Authors: Lynn Hightower
Table of Contents
Further Titles by Lynn Hightower
NO GOOD DEED
THE DEBT COLLECTOR
FORTUNES OF THE DEAD
WHEN SECRETS DIE
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First published in Great Britain and the USA 2013 by
SEVERN HOUSE PUBLISHERS LTD of
9 â 15 High Street, Sutton, Surrey, England, SM1 1DF.
eBook edition first published in 2013 by Severn House Digital
an imprint of Severn House Publishers Limited.
Copyright Â© 2013 by Lynn Hightower.
The right of Lynn Hightower to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988.
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
Hightower, Lynn S.
1. Haunted placesâTennesseeâFiction. 2. Suspense
ISBN-13: 978-1-78010-385-3 (Epub)
ISBN-13: 978-0-7278-8251-6 (cased)
Except where actual historical events and characters are being described for the storyline of this novel, all situations in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to living persons is purely coincidental.
This eBook produced by
Palimpsest Book Production Limited,
Falkirk, Stirlingshire, Scotland.
For Robert, my Frenchman
To the usual suspects, Alan, Laurel, and Rachel.
And David & Arthur, Wes, Katie and Isaac. Rebecca and Brian.
To the French side of the family, Arnaud, Julien, Elda, Miria, Ernest.
For Sheila, and Lindsay.
And Matt, as always.
âIt is ten years since our children left.'
Town Chronicles, Hamelin, Germany
Eyewitness account, recorded by Decan Ludde, 1384
hey call us, you know, the dead do. The ones we've loved, the ones who've passed. Someone you know has received a call â maybe it was you. They call to tell us they love us, to tell us they're okay. And sometimes they call us to warn.
For Olivia James, the phone call came through on the last night that she and her daughter, Teddy, spent in the California house. Olivia's brother, Christopher James, had been dead for just nine weeks. Olivia immediately recognized his voice.
The radio alarm had been set for seven a.m., but it went off just after midnight, at 12.12 precisely, waking Olivia with a song she had not heard since she was a little girl â âHeart and Soul', that old romantic standby from the nineteen forties. Like every other child in America, Olivia had played the song on the piano as a duet, sometimes with her brother, Chris, but most often with her big sister, Emily, before Emily disappeared. Twenty-five years ago, when Olivia was only five. Six years later her mother died, from what Olivia always secretly thought was a broken heart. Both parents were dead now. It had just been Olivia and Chris, for the last ten years, expanding their little circle to spouses and kids of their own. Olivia and Chris and the ever present hope that someday their sister Emily would miraculously return.
Heart and soul, I fell in love with you â
Heart and soul, I fell in love with you â
Baaaabyyyy .Â .Â .
Olivia's cell rang on
The land line had been cut for months.
Olivia was immediately awake. She was a bad sleeper, particularly these last few months, when the money worries had been extreme. She heard static, and rubbed her forehead, then frowned over the distinct echo of chimes. Wind chimes, she thought. The voice, so familiar, so longed-for, brought her sitting up and trembling in her bed.
âLivie? Do you know who this is?'
It sounded like her brother. But it couldn't be her brother. Her brother was dead. The death verdict had been bizarre. SUNDS. Sudden Unexplained Nocturnal Death Syndrome. A rare, mysterious death that worked like an adult form of SIDS. People died in their sleep and no one knew why.
âChris? Is it really you?' Olivia gripped the phone so hard her fingers ached. As if she could squeeze her brother out.
âI tried to hang on, Kidlet. But it just wasn't meant to be.'
The voice was her brother's, but different somehow, in a way Olivia could not quite figure out. But only her brother called her Kidlet. Her brother who was dead but talking to her on the phone.
âChris, if it really is you, somehow, I love you, okay? I miss you.'
Static again, and Olivia got out of bed, pacing toward the front window, the connection was always better there.
ââsten to me, Livie, I don't have .Â .Â . ong.'
The silence came like a vacuum, the voice gone. Olivia dodged the boxes that were stacked to the ceiling. The movers had taken ten long hours to get everything packed up, and were due in the morning first thing to load. She pinched one of the slats of the blinds and looked outside. The
sign in front of her house was slightly twisted. There were lights in her neighbors' houses, and the blue of television screens glowed in every house in the cul de sac, though everyone was sealed up tight. Californians lived behind closed doors and did not hang out on porches, like Olivia remembered from Tennessee.
She saw the glow of a cigarette, and a woman in a dark tee shirt, walking her tiny dog. The woman lived three houses over, usually wore sandals with rhinestones, and she always turned away when Olivia said hello. Olivia made a point of saying hi whenever she saw the woman, in the way of southerners who use courtesy to mess with people under the cover of being polite. People who did not grow up in the south never understood they'd been insulted on the sly. Olivia had learned early that you could say any nasty thing that came to mind so long as you preceded it with
bless your heart
, and said it with a smile. Teddy's father, Hugh, called it her southern bullshit.
Olivia's throat was tight enough that swallowing hurt. She had just decided the call was nothing more than a dream when she heard the chimes again, and a crackle, as if a lost connection had been restored.
â.Â .Â . warn you, Livie.'
âWarn me about what? Chris? Warn me about what?'
âI had to pay the piper. You have to know it's been taken care of.'
âI don't understand. What's been taken care of?'
â.Â .Â . my fault. Don't let him .Â .Â . after you.'
âWho's coming after me?'
.' Static again. â.Â .Â . ove you, Livie .Â .Â .'
Silence like forever in her heart.
The Mister Man.
Olivia stumbled across the hall, dodging the boxed up pictures that were stacked next to the wall outside the bathroom. She peered into Teddy's room, heart beating hard until comforted by the visible curl of her little girl, sleeping on the wrong side as usual, head at the foot of the bed, wrapped in the pink chenille bedspread. Olivia and Teddy had their peculiar habits of sleep, Teddy wrong side up, and Olivia always on top of the bedspread, because she hated the slippery sensation of sheets.
Winston, the golden retriever, lifted his head and groaned because his bones ached, but dutifully padded out to the hallway to nuzzle Olivia's knee.
Olivia and Winston settled side by side at the top of the steep stairway, Winston with his muzzle in Olivia's lap, smelling like old dog and comfort.
The Mister Man. Sibling code for the nameless, faceless unknown that made Emily disappear. Olivia knew that it was her imagination, but ever since her sister went away, Olivia had often felt the ongoing, unsettling sensation that she was being watched.
He is three million, eight hundred years old and counting. He is six hundred sixty years since renewed. In the flesh, he leaves the footprint of the goat, though he can leave the footprint of the man, if he chooses.
Tonight he walks behind the woman with rhinestone slippers, watching with his lazy yellow sated lion eyes. Her tiny little dog looks anxiously over its shoulder, but the Piper's business, his hunger, is not for the woman or this miniature guardian. The little dog strains the leash, hard enough for its tiny heart to burst, how delicious, yet the woman only frowns, no appreciation at all, too busy talking on the cell phone to her married lover. The Piper turns his connoisseur's nose up at the reek of her, ennui on the hoof, no thank you â too easy, too tainted, too dry.
It is the face he sees at the window that rouses him. Heart shaped and full, those fleshy pink lips, flower petal soft, the thick hair a man could wrap round his hand to pin her down, the juicy rounded body, contours where he could sink his teeth and chew. This one stirs his loins, and sings like an ache of exquisite pain in his blood. He tastes her, shudders at the strength of her yearning, though she hardly seems to know, truly, what it is she wants, only thinking of it as home, the hungry grief for the ones she has lost. Now hunger â that is one thing the Piper understands. And when they fall away into the dark, as some of them always do, the Piper is there to catch them. One more into the fold.