Monday, June 30, 2014

The Joys – or Angst? – of Paranormal Encounters

Hi, xxxx. Thanks for letting me join your blog today to talk about Crossing into the Mystic.
First, an overview of the book, for perspective: After the deaths of her parents and sister, insufferably independent main character Grace is so grief-stricken that even years later when she encounters a ghost, she is charmed into trusting him with the hope of (1) being able to help him solve his murder, and (2) making contact through him with her dead family.

Many people have asked what prompted me to write a story about the paranormal. My answer always is that several things came together at the right time to develop the story.
However, today, for the first time, I’d like to share one of those in more detail. It’s about my beloved cousin-through-marriage, Jim, an intelligent, generous, and delightful man.
Although he died a couple years ago at the age of 81, his story will remain with me forever.

To begin, I have to place you into character.  You are now a man in your late 50s. You’ve lived your whole life in towns around the Gettysburg Battlefield, site of one of the Civil War’s bloodiest and longest battles.  As a boy, you found minie balls and shells and even a uniform emblem that stemmed back to that fateful battle.  You learned the fields, their drops and inclines, their vistas, their routines, but never once did you see anything untoward.

You grew up to serve in the National Guard, reared several children, operated (and launched) a couple businesses, and made yourself so financially successful that you could retire young and travel with your lovely wife. You were involved in your church and several civic-oriented organizations. In short, you are now successful, healthy and of sound mind.
One evening, you and your wife go out to dinner with another couple. You have a great time and agree to journey back to the house to continue your time together. As you crest a hill beside a battlefield, you look to your left and see six soldiers marching in formation. You’re used to such sites in Gettysburg, given that they perform re-enactments periodically throughout the year.

But, that quickly it hits you, it’s the wrong time of year. And, it’s dusk, whereas re-enactments generally occur in the afternoons. Further, you realize that the soldiers have a semi-transparency to them and that the hair is standing up on the back of your neck (yes, even from the distance and in a car).

You pale, swallow hard, and ask your friend if he saw it, too. His answer, “yes” comes out elongated and hoarse. Quickly, you look back, but the soldiers are gone! You ask the wives in the back seat if they saw it, but the answer is no. You have only one witness. 

You try to reason it through, you discuss it a little with your friend, and decide that the fading sun had to have played tricks on your eyes and that, for some reason, it was re-enactors walking along that field. With high hopes, you choose to dismiss the whole thing, but find that you can’t.

It stays with you—the visual, the feeling, the raised hairs.

Two days later, the local paper runs a story about a ghost siting. Three other people, separately, reported seeing the same six soldiers. What’s more, one brave person ran toward them and watched the soldiers disappear as he approached.

Now what do you do? It just became even more real, but if you talk about it to other friends and family, they’ll label you in the same category as those people who believe in alien abductions.

What did Jim do?  He wrestled with the memory for years. He changed from being skeptic regarding all that silly battlefield talk about ghosts, to true believer in the spiritual realm.
When he told me his story, the hair on my arms stood on end.

Jim’s not alone. A Gallup poll found that nine of out ten people believe in God, and a Harris poll found that fifty-one percent of the public believes in ghosts. So clearly we have an overlap of people who believe in God but who also believe in ghosts.  That same Harris poll also found that one in five Americans claims to have encountered an apparition/ghost.
There will always be skeptics among us who come up with scientific explanations to discount spiritual phenomena. Yet, at the same time, most people acknowledge that there’s much more around us than what we can see, taste, smell, hear, and feel.

Many Jew and Christians interpret the Bible as saying that there is no such thing as a dead person's spirit walking the earth or returning to the place where they died, but that there are spirit beings who can connect with our physical realm. These spirits are fallen angels that once served God, but now they serve the god of the underworld, Satan. These demons are expert at deception, for they masquerade as angels of light. In other words, they can take on the same physical looks as a human who has died.

And that lays the foundation for spiritual warfare.

So, this means then, that even people of strong faith think ghosts could be in our midst (albeit, actually demons). If that’s so, then why? In Jim’s case, for example, he wasn’t interacting with them in anyway.  Did they appear merely to attempt to destroy the faith of those who observed them? (Ironically, if anything, it made Jim’s faith stronger.) I don’t know the answer to that question, but I do know that Jim saw what he described.

What about you? Have you ever had an encounter with the unexplained, an angel, or a ghost that left the hair on your arms at attention? 

Crossing Into the Mystic:
A Civil War Paranormal Romance
The Crossings Series
Book One of a Trilogy
D.L. Koontz

Genre: Inspirational Fantasy, paranormal (contains Christian themes)

Print Length: 258 pages

ISBN: 1941103030

Publisher: Lighthouse Publishing
of the Carolinas

Book Description:

Three years after losing her family in a car crash, Grace MacKenna is set to inherit her stepfather's ancestral estate among the mountains of West Virginia. Seeking solace and healing, Grace discovers the ghost of William Kavanaugh, a dashing Civil War captain in Virginia s 17th Infantry, haunts the property. When William charms Grace into investigating the mystery that led to his death a hundred and fifty years ago, she finds herself drawn into a world of chivalry and honor, but also deception with secrets too dark to speak aloud.

Meanwhile, Clay Baxter, home from service in Afghanistan, fights his own demons and ghosts. When Clay senses Grace falling deeper into the realm of the dead, he seeks to pull her back. But is he too late?

Torn between her love for two mysterious young men - one living and one dead - Grace stands in the shadows of the Antietam Battlefield with a choice: one that could leave Grace lost forever, "crossing into the Mystic."

Available at Amazon  Amazon Paperback    BN

Book Trailer:

Chapter 1

All of it became mine that day: the hefty trust fund, my mother’s red SUV, and my stepfather’s ancestral estate isolated amidst the caverns of the Blue Ridge Mountains. I was embarking on a 500-mile journey to make solo use of all three. As long as I remained in Boston, I would continue to live my life backward—dwelling on the past and longing for the parents and sister who were dead. Buried. Gone. There was no way I could have known that by turning away from death I would be running into it.

Th day seemed like the perfect time to launch my escape. Th rising sun shot beguiling streaks of crimson through the divisions of the massive brown- stones on Boston’s Beacon Hill, teasing away any threat of “Red sky at morn- ing, sailor take warning.”

In the stillness of the morning, I heard a house door latch, then a husky voice grumble. “Ouch ... ouch ... dang!”

My cousin, Michael, barefoot and clad only in gym trunks and a T-shirt, pranced between stones as he hurried up the steep three-block incline toward me. He was carrying travel snacks, but what I hoped he was bringing me was reassurance of our individual escapes.

“Grace, go! Go! Go! Click your heels and get the Sam Hill out of Oz before she changes her mind!”

Though Michael’s words echoed my resolve, I laughed. He was four inches taller and eight years older, but a million times more sociable and often reminded me of an oversized little boy.

“Auck, Dorothy.” He reached my car, glanced back toward our house, and handed me a zip-locked bag stuffed with trail mix. “You’re too late. You’ll never get to Kansas now.”

I turned to see the subject of his wicked witch allusion exit through the over- sized front door of our ivy-covered brownstone and begin her march up the side- walk with Uncle Phil dawdling behind. Aunt Tish wasn’t toting a flying broom, but she was storming along, face scowling, hands fisted.

Michael grinned. “I guess she’s saving the flying monkeys for me.”

“Maybe. She wasn’t very happy about you leaving tonight for Chile. You sure you’re tough enough to stand up to her?” I elbowed him, knowing he wouldn’t feel the jab. Despite his baby face and wire-rimmed glasses, he had the abs of a bodybuilder.

“No problem. She can’t control me anymore. It’s you who better leave quickly.” “I’m going. Don’t worry about that.” I tossed the trail mix on the back seat. From  the front, my dog, Tramp, watched it land and turned back to the front window,more excited about going somewhere than the goodies. He barked twice. 

Let’s go. “Good. It will be two years before you’ll get another chance,” Michael warned in a whisper. “I won’t be here this summer to save you like I have before.” “Which is exactly why I’m leaving today. Thanks for coming home to see me off. 

She’s not that bad you know.” Maybe voicing such hope would make it so.

Eyes wide, he said, “What? She’s an unstable, soul-sucking—” “Shush.” I stifled laughter. “She’ll hear you.”

He sobered and leaned against my car, crossing his arms. “You’re sure about this?” “The trip? Of course.”

He shook his head. “Th house. It sounds … weird. Like Norman Bates lives there.”

I looked at him, startled. Michael was generally carefree and titillated by the unknown. He loved the notion that people held secrets within themselves.

“That’s crazy,” I affirmed, lest his uncharacteristic concern unnerve me. “Is it? Jack was so close-mouthed about the place.”

“Michael, stop it! It’s only a house. Jack was there three years ago. How bad could it be?”

“Remember. I’m only a phone call away. You have to live there what— three months?”

“That’s what the will says. Then it’s mine to do what I want. Including selling it. And, of course, that’s exactly what Aunt Tish expects me to do.”

“We’ll work that out later. Stick with this charade that you’re fixing it for your senior project, then selling it and moving back to Boston. By the end of summer, my new company will transfer me back to the states, and you can live with me. Just don’t come back here.”

“I know, I know.”

“And keep Tramp close by.”

I shook my head to indicate his concern was unnecessary. But inside, I couldn’t help but wonder if Tramp would be able to stop all threats that I might encounter.

* * *

After stopping to assess her own vehicle and bark orders at my Uncle Phil to take it to the car wash, Aunt Tish reached us. As her eyes scanned my car, Uncle Phil plodded up behind.

Beside me, Michael murmured, “Shoulda’ tied garlic around our necks,” then he donned a Cheshire grin and bellowed, “Good morning, Mother dearest.”

“Nice of you to grace us with your company, darling,” Aunt Tish clucked with saccharin sarcasm and crossed her arms. Her face was stern, her eyes leveled. “If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were trying to sleep your way through the day until your fl      leaves.”

“Got in late, Mom.”

She arched a skeptical brow. “If you’re turning right around and leaving for that ridiculous job in Chile, why did you even bother coming home? You could have been working at MacGruder’s, you know. They  are the most prestigious firm in Boston.”

“Yeah, Mom, I know.”

“Th certainly would have paid better. Must be nice to have no concerns about money.”

“I haven’t cost you a cent since I turned twenty-one. And if you’re so worried about money, why do you live in this pretentious place? How can you afford it anyway?” He clicked his thumb and middle finger. “Oh, that’s right. You used Grace’s education fund.”

She exhaled into a pout. “You kids are so disrespectful. Why do you do these things to me? Haven’t I suffered enough?”

“Here we go.” Michael rubbed his forehead.

“And look at you. Go put on some clothes. What will the neighbors think?” Her eyes darted to the windows of the lofty brownstones shadowing the street.

“Yeah, Mom. Th ’ll probably think I feed nails to little children since I don’t wear shoes.” He turned his back to her and smiled at me, then withdrew to the back of the car and shook my bike as though to make sure it was tethered securely. I could see his grin from the corner of my eye.

“We’ll talk later about you arriving home one day just to leave the next.”

She turned to me, swapping irritation with sadness as easily as if she’d replaced a straw hat with a ball cap. Wiping at invisible tears, she sniffled and brushed back a lock of frizzled hair, causing her peace sign earrings to sway to and fro. With characteristic dramatic flourish, she took one of my hands and pressed an object into my palm.

“Your keys. Why your mother insisted you keep this atrocious gas-guzzler, I’ll never know. I never did understand her.”

I wrapped my fingers around the keys, feeling the shape of independence. “Thank you.”

It was expected of me to treat this as a heart-rending gesture on her part, even though she had readily agreed to the trip because she wanted the house to be sold as quickly as possible, thereby placing more money into my accounts, to which she had access.

Aunt Tish pouted. “You selfish kids are breaking my heart with these trips.” I kept quiet. Best not to acknowledge her fabricated sadness or her varnished insult.

Receiving no response from her selfish kids, she turned to my uncle. “Philip, I must be crazy. I’m going to be thrown in jail for letting a 16-year-old live by herself ... in some creepy house in a … a … redneck wilderness.”

From the back of the car, Michael groaned. “Aunt Tish––” I began.

Uncle Phil cleared his throat and stood tall, looking for a moment more like the commanding professor he was when teaching Chaucer at Boston College than the ventriloquist’s dummy he played at home for his formidable wife. “Tish, she’ll be fi     It’s only for the summer.”

“But it’s so far away from Beacon Hill and civilized society, for bloody sake,” she responded stiffly. “She won’t be around our kind. Those people are so provin- cial. What will my friends think? And that house ...”
Uncle Phil sighed. “The house is fine. The management company said so.” “Yeah, Mom,” Michael scolded from his retreat, “just because the place is old

doesn’t make it creepy. Heck, our house is old.”

Uncle Phil shot his son a quelling look. “Jack loved the place. He spent a lot of time there. It must be in good shape. And if it’s not, then Grace will fi  it up. Th  ’s the whole point of this trip anyway.” He frowned. 

“Besides, by the time you were six- teen, you had already been arrested for disturbing the peace and indecent exposure.” “Oh gawd, Pops.” Michael cringed and reached up to rub his temples. “Too
much information.”

Uncle Phil continued. “You already set up a bank account for her. She has a credit card. She’s got everything she needs. If anyone can take care of herself, it’s Grace.” “Yeah, Mom,” Michael chimed from behind the car. “Crimeny, she’s been taking care of you for the past three years.”

Aunt Tish pushed her tangled hair behind her ears and huffed. “Fine. Obvi- ously no one cares what I think. Just go, Grace. But stay out of trouble. I don’t want any calls from the police.”

I mouthed a “thank you,” to Uncle Phil, shoved my backpack on the heap of boxes lining my back seat, and shut the door. Tramp sat waiting on the passenger seat. On the fl , my cat Chubbs crouched in his carrier, obviously annoyed. On the con- sole sat an envelope containing $5,000 in cash, covered with road maps graphing my way from Massachusetts to West Virginia.

“Aunt Tish, I’ll be fine.” I pulled her into a sideways embrace as I rounded to the driver’s side and opened the door. She was my only aunt and despite her opinions of me, I wanted to believe her capable of feeling genuine concern. “I promise to call every day.”

“Be careful. If something goes wrong, it’s a reflection on me.” As she pulled away, she flicked at my hair. “And for pity’s sake, Grace, do something with that ridiculous hair while you’re there.”

I ignored her. “Remember your dentist appointment tomorrow. I left a note on the fridge.”

She waved that away with a Yes, yes, I know all this dismissal, but I knew she would forget.

Then, because I felt it was expected of me, I looked back toward the house and lied, “I’ll miss this place.”
I voiced some inane comment about what I’d miss, but my thoughts were on the excitement of being me, rather than a dead couple’s orphaned child or Tish Rosenburg’s ungrateful niece.

The goodbyes complete, I climbed into my car and pulled away. I could see Michael standing behind my aunt and uncle, fl his arms in a dramatic don’t- stop-keep-going wave.

“Call your Grandma Sadie, she’s not doing so well,” was the last thing I heard Aunt Tish bark as I descended the hill and rounded the corner onto Beacon Street, took a final glance at Boston Common, and headed toward I-95 South.

The trip underway, I exhaled deeply. I’d loved to have driven into the future without looking back, to have fast-forwarded to summer’s end when Michael and I could plant roots somewhere together. But, there was no shortcut to that time, and I felt dread press in on me as if each accumulated mile were adding a hole to the safety net I hadn’t yet hung in place.

About the Author

D. L. Koontz was born in Pennsylvania, but with her husband, now splits her time between their home in mountainous West Virginia and their cattle ranch in coastal plains Georgia. She has a son and a stepdaughter. A member of ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) and ASJA (American Society of Journalists and Authors), she is a former journalist, business consultant, spokesperson, and college instructor. After several non-fiction books, Crossing into the Mystic is her first novel.

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