Separated by Death, Reunited by Fate…
In the year 1899, in Whitehaven, Cumbria, UK, Lady Constance Witherspoon, only 14 years of age, gives birth to twin girls during a tumultuous storm. Lady Elisa (Beth) is born with a diagnosis of demonic possession, while her twin, Lady Sarah, is crushed and killed when the ceiling collapses in the storm.
In the year 2000, Sally Witherspane returns home to Whitehaven and is haunted by relentless nightmares about demons and a baby crushed at birth. To discover the meaning of these dreams, she seeks the help of the local psychic, who instructs Sally to attend a past life meeting. It is there that Sally meets Beth Witherspoon.
Persuaded by a ghostly blue apparition, Sally documents a family history filled with deception, abuse and an ancient evil, and she must summon strength and faith to become the woman she is destined to be, one of the last descendants of the White Heaven Women.
e x c e r p t
Whitehaven, Cumbria, England, 2000
Sally Witherspane spied screaming women racing from a thick fog, their blood-soaked skirts trailing on the muddy road. A ghoulish creature with cruel red eyes slithered into the walls of an old building. Sally glanced at her feet and saw a stiff blue skirt touching the top of beautifully beaded shoes.
Horse’s hooves clip-clopped down a cobbled street. The stench of fresh horse manure floated in the damp night air and exploded in her nostrils. She couldn’t escape the smell.
A woman’s voice called out, “Lady Sarah, it’s late. You’ll catch a chill. Come inside. You don’t want the red-eyed devil to find you and steal you away.”
Sally frowned. “Where is this place?”
No answer from the woman, just the sound of a weighty door slamming, echoed by a roll of thunder and the patter of heavy rainfall.
Sally shivered in her drenched clothes.
A door appeared in front of her as she struggled to get away from the rain. “Help,” she screamed. “This door is locked!”
Still yelling, Sally woke up in a lather of sweat. “Oh God, that dream was so real this time.” She was clammy and her nightie was drenched. “And hell, all those screams. What do they mean?”
She showered, anxious to rid herself of the clammy feel of her sweat. As she dressed, the unstoppable north English sun surged like a search beacon across the mountaintops and entered through her window. She bathed in its warmth and made an early breakfast to eat while reading her favourite book, Wuthering Heights.
She’d read the book a thousand times and her attention wandered. She skipped the pages she knew well, waiting until a respectable hour to call Mrs. Harris, a local psychic she knew.
“I must know what my dreams mean,” she muttered, her fingers dialling the number.
Mrs. Harris’s answering machine picked up and an outgoing message belted into Sally’s ears.
“Damn.” She wanted to talk to the psychic in person and hated leaving messages.
When she finished speaking, she hung up and thought more about the dreams. She knew something supernatural had yanked her back to her birthplace in West Cumbria, a place she’d vowed never to return to. Yet there she was. She’d lived close to Lancaster University for the best part of five years. That was home until she reeled in a job as a columnist for West Cumbria’s largest newspaper, the White Heaven Weekly.
Her new life was off to a good start.
The first week at the newspaper office flew by. Her boss, Dennis Baker, was
known for his foul moods after his booze binges, but she received a lot of help from her co-worker, Peter Flannigan. Peter was a tall man, in his forties, with brown hair and remarkable grey patches at each temple. He had that handsome, middle-aged look and the animal magnetism that most single women of Sally’s age sought. She was no exception.
Peter approached Sally on the afternoon break. “I know Dennis asked you to cover the past-life meeting on the weekend. I’m fascinated by anything paranormal and want to learn more about the psyche. Would you like a ride to the meeting?”
Before Sally could reply, he boldly leaned over and tenderly kissed her on the cheek. She twiddled her fingers through her hair, savouring the soft but masculine touch of his lips, and her thoughts flitted about like a pollinating honeybee. His lips felt so good. She wondered if she should let him pursue her now or wait until she’d written her novel.
Peter smiled. “Well, what do you say?”
“Oh, that’s okay. I can get there on my own.”
The frown on his face made his wrinkles appear more prominent.
Sally watched him as he returned to his desk. With a sigh she walked to the washroom, where she caught sight of her reflection in the mirror. For a split second, the reflecting image appeared blue and didn’t look like her at all. Then it vanished.
“Must be my overactive imagination,” Sally mumbled.
Sally walked home after work with thoughts of Peter preoccupying her. When she arrived at her cozy apartment, she poured a glass of brandy, flopped into a chair and flung her legs onto a leather footstool. She sipped the fiery nectar and contemplated the strange blue reflection. She drained her glass and checked her answering machine, hoping to hear some news from the psychic.
When it was time for sleep, she lay in bed and gazed at the moon through the skylight. It slipped behind wispy clouds.
All of a sudden, a heavenly floral aroma filled the air.
Hmm…the Wiccan elders taught me such Spirit scents are a good sign, so I’ll not have any bad dreams tonight.
Sally fell into a blissful sleep with help from the brandy.
As dawn broke the following day, Sally awoke to the sound of distant thunder rolling ever closer to her home. Her heart pounded with each echo.
“I was happier in Lancaster,” she muttered. “So why did I return to this damn waterlogged hole?”
She had read once that certain people have been on earth before and that something in their psyche makes them return to places in which they had lived. Maybe it was true. What else could make her return to this place?
A brilliant light suddenly engulfed her room, followed by a clap of thunder that rattled the windows and vibrated through the floor.
She shrieked and raced to the window to see what it was. The scene on the horizon left her speechless. A vortex of forked lightening hurled long, demonic
claws tirelessly at the fells. Trees instantly burst into flames.
“Jesus, Mary and Joseph,” she said. “It looks like hell has risen over there.”
Torrential rain bounced three feet off the ground and water gushed down the storm drains beneath the window. Within seconds, the wind changed course and launched a deluge at her apartment building. Rain hammered at her window as if the devil were outside aching to break in to possess her. The glass creaked, threatening to shatter.
Bridled with sweat and stricken with terror, she threw her curtains together. Thinking it might be safer away from the window, she retreated to the doorway on the other side of the room.
As she stood under the protective doorway, she remembered what had happened to her friend Josie years earlier. One morning when Josie had opened her back door, she’d discovered a gaping hole in her garden. Smoke had belched from the fissure.
“Like an entrance to hell,” Josie had said.
The phone rang and snapped Sally from her train of thought. She snatched up the receiver and instantly recognized the psychic’s voice on the other end.
“Hello, this is Mrs. Harris.”
“Hells bells,” Sally answered. “I am s-so glad you called. This s-storm’s a bloody doozie, isn’t it?”
“The worst these parts have had for many a year. Sally, don’t be scared. Even though flood water is battling down the mountains a barrel a minute, you’re safe. Your route to the past-life meeting tonight is all right.”
Sally released a pent-up breath. “I saw a few lightning fires on the fells earlier. Good th-thing the storm put them out, Mrs. Harris, or the unfortunate mountain sheep would have been f-fried. Can you imagine that stink permeating down into each village? You know, this could be the basis for the novel that I’ve always w-wanted to write. I mean, why did I move to Lancaster to st-study for a writing degree if I don’t use it? I could write a book on w-what people suffer during the f-floods of Cumbria. I could even call it The F-floods of Cumbria.”
“Sally, calm down. You’ve developed a bad stutter. The damn climate is not why I called you. There are more important matters for you to write about than the weather conditions in this seemingly godforsaken area.”
“Sorry, Mrs. Harris. It’s my n-nerves.”
“Yes, I know. The reason I rang is to remind you of tonight’s past-life meeting at seven.”
“Mrs. Harris, I’m s-scared frigging s-stiff of storms.”
“That’s probably why you’re stuttering. All the same, you asked me for help with your nightmares. You’ll have to pull yourself together and be strong if you ever hope to make sense of your dreams.”
“What must I do?”
“Well, for one, I’m happy you returned to Cumbria in time to call me.”
“In t-time? In time for what?”
“In time for me to enlighten you about tonight’s past-life meeting, silly. You must attend to discover the truth. I already know you will never get another
chance because this small, scared community might not tolerate another get-together such as this. You know how some people here feel about spiritual matters. They’re leery about the subject. Isn’t that one of the reasons you left Whitehaven in the first place?”
Sally mumbled a wordless reply, remembering the local yokels always drop their “H’s” and pronounce Whitehaven as White ‘eaven—the reason the local news office called their rag The White Heaven Weekly.
“Knowledge of your past is more important than your future, Sally.”
“You lost me there, Mrs. Harris.”
“Yes, I thought as much by the vacant expression on your face.”
Sally chuckled. “How do you know what my expression is like? I didn’t think psychics could see through a phone.”
“I just know.”
“Crikey, you have me all curious now. Are the buses still running? I’d like to get there dry and in one piece.”
“You do remember that Cumbria lacks public transport on Sunday nights, don’t you?”
“Oh, I had forgotten. Yes, I remember what the stupid bus service is like around here. I guess I’ll have to walk.”
“Okay. Just be careful which footpath you choose. Stay away from the river edges, Sally. They’ve overflowed before and have taken many lives.”
“Yes. I’ll take care. I’m determined to know what those nightmarish dreams of mine mean. Maybe it’s all been my vivid imagination and…Mrs. Harris, there’s no such thing as demons or phantoms, right?”
“Some experiences are not our imagination, but don’t worry. Stay calm and don’t fret about devils or ghosts. To make you feel better I will tell you this. When I heard your phone message the other day, I shuffled the Tarot cards on your behalf and noticed something quite extraordinary. I know who you were. I mean, I believe I know who you were in one of your past lives.”
“Y-you already know who I was? Please tell me.”
“Sorry, Sally, you must go through this first part unaided. I can’t explain anything until it’s perfectly clear to me. Just pay great attention to a woman called Lillian Canterbury tonight. She has the most remarkable story. For you. You might even glean a bit in relation to the devils you’ve dreamt about, as well.”
“That sounds a bit p-portentous, Mrs. Harris. My new employer, Dennis Baker, chose me to cover the meeting tonight. I might as well be paid to learn about past lives, right?” She giggled awkwardly while chewing her upper lip.
“Remember to let me know what happens tonight,” the psychic said. “You have my phone number.”
Sally took a deep breath. “Can you tell me anything about Peter Flannigan, the handsome co-worker I mentioned to you?”
“Oh, yes. Sorry. I almost forgot about him. I can tell you he is a good-hearted man and he’s not as meek as he wants people to believe. I do not know if he is the man for you though. I’d have to do another Tarot interpretation.”
“He is a good-hearted man, eh? This is wonderful news, Mrs. Harris. Thank
Throughout Sally’s childhood her mother had drummed into her that believers in reincarnation were afraid of death, and this was the reason mischievous spirits and goblins gained control of people in dreams.
Is one snatching at me in my dreams?
She relaxed by listening to gentle tunes on her CD player. From the corner of her eye, she saw a blue wispy shape slip into her washroom.
What in the hell was that? She scuttled into the bathroom and found nothing moving or anything that would reflect any light. She shrugged her shoulders and looked at the clock. I must leave for the meeting. It’s now or never.
As the squall outside made its presence known, she threw on a raincoat and Wellington boots, grabbed her umbrella and left her flat. A mighty gust of wind blew her backward, throwing her hard against the sandstone doorway. It knocked the breath from her and she dropped her purse. “Damn!” she said, watching it skid into a murky puddle.
When she caught her breath, she peered up and down the street. Every curtain in every house was drawn. Not one store was open. Except for a few chimneys belching black smoke from coal fires, the town was lifeless. The imagery made her want to choose the easier option—return indoors and snuggle under her duvet. But that would be cowardly.
The opportunity of a great writing career is ahead of me if I cover tonight’s meeting. If I back out now I could lose Peter’s attentions as well as a grand occupation.
Her courage strengthened when she thought of her reward. She sucked a long, deep breath into her lungs, grabbed her bag, heaved it over one arm and stepped onto the road.
Within minutes the wind changed course and howled like a gnashing banshee. Paranoia gripped her. She looked for the owner of the cries, totally convinced a demonic spirit was inside the squall. Her eyes darted everywhere as blood raced through her veins.
But she saw no spirit wailing in the wind.
True to north English climate, the blustery weather clawed at her umbrella. It blew inside out, leaving her with no defence from the driving elements. She flung the busted umbrella, which now looked like an upturned dead spider, into a trash can and raced down the sidewalk, ducking in and out of doorways to escape the blustery deluge. In one entryway she questioned whether her motives were worth the torture she now suffered. She glanced back and saw forked lightening demolish the trashcan she’d just passed. The same lightning bolt then danced up the street like it had won a West Cumbrian weather prize.
The flattened garbage can reminded her of the dream in which she’d seen herself crushed to death. She didn’t understand any of her dreams, least of all that one.
Gripped with fear she leapt from the doorway and sprinted down King Street as if chased by the hounds of Hades. She stopped to catch her breath in the entryway of the old Glessal’s shop. It was in grave disrepair. The timber door was
decayed and flaking away. Cement from the keystone had fallen off, making a messy pile on the ground. When Sally peered through the window, she spied a surreal blue glow shaped like a person.
Sally blinked and the blue glow vanished.
“Just a trick of the light,” she said with a huff.
Through the curtain of rain, she noticed the town hall clock and then saw a vintage Rolls Royce parked outside the White Heaven Weekly employees’ hall. She smiled, speculating a celebrity was inside the hall.
But who would want to visit this remote hellhole?
She galloped up the hall steps and fumbled to find the door handle.
Without warning the ground shook with a deafening rumble. She turned around and saw smoke soaring up from a massive hole close to the old car.
Crikey, that lovely car could’ve been destroyed. And I could’ve been killed too.
Sally flung the door open with a mighty push and bolted inside like a three-year-old filly in season. She ran down the hallway until she found the meeting room. It was dark inside, except for three diffused lights on the far side. When her eyes adjusted to the low lighting, she realised the room was jam packed with people.
“Hello and welcome,” the doorman said. “Still stormy out, I see.”
Sally answered with a mumble.
“There’s one seat left in the front row miss, on the far end right beside the stage.” The doorman pointed out the way.
“Thank you.” She stuffed the soggy ticket into the man’s hand.
She found her seat and sat down. No one seemed to notice she was soaked except for a wrinkled woman in a wheelchair on the end of the same row. She gave Sally a sympathetic smile. The old woman looked ancient, reminiscent of an Egyptian mummy. Sally cracked a grin in return, more relieved to be out of the wicked downpour than to be friendly.
Many of the attendees appeared keyed up as they fidgeted and mumbled to each other. This made Sally wonder all the more why they were there. She didn’t know the locals believed in this sort of thing. Matter of fact, they used to be scared shitless of anything different.
A high-pitched bell rang. The sound scared Sally so much, she gasped and jumped up. A man behind her giggled at her skittish reaction. The meeting commenced before she could snap at him.
A middle-aged woman wearing a long, black-buttoned dress stood up. “Hello, everyone. My name is Agatha Jones. Thank you for coming in such shocking weather. Please introduce yourselves and tell us your tales. Let’s start with the back row.”
One by one, people took their turn at the podium. Most of their stories were either so boring or so farfetched that Sally wondered whether they’d been spending too much time at the pub. After forty minutes, she decided their stories
were as dreary as the weather outside.
Until Mrs. Lillian Canterbury stood up.
Lillian addressed the group in a bold, high-pitched voice. “Ladies and gentlemen, please allow me to introduce Mrs. Beth Madeleine.” She indicated the fragile elderly woman who had smiled at Sally earlier. “She is 101 years young.”
The crowd whooped and cheered.
“Mrs. Madeleine was born a noblewoman at a remote French convent during a raging electrical storm in 1899. She was christened as Lady Elisa Witherspoon. Her twin sister, Lady Sarah, died when their mother, Lady Constance Witherspoon, was giving birth. Sarah was killed instantly when the roof caved in, crushing her tiny body.”
The crowd sighed compassionately.
Lillian paused for a second. “Everyone, we have reason to believe Lady Sarah has already reincarnated and is with us in this very room.”
The audience looked around in awe.
Sally couldn’t take her eyes off Beth Madeleine.
Could it be me? Was I Lady Sarah?
A tempest had killed Sarah back in 1899. That would explain why Sally was so scared of storms.
Is this why Mrs. Harris wanted me to come here tonight?
She wished the psychic hadn’t been so bloody vague. She had so many unanswered questions.
Lillian held up a small, leather-bound book. “This is Lady Constance’s diary.” A murmur swept through the room as she pointed to a line in the journal. “Lady Constance wrote here, ‘The storm that killed my daughter is a punishment from God because I am not married.'”
Sympathetic moans rose from the crowd.
Lillian took a deep breath. “Back in those days it was taboo to be a spinster with children. Mrs. Madeleine, or Beth as we fondly call her, was born with the palsy, which we now understand could be cerebral palsy. In 1899, the doctors didn’t know much about the disease. Beth’s disability has left her unable to walk or articulate coherently, hence the reason why I’m here talking to you today instead of her.”
All eyes were on Beth as murmurs of concern swept through the room.
“You might be wondering how or why I know so much about Beth’s life,” Lillian said. “Well, ladies and gentlemen, I know a great deal about her from over fifty journals that her mother had written. Amongst a multitude of subjects, the diaries mention frequent, glowing apparitions that have hovered around Beth throughout her life. These ghostly blue lights have been seen by countless people.”
The audience cooed in amazement. A few excited people jumped up and waved their arms in the air, desperate to ask questions. And then Sally noticed Peter Flannigan in the crowd.
Why is he here?
Lillian interrupted her thoughts. “Please, if you have questions, I ask you to
kindly wait until I’m finished. Thank you.”
People returned to their seats, mumbling their disappointment. Sally, however, was glad Lillian didn’t waste time answering queries.
“On occasion,” Lillian said, “I’d noticed these radiances myself. The first time I saw one was many years ago. It was so transparent I could see the wall behind it. To be honest, seeing my first one scared the living bejesus out of me.”
The audience laughed.
“You’re right to laugh. I realised later on there was no reason for alarm. Well, not as alarmed as the inmates of Ginns Workhouse were many decades ago.” Lillian giggled nervously. “A few people who lived there saw a black demonic shape with glowing red eyes.”
A chill slithered up Sally’s spine. Oh my God. That sounds like the demon in my dreams.
“Would you like me to tell you more of that time?” Lillian asked.
An excited yes echoed throughout the hall.
“All right, here goes. This diary says a huge beast materialized inside the workhouse and devoured two women. In my personal opinion, this could have been the reason why Ginns Workhouse closed its doors. The creature repeatedly revisited the building, even after several exorcisms were supposed to have spiritually sterilized the place. To stop local residents from asking more questions, each time the beast showed up local tabloids stated that a runaway bear from a passing circus had entered the building. Readers believed the editorials.”
Lilian paused for a moment. “Only the descendants of the people who escaped the creature’s torments knew what had really happened. The bishop didn’t want the media to know that dark forces were afoot, so the church silenced them with threats of slinging all the witnesses into the most inhumane asylums in the country. This was enough of a threat to keep most people’s mouths shut…except Lady Constance, the headstrong writer of this diary.”
Lillian’s tale about the beast of Ginns stunned Sally. She began to sweat. The people in the room were unable to contain themselves, desperate to have their questions answered. Arms shot into the air as cameras flashed and rampant applause broke out.
Lillian ignored the din while Agatha rang the bell several times.
“Please, ladies and gentlemen,” Agatha called out. “Be patient. There will be time for questions at the end of the meeting. Please be respectful and allow this woman to finish speaking. Thank you.”
The room slowly hushed.
“Thank you, Agatha,” Lillian said. “Now with everyone’s kind permission I will begin reading again from another journal. You can believe what I am about to disclose to you or not.”
She lifted up a small ragged diary and held it high for everyone to see. Then she placed it back on the podium, opened its old yellowed pages and began to read.
“This attention-grabbing account begins in the Whitehaven Township in
1899 with these words, ‘Dear diary, my mother does not know what my father is doing to me each night. I am only fourteen years of age and he has made me with child.'”
The room fell into a tomb-like silence with neither a breath nor a murmur audible.
“‘If I tell Mama, whatever will she say? What am I to do? People will shun me.'”
Half an hour into the reading Sally was positive she’d read the story in a newspaper or magazine because it seemed so familiar.
When Lillian finished speaking, she asked the audience if they had any questions. A hundred hands rose into the air. Peter gave Lillian a chair so that she could answer questions in comfort. Then he slipped into the chair beside Sally.
“How gallant of you,” she whispered.
“Well, I couldn’t allow the lady to stand any longer, although it was actually a ruse.” He grinned.
“To sit beside you.”
She didn’t know what to say at first. “Still, I think it was an endearing thing to do. Are you always chivalrous?”
“Only when you’re around, my dear.”
She grew hot and flushed. Had he put on the courteous display just to impress her?
“We’d best stop talking, Peter, or we’ll miss what Lillian’s saying. We can talk during the interlude. Okay?”
His fingers slid from his knee to her hand. “Okay, lass, I can wait.”