Friday, August 31, 2012

Ante Mortem by Ellie Anderson

Chapter 15


“Oh, my God!”  Della gasped and startled Steve.

They’d been on the couch in silence for about 45 minutes.  Steve looked up from his crossword puzzle that was lying across the desk she had so lovingly created with her feet on his lap as she lounged and read.

Della sat up and pulled her feet in towards herself and nearly dropped the handful of papers in her hand as she leaned in towards Steve to show him what she’d found.

“I can’t believe this.”

“Well… spill it.”

“These papers.  The ones that Mr. Rondel sent over from the Midvalley Museum.  Look at this article.”

Steve took the paper from her and began to read.

Midvalley Times

July 23, 1917

The community of Midvalley has suffered yet another tragedy surrounding the Jansen family. 

Cy Jansen  was viciously attacked and killed by an angry mob earlier this week while in the custody and care of Sheriff Colburn.

Sheriff Colburn reports that mayhem and chaos ensued when his office suddenly  flooded with people demanding justice for Ivy and Mary (Mr. Jansen’s’ child and wife, who had recently passed and it was for Ivy’s death that he was being held, awaiting trial).  Sheriff Colburn was caught unawares by a blow to the head and when he came to, found himself on the floor facing  the open door and he spotted Mr. Jansen’s  body in the street,  broken and bloody.

This most unfortunate circumstance may finally bring an end to the controversy surrounding the unexplained death of Ivy and the dreadful passing of his wife, Mary, who apparently saw fit to take her life in the aftermath of the child’s death.

Mr. Jansen is survived by his parents, who, shortly after burying their son next to their daughter-in-law and granddaughter, began making arrangements to relocate to a neighboring state where they will remain for a time with family members.

Charges are not expected at this time as the identity of the mob members remains unknown.

“Well, what do you make of this?”

“I think that journalism has come a long way since 1917.”

“Oh, stop.  I’m serious.”

“I don’t know.  Back up the truck.  Beep.  Beep.”  Steve made an ‘exits-are-to-the-back-of-the-plane’ hand gesture and sighed.  “I’m still processing your whole experience with the ghost hunters and I’m having a hard time discerning what is fact and what is fiction.”

“What I experienced is not fiction!”  Della was impatient and began talking. “Mary killed Ivy; Cy got blamed.   Mary killed Mary; Cy got blamed.  He went to his grave with everybody thinking he killed his child.    His parents were ostracized and they left.”

“Sounds like a plausible theory.”

“Oh, stop being such a prosecutor.  Let loose.  Let’s have some fun.  I know… let’s go to the cemetery and see if we can find their graves!”

“Right now?”  Steve’s eyes were popping out of his head.

“Yes, right now.  Come on, it’ll be fun.”

“It’s called trespassing, State Code 76-6-206.  It’s called illegal.

“Oh, come on… it’s a cemetery with a puny little two-foot tall brick wall around it.  How can it be illegal when it’s so easy to get into?  And I’ve never seen any “no trespassing” signs.  And besides, it’s owned by the county and we pay taxes here in this fine county… "They both chuckled at the inside joke.  More often than not when Della asked how his day was going, he would respond by saying that he was “living the American dream, serving the citizens of this fine county, getting paid more than he deserves."

“…so don’t we kind of own it?  You can’t trespass on your own property.  Come on, come on!  I’ve got your back!  I’ve got connections!  I know people.”  She playfully poked him in the ribs.

"Just because you got away with it last Halloween when you took CJ and his friends up there to try to scare them, doesn’t mean you’ll get away with it this time.  Besides, it’s almost midnight."

“Sometimes it’s just fun to do things that are kinda naughty.  And since you won’t ever go toilet papering with me, you can make it up to me by taking me to the cemetery.”

“Young lady…you will be the death of me.”  He exhaled with a smile on his face, grabbed her shoulders and kissed her on the mouth.

“Bring your camera.”

“It’s already in the car.”

“I’ll grab a flashlight.  Whoo-hoo!  Let’s go, my leetle partner een crime.”

“Really?  A French accent?  It ruins the mystery.”

“How ‘bout a southern belle?"

“That’ll do.”

They were both grinning like kids as they hurried out the front door.


“Over here.  These are the older ones.”  Della weaved in and out of the headstones and was able to quickly read some of the inscriptions by the moonlight.  She turned on her flashlight to look more closely as she neared the area where she suspected she would find the Jansen family.

“How do you know that?”

“I spend a lot of time here.  At least I used to.  I came here a lot during college to read.  I think it’s peaceful and beautiful… the mixture of nature and the architecture of the stones.  It amazes me and I love to imagine what the people’s lives were like.  You know, a lot of historians use cemetery information to re-create history.  They can draw conclusions about disasters or epidemics or whatnot, based on the information on the headstones.  Maybe we’ll learn more about the Jansens when we find their markers.”

“Are headstones really at people’s heads or are they placed over the center of the casket or at the foot?”

“I don’t know.”

“When my grandma died, I swear they put her headstone where her feet were.  I’m just going by memory, but it didn’t seem like it was placed at her head.  Why are they always facing east?”

“I don’t know.  Actually, they’re not always that way.  Over at the Winder cemetery, some of the graves face southwest.”

“I’m not even going to ask…not going there, little miss.”  He grabbed her hand and they walked from marker to marker, stopping only for Steve to take pictures when he jokingly announced that he felt “something.”  The only “something” he was feeling was his urge to poke fun at her and try to make her to laugh.

Steve was an  accomplished amateur photographer and his new digital camera was bigger than Della thought a digital camera could ever be and it was loaded with features.  After fiddling with some of the gadgets, they reviewed some of the photos as they moved closer to the center of the cemetery and Steve pointed out some odd things in a couple of shots.

Mary playfully scoffed, “Oh, those are just orbs, or sometimes bugs.  I don’t give much merit to those.  It’s usually just the reflection off of moisture or wings or dust or something.”  Della sounded very sure of herself.

“Where’d you hear that?  Ghost U?”

“Ghost Hunters.  Duh.”

They continued in silence, the dry grass crunching under their feet.  It had been weeks since it had rained and apparently, the sprinkler systems weren’t enough this year to keep the lawns lush and green.

“Oh, dear Lord!   Here it is.”  Della stumbled over the tip of her own foot and when she’d caught her balance, she shone the light on the tiny, worn headstone with the baby lamb carved across the top.  The inscription had eroded and was barely legible.

Ivy L. Jansen
b. 1916
Beloved daughter of Cyrus and Mary

 “Can you take a picture of this?”


Mary was to the right of Ivy and Cy was to the left.

“It doesn’t seem right that Cy should be buried so close to them.  It’s so weird to think that almost a hundred years ago, people stood at this very site and attended their funerals.  People probably never imagined that all these years later, someone would be standing here thinking about them and imagining them.  Do you think they had all this grass back then?”  Steve was finally getting into the spirit of the night.

“Well, well, well, my leetle friend… I do believe you are becoming a convert and no, I don’t think they had grass back then.  I think when the county bought the adjoining property for more space, they upgraded and landscaped the whole thing.”

“Seriously, how do you know that?  Maybe you need a hobby.  Actually, I’m getting a little creeped out and I want to get out of here before we get caught.  I can just see the headlines now… ‘Deputy District Attorney and paralegal Arrested in Cemetery:  Body Snatching Plan Thwarted.’  Imagine the scandal -gasp- not to mention our secret would be out.”

“Would that really be so bad?”  Della unexpectedly burped and didn’t have much chance to cover it up.

“That was attractive.”

“Thanks.  I’ve always been known for my genteel and delicate nature.” 

“Let me get a couple more shots and then let’s get out of here.”

They leaned their heads together to look at the screen as they walked back towards the car.

“Wait.  Go back one.  No, one more.”

Steve complied and Della slipped her arm through his.

“What’s that?  Right there.”

“Don’t touch the screen with your finger.”

Della tapped on the screen to zoom in and drag the photo to the right.

“Right here.  Tell me that’s not a person.”

“It’s not a person.  It’s a shadow.  Probably from a tree.”

“No, look here.”  She dragged her finger on the screen and outlined the “shadow.”

Steve cringed and decided to not say anything.

“Here’s a bonnet, and a shoulder and a bent elbow and the outline of a skirt… like a woman’s trying to hide behind that tree.  She’s even glowing a bit.”

“I don’t see it and you just want to see it.  It might be the moonlight shining through some of the trees.  We’ll put it on the computer when we get back home and we’ll be able to see it better.”  He paused and Della remained intent on the screen.  “And the answer is no.”

“Look closer.  Right here.”  She paused and looked into his face.  “What do you mean, no?”

“The answer.  To your question.”

A spotlight from the opposite side of the cemetery appeared behind them and pierced its way through the trees, the bushes and the headstones.  Della saw the light shining on Steve’s shirt sleeve.

They both drew in a sharp breath at exactly the same time.  Their eyes opened wide and Steve whisper-screamed, “RUN!  It’s the cops!”

By the time they reached the car and sped away, they were laughing heartily and their gleeful naughtiness could not be denied, not even in Steve.


A figure in a bonnet and a long skirt stepped behind a tree and disappeared as Detective Ashram shone his spotlight around one last time; certain now that there were no rabble- rousers running around. 

He shifted his car into reverse and refocused his attention from the cemetery to the train station where a pedestrian had just been killed by a commuter train.  He drew the short straw for being on call that night but the good news was this would be his first case as lead investigator, so he wasn’t going to complain. 

Damn.  A cup of coffee sounded good.  If he hurried, he could pick one up at the corner convenience store and still reach the scene before the crime scene techs. 

The figure in the bonnet peeked out from behind the tree as he left and slowly evaporated into the night.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Ante Mortem by Ellie Anderson

Chapter 14


“Sweet mother of God, child!  Say something!”  Cy’s mother slapped Mary then clasped her hands together.  

“You haven’t spoken for days!”   Her aged jowls trembled and there was no mistaking the panic in her eyes.

Mary held tightly to the bar of the holding cell and shifted her gaze from Cy towards Mother Anders.  She lifted her free hand to cover her cheek and calm the stinging.

The sheriff had stepped out of the building when the Anders family arrived.  He assured them that he’d be right outside and they would be safe.  Cy’s father was planted on a chair by the furthest wall.  His elbows were on his knees and he held his head in his hands.  Mary could see only the top of his head and she fleetingly wondered what he might be thinking.

It was no secret that the town was restless and on every corner and every front porch and every stool in the town tavern, there was talk of people taking the law into their own hands.

“Son, I don’t know how we’re going to do it, but we’ll get this sorted out.”  Mother Anders pressed her face into the space between the bars and closed her eyes.  “I know you didn’t do anything and your father knows you are innocent and if this silly wife of yours would speak up, everyone would know that you had nothing to do with this.”  She turned her attention back towards Mary and dropped her hands from the bars.

“This is all your fault!”  A tiny droplet of saliva landed on Mary’s chin and she wiped it away with the back of her hand.

“If you had managed your family properly, girl, then Cy wouldn’t have gotten a wild hair for Denver and he wouldn’t have been making plans to go away and he wouldn’t be stuck in this hell hole while you sit in that rocker all day and do nothing to help him!  This is my son!  My baby!  You stupid girl!  Say something!  I can’t lose my baby!”  She started to weep, turned her attention back to Cy, grabbed the bars and nestled her face back into the steel cradle.

“Mary?  Please…for God’s sake talk to me.  They’re going to kill me unless you do something, unless you tell them I didn’t do it,” Cy pleaded.

“It’s no use, Cy.  This girl is useless.  She’s always been useless.  Never done you a lick of good and never will.  Your father will take care of this and you can come home with us.  There’ll be no more talk of killing or Denver or anything else.  You will soon be home with us and everything will be just fine."

Mary gazed gently at Cy and held back tears as she thought of her home and all the dreams that she’d lost over the years.  Things would not be fine.  Not ever.  How had it all come to this?  There would be no escape from this nightmare.  Not in this town or the next town or the town after that.  She would never have the husband or the family she dreamed of.

Mary turned to leave.  Cy and his mother paused and shifted their attention from each other to Mary as they watched her shuffle across the room towards the front door. 

“Where are you going?”

Mary stopped and turned around to smile softly at Cy.

“Why… I’m going home.”

“Don’t mind her, Cy.  Let her go.  We are a family and we can handle this as a family.  She’s not part of this family.  Especially now that she’s turned her back on you and won’t lift a finger to right this wrong.  I never liked her.  Remember, Cy?  Remember how I told you she’d never be any good for you?  She’s the one that should be inside this cell, not you and I will die making sure that she pays for taking you away from me!”

“Ma, shut up!”

“Don’t talk to me like that!  I’m your mother and I’m the only one you got now.  There ain’t no love in the world like a mama’s love and that love, not hers, is going to save you and keep you here in Midvalley.

Mary heard the arguing muffle as she closed the door behind her.  She looked back through the glass as Cy’s father, who was still planted on the chair, turned his head to the side just long enough for his eyes to meet Mary’s as she walked past the window of the sheriff’s office towards home.


Mary rocked in the chair by the parlor stove until it was dark and thought about Cy.  She didn’t much care what happened to him but she was angry enough to let her mind wander and fantasize, almost gleefully, about what people would say about him when she was gone.  Oh, the chaos would be sweet.  Would they say he drove her to madness?  Surely they would become even more enraged towards him when they learned how despondent his wife was over the loss of their child…when they learned that she had stopped speaking altogether and didn’t seem quite right in the head any longer.  She could almost taste the wild stories that would spread about him.  Serve him right, she thought.

She stood up and propped one of her feet up on the seat of the rocking chair.

Mary would be the perfectly distraught mother and no one would ever know what really happened as long as she kept her pretty little mouth shut.

She grabbed the back of the rocking chair and brought her other foot up to the seat.  There was an awkward moment as she caught her balance and stretched upwards toward the ceiling beam.

She could see the headlines.  Desperate mother.  Monster father.  It was the perfect way to get back at him and make him pay for the love and affection he had robbed her of.

One single tear caught in the inner corner of her eye let loose and fell as she slipped the rope around her neck and stepped off the chair.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Ante Mortem by Ellie Anderson

Chapter 13


“Della can coordinate the paperwork and she’ll call you as soon as the warrant’s ready,” Steve promised Detectives Franks and Ashram.

Della had been quiet during the meeting as the three men discussed the medical examiner’s final report and decided the fate of Baby Bea’s killer.

“Cause of death, asphyxiation.  Manner of death, homicide.  Time of death during the time that Dad, excuse me, I mean boyfriend, is the only one at home with the kid.  All our ducks are finally in a row.”  Franks leaned back in the chair and straightened his tie as it slipped to the side of his belly.  The hours of interviews and forensics review that he had put in on this case had taken their toll.  Franks was ready to retire and he expected this case to be his swan song.  The relief showed on his face that this arrest warrant was finally going to be issued.

The most interesting fact of the case had been discovering that the dad wasn’t really Bea’s dad but Mom’s boyfriend.   The general thought (joke) around the office when a child died suspiciously, that it was always the boyfriend that did it.  In fact, the joke had become so pervasive that it spilled over into all sorts of crimes.  Forgery?  The boyfriend did it.  Vehicle theft?  The boyfriend did it. 

Even in this day and age, there was a general, though mistaken, belief that mothers couldn’t kill their kids.  It happened occasionally and even the “old schoolers” of the bunch had a hard time believing it even when the evidence was overwhelming.

The scenario was usually the same, time after time.  Single working mom.  No support system.  She hooks up with loser boyfriend who volunteers to watch the kid while the mom goes off and slaves away to make a living.  A living that starts to support his drug, alcohol  or gaming habit.  Eventually… usually sooner than later… the guy gets frustrated with the inevitable fussiness that comes with all children and boyfriend offs the kid because he can’t stand the crying (or it’s interfering with the newest version of his Cop Killer III  video game).

“Guys, I know that I’m no detective and I’m no prosecutor… but I’m wondering if we spent enough time looking at the mom.”  Della could tell by the awkward atmosphere that no one was interested in what she had to say and she wished desperately that she hadn’t waited so long to say anything.  Not that she expected things to change, she just wanted to throw it out there and see what happened. 

“I like to think of my point of view as somewhere between the prosecutor and the jury.  Like maybe I can see some blind spots that someone working the eye of the storm might get blindsided with.   Maybe it’s because I’m a mom or maybe it’s because I’ve been on a jury before or because I’m not bogged down with all the attorney/detective aspects.”

Steve sighed and looked at the pencil he was tapping on the conference table.  “We need to press forward and at this point it’s out of our hands.  I’ve got my orders coming from higher up and we need to move on this.  There’s just too much pressure on the DA to get charges filed and get to trial.  Plus, she’s inexperienced and is going to cave to the slightest bit of pressure.  She’s more worried about votes than justice.”

“I understand but I’m just trying to put myself in the place of a juror or a judge and I’m trying to imagine what questions might linger with them that would raise reasonable doubt.”  She was thinking of Mary.

“Well, we’re moving forward.   Period.  And besides, it’s too early to speculate about the jury.  Let’s worry about that when we get closer to the trial phase.  We’ve got no evidence that it was anyone other than the boyfriend.”

“But what about the 20 minute period of time that no one can account for seeing her at work,”  Della blurted.

“Our theory makes sense and we’re moving forward.  Let’s get that paperwork done and over to the court ASAP.  It’s tough to find a signing judge around at this time of the day, especially on a Friday and we don’t want to miss our window of opportunity.  It will make our illustrious DA look bad if we wait any longer.”


Della’s car was in the shop and CJ was out of town for a camping trip with one of his friends and their family, so Steve had offered to drive her home.

“You gonna stay over tonight?  Della asked quietly.

“I don’t know.  I’m exhausted.”

“I’m sorry about the meeting.”  Della’s eyes teared up as she looked over at Steve.  “It’s just that sometimes, it seems like justice is more about who puts on a better show in court and the media than about real justice.”

“You’re absolutely right on that count and it’s frustrating for me, too.  It’s okay.  Really.  But for now, can we just talk about something else?”

“Yeah,” Della resigned with a sigh and looked out the window.

It started to sprinkle and Della leaned the side of her forehead against the glass.

“I have this new theory about life after death.  Want to hear it?”


“Well, I’ve been thinking about people trying to send us messages from the other side.  Imagine this… and just bear with me.  Please.  I can’t explain things as gracefully as you and this is kind of a new theory, so my delivery’s going to be a little rough.”

Steve smile, looked sideways at her and grabbed Della’s hand as it rested on her left leg.

“Okay, shoot.”

Della felt a rush of warmth through her heart as they finally connected for the first time in days.

“So… they say that a baby, while still in the womb, can hear sounds from outside their environment.  There have even been studies that show that a newborn almost immediately recognizes and responds to the sound of its mother’s voice, sometimes even the dad’s.  Sorry, didn’t mean to leave the guys out of this equation.  Anyways… moving on.”

Steve rubbed Della’s thumb with his and she felt another surge of warm fuzzies.

“They recognize the voices because they’ve been hearing them come from an environment outside of the only one they know.  They don’t understand what lies beyond and they may not understand what the voices are saying, and sometimes they might be muffled, you know… because of all the fluid and the flesh that separate them from that environment, and sometimes they might be asleep and miss it, and sometimes it’s totally different from their mom or dad’s voice.  Say, it’s music, maybe.  They hear it, they don’t understand it.  But when it’s time to be born, they come through into this new world and are greeted by people who have always been with them, like Mom and Dad, and maybe some new people, like the doctors and nurses.  Or maybe it’s an EMT in an ambulance, or the next door neighbor who unexpectedly had to learn how to birth a baby.

“Okay, where’s this going?”

“Well, shift now to near-death experiences.  Which, by the way, shouldn’t even be called near-death experiences, especially if the people are dead.  They should be called death experiences.”

“You’ve got my attention.”

“I’ve always wondered why death experiences were so different for people.  I mean, wouldn’t you think that if God had been intervening in peoples’ transitions to the other side for such a long time that he’d have a routine down by now and we’d expect to hear the same stuff every time?  I mean, really… sometimes people are met by their family members.  Sometimes they’re met by spiritual beings that they don’t know.  Sometimes they’re by themselves.

Anyways, let me get back on track.  After we’re born physically, we’re here in this environment, think of it as a phase II uterus.”

Steve started to laugh and snorted.

“That was attractive.”

“Thanks,” he smiled boyishly.

“Back to the uterus.  We’re in this uterus world where all we understand is our immediate environment.  We don’t know what lies beyond but sometimes we hear things and catch glimpses of what it’s like.  And sometimes we get messages, just like an unborn baby gets messages that it’s loved, even before it pops out.  And when it’s our time to move on from our giant uterus world to the next world, to be “reborn”, if you will, we all come out in different circumstances, just like a baby would, based on whether it was born in an elevator, an operating room or a hot tub and that’s why everybody has different accounts when they come back from the dead.  Some of us pass prematurely and are met by beings that serve the needs of our premature “rebirth” or sometimes our family members aren’t there because they got caught up in whatever their next world equivalent of work or a traffic jam is.”  It’s got to be something we can’t even imagine, just like the newborn baby can’t understand until he’s come into the next uterine world, but he eventually comes to understand it.  But they’ve been talking to us, getting close to the belly of our environment and sometimes we hear what they say and understand it, but most of the time we don’t.  We’re too caught up in the warmth and comfort of our uterus.  But after we pass, we find them eventually, just like a newborn baby finds the people who love it eventually and all things become clear as he, or she, progresses.”

“Holy cow, you’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this haven’t you?”

“Why yes, I have.  And I’d like to think, in fact I think I’m going to go so far as to say that if something happens to me, I will do everything in my power to get to you and tell you I’m okay and hopefully, I’ll be able to get a message through to you.”

“Okay. Then what do I do?”

“I don’t know.  You’re such a dork.”

“Thank you.”  They both laughed and Della’s heart was soft and loving.  “Well, don’t you want to say anything to me?”

“Like what?”

Della slapped him in the arm and he recoiled , still laughing.

“Don’t you want to give me the same benefit and tell me that if anything happens to you, you’ll do whatever it takes to get a message to me?”

“I don’t know.  Do I?”

She slapped his arm again and he feigned pain and shock.

“Okay, okay, okay.  I’ll come back and haunt you in your “World of Uteri” and send you messages and let you know I’m alright.”

“Is that all?”

“I’ll… send… stock… tips???” Steve hesitantly guessed.

They giggled together the rest of the way home about nothing in particular.  Della’s heart was light.  She felt like a kid again and it felt amazing.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Ante Mortem by Ellie Anderson

Chapter 12


“Are you familiar with EVPs?” Bruce asked.

He was the lead investigator from Ghosts-R-Us, a paranormal investigation team that Della had found on the internet.  Della absentmindedly drummed her fingers on the kitchen table and glanced sideways into the bathroom.

“Uh, they really need to do that?”


Della gestured towards two of the team members who were in the bathroom waving around what she recognized as EMF meters.  She was desperately hoping that she had closed the lid to the toilet since she hadn’t cleaned before they came.  And…if they slid the shower doors open, they would be in for quite a surprise.  They might not find a ghost in there but they might have a near death experience when they saw the disarray of shampoos, razors and loofahs.  She hadn’t cleaned the bathroom because it never occurred to her that they’d want to go in there.  Duh…pretty stupid of her to not consider that.  What did she expect when they said that they’d be there from 7:30 in the evening until 4:00 or so the next morning?  They were people, not camels. 

Della made a mental note to clean the bathroom on a regular basis so that she’d never be caught with her pants down again, so to speak.  Hhhmmmm…maybe she should hire a housekeeper.  Oh, yeah…nix that idea.  If she ever got to the point where she didn’t have to replace CJ’s lost socks all the time, she might be able to afford one.

“I haven’t had any activity in the bathroom.  And yes, I’m familiar with EVPs.  I watch Ghost Hunters. I’m their number one fan.”

She smiled and felt like a kid for a just a moment.

“They’re just going to do an EMF sweep of the entire house so that we’ve got a baseline reading.  It’s a common theory that when we find elevated electromagnetic frequency readings, that it can be a confirmation of paranormal activity, especially when accompanied by corroborating evidence, such as an EVP, an anomalous photo, a personal experience…”

“Ooh, ooh, ooh…” she interrupted.  “Can I be there for the EVP  sessions?”

There was no hiding her enthusiasm. She tried to tone it down.

EVPs or electronic voice phenomena were Della’s favorite part of Ghost Hunters.  She wasn’t exactly what you would call a skeptic, but there always seemed to be some sort of logical explanation for all of the activity except the EVPs.  Even when the investigators on TV seemed to have no explanation for a door that closed itself or a chunk of something that fell down on an ivestigator, seemingly from out of nowhere, Della always felt like there was some sort of logical explanation that must have simply remained hidden.  But EVPs, they were a different story.  There was no way she could explain the recorded ghost voices that were always included as part of a television investigation.  They were usually pretty compelling and she was hard pressed to come up with any logical explanations for most of them.

“Of course.  In fact, we would prefer that.  Especially if it’s you that the spirit or spirits are attached to.  We’ll set up some digital recorders in each room that will just stay running all night.  We’ll review them later for EVPs.  We’ll also do some EVP sessions together as a group.  Someone will ask a question and then we’ll allow a period of 15-30 seconds of silence…a window of opportunity, if you will, for the spirits to respond.”

“Can I ask questions?”

“Absolutely.  Just make sure you allowed for the period of silence so that there’s time for the spirits to speak without us talking over them.  As we conclude each group EVP session, we’ll play the recording back and see if we have any answers.  We like to think of it as our ‘instant gratification’ reward, since so much of what we do is discovered during the later review process when we analyze the footage from the IR cameras and the digital recorders.”

“Where are you going to set the cameras up?”

“Well, let’s take a look around.  Tell me where you’ve had the most activity and we’ll set them up in those areas.”

Della stood and motioned for Bruce to follow her into the master bedroom.  He fell in behind her and as he came around the corner, he almost ran into her because she had stopped to stare at the gaping hole between the two bedrooms.

“Right there.  In the doorway.  I’ve recently removed a door that was there and I’m getting ready to put up some drywall so that my son and I have a little bit more privacy, but most of what I’ve seen has started in or near this doorway.  There’s another door to his room over there on the side.  And there’s been some activity in the kitchen and the living room.”

Bruce leaned to the side and looked into CJ’s room.

“I think that my son’s room must have been a nursery at one time and some of the past owners put this door in so they could quickly access the room, if need be.”

Della explained all of the different experiences she’d had as she guided Bruce through the rest of the house.  They passed the filing cabinet and she felt a moment of disappointment as she realized that she wouldn’t have a chance to visit the porch tonight with one of her beloved smokes.  Bruce had instructed that smoking and drinking during an investigation was strictly prohibited.  Smoke could easily be misidentified as an anomaly in the environment if any of the visual recording devices picked up on it and drinking, well, it just simply contaminated any personal experiences that one might have.

Bruce instructed the other four team members to set up and focus an IR night vision camcorder and a full spectrum camera on the doorway, one in the living room and one in the kitchen. 

“You know the history of why a living room is called a living room, don’t you?”  Della asked. 

“Nope,”  Bruce adjusted his glasses as he bent over to tape down some cords.”

“Mind your step as we’re moving around tonight.  We’ve got all sorts of contraptions laid up around here that could trip you up.”

“Oh, okay.  Did you want to hear the living room story?”

“Sure.”  He stood up, put his hands on his hips, tipped his head to the side and smiled at Della.

“Well, what we now call a living room used to be called the parlor during Victorian times and a ways into the 20th century.  Even though the room had lots of other sensible uses back then…and even when this house was built in 1917, it was common practice to lay out the dead in the parlor for people to come visit and pay their respects before the body was eventually taken to the cemetery and buried.”

Bruce looked totally enthralled with the story so far.  If she’d been telling the story to Steve, he would probably just chuckle, rub her arm and kiss her on the forehead.

“Well, when taking care of the dead started to become a business of its own, and wakes and funeral services started to move into the world of capitalism, the term parlor moved out of the house and into the business world…the “funeral parlor” and people started calling these rooms living rooms.  Apparently it was to dispel the aura of death and sorrow that was attached to the houses because of this practice.  The whole business of death became more and more removed from the heart of the home and more and more engrained in the world of the sterilized modern day funeral.”

“Wow!  That’s really interesting.”

Della smiled and pointed into the corner as Bruce bent over to start fiddling with the cords again.

“That’s a real headstone.  Came out of a Civil War cemetery in Louisiana.”

She stopped for a moment and took a breath while Bruce fiddled with the connections on the cords.

“No, I didn’t steal it.  I got it from an antiques dealer that got it when they were refurbishing a cemetery with new stone markers.”

“Mmm-hmmm,” Bruce grunted absentmindedly.  “Must have been stinky.”

She’d lost his attention.  He was way behind her.

“Uh, yeah…that’s why they used flowers.”


“OK, gang.  Let’s get started.

Della and Bruce sat on the edge of the bed.  A pretty young girl named Brenda stood across from Della, “guarded”  by a young man who was obviously her boyfriend and meant for the world to know it.  Another man, Bruce called him Blackie, stood by the main door to the room.  Della wasn’t sure where the other guy was.

Bruce turned on the recorder and stated the date, the time and the address of the house.  It was dark outside by this time and Della was anxious to get going.

“Is there anyone here who would like to talk to us?”  Bruce started the session.

Della stifled a laugh. She always thought that was the stupidest question to ask.  But then, everyone’s got to start somewhere.  She intently listened to the team as they randomly asked questions and waited for an answer in the stillness.

“What is your name?”

“Why are you here?”

“Are you a man or a woman?” 

Della looked at the pattern of the shadow leaves on the bed as the muted streetlight fell in though the drapes.  She had turned towards Bruce and while still sitting on the bed, she was now facing the empty doorway between the two rooms.  About 20 minutes had passed and she hadn’t experienced anything, not even a chill.  Just irritation at the barrage of questions that never ended.

“Why do you still come here?”

This was her chance.  She’d always wanted to be involved in an EVP session and ask a decent question.  Her heart pounded as she mustered the courage to speak.

“Mary, are you here right now?”


Tick tock.  Tick tock.  Tick tock.

“Alrighty then.”  Bruce stood up. “Let’s move into another room.”



The time was 1:11 AM.  Della could still hear the clock ticking from the fireplace mantle. 

All of the recordings they’d reviewed so far revealed nothing.  Not even a gust of wind from outside that could arguably be considered as a voice.

“Hey, guys, can we have an EVP session over here by the fireplace?”  Della was feeling bolder, especially as she learned about the team members and their experiences with the paranormal.  They’d had plenty of time to get to know each other as they took time between EVP session to just sit and “be” with the house.  “ I’m no psychic, in fact, I’m as dull as a doorknob when it comes to feelings or intuition or body language and stuff  like that, but I feel really drawn to the fireplace area right now and I have some questions that I’d like to ask.”

“Um, sure.” Bruce responded.

He set up the digital recorder and got it going before he gave it to her and placed a K2 EMF meter on the parlor stove. 

“Hi,” she started.

Della’s voice sounded scratchy and she cleared her throat.

“My name is Della.  You might know me.  I live here with my son, CJ.  You probably know him, too.”

That must have sounded stupid, she thought, and imagined what the team would say about her behind her back after they left.

“I don’t know what it’s like where you live…in whatever dimension it is where you are… but here, we can’t see you all the time.  And we can’t hear you.  I don’t know if you can see us or hear us.   Right now is one of those times when we’re not sure if you’re here or not, but if you are able to make a conscious decision to respond to some questions that we have, please feel free to talk into this little device with the little red light (we don’t even know if you experience colors like we do) but if you come really close to this little machine that I’m holding and if you try to talk real loud (or maybe you don’t have to try to talk loud, maybe it’s easy for you and we’re just wrongly assuming that you have to yell or try really hard) then maybe we’ll be able to hear your answers.  Whatever it is that works for you, please try to communicate with us.  I won’t pretend that we can help you.  The guys on TV say that all the time, that they just want to help you, but really…all they’re trying to do is gather information.  Sometimes that information might help you and sometimes it might not.   So, I’ll be honest.  I’m trying to gather information.  About this house.  About Cy and Mary.  About Ivy.  And if there’s anything that might help you in the process, well then, I’ll be ecstatic!”

“I like where you’re going with this,” Bruce complimented.

"Mary, are you here?  I feel like you’ve been trying to send me a message.  Is Cy here?  Is Ivy?”  Della found herself hoping with all her heart for an answer.

“Ok, there, cowgirl.  Slow it down a little bit.   You’ve got to give them a chance to answer.”  Bruce had a huge grin on his face.

Della took a deep breath, consciously tried to slow her heartbeat and nodded affirmatively.

Tick tock.  Tick tock.  Tick tock.


Tick tock.  Tick tock.  Tick tock.


A cool breeze brushed against the side of Della’s face and sent a piece of hair to rest right in between her lips.   Della brushed it away.

The pretty young girl jumped and shouted, “Did you guys feel that wind?”

“Shh, shh, shh,” Bruce scolded her.

“Mary, is that you?  I want to talk to you so badly.”   Della brushed the hair back from her face again.

“Maaarrrr…”  Dela stopped mid-syllable.

The cool breeze had entered the room again and began to circle slowly around Della’s head.  It began to stretch and strain in an effort to spread down over her shoulders and arms.

Della could see that the swirling air was taking on substance.  Well, not really a substance, but rather it was adopting an opaque quality that made her of twinkling Christmas lights in the fog.  Or maybe it was like frosted glass.  Or maybe it was the sparkle of tiny ice crystals on an overcast day as they fell gently from the sky.  Della breathed deeply and felt her lungs fill with the beautiful , sparkly light.  She moved towards the bedroom and her thoughts returned to Christmas.  What would Cy like for a gift?  Maybe she’d hand-make him something this year.

Della continued towards the bedroom and as her eyes closed slowly and momentarily, she had a fleeting concern about whether she would run into the door frame.  She opened her eyes and looked down, forgot completely about the door and saw that she was cradling Ivy.  The mist had enveloped both of them now and in that moment, the tiny part of Della that still had a grasp on reality realized that Mary had become a part of her.  She passed the bed where Cy was sleeping.  She knew that it was the last time that Mary would make this journey, this walk with Ivy in her arms.  She smiled down on Cy as she passed and proceeded though the doorway to the nursery. 

Mary’s thoughts were pushing Della’s life to the far corners of her mind and everything that Mary had felt up until that moment flooded into Della’s heart.

She remembered the awkward struggle to sit down on the picnic blanket at the autumn picnic.  Cy’s lips were on hers as the pastor announced the newly married couple to those who had gathered to witness their wedding.  She felt the sting of shame as she recalled Cy’s repulsion about her plumping body.  There was the humiliation as Mother Anders stared at her disapprovingly.

Mary leaned over the crib and gently laid Ivy down.  She stood up, tried to extend her neck, grabbed the side rail and realized that she was at peace.  She wanted to spend a few moments gazing at Ivy and her beautiful innocence as she slept.


Della collapsed as the mist left her body.

“Della!  Are you alright?  Wake up!” Bruce was frantically tapping at her cheeks and scooping her up with his free arm so that she was reclining back on his legs.

“Della!  Della!”

She opened her eyes and saw the team huddled over her. 

“What happened?”

“Oh, my God!  I’ve never seen anything like that!”  It was the pretty young girl.

“What happened?”  she repeated.

She asked another time or two but it was more because it sounded like the thing that one might say as they awoke from that sort of experience than because she wanted to know.

“What happened?” she said again, although she knew it was pointless to ask.  The experience was etched on her heart and she would never, ever forget Mary’s desperation as she glided into the nursery for those final moments with Ivy.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Ante Mortem by Ellie Anderson

Chapter 11


The winter had finally vacated and spring was moving in.  The weather was inconsistent from day to day but there was plenty of rain to urge on the new growth of the season.

It was late and Cy had already gone to bed. He was exhausted after returning from his last run.  Mary sat on the rocker by the parlor stove, holding Ivy and listening to her sweet little sleeping baby noises.  Her thoughts darted back and forth from the argument she’d just had with Cy to what was she going to make for breakfast to the most recent goings-on in town.  Oh, yes, yes, yes…she realized she forgot to tell Cy about the Hiblers.  She must tell him over breakfast.

Two of the Hiblers’ children had died after a short illness and the general rumors seemed to be that they had passed from pneumonia, but there were a few of the older folks around who had succumbed to consumption recently, so that was also a possibility.  People were too afraid to pay them a call, because consumption required that the victims be quarantined due to how easily it was passed and since no one was quite sure yet what the source was, they simply stayed to themselves.

Mary had tried to tell Cy about the news he’d missed out on when he came home, but he was uninterested and left to go see his parents and have supper with them.  He begrudgingly asked Mary to come with him, but she declined; said that Ivy had been under the weather.

When Cy returned, Ivy was fussing.  Partly because Mary had forgotten to feed her because she’d been so set on standing by the front window and watching for Cy to come home.  She watched out the window, held Ivy and rocked from side to side, shifting her weight in time to the lullaby that she was absentmindedly humming.  She wasn’t even sure what the song was, exactly, but when she realized it may have been the tune that Mother Anders was trying to teach her, she quickly switched to another tune.

When Cy came into sight, she quickly ran to the kitchen to busy herself and started feeding Ivy, although it wasn’t soon enough to quiet the child before he came through the door.

“Oh, God, Mary.  Why is she fussing again?  Can’t a man come home to some peace and quiet?”

“She was hungry so I had to feed her…again,” she lied.  “I’m sure she’ll settle down for a while.  Maybe you could hold her.  I’m sure that would quiet her down.”

“I don’t know nothin’ about babies and I don’t want to.  That’s your job.”

“But she’s your daughter.  And I’m your wife.  We both need you.”

“I’m too tired for people to need me.  You’re the one who’s supposed to be taking care of  settin’ up housekeeping, not me.  I thought wives were supposed to take care of their husbands.  This is not what I signed up for!”

Mary stopped and took a few deep breaths, shook her head back and forth.

“What… do you mean?”

“What do you think, Mary?  This is not what I pictured my life like.  A wife and baby… everybody depending on me.  I’ve given up everything I’d dreamed of and it’s tiresome knowing that everything falls on my shoulders.  I had to go straight from school into being a husband and a father.  Maybe I could’ve handled being married… I was ready to make the best of it ‘cuz I figured I’d at least get some time to have my needs taken care of.”

“Have your needs taken care of?  What does that mean?”

“Do I have to spell it out for you?”  His voice was escalating.

“Well, yes.  I guess you do, because I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“You… you have never loved me like a wife should.  A man’s got needs and his needs are the most important thing and you had to go and get knocked up so fast and as soon as that happened, all you could talk about was that baby.  Everyone knows that women want babies.  Well… you got what you want, but I never got what I wanted.”

“Are you serious?”

“I don’t look like I’m joking, do I?”  He put his hands on his hips, exhaled sharply and looked towards the bedroom.

Ivy was starting to cry as the argument became more desperate and both Cy and Mary kept talking louder to make sure the other could hear them above the crying.

“Cy, this isn’t fair!  You never even said anything to me about this!  Is that all you want?   Tell me what you want.”

“Honestly, Mary, there’s nothing you can do any more.  It’s gone past the point of no return.  If I’d known how suffocating a family was, I would’ve gotten with a lot more girls before you came along.”

Mary had started to cry now and she walked past Cy into the bedroom to put Ivy down.  She turned to face him.“What do you want from me?  Who do you want me to be?  I can be whoever you want me to be."

“It’s just too late, Mary.  I’m moving on and the next time I leave on a run, I’m going to stay in Denver and settle down.  I’ll send you money and my parents will help.  I just can’t do this anymore.”

“You have no choice, Cy!  We are your family!” 

Mary was shrieking now and Ivy was screaming.

“Get that baby out of there!  I’m going to bed!”

“You can’t just cast us off like dirty laundry!  I’ll change!  I promise!  I’ll make sure Ivy learns to be quiet and I’ll make sure everything is peaceful for you when you get home!  I promise I can change things!”

Cy stopped and regrouped emotionally before he calmly responded.

“It’s too late for that, Mary.  There’s someone else.”

Mary stopped crying and stared at him.  Her head trembled and created waves down the length of her body.  Could he be serious?

Moments ticked by.  The clock on the mantle ticked and tocked and ticked and tocked.  She turned back towards the bed, picked Ivy up and began swaying back and forth.

“You just need some sleep.  You’ll feel differently in the morning.”

“Mary, I won’t.  I’ve had a lot of time to think and it’s what I want.”

“We’ll talk in the morning.  You sleep late and when you get up, I’ll make you a nice hot breakfast.”

“God, Mary… I don’t want breakfast.”

She walked past him and out to the rocking chair by the parlor stove.  As she started to rock, Ivy began to calm down.

“I’ve already told my parents.”

“We’ll talk in the morning.  You get some sleep and I’ll make sure Ivy doesn’t bother you.”

She smiled awkwardly and wiped tears from her face while balancing Ivy in one arm.

Cy sighed slowly and deeply.  Ran his fingers through his hair.  Went into the bedroom and clicked the latch behind him.

Mary caught herself humming that stupid tune of Mother Anders’ again.  She rested her head back against the chair and made up her own song… one that she was sure would work on Ivy and when she showed Cy how well it worked, he would be pleased.

“Sweet baby, sleep. Sweet baby, sleep.
Close you eyes.  Morning is nigh.
Sweet baby, sleep.  Sweet baby, sleep.
Mama will hold you ‘til morning sky’s blue.

Sweet baby, sleep.  Sweet baby, sleep.
Nothing to fear.  Mama is here.
Sweet baby, sleep.  Sweet baby, sleep.
L’il baby Jesus, he looooves us.”

Sweet baby, sleep.  Sweet baby, sleep.
Stars and moonlight, shine so bright.
Sweet baby, sleep.  Sweet baby, sleep.
Heaven will bless you and protect you, too.”