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SECRETS OF THE SPECTER The Meowing Medium
MOLLY FITZ L.A. BORUFF
© 2021, 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.
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About this Book
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ABOUT THIS BOOK
I’m Mags McAllister, and I am an honest-to-goodness modern-day candlestick maker. I work in my family’s shop in the historic district of Larkhaven, Georgia, and also make a pretty penny from sharing videos of my process online.
My life is simple, quiet, and all mine… until a white cat with mismatched eyes shows up outside my shop and refuses to leave. When I take him home, things get really weird. As in, I can now see things and people that were never there before.
It gets even freakier when a voiceless spirit introduces herself to me via a handwritten letter. This specter claims that I share her name and will also share her fate if we can’t solve the mystery that’s haunted our town since 1781… and quickly because she won’t be able to maintain her strength for much longer.
Talk about a cold case! Can I find a way to free my eighteenth-century counterpart? Or has my new feline companion just signed my death warrant by opening my eyes to the secret supernatural plane in our otherwise sleepy small town?
To our cats:
Schrödinger, Merlin the Magical Fluff, and Whiskers Montreal,
And also Lemmy, Peach, Lola, and Benson,
…because they deserve it.
Hello and welcome to Colonial Candles! My name is Mags McAllister, and I’m part of the eighth generation of McAllisters to have settled in beautiful Larkhaven, Georgia.
That’s right. My family put down roots bright and early in our nation’s history, and we’re still here to this very day.
We weren’t always candle makers, though. My aunt Linda was the one who started the shop back in 1984, and we’ve been a mainstay on Historic Row ever since.
Most days, I’ll be the first face you see when you come into our humble little store. I also lead demonstrations on traditional candle-making techniques and teach the occasional class, too. My real passion lies in the more modern side of candle craftsmanship, though…
Not sure what that means? Well, I’m talking about viral videos of the oddly satisfying variety. I dip, drip, carve, and shape, then upload to YouTube, and more recently a new app called TikTok, where I have built up something of a cult following. Yes! Believe it or not, I somehow earn more from monetizing videos of my work than selling the actual candles.
Aunt Linda thinks my videos somehow tarnish the purity of our old-fashioned techniques, but frankly, I think it’s a thing of beauty, combining the past and present as I do.
It helps me stay connected to the world outside of Larkhaven. You see, I’m the only McAllister of my generation. At least, I thought I was until quite recently when one Angie Russo from Maine contacted us and said she was a long-lost family member. Imagine my joy at learning I was no longer the youngest by more than thirty years.
That joy further developed into ecstatic fervor when I met my cousin live and in-person and found her to be one of the most invigorating people I’d ever spent any amount of time with. Now we text back and forth a few times each day, mostly sharing silly anecdotes and cute pet pics. Makes me feel a bit less isolated and reminds me that I’m only thirty years old instead of someone who’s earned her right to the senior discount.
Mind you, that doesn’t stop AARP from sending me recruitment letters at least once per month, though. You’d think a girl could enjoy a nice sweater set and antique brooch without being taken for her mother’s sister. Jeez!
Anyway, so that’s me, Mags McAllister—lots of boring and just a little bit of interesting all rolled into one. Are you here to buy some candles?
I watched in amused silence as a woman in khaki shorts and a Disney World t-shirt mumbled a quick excuse before hightailing it out of my store. Aunt Linda wouldn’t be pleased that I’d scared another one off. After all, she’d told me time and again that I needed to stop my introduction after saying “Hello and welcome to Colonial Candles!”
“They don’t want to hear your life story, Maggie girl,” Aunt Linda often said, punctuating the words with a sigh, an eye-roll, or even a well-placed flick against my wrist. And I suppose she had a point. Most people didn’t want to hear everything I had to say, but eventually, someone would, and I didn’t want to miss the opportunity of telling them all about me and my life.
Besides, people generally still bought candles even after I caught them up on my own personal history. They probably felt sorry for me—hey, don't judge. I'm not above accepting pity purchases. The store had become a landmark for tourists, thanks to a few well-placed reviews and that all-powerful word of mouth—and the videos of course. Larkhaven itself didn’t attract too many tourists as any kind of end destination, but, boy, did we get a lot of folks on their way down to Florida.
Our humble little town, situated in the Peach Plains region of Georgia, was about an hour from the state line. It was the perfect place to stop for those who wanted one more break to grab a meal or stretch their legs before carrying on to Mickey’s kingdom or paying a visit to Grandma and Gramps at their retirement village.
Historic Row was particularly popular because it made parents feel like they were doing something educational and responsible before spending the rest of their week chasing after fairytale princesses, high-budget carnival rides, and sugared treats.
It was odd being a pass-through town. For reasons unbeknownst to me, most people couldn’t stand to spend more than an hour or two in the vicinity, but somehow, we’d ended up building our lives here and stayed for eight generations.
I would have very much liked to share all of this with Miss Mickey Shirt, too, but she had already disappeared back into the wide world, banging the heavy wooden door to my family’s shop behind her.
A few minutes after she’d gone, however, a scraping and a scuffling outside suggested she just might have changed her mind. After all, our candles were a sight to behold.
As I listened, the noise on the other side of the door grew louder, but still, the woman didn’t reenter the shop. What was she doing out there? Or had the door gotten stuck against the pavement again?
Unable to tamp down my curiosity, I traced my way to the front of the store and flung open that door with a gigantic grin splashed across my face. “Welcome back to—”
My greeting ended abruptly when I found myself staring at an empty street. Confused, I glanced up, down, and all around until I finally found the source of all that noise I’d been hearing.
“Well, hello. Are you here to buy some candles?” I asked the all-white cat laid out on my doormat in the form of an extra fluffy bread loaf.
Said feline visitor responded by blinking slowly in the sunlight, showing off his large eyes—one blue and one a brilliant, sparkling gold.
“You are a pretty little thing,” I gushed as I bent to pat him on the head.
He allowed it but also gave no indication as to whether he enjoyed that small bit of intimacy. His fur was shiny and well-kept, and he appeared neither too thin nor too fat. He also didn’t have a collar secured around his neck.
“Who do you belong to, little fella?” I asked, still mesmerized by those majestic, mismatched eyes of his.
He, of course, did not answer, being a cat and unable to speak English. Didn’t even give me a pity meow.
So what was I supposed to do now? Feed him? Bring him inside until I could locate the owners? Drop him off at the local animal shelter and hope for the best? And were our nearby places ‘no kill’ shelters, or would consigning him to one be like signing a death warrant? I had no idea.
And I really didn’t know what to do; however, I did know just the person who might. I fished my cell phone from my cardigan pocket. Aunt Linda hated that I kept it there since it made the garment fall unevenly, but it was really the most convenient place, being that my skirt pockets were always far too small, if even present at all. Honestly, if men wore skirts, the pockets would come down to the hemline, but that was a rant for another day.
“Hello?” my cousin answered after the second ring.
“Angie, I found a cat, and now I don’t know what to do,” I ground out, glancing up and down the street to confirm I was all alone with this strange visiting feline.
She laughed. “It can’t be as bad as you’re making it sound. What’s the problem? Did you find the cat from Pet Sematary?”
I knew enough to catch the reference to a horror film—or was it a book? —but that was about it. I far preferred sweeping Regency romances to anything scary. Also, jokes didn’t exactly help with my real-life problem. “What do I do with him?”
“Does he have a collar?” Angie asked, sobering up and now ready to offer some help, thank goodness.
“Does he look scrawny and dirty like he could be a stray?”
“Then I’d say take him to the vet and get him scanned for a microchip,” Angie concluded. My cousin really did have a way with animals that felt almost preternatural at times. She got on with all creatures great and small, the same way I did with my candles, which probably made me sound pretty sad by comparison. But I promise it’s the honest truth.
I flashed the cat a thumbs-up so that he would know the call had been a success. “Oh, good idea. Thanks.”
“I’ve gotta go. We just had a big case come in, and I’m off to meet with the client at his office.” Angie sounded distracted, tired. I’d let her go now and check in on her later to see how it all had gone.
“Well, la-di-da, Miss Big-Time Investigator. Good luck.”
After a quick goodbye, I shoved the phone back into my pocket and appraised the cat who had found his way to my doorstep. “I don’t even know what to call you, so I guess I’ll just go with Mr. Cat. There’s a fifty percent chance you’re a boy, right?”
He flicked his tail and stared at me from those gorgeous, mismatched eyes. I could get lost in those swirling depths if I wasn’t careful.
“Right, well, Mr. Cat. I’m going to call my aunt in to watch the store, and then the two of us are headed for the vet’s office.”
Mr. Cat let out a low growl. It was so low that I wasn’t quite sure I’d heard anything at all.
“Not for shots or anything like that. Just to see if you belong to somebody, okay?” I reached out to offer a reassuring pet, but he jerked out of my reach.
He growled again, much louder this time, then hissed and ran off down the cobblestone street.
I ran a few steps after him, but he moved so quickly that chasing him would obviously be a lost cause.
Which I guessed meant that was it, then.
Mr. Cat was gone, and I’d probably never see him again.
A storm settled over Larkhaven for most of the afternoon. This turned the shop’s normally steady flow of customers into a slow trickle, but I didn’t mind one bit. I’d always liked stormy weather growing up, and now that I was all grown, I absolutely loved it.
I kept an odd collection of mismatched candles for just such an occasion. Whenever the sky grew dark and thunder began to crash, I arranged them throughout the storefront, turned off the overhead lights, and sat soaking up the peaceful ambiance.
The outside world stopped whenever the skies became heavy with rain, like God decided everyone could use a bit of a break and he wanted to make sure we all took it.
Sometimes other shop owners on the Row closed their stores for the duration and came to weather the storm in my candle shop. We’d even started a rainy-day book club—not the type where everyone read the same book and we got together to discuss, though. Instead, we each contributed a few of our favorite works of fiction to a little lending library that we kept just for this purpose, then we’d sit and read together in the candlelight as the rhythm of rain plopping against the rooftops kept the beat.
Sure enough, Lacey Lamb, the proprietress of the candy store, rushed across the street and straight through my door. I’d taken to calling her “Lacey Lamborghini,” because she was the fanciest person I’d ever seen around these parts. She liked the nickname, so it’d stuck. She’d even investigated changing her shop’s name to include the moniker, but her lawyer forced her to drop that idea real fast.
“Did you know there’s a cat sitting outside your door?” Lacey asked as she wrestled her umbrella into submission. “Poor thing is getting soaked out there.”
“What?” I asked incredulously, already suspecting that my feline visitor must be the same white cat I’d met earlier that day. I marched toward the door and flung it open.
A sudden gale of wind blew my white-blonde hair across my face.
Mr. Cat wasn’t on the doormat this time. Instead, he sat a couple of feet away on the sidewalk, getting pelted by precipitation. He must have been upset by Lacey’s arrival, but why hadn’t he moved back under the awning?
Cats hated water, right?
I motioned toward the cat and called out over the wind, “C’mon, kitty. Come inside and get out of the storm.”
He trotted right in as if he’d been waiting for just such an invitation.
“What were you doing out there?” I asked as he shook the water droplets from his glossy white coat.
“Meow” was all he said.
Well, I supposed that was just as good an answer as any.
Lacey joined us by the door. “Wow, look at those eyes. He’s so beautiful.”
“Fancy a new cat, Lacey Lamborghini?” I only half-joked. A cat like this one was clearly special and right up my friend’s alley.
“He must belong to somebody,” she said with a frown.
Mr. Cat mewled again, then proceeded to use my skirt as a makeshift towel, rubbing against me as he walked, then turning around and doing it again and again.
“He seems to like you,” Lacey pointed out.
“He’s just happy I let him in from the storm. Can you stay here with him while I head to the deli to grab something for him to eat?”
“Oh, Mags. Are you sure you want to feed him? If you do that, he’ll forever be your shadow.”
“He’s our guest tonight. It’s our job as proper Southern ladies to show him the appropriate hospitality,” I said, pulling my raincoat over my shoulders and raising the hood.
Lacey shrugged. “It’s your funeral.”
Most fortuitously, Otto at the deli insisted on giving me a quarter pound of shredded turkey at no cost. “Always considered myself an animal lover,” he said with a wink.
“Great, then if I can’t find his owner maybe you can take him.”
He chuffed at this. “No way the dogs would ever let me live that one down. I’m sure you’ll find who he belongs to though. Good luck.”
I returned to Colonial Candles to find Mr. Cat sitting dangerously close to a naked flame and purring as he groomed one of his shoulders.
Lacey watched him with wide eyes and a sad expression. “It’s not a very big town. Don’t you think one of us would have remembered seeing him before?”
“Do you think a tourist may have lost him?”
“Seems strange to take the family cat on a road trip, but who knows?”
“Well, I guess there’ll be no book club for me today. Can you keep an eye on things here while I run him over to the vet and have his microchip scanned?”
“Oh, that’s a good idea about the vet, but you do realize I closed down my shop to come over here?”
I gave her a cheeky grin. “Then you should be available to watch mine. I’ll be fast, I promise.”
Lacey offered me a half-hearted salute. “Godspeed, Mags.”
I pulled around to the front of the shop, even driving up onto the curb a little, then grabbed my friend’s umbrella and carried a very unwilling passenger to my car.
He calmed down somewhat once the heated seats had enough time to warm up. Of course, I was still half afraid he’d jump on my face with his claws out and cause me to crash the car. The rain was now coming down so hard, I could hardly see despite my wipers swishing back and forth at full force.
The nearest veterinary clinic was a good stretch away from Historic Row. It wasn’t a place I’d ever gone intentionally, having no pets of my own, but I was sure I could find it even with the rain limiting visibility on the road.
Mr. Cat stood on the passenger seat, his spine rigid, his mismatched eyes wide and glowing warily against the dark sky. He appeared truly terrified, and I couldn’t say I blamed him.
“There, there. It’ll be all right,” I cooed, removing one hand from the steering wheel, and brushing my fingers across his head. Risking a quick glance at him, I smiled before moving my hands back to the ‘ten and two’ position.
The rain let up just enough to give me a clear view through the windshield while the wipers worked at their fastest setting. We had to be getting close to the vet’s now. I just needed to make sure I didn’t miss the turnoff for Howling Pines Drive. I slowed and squinted against the rain as I searched for the turn I would need to take.