Bill Iver didn’t expect anything more than hard work when he offered to help his daughter and son-in-law restore their rented historic South Carolina home, but then he sees two boys in the attic--and his hand passes through one of them.
Bill has always believed that being absent from the body meant being present with the Lord, but if that is true, what did he see? And why does the boy dressed in 19th century clothing look familiar while the second boy, dressed in jeans and sweatshirt, look like the missing grandson of the house's owner? What is the connection between the two boys--and Bill?
Hesitant to share his experience with his pastor, but consumed with the need to understand, Bill seeks a worldly explanation which leads him down a trail of decisions that are deadly to body and soul.
Through the mire, he must undo the consequences of his choices, discover what his visions mean, and uncover an age-old mystery that will bring closure and reconciliation.
“Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divinations or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritualist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord…”
Deuteronomy 18: 10-12a
“Let me tell you right off, I don’t believe in ghosts. I never have and I never will. Not good ones, anyway. But some things are hard to explain. If you have ever considered getting involved in the occult, you need to hear my story. It may change your mind.” ~ Bill Iver
My father’s faith left him the minute the maternity nurse told him I was a boy. He had prayed for a daughter, hoping to prevent another generation of Iver men from having the nightmares. As far as I know, Ralph Iver never spoke to God again.
My dad’s fears proved to be well-founded. At puberty, the Iver dreams began invading my life about once a month. Imprisoned within the confines of sleep, I’d find myself standing on one side of a wide chasm, the dry wind beating me, bending me like a green willow. My life depended on being able to cross the gap and reach the man on horseback on the opposite side. I’d search in vain for anything to use as I shielded my eyes against the swirling sand that bites my skin. In the distance, the man would lower his head, turn his horse and ride away. In a panic, I’d release the scream that had grown from deep within me. At that point I’d awaken trembling, sweat dripping from my body.
My father’s desire to end the nightmares became a reality with the birth of my only child, Trina, twenty-six years ago. When I die the Iver curse will end.
Steam rose from the mouth of my ten-cup thermos as I opened it for another swig. The familiar scent of roasted beans brought back happy memories of driving all night for family vacations when Trina was little and my wife was alive. Nancy died when Trina was ten. I raised Trina alone with the occasional help of my younger sister, Betsy. Now Trina and her husband, Ted, are renovating a historic house in South Carolina in exchange for rent. This short trip from Ohio over spring break from teaching was to prepare me for my construction role during the summer. Besides, I missed my daughter.
Other than to refill my gas tank or to recycle the continuous coffee I consumed, I drove from Ohio to South Carolina without stopping. Used to being alone, I didn’t even turn on the radio; I simply watched the pavement roll by, mile after dark mile. Around seven in the morning, the sun broke the monotonous blackness and unfolded orange and pink wisps across the horizon.
A lifetime later, I reached Darlington, and then Cashua Street. Many of the houses on Cashua looked like historic beauties, lovingly restored. I lowered the car window, and warm air swirled around me. A dog barked and quickly, a second joined in. The smell of someone’s barbeque made my stomach growl. It had been hours since I had ingested more than caffeine.
The street numbers increased the farther I went: even numbers on the right, odd on the left. I spotted the house number I was looking for, and then double-checked against the scrap of paper clutched in my hand. This couldn’t be the right place; I must have written the house number down wrong. I slowed the car and pulled into the unpaved drive. Trina had said the old Colonial needed work, and Ted had called the place a renovation, but this house looked more like a demolition.
As I picked up the phone to call Trina, my daughter ran through the front door and leaped off the crumbling porch. Her long slender legs gracefully covered the distance between the two of us before I could unwind my six-and-a-half-foot frame out of the car.
Trina wound her arms around my chest. “Dad, I missed you.”
I held her tight, resting my cheek on top of her head, enjoying her warmth and the feel of her heartbeat. My daughter. My life. She pulled away before I was ready to let her go.
“Isn’t it great?” She spread her free arm toward the crumbling two-story disaster. It reminded me of the neighborhood haunted house from when I was a kid.
With one arm still wrapped around her shoulders, I dragged my free hand across the short stubble on top of my head and looked around. The yard was nothing more than patches of green surrounded by oceans of sand. Scraggly branches, like misshapen arms, extended from overgrown shrubs that flanked the front of the house. Long strings of Spanish moss dripped from the limbs of an ancient laurel oak, creating a sense of grayness and death, while its towering branches blocked the sun.
Dismay and anger joined hands within my gut. Someone was actually renting this unsafe residence to my daughter.
But the house evoked no fear as I stared at the dilapidated structure. It was just an old house.
And then it happened.
Without warning tension surged through my body, as though a static charge had entered and forgotten to leave. It wound around my heart, pressed my ribs into my lungs, and froze my hands into fists.
Instinctively I knew this sensation came from a higher power. I had never experienced the direct hand of God before. Oh sure, I prayed and believed God could intervene, but He seldom did. Not in my life anyway. God put the world in place, provided the laws of nature, and left us on our own. As for any interaction with Satan, well, he’s after bigger fish than me.
I rubbed my tingling arms and willed my galloping heart to slow as I looked for an obvious source of my tension. No stray dogs with bared fangs. No cars careening out of control. But still the feeling of something about to happen remained. I ran my hand against the scruffiness of my jaw, more stunned by the experience than fearful.
Trina grabbed my hand, unaware of my state of mind. “Come inside! You’ve got to see this place.”
Ted met us at the door. From the front entry, Trina led us to the parlors. Both flanked opposite sides of the entry and were filled with the past homeowner’s furniture. The scent of arthritis cream still clung to the air. In her characteristic bouncy manner, Trina’s cheerful monologue continued as we toured what she and Ted hoped would evolve into a bed and breakfast.
My senses remained on high-alert. Although certain I could handle any situation that arose, the unfamiliar tension clung to my body like an ill-fitting wool sweater, and I squirmed against the itch.
After we had viewed two floors, eight bathrooms and seven bedrooms, my fists loosened and I quit entering each room expecting the boogie man to be hiding behind the door
Trina had saved the best to last. Only the attic remained. A shop teacher can tell a great deal about a house from the exposed beams in its shell.
As I put my hand on the doorknob, a chill ran down my back. I shook from the cold.
“Dad, what’s wrong?” Trina asked from behind me.
I flexed my fingers and swallowed against the fullness in my throat. What was wrong with me, a grown man spooked by an old house? My sister Betsy had been telling me to lay off the caffeine. Perhaps she was right.
“Someone walked on my grave,” I said, repeating an axiom often used by my family. Squaring my shoulders, trying to ignore the rush of stories that entered my mind about things that happened in attics, I again grabbed the corroded bronze knob and pulled open the door. Hot, stale air greeted me.
Ted reached around me and flipped on the light. I glanced up the stairs. “Ever see any bats?” I sniffed the air and inhaled the scent of dust and old wallpaper.
“Just outside,” Trina replied.
“Bats carry rabies. Be careful when you’re cleaning up here.”
“Dad, I don’t plan on cleaning the attic any time soon. We only moved in a week ago. I haven’t had time to finish the downstairs yet!”
I dragged the toe of my athletic shoe across the first step. The unstained wood, worn smooth over the years, still bore the unique chisel-marks of manual labor from a past era. Proud work from proud men. The powdery dust covering the tread was different from the thick, almost oily coat that shrouded the floors and furniture in the unused bedrooms. “Someone’s been sweeping. These steps are clean.”
Behind me, Trina snorted. “The steps are filthy.”
Four dormers and two exposed light bulbs dangling from cords dimly lit the open space. Boxes and trunks covered almost half the floor. Pieces of furniture stood in silent testimony to times past. Odd-shaped objects, hidden beneath mouse-chewed cloths, conjured up images of mummies, gray bones, and deer heads with sightless eyes. Shadows melted together, leaving the impression of one huge monster ready to grab an unwary victim.
Sweat ran down my face; the attic needed ridge vents. No bats hung along the rafters. Floor boards squeaked as Trina and Ted shifted into place behind me. I exhaled. Just a normal old attic.
Something moved across the room.
Bats! I jerked up my arm to protect my head as I scanned the spot where I had seen the movement.
My body went rigid.
Directly across from me were two boys about six or seven years old. One child wore knee pants and a billowing white shirt reminiscent of a past era. A memory struggled to surface, but the familiarity faded.
This oddly-dressed boy stood close behind a second child who sat on a dirty green blanket and was dressed in jeans and a hooded sweat shirt. A strap encircled his neck. Attached to the strap was a chain, the other end of the chain secured beyond the boy’s reach in the dark rafters. As the imprisoned boy turned toward me, the leather band shifted, exposing raw, bleeding skin.
Anger flared within me.
In five quick strides I stood beside the restrained boy.
“It’s going to be all right now,” I murmured, forcing the words out over my thickened tongue. “Help is here.” I reached out to stroke his shoulder.
I yanked back my arm, eyes wide.
My hand had passed through his body.
Regina Smeltzer's debut novel, Deadly Decision, not only features ghosts and a missing child, but also a cast of Southern-town characters that are...
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