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GIFTS OF THE GHOST THE MEOWING MEDIUM
MOLLY FITZ L.A. BORUFF
© 2022, Molly Fitz & L.A. Boruff.
All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system without the prior written permission of the publisher.
Editor: Jasmine Jordan
Cover & Graphics Designer: Mallory Rock
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
No part of this work may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission of the publisher.
PO Box 72
Brighton, MI 48116
About this Book
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ABOUT THIS BOOK
I’m Mags McAllister, and my cat is a ghost.
Well, sort of. It’s a long story.
All you really need to know is that, thanks to said cat, I can now see the spirits of people long past.
They bring me the mysteries surrounding their death and expect me to solve them. But you can’t exactly do a quick Google search to learn more about small-town events that happened more than a century ago.
Apparently you help one wayward specter and more will start appearing at the foot of your bed in the middle of the night. Uh-huh, I’m creeped out, too.
This time, a Victorian-era gentleman named William is in need of my assistance. Now what could he possibly want?
I guess there’s only one way to find out…
To our cats:
Schrödinger, Merlin the Magical Fluff, and Whiskers Montreal,
And also Lemmy, Peach, Lola, and Benson,
…because they deserve it.
“Hello there, my lovely Wax Wonders! For those just joining the livestream, I’m Mags, and we’re here at Colonial Candles, my family’s candle shop here in Larkhaven, Georgia. I parked at the end of the block and thought you’d like to see my walk into work.”
I raised my eyebrows and gave a crooked grin to the viewers. I tried not to move my hands around much as I strolled down the street of Larkhaven, juggling a cell phone and a stack of books. “Normally I’d have a candle-making video for you, or maybe a sneak peek behind the curtain to see all the mysteries revealed, or we might talk about ideas for new candles. But…” I said, drawing out the word. “As most of you know, it’s only been a week since someone set fire in our shop.”
I grimaced into the camera. “Yeah, you heard right. Someone burned down Colonial Candles.” I let out a huge sigh. “Allegedly. I feel like I’m supposed to say allegedly so I don’t get into legal trouble. So for this little story time stream, let’s just assume I say ‘allegedly’ in all the right places. Buckle up, because it’s a long story, so make sure that you’re following me for future updates.”
“Okay, let me get to a few of these questions before I start,” I added, tapping the screen to switch my view. “All right, Candy Candelabra asks, ‘Who did it?’ First off, love your username, but I’m not allowed to answer those questions in public just yet, so you’ll have to stick around for that secret.”
A car honked as I passed through an intersection, so I turned and waved at one of the customers we’d seen often before the fire.
“Hey, Mary!” I called.
The gaunt, older woman grinned as she leaned out of her car window. “Hey, Mags! Can’t wait to visit the new shop! Glad you’re rebuilding.”
The light turned green and Mary sped away, startling a pair of cardinals off the sidewalk and into the closest tree. I paused as a large truck from the furniture store downtown rumbled by.
“Wow, kind of loud today,” I laughed to the viewers.
Whenever I got around to editing the recording of the stream, I would trim out the distractions and turn it into an edited, more cohesive video to post in other social media places. Then I’d add in a YouTube link and a flashing sticker pointing at the follow button to encourage more followers. It made one giant social media network funnel to drive business to my family’s company which meant lots of bank if we ever went viral.
I turned back to the live stream. “As some of you know, my family is descended from a Revolutionary War spy. It was one of the reasons that my Aunt Linda named our shop Colonial Candles, though, at the time it was a big secret. Anyway, someone we knew and trusted was behind the arson in our shop. They were trying to keep us from uncovering a set of papers that would have exposed their family for the frauds they are. Don’t worry. My aunt and I are fine, but the arsonist set fire to my aunt’s house as well.”
I scrunched my nose. “Allegedly. Now I know some of you have already asked. But please remember that I can’t tell you who yet. At least until I’m given the go ahead. So until then, it’s a secret for a future vid. I promise I’ll keep you updated regularly as things progress, but I feel that there is more to the story that hasn’t yet been uncovered. It’s why I’ve been at the library all day researching my family’s history.”
I smiled as I thought about all the information I’d be uncovering very soon. Though, I’d probably never be able to share the ghostly reason I’d gotten started unraveling the mystery behind everything in the first place.
“These leather-bound journals,” I held them up near my face so my camera could capture them, “may hold the key to the next part of my journey. In the comments, tell me what you think is inside these very special volumes.”
I tapped the screen again so I could slow the chat to read more of the comments. Then I waited a few seconds for new ones to populate. “Josie wants to know, ‘Are they recipes for a love spell?’”
Well, that had nothing to do with what I’d been talking about, but at least Josie was watching. “I’m fairly certain these journals won’t have any love spells, but I’ll let you know if I discover something like that while I’m researching. You can bet there will be a video about it.”
Another comment rolled in, this time about the candles, not the intrigue. “Oh, Cheryl, I wish I could give you the list of our scents for next season, but we don’t know how long it’s going to take for repairs. As soon as we know, I’ll do another video with all those details. But hey, if you have any suggestions, make sure to leave a comment below.” Mary had introduced Cheryl to our little shop way back when we first started.
Almost out of breath from trying to talk, walk, film, and of course, not trip onto my face during a live feed, I finally arrived at Jitterbug coffee shop. I wiggled my eyebrows. “Y’all are going to love this shop and the wonderful Laura.” With my hands full, I waited half a second for a businesswoman in a pinstriped suit to come out so I could duck inside before the door closed.
“Hey, Laura,” I called as I stepped over the threshold and dramatically took a deep breath. “It smells heavenly in here.” My eyes adjusted quickly, and I scanned the back of the store.
Laura froze mid-wave when she saw me streaming. With a small squeak, she ducked behind the counter.
“Y’all will love Laura, just let me see if I can find her,” I said to the camera while I gestured for her to come out. “Laura, there are some viewers who want to meet you.”
“No,” she mouthed, keeping mostly hidden behind the pastry counter.
“Come on,” I coaxed.
“No,” she said, louder this time, and laughter filtered through the other people in the coffee shop.
I fake-sighed, stopped at the cash register, and gave a half-spin, careful to keep Laura out of view. “Well, I guess someone is a little shy today. But this cute little shop is where I get my favorite coffee, and I don’t even have to tell her what I want anymore. She just knows.”
Laura rolled her eyes before handing me a to-go cup. “Thanks, hon.”
Directing my attention back to the live, I held the to-go cup close to my mouth. “If you come to Larkhaven to visit Colonial Candles when we’re up and running again, you’ll have to stop by and see Laura at Jitterbug. She loves meeting people in person.”
“You know I do,” Laura called from off camera.
The candle shop was down the street from Jitterbug, and I continued chatting and replying to comments until I arrived at the sidewalk in front of the shop when my new kitty sauntered up and rubbed along my legs.
I raised an eyebrow and leaned closer to the camera. “Now, here is the true owner of our shop.” Flipping the camera around, I trained it on Shadow. “Her name is Shadow, and somehow, she always shows up wherever I go. Isn’t she the cutest?” I crouched down, careful to balance the books and my coffee in one arm/hand.
Shadow put her front paws on my knee, and I was able to give my fans the kitty close-up they wanted. I continued, “Shadow adopted me when we started researching the information about my ancestors.”
Couldn’t really tell them Shadow had come with a ghost. Now could I? It wasn’t that kind of livestream. My ancestor, Maggie McAlister, had come to me as a ghost to help me figure out that my old assistant, Kim, had been trying to kill me and find a set of papers my family had kept hidden for years. Kim’s identity wasn’t the only one I had to keep under wraps.
Viewers loved pets, so I let the Shadow have her fifteen seconds of fame. When I straightened, Shadow meowed and followed me into the reconstruction zone. I didn’t bother changing the camera view. Give the people what they wanted, and right now, they all wanted to see Colonial Candles as it underwent its reconstruction and renovation.
“Ready to see our mess?” I sing-songed.
The door had been propped open by Aunt Linda or maybe a contractor (probably to let fumes of one kind or another escape), so I made my way inside. Stepping over the lumber strewn everywhere, I strolled through the storefront to give everyone the tour. Aunt Linda glared from the back corner. I guess Shadow was my only willing guest today on the stream. Everyone else had their claws out. With a dramatic sweeping gesture, I showed off the interior. Even though the store had been gutted after the fire, sheets of plastic and tarps hung everywhere, obscuring the source of the cacophony of banging happening in other parts of the building.
The contractor started whistling, a code of sorts to let us know he was working in the bathroom. Had to make sure we didn’t walk in and surprise him or vice versa.
I pointed to a few places in the shop. “As you can see, there’s quite a lot of damage that needs to be repaired before we can start making candles again. It still smells of smoke in some of the more heavily impacted areas, even in some of the places that weren’t heavily burned. It’s crazy how smoke gets everywhere. And don’t get me started on the water from putting the fire out. That’s something that gets overlooked a lot. Ah, looks like there’s another guess in the comments as to what’s in my leather-bound books.”
I flipped the camera back to my face so I could react as I read it. “Do the books contain spells and magical ways to enchant our candles to seduce a lover?”
With a giggle, I winked at the camera. “Well, if I had a book that could do that, I probably would be on a beach somewhere being fed grapes and fanned with palm fronds rather than checking on repairs to my favorite candle shop.”
Aunt Linda still glowered at me from the back room, unwilling to be on camera, and more than miffed about the time I took to make videos. Maybe she understood why, but she sure didn’t like it.
Time to shut it off. “Much as I’d love to keep talking with all of you, I have to get to work now. Making things ready for when we can open again. Until then, stay out of trouble, stay safe, and burn bright!”
I’d have to download the video and scrub through it so I could reply to all the comments and questions I missed. At least this would allow my followers to stay updated on how the shop repairs were progressing. Plus, the bit of intrigue with the Kim drama and the secret identity of the arson would help draw viewers.
Aunt Linda thought my videos somehow tainted the family reputation and devalued our candle-making in the process. I thought I’d appeased her when I switched Wax Nation over to something a bit less militant. It was a shame she wouldn't get on board, but it was something I did as much for myself as I did for the shop. I made as much from my instructional videos as I did from working in the candle shop. Sometimes more. Especially while the brick-and-mortar shop wasn’t even functional.
Online sales were great, but social media content was even more important when we were currently depending on online sales for important things… like food and mortgage.
Shadow meowed, and I slid my cell into my back pocket so I could pet Shadow properly. “And cat food,” I said. “We have to buy cat food, don’t we?”
Aunt Linda came out from the rear of the shop. “Oh, good. Now that you’ve turned that thing off, we can discuss a few things. What do you think about having a new paint color?” She slapped one of those paint swatch things on the closest counter.
Pursing my lips, I considered the options. “Didn’t you like the color it was before?”
“Well,” she said. “Maybe.”
“Maybe?” I echoed.
“What do you think?”
Personally, I didn’t see the need to change it, but it was more her shop than mine, even if I did own a half-stake in it. Mostly, I deferred to her. Picking wall colors was a bit like selecting paint for the walls in a beauty shop. We had to be careful. If the wall color made the candles look less appealing, business would go down.
“Is there one that you think will work better with all the candle colors that we make?” I asked.
“Last time, the color before was white with the idea that it would match all the different varieties of candle colors. I’m really leaning toward a mint green or maybe this light peach.” She tapped the colors thoughtfully. “Maybe this tan would work as well. It’s still neutral, but all of them are a lot less antiseptic.”
I hummed. “What if we did each wall in a different color? Then we could do displays for each season and not have to worry about using curtains for props.”
The curtains were the reason that our assistant, Kim, had been able to set a wildly spreading fire in the shop. She’d had a plan but having all that cloth and a few candles around had just made it a little easier for her to accomplish.
The whistling came closer and stopped when the contractor stuck his head into the room where we were. “Hey, ladies. If you could figure out which paint color you’d like, then we can get it ordered.”
When we both glared at him, he held up his hands. “Sorry, no rush, but we’ll need a decision fairly soon or it’ll hold up the schedule. I know you’ve got a lot riding on your grand reopening, so…” His words trailed away.
I turned to my aunt. “I’m going to leave the final choice up to you. I need to get home and work on some more video content, so I won’t fall behind when we get to start work on restocking the shop.” I blew her a kiss then scooped Shadow into my arms, adjusting her around the books.
Shadow could easily make her own way home, but I enjoyed having her with me for company.
When I returned home, I opened the car door and let Shadow out. She jumped from the passenger seat the minute she could. She liked living outside of town as much as I did.
Due to the shop restoration, I had been exiled to do my video work from home. Anything to have a moment alone to get caught up was a welcome relief. Things had been so hectic lately, not to mention downright scary.
Aunt Linda was staying at my place until she could decide what to do about her mostly burned-down home. We had lived together after I'd lost my parents in a fatal car crash, but this was much different. The older I got, the more I appreciated having some quiet time to myself. Not to mention, there wasn't as much room in my home as there had been in her much larger house when I’d lived with her. But, still, she’d be welcome if she needed me. After all Aunt Linda had done for me, it was the least I could offer her.
In all the chaos, I had managed to create a makeshift studio in the small, enclosed porch at the back of my house. So that helped my content creation tremendously, especially with all the natural light.
Shadow waited patiently on the front porch while I unlocked the door and disarmed the alarm.
After the two fires and a couple of break-in attempts, I was more cautious about turning on the alarm system when I left the house. As in, I never forgot anymore. I carefully deposited the big leather-bound books on the dining table and made my way through to my workroom.
The back porch was the only extra space I could use without fear of being interrupted, and I needed to get some content finished or my fans would be unhappy. I sighed and looked around. The room still needed a few extra touches, like a few lights placed, maybe a background or a greenscreen for the optimal video footage. Of course, every time I tried to move something to a new spot, something else was in the way. So I stood back to look over the small space with a critical eye.
My cell rang, and I picked it up without checking the caller id. “Hello?”
“Hey, Mags, did you make it home?” Aunt Linda asked.
“Yes, are things okay at the shop?”
“Oh, fine, good.” I frowned. “Have you seen anyone?”
“No…Should I have?”
“Oh, no, never mind. I’ll talk to you later.” The line went dead.
I stared at my phone screen for a moment. Weird. Maybe Aunt Linda was having residual worry from two fires and some break-in attempts. Glancing around, the skin on my neck tingling, I forced a mental shrug and got back to adjusting.