A few years ago I posted a story about a ghostly lake near my house. One or two comments suggested I develop the theme into a novel. I agreed that I could see the potential, but I was still focused on Murdered Justice, which was still a few months from being released. I was so thrilled to have signed with W & B Publishers, and I’d already begun researching and making notes for Pennington’s Hoax. I’d jotted down some possible ideas for books three and four of Maggie Lyon’s adventures, but none of those plots had her anywhere near what could easily turn out as a gothic mystery. Maggie deals with crime, conspiracy, and international intrigue. She’s not likely to find herself in a haunted house with a flashlight.
However, in real life I continued driving through the spectral mists while imagining the many possible creatures that could spring from the bushes onto the road. All sorts of criminals could be lurking within the brush, but I couldn’t see Maggie willingly leaving New York for haunted wetlands in the Pacific Northwest. As I was preparing to send Pennington’s Hoax to the publisher, I had an idea. Maggie wouldn’t “willingly” find herself living in the woods, but she might be convinced to give it a try. Pennington’s Hoax got a new ending, and readers will soon have a new installment of the Maggie Lyon Mysteries. I hope you enjoy this excerpt from Ghost Lake.
I changed into my hiking boots and decided to venture into the woods now that the rains had stopped for a couple of weeks and our bothersome handyman wasn’t around to stop me from exploring. If I ran across any wildlife, I hoped that it would be more scared of me than I was of it.
I expected that the brambles and vines would trip me up, but to my surprise there was a recently mowed trail that descended along the property line at a steady incline. There were giant firs to my right, and alders under-planted with hazelnuts and elderberry to my left. I couldn’t begin to count the various types of ferns, and I had an immediate sense of satisfaction that many people would pay good money and wait years to enjoy a native landscape like this. Even though the summer dry season had finally arrived, it was cool beneath the canopy. Vine maples at eye level, yellow maples towering above me.
I paused intermittently to examine the wild blackberries prior to ripening. In the densest part of the woods there were the last of the bleeding hearts and some other pink and purple flowers whose names I didn’t know. I spotted a wild rose before coming upon an apple tree in a clearing that still produced fruit in spite of limited sunlight.
There was movement in the bushes to my left, and I immediately turned. At the edge of the clearing, there was a doe with her fawn. The infant’s vibrant white spots stood out on its coat. The pair studied me, and I stood still to see how long they’d linger. We heard a hawk, and that caused them to dash further into the thicket.
I was delighted to discover a seasonal creek running through our property. I was positive that when the rains returned it would be challenging to cross this tributary. I wasn’t sure where it led, but most likely to the Lewis River. Perhaps it had once fed into Hathaway Lake – the ghost lake. I planned to hike the stream one day to find out where it ended. In the meantime, I trekked further and finally reached another clearing under the canopy. My husband Mark-Mario had been telling me that Greg the handyman had been working very hard at reclaiming the property’s neglected areas, but I couldn’t see that the man had done anything more than maintain this one long trail.
I looked around for a place to sit and enjoy nature, but wasn’t keen to sit on the ground. I proceeded further down the slope, trying not to think about the challenging up-hill climb that faced me on my return. The trail narrowed as I came to what I thought was the bottom. Greg had obviously used the tractor’s brush hog for the widest swaths, but the narrowness of the path before me was no wider in my estimation than a riding lawnmower.
Why had Greg meticulously maintained this trail at the property’s edge while warning me like a little girl in a fairy tale to beware of the dangers lurking within the forest? It stood to reason that there was an invisible food chain living in the woods. The deer would draw wolves or wildcats; possibly both. Smaller predators would seek out smaller prey, and while this ecosystem was clearly functioning, I sensed no danger. Perhaps I was too ignorant and foolish.
In movie theaters, audiences scream at the person on the screen to turn back. “Don’t go in there!” I could almost hear an audience in another dimension telling me to go back home as I plodded forward. The trail tapered into a path of hacked out bramble, and in spite of the dry season, there was moist ground beneath my feet. The organic redolence of decayed fallen trees hung in the air, and I breathed pure oxygen. I would’ve turned back, but I wanted more time in nature before I had to return to the problems that required my attention.
My feet sunk into the earth, and I pushed on a branch to steady my balance. I lifted myself to a spot just ahead, and I realized there was an old gate not too far beyond. It was made of metal; wood would have rotted over the years. Of course, the metal wasn’t faring too well, so I guessed that the gate was at least 40 years old. It wasn’t closed so I passed through it.
I stood underneath a trestle. Behind me was the forest’s dense canopy, but opening before me was tall and wide as if I were stepping into a cathedral. I could hear an occasional car overhead, and there was a trickle of water coming from somewhere. I looked back to see where I’d come from. I might have stepped into another dimension, and I didn’t want my way back to fade into the rest of the foliage leaving me trapped.
At that point I should have turned around. I was no longer on my property, but I was curious. I moved into a thick section of tall grass. I stepped in mud, and everywhere I turned I seemed to bog down to my ankles. My boots were ruined, but I continued until I emerged into an open field. I was in the marshes. I was standing in Ghost Lake, and before me was the yellow police tape marking off the area where they’d found that poor girl.
© 2019 by Patrick Brown
To learn more about my books, especially the three featuring Maggie Lyon, visit my author page at: http://www.amazon.com/Patrick-Brown/e/B005F0CYH2/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1419885131&sr=8-1