A Sexual Haunting


Not that we have ever made things formal. She grinned at the thought, her mind reaching back to the strange rituals of her school days, of class rings and promise rings and letterman's jackets. She got out of bed and went to the bathroom for a quick pee and to wash her hands. Crawling back into bed, she pulled the sheet and light blanket up and over her body, snuggling down into the soft mattress.

As she drifted off to sleep, her last thoughts were of Mark, and what the next day would bring. She was completely unaware of the presence which watched her with jealous eyes.


The next day dawned hot, sultry, and still, without even the faintest breeze to lessen the heat. Throughout the day, she could hear the faint rumble of combines as they went through the fields, harvesting the corn and wheat. Temperatures climbed into the upper eighties, and by mid-afternoon, had ninety within their sweltering grasp. Despite the shirt-wringing humidity, the September sky was a deep, turquoise blue, giving the lie to the weather foreman's forecast of thunderstorms. Throughout the day, she drifted aimlessly around the house, waiting for evening and her date with Mark. Somehow she felt she would spoil the surprise, whatever it might be, if she walked up to the farmhouse early.

"Goodness, would you settle, Bree?" her mother asked, as she walked through the kitchen for the third time in five minutes. She found herself guided to a chair and a ceramic bowl full of green beans thrust into her arms. "Here. Make yourself useful and snap these. I'm going to can a batch later on this afternoon."

"Green beans make me barf, Mom. You know that." She eyed the bowl distastefully.

Cindy smiled unapologetically. "Too bad. I'm too old and set in my ways to waste good food, no matter how misguided you are when it comes to beans. I'll give some away at church tomorrow. And who knows? Maybe your sweetie likes them and would like some this winter."

"Fine," she sighed, grateful for any task, no matter how mind-numbingly boring it might be. Unthinking, her fingers plucked the first bean from the pile. She snapped off the ends, tossing them in a waste basket, then broke it into equal lengths, dumping the result in the large bowl at the table set aside for the purpose. Her mother slid in across from her, mimicking her actions.

For a while they both worked in companionable silence, the only sound the rattle of the vegetables hitting the bowl. It reminded her of summers long past, when she and her mother and grandmother would work through an entire weekend, listening to their old vinyl records and putting up canned food for the winter to come. Grandmother Martin was gone now, and she blinked at the memory, the strains of Air Supply, Crystal Gale, and Linda Ronstadt seeming to hover just out of the range of her ears.

"So," her mother said casually. "How are things going with you and Mark?"

She smiled. "Real subtle, Mom. Mark's good," she answered. "Real good. I think...we're good together." Her eyes dropped to the table. "He's the best man I've ever known. He treats me right. He listens. And God, he's so gentle. Too much, sometimes. Sometimes I want to tell him that I'm not made out of glass."

Her mother nodded. "I understand," she said. Her eyes, strangely intent, rose from her bowl and met Bree's, holding her in place. "But honey, never complain that your man is too gentle. There are far worse things, believe me."

Bree blinked, surprised by the shadow of remembered pain in Cindy's voice. "Mom? Did Daddy ever..." she trailed off helplessly.

"Did Craig ever go after me with his fists?" Her mother's eyes were bleak, filled with old hurt. "Yes. He did. Twice. The first time was when he was drunk. You weren't even born yet. I wore long shirts for a couple of weeks until the bruises went away, though I think your grandmother knew what happened.

"The second time was a couple of months before he left town. He had lost his job. Again." Her mouth tightened in anger. "He came home wasted and blacked my eye. Gave me one hell of a shiner. I ran out the door with you and flagged down a neighbor who drove me up here.

"Well, your grandfather took one look and drove off in the truck with his hunting rifle in the passenger seat. I was sure he was going to kill him. He came back a couple of hours later. I never found out what was said between the two of them, but Craig never laid a hand on me again.

"Of course, it didn't fix things," she said briskly, resuming her work on the beans. "Nothing could, by then. It was all over between us. I moved the two of us out of town and back to the farm. I could risk myself. I wasn't going to risk you.

"Which is why I'm glad you've finally settled on a man. One who wouldn't ever hurt you. One who will care for you and help give me some grandchildren."

"Mom!" she protested, blood rushing to her cheeks. "Aren't you getting a little ahead of things?"

Her mother gave her a long, deep look, and shook her head.

"No," she said. 的 don't think I am."


The sun was down and the western sky was darkening as Bree took the now well-worn footpath from her home up to the farmhouse. The air was still and damp, the heat and humidity having hardly faded since sunset. In the northwest sky, backlit against the last fading glow of the sun, a line of purplish-black thunderheads loomed on the horizon.

Mark met her on the front porch, giving her a welcoming kiss and taking the blanket from her sweaty arms.

"I'm glad you're here," he said. "The entire house has been going crazy today. The TV won't stay on for more than five minutes at a stretch. And when it does, all the programs seem to be dubbed in Spanish. The hot water heater seems to be on the fritz, and a shelf collapsed in the closet in my bedroom. If I didn't know better, I'd say this place was haunted."

A cold chill ran up Brianna's spine. No. It has to be coincidence. Aunt Hazel's never manifested to anyone outside the family before. "So can you tell me why I lugged this thing up here?" she asked, avoiding the topic.

In response, he handed her a cold bottle of Molson. A metal bucket filled with ice and more beer was at his feet, and he led her out into the front yard and on down the hill. The grass was comfortably springy under the open-toed sandals she wore on her feet. When they were well away from the house, he shook out the blanket and spread it on the ground. A quick trip back to the porch led to a pair of thick pillows being laid on the blanket.

He sat on the blanket, looking up at her invitingly. She blinked.

"So, what are we doing?"

Mark reclined on the blanket, pulling a bottle of bug spray out of his hip pocket. He coated himself, then tossed it over to Bree. He gestured at the sky above him. "Not many people ever look up. I thought you might like to do a little star-gazing. It's a nice clear night, we're well outside of town, so we won't have to worry about light pollution, and the moon isn't up for a few more hours. If we get lucky, we might even see a meteor or two."

"A meteor?"

"A shooting star. Too bad I moved in too late for us to catch the Perseids. That's a meteor shower that happens every August," he explained. "When Earth moves through a region of dust from an old comet. Not much in September. But maybe we can catch the Orionids in October."

She lay down beside him. "Well. You are just full of surprises, aren't you? But I might have to burst your bubble, Sky Captain. It looked to be clouding up pretty good out west. If we stay out too long, we'll see more lightning than meteors."

"That's the wonderful thing about the sky, Bree. It'll be there tomorrow." She felt him take a deep breath as they lay together in the slowly fading light. "I'm not a religious man. But the fact that the universe will go on when I'm gone doesn't scare me."


"No. Actually, I find it...comforting. Too many people think they're the most important thing on the planet. I would like to take them up into space and boot them out of an airlock, just to show them how small they really are."

Brinna snickered, taken in by the mental image of Mark throwing idiotic politicians, brainless reality TV stars, and vapid media figures out of a spaceship. Maybe into the sun? She could hear their tiny screams as they hurtled into the roaring fireball and suddenly began to convulse with laughter, giggling and snorting until she thought she would wet herself. Tears overflowed the corners of her eyes and tracked down her temples.

When her snickers and chortles finally trailed finally trailed off, she found Mark looking at her questioningly. She shook her head at him. "Just a thought," she explained. She edged closer to him. "I love you," she said softly.

He took her hand and squeezed it. "I love you, too." She could see his smile in the dim light. "Good thing I found your mom's ad for the house to rent. Otherwise we might never have met."

Side by side, they lay together as the stars slowly began to gleam in the night sky. Low overhead, the soft glow of fireflies softly swirled, and aside from the chirp of crickets in the tall grass, the evening was all but soundless. Even the hum of engines from the nearby highway seemed low and muted. They took it in turn to point out the constellations they knew. The Big Dipper. Cassieopeia, The Summer Triangle, high overhead. Venus made a brief appearance in the west, before it was swallowed by the storm clouds slowly boiling towards them.

Despite the serene night and the good company, Brianna felt oddly restless. She shifted on the blanket, jittery and nervous.

"What's the matter?" Mark asked at last. "Are you lying on an anthill? Or are you just bored?"

"Sorry," she apologized. "I just can't get comfortable. I..." She trailed off as a brilliant streak of light burned through the sky, directly over their heads. As it neared the horizon, it broke up into several lesser rays, which blinked out one by one. Bree couldn't swear to it, but she thought she could hear a faint whisper of passage as it passed overhead.

"Wow," Mark said. "That was a good one. I've never seen one that bright before."

"A meteor?" she asked.

He nodded. "Pretty big one, too, as far as they go. Usually they're gone almost as soon as you see them." He snapped his fingers. "Like that. This one must have been at least pebble-sized. Maybe bigger."

"Mmmm," she said. As if the site of the meteor had been a trigger, she turned towards Mark, resting on her side. Lazily, she drew one leg up, letting it stroke the firm muscles of his thigh. The feel of his warm skin against hers woke an answering warmth deep within her. She let her hand splay on his chest, meeting his lips in a long, soft kiss. His lips tasted of beer and bug spray, something she did not ordinarily think of as a romantic combination. But when his hands reached up to tangle in her hair, drawing her down to him, all such thoughts left her mind.

Tonight? She closed her eyes and tried to make a decision. Her love for Mark was bone-deep. And she could sense how much he cared for her. But her long history of chastity made her wary of choosing to lose her virginity, no matter how tired she was of having it.

As she was pondering, Mark's hands reached under the hem of her shirt, slowly caressing her rib cage and making their way higher. She lifted up, easing his access, until she felt his fingers on the swells of her breasts. He stopped, and he stopped kissing her long enough to ask, "No bra?"

She smiled down at him. "What, you couldn't tell before? I would have thought it was fairly obvious."

He shook his head. "Not really. It was dark out. And your breasts are so firm..." He stroked the underside of one lovingly, making her break out in gooseflesh. A cool breeze ruffled the grass, and she could hear the mutter of thunder in the distance.

"Oh, that feels good," she sighed. Mark palmed her breast, then let his fingers creep higher, until his fingertips were brushing her aereolae. She trembled, then gasped as her nipples suddenly tightened, tenting the loose cotton fabric of her shirt.

Tonight, she decided. I am going to make love to him tonight. She set aside her fear, her hesitation, her inhibitions, and gave in to love, kissing Mark with a hard, fierce joy which left him red-faced and shaking when their lips parted. As the force of the wind increased and the rumbles of thunder grew louder, she curled one hand around the back of his neck, the other reaching down to softly stroke the hard length of his erection. She let her body sink until she was all but lying on him, their bodies touching from head to toe.

"Mark," she began, "I-"

She was interrupted by a blazing stroke of lightning which cast their bodies into stark relief for a splintered second. When it disappeared, they were left blinking in the dark. Scant seconds later, a crack of thunder shook the air.

"That's it," Mark said firmly. He stood, drawing her up with him, and began to fold the blanket, tossing the pillows to her. "Let's get inside before we get our fool selves electrocuted." Fat drops of ice-cold rain began to plunk into the ground. As they hurried up the hill towards the house, the rain changed from sprinkles to a torrential downpour with amazing rapidity. By the time they reached the shelter of the front porch, they were both soaked to the skin and shaking with cold.

As soon as they got inside, Mark headed upstairs, bringing down towels for them to dry off with. Bree took one and went to the downstairs bathroom, peeling off her soaked blouse, shorts, and panties, then stood helplessly on the tile floor, wondering what she was going to do for clothes.

"Mark," she said, pitching her voice loud enough so he could hear.

"Hold on," he answered. The door cracked open and an arm was thrust through, offering her a thick red bathrobe. She took it gratefully, belting the sash around her front.

"I'm going upstairs to change real quick," he said through the door. "Will you be all right?"

"Sure," she called back.

She heard his steps retreat down the hall, then pound up the stairs. When she was certain he was gone, she let herself out of the bathroom. Moving to the kitchen, she used the Kuerig coffee-maker to make them both mugs of hot chocolate, then began to explore the refrigerator. By the time Mark came downstairs, still toweling off his head and dressed in a somewhat shabbier robe that almost matched hers, she had a dish of ice cream and leftover blackberry pie set out for each of them. She smiled at him as his head emerged from the towel, looking like a friendly but confused hedgehog, spikes of hair sticking up any which way.

"Make yourself at home," he smiled, sitting down opposite her and forking up a bite of pie. As he chewed, he cupped his hands around the hot mug of cocoa and sighed blissfully. "Ah, that feels good. Who would have thought the temperature could drop so quickly?" He winced as an open window let in a cold breeze and a spatter of rain, which was still sheeting down outside.

"I intend to," she said, answering his first remark. Taking his hint, she rose with him, moving around the house and closing the open windows. Once done, they sat in companionable silence for a time, eating and drinking and listening to the rumbles of the thunderstorm, which seemed to have set up shop right over their heads.

"Would you like to-" Mark's words were cut off by a terrific flash, and a peal of thunder which cracked overhead right on its heels. No sooner had the sound reached their ears than every light in the house blinked off, sending them into a rain-filled darkness.

"Oh, God damn it," he said wearily. He got up and began to rummage in a drawer, emerging with a box of matches. Lighting one, he used the wavering light to fetch out a handful of candles and a kerosene lantern from a closet. In just a few minutes, the old farmhouse kitchen was bathed in a warm yellow glow.

"Amazing," he said, putting a couple of fat white candles on the table, "How it only takes a thunderstorm and a crummy wiring system to set us back a hundred years. I hope the outage doesn't last long. I just put in half a hog in the freezer in the basement. I would hate for all that pork to go bad."

Bree shook her head. "I don't know, Mark." A cold prickle seemed to dance across the nape of her neck, and she hunched in her chair. "I can't ever remember Grandma and Grandpa having so much trouble with the wiring here."

He made a dismissive gesture. "Don't worry about it. I'd rather have you with me and no power than a lonely apartment in Ottawa and all the comforts of the 21st century.

"So, what should we do?" he asked. "Know any good ghost stories?"

~Tell him.~ A faint whisper seemed to echo in her ears. She swallowed.

He should know. It is going to be part of his family history, if we end up involved. If we...marry. Have kids. He needs to know.

"How about a true story?" she asked. "About my family. But this is more than a little bit spooky.

"One hundred years ago, my family lived here. On this farm. It's been in my family for seven generations now.

"It was an ordinary Ontario farming family. Mom, dad, kids. The youngest daughter's name was Hazel. She had a fiance who lived in Brantford. His name was James O'Leary.

"When World War I started, James volunteered. He was sent to Europe with the rest of his battalion in 1915. They spent the first few months in Belgium. But in September 1916 they were transferred to France and took part in the Battle of the Somme."

Her fists clenched. "It was a damned bloodbath. Thousands were killed on the first day. Over a million killed and wounded over the five months of the battle. Men would climb of the trenches and get mowed down like wheat in front of a threshing machine."

"Including James O'Leary," Mark said, his voice soft. Brianna barely heard him.

"Including James O'Leary," she agreed. "He was badly injured taking a crummy little village named Courcelette. He died in a field hospital a few days later.

"When the news reached Hazel here...she did not take it well. For some reason, the letter included the shell fragment that killed him. She was upstairs on the widow's walk when she got the news." Her lips twisted bitterly at the all-too-appropriate name. "She tried to throw the shell away, but the railing cracked and she fell off. She hit the flagstones in the dooryard and died instantly."

"Flagstones? There aren't any flagstones out there." Despite his words, Mark was pale, and his eyes were wide.

"No," she replied softly. "There aren't. Not anymore. Her father and brothers dug them up and used them to build a cairn over her grave. Someday I'll show you.

"But Hazel didn't move on. She haunts this house." She smiled grimly as Mark twisted in his chair, trying to see in all directions at once. "Or it might be better to say, she haunts our family. The women. My mother has seen her. My grandmother, too. Every twenty years she appears to a female Martin."

~Yes,~ a voice said. ~I do.~

"Jesus!" Brianna's fork dropped from suddenly nerveless fingers as a figure stepped from the shadows of the staircase. She wore a blue dress, trimmed with white at the hems and the bodice. While her hair was in an unfamiliar style, her face and figure were so like Brianna's they could have been mistaken for sisters.

~One hundred years,~ she whispered. She stopped beside Bree's chair, looking down at her as she shrank away in fear. ~One hundred years of waiting, hoping that the next generation would give birth to a woman who would not throw her maidenhood away like a broken toy. One hundred years, until you came along, Brianna. It is time. I lost my life in anger, furious that my virginity could not be given to my one true love, dead and buried half a world away. Now, through you, I will experience that joy. And if God is kind, he will allow me to leave this world to be reunited with Jimmy in Heaven.~

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