Garden of the Moon by Elizabeth Sinclair

ISBN# 978-193383698-0
Price $7.95 US   $8.95 Canada
Publisher:  Medallion Press
Amethyst Imprint

©2009.  All Rights Reserved.

The Chronicles of Harrogate Plantation
St. Lucius Parish
Louisiana 1855

My name was Sara Madeline Wade.  In my twenty-seventh year, through the benevolent bequest of my beloved paternal grandmother, Alice Wade, I became mistress of Harrogate Plantation.  Harrogate is an elegant Greek Revival style house set among towering, ancient oak trees and a garden so lush and beautiful, one would be hard pressed to find anywhere more exquisite than Eden itself.
To live in my grandmother’s house fulfilled a cherished childhood dream.  To live there alone was not to be because, when I eagerly moved into my new home, I wasn’t fully aware of the extent of my inheritance.  I had been bequeathed more than a stately mansion and elegant gardens.  I had also inherited Harrogate’s darkest secrets.
In the pages to follow, I will attempt to relate my brief stay at Harrogate as best I can.  I don’t expect anyone to believe, but I do hope they will try to understand that I had to do what I did because to not have done so would have meant an eternity equivalent to hell.
Little did I realize then that my adventures would actually begin one night before I arrived at Harrogate in the dark, primeval obscurity of St. Claire’s Bayou . . .

Sara Madeline Wade
Madeline Grayson

Prologue

St. Claire’s Bayou, Louisiana, 1855

A veil of low-lying, white mist hung over the murky, black waters of St. Claire’s Bayou. The stink of a mixture of decaying leaves, trees and the decomposing bodies of dead animals permeated the humid air.  A full moon, milky-yellow and so big Sara Wade believed she could touch it, hung like a giant child’s ball in the star-studded, black sky.  Since she’d been instructed not to bring a lantern because she might be detected, she’d been very relieved when the full moon appeared in the night sky to light her way.
Her grandmother had called the thirteenth moon of a calendar year a seer’s moon.  Gran said that its appearance marked the time of year when the gates between the mortal world and the spirit world opened.  Sara would test Gran’s theory later.  At the moment, she was just grateful that the moon’s light served to guide her steps through the treacherous swamp.
The moonlight cast an ominous luminescence over the bayou. The unusually bright light sharply defined the eerie shadows of the moss-draped water oaks, turning them to ghostly specters that, when the breeze blew, seemed to sway and hover silently above her.  Here and there Sara could make out cypress knees poking through the misty veil that lay low over the black water, as though they were not tree roots, but were instead arms and legs striving for release from the dark waterways flooding this primeval forest.
As she made her way through the thick growth, the low-hanging, Spanish moss, damp with the moisture of a late afternoon rain, slithered over Sara’s cheek.  She shivered and hugged her shawl closer around her body, but stayed on the path she’d been instructed to follow.
The soggy ground squished beneath her feet.  Cold water seeped into her flimsy shoes.  Her new, pink satin slippers would be ruined by the time she returned home, and her mother would be furious, but Sara didn’t care.  She’d made a promise, and using the concealment of the swamp was necessary for it to be fulfilled.  Besides, her mother’s disapproval over her ruined slippers would be nothing in comparison to the rage she’d rain down on Sara if she knew why she’d come into the bayou.
The disembodied animal sounds all around her drew her attention back to her surroundings.  The slither of something long and slippery through the mud.  The crackle of twigs beneath the weight of an unseen creature of the night.  The chirp of tree frogs echoing through the darkness. The low growl of a stalking, hungry beast.  The plaintive howl of an animal pierced the bayou night and then moments later was answered by another eerie howl from somewhere in the distance.
Holding up the hem of her gown so as not to trip over it, she pushed her unease from her mind and stepped carefully from one bog to another, balancing herself with her outstretched arm.  Something slipped through the swamp beside her.  She peered down into water as dark as her father’s Creole coffee.  A very long, very large, scaly tail skimmed over the surface and then disappeared beneath the gloomy depths as if unconcerned by her intrusion into its lair.
Not far ahead of her, a halo of yellow lantern light peeked through the tangle of trees.  Here and there, glowing red alligator’s eyes glared back at her as if trying to warn her away.  But Sara pushed on toward the light.
“Miss Sara?”  The quivering female voice was barely audible and saturated with fear.
“Yes, Lissie. It’s me.”
Sara stepped into the circle of light.  On the ground, a lantern at her feet, sat a trembling. wide-eyed, black woman.  The tracks of recently shed tears glistened on her cheeks.  Despite the woman being twice Sara’s petite size, her hunched shoulders made her look a lot smaller.  Her clothes were soiled and torn, what Sara’s father would have called rags and had them thrown away and replaced.  The tignon covering her hair had once been red, but now, due to the dirt ground into it, the color appeared more like dark burgundy.  Her bare feet, though grimy, were caked with dirt and dried blood.
Sara had seen Lissie working in the neighboring plantation’s fields and guessed that her back carried scars from the whip her owner took delight in applying to his slaves, good and bad, to keep them in line.  Was it any wonder, when the opportunity presented itself, that her husband and son ran?  Too bad Lissie had been too sick to go with them.
Thank the good Lord that her own father didn’t believe in mistreating his people.
Lissie raised her gaze to Sara.  The woman’s dark eyes reflected stark fear.  Sara had no need to guess what generated the fear. If the woman’s owner, Sebastian Dubois, caught Lissie, she’d suffer immeasurably under the whip for being here.
Sara smiled in an attempt at reassurance. “I promise that no one will know about this meeting but you and me.”
For a while, Lissie stared into Sara’s eyes, as if assessing how much she could be trusted.  Seemingly satisfied that Sara spoke the truth, the woman’s shoulders relaxed, and some of the fear vanished from her expression.  Her dark eyes grew big and hopeful.  “Dey says you gots the sight.”
Sara sat on a tree stump beside Lissie.  “Yes, that’s true.”
Her ability to see ghosts had many names: the gift, the sight, magic, hoodoo.  Whatever it was called, Sara had accepted it long ago.  Deep in her heart she always felt it was given to her for a special purpose.
“Can you tell me?  Is my Moses and Noah alive?  Did dey git to freedom?”
Sara laid her hand on Lissie’s.  The black woman’s skin was cold and clammy, and her hand trembled in Sara’s.  Lissie’s intense worry for her loved ones was almost palatable.  Sara had never seen such abject misery in her life.  More than anything right now, Sara wanted to ease this woman’s pain.
“I’ll try.”
She smiled weakly.  “God bless you, missus.”
This was a new realm for Sara.  She’d never used what her mother sarcastically referred to as her affliction like this before.  Normally, the ghosts of the earthbound dead simply showed up. She helped them through whatever was holding them here and then sent them into the light.  Never having actually summoned a spirit before, Sara prayed she could find answers for this troubled woman. That it was the night of a seer’s moon might be helpful.  Gran always said the spirits were especially communicative on such a night, but, until now, Sara had never had to test it.
With Lissie’s hand clutched tightly in hers, Sara closed her eyes and concentrated.  Silently, she called out to Moses and Noah.  If they were still living, then neither would appear, and she could put Lissie’s mind to rest.  If they did appear . . .  Sara didn’t want to think about what that would mean.
For a very long time, Sara focused on Lissie’s men.  Slowly, the sounds of the swamp faded, then ceased completely.  A profound silence filled the night.  A blanket of chilly air enclosed her entire body.  She shivered.  Sara became weightless, as if she were floating on a cloud.  Shadow and light moved in a blur behind her closed eyelids.  Then one shadow remained. Its outline was indistinct so she couldn’t tell if it was a man or a woman.  Slowly, the image became more defined.  Then  . . .
“Lissie?”
Sara’s eyes snapped open.  The tall, semi-transparent figure of a black man stood beside Lissie.  His clothes were tattered and his eyes full of tears.  He moved to Lissie’s side and laid his hand on her shoulder.
Lissie’s head snapped up.  A brilliant smile transformed the black woman’s face.  “He’s here, isn’t he?”  Lissie looked around.  “My Moses is here.  Dear Lord, I can feel him.”
“Yes, he’s standing beside you,” Sara said, trying to keep the sorrow from her voice.
Lissie’s joy at her husband’s appearance had blotted out what it meant.  Since Moses’ spirit had materialized, that could only mean one thing . . . he was dead.
Moses looked at Sara.  His expression had transformed into one of intense sadness, as if he knew what Sara was thinking.  “Tell her I didn’t make it to Canada, but our Noah did.  He’s livin’ with Lissie’s sister.”
For a moment Sara couldn’t get her vocal chords to work.  Emotion lay in a hard lump in her throat.  The chill she’d felt while summoning Moses’ spirit now enclosed her heart.  She’d never before had to tell anyone their loved one had passed on.  Finally, she cleared her throat and pressed Lissie’s hand.  “Moses says that Noah is safe in Canada with your sister.”
Tears rolled down Lissie’s face.  “Oh, thank the Lord, dey’s safe.  Dear Jesus, dey’s safe.”
Sara swallowed hard and held on tighter to Lissie’s hand.  “Not both of them.  Moses . . . didn’t make it.”
Lissie stared at Sara for a long moment, the whites of her eyes large and questioning against her dark face.  Then as comprehension set in, her expression melted into one of such sorrow Sara marveled that the woman could tolerate such pain.
“You means my Moses is—”
Sara nodded.  “It’s the only way he could be here with you now.”
Lissie’s plaintive wail echoed through the swamp.  Sara had never heard such profound agony.  It was as though the woman’s soul had broken open and was bleeding her sorrow into the night.  The agonizing sound shimmered over Sara and slammed into her very soul, weighing her down like a huge invisible rock.
Her gift could not have been meant to bring this kind of agony to anyone.
Moses sent Sara an imploring look.  “Tell her I’s fine, Miss Sara.  Tell her I’s goin’ to glory. Tell her I be waitin’ fo her.”
Sara did as he asked.  His message seemed to calm Lissie a bit.  Now, she simply clutched her middle and rocked back and forth, sobbed quietly, and chanted.   “My poor, poor Moses.  God rest his soul.  God rest his soul.”
When Lissie’s sobs had quieted to no more than an occasional hiccup, Sara looked to the spirit of the man still standing beside his distraught wife.  “She’ll be fine now.  It’s time for you to go into the light.”
Moses looked down at his wife, and then nodded.  To their right, a huge circle of blinding white light appeared.  Slowly, he turned and walked into it, disappearing from sight. The light closed in on itself and faded away.
Lissie shivered and rubbed her arms.  “He’s gone, ain’t he?”
Sara patted Lissie’s hand.  “Yes.  It was time for him to move on, Lissie.”
The words had barely passed Sara’s lips when she caught a movement to her left.  Fearing they’d been discovered, she jerked around, her mind already scrambling for an explanation that would preclude punishment for either her or Lissie.
But what she saw was not her father or Lissie’s owner, but a stranger.  Nor was this man Moses.  This man was well-dressed, white and handsome, and looking at her as though he knew her.  He was also transparent.
Sara’s heartbeat picked up.  A myriad of unexpected emotions clogged her throat: peace, love, all overshadowed by a profound sadness.  She opened her mouth to ask who he was, but no sound would emerge.
Then he smiled.  “I’m waiting,” he said, then, like the bayou mist in the light of day, he simply evaporated.*

__________________________________________________
Elizabeth Sinclair Has thirteen romances in print and is now writing her next ghost story set in the historical city of St. Augustine, Fl.  http://www.elizabethsinclair.com
______________________
Buy GARDEN OF THE MOON at:
Barnes & Noble
Amazon
Indiebound.org
hbfenn.com

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To enter the contest drawing for a copy of Elizabeth Sinclair’s Garden of the Moon, click here.

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About Vicki Hinze
USA Today Bestselling and Award-Winning Author of 40+ books, short stories/novellas and hundreds of articles. Published in as many as 63 countries. Featured Columnist for Social N Worldwide Network and Book Fun Magazine. Sponsor/Founder of ChristiansRead.com & CleanReadBooks.com. FMI visit www.vickihinze.com.

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