W. R. Haley
For disclaimers see Part 1
Feedback: Is welcomed and appreciated. Any constructive criticism will be embraced. I can be contacted at Ghswrtr8@aol.com Please enjoy!
Autumn went straight to her inner office, barely responding to Annie as she made her way down the hall. Her mind was on what John Kinsey had told her. Autumn’s mind swirled with the possibilities. She sat down at her desk and looked at the books she had checked out of the library. Her curiosity got the better of her and she opened the book on the top.
“One theory that seemed popular at the time,” she read “was that Robert Richter was the murderer, killing Jane in a jealous rage.
“It was a well known fact that Robert was obsessively in love with Jane. Miss Harbour, while fond of him, did not love him and in fact seemed to prefer the company of Robert’s younger sister.” Autumn rubbed her eyes and sat back letting the information sink in before going back to the book open in front of her.
“Miss Richter and Jane were inseparable, close to the same age and the only young girls in the area. When word of Jane’s death reached young Miss Richter, she took to her bed and refused to speak with anyone. Once, her brother Robert forced his way into the room to see her. It was reported that Miss Richter screamed at the top of her lungs until he was forced to leave. A doctor was called in to sedate the inconsolable woman. No one seemed to know why the sight of her brother caused her to go into hysterics.
“Supporters of the theory that Robert had murdered Jane believed that Allison Richter knew something and could not bear the sight of the man who had murdered her dear friend. The Sheriff was also interested in what Allison Richter had to say. Tragically before Sheriff Kinsey could interview her, Miss Richter crept from her home sometime after midnight, walked over to Harbour House which joined the rear of her family’s property, and drowned in the lake.”
Autumn sat back again, stunned. Could the young woman in the white nightgown have been Allison Richter? Could Autumn have witnessed not only Jane’s murder but also Allison’s suicide?
* * *
Autumn let herself into her house later that afternoon. She looked around the quiet house with trepidation. S he wasn’t sure what she expected to happen but she was still slightly nervous about being there. The loud humming noise of the air conditioning compressor turning on caused her to jump and let out a small squeal.
“Gee whiz Autumn,” she said in disgust. She put her briefcase down and the placed the books on the small table just inside the front door. “Get a grip,” she moved into the room and snapped on the television, flooding the silence with sound. She went into the kitchen and got a beer from the refrigerator. Pouring it into a glass she looked at the answering machine on the wall. The red light was blinking. Autumn pushed the button and went back into the refrigerator.
“Hey there sexy,” came Stephanie’s voice over the machine. Autumn straightened up and smiled, the sound of Stephanie’s voice soothing her rattled nerves further. “Don’t forget about dinner tonight at Michael’s. Dinner will be at 6:30 and Michael said to tell you we are having ziti so bring red wine,” she laughed and Autumn smiled before taking a sip of her beer. “I can’t wait to see you,” the blonde said, her voice dropping to a lower register, sending a shiver of desire through Autumn. As the machine forwarded itself to the next message Autumn looked at her watch, it was 5:30. She would have time to take a shower before she had to go to Michael’s.
“Hello Darling!” Autumn’s head snapped up at her mother’s voice. “We hope you are enjoying your new home. We just wanted to tell you we will be home in two weeks and we want to see you! Your father and I miss you terribly Darling and I can’t wait to see your house!” her mother’s warm voice brought tears to her eyes. She missed her parents dreadfully. They were a close family and this had been the longest they had been a part. Autumn longed to talk to them about the things that were happening and she wanted to tell them about Stephanie.
When she had come out to her parents she had been a sophomore in college. She had thought long and hard about it and had asked numerous friends for advice. The advice she had received had varied from not telling them, to telling them after she finished her schooling so they couldn’t threaten to stop paying. She had chosen to tell them, but had waited until the last day of her visit home. Her mother had just sat there on the couch, her eyes unreadable and her father kept clearing his throat as if he wanted to say something but was unsure as to what he wanted to say.
“Are you happy honey?” her mother finally asked, her voice soft, her eyes penetrating.
“Yes, Mom, I am very happy,” she answered truthfully.
“Are you sure Autumn?” her father finally managed to get out. He cleared his throat again and tugged nervously on the collar of his shirt.
“Daddy, I am sure,” she told them. Her parents had looked at each other; communicating silently it seemed to her. Her mother stood and gathered her daughter in a warm embrace.
“Oh honey,” she whispered. “We would not have wished this for you, but you are our little girl and we will love you no matter what.”
Autumn had thrown her arms around her mother and let out a sob. She had been so afraid that they would have turned their backs on her. Her father came over and wrapped his arms around his two women.
“Autumn, I know how hard this was to tell us and I want to say that I am very proud of you,” he told her. “Like your mother said, we love you no matter what.” The three of them had held on to each tightly, letting their love for each other envelope them. Autumn wiped the tears from her eyes at the memory and listened to the next message. It was Annie, reminding her of an early morning appointment she had the next day. Autumn finished her beer and padded into her bedroom.
She looked around the room carefully, as if she expected to find bloodstains on the floor or on the walls. Autumn quickly stripped and went in to take a shower. Every little noise caused her to jump as she hurriedly washed her hair. She finished her shower, blew dry her hair, got dressed and packed an overnight bag. Autumn decided that she would stay with Stephanie tonight instead of coming back here.
“Hey you,” Stephanie greeted Autumn.
The taller woman smiled and stepped into Stephanie’s embrace. They shared a soft lingering kiss, only breaking contact at the loud cough from behind them. Laughing the two stepped apart.
“Hi Michael, nice to see you again,” Autumn said moving into the room. She was surprised when the man hugged her.
“Hi Season!” he teased releasing her. He took the bottle of wine from her and looked at the label. “For a stuffy lawyer you sure do know your wine,” he smiled.
“Thanks, I think,” Autumn said sardonically. “My father loves his wine. He takes my mother and me on wine tasting tours so anything I know I learned from him.”
“Well, if you get tired of going with him, let me know, I would love to go!” Michael quipped, causing the two women to laugh.
“I’ll let him know. Actually he and my mother are in France now, touring the wine country.”
“Wow, I bet they are bringing back some good stuff,” Stephanie said moving to stand next to Autumn.
“Probably,” Autumn said looking down at the woman next to her. She could not help herself so she gave in and kissed the tip of the blonde’s nose.
“Hey now, none of the lesbo stuff here! Brian isn’t here so it’s just us girls,” quipped Michael over his shoulder as he made his way into the kitchen. Stephanie chuckled and pulled Autumn into an embrace.
“How are you feeling today?” she asked, her eyes concerned as she searched Autumn’s face.
She had been worried about her friend. Stephanie had tried to call her earlier today but Annie had said she was in her office with the door closed and she had strict instructions not to disturb her for any reason.
“Okay, better, my headache is gone,” Autumn told her truthfully. Her eyes clouded over as she thought about what she had found out earlier. She opened her mouth to say something when Michael came back in.
“I hope you are hungry,” he called out. Autumn moved away from Stephanie.
“Starved, I didn’t get a chance to eat lunch today.” Stephanie frowned at this.
“Autumn,” she began. Autumn smiled and Stephanie felt her heart melt. She chuckled ruefully and shook her head. “What am I going to do with you?” she asked.
“Love her,” Michael called out from the dining room. Stephanie blushed and lowered her eyes. She had not told Autumn that she loved her yet. Stephanie felt Autumn come closer and touch her chin, raising it so that she could look into her eyes.
“Well?” Autumn asked softly, her voice intense, her eyes boring into Stephanie’s. “Is that what you are going to do with me?” she asked. Stephanie could feel her heart pounding in her chest.
“Yes,” whispered Stephanie around a lump in her throat. Autumn looked at her, a smile slowly blossoming, her eyes lighting up with an inner fire.
“Good, because that’s what I am going to do with you,” she told the other woman.
Stephanie wasn’t sure if she had heard correctly, but the look in Autumn’s eyes told her everything she needed to know. With a soft cry, she closed the distance between them and kissed Autumn hard, holding her face in her hands and raining kisses down on Autumn’s lips and face.
“God, I thought I told you none of that stuff in here!” Michael groused good-naturedly coming back into the room. The two women ignored him.
“Michael, that was wonderful,” Autumn said putting her fork down. Stephanie groaned.
“I should have worn my fat jeans,” Stephanie said pushing her plate away. “Michael you outdid yourself.” Michael beamed and took a sip of his wine.
“Thanks, I love to cook for an appreciative audience.”
“Between you and Autumn I think I am going to have to step up my exercises,” Stephanie groaned.
“I bet Season can give you a work out!” her friend teased winking in Autumn’s direction.
The dark haired attorney just shook her head and chuckled. She ruefully gave up the idea of trying to stop the irrepressible Michael from calling her “Season”.
“Stop it,” Stephanie laughed and lightly slapped his arm.
“Anybody up for desert?” he asked. Both women groaned. “It’s chocolate,” he said in a singsong voice. Both groaned again.
“Can I ask you two something?” Autumn asked suddenly serious, her eyes on her hand as it toyed with her wine glass. The other two looked at her curious.
“Sure, but I warn you my coming out story is not pleasant,” Michael said. Autumn smiled weakly and turned her attention back to her wine glass.
“Do you believe in ghosts?” she finally asked. S Stephanie and Michael shared a look.
“I believe that it’s possible,” Stephanie said carefully. Michael drained his wineglass before refilling all three glasses.
“I believe,” he stated firmly. Autumn looked at him.
“Yes, definitely. My granny’s house was haunted. Let me tell you there were some strange things that happened there.”
“Like what?” Autumn asked curiously.
“Well, there were always footsteps in the attic, like someone walking around up there, but no one was ever there. Doors would open and shut by themselves. And one night I saw a ghost.”
“Get out!” Stephanie said surprised. Michael had never told her this.
“Seriously. I was about 16 and had stayed over. I had just gotten in bed and was lying there staring at the ceiling. I remember I had been thinking about Josh Beckett, the boy who lived next door,” he chuckled fondly. “Anyway I was lying there and I heard the bedroom door open. I thought it was my granny and I looked over. Well let me tell you it was not my granny!” he took another deep drink of his wine.
“What was it?” Autumn finally asked her voice tight.
“It was a man, a soldier, a Confederate soldier. I could see right through him. He was standing in the doorway looking at me. I was too scared to move, to think. He just stood there looking at me. Finally he looked over his shoulder said something to someone behind him and left, shutting the door behind him. I heard his footsteps as he walked down the hall. Let me tell you I dove under the covers and stayed there all night. My door must have opened about six times that night, but I refused to look. The next day I left and I never stayed another night there.” Silence greeted his story.
“You never told me that,” Stephanie said surprised. Autumn looked at the man opposite her. He shrugged.
“It’s not something I think about very often. I try not to think about,” he looked up at Autumn. “Why do you ask about ghosts Autumn?” he asked. Autumn couldn’t help but think he knew what she was going to say.
“I think my house is haunted,” she said softly. At Michael’s urging she told the two of them the whole story, ending with the information she had learned that day at the library.
“Wow,” Stephanie said softly when she had finished. She drained her wineglass. “Wow,” she said again.
“I’ll say,” Autumn chuckled ruefully.
“I’ve heard stories for years that your house was haunted Autumn,” Michael told her.
“What are you going to do?” Stephanie asked. Autumn shrugged.
“What can I do? I love the house; I’m not going to move. I guess Jane and I will have to learn to coexist.”
“Steph, maybe you can call Colin,” suggested Michael. Autumn looked at the blonde.
“Yes, a friend of mine, Colin O’Shea. I met her when I was doing some research on one of my books. She works for the Paranormal Research Institute,” Stephanie told her.
“She’s a ghost buster,” laughed Michael.
“She is not,” Stephanie protested. “She’s a paranormal investigator.”
“What is the difference?” he asked cheekily. Autumn sat thinking.
“Would she come out?”
“I don’t see why not. I’ll call her if you want.”
“It can’t hurt,” Michael supplied his eyes studying her. Autumn took a deep breath.
“You’re right, it can’t hurt,” she agreed. Stephanie looked at her before reaching over to her and taking her hand. Autumn gave it a squeeze.
“Colin said she can come out the middle of next week,” Stephanie told the two of them later. “She is going to bring one of her team with her, Megan, a psychic.”
“Steph, I don’t know,” Autumn began suddenly unsure about this whole thing.
“Autumn, you said yourself it can’t hurt. If nothing else it will give you peace of mind,” Stephanie cut her off.
“You are right Steph,” she agreed with a sigh. Stephanie smiled and kissed the other woman.
“I know I am,” she said smugly. Autumn laughed and pulled the other woman closer.
The two women spent the night at Stephanie’s. After making love well into the evening the two fell asleep holding onto each other.
Autumn felt Stephanie’s hands touching her, roaming over her body, rousing her tired body from its slumber. She tried to wake up to fully participate. A gentle laugh drifted to her ears as she felt herself pout at her inability to open her eyes. Autumn gasped as Stephanie’s fingers slipped into her wetness. She reached for Stephanie wanting to draw her close, but the other woman gently pushed her hands away. Her body moved, responding to Stephanie’s touch. Autumn crept closer to the edge as Stephanie continued to love her. Stephanie’s mouth and hands touched her everywhere bringing her closer to the edge.
“I love you Allison,” a voice whispered in her ear as she shuddered her release. Autumn’s eyes snapped open and she sat up. Stephanie slept soundly next to her, curled up on her side. Autumn looked around, her heart thudding, her body still trembling with force of her orgasm. She shook her head, not wanting to believe what had just happened.
* * *
Friday afternoon found Autumn strolling into the Mason police department. She introduced herself to the officer at the front desk and made her request. He looked at her strangely before getting up to go into one of the offices. He came back a moment later with a tall heavyset man with dark eyes and salt and pepper hair. Autumn recognized him as Earl Betterly, the Sheriff.
“Miss Flanagan, Jimmy tells me you want to see the files on the Harbour murder,” he said in his booming voice.
“Yes I would Sheriff,” she answered with more authority that she felt. He looked at her for a moment with narrowed eyes before nodding to himself.
“They’re in the store room. It’ll take a few minutes to get them. You want a cup a coffee or something?”
“No thanks Sheriff,” she declined. He nodded again. Turning to Jimmy he jerked his head and the deputy moved off.
“Jimmy will get ‘em for you. So how do you like living here? Reggie’s clients treating you right?”
“I like it very much, and his clients have been great,” Autumn told him. The two stood talking about the weather, the town, and the upcoming council meeting. A few minutes later Jimmy came back. The Sheriff led her to a small interrogation room in the back. A box with files sat on the table.
The files didn’t really tell her anything different. Sometime after midnight someone murdered Jane Harbour in her bedroom, the same bedroom that she herself now slept in. The file did confirm some of the more horrible portions of her nightly dream. Jane had been stabbed twelve times and her throat had been slit.
Autumn looked at the crime scene photographs. The grainy black and whites did little to hide the viciousness of the crime. Autumn averted her eyes from the savagery and put the photographs aside.
She pulled out another file. The file contained the interview notes. She was unable to glean anything from them. Behind the interview notes she came across another set of pictures. The top picture was of a dark man. The black and white photograph showed a man with a long face, thin lips curled in a sneer. His black hair was combed straight back as was the style. The man’s face was cold and cruel. The inscription on the back identified him as Robert Richter; the man most people thought had murdered his neighbor Jane Harbour. She studied the photograph for a moment before putting it aside.
The next photograph caused her hand to tremble and her heart to pound. Blood roared in her ears, the world started to press in on her; a cold sweat broke out across her forehead. She fought to keep calm, to steady her breathing. Autumn was staring a picture of the woman on the dock. She was looking at a picture of Allison Richter. She was looking at a picture of herself.
Autumn drove slowly back to her office. On the seat next to her sat a copy of the file of the Harbour murder complete with pictures. Her mind was still swirling around everything. Could it have been a coincidence that in her dream last night she had been called Allison? Could she really have dreamt about someone that looked like herself before she knew it? Was Jane Harbour haunting her house and Allison Richter haunting her lake? She had not told Stephanie about last nights dream; she knew she would have to tell her. Once she got to her office she absently said hello to Annie, picked up her messages and went into her office.
Sitting down behind her desk her eyes went to her phone. Could the phone calls for Allison, be from Jane Harbour? Could they be for Allison Richter? Her mind refused to face those questions. Autumn looked down at the file in front of her, she wanted to look at it again, but she didn’t want to either. The sharp ring of the phone cut into her thoughts. She watched it ring almost afraid to answer it.
“Hello,” she said almost tentatively.
“Hey baby,” Stephanie’s warm voice washed over her. Autumn breathed a sigh of relief. Her nerves were too raw right now.
“Hey,” she greeted a smile taking over face.
“I am going to ride into town with Michael this afternoon. Would you like to pick me up at his shop and have dinner in the diner before the council meeting?”
“Sure sounds good,” Autumn readily agreed, loving how easily they fell into this pattern. It felt like they had been together for years sometimes. “Don’t forget we are tackling the barn again tomorrow.”
“How could I forget,” Stephanie laughed. “Uh, do you want to stay here tonight?” Autumn thought about it.
“No, I am not going to be run out of my house. Why don’t you bring enough stuff for the weekend,” she suggested. She could almost see the large smile on Stephanie’s face.
“Okay.” The two women talked for a few more minutes before saying their goodbyes. Hanging up the phone Autumn’s eyes fell on the file again.
“Annie, have you lived in Mason all your life?” Autumn asked her secretary coming into the outer office. Annie looked up from the stack of papers in front of her.
“Why yes I have missy, fourth generation,” came the proud answer. Autumn nodded absently chewing on her thumb cuticle.
“Annie, do you know anything about the murder of Jane Harbour?”
“Only what I have been told. I was born years after it happened. My mother worked for Miss Harbour. She told me a little about it. It was a bad time for our town.” Autumn sat down in one of the chairs in front of Annie’s desk.
“Would you mind telling me the story?” Autumn asked. Annie thought for a moment.
“My mother said Jane was a beautiful woman, inside and out and was the sweetest thing,” she began. “She was an only child and she was much pampered, but she wasn’t spoiled or a snob. Her best friend all through childhood and into adulthood was Allison Richter, a neighbor girl whose family wasn’t quite as upstanding as Jane’s but that didn’t bother her. Jane was a few years older but those two couldn’t have been any closer.
“Allison had an older brother, Robert, who had been away for most of her childhood. When he came back though, he fell head over heels in love with Jane Harbour,” she paused. “There was talk after Allison killed herself that it wasn’t just Jane he had an itch for,” her eyes bore into Autumn’s. “It was said that he had an unnatural lust for his sister,” she said pausing again, letting that sink in.
“He would follow the girls everywhere they went. When he wasn’t following them he was spending his time drinking. He was a heavy drinker. He must have proposed to Jane a dozen times and each time she turned him down. Robert was devastated. He got into fights at the tavern, once almost beating a man to death a week before the murder. My mother told me about a conversation that she had overheard between Jane and Robert a few days before she was murdered. Robert had come to visit Jane. He was angry and once more insisted that she marry him.”
* * *
“Jane you must marry me,” Robert demanded, striding into the living room, whiskey fumes preceding him.
“Robert,” Jane began, her soft voice trying to soothe him. “We have been over this before, I can not marry you.” Robert strode over to stand directly in front of her, his bloodshot eyes blazing with impotent fury.
“If you do not marry me Jane, I’ll be forced to tell everyone what I know,” he spat barely controlling his anger. His dark, bloodshot eyes narrowed dangerously.
“What do you know? What could you possibly know?” Jane asked moving away from him, beginning to grow angry herself.
“I know lots of things Jane,” he replied smugly, an evil grin twisting his face. “I found Allison’s letters,” he said watching Jane intently. “Do I need to tell you which ones? The ones you wrote,” Jane fluttered around the room, trying not to show the extreme nervousness she suddenly felt.
“I do not know what you are talking about Robert.”
“Yes you do,” Robert insisted moving to stand in front of her again. “You know which letters I found. ‘My dearest Allison, I am counting the moments until I am once more in your arms,’” he taunted, a vicious laugh erupted at Jane’s sudden pallor.
“If you do not marry me Jane, I will tell everyone about the disgusting things you do with my sister!”
“What about the disgusting things you do Robert?!” Jane screamed, her anger boiling over. Robert’s face darkened. “What about the things you make Allison do?! You are a disgusting monster!”
“You bitch!” he shouted, his eyes bulged and he clenched his fists in front of him. “What has that lying slut told you?” Jane studied him closely.
“Just the truth Robert. And it says something about you that you call her a slut when it was your sick, perverted lust that has corrupted her.”
“Shut up Jane!” he lunged for her and roughly grabbed her arms and pulled her close. “You listen to me; it is my right to do what I will! I will kill you if you try to interfere,” he threatened his voice filled with hate. “I will make you and your whore pay!” he ground out, his fingers digging into her flesh as he shook her.
“Robert you are hurting me,” Jane gasped. He shook her again.
“Good,” he snarled. “You are going to marry me and I’ll have you both. And if you fight me, just remember I have Allison’s letters!” he pushed her away from him. Jane stumbled and almost fell. He looked down at her, disgust and triumph gleaming in his eyes. Without another word, he turned and left.
* * *
“My mother said that Jane went into a tizzy and shut herself in her room. When Mother brought her supper that evening Jane was sitting at her desk surrounded by letters and writing in her journal. Her eyes were swollen and red rimmed but she wasn’t sad, she was angry.
“A few days later Jane was found murdered in her bedroom,” Annie finished. It was quiet in the room as Autumn absorbed the story she had just heard. More questions swirled in her mind.
“What happened to Jane’s papers and journal?”
“Mother said that all of Jane’s personal belongings were packed up and put into the attic. I don’t know if her relatives in Boston ever took them.” Autumn stood up, her mind whirling. Could it be possible that Jane’s papers were still at the house? She knew they were not in the attic as it was empty. But the box could be in the barn. Autumn absently chewed on the cuticle of her thumb.
“Annie, thank you. I appreciate it,” Autumn said going back into her office.
Autumn entered the cool dimness of Michael’s antique shop. The air conditioner blew cold air across her heated skin. She had grown up in South Florida where the breeze coming off the ocean had made the humidity bearable. Here in Mason, in the central part of the state, there was no ocean breeze so the humidity hung low, soaking the air. It took a moment for her eyes to adjust and when they did she saw Stephanie in the back talking with Michael. They were looking at an antique writing table.
“I think it would look great in your den Steph, and I won’t charge you to ship it to Chicago,” Michael was saying when Autumn joined them. Autumn felt a pang in her chest as she thought of Stephanie leaving.
“Hey you,” Stephanie said with a warm smile, her eyes shining. She gave Autumn a hug and a quick kiss. Autumn greeted both Stephanie and Michael.
“Nice desk,” she commented, an arm around Stephanie’s waist.
“Yes it is,” Stephanie agreed. “Michael is trying to convince me that I want it.”
“I think you do,” Michael insisted. Autumn chuckled.
“While you two haggle, I am going to look around.” She kissed Stephanie on the temple and slipped away.
She had not been in Michael’s shop before so she was curious. Autumn walked up and down the aisles picking up various things before putting them back and moving on. She moved along, poking through the shelves. She came to a stop in the rear of the shop. On a shelf were some old bottles, perfume bottles and soda bottles and above the bottles on the wall was a large gilt-edged mirror.
Autumn picked up a delicate blown glass perfume bottle. Its deep blue color almost matched the color of Stephanie’s eyes. Turning it over in her hand she debated buying it for Stephanie. Smiling slightly at the thought of surprising Stephanie she looked up, catching sight of herself in the mirror. Her eyes were drawn with circles under them and her face was pale. Autumn looked away from the mirror and put the bottle back. She reached for another one. Her eyes though were drawn back to the mirror. Autumn barely registered the sudden pallor of her skin, the sudden terror in the gray depths of her eyes.
Standing behind her, looking at her through the mirror was Jane Harbour. Her eyes locked with Autumn’s. Jane’s eyes pleaded with Autumn; she raised her hand, holding it out for her to take.
“Allison, please come,” a soft voice whispered. Autumn was so startled she dropped the bottle she was holding. She backed away from the mirror, bumping into a small table behind her. Jane continued to look at her through the mirror, begging Autumn to come to her. A lamp on the table fell to the floor, shattering.
“Autumn! Are you okay?” Stephanie asked rushing to her side. Her eyes were filled with concern. Michael was behind her. “Baby, what’s the matter? Are you okay?” Her hands were all over Autumn, looking for any cuts.
“I’m okay, Jane was here,” Autumn said her eyes still glued to the mirror. “She surprised me.” Stephanie and Michael shared a look.
“Jane was here?” Michael asked looking around.
“Yes, in the mirror, right there,” Autumn pointed to the mirror on the wall. Michael and Stephanie looked at the mirror. “She’s gone now,” Autumn told them. Her voice was flat emotionless. Stephanie was worried.
“Come on, let’s get out of here,” Stephanie said firmly. She took Autumn’s arm and steered her toward the door.
“Michael, I’m sorry about the lamp and the bottle. I will pay for them.”
“It’s okay Autumn, don’t worry about it,” he said as Stephanie opened the door. She motioned for Autumn to go ahead.
The dark haired woman stepped out onto the sidewalk; the heat slapped her in the face. Stepping fully onto the sidewalk she bumped into a man coming up to the door. The man was not very tall, a few inches shorter than Autumn was herself. He was thin but wiry. Autumn could see the tight muscles under the stained white shirt he wore. His hair was greasy and unkempt, combed back. The man’s large eyes were blazing and he was staring at Autumn intently. His thick lips were moving silently as if he was talking but no words were coming out. Autumn frowned and tried to step away from the man. His intent study of her face was making her nervous.
“It is her,” he breathed, his eyes moving over Autumn’s face. “It really is her.”
“Excuse me? Do I know you?” Autumn asked her voice firm. The man looked at her again and stepped away from her. He continued to walk backwards away from her, his eyes never leaving her face. He stumbled off the sidewalk and into the street. With one more look he turned away and practically ran down the street.
“Who was that?” Stephanie asked.
“I have no idea,” Autumn told her watching the man run away.
Friday night when the two women arrived back at Autumn’s house they stopped dead in their tracks in the back doorway. Autumn stopped so suddenly that Stephanie ran into her.
“Autumn what….” Stephanie began.
She stopped when she saw what Autumn was looking at. Autumn’s stunned mind at first could not comprehend what her eyes were seeing. Every pot and pan, every canned good, every plate, saucer and cup was stacked on the wooden kitchen table that Autumn had bought just a few days before. The canned goods were on the bottom of the pile; next came the plates, then the small pans, then finally the large pans. Everything was stacked in an inverted pyramid. Circling the pyramid were the coffee cups and the glasses. Autumn could not understand why it did not topple over.
“Oh my God,” whispered Stephanie. “Autumn, how in the world could this have happened?”
“I don’t know Steph, I don’t know,” Autumn answered her voice soft and faraway.
Her eyes were glued to the table. The two women shared an incredulous look before stepping fully into the kitchen. As soon as they closed the backdoor the radio squealed on, rapidly changing stations, the volume increasing. Stephanie rushed to the radio and snapped it off. The phone ringing shattered the sudden silence. When Autumn answered it, she was greeted by loud static and popping noises.
“Hello! Hello!” she called into the phone.
Her head jerked up as loud rapping and banging noises moved along the walls. Just as suddenly as it all started it ended, plunging the kitchen into silence. The two women looked around, tensing as if waiting for the next onslaught. Conversation was kept at a minimum as the two women carefully began to put things back into the cabinets.
“Autumn, do you think it’s Jane Harbour?” Stephanie asked much later as they sat in the living room. Autumn took a deep drink from her wineglass.
“I think so.”
“I am going to call Colin again tomorrow; I think she needs to get here earlier.”
“Steph, I have never encountered anything like this before,” Autumn said a few minutes later. She still looked a little shell-shocked. As someone who was trained to be logical and analytical she was ill prepared to handle this.
“We’ll get through this baby,” Stephanie said softly moving closer to the taller woman. Autumn looked up; her eyes were full of trepidation, almost as if she were afraid to believe Stephanie.
“Yes baby, we will,” Stephanie told her firmly. She kissed Autumn soundly.
“Together?” Autumn asked her voice soft.
“Together.” Autumn looked at Stephanie, her eyes searching for something. Finally satisfied Autumn nodded and pushed herself into Stephanie’s embrace. Stephanie held the dark haired woman close to her for a long time.
* * *
Autumn woke suddenly, her eyes blinking heavily. She listened intently for whatever had woken her. It was silent. She sat up and looked around curious as to what had woken her up. The clock on the bedside table read 1:13am. Autumn looked down at Stephanie; the blonde was sleeping on her side, one fist curled under her chin. She smiled slightly, her heart full of emotion for the other woman. Autumn looked around the room again before lying back down.
Just as Autumn closed her eyes, a soft mist filled the room, the temperature in the room plunged. Autumn’s eyes snapped open. She heard footsteps coming closer to the bedroom. Her breath was a white cloud.
“Stephanie,” she said softly, gently shaking the other woman.
“Huh?” came Stephanie’s sleepy response.
“Shh, wake up,” whispered Autumn. Stephanie turned over on her back. Just as she opened her mouth to speak the bedroom door creaked open.
As the two women watched the woman in the blue gown entered and began pacing in front of the bed. She looked at a clock on the far wall. Her hands twisted in front of her. Suddenly she ran to the window and helped an unseen figure enter. The woman was surprised to see this person. They argued and then exactly how Autumn remembered it, knife blows were rained down on the woman, her throat was slit and she was stabbed again. As the two horrified women watched the vague outline went back to the window and left.
“I am definitely calling Colin in the morning,” Stephanie whispered her eyes on the still opened window.
The next morning both women were tired. After Jane’s murder the women tried to go back to sleep. Their rest was interrupted numerous times by footsteps outside the bedroom door and loud rapping noises in the wall. Sometime close to dawn the noises stopped and they had drifted off.
“Colin says she can be here on Monday,” Stephanie said early Saturday morning. The two women were in the kitchen. Autumn was drinking juice and Stephanie had a cup of coffee in front of her. Autumn nodded.
“I want to search the barn. Annie told me that Jane’s personal affects; letters, her journal and what not were packed up and stored in the attic. She didn’t think that Jane’s family in Boston had taken any of it. I have already checked the attic and it is empty. I’m hoping her stuff was stored in the barn.”
Last night Autumn told Stephanie the story that Annie had related to her that afternoon. Stephanie suggested that maybe Jane had unfinished business here and that was why she was haunting the house. She had not been ready to die and since her killer had never been brought to justice her spirit had no choice but to roam restlessly.
“Good idea, you want to get started now?”
“Sure, you still up for helping?”
“Of course, I told you we are in this together,” Stephanie reached over and took Autumn’s hand. The other woman smiled and gave Stephanie’s hand a squeeze.
“Thanks,” she whispered.
“Anytime baby, anytime,” grinned Stephanie. She reached over and kissed Autumn gently on the lips. Both women jumped when a door slammed. “I guess Jane doesn’t like it when I kiss you.”
“I guess not,” Autumn laughed self-consciously.
“Have you found anything yet?” Stephanie asked standing up to stretch out her back. She put her hands on the small of her back and bent backwards trying to work out the knot.
“No,” Autumn grumbled. “We have been at this for four hours and not found anything.”
“Well, if there is something here, I am sure we will find it.”
“Yeah,” mumbled Autumn. She stood up. “Come on let’s take a break. How about a swim?” Stephanie grinned.
“Sounds good to me. Last one in is a rotten egg!” She called out over her shoulder as she took off at a run toward the house. With a shout Autumn took off after her.
Autumn sat on the dock, letting the sun dry her off. She pushed her wet hair out of her eyes and back over her shoulder. Stephanie was still in the water, doing lazy laps. Autumn watched as the blonde cut through the water expertly. Her heart swelled with the love she felt. She never got tired of looking at the other woman. The raven haired woman smiled softly as she watched Stephanie swim. Autumn let her mind wander off to a pleasant daydream she had been having lately. A daydream of the two of them making a life in her house.
Autumn felt the skin on her neck prickle and sat up straight and looked around. She felt unseen eyes watching her. Her eyes quickly scanned the trees looking for the presence she felt. A movement on the far side of the lake caught her attention. As she watched a man stood up and quickly left, walking deeper into the trees. The area was a small tract of woods that separated Autumn’s property from the one behind. Autumn frowned as she watched the man. She shaded her eyes from the sun hoping to get a better look at him. It was probably a neighbor she thought. Ever since she had moved in, there had been people dropping by to meet her. Shrugging she looked back at the water, leaning back on her hands again. Once again her neck burned with the gaze of her watcher. Autumn sat up again and looked around.
Her attention was snapped back to the water by Stephanie’s terrified scream. Turning she saw Stephanie sink beneath the surface.
“Stephanie!” she called before diving cleanly into the water from the edge of the dock. It took her a matter of seconds to reach the spot where Stephanie went under. Taking a deep breath Autumn dove into the water. She saw Stephanie, near the bottom, struggling to rise to the surface. Autumn pushed down to her. S he could not see Stephanie clearly due to all the sediment that was rising around her. Stephanie was struggling to rise. Suddenly she stopped moving and started to sink toward the bottom. Autumn reached her, grabbed her and began to pull her upwards. Stephanie began to struggle again weakly before stopping. Autumn kicked her legs harder and they rose to the surface. It took Autumn just a few minutes to get to the shore.
“Come on Stephanie,” Autumn cried. Stephanie coughed and water came spilling out of her mouth. Autumn rolled her over to her side, almost crying with relief as Stephanie gasped for air.
“Are you okay?” Autumn asked a few minutes later.
“Yeah,” Stephanie managed; her eyes were wide and frightened as she looked out over the now calm water. “Someone grabbed my foot.” Autumn looked at the shivering woman, startled by her revelation.
“Stephanie…” Autumn began.
“Autumn, as I was swimming I felt a cold hand wrap around my ankle and pull me under!” her blue eyes begged Autumn to believe her.
Autumn pulled her close and made soothing noises as she tried to calm the woman down. Stephanie began to cry and held onto Autumn tightly, afraid to let her go.
To be continued...
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