divine to the hungry group gathered round the table. The cat seemed to be connected to Miss Virginia's boots by some invisible cord, as it never strayed more than a few inches in any direction. No sooner had they settled their burdens onto the table than the two youngsters turned and were gone. Quickly they reappeared carrying large silver looking pitchers covered with beads of moisture. The girls went to opposite ends of the table and began filling the tall glasses with a light reddish brown liquid that flowed over the uneven chunks of ice. Soon the task was accomplished and they were gone again; this time they did not return.
"That'd be a portrait of Miss Miranda ya'll keep looking at. There surely is a resemblance, I must say. Though this one looks a might skinnier and dresses different, that's fer sure. Ya'll got fam'ly from round these parts, Miss?"
"Well, I..I mean, I don't think so." Randi stammered.
"Eat yer supper now. All of ya. Won't do to let it git cold now. I'll be back with the youngins in a bit with yer cobbler."
Before anyone could say a word, Miss Virginia had turned and was gone.
By the time the apple cobbler was served nearly every platter was completely empty, much to the amazement of Randi and Ginny who thought it had been far too much food for so few people. Clearly, they were mistaken.
As they listened to the conversations around them it became clear that this was not just any Bed and Breakfast. Even the merest mention of a telephone made some of the guests nervous, or so it seemed.
"You don't need a phone. It's not even Halloween yet. Why don't you just stay with us for a few days?" One gentleman with stringy long hair and love beads asked.
"Yes," agreed an older man wearing an Army uniform looking like something Ginny had seen in an old movie about World War One. "Tomorrow is Halloween. You really must stay at least until after that."
"Why?" asked Randi. "Is that what this is all about? Is there a big party or costume ball or something? Is that why everyone is dressed up like this?"
"Dress up?" A smaller woman in an aviator's jumpsuit questioned.
"Yes," replied Randi. "You know, in costumes from different periods throughout history. They're very authentic looking, I must say. And the house is done up very nicely too. It must be a real pain to have to turn off the electricity and everything for so long. How long do you leave it off, by the way?"
Everyone glanced about anxiously, no one speaking. Perhaps that is why Ginni nearly left her skin when Ghost leaped upon the table to snatch a chicken leg. The resulting shriek brought Miss Virginia into the room with soapsuds dripping from both elbows.
"Landsakes Ghost. Git on down from there. You'll be scaring these here ladies nigh onto death. Ya'll don't fret none. Ghost don't mean no harm. She's jest a brat is all. Ain't ya Ghost." Looking around the table at her guests it began to dawn on the woman that something was amiss. No one was speaking and several people were darting worried eyes to the newest visitors and back toward the large Grandfather clock that stood near the doorway into the main hall.
"So," Randi interrupted the silence. " When's the big costume party and what time tomorrow morning do you think we can send someone into town for the mechanic?"
Later that evening as they prepared for bed, Ginny turned to her partner and friend. It had been a long day and the longest part of it had taken place in the last few hours. The women still had no clue as to who would go into town tomorrow. Nor did they know where town was, what the name of the town might be, when they would go or why people kept changing the subject anytime they so much as mentioned leaving the house. Even Randi's suggestion she go to get their bags out of the car seemed to put people in a kind of panic.
The lengths they had gone to in order to create such an authentic Civil War era home were most impressive - to a point. That point was exceeded the moment they were directed to "the room". Randi had joked with Ginny earlier about expecting them to have a damned OUT HOUSE considering the great care that had been taken with things thus far. Randi pointed out that all the cooking had been done in a kitchen that was all but separate from the house, by modern standards. There were no heating or cooling vents in any of the rooms they had been shown and even the cigarettes the 'soldiers' smoked were hand rolled.
When Miss Virginia had spoken with such pride about "the room", Ginny felt a cold shiver travel the length of her spine and back. Randi thought it was funny but here in the quiet of their room, Ginny could feel the small hairs on the back of her neck lifting again. Without meaning to, she found herself recalling the portrait that hung in the dining room.
The golden hued frame could easily have been made from the same wood that formed the heavy beams throughout the house. They were the same rich honey color and, now that she thought about it, the details in the carvings seemed similar as well. Ginni didn't recall seeing the painter's name but then she hadn't exactly been looking for it either. Despite the nearly five-foot height of the picture, it had been the eyes that made her gasp.
Standing at the center of the painting was a tall, sleek woman in shiny black boots that could be seen sneaking from beneath the long split skirt of matching color. The slim black belt with the strange buckle matched both pants and boots but held a trace of summer sky blue from her shirt as well. Long dark hair flowed in what must have been a strong wind to have captured the painter's attention in such a lasting way. Tanned skin was highlighted by a rich healthy glow, as the woman in the portrait seemed to look directly out from the canvas she stood upon. Behind her were the steps leading to the porch of the Bed and Breakfast and despite it being nearly six feet from the ground, the floor of the porch was at eye level with the stunning beauty. In her right hand was a whip that looked like it had been made to sit there, it was so well used and frayed. Her left fist rested upon her hip, accentuating her slim but powerful figure. At her feet was a perfectly white cat that, sitting upon the ground, leaned its head against her knee. Bright green eyes looked upward. Not unlike the woman, it too was captured in time forever by the artist,
"Virginia." It was a quiet sound, muffled almost as if it had come from a far off place.
"Did you hear that?" Ginny asked Randi, who seemed to have found something interesting in the trunk at the foot of the bed.
"Hmmmm?" The brunette looked up from the rug on the floor. "Hear what, Honey?"
Shaking her head as if to remove the sound, Ginny gave a half-hearted laugh. "Never mind. Just me hearing things again."
"Oh. You must mean the woman who keeps calling 'Virginia'. Yeah. I heard it. It was the same voice we heard outside tonight. In fact, if I'm not mistaken, it came from outside the house this time too. There must be someone working out in the yard or something. Gin, there's some cool shit in this trunk."
The tall blonde moved to the window and tried to look into the yard beneath them. There was no moon visible and try as she might all she could do was peer into the darkness. It was so dark outside that even shadows or varying layers of darkness could not be seen. Giving up, she turned back to the woman sitting on the floor in her long nightshirt that said: I still miss my ex…but my aim is improving.
"What sort of cool shit and do you have permission to be rooting through someone's belongings? Isn't that illegal or something?"M"All kinds of cool shit and no, it is only illegal if I steal it and who would you have me ask? The disembodied voice or the fruitcakes down stairs, who freaked out just because I wanted to get our damned bags? No. I do not have permission but it wasn't locked and besides, Ginni…something very strange is going on in this place. Did you see that picture downstairs and didn't you think it looked a lot like me?"
"See it! Hell yes I saw it. I keep seeing it. And it didn't just look a lot like you Randi, it could have been you. Except for the eye color, of course. Still, you have to admit that eyes the color of shimmering topaz are pretty damned unusual too." Sitting on the rug, Ginni leaned over the trunk so that she could see the contents. Randi had the candle sitting on the open lid as it rested against the bed frame. "Wow. Look at that. It looks like real confederate currency."
"Well, yes and no." Randi replied, completely ignoring the comments about her eyes.
"What do you mean, yes and no?" Ginni was intrigued by Randi's response as she lifted a handful of bills for a closer look.
"Here," said the artist. Carefully taking one of the slips of paper she held it near the light. "It looks like the real thing. The writing, the dates, even the likeness seems correct."
"But…" Ginny prodded.
"But just look at it. Have you ever seen confederate money in a museum? Or even in photographs? Or anything that old made of paper, for that matter. Look how clean and new this stuff looks, almost like they just got it last week or something."
"So you think it's a fake? Maybe it's part of the costumes or the nuance of the place?"
"I don't think so. I mean, I don't know why but something about this place just isn't right, Gin. Come on, you're the one with all the paranormal beliefs and experiences. What do you think?"
Ginni's eyebrows lifted nearly into her hairline. "Paranormal? What does that have to do with…oh wait. You think…you're kidding. Right? You think they're ghosts? All of them or just some of them?" Ginni was about to laugh when a very large white cat appeared at Randi's side. It rubbed its head against the long leg just before crawling into her lap and promptly going to sleep.
Both women looked at one another, the cat, the trunk, the window and then the cat again.
"You were about to laugh at me, I believe?" Randi smirked.
Morning found Ginni exhausted. All night long she had tossed and turned, hearing someone calling out her name. The voice seemed as familiar as her own in the dark silence of the night but in the brilliant light of day it was but a stranger once again. Her eyes burned, her head ached and her mind reeled with unanswered questions. What was worse was that the longer she was awake the less she could recall the questions. Somewhere in the back of her mind she knew she was forgetting something. Something important. She just had no idea what it could be.
Randi, on the other hand, slept like a baby. Correction, a baby with a very large cat for a pillow. Ginni had been less than amused but no amount of coaxing would persuade Ghost to budge. At various times throughout the night, Ginni had awakened and tried to move the cat but it simply would not go. Randi, of course, slept so soundly she had no idea that a standoff had taken place in the big old four poster bed where she lay.
Sometime before dawn, Ghost had left the room. The writer knew this because that was when she decided to stop trying to go back to sleep. In the gray pre-morning light, Ginni had taken a fresh candle and returned to the chest. The women had grown sleepy the night before and gone to bed shortly after examining the money for the fifth time. With Randi asleep and ghost watching quietly, Ginni had lifted aside the cash box and linens to discover something far more interesting...to her. Journals. The bottom third of the chest was filled with books. Ginni had been delighted to find what appeared to be genuine antique books and she excitedly examined each one. When she neared the very bottom of the chest she found four volumes that were much less carefully bound. Upon opening these she discovered the writing inside to not be typeset but hand written. These were journals, and not just any journals. Inside the front cover of each were the same delicately scrawled words:
The Journals of Virginia Catherine LeNair
That was where Randi found her when she woke. Ginni was sitting on the floor next to the chest, leaning her back against the foot of the bed with long legs stretched out in front of her. The woman was a sight to behold, thought Randi.
Ginni was sitting on a cold, hard wood floor with only a small rug beneath her bare bottom. The long shirt dropped to mid thigh level when she was standing but seemed longer when the woman sat down. On the front of the shirt a woman sat at a small table with a look that would stop a tank on her face. The caption read: I know you weren't planning to talk to me before my second cup of coffee.
The brunette started to speak but noticed the shirt anew and reconsidered. It was too late. She had been spotted.
"Morning." Ginni grinned as she noted the surprise on her partner's face. "It's okay Randi. This doesn't really count as morning since to have a morning you really need a night and a night means sleep and since I had neither I think this doesn't count as morning." She snicker. "Which in no way means I don't need my coffee. Any idea who we might have to kill to get some?"
Randi laughed as she kissed her lover good not-really-morning.
Ginni curled her legs beneath her and scooted over to make room for the artist. "Come look what I found." She showed Randi the first of the four journals she had been reading. Based on the dates provided in the two she had read so far, the author had been around nineteen when she wrote the first one, having been born April 30th in 1844. "I can't help wondering if the woman who wrote these is related to Miss Virginia somehow. So much of the phrasing I am reading is similar. I suppose that could just be the area though."
"Yeah," Randi agreed. "Sometimes certain phrases can be common to an area but maybe she is a descendant and that is why she has the house now."
"I don't know, Randi. From what I can tell so far it was Miranda whose family owned the house." Ginni explained as Randi began to thumb through the journal.
"Well, according to the early entries in the volume you have there, Virginia was an indentured servant of sorts. Only Miranda was left to care for the plantation when her father and three brothers left to fight in the war and she was having none of it. It seems our Miss Miranda was an enlightened soul who had given all her family's slaves their freedom about two days after the men left."
Randi laughed and gave Ginni a high five. "I like her already."
"Yeah, well she must have really been something to have kept this huge place standing with the world going mad all around her."
Randi nodded, still looking at the book in her hands.
"Anyway," Ginni continued. "She told Virginia that if she wanted to stay she would not be anyone's servant. The women worked together doing whatever they could to survive and keep the place going. In this one," she held up the second of the four journals, "two little girls and their brother are brought to them when the mother dies suddenly. The father is already gone and there was no one left to care for the girls. So, at nineteen and twenty, Virginia and Miranda take on the care of three children in addition to everything else."
"Wow." It was all Randi could think of to say.
A gentle knock at the door interrupted further investigation, but only briefly as they accepted the breakfast tray the girls had brought them. It was explained that when they weren't at breakfast Miss Virginia became concerned and asked the girls to bring a pot of coffee and a very generous breakfast to the women who were obviously exhausted and in need of some rest. Ginni and Randi thanked them and returned to the chest all the while marveling at the immensity of the breakfast they were apparently expected to consume. Times, they reasoned, had certainly changed.
Having returned to the journals, Ginni was about half way through the third one while Randi was beginning the second. Both women were so completely immersed in their reading neither had so much as moved from the floor. Suddenly Ginni grabbed Randi's hand, silently asking for her full attention.
"What is it?" Randi asked.
"I don't think Miranda and Virginia were just friends, Randi. At least, not always."
"What do you mean?" The single brow went up and dark blue eyes dared her to smirk. "Okay. I know what you mean but what makes you think it?"
Ginny turned back a few pages.
"Miranda took us fishing today. We all went down to the river and the children had such fun. After we fished for several hours and had a picnic lunch they feel asleep. That was when my Miranda smiled and told me her plan had worked perfectly. We sat beneath the old apple tree and talked of a future together. It was then she kissed me for the first time. It was all I had dreamed of and more. I think I shall never look upon fishing in quite the same way again.
She stopped reading and looked up. "See what I mean?"
"Oh yeah. Well, I wonder what happened to them then. I mean, what is the date on that entry?" Randi asked.
"June 15th, 1863." Ginny had flipped open the fourth journal while she glanced back at the date on the entry she had just read aloud. Her hand turned a few pages and her eyes drifted onto the page. As she read the words her eyes widened and her heart ached. Without warning or complete comprehension tears stung and she had to swallow hard. "Oh god." Her hands trembled as she opened the book to better view the page.
"What? What?" Randi demanded as she softly stroked Ginni's leg.
"October 3rd, 1864. Matthew drowned today. We were fishing at the river again. Miranda and I were teaching Emily how to fly a kite when we heard a loud splash followed by Lizzie's scream. Matthew was in the water. It was so cold this morning we nearly didn't go to the river but the children begged us so. With no thought of herself my Miranda leaped into the dark water. We have had so much rain of late that the water is quite high and the current is fast, too fast for a little boy of only six. She could not find him and would not stop looking. It was hours before one of the young soldiers who stay with us sometimes came walking up the riverbank, carrying poor Matthew. His head looked like he had hit a rock or something and the soldier said the boy prob'ly never knew what hit him. Emily cried. Lizzie sniffed and took Emily's little hand. Miranda never said a word. She just took his lifeless little body into her arms and carried him all the way back to the house. No words were spoken. None were needed. I knew her heart was breaking in her chest. I knew she blamed herself, just as I blamed myself and just as the girls would most likely blame themselves too before it was all over and done. What has happened to the world? Has even god gone mad with all this insanity around us? Boys fighting their own kin and now a little boy lies dead because what? Because we went fishing on the wrong morning? God help me but the worst of it came later for me. My Miranda has been chilling and fevered ever since we got home. I pray she is not ill like she was two years ago for we nearly lost her then. Please dear lord, if you can hear me. You got little Matthew to keep you company now and many more coming every day. I try not to ask for much lord. Please don't take my Miranda. Truly, she is all I have or will ever want."
Ginny felt sick. Her hands trembled. She needed to turn the pages but dreaded it at the same time. Something inside her knew what she would find. Still, she had to do it. She had to know the truth. With Randi holding tightly to her leg and rubbing gentle circles on her back, Ginni turned page after page in silence. Randi knew it was best to just wait and so she did; with her own heart aching with dread and anticipation in nearly equal parts, she waited. Finally, Ginni turned looked up as the tears slid quietly down her face.
"Miranda is buried in the back yard. She died on the evening of October 30th, 1864. It was exactly one hundred years ago last night when she closed her eyes and died in Virginia's arms, calling her name.
"Oh god. Don't cry baby. Come on now. This woman died a hundred years ago and we didn't even know her. Please don't cry, Ginni."
Randi didn't know what else to say. She hated it when Ginni hurt. Part of her kept saying these women weren't real. Part of her insisted this was all some elaborate orchestration designed to maximize the 'experience' at the Bed and Breakfast on Halloween. None of that mattered. Deep down inside, in a place she didn't fully understand, she felt a connection to these women and she ached for their pain, their struggles and their unimaginable loss. She hadn't even noticed it when Ghost crawled up into her lap until Ginny spoke.
"That cat has a thing for you. You do know that, right?"
"Cat? Oh. When did she get here? Never mind. She seems to do that to me a lot." It was a hollow sounding laugh but at least it was a laugh. "You okay?" Randi asked.
"Yeah. Just really sad. I know it was a hundred years ago Randi but it sure feels like it all happened only yesterday. Why do we feel such a connection to these women? Is it because they were gay, do you think?"
"No. No, I really don't think it is just because of that. I think something is not quite right here. I can't explain it but I can just feel it."
Ginny smiled. "You feel it, huh? I thought I was the one into the paranormal."
"This is not paranormal, Gin. This is real. Something is not right here I tell you. Where did you say Miranda is buried? In the back?"
"You're going to go back there, aren't you?"
"Yes and before you even suggest it, forget it. It is nearly three already and you haven't slept at all. Lie down and close your eyes for a bit. I will be back before you wake. I promise."
"Randi, I can't sleep. I'm too keyed up."
"How about if I lie down with you until you nod off? Will that help?"
"You don't have to do that." Ginni hated feeling like Randi had to protect her.
"I know I don't have to. I want to. I love being with you and I love knowing my being here helps you relax. Come on now. Let's get you comfortable."
It was less than ten minutes before Ginni was sound asleep. Randi carefully slipped out of the room and down the stairs. Ghost never left her side.
Several of the guests expressed concern about Miss Randi leaving the house but none of it made any sense to her so Randi ignored them and continued on her quest.
Upstairs, in her sleep, Ginni could hear Miranda's voice again as it called out for Virginia.
Dark green eyes peeked inside the room to be certain their guest was all right. Walking to the chest, Virginia lifted one of the journals and sighed, setting it down again.
"Why did you put these in here Miranda? What good can come of this? Tomorrow will come and it will all begin anew. Perhaps these two can escape. Ghost likes the one who looks like you. Who is she Miranda? Do you know? Why must you be so far away? I miss you so."
After spreading a blanket over the sleeping blonde, Virginia quietly slipped out of the room and went downstairs to prepare dinner. It was Halloween after all and there were traditions to be maintained.
Randi had found little difficulty getting outside and around to the back of the mansion. Though some of the other guests seemed to think it a bad idea to venture outside no one made any real effort to stop her. In fact, once she was outside she noticed several others walking about and doing various chores. She nodded and they nodded back before returning to their work.
Once behind the house she began to explore a bit as the back of the mansion faced a large wooded area that lay only a short distance from the structure. Since she didn't see anything resembling a grave up close to the house Randi moved nearer to the woods. It was only a few feet inside that she noticed a place where the ground looked soft and a slight mound could be seen near the base of a large tree. When she got closer she saw it. The grave marker was nothing fancy. In fact, it was amazing it had lasted at all considering it was only wood with the writing carved into it by hand.
January 25, 1843 - October 30, 1864
Eternally loved and greatly missed
"Virginia…Virginia…" The voice Randi and Ginni had heard the night before was stronger standing there by the mound.
The artist knelt by the grave and touched the wooden marker. Tears filled her eyes and she knew as surely as she had ever known anything.
"You're her. You're my great great Aunt Miranda. The one I was named after. They never knew Miranda. No one ever knew what happened to you. Your grave was never found. The journals were never discovered. They only knew the house burned down by the time they came home from the war. What happened to the house Miranda? Do you know? What became of Virginia? No one spoke of her. I wish I had known about her, about the two of you. I wish I could have known you, helped you somehow."
"Yes. I know. You loved her very much. She wrote it in her journals Miranda. You died with her name still on your lips. Is that why it lingers even now? But how has your grave survived when…Oh my god. It didn't survive. Oh my god. Miranda. Your grave didn't survive! Ginni! Ginni!"
Randi burst into the mansion at a dead run with a large white cat fast on her heels.
The writer sat blt upright in a cold sweat only moments before she heard Randi's cries. Someone had been calling her in her sleep but they weren't really calling her at all. She knew that now. Trying to clear her head she realized Randi was shouting for her and the shouts were getting closer.
"Randi! What the hell is going on?" Ginni leaped from the bed just in time to watch her lover come busting inside with a white blur alongside.
"Ginni! Ginni! Get those journals out. We have to read them, all of them and we have to do it now."
"Okay. Randi what the hell is going on here? Did you find Miranda's grave?"
"You mean my great great Aunt Miranda's grave? Oh yeah. I found it. Come on. We need to read. NOW!"
"Your great great...Jesus! Are you serious? The Aunt you were named after? The one no one ever knew what happened to? Oh my god. Randi are you sure? How do you know? Okay Okay. I'm coming."
The women read until the girls pounded on the door for them to come to supper. They declined. They lit the candles and lamps and kept reading. Fearful they might miss an important detail they decided to go all the way back to the first book and read each and every page, carefully. The women each took a book and began to read, exchanging books when they completed reading a volume. In doing so, they read volumes one and two completely, stopping frequently to discuss points of interest and compare thoughts. The exploration of volumes three and four had barely commenced when another knock at the door interrupted them.
Once again, the little girls stood holding a heavy tray and large pitcher like the one the evening before. They knew now this was some of the finest iced tea ever made. Ginni accepted the pitcher and thanked the girls as Randi took the tray.
As she was closing the door she heard one child say to the other: "See there, Lizzie. I told you they wouldn't be mad."
"Oh my god," whispered Ginni as she closed the door and returned to her reading.
"I told you," Randi sighed. "Keep reading."
So they did. Hours later Ginni turned the page back three times to double check a passage. "Randi, what are munitions? Is that what I think it is?"
"Why? Where do you see munitions? Is it in the journal? What am I saying of course it's in the journal. Why else would you be asking? Okay, Honey. What does it say about munitions? Read it to me."
"October 10th, 1864. The soldier who brought little Matthew to us just a few days ago returned this morning with eight others. They had been attacked by a squad of Sherman's Yankee rabble and were running for their lives. Sadly, two never made it to the house and three others perished before nightfall. Lt. Jackson insisted they not come into the house for they seem certain they will be found soon and do not wish to bring us greater danger than they have already. He introduced us to his Captain, a very polite young man named Parker. I regret I do not know his first name for there was little time for it. They have set up tents outside the house and we have done all we can to make them comfortable. It is likely half the remaining men will not last the week but we shall try. There are no doctors nearby or I would have called one for my Miranda who is still very ill from the chilling river. We shall do all we can to help. Captain Parker has hidden some munitions in the cellar. He says it is these munitions that the Yankee are after and the South needs them if we are to win this war. For myself, I do not understand this war but if Captain Parker says we need to hide them then it is the least we can do. We do not use the cellar much these days anyway so what harm can there be from a few wooden boxes?"
"Holy shit!" exclaimed Randi. "A few wooden boxes? How few? Those wooden boxes would have held enough explosives to…oh sweet Jesus. That's it. That's why no one ever knew what happened to Miranda or the house…only that it burned down. My god. We have to find the cellar, Baby."
"Now? Randi, the cellars in these old mansions weren't even on the inside. Often the doors were hidden in the ground. There is no way we could find it in the dark without at least knowing where to look. It must be the middle of the night by now. Everyone will be asleep. We'll just have to wait until morning when we can ask Virginia or one of the girls to help us."
"No fucking way am I waiting to be blown to hell in this place. I say we wake someone up. I say we wake everyone up, damn it. We can't just sit here and wait to die. Not a chance. Let's go."
"Randi. Wait a minute Sweetheart. What are you talking about? The house burned? When?"
"What difference does it make? I don't fucking know when but I know it did. That is all anyone ever knew and no one knew when or how or why. When the men finally got home from the war the house had burned to the ground and there was no sign of Miranda or Virginia or anyone. No one ever knew what happened to them at all. I doubt anyone even knew about this small band of soldiers and clearly the south never got the munitions they hid because they EXPLODED."
"Randi. I know you're upset and I am too. To be honest, I am scared to death but I think the key here is when. When did it happen? I think we have to keep reading. I agree we have to find the damn cellar but since we are not likely to find it in the dark why don't we keep reading until we can wake someone. It seems as though Virginia is an early riser and it is nearly three now. If we can figure out when then maybe we can find out how. Would the munitions have exploded on their own or did someone or something have to set them off?"
"Okay. I know you're right. We can't find anything out there in the dark but I think we could be in real danger here Gin. So let's figure this shit out and get out of here as soon as we can. As for the munitions I am not a real expert on civil war munitions but I don't think they would have just set themselves off, no. What does the journal say? How many entries were made after that one?"
"The last one is dated October 31st, 1864. It says Sunrise so it must have been just before she started her day." "Well that tells us that the house burned down after sunrise that day but we need to narrow it down a bit more than that somehow."
"Randi, you think Miss Virginia is Virginia, don't you?"
"Virginia…Virginia…" The voice seemed to hear everything they said and Ghost heard the voice. The cat sat up and walked to the window when the woman called out again. "Virginia…Virginia…"
"Randi, what do you think is going on here? If this is the same woman then why doesn't she just go to Miranda?"
"Gin, I don't think she can. Remember what she said to the cat last night? You know I can't leave the house and come running after you all the time. What if Virginia can't leave the house for some reason and Miranda can't come inside because she is buried out back? They would be stuck forever in this place, always just a few feet keeping them eternally apart. I can't let them go on like that, Ginni. Not if I can find a way to help them."
"Okay. For whatever it's worth, Love, I think you're right. I think something caused them to be caught up in some strange circumstances that keep playing out over and over again but I just don't know what we can do to stop it. I do agree though that finding those munitions may be the key. I have actually read about things like this. Remember the guy outside the service station who told us about that little known skirmish outside Atlanta? The one he said wasn't in the history books?"
"Well what if it was somehow connected to this? What if the group of Yankees who were chasing the soldiers in Virginia's journals were one of Sherman's scouting party? We know he had some and not all of them were recorded. Even the history books tell us that much. Some of them were never heard from again and it was just assumed they had been captured or killed but no one knows for certain. Captain Parker and Lt. Jackson were convinced the Yankees would return. Maybe they did."
Randi sat up straight. "Wait a minute. What did that thing say the Lt's name was? Jackson?"
"Yes. She says Lt. Jackson and she describes him only as being young. Why?"
"Because I just realized the young fellow in what we thought was a civil war costume is wearing the uniform of a confederate Lt. and I would just about bet his name is Jackson."
"Oh my god."
"What in the…."
"You don't have to break the man's door down, Randi. It's not even dawn yet. He was probably sleeping."
"Yeah. You trying to say I'm making enough noise to wake the dead?"
Ginni groaned. The door creaked open slowly to reveal a young man in gray uniform pants, an undershirt and suspenders hanging to the side of the belt loops.
"Are you Lt. Jackson, soldier?"
The man snapped up tall and answered sharply. "Yes Ma'am. Lt. Gerald Jackson. At your service. How may I help you Ma'am?"
Randi smiled. Some things never changed.
"Did you hide munitions in the cellar of this home, soldier?"
"Yes Ma'am. We had to Ma'am."
"Understood. When exactly did those munitions explode, soldier?"
"October 31, 1864. Twelve hundred hours, Ma'am."
"What caused the munitions to malfunction?"
"Twern't no malfunction, Ma'am. The Yanks done set the cellar on fire and blew us all to hell. Beg pardon, Ma'am. I…uh…Ma'am?"
"Who are you, Ma'am?"
"Who do you think I am, soldier?"
"I don't rightly know, Ma'am. You look like Miss Miranda with the eyes of a tiger come to life. Some of the guests say you're the devil come to torture us. Miss Virginia thinks you and Miss Ginni come to save us. I just don't rightly know Ma'am."
"Who are you?"
"I'm the woman you're gonna take to those munitions before those bloody Yanks can blow them up again. That all right with you, soldier?"
"Yes Ma'am! It shore nuff is!!"
After several hours of removing vines and crawling around in the dust and mud they had finally located the right cellar door. Who knew one family would have six cellars on their property or that over the last hundred years the soldier would actually forget which cellar he had ordered the munitions placed in? By the time they got inside it was well past nine o'clock and they still had not actually found the explosives themselves. Another two hours later they finally saw the six wooden crates stacked against the innermost wall of the cellar directly beneath the kitchen. Things were adding up. This explained how the house could have burned down with little or no trace left over by the time anyone discovered it. In those days a burning house wasn't unusual and being located so far from a town would have made it even less likely to have been noticed.
When Randi reached around the first crate to remove it she was shocked to find she could not move the thing at all. No matter how hard she tried she could neither lift nor scoot even one solitary crate. When harsh reality finally seeped into her stubborn denial she hurriedly looked at her watch. 11:50 a.m. October 31st, 1864.
"What is it?" Ginni asked as she looked around for some sort of lever.
"Forget it, Gin. We have to get the fuck out of here…now. Come on." Randi snatched her partner's hand and all but dragged them back outside and toward the car.
"What are you doing?" Ginni protested.
"Leaving before we get blown to hell with the rest of them."
"I can't leave without the journals, Randi. I just can't." Ginni had broken free and was back inside and up the stairs before Randi could open her mouth in reply.
"Shit." Long legs ate up the distance as she ran screaming up the stairs to get her lover and escape certain destruction.
A popping sound could be heard outside as the squad of about twenty Yankees converged on the house.
Clutching the journals, Ginni nearly fell through the door when the first explosion rocked the walls and floors
11:59 "Hurry Ginny. Get in! The house is gonna blow."
12:00 "Hold on!!!!!!!!!"
Randi pushed her foot against the floor as the Land Rover kicked up red Georgia dust, leaving a trail spewing behind them as they raced away. The trembling artist dared a look in her rear view mirror and watched as a blond figure darted from the front door as the house was engulfed in an eerily silent ball of flames. Moments later a tall dark haired woman in riding attire embraced the small blond as the flames were only clouds of smoke and moments after that only rubble could be seen.
Ginni turned in her seat and watched in stunned amazement, as the young saplings became huge old oaks. The dirt driveway became an overgrown pot-holed path and soon there was nothing remaining where the old mansion had stood but trees and memories.
"She got out Ginni. You did it. The journals must have been the key. Virginia got out, she is with my aunt Miranda."
"What?" Ginni turned and stuck her head out the window, looking back. She felt her eyes tear as she saw the figure of two women locked in an embraced pause long enough to wave at her. Turning back around her hand blindly reached over to rest on a strong thigh.
"Holy Shit, Randi. If I didn't know better I would swear we just imagine d that whole thing."
Randi lifted her brow and glanced into the back seat. Ginni looked at her in question just as she heard it. Not exactly a meow, it was as close as a Maine Coon got to one. Ghost crawled up into Randi's lap and both women looked back one last time watching Miss Miranda and Miss Virginia wave goodbye and slowly fade away.
"Well, I'll be damned." They said in unison and as they turned off the old dirt road and back onto the main road.
They rode on in silent for a few minutes. Randi was determined to get back on the highway and closer to normal icy. She followed the road signs easily seen now in the light of day. The only sound in the cab was the hum of the tires and the loud purr of a very large cat. Suddenly Randi slammed on the brakes earning a growling hiss from the four-legged passenger in the rear seat. She pulled to the side of the road and sat staring at a billboard with the picture of a huge old Plantation style home. The sign read:
Stop by and enjoy a touch of the old south. Bed and Breakfast.Owned and operated by the same family for nearly a hundred years. Hospitality galore with Southern Cooking to die for. Next exit."
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