tagSci-Fi & FantasyA Sexual Haunting

A Sexual Haunting

byGlaze72©

Copyright 2017 Alana Church

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~~ All characters in this book are over 18. ~~

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Prologue

September, 1916



"Hazel Martin! Come down here and help me make dinner for your father and brother and the farmhands!"

"I can't, Mama," Hazel shouted cheerfully down the stairwell. "Someone is on the way up to the house. I have to see who it is. I think it might be Maggie O'Leary and her brother John! Maybe she has news from Jimmy."

She turned around, ignoring her mother's aggravated snort echoing up from the ground floor, and walked back out onto the widow's walk surrounding the second floor of the farmhouse. Solidly built of good Canadian brick, it loomed over four hundred acres of prime Ontario farmland, just south of the village of Brantford, on the north shore of Lake Erie. It had been in her family for three generations, ever since Luther Martin and his wife and infant son emigrated from England nearly a hundred years ago.

She shielded her eyes, looking west, as the horse-drawn wagon slowly made its way up the lane. In a moment she smiled, certain that she was right. Even though she now wore it in a fashionable bob, she could recognize the black cap of Maggie's hair, so like her brother's, from a mile away. Her younger brother John, too young to go fight in France, held the reins of the placid carthorses, Devil and Demon.

Hazel waved down as John brought the wagon to a rumbling stop on the flagstones of the dooryard. "Come on up!"

Maggie looked up as she climbed out of the wagon. Even from twenty feet up and thirty yards away, Hazel thought her face looked pale. A shiver passed down her spine. Had she received bad news from France? Had Jimmy been hurt?

She had begged her fiance not to enlist. And when he did, she had prayed to God that he would not be sent overseas. But they had stood together on this spot a few months ago, with Jimmy tall and proud in his khaki dress uniform. His regiment had received orders, and would be sent to France to fight the Germans.

"Why?" she had demanded, soaking the front of his uniform with her tears. "Why is it so important that you go? Can't you...can't you tell them you've changed your mind?"

"The army doesn't work that way, Hazel," he said, his gentle voice rumbling against her cheek. The soft whisper of his breath stirred her hair. "And even if it did, who would ever trust my word again, if I broke my oath? Besides," he continued, his words gaining the lilting brogue he had inherited from his immigrant father, "You know how some people around here talk about my family. About whether an Irishman can be a loyal member of the British Empire. When I come back, they will know I'm every bit as good as they are. I can hold my head up anywhere."

"They're idiots," she sniffled. "You know my family doesn't think that way. They love you almost as much as I do." She snuggled in closer, trying to memorize the feel of him in her arms, to hold onto for the lonely days and nights to come. She smiled to herself as she felt him harden against her, and an answering heat bloomed in her belly. "We could get away," she whispered. She let her hand sink lower to cover his groin. "I'm sure Mama and Daddy would understand if I took you to the barn and gave you a special farewell."

He pulled away slightly, and she could see his lovely smile. One lean hand reached up to stroke her cheek, and he curled a lock of her brown hair around his finger, just like he used to do when they were both children in primary school.

"No, Hazel. What if I got you with child, and something happened to me? Would you have him be born a bastard, and me not even able to give him my name?"

"Or her," she corrected. "Besides, Fawn Shephard told me that Sonny Sawyer told her that you can't make a baby the first time."

"Then Sonny Sawyer is a damn fool," Jimmy replied. "And so is Fawn for believing him. Think sense, Hazel. You're a farmer's daughter. Have you ever heard about a heifer not being able to catch pregnant because it was her first time with a bull?"

Hazel giggled. "Is that how you think of yourself?" She stroked him, feeling him shiver under her hand. "Please, Jimmy. I want you. I want something to remember you by. And I don't want to wait months or years for you to come back before we can finally be together."

If you come back. The unspoken fear hung between them.

"Stop," he said hoarsely. One strong hand caught her wrist. "I don't want to shame myself our last night together. And that's what will happen if you keep that up." He bent and kissed her softly. "Virginity is no sin, Hazel. I love you. I am willing to wait for you. Are you willing to wait for me?"

*****



Maggie opened the screen door that led out onto the walk, and terror gripped Hazel's heart. Her friend's normally cheerful face was an open wound, her blue eyes red and raw from weeping.

"Jimmy?" she asked.

Maggie nodded. "Two weeks ago. At a place called Courcelette." She held out a letter.

Courcelette, France

19 September, 1916

Mr. and Mrs. Joseph O'Leary

Brantford, Ontario

Sir and Madam:

It is with great regret I must report to you the death of your son, Corporal James Francis O'Leary. With his unit, he was involved in an attack on the village of Courcelette. He fought bravely, but was struck and badly wounded by a shell fragment on 4 September 1916. He died in hospital several days later, on 17 September. The company chaplain was with him in his last moments, and reported to me that his thoughts were of his family and his fiancee, Miss Hazel Martin.

May God grant you strength in this trying time.

I have the honor to be,

Your obedient servant,

Lieutenant Colonel John G. Hattray

Commanding Officer

10th Battalion

Canadian Expedition Force

"There was a form, too," Maggie said. Over her shoulder, Hazel could make out her mother standing in the doorway, tears running down her cheeks. She held out the envelope in a shaking hand. "And a lock of his hair. I suppose for us to remember him by. And some...some ghoul included the bit of shrapnel that killed him." Her voice trembled with grief and rage.

"No," Hazel whispered. Her heart was a lump of poisoned ice in her chest. "He's not dead. He can't be dead." I told him I'd wait. When he came back I was going to give myself to him. Be his. Lay my virginity down on the altar of our love. No one could keep us apart ever again.

A strangled sob shook her, and she slumped back against the wall of the house, cramping around the horrible grief in her belly, the bricks gritty through the cloth of her sky-blue dress. I suppose I will have to start wearing black now, she thought inanely. Jimmy always said the color didn't suit me.

A hundred memories of him rushed through her mind. A thousand. A million. The dark blue of his eyes, a different shade in each kind of light. Days at school when they were both children, working on their arithmetic together. The feel of his kind, strong hands. The way his wavy black hair fell over his forehead, making her fingers itch to straighten it. Long, lazy days talking in his father's shop or here at the farm, falling in love so slowly it was almost a surprise when she realized how much she cared for him.

Never again. Never, ever again. Her brimming eyes focused on the twisted lump of metal in Maggie's hands, and her soul screamed with hatred.

"Filthy thing," she snarled. "Get it out of my sight!" She snatched it away from Maggie and strode to the edge of the porch. She cocked her arm back, hurling it as far away from her as she could.

Too hard. Too far. Her weight came heavily against the rail surrounding the porch. With a rotten crack, it splintered, leaving her overbalanced. With a despairing cry, she fell.

The granite flagstones in the dooryard ended her life. But not, unfortunately, her pain.

*****



August, 2016

"So, Mr. Watford, what do you think?"

"What do I think? What I think is that I can't believe you and your daughter aren't living here," he said to the woman who was showing him around the grand old farmhouse. "Why are you two living in that tiny little place next door rather than over here?"

"Oh, you'll find out when the heating bill arrives in December, if you stick around that long," Cynthia Martin said. A wide smile deepened the laugh lines at the corners of her mouth and her eyes, which twinkled with good humor. "This place is as modern as we could make it, but it's too big for the two of us. Of course, when we have the chance to rent it out to a famous romance writer..."

Mark Watford laughed ruefully. "Oh, Lord. My fame precedes me, I see."

"Oh, yes," Cynthia said. She cocked her head. "My daughter loves your book. And I saw your interview on the CBC a few months back, when you first hit the best-seller list. They treated you like you were a two-headed calf. A male writer who wrote romance, and used his own name, not a pseudonym? Crazy stuff, they thought. How did they describe you, again?"

Mark blushed. "A combination of Bertrice Small and Terry Pratchett," he said, looking down at his feet.

"High praise." Cindy raised her eyebrows. "I don't know much about Terry Pratchett, but Bertrice Small was a hell of a romance writer. If someone is comparing you to her, that's saying a lot."

Mark shook his head. "It's saying a lot too much, I think. I mean, I wrote for the school newspaper and sold some short stories in college, but I never thought of writing as a career. It was just a hobby. And then someone gave me a copy of '50 Shades' as a gag gift at the company Christmas party.

"Well, I sat down one night and started to read it, and I could not get over how terrible it was." Cynthia snickered as they walked through the bright, modern kitchen and into a well-lit family room. It was unfurnished, but sunlight poured in through the tall windows, striking highlights from the polished hardwood floor. "I mean, I'm not judging people who are into some kink in their lives. But, my God, if you're going to write a story about that stuff, you should try to do it well.

"So I started my own book. At first I thought I would just write a send-up, you know. A joke. Like what Pratchett did with a bunch of fantasy themes. But the deeper I got into the story the more I loved it. I'd be up until two or three in the morning, just writing and giggling as I broke every rule in the romance genre. When I was done, I got in touch with an e-book publisher. I didn't expect much." He shrugged. "I'd done my research, and I knew how hard it is to break out as a writer. But one thing led to another, and the next thing I know I'm being interviewed on TV and radio and my book cover is plastered on every flat surface in Ottawa."

"So what made you decide to move out here? Brantford isn't exactly the brightest spot in the universe, you know."

"Which is why it's perfect, as far as I'm concerned." He followed Cynthia up a narrow flight of stairs. Once at the top, a broad landing led to a central hallway, with bedrooms and storage space opening out on either side. "I'm a country boy. I grew up not too far from Thunder Bay, and I never liked living in the city, though I had to for work. Now that I'm financially independent, at least for a while, I can do what I want and live where I like."

"Here's the master bedroom," his host said, opening a door at the far end of the hallway. "And there's a master bath through that door to the right. Plenty of closet space as well." A large room painted a soothing dark green met his eyes. On the opposite wall, a doorway led out onto a widow's walk.

"Wow," Mark said. He opened the screen door and stepped outside into the warm summer air. For as far as he could see there were only fields of wheat and corn. Except for the lazily spinning wind turbines, he could have been in another century.

"What a great place to work," he said, leaning with his elbows propped against the rail. "I could sit out here in summer and write and watch the thunderstorms roll in. I can't even imagine how beautiful it would be in winter, during a blizzard. Is all this land yours?" he asked.

The older woman nodded and joined him. "Dad would have crawled out of his grave and killed me if I even thought about selling. But when he died there was no question about me trying to run the place myself. I grew up a farmer's daughter. But once my brother Teddy left for Toronto and my useless husband took off, it was obvious I was going to have to make a hard choice. So I rent out the land to some of my neighbors. And the turbines are a windfall. Pun definitely intended," she said, as Mark laughed. "It gives Brianna and myself enough to live on, with a little left over. Especially now that she's out of university."

"So it's just the two of you over there?" Mark asked, nodding towards the small, ranch-style house a few hundred yards away. In the distance he could see a car pull into the driveway, and a slim figure climb out.

"Ever since Momma died, ten years ago," she said, walking slowly around the house. One hand caressed the polished wooden rail like an old friend. "Bree's father ran off when she was just three." She snorted. "He never was worth a damn. Him leaving was the best thing that ever happened to the two of us, really. You know the old saying, 'Marry in haste, repent at leisure?'" Mark nodded. "That was our marriage in a nutshell. I was young and dumb, and he looked great in a tight pair of jeans. Thank God Bree takes after me more than him. Though apparently the boys think she looks great in a tight pair of jeans, too.

"So, are you interested in renting the place?" Cynthia asked. "I'll be honest, Mark. I want to nail someone down to a long-term lease. The last two families I had here were good folks, but it does get wearisome to have to find a new tenant every summer. If I could get you to sign for three years, I could maybe knock the monthly rent down by ten percent?" She let her voice trail off hopefully.

"Done," he said firmly, as they finished their circuit and came back to the master bedroom. "I'll have to arrange to move my things from Ottawa down here, and take care of all the other hassles, but do you think I could move in next weekend?"

"Absolutely," Cynthia said, with a smile that took ten years off her face. "Let's go downstairs, and we can sign the lease right now. And I have all the numbers and contact info you will need for the utility hook-ups. Gas, power, water, cable TV. Or satellite if you want to go that route."

A voice floated up from downstairs. "Mom, are you up there?"

"The prodigal daughter," Cynthia said. "I told her who I had coming by today. She couldn't believe it, and made me promise to get your autograph. I guess she didn't trust me. Up here, Bree," she shouted.

In a few moments a small, slim young woman, only a few years younger than Mark, burst through the door and onto the walkway. Obviously Cynthia Martin's daughter, she was dressed in jeans and a loose checked flannel shirt over a white t-shirt. Brown-eyed and dark-skinned, she glowed with youthful vitality. Her dark brown hair fell in gentle waves past her shoulders, and her body was beautifully curved. Mark's brows rose appreciatively as he took in her form.

"Hey," she said to her mother. "Is this him?" Then she smacked herself on the forehead. "Of course he is. He looks just like the photo on the dust jacket of his book. Hi," she said brightly, extending her hand. "I'm Brianna Martin. Call me Bree. I love your book. Are you going to be writing another one soon?"

Mark blinked as he shook the lovely young woman's hand. A conversation with Brianna, he saw, was much like being caught in a whirlwind, with random debris flying by. "Working on one now," he said.

"What's the title?"she asked eagerly.

"'The Pirate Captain Who Ransomed My Aching Loins,'" he replied.

There was a short, shocked silence, then Brianna leaned her head back and gave a loud, deep-throated laugh. At her side, Cynthia had her lips pursed shut, though giggles were escaping from her like steam from a tea-kettle. "Oh, God," Brianna said. "That's hilarious. I didn't think you could top 'Her Heaving Breasts of Savage Lust.' But it looks like you did."

"All it takes is a little imagination," Mark said. "And a good thesaurus." He glanced at his watch. "I need to drive back into town and start making the arrangements. So let's go downstairs and sign that lease."

"As good as done," Cynthia said, leading the way.

*****



"So, Mom," Bree said later that night, as the two of them were eating dinner. "Did you tell him about Aunt Hazel?"

Cynthia took a sip of milk. "Tell a new tenant about a ghost only members of our own family can see? And then only every twenty years? What a lovely idea, Brianna. Why I'm at it, why don't I take a big pile of money and set it on fire? Your author pal is going to pay us over twenty thousand dollars over the next three years to rent out the old place. Why scare him away? Especially since he'll never see her anyway?"

Brianna smiled, unperturbed. "You know she's due to show up this year." Her face fell, sympathetic. "Poor woman. I wonder what she wants. What was it like when you saw her, Mom? Did you get any...any feel about why she hadn't moved on?"

Her mother shook her head. "It was only the one time, Bree. And I was so gobsmacked about what I was seeing I didn't really have a chance to form much of an impression." Her eyes looked off into the distance, trying to recapture the moment.

"It was the fall of 1996. A cool day in late September," she said at last. "Cloudy and windy. The kind of day where you just want to slip into a warm sweater and curl up with a good book or a movie. Your father and I were on the outs again, so I was up at the old house, staying with your grandparents while I decided whether I wanted to try one more time to make things work with Craig or whether I should bite the bullet and file for divorce. Of course, the meathead made it easy for me and left town right after Thanksgiving. Good riddance. We moved in here at the new house after that.

"It was early evening, right before sunset. Daddy was out in the fields, bringing in the corn with your uncle Teddy, and your grandmother was making supper. You had been fussy all day, but I had finally got you to drop off for a nap. I was holding you and decided to sit out on the walk. I went out through the door in my old bedroom, and there she was." She shook her head. "It gave me one hell of a shock, Brianna, let me tell you. It wasn't like what you see in movies, where the woman is all ghosty and immaterial. She looked as real as you or me.

"That's what scared me at first. I couldn't figure how anyone could have gotten past your grandmother and me and up to the second floor. So I let out a little squeak and jumped back.

"Who the hell are you?" Cindy asked. "And what are you doing up here?" She cradled her sleeping child protectively to her chest.

The young woman looked at her and little Brianna, her dark brown eyes filled with a bottomless grief. After the first rush of shock, Cindy began to take in details. The sky-blue dress was decades out of fashion, and the wavy brown hair done in an unfamiliar style. She flashed back to the photographs she had seen a thousand times downstairs, added color to the faded, sepia-toned pictures, and gasped.

"Oh, God," Cindy said. "It's you, isn't it? The Woman in Blue. Great-Aunt Hazel?" She reached out a hand, her horror at her distant relative's torment outweighing any fear she might have felt.

But before she could touch her, the figure shook her head and turned away. Her head bowed, she walked rapidly along the wooden decking and turned the corner towards the north side of the house.

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