Excerpt: Ghost Mountain
Have you ever moved? Have you ever had an encounter you just can’t rationally explain away? Then you know exactly how stressful either of those situations can be. Now imagine moving your entire family to an area considered sacred for hundreds, if not thousands, of years and having a spirit insist you get involved with solving a murder.
Welcome to Cerri Baker’s life!
Named after a pre-Christian Celtic Goddess, Cerri has spent her life trying to avoid the spirituality and hocus-pocus her mother embraces. Now in the Black Hills of South Dakota, Cerri doesn’t seem to have much choice as a spirit guide insists she find justice for a murdered man. As she struggles with her own destiny, Cerri must also convince the FBI that she is getting her information from another realm and not from first-hand knowledge of the murder.
“Cerri, have you seen my other shoe?”
“Mom, Zach is bothering us!”
I felt a headache coming on.
The movers honked as they pulled into the driveway, bringing with them most of our worldly possessions.
“I so hate moving,” I announced to no one in particular as I knelt on the living room floor, rolling up the sleeping bags we’d used the night before. I also hated sleeping in a house with no furniture. I’d done enough of both growing up as a military brat.
Tonight this house would feel like a home.
“Yep, but you so love an adventure, don’t you, Cerri?” Matt, my loving—but somewhat annoying—husband mocked as he came up behind me. “Seriously, though, do you know where my other shoe is?”
“How would I know? You’ve lived here longer than I have.”
We had moved to Cogan Ridge in western South Dakota because Matt had landed his dream job as an Associate Professor of Geology at South Dakota’s School of Mines and Technology. My man loved rocks. Matt had already been living and working in the area for two months while I took care of everything back home. It worked well at the time, but I was glad to have my family together again.
“Don’t you have to go to school?” I asked, finding his shoe beneath a pile of blankets.
“You’re right. I’m outta here. I have a department meeting this morning.” His lips brushed mine, leaving the taste of peanut butter on my lips. “Enjoy putting all the stuff away.”
I shot him a dirty look as I tossed a pillow at him.
He laughed and tossed the pillow back before letting the movers in as he headed out the door.
The four burly men dressed in dark blue pants and shirts with the moving company’s logo across the back added to the already chaotic whirl of activity. How they managed to avoid the gang I affectionately called my “three monsters,” who were chasing each other from room to room, is beyond me. I couldn’t really blame the kids, they had been cooped up in the car all day yesterday. Secretly, I was glad we’d only moved four hundred miles away and not farther. Being trapped in a with a seven-year-old boy and five-year-old identical twin girls for eight hours straight was not my idea of a good time. I couldn’t imagine ever making the trip again.
I tried to snag my towheads, sending each one to get dressed before the resumed their game of “catch me if you can.”
As I directed the movers to put boxes here and there I admired the job Matt had done picking out our house, a four-bedroom Craftsman-style bungalow in a new subdivision just outside the city limits of Rapid City. Remembering all the moves I’d been through in my life, I knew I’d have to thoroughly search the house for spots the kids could hide. That thought brought an onslaught of memories, and I remembered how my Irish mother used to sprinkle each doorway and windowsill with salt every time we moved. She claimed it kept out evil spirits. I learned later that ants also don’t cross a salt line and we never did have ants in our homes.
I spotted a large black ant on the kitchen countertop and knew I’d have to find the table salt and do some sprinkling of my own. Evil spirits, if they even existed, couldn’t be trapped in our home. We would be the first family to live there.
As movers brought in another load of boxes, my son, Zach, chose his room. The girls found one they wanted to share. After assigning Matt and I the master bedroom—complete with walk-in closet and a full bathroom—the final room would be mine. Mine to use however I wanted. I hadn’t totally decided if it would be a sewing room, an office, or both. Right this minute, I was looking forward to having my very own kid-free zone.
Sobs from the other room broke into my thoughts and I hurried to find the source.
“Mommy! Zach stole my bear!” Mackenzie wailed, putting me on high alert. This was the kid who never cried, which is why her big brother often picked on her, while leaving Madison alone. Madison wore her heart on her sleeve and therefore wasn’t the challenge Mackenzie represented.
“Zach! Give the bear back to Kenzie. Now.” It only took one warning to make that happen.
Madison was sitting on the floor, holding on to her own bear tightly, and making a face at Zach. “Told you you’d get in trouble.” Her superior tone was unmistakable.
“Maddie. Not the time, honey.” Once again I was surprised at how alike Mackenzie and Madison looked, but how different the two girls could act. Their personalities may have been total opposites, but there wasn’t anything they wouldn’t do for each other.
Zach took a few steps toward Madison before being distracted by the movers. The box in their arms didn’t need a label; the picture of the television was enough of a clue.
Hooking up the twenty-seven-inch set was easy. The DVD player, on the other hand, took a little more time. As I was fiddling with wires, one station ran their noon news program. The top story had something to do with a body found in Wyoming and I vaguely wondered how close we were to the state line. Or if there were so few news stories locally that they had to find things in other nearby, yet sparsely populated, states to fill the airwaves. Geography had never been my best subject. I was much better at English and math.
Finally, the telltale blue screen of the DVD player came on, cutting off the reporter. All three children simultaneously accosted me with their selection of movies to be played immediately.
The day wasn’t getting any easier.
The sound of knuckles lightly rapping on the wall interrupted my thoughts.
“Excuse me, Cerr . . . um . . .Kerr . . . um, Mrs. Baker? I need your signature.” The supervisor, a big, burly guy with more hair than sasquatch covering his arms and peaking out from under the collar of his shirt handed me a clipboard with our cargo manifest for me to sign.
As I took the form from him, I prepared myself for his inevitable next question.
“Unusual name ya got there. How’s it pronounced?”
I was right. “It’s Cerridwen, but most people shorten it and pronounce it like ‘Carrie.’”
My tone didn’t encourage further comments. I couldn’t blame the guy for being curious, but I’d spent my entire life explaining my unusual first name and the novelty of it had worn off long ago. Cerri rolled off the tongue much easier than Cerridwen, a pre-Christian Celtic goddess most people had never even heard of. Goddess of femininity and the moon, the original Cerridwen was said to have prophetic powers and divine knowledge. My mother celebrated her Celtic heritage by naming her oldest child after one of her favorite legends. I often wondered why Mother couldn’t have been fascinated with the Wild West’s Annie Oakley or, if she had to be so proud to be Irish, why not Brigid, the country’s patron saint. Then maybe I would have had a “normal” first name.
As the movers left, I was again regretting the decision to uproot our lives. The kids had run me ragged, and I didn’t get as much unpacked as I had hoped. I wanted to have a home-cooked meal ready for Matt when he got home, but it didn’t look promising. I wasn’t even sure which box the dishes were in. My mother always made moving look so easy.
The pizza delivery boy showed up minutes before Matt.
After dinner, I got the kids calmed down and ready for bed using my special bath salts, the scent of which reminded me of the baths my mother prepared when I was growing up. Mother made sure we knew she didn’t use those salts simply for their pleasing aroma.
I shook the memory away. I didn’t want to carry on that legacy.
My mother came from a long line of what she called “wise women.” She claimed to embrace the power of the Earth, summoning spirits from each of the four directions. She would gaze into water and allegedly see the future. She would even use herbs and crystals to solve everything from colds to heartache. I remember when I had my heart broken as a teenager; Mother’s cure wasn’t a pint of chocolate ice cream. Instead, she placed a mixture of herbs and flowers in a pouch, chanted over it and then told me to carry it everywhere for a week. Looking back, I guess I should be grateful Mother didn’t encourage me to eat my feelings, but I’m not sure the pouch did much either.
During the full moon, she used to chant over all the coins she could get her hands on: pennies, nickels, dimes, even our piggy banks weren’t safe. Mother claimed the chant attracted more coins—and thus more money—to our household the rest of the month. While we never lacked for anything, I still believed it was because Dad had an extremely stable occupation. Army generals don’t usually lack for much.
Mother claimed she could communicate with spirits, as well. To me, that seemed more like listening to her inner voice than anything else.
Heck, for all I knew, Mother still did all those things and then some. It wasn’t a part of her life I wanted to hear about, so I didn’t call Mother as often as she would have liked. Parlor tricks and lucky guesses don’t make people normal. As an adult, I’d found normalcy to be exactly what I needed in my life.
Maybe it was the act of moving, but right now I was overly sentimental and sort of missed Mother, Dad, and even my younger sister Wendy.
Wendy was my exact opposite. Where I was a fair-skinned and redhead like Mother, Wendy had the darker complexion of our father’s mixed heritage. Part English, part German, part Danish, part Native American, Dad claimed to be pure mutt.
Looks weren’t the only difference between my sister and I. She not only embraced the mumbo-jumbo of the spirit world, she actually studied the stuff. Or maybe the correct term was practiced the stuff.
I never understood her fascination with all that hocus-pocus and superstition. I’ve never seen much difference between thinking that a broken mirror will lead to seven years of bad luck, or drinking a rosemary-spearmint tea to improve your mental focus, or saying a chant to help find a lost item. All were superstitions from less enlightened times.
If you look hard enough, you’ll find whatever was lost. A little relaxation, with or without any type of tea, will help you focus, and there’s no such thing as luck. Some things are good, and some are bad, that’s just life. This may be an overly simplistic view, but it’s worked well for me.
In some cases, though, knowing the properties of a particular herb can be helpful. The bath salts I preferred, for example, were very relaxing. The combination of sea salts and jasmine, lavender, sandalwood, and chamomile essential oils smelled divine and, since I made them myself, were so much cheaper than buying the pre-made concoctions from the specialty store at the mall.
Another tradition I decided to keep was to have our home surrounded by flowers. Mother had flowers in our home year round and I grew up loving the smell and look of them. There were Violets in the spring said to encourage love, Sunflowers in the summer for prosperity, the protection of Solomon’s Seals in the fall. Often our lawn looked like a gardening catalog exploded all over it, but the beauty and scent says home to me.
I was in my early teens when I learned that all flowers have meaning, not just red roses on Valentine’s Day. That’s not why I liked flowers, but I found the idea interesting. So if I kept a bit of Queen Anne’s Lace—which was said to keep a home safe—and a touch of Feverfew—for health and protection—near the front steps, I did it because of the beauty of the plants. Putting a few Lotus pods in a dried flower arrangement had nothing to do with the fact that they supposedly mean good luck and blessings. Keeping dried lavender around the house was more for its fantastic scent than because I believed it offered some kind of protection from bad luck.
Unfortunately, sometimes Mother really does know best.
After first being published in Daisy Magazine at the ripe, old age of 7, Nichole never dreamt of any other career. To help her achieve that goal, she became a DINFOs trained killer for the US Air Force.
An avid mystery reader from a young age, Nichole has devoured Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Edgar Allen Poe, and Agatha Christie. Nichole has also had an ongoing fascination with the supernatural — everything from angels and spirits to ghosts and hauntings. It’s only natural that she combine her two interests to create mysteries with a paranormal twist.
She lives in the Black Hills of South Dakota with her husband, two daughters, three dogs, and four cats.
When she’s not writing, Nichole can be found reading, knitting socks, drinking coffee, eating chocolate, or spending too much time online.
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