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“The Haunting of Mrs. Poole”

Genre: horror / suspense

Virginia, 1872. The night before her wedding, Amelia sees a horrific spirit at the groom’s mansion. The next day, she becomes Mrs. Orton Poole, wife of a much older man so she can save herself and her sister from poverty. When the ghost continues to plague her, she must find out what it wants before her life is ruined.

Where You Can Find It

History

Virginia has always seemed like a dark and mysterious land to me. Its history of violence, being on the line between North and South, gives it a schizophrenic edge. This story was born from an image that hit my brain, the image of a ghostly writing that appeared on a frosty window. I set it in Virginia in the 1870s to take advantage of the contrast between civilization and frontier. Amelia’s obsession with the philosopher Immanuel Kant reflects my own, and so I found a bit of philosophy emerging as the story evolved. Kant was one of the most influential philosophers of the 18th century, a visionary in metaphysics, and he left behind a legacy of thought that continues to influence the world. I hope you enjoy it.

Excerpt

The Charred Lady first appeared to me on July 2, 1872.

My wedding gown haunted me that night, hanging from a nail on the wall. It glowed in the lamplight and hovered in the periphery of my vision, a ghost reminding me my life was about to change. I was to be married on the morrow, to become Mrs. Orton Poole.

It had been an exhausting day of forced smiles, handshakes, and toasts.

Having been raised in an orphanage in Richmond, Virginia, I was not accustomed to boisterous celebrations with the well-to-do. I had tumbled through conversation as a sea urchin tumbles in a surging tide pool.

Finally, I found sanctuary in my room, rereading portions of Critique of Pure Reason by the German philosopher Immanuel Kant. My beloved tutor, Mr. Smith, had uncovered my talents for Mathematics, Philosophy, and Metaphysics, a combination that had led him to introduce me to Herr Kant’s bold thoughts. I have since read everything the philosopher ever wrote. If the man hadn’t died before my birth, he’d have found himself burdened, I fear, with an admirer. Thus, I was grateful for the time alone with my thoughts and his.

The day had sweltered, and the oncoming night promised equal discomfort. I opened the window to let in whatever dogged breeze could find its way to me. Poole Manor, my future home, wasn’t the most hospitable of buildings, and the narrow window granted me only a sliced view of the grounds. The scent of sweet magnolia rose from the lawn below, and from my vantage on the second floor, I saw fireflies twinkling on the bank of the James River, against a backdrop of black water.

That’s when I saw her, standing on the lawn, cast in shadows. At first, I thought it must be one of Orton’s servants, but no, not in such an elegant hooded cloak. A wedding guest, perhaps?

She stepped into the moonlight.

She was deformed. Her features tipped askew as if mottled by so many scars they no longer sat right upon her cheekbones. This became more apparent as she lifted her chin to look at me. Our gazes locked, and I gasped in horror to see she had only one eye, the other’s removal having left an empty socket. She made no attempt to cover her hideousness but faced me as if daring me to see her.

Year written: 2018
Year first published: 2019