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by Alexis Brooks de Vita
Category: Suspense/Thriller/Dark Fantasy
Description: When Eva Dennison learns that she has inherited the fallow sharecropping plantation in Mississippi that her parents fled to make a new life in L.A., she is eager to escape the big city and explore her historical roots. Eva abandons her dissertation about ancestral memory in African American literature and myth and takes with her Anastasia, her college-age daughter, and Charley, her investment broker cousin. Together, they plan to restore the old mansion and grounds and open a retreat and think-tank for activist women of the hard-hit Gulf region. But the three women's arrival at Eva's decayed mansion lands them in tragedy and terror. Eva falls in love with the troubled man researching her family's supernatural folklore about how they freed themselves from slavery. Charley thinks she's being stalked by a murderer. And beautiful Anastasia becomes enchanted by a mysterious wanderer in the woods who watches and waits for the family fairy tales to come true. Soon, Eva realizes that she must confront her family's mythical past before it destroys them all.
eBook Publisher: Double Dragon Publishing/Double Dragon Publishing, 2011 Double Dragon eBooks
eBookwise Release Date: April 2011
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [378 KB]
Reading time: 239-334 min.
WILLOW FRONDS AND WISTERIA VINES
The white Jaguar glided into the clearing as though the women had entered a sinister fairy tale. The house shuddered before them in waves of sunlight, an ancient girl-woman roused suddenly from sleep, a sphinx curled in on secrets.
I'm getting fanciful, Eva thought as she rose from her cousin's Jaguar to face the wreck of all their dreams.
Staring at the house, Eva felt that it stirred. Its unfocused gaze met her own. Light shimmered on vines parted like braids on a head thrown back to peer drowsily at her, revealing rotted planks, broken steps, and staggered bits of insect-bored wood. Willow fronds and wisteria vines framed the wisdom and ignorance that softened the house's unearthly facade.
Why do I feel I know you? The house seemed uncannily familiar to Eva, painfully charming in its degenerated state. Cockeyed with skewed windows, wild with tangled growth like sleep-matted locks, nursing unhealed wounds and hurtful secrets, the house exuded welcome, hope, and hideousness in equal measure. Clearly, it was still standing only because it was too far north to get the full blast of Hurricanes Ike or Katrina.
But what was that horrid stone growth, like a lumpy gray goiter, that met the wraparound porch on one side and scuttled like a bug toward the back?
"Welcome to Mississippi," Charley said. Eva's cousin Charlotte had slipped out of the idling car and come upon her like a wraith. Thin as a specter and silent as a ghost, was Charley.
Suddenly upright in the heavy air, Eva weaved and steadied herself against the car. When had she last eaten? She had been in such a hurry to get here, to reach the site of both their ancestry and their new beginnings, that she had worked herself into a frenzy of map-reading, catnapping, and hours behind the wheel when Charley could drive no longer.
For three days, Eva, Charley, and Eva's daughter Anastasia had trekked from Los Angeles into the Deep South. First, the Southwestern deserts burned them dry of the salty waters of their coastal birth. Then, they'd marveled all along the Atchafalaya highway at the miles of dying swampland and lingered in Louisiana, determined to feed what little revenue they could, in one day and night, into the oil-ravaged community. Now, what was left of Mississippi's vine-canopied woods, logged to aridity along the major highways, and its Blues and Civil Rights signposts the closer they got to the plantation, all called up unfamiliar memories as if from primordial waters.
Perhaps Eva could do her dissertation on ancestral memory in African American literature here, under the ever-present weight of a history of people in chains, hung from trees, blasted by rifles, gnawed by scavengers. Was this intuitive empathy what Eva's beckoning Southern ancestry had given her? Could that be what she had just thrown aside a lifetime of achievement to discover?
And how did Charley feel now that hope had slammed into reality?
Time to turn around and head back to L.A., Eva fretted. But, "It can't really be this bad," was what she said.
It was the heat, so wet and heavy. The fistful of braids that tended to migrate from the nape of her neck to a ballerina's topknot tugged at her scalp. Blood sucked empty of oxygen struggled to reach her brain. I'm going to faint, Eva thought.
"Girl, get a grip," Charley quipped, stolid as always.
What have I led them into? Eva never would have imagined abandoning everything she had worked for to chase the illusion of an ancestral home. It was Charley who had said, "Let's just go do it, Eva. My treat." As if it were a trip to the Santa Monica Pier.
So Eva had joyfully dropped it all, the lecture hall of upturned student faces and the pen-tapping, mumbling professors. She had even let go of that elusive dissertation that vanished like a mirage each time she approached it, touched it, tried to reduce it to black words on a white page. What did Eva know about ancestry? No more than she knew about her lonely, lovely daughter, whom she had just hurt once more by snatching her out of an excellent university to drag her to this mosquito-ridden backwater.
"Can we go back to earlier, more hopeful times?" Eva had asked Anastasia and Charley when she told them of her inheritance. She meant Los Angeles and its disemboweling success. Exile from the old neighborhood. Swallowed fear. The desire to flee.
Which was what they'd done. Having shot from poverty into that disillusioned class of the African American elite, the three women had come away, escaped, so to speak, in search of meaning. But what could this wreck of a plantation mansion, this disaster of history long past, possibly mean?
What could the house mean now, echoing her own questions back to Eva in its unstill repose? "Go back. More hopeful?"
"It wants us," Eva babbled. "So why do I feel like this is our last chance to get away from it?"
The exhausted city women escaping to a home they had never known were, Eva decided, the house's destiny. They had not suspected what pulled them here. But the house had known and waited. Like a lonely old lady caught unaware by visitors, the house self-consciously gathered its frayed foliage and fragmented bits. It would be rude to turn and leave just yet.
Charley had no more patience. "Say what?"
Eva felt a light touch. A hand slid around her waist. Eva turned. Of course, the embrace came from gentle Anastasia.
"Thank you, Anastasia," her mother said. "I needed that."
Anastasia's voice was a whisper. "Let's get you out of this heat. You don't look all right."
Charley said, "You're dizzy as a betsy bug, Eva. You haven't eaten more than three bites together in as many days. In this heat, that can't be healthy. Let's go get us some grub. Everything'll look better on a full stomach. Even this nonsense."
Eva sensed real rage boiling up. Nonsense, Charley called it. Really, there was no answering Charley sometimes. No dealing with her, either. "I'm not hungry. You go ahead."
"Oh, come on, Eva. You know that gas station we passed at the turn-off from the main road to come here? I bet they have some of that downhome food out of somebody's grandmama's kitchen that you've developed such a taste for." Charley's tone took on the smile that Eva refused to turn and see. "Some of that peach and rhubarb cobbler? Or maybe that fried okra dripping with green pepper sauce?"
Anastasia laughed. It was true that, the deeper South the women had ventured, the more their tastes had leapt to embrace wildly regional foods their minds could not remember.
To lighten her discouraged mood, Eva bantered back. "Or maybe some of that alligator sausage you took such a liking to in Baton Rouge. I swear, Charley, I didn't think we'd ever get you away from that Cajun fisherman. And don't tell me it was money and a job he was looking for, from you."
The palpable pain that shot across Charley's face and left it shut against her shocked Eva. What had Charley heard in the meaningless tease?
Anastasia stepped in to pacify aunt and mother. "I'll go with you, Aunt Charley." She slid onto the Jaguar's back seat.
Charley balked. "She's going? What does that mean? We're all going. I know you don't think I'm leaving you here alone."
Eva shook her head. "Charley, thank you for trying to save me from this moment. But you know perfectly well I did this to us, and I'm going to have to assess the situation on my own."
Charley snorted. The sound was profoundly rude and jarred Eva out of her slump. "As-sess," Charley hissed. "You blew it. What else is there to as-sess?"
Eva had to admit that this was a down-to-earth, admirably healthy approach to the mess she had landed them in. And she should be counting her blessings that Charley initiated it. As the financial backer of this misadventure, Charley had arguably the most right to be upset.
As an investment broker, Charley not only understood money but had amassed a worth that translated into what seemed a constant supply of cash and bargaining clout. It was always Charley who made it seem they could do almost anything.
Maybe this was a hopeful sign.