A Year of gifts
SOMETIMES THE ROADBLOCKS, SETBACKS, AND HEARTBREAKS OF LIFE TURN OUT TO BE THE GREATEST GIFTS OF ALL . . .
With Halloween fast approaching, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to dream up a short ghost story. Much of my fiction series, Celia’s Gifts, takes place at a family-owned Minnesota lake resort. Even my newest holiday book, Capturing Wishes, kicks off at a Halloween party out at Whispering Pines. There is a legend of two young ghost boys that keeps popping up in my books, so I thought it was fitting to have two of the kids sneak outside and see if they couldn’t find the alleged ghosts. Because everyone deserves one good scare on Halloween:
"Don’t tell Mom, but that movie was lame,” Logan said, motioning toward the credits rolling up the television screen. He directed his comment toward Dave, his twelve-year-old brother. Their two younger brothers, Jake and Noah, had been asleep since halfway through Beetlejuice, the DVD their mother had picked up for them to watch once the party games were done and everyone else would want to visit. The sleeping boys were sprawled out on the round braided rug on the floor in front of the screen. Someone was snoring softly, clearly worn out from the evening’s festivities.
Dave snorted, glancing up from his phone screen. “I suppose you think you could do better.”
“I know this film is supposed to be a classic, but, yeah, I think I could do better. You wouldn’t believe the monsters that roam around in my head.”
“Oh, I can believe it,” Dave said, sounding bored with the whole conversation. “Let’s go upstairs, see what Robbie and Nathan and the girls are doing.”
Boring, Logan thought. Sitting around with his older cousins and their friends sounded nearly as dull as joining the adults out in the kitchen where he knew they’d be discussing something like weather or politics. Ugh. “Come on, Dave, this is supposed to be a Halloween party,” he whined. “ I don’t want to sit around. I know why you really want to go upstairs. You think that new girl that came tonight, you know, Aunt Jess’s boyfriend’s daughter, is cute. But she’s like fourteen and way out of your league, bro.”
The way Dave squirmed at his words confirmed to Logan that he’d been right about his brother’s real reason for wanting to go upstairs.
“Do you have a better idea, then?” the older boy asked.
Logan, the most daring of the four brothers, slowly grinned. “Why don’t we go outside and see if we can find the two ghost boys everybody talks about. You know, the ones they say roam around out here at Whispering Pines, Albert and Arthur.”
“You love that old ghost story, don’t you?” Dave said with a shake of his head. “You realize it’s all crap, right? Something someone dreamed up to scare little kids around the campfire?”
Shrugging, Logan stood. “Probably, but I want to write a screenplay about the old legend. Wouldn’t that be cool? We could sneak out, maybe get some creepy footage on our phones. No one would even know we were gone.”
He saw Dave glance toward a window, an uncertain look on his face.
“What’s the matter, big brother, are you scared?”
“Yeah, right,” Dave said, pushing up off the couch he’d been stretched out on and picking his hooded sweatshirt off the floor where he’d dropped it earlier. “Let’s go find you some little ghost boys, but if either of them wakes up and tells Mom or Dad, we’re gonna get it.”
Logan headed quietly for the door, knowing Dave was right. If either of the two younger brats found out they’d ducked outside, they’d be raking leaves the whole next day as punishment.
The boys tiptoed to the front of the old lodge and went outside through the front door. Icy pellets pricked their faces, driven by gusts of harsh wind. One solitary street light cast a mellow glow over a corner of the gravel parking lot, leaving the rest in deep shadows. Hulking shapes of parked cars and pickups reminded them they weren’t alone, although the moan of the wind and tick ticking of tiny beads of ice were the only sound.
“Perfect Halloween setting,” Logan said with delight, skidding to a stop on the gravel and pulling out his phone. “Look how cool those tall pine trees look against the night sky, swaying like that. It’s like frigging skeletons dancing.”
Dave stopped a step behind him. “You are twisted. It’s freezing out here. If I’d known it was sleeting, I wouldn’t have let you talk me into this.”
Logan saw Dave glance back toward the lodge. He hadn’t realized the weather was quite this bad either, but he had a feeling he could get some inspiration for his story out here, wandering around between the dark cabins. He didn’t really believe in ghosts, but if they did exist, this would be the type of night you’d likely stumble across them.
“Come on, don’t be a pansy. Let’s go,” Logan said, walking briskly toward the corner of the lodge toward the sidewalk that would lead them into the heart of the dark resort. He held his breath as he entered the shadows, hoping Dave would follow. He couldn’t hear his brother’s footsteps behind him, but Dave was probably testing him, so he kept going.
They’d spent enough time out at the resort lately that he didn’t need much light to know where he was going, which was lucky because clouds were blocking most of the moonlight. The flashlight beam from Logan’s phone only revealed a couple of feet of the ground in front of him as he walked. Only family and a few friends were out at Whispering Pines tonight. There were no guests renting cabins. It was getting late in the season.
He must have passed Dave’s test and walked slow enough because his brother was suddenly at his side.
“What exactly are we looking for out here?” he asked, his face shrouded by the hood of his sweatshirt. Not that Logan could see much of him in the deep gloom.
“Don’t know,” he answered honestly. “I wanted to feel what it would be like to walk around out here in the dark on Halloween. Feel my blood pump a little faster, experience whether or not we could even see anything back here. It’s hard to write about this if you’ve never experienced it.”
He heard his brother grunt beside him, unsure if Dave was agreeing with him or suspecting he was nuts. Maybe a little of both.
They continued on, passing the cold, dead fire pit in the gloom.
“A s’more would sure taste good about now,” Dave said, although Logan knew there was no way his brother could be hungry. They’d been eating since they’d gotten to the Halloween party. But Dave had a point. There was nothing like a hot, gooey marshmallow, smashed between a chocolate bar and graham crackers in front of a roaring campfire. The thought of it made the gloom of this night even more pronounced.
They were now far enough away from the lodge and the party that all was dark back here.
Somewhere, an owl hooted, the unexpected sound causing both boys to jump. A hand grabbed Logan’s upper arm.
“Come on, Logan, this is stupid. Wandering around out here in the dark. I’m freezing. We aren’t going to find anything out here. You can’t even film. It’s too dark.”
Logan shook Dave’s hand off his arm. “Not yet. I’m telling you, Dave, I feel something out here.”
“You feel something? Give me a break, bro.”
“Don’t you think it’s cool out here?” Logan asked, doing his best to make out the dim shapes along the edge of the lawn, where the woods encroached close behind a small cabin in front of them. Logan knew his family called this the Grey Cabin. There was something off about the little structure. It was the only place at the resort that made him feel somehow weird anytime he’d been inside of it, which wasn’t often. But he sensed something bad had happened there, a long time ago.
“Fine, ten more minutes,” Dave reluctantly agreed. “Tell you what. I’ll give you five bucks if you walk into the woods back there and sit down on the ground, by yourself, for like ten minutes. That should give you plenty of feels.”
“Like you’ve got five bucks,” Logan shot back, half hoping his brother didn’t have the money to make good on a bet like that.
“Matter of fact I do have it, right here,” his brother replied, waving a five-dollar-bill he must have pulled out of a pocket in front of Logan’s phone light. “Come on, I dare you.”
Dang, Logan thought, no longer feeling quite so brave. The owl hooted again, and the wind sighed through the trees, high above their heads. There was no way he could pass on Dave’s dare. He’d never hear the end of it.
“Yep, ten minutes. I’ll just sit here on the steps of the Grey Cabin and wait for you.”
Logan wasn’t sure which was worse. Sitting on the steps in front of that creepy cabin, all alone in the dark, or in the woods.
“Fine. Set the timer on your phone so you can’t accuse me of cheating. Yell when time’s up,” Logan ordered, then set off across the grass towards the edge of the trees, leaves crunching and rustling under his feet. Dave was right, this would be a good way to find some inspiration.
Logan reminded himself he was heading into the dark woods alone to find inspiration for his story, and not just because Dave bet him five bucks he couldn’t do it. He walked about twenty feet into the trees and found an old log on its side. He sat gingerly, testing whether the log could hold his weight, then settled down with a deep breath. He could do this. He could prove to his brother that he wasn’t afraid. Dave didn’t need to know his heart was nearly beating out of his chest. His phone slipped out of his sweaty hand, falling into the leaves around his feet.
He bent over, fishing blindly through the leaves for his phone, and grimaced when his fingers grazed something cold and squishy. He bit his lip to keep from whimpering. Just a dead plant, he assured himself, sitting back up straight, phone again clutched tightly in his hand. He turned off his flashlight, committed to getting the full experience of sitting in the dark woods, all alone on a stormy night, a few days before Halloween.
As he sat, the darkness lessened ever so slightly. High above, glimpses of broken clouds were visible through dense tree limbs and tall pines. A few errant moonbeams broke through, illuminating small circles of the forest around him. Behind him, something rustled through the leaves, but he barely flinched. It was surely a small animal, nothing to be worried about. He closed his eyes, focusing on how he felt sitting alone. He could feel the rough bark under his butt, and something poked his ankle through his sock. Probably a stick. With his eyes closed, he could listen without distraction. The wind sighed, and he thought he could hear something else. A whisper of laughter, out of place in the woods. Fighting the urge to open his eyes, he forced himself to focus. This was why he’d come outside; to see what his imagination would conjure up. A slight murmur, almost like voices, reached his ears, but no matter how hard he strained to make out the words, whatever he was hearing was too faint.
“This is good stuff,” he whispered out loud, his own words echoing back at him. Eyes closed, he could imagine two young boys, standing near, watching him as he sat quietly on his log. They’d be wearing old fashioned play clothes, a slight glow making them visible through the darkness. Would they want him to play, anxious for a new playmate after years of having only each other in these deep, dark woods?
Oh yeah, I could write a movie about this, Logan thought to himself, feeling only excitement now.
“Logan, Logan,” a boyish voice whispered in his ear. An icy finger touched his neck, and he shot up off his log, spinning to see what was behind him, sure Dave had snuck up in the dark while his mind was busy formulating what he’d write. But there was no one there. Nothing but branches and trees, creating a maze of crazy lines. He lowered the beam from his phone, shutting off his flashlight. There, behind his fallen log, was a smudge of something, probably a trick of the moonlight through the trees. He pulled his phone back up and held down the photo button, taking several shots in quick succession.
“All right, you little creep, you did it,” Dave’s voice rang through the woods to reach him. “Come on out. It’s been ten minutes.”
Logan started to turn away, but stopped, again straining his eyes to see the area behind the tree. If there had been something there before, a breath of fog maybe, it was gone. With a sigh, he turned back toward Dave’s voice. While he’d never admit it to anyone, he was more than a little spooked.
What had he felt on the back of his neck? That had not been his imagination.
“I can’t believe you actually did that,” Dave said, jumping off the middle step in front of the Grey Cabin onto the grass as Logan approached.
Logan snatched the bill out of his brother’s outstretched hand, hoping Dave wouldn’t notice how his own hand trembled. “Course I did it,” he replied, trying to sound braver than he felt. “Piece of cake. You said it yourself. That old ghost story is just crap. But sitting there, I got some good ideas for my movie.”
He could see Dave shaking his head through the gloom. “You are nuts.”
“Probably,” Logan replied, heading back toward the lodge. Dave fell into step behind him. As they got closer, lights glowed out the windows. Inside, he knew there was still plenty of conversation and life. Sitting out there in the woods, he’d begun to feel incredibly lonely. He hadn’t liked the feeling at all. He gave his whole body a quick shake as if that would dispel the sensation.
Up ahead, he caught a blur of movement pass by one of the upstairs windows. He pointed, turning toward Dave. “Think we can scare them?”
Dave stopped walking, following the line of Logan’s finger. “How?”
Logan stepped off the sidewalk once again, this time walking over to a nearby tree. The ground underneath was littered with fallen crab apples. He gathered a hand full and walked back to where Dave stood, looking up at the upstairs window. “With these.”
Dave looked down at what he held in his hands, a grin spreading over his features. “Turn your phone off, or they might see us,” he ordered, taking a few small apples out of Logan’s hand.
“Not too hard,” Logan warned. “They’ll kill us if we break a window.”
Dave rolled a tiny apple between his thumb and index finger. “Nah, these little things won’t break the glass.”
Logan watched as his brother, a better baseball player than himself, wound up and whipped an apple towards the window. They couldn’t see where it hit, but they could hear a tiny thud.
“Dang, I think I missed,” Dave said, trying again.
Three tries later, they could see one of the apples against the light from the window, and it sounded different when it hit. They both held their breath, but nothing else happened.
“Here, let me try,” Logan said, mimicking Dave’s actions. His apple hit the window square. Suddenly, a black silhouette filled the left half of the window. Someone was looking out. The boys froze, hoping they wouldn’t be spotted. The silhouette stayed there for a minute as if searching for something, and then it disappeared from the glow of the window.
Dave slapped Logan’s hand, making him drop the few remaining tiny apples.
“Come on,” he whispered, taking off in a tip-toe jog back toward the corner of the lodge. “We gotta go before someone sees us.”
Logan took a minute to kick the fallen apples into the grass. He turned slowly around, taking one last look across the deserted resort. Just before he’d spun all the way around, something caught his eye, a trick of the light perhaps, back near the Gray Cabin. A grin spread across his face. Their little excursion out into the woods had been worth it.
He’d found more than a little inspiration during their little late-night adventure across the darkened resort. He’d found Arthur and Albert.
Did this little story remind you of how fun Halloween can be? Did the idea of seeking out a delicious little scare ever have you heading to a haunted house or a corn maze? Purposefully scaring ourselves isn’t for everyone, but it can be part of the appeal of Halloween. How much money would it take to get you to sit in the dark woods, alone, on a stormy night? Especially if that night was Halloween?
The four boys in the story above will play a bigger role in the next book I’m writing in my series. Val, their mother, has her hands full, but she’s more than capable of handling the chaos.
But you won’t have to wait much longer for Capturing Wishes – A Whispering Pines Christmas Novel. My latest book will be available in early November. Stay tuned!
If you are a fan of Halloween, I hope you enjoy the festivities this week, even if it’s just handing out candy to little ghosts and goblins. Otherwise, keep your front porch light off and curl up with a good book. It’s the perfect time for books, blankets, and cocoa. Kim
p.s. If you haven’t yet read my free novella where Albert and Arthur first appear, join my Reading Club today, and your free story will appear in your email inbox.
I read somewhere once that to survive, we humans need to change, just like the seasons. This is a powerful and accurate analogy, but when change happens too fast, sometimes all at once, it can weigh us down and make us feel overwhelmed.
Here, in North Dakota, we enjoy four distinct seasons, although the beauty of both fall and spring can feel too short. October often brings beautiful weather, but the past few days have been nothing short of ridiculous around here. I think Mother Nature might have gotten her months mixed up.
Normally, the days can still be warm, evenings cool, and the landscape can be vivid with color. On Wednesday, I took a walk in the park near my office and enjoyed our typical autumn splendor. Leaves on some of the trees were changing, offering warm golds and bright reds and oranges, providing a striking contrast to the green leaves remaining on other trees. The grass was a brilliant green yet, given how wet it’s been, the sky was a vivid blue, and some hearty flowers were still blooming.
Few leaves had fallen from the trees yet. A man was mowing the grass, and squirrels were scampering everywhere. I mean everywhere. One skipped right across the walking path in front of me, and when I looked around for more, I counted at least ten squirrels within thirty feet of where I walked, all digging and scurrying around, as if preparing. They didn’t need to hear the weather forecast to know change was in the air.
Tuesday was a balmy 70 degrees. It felt like summer. Wednesday, when I walked, was still a very pleasant, “fallish” day with a high of 66 degrees. But those squirrels were smart to prepare. By Thursday, the high was only 37 degrees, and predicted rain had arrived. We’ve had too much moisture lately. The ground is saturated. The river behind our house is well out of its banks (thank goodness for permanent dike protection), and the ditches in front are full of water. As the temperature continued its downward slide, rain turned first to ice, and then to snow. Overnight, winter arrived.
Three different seasons over three days: summer, fall, and winter.
I was home alone this weekend, enjoying lots of quality writing time. Most of it has been spent preparing my new holiday novel for publication, and the irony of an early snowstorm raging outside isn’t lost on me.
But there was a problem. Guess what happens when heavy, wet snow falls, and the leaves and bushes still have all their leaves? You guessed it. Those leaves catch the ice and snow, and the weight of it all creates tremendous stress. I hated the thought of broken limbs and damaged trees.
I decided to give Mother Nature a hand. Even she can be unprepared for change sometimes. Out I went, into the early evening dusk with my handy broom. When I think of fall, I think of cozy sweaters and cute boots. My reality was more like a dorky stocking hat, an old raincoat, and my trusty, baby blue water boots. There was nothing cute about my ensemble, and I know I looked slightly ridiculous, using my broom to knock as much of the weight off the trees and bushes as I could. All was quiet, except for the constant whoosh of the wind and the faintest of sounds made by the icy snow. I’m only 5’2” so higher limbs were out of luck, but I gave it my best shot.
It helped, but more snow fell overnight. When I looked out in the morning, I was worried I hadn’t been able to do enough to prevent damage. I was determined to do what I could, so out I went again with my trusty broom, not knowing how soon the temperature would rise above freezing again.
The picture on the left was taken Friday evening, the one on the right Saturday morning (same tree):
I couldn’t help but think, as I tried to remove as much of the heavy snow as I could, how this storm so closely mirrored life. When we have to endure too much change, too quickly, it can all feel overwhelming. We can feel weighed down by a sense of hopelessness. When this happens, we need to ask for help. There are people out there that can help with our burdens. Maybe it’s a family member who can help us out with childcare or taking care of an aging parent. Many people experience this overlapping of seasons. Or you may be experiencing lots of change in other parts of your life.
As I knocked the heavy snow from leaves and limbs, it was as if the trees sighed in relief, their branches lifting toward the sky when released from their burdens. While there was plenty I couldn’t reach with my broom, often the limbs closest to the ground bore the most weight. I had plenty of plops of snow hit me square in my face, and I hoped no one was watching, but I was able to make a difference.
The crack of splintering wood did vibrate through the air as I was beating off the snow. A tree down the street wasn’t able to withstand the weight.
The lilac bushes were easier to deal with, and quickly sprung back up.
Change is inevitable, and we should prepare for the unknown as best we can, but sometimes even the best planning won’t be enough. Usually, trees lose their leaves before the first heavy snowfall, and the precipitation falls harmlessly to the ground. But when things don’t happen in the expected order or too much happens at once, we shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help.
And we have to trust that things will work out. The storm provided me with one more example of this.
A large tree did fall over in our backyard, unable to withstand the force of the wind and ice. But here’s the thing. We suspected the tree was rotten inside, and it needed to come out. The plan was to cut it down once the ground was frozen, carefully lowering it so it wouldn’t damage surrounding trees or structures. But without any human intervention at all, the storm laid that dead tree over perfectly, sending it backward, toward the river instead of the house, and it fell straight back, sparing the surrounding trees from any damage. I never even heard it fall (so I still don’t know the answer to the age-old question: if a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, did it even make a sound?)
All that’s left is cutting up the wood and hauling it away (I won’t be doing that on my own!)
I do love the month of October. It is a month where we often have a foot in two different seasons, a transition month. It mirrors life, where things are constantly changing. We navigate change best when we prepare for it as much as we can, don’t fight the process, and either ask for or provide help to others as needed.
And since we are only a couple of weeks from Halloween, I couldn’t help but think of my favorite t-shirt I like to wear on the 31st of every October, while I was using my broom to beat the heavy snow off the trees and bushes outside. I guess my broom has many uses!
October comes with a ghost of change in the air. Watch for it, and stay warm. Kim
Hello everyone and welcome to my blog! My name is Kimberly Diede and I'm a self-published fiction author and family girl. When time permits, I am happiest with a great cup of coffee in one hand and a book in the other. I love to alternate between reading and writing. Winters here can be long, dark and cold. Summers are unpredictable, lovely and always too short. Every season of the year, as in every season of life, is a gift. Let's celebrate it together!