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Chapter 1

Some events leave scars. They mark time, changing life as you know it into something unrecognizable. Death split my life into two periods—before Charlie and after Charlie.

That morning, I woke crying without knowing why. Dread followed me through the day. It needled my thoughts until I succumbed and acknowledged someone I loved would die before the sun set.

“Tessa Marie, we need you to come to the hospital. It’s your Uncle Charlie,” my great-grandmother Mae said through the phone.

“Is he all right?” I knew the answer.

“No, child. He had a heart attack and is on life support. They’re talking about turning off the machines. Please hurry. We’re at Florida Hospital on Rollins Street.” The call disconnected. My grandmother lost the cell connection. Impeccable southern manners wouldn’t have allowed her to hang up without saying goodbye.

“I’ve got to go.” I sprang from the bed, searching for my discarded clothing. Sex had been my last ditch effort to shake the feeling someone would die. It didn’t work.

“I’ll wait here until you get back.”

“Ian, get up. You can’t stay here.” I pulled a T-shirt over my head.

Ian threw the blanket off and tugged on his jeans. “What’s going on?”

“My uncle is on life support. This can’t be happening. He can’t die. I need him too much. I talked to him this morning. He sounded fine. There has to be a mistake.” I slid on flip flops and headed for the door.

“Let me drive.” Ian jangled his keys.

I wanted to tell him to stay put, but I didn’t want to drive.

We rode in silence for a while, then Ian sighed and turned on the radio. A disembodied voice reported the murder of a young mother and possible kidnapping of two small children. The victim’s mother had found her body in her kitchen earlier in the day. The children had disappeared. Police hadn’t released the names. I drew my knees to my chest and prayed for both my family and the family of the murdered woman.

“Want me to come in?” Ian eased the car to a stop.

I studied him for the first time since the call ruined our alone time. Wide eyed, he rubbed his palm on his thigh and shifted in his seat. His expression puzzled me. I couldn’t tell if he worried about me or feared I would ask him to come inside. We’d dated about three weeks—if hanging out during happy hour and having sex at every opportunity counted as dating. Come to think of it, we’d never had a proper date. “No, I’m fine. Thank you, though.”

Ian exhaled and grasped the steering wheel. He pulled away before the car door shut. Actions speak louder than words, and his words screamed.

I stood in the hospital’s lobby. My skin prickled, and I turned to the woman behind the welcome desk. Under the puff of cottony white hair, two dark, beady eyes fixed on me. The volunteer’s lips twisted in disapproval. What had I done to offend her? I resisted the urge to rush up the escalators, to avoid the sour, old woman.

Behind the welcome desk sat the hospital gift shop with flowers and balloons. The contrast between the not-so-welcome-desk and the happy little gift shop made me grin. I drew my courage and walked to the desk.

“Can you tell me what room Charles Nokoseka is in?”

“Nokoseka? How do you spell that?” The old woman glared.

I spelled the last name, exaggerating the pronunciation of each letter. I knew the drill. Not my last name, but I’d spelled Nokoseka a million times. The woman typed in the name, looking between me and the screen.

“He is in ICU Step-Down, only immediate family members are allowed to visit.” For some unknown reason, the little old lady had an issue with me.

“I’m his niece. But he raised me…” What the hell? I didn’t have time to argue. I needed to find my uncle.

“You missed visiting hours.”

“Considering they called me to pull the motherfucking plug, I don’t think visiting hours are going to be an issue. Tell me where he is.” My outburst surprised us both. I didn’t care. I hated the world she lived in.

I hurried to the escalators, taking the metal steps two at a time. The hairs on the back of my neck stood. I needed to get to my family, something was wrong. More wrong than the man who raised me fighting for his life. I rounded the corner to the Step Down Unit and stopped.

Two large men stood in front of the elevators and blocked the hall. Their size didn’t strike me as much as their ponytails and sharp features. They could’ve been members of the tribe, coming to pay their last respects, had it not been for their tight expressions and stiff posture. They were angry, very angry.

I turned and went the opposite direction until the elevator pinged. I counted to ten and doubled back toward Charlie’s room, pausing in the hallway. At least twenty family members had gathered in the waiting room, including my mother. I would have rather gone up against the two big guys than face down my family. I should’ve guessed my mother would be there. Even still, it struck me like a punch to the gut.

All eyes turned to me when I wandered into the waiting room. I scanned the faces, searching for my great grandmother or great aunt, and found neither. The television in the corner caught my attention. The newscast reported on the story of the murdered mother. Pictures of the young woman with two small children flashed across the screen. The police urged the public to call with any information regarding the whereabouts of the kids.

Hearing the story on the radio had tugged my heart strings, seeing the children’s faces yanked them out. “Shit.”

“Now, Darlin’, shit is something we do, not something we say.” The sweet southern drawl and gentile chiding made me feel eight years old. Mae told me the same thing standing in her vegetable garden. The second time I cursed in front of her earned me Ivory soap for mouthwash.

I bent down to hug Mae’s short, round body. Gram Mae grew up in abject poverty, but behaved like a southern lady. She grew her own tomatoes, drank her tea sweet as cane, and could drop a deer, or whiskey, in one shot.

“How is he?” I cringed, wanting to believe Glinda the Good Witch would swoop down in her bubble and fix all the wrongs.

“Not good, darlin’.”

“Can I see him?”

“He is waiting for you.” Mae took a firm grip on my hand and led me away from the wide eyed family members. Gram didn’t have that determined look in her eyes often. They all knew to get out of her way when she did, everyone except my mother.

Chapter 2

“Tessa! Oh, I’m so glad you came.” Darlene rushed toward me with arms outstretched, her heavy makeup ruined with twin black streaks. A well-used tissue hung in her hand as she reached for me. Sure, now she acknowledges my presence. Long ago, I would have sold my soul for a few moments of my mother’s attention. That ended about the time I turned ten.

Mae shook her head, while Darlene pretended not to notice. I side-stepped the unwelcome hug, and mouthed “sorry” to my angry-faced mother as Gram Mae dragged me down the hall.

Darlene narrowed her eyes. “Tessa thinks she is too good for us.”

A knot tightened in my stomach as family members surrounded my mother. They cooed and petted, agreeing with everything she said.

“Trauma drama,” Gram whispered. “Don’t let them shake you. They come out when there’s blood or money on the line.”

I forced myself to ignore my family. Truth be told, my real family consisted of the three people inside the hospital room. Great Gram Mae, Uncle Charlie, and Aunt Dottie raised me. My mother came to collect me a few times, promising things would be different. The visits always ended sooner, rather than later, and I found myself on Dottie and Charlie’s doorstep.

The second I entered the room, tears sprang to my eyes. I covered my mouth to prevent the scream rising in my throat. I wanted to run away, to go home to Charlie’s house and visit over sweet tea. I wanted him to tell me everything would be all right.

I hugged Aunt Dottie. When had my vivacious aunt grown old and frail? How long had it been since I sat with her watching soap operas and eating macaroons? I turned toward my uncle, and my knees went out from under me. As they had done my entire life, Dottie and Mae steadied me until I could stand on my own two feet.

“We’re going to be right outside,” Dottie whispered and patted my shoulder.

My mouth fell open, and I shook my head. Before I could form a word of protest, they left me alone with my uncle and several large, noisy, machines. Each step toward him felt like a monumental accomplishment. I sat on the edge of his bed, transfixed by the gentle rise and fall of his chest. His jet black hair had grayed, and the smile lines on his cheeks had deepened. “I’m sorry I have been away so long. I promise I’ll take care of Dottie and Gram for you.”

Memories flooded me when I placed my hand on top of my uncle’s. I remembered being a tiny girl and setting my hand against his, measuring my small fingers against his, marveling about how pale my skin looked next to his.

I’d ask, “Am I Cherokee?”

“About half, I reckon,” he’d reply.

I’d crinkle my nose and giggle. “Which half?”

“Your color is white but your stubborn is all Indian.” He’d laugh in his deep, good-hearted way and kiss the tip of my nose.

I would have given my life to hear that laugh again. “I need you. Please stay with us.”

A soft sound filled the room. A whistled melody that reminded me of nature and Uncle Charlie. I thought I imagined it, until I recognized the tune. He whistled it while working in the yard, or when one of the tribe came for healing. I’d never asked, though I always knew he served as the tribe’s Medicine Man.

The fluorescents overhead flickered and hummed, causing my temples to throb. I pulled back the heavy drapes, and sunlight flooded the room. I would have opened the window, but it was bolted shut. He had sunlight, and I knew Charlie appreciated the effort.

The whistling began again. I focused on breathing. Inhale, one, two, exhale, one, two, three, inhale one… I’d seen spirits before, but never the spirit of someone I loved.

A fresh breeze caressed my cheek, and my eyes flew open. I couldn’t see the spirit as much as feel it. I closed my eyes again and lips kissed the tip of my nose. “There you are.”

“And here you are, little flame.” Charlie’s voice sounded distant, nothing solid to hold on to. Still, it moved with life and warmth. “Your aunt and great grandmother are in danger. Crows will come for my notebook, to learn my secrets. Our secrets. Go get my cedar box and take it to Dr. Hicks in Gainesville. He will help you.”

“I don’t understand. Who would want your box? What secrets?” I stopped talking and focused on the more important issue. “Don’t leave us. Please. You can’t die.”

“Some things cannot be changed, others can. Listen to me.”

A cold sweat broke across my brow, and I felt faint. Maybe my blood sugar bottomed out. I’d skipped dinner in favor of having a flat tummy during the roll in the hay with Ian. The added stress was causing me to hallucinate.

“Tessa, tell Dr. Hicks you’re my granddaughter.” His voice drifted, lost to alarms and beeps.

“What? Great niece, you meant great niece, right?”

Doctors and nurses filed in. Dottie clung to the doorframe with Mae.

“Dottie?” I couldn’t move, let alone form a sentence.

A nurse ushered us into the hallway, directly into the crush of family. Someone shouted, “Tessa pulled the plug.” Others spoke all at once. By far Darlene’s voice rang the loudest, my mother accusing me of killing my uncle.

“Come with me.” My great grandmother tried to shield me from the mob. Dottie wrapped her arms around me, whispering calming words. I couldn’t breathe. I struggled free of the embrace and ran away from my mother’s acrid voice and the continuous, monotone beep of a machine.

Chapter 3

I hit the ground floor in a blind panic. Ian dropped me off, I had no car, no way to get back to my apartment. In my rush to get to the hospital, I forgot my purse and cell phone. I needed to think. I needed to be still, but my brain refused to cooperate. I ran out the glass doors and dropped onto a bench.

In the corner of my consciousness, I sensed people watching me. It’s a hospital. People died here and family cried and mourned. Big deal! Stare away.

I tried to make sense of Charlie’s warning, and remembered the heat rolling off the men waiting for the elevator. I bolted upright and surveyed my surroundings. Waiting outside didn’t seem prudent, all things considered. I marched to the welcome desk. “I forgot my phone and need to make a call. Please.”

The volunteer’s attitude hadn’t improved. The woman scowled and turned the phone toward me. The old woman made a point to watch as I dialed.

“Hailey, I’m at the hospital on Rollins Street. My uncle died and I need a ride. Can you come get me, please?” I stopped listening after she said, “Yes.”

My gut told me to stay inside. The sane, educated side of me baulked, craving sunshine. The entire ordeal had produced some sort of psychosomatic paranoid response. Research showed that bereft loved ones often turned to magical thinking of ghosts and mediums in order to hold onto some part of their deceased loved ones. It seemed logical, but the textbooks didn’t account for the scope of sensations and emotions rolling through me.

I wandered toward the windows, telling myself I should watch for Hailey. I scanned the front walkways and the line of shrubs on the other side of the road. Every small movement drew my attention and made the hairs on the back of my neck stand. I waited for what felt like hours, preoccupied with looking for the boogeyman. I startled when Hailey waved on the other side of the window.

“Thanks for picking me up. Ian dropped me off, and I didn’t think about how I was going to get home. I hope this wasn’t too much trouble.” My words came too fast.

“Tessa, chill. It’s not a problem.” Hailey put the car in drive. “Are you sure you want to go home?”

“Yeah, I need my car. I have to go take care of some things at my uncle’s.” I sank into the seat.

“I can go with you. I don’t have to be at work until 8:30.” Hailey reached over to pat my thigh. “Hell, I can call off tomorrow. It’s not like they are going to fire me.”

“No, I can’t imagine your dad firing you. Who else would put up with counseling spoiled rich kids?”

“Certainly not you. Seriously, when are you going to grow a maternal instinct?”

“Maybe when I’m thirty.”

Hailey grinned. “I’ll come in. I miss staying up all night talking with you.”

“Thanks, but I want to go alone. I think I need some quiet time to process all of this.”

“Right. Just don’t isolate yourself, or spend too much time with that crazy ass mother of yours. Neither are healthy options.” Hailey shook her head.

“She was at the hospital…she accused me of pulling the plug.”

Hailey’s grip on the steering wheel tightened. “What the hell? That woman makes Mommy Dearest look tame. What happened, I mean, what happened to Charlie?”

I turned toward the window. “Gram called and said he had a heart attack and he was on life support. I didn’t get any other details. The second I got there they took me in to see him. Five minutes later, the machines started going crazy and he was gone.”

“I’m sorry.” Hailey squeezed my hand.

“Something weird happened. I don’t know how to explain it. I knew something bad was going to happen today, and at the hospital—”

“You have always been freakishly intuitive. Tell me, what happened.”

I admired Hailey. She was calm and even keeled, until she spat out a slew of curses that would’ve sent Great Gram Mae running for a bar of soap. Hailey gave the car in front of us the one finger salute. The guy had almost run us off the road.

“Sorry, Tessa, ever since I hit ten weeks my hormones have been out of control.” As soon as the words had come out of her mouth, Hailey went wide eyed. “I planned to tell you. Brian made me promise to wait until after the first trimester. Some ridiculous superstition.”

I snapped my mouth shut. “So this is why you guys have been avoiding going to Fitzpatrick’s with me and Ian for happy hour. I thought you were blowing us off.”

“No, we’ve been avoiding going because we can’t stand Ian.” Hailey smirked.

“Hormones got your tongue again?”

“No, just the truth. The guy is a complete douche. You can do much better.”

“My stars, Hailey, is that your professional diagnosis?” I snorted in laughter. “He is a douche, isn’t he?”

When we arrived at my building, Hailey parked outside and cut the motor. “Now that I have that off my chest, tell me what happened that was so weird.” She put on her professional face. “I can see it upset you.”

“Are you going to charge me for this session? I can’t afford your hourly rate.”

“Out with it.” Hailey grinned.

I debated telling her about the ghost thing and the message from beyond, but Hailey never accepted anything except a scientific explanation for things. She would come up with some well researched, clinical explanation. I needed to believe Charlie had reached out to me. Besides, if some sort of danger lurked about I couldn’t put Hailey in harm’s way, pregnant or not.

“It’s the same old family drama, Hailey. Nothing new.” I smiled to cover my lie. “Thanks for the ride. I need to get going, and you need to get to bed. It’s four in the morning. Don’t forget you’re sleeping for two.”

Chapter 4

After two minutes alone in my apartment, I wanted to call Hailey. The space felt too quiet, too dark, and too empty. Even after I turned on every light, I couldn’t shake my unease. I turned the television on and the screen filled with coverage of the murdered mother and missing children.

The apartment needed a good scrubbing. I had no one to blame but myself for the piles of dirty dishes, discarded clothes, and books. Maybe I should clean and get a couple of hours of sleep before retrieving the cedar box? A soft pillow and warm blanket sounded good, but even on a good night sleep eluded me. Insomnia was a long lasting side effect from my graduate school days.

I decided to ignore the apartment and pack a bag. I would need my laptop if I had to track down this Hick’s guy. The older generation of my family didn’t waste their money on computers. They’d only recently broken down and ordered cable.

I drove in the dark, early morning with the window down. The car reeked of cigarettes. Ian smoked and, while I hate the smell, I never bothered to ask him not to smoke in my car. Hailey’s assessment was spot on. He was an ass.

I needed to break things off, but how? Calling him would cause too much drama. Email? Impersonal. Texting? Tacky. In the end, I decided to play the avoidance game and eliminate the chances of a confrontation. It might be cowardly, but I had enough on my plate without adding a wounded male ego to the mix.

My thoughts drifted from Ian to Charlie, to my mother, to the murdered stranger, to Hailey’s baby. Nothing stuck long enough to matter. My body knew the way to the house in the back woods without the need to engage my brain.

The car crossed a set of rough railroad tracks and continued onto a dirt drive that ran parallel to the tracks. A patch of green grass grew down the middle of the drive. On each side of the grass, white sand dipped and rose like the hills of a roller coaster. One side rose while the other side dipped, so all four wheels sat at different levels. Gram called them God’s speed bumps.

As I stepped out of the car, a chill ran down the length of my spine. Several sets of tiny black eyes stared. My snake sense. No matter how many years I spent in the back woods of Florida, I never got used to all of the damned snakes. Using the light from my phone, I illuminated my feet in time to see a black racer slide under my car. Each step I took, the phone lit more snakes. “What the fuck?” I glanced over my shoulder, thankful my grandmother wasn’t around to hear me use the ultimate bad-word.

I thought I would come out of my skin by the time I reached the front steps. The stairs consisted of concrete blocks stacked in neat rows. To my dismay, another snake rested on the second step. I shined the light on it, made “shooing” sounds and stomped my feet. The damned thing refused to move. Its eyes reminded me of the old woman at the hospital, small, black, and mean.

I set my foot on the step above the snake, half expecting it to slither toward my ankle. It didn’t move, except to turn its head and watch me open the door. Once inside, I shook my arms and hopped around to shake the feeling of those eyes.

I left the porch light off to prevent attracting a battalion of bugs. Inside, I turned on every light to chase the shadows away. Pipe smoke, Old Spice, and Uncle Charlie lingered in the second bedroom. A twin bed and desk sat against opposite walls, with a narrow walkway between the two. A cheap particle board book case contained rows of old glass jelly jars, coffee cans, and the like. Charlie had labeled each container in a language I couldn’t read.

I crawled under the desk to reach the bottom shelf where Charlie kept a cedar box. The hand carved wood was as smooth as polished stone. I scrambled out from under the desk when a daddy long legs crawled down the wall. Next to snakes, spiders were my least favorite creatures.

I sat on the bed, feeling like a little girl getting into something forbidden. I said a quick prayer and opened the box. When nothing exploded and no one yelled, I peeked inside.

I smiled at a picture from my third birthday party. I sat on Uncle Charlie’s lap beside a pink triple layer cake. Charlie had a huge smile, and I crinkled my face to wink. Kool-Aid stained the front of my homemade smock dress, my hair a wild mess of red tangles.

My vision blurred, and I set the picture aside. “Okay, enough with the pity party.”

The remaining contents included newspaper clippings from my high school and college graduations; a yellowed funeral notice which read, “Nathaniel Nokoseka, 2.” Charlie and Dottie’s only child; an envelope addressed to “Dr. Marvin Hicks, Univ. FL.,” and an old composition book held together by a thick rubber band.

I placed everything back inside and stuffed the entire box into my laptop bag. My stomach growled, sending me to the kitchen where I proceeded to raid the refrigerator. Finding food in Dottie’s refrigerator reminded me of a game of hide-and-seek. All sorts of good things hid inside old plastic containers. The Cool Whip container held some potato salad—a keeper. I set it on the counter. The small Country Crock bowl contained green beans, those went back. The large Country Crock container held…margarine.

I opened a container of meatloaf. “Jackpot.”

I grabbed the ketchup, bread, American cheese, and Duke’s mayo. By the time I sat, I’d eaten half of the cold meatloaf. Outside, a dog growled something fierce—probably tangling with one of those damned snakes.

I rinsed my dishes, determined to ignore the dog. I didn’t want to go out before the sun rose. The dog started to howl. Had the neighbors’ hunting dogs cornered an opossum? I dried my hands and opened the front door.

At first, I didn’t see the animals, but they must have seen me because they darted for the porch. Three large, black dogs. No, too big to be dogs. Wolves? Holy cow, three wolves stared from the bottom of the porch steps. I didn’t know which freaked me out more, the huge wolves or the gyrating pile of snakes that covered the porch. I ducked inside, slammed the door, locked the deadbolt, turned the useless lock on the knob, and set the chain for good measure.

My shaking fingers made it difficult to dial the phone.

“911, what is your emergency?”

“Snakes! Lots of snakes! I’m trapped inside. There are wolves, three. Big ones. Black, I think. Please help me. I’m trapped inside!”

“You need to call animal services after eight a.m.” The woman on the other end of the phone paused. “Did you say wolves? Are you sure they aren’t big dogs?”

My hand tightened around the phone. “No! Wolves! Listen.” I went to the jalousie windows and opened one enough for the operator to hear the sounds of three huge ass wolves howling. “Do you hear them?”

“That is going on outside your house?”

“Yes. Please send help to 2011 Sandy Lane, Apopka. This is my uncle’s house. My name is Tessa Lamar. I’m alone and freaked the hell out. Send police, guns. Guns are good. One of the wolves slammed into the window. I screamed and dropped the phone.

The wolf clawed the slats of glass as I cranked the window closed. What kind of wolf tried to pry a window open? I hightailed it to the master bedroom and pulled out a single barrel shotgun. A semi-automatic, camo colored, brand spankin’ new, shotgun. Uncle Charlie used it for hunting, scaring off the Jehovah Witnesses, and ensuring the family from hell didn’t get too rowdy. I checked for shells, one in the chamber, a full magazine and a ghost round floating on the carrier. I had five rounds and three wolves. The odds were in my favor.

Could I shoot three moving targets from inside the house without breaking a window? I debated my options until the glass broke and claws scratched against metal. The damned thing had managed to get its paw inside the broken slat.

I stuffed the barrel into the broken slat and fired. Glass shattered but only one slat broke. The kick back wasn’t as bad as I expected. Unlike Charlie’s old gun, it didn’t knock me flat on my ass. The wolf fell back onto the wooden porch. My ears rang loud enough to block out sound.

The sun broke over the horizon as two wolves retreated across the yard. On the porch, the snakes moved over a large mass. Beneath the snakes, I swore I saw skin, not fur. “What the hell?”

I tried to get a better look, but couldn’t through the various shades of snake. I grabbed the phone and rested the shotgun against my shoulder. “Hello?”

“I can’t hear you. I shot one of the wolves.” At least I hoped I’d shot a wolf. The snakes had moved off the body of a very naked and very dead man.

Chapter 5

Flashing lights in the distance caused my heart to race. The first set of headlights bobbled and bumped along the dirt road. A second and third set followed close behind. Their arrival should have been a relief. Instead, I tried to remember the legalities of shooting someone before they broke in. A few years ago, the Stand Your Ground laws were all over the news… If only I’d paid more attention.

Two uniformed police officers looked between the two houses. I flipped the porch light on and off, until they moved in my direction. The male cop made a sound equivalent to an eight year-old girl getting her ponytail tugged. The female shook her head and pretended to ignore the snakes. When the female approached the door, the snakes moved out of her way, like Moses parting the Red Sea.

I opened the door, and froze in place as the female police officer drew her pistol, shouting. The other officer noticed the dead guy on the porch, and started shouting more commands. By the time I realized what happened, I had three guns trained on me, another cop shouted into the radio, more than likely calling for back up, and the snakes had rallied around me.

“Drop the weapon and get down on the floor,” the female repeated.

“Oh. Sorry.” I set the shotgun on the porch, went to my knees, and thought better of it when the snakes moved over my calves. “Snakes! Please! Let me go inside.”

No one knew what to do. They all stared with varying degrees of concern, pity, and rage. Having someone lay down in a pile of snakes had to be cruel and unusual punishment. I started to rise, when one of the male cops shouted to stay down.

The female shook her head. “Whooo-weee.”

“I’m a Licensed Mental Health Therapist. My name is Tessa Lamar. My uncle and aunt own this house, Charles and Dottie Nokoseka. I’m going to stand and get away from these snakes before one of them bites me.” I ignored the shouts and stood.

I eased into the house. No snakes lurked about the living room. I bent over to look under the couch, and pain tore through my calf. Had a snake bitten me? Was that a gun shot? My ears rang. The commotion off the porch confused me, and my vision swam as my brain accepted the fact that I’d been shot.

I woke in the back of an ambulance. An IV tube stuck in my arm, and something smelled suspiciously like soured meatloaf and sweet pickles.

“Now, you listen here, my granddaughter was in fear for her life. Some crazy, naked lunatic was breaking into the house. She said there were wolves, there were wolves. There are large tracks near the porch. A few are still there after your people trampled all over the evidence. She has a severe fear of snakes and was in a state of shock. Leave her be, or I’ll have the entire Cherokee Nation at the station before you can blink. They won’t be happy to hear you shot her,” Mae spoke loud enough to be heard two counties over.

“Gram, it’s okay. I’m fine.” I tried to sit, but someone had handcuffed me to the gurney. “Am I under arrest?”

“They’re sorting it out. You don’t need to worry.” Mae locked eyes with a cop.

“Ms. Lamar, would you mind answering a few questions?” The female peeked inside.

“No, it’s fine.” I tried to smile, but the slightest movement took too much effort. “If there are pain medications in the IV, my statement won’t be legal.”

The female cop appeared surprised by my reply. “We will take a formal statement once we get you to the hospital. There are some things we need to know, if you wouldn’t mind.”

“Okie, dokie.”

“The emergency operator said you called in an animal attack. Other than snakes, we haven’t found any stray dogs or wolves.”

“There were three wolves, maybe dogs…the way they were howling and their size, I don’t know. It was dark.” I regretted consenting to answering questions.

“When did you see the male trying to enter the house?”

“Honestly, I thought it was one of the wolves. It was still dark outside and I saw a black shape. I had all of the lights on inside, I couldn’t see clearly. Whatever it was had pried open the jalousie window near the door. I thought he was going to get inside the house.”

I tried to wipe my face, but couldn’t. I started to shake and went on blubbering about snakes, Charlie, and the picture from my third birthday. The EMT must have taken pity on me, because he injected something into my IV.

Chapter 6

I woke in the hospital with Mae sleeping in the chair beside the bed. Dottie stared out the window. I lifted my arm, relieved someone had removed the handcuffs. Someone had changed me out of the vomit covered T-shirt. The hospital gown wasn’t much of an improvement, but it didn’t smell. “Am I going to jail?”

“No. They’re still investigating what happened. I called our attorney, and he assured me you acted within your legal rights. We’re thinking about pressing charges against the dumb ass that shot you.” Mae blushed when she caught herself cuss.

I shook my head and regretted it. “It was chaos. I don’t want to press charges. I didn’t even realize I was holding a gun. I was freaked out by all the snakes.”

“Hmph, well you may feel different if they charge you with murder.” Mae fussed over the blanket.

“What is the deal with the snakes? I have never seen so many of them. It was like a scene from a movie or something.”

“With all of the rain and construction for the new Wal-Mart, they must have decided our place was safe. You know how your uncle feels about killing snakes, they’re considered sacred,” Mae said.


About me

Kathryn M. Hearst is a southern girl with a love of the dark and strange. She has been a story teller her entire life, as a child she took people watching to new heights by creating back stories of complete strangers. Besides writing, she has a passion for shoes, vintage clothing, antique British cars, music, musicians and all things musical (including theater). Kate lives in central Florida with her chocolate lab and two rescue pups. She is a self-proclaimed nerd, raising a nerdling.

Q. What is the inspiration for the story?
I wrote this story to immortalize my great grandmother, one of the strongest women I've ever known. I wanted to write of a time when babies had sweet tea in their sippy cups, the roads were dirt, orange groves still covered central Florida, and colorful bottles hung from oak trees to trap spirits.
Q. What was the hardest part of writing this book?
Gram Mae, Aunt Dot, and Uncle Charlie are all beloved family members. While writing this story, I walked the tightrope between giving the readers a peek into my childhood and divulging all those dark family secrets. Names have been changed to protect the not-so-innocent.
Q. This book is part of a series, tell us about your series.
The Spirit Tree is the first of the Tess Lamar Novels. Each book is a stand-alone, featuring Tess on a new adventure. I envision this series maturing as Tess grows into the woman she is meant to be.

Next in:
Lovelorn clown falls for mystery woman.
FIFTY SHADES OF GREY with the roles reversed.
Harri & Bernie
When innocent pleasure turns deadly.