Sample Chapter from
Night of the November Moon

by Ann Carol Ulrich

NovMoon_newcovr.jpg

Chapter One ~ The Dream

      “WINNIE!” his voice called in the distance.

      “Rob!” Sobs choked me. I didn’t know which way to turn.  “Rob!” The wind carried my voice away. “Rob, I can’t find you!” My breath rattled.

      “Winnie, where are you?” Now his voice had grown fainter.

      The wind whipped my skirt as I groped my way through branches and briars blocking my path. Darkness had overtaken day. My bare arms and cheeks stung from scratches.

      “Winnie!” he continued to call further away.

      The wind storm raged around me and I stumbled through the woods in agony. Where was Rob? Why didn’t he hear me calling? I had to reach him.

      Suddenly, through the trees I saw it. There it stood, silhouetted majestically against the lavender horizon, the huge old Victorian manor that towered above the sloping lawn. Thick shrubs and willows partially hid its three floors and four verandas. As I stepped from the woods, I gazed in awe. Why were there no lights?

      Where was Rob?

      Lightning flashes illuminated the manor as the wind continued to sweep over me. I started up the lawn. I knew someone must be inside.
      I called for Rob, but my voice would not respond.

      Then my legs grew wobbly and I felt immobilized. “Rob... I know  
you’re there.” The wind smothered my sobs. I slumped onto the moist, cold ground, exhausted.

      The next thing I knew, Rob was holding me. I welcomed the security of his warm body and his voice whispered in my ear, “Don’t cry, Winnie.” It was the same soothing voice I remembered from long ago. “Didn’t you hear me calling you?”

      “Rob, I tried to find you. I came right away.”

I was startled. The gentle brown eyes that I remembered suddenly appeared blue. And his hair, instead of reddish brown, was now blond.

      “George... it’s you!” I awoke then.

      In my dream I had been at Pelton Manor. I had been with Rob Pelton, even been held in his arms. It was rare that I dreamed of Rob Pelton anymore. Ten years had passed since we last had seen each other. Yet every once in a while, he would weave his way into my most intimate dreams.

      Only this time he had transformed into George. I turned my face into my pillow to cry, but like the dream, my tears were not real.

The room was cold. I pulled the covers over myself and heard the whistle of a train in the distance. The Grand Trunk crossed town not far from Pelton Manor, where I had just been in my dream. I strained to remember more. It was important to cling to each thread as it unraveled in the presence of my waking memory. I tried to go back to sleep. I wanted to keep dreaming. But already I could feel it loosening. The words Rob had soothed me with were now jargon phrases without meaning, and his face had turned into George’s.

It was disturbing to think about Rob Pelton after all of these years, yet a part of me derived a small degree of pleasure in dredging up the past. I couldn’t help it. I had been so young then.

      Bits of the dream kept coming back to me during a hurried breakfast. I didn’t want to be late for work. I hadn’t had the job more than a couple of months, and if I didn’t get there before the boss, the whole office would complain about the lousy coffee. Slipping into my coat, my eyes fell on the long-stemmed red roses in a glass on the sink. Now wilted, they reminded me of last night and George. The petals were brown because he had forgotten and left them in the car, where they had been exposed too long to the November night air.

      Much to my relief, the car started right up. I climbed out to scrape the frost off the windows and saw someone hurrying toward me. I recognized my neighbor, JoAnn Gremel, bundled in a winter jacket and wool hat.

      “Winnie, can you give me a lift?” JoAnn had short, dark hair and bangs. Her cheeks were rosy from the chill as she approached.

      “It’s my car again. I think it’s the battery, or the carburetor, or... oh, who knows?” JoAnn pulled out a handkerchief and blotted the end of her nose.

      “Get in.” I finished the windshield, then climbed behind the wheel.

      “You know what we need, Winnie?” JoAnn asked as I backed down the driveway.

      “What?”

      “Two good-looking hunks who can fix cars.”

      I hissed in protest. “I’m no mechanic, that’s for sure, but I can do everything Alan used to... change the oil, put in anti-freeze, change a tire...”

      JoAnn would be the last person to admit it, but she was one of those women who are helpless without a man. I figured JoAnn, now divorced, wouldn’t stay single for long. I had known her many years. The two of us had been best friends in high school.

      As I drove into the morning rush hour traffic through downtown Spundale, JoAnn prattled on about her car problems. My mind wandered back to my dream. We were heading nowhere near that part of town, yet I kept thinking about Pelton Manor and Rob. I remembered how beautiful the woods were surrounding Pelton Manor. One of Rob’s and my favorite places to meet had been at the old abandoned mill in back of the Pelton property. Suddenly I longed to be there now.

      “Winnie, aren’t we going to work?” JoAnn’s voice startled me back to reality. I sighed as I realized I had driven past the newspaper building. JoAnn laughed. “What were you thinking about? George?”

      I swung into the other lane to turn the car around. “No, I was thinking about going out in the woods this weekend.”

      “This time of year?’” scoffed JoAnn. “I always thought spring was the time of year for you bird nuts. Is George going with you?”

      “Actually, I was thinking of going out by myself.”

      JoAnn sniffed. “Don’t tell that to George.”

      I made no reply. JoAnn was responsible for introducing me to George Wyatt -- one of her many matchmaking efforts. It was through the local Audubon Society chapter, of which I had been a member for several years. JoAnn had arranged for me to take George to one of the meetings, and somehow we had ended up going together to every meeting since.

      Both JoAnn and I worked at the Spundale Star, our home-town weekly newspaper. We rode the elevator and parted on our floor. JoAnn worked in advertising sales. She had been with the paper for three years.

      I unlocked the door to the front office, where I worked, and turned on the lights. My desk was behind a big counter. The two reporters’ offices were down the hall and the production department was one big room in back. I heard a noise and was startled when Ralph Pendergast, the editor and publisher, stepped out of his office to greet me. He was an easy-going, eccentric man of about sixty.

      “Good morning, Winifred.”

      “Oh, Mr. Pendergast, you’re already here.”

      “Once in a while I like to be early.” He grinned at me. “Better get those snow tires on soon.”

      “I know what you mean,” I said.

      He hovered over the coffee maker, as if trying to find the switch. I hurried over.

      "I was just going to brew a pot,” said Mr. Pendergast.

      “Oh, I’ll do it,” I told him.

      “Well... if you insist.” He stepped aside.

      I dumped out yesterday’s old grounds. Once, when Mr. Pendergast had made coffee, he had used the grounds from the day before. I rinsed and filled the pot with fresh water at the sink. Assured that I had things under control, he sauntered back into his office. I liked Mr. Pendergast’s congenial manner. He rarely got upset at anyone. I was comfortable working for him, and the job had done me wonders, helping me adjust to a new kind of independence.

      Keith Campbell walked in a few minutes later. By now the coffee machine was making noises and Mr. Pendergast poked his head out of his room. “Come in here, Keith,” he called to the reporter.

      Keith turned to me and made a face. “Please, Winnie, tell me you made the coffee this morning.”

      I merely smiled and let Keith sweat awhile.

      The morning passed swiftly. It was publication day, so the telephone rang a lot and things were buzzing in the back room. I didn’t remember I was hungry until JoAnn came in just before one.

      “Aren’t you going to take some time off for lunch?”

      I shut the file drawer. “What do you have in mind?”

      “I thought we’d try that new place on South Hayward. The owners placed an ad this week. It sounds quite good.”

      I turned to Marion, the other woman working in the front office with me.

      “Go ahead,” said Marion.

      “Sara Bronson called this morning,” I told JoAnn as I pulled on my coat. “She’s having some minor surgery. It looks like she won’t be able to do her column next week.”

      “The gossip column?”

      “No, she said she already turned that in. I mean the Focus column. You know, the one that features different people around town.”

      “Oh, that.”

      “Unfortunately, I haven’t told Mr. P. yet.”

      “Why not?”

      "He’s been down in the press room since eleven-thirty.”

      When we arrived at the restaurant, we found it packed with people. I suggested we leave and find a place where we didn’t have to wait, but JoAnn insisted on staying.

      “Look, there’s Shirley Peterson.” She pointed across the dining room.

      “Who?” I followed JoAnn as she weaved past waitresses and a group of customers on their way out.

      “Shirley used to work at the Star,” JoAnn called back over her shoulder. “You’ll like her.”

      A light-haired woman in business attire had seen JoAnn and motioned toward her. “Why, JoAnn, how nice to see you.”

      JoAnn introduced us.

      “Nice to meet you, Winnie. Won’t you two join me? It’s ridiculous to have to wait.”

      We sat down. I noted that Shirley was attractive and carried an air of sophistication. She smiled, revealing perfect teeth. “JoAnn, I haven’t talked to you in ages. How’s Jack?”

      JoAnn’s face tightened. She hadn’t expected the question. But she tossed her head and shook it off with a laugh. “He’s fine. Along with his new wife and baby.”

      Shirley’s mouth fell open. Obviously she had not been aware of JoAnn’s divorce. Shirley apologized, but JoAnn made light of it.

      “Really, Shirley, getting rid of that scum was the best thing that ever happened to me.”

      A young waitress appeared at the table with a bus tray and towel. She did not appear to be too experienced as she nervously gathered up the dirty dishes and fumbled with some change.

      “How’s Mr. Pendergast?” Shirley’s eyes focused on me. “How do you like working for him?”

      “Oh, I like him.”

      Shirley sighed. “Dear old Ralph. There are times I wish I still worked at the paper.”

      The waitress brought three menus. I ordered a pineapple and cottage cheese salad.

      “Are you married, Winnie?” Shirley’s gaze had fallen on my white gold solitaire wedding ring and diamond. I had not been able to get them off. I was so used to wearing them, I didn’t think of the meaning.

      “Well...”

      “Hey, why are we discussing marriage?” interrupted JoAnn, always my defender when the subject came up.

      “It’s okay, Jo.” I sipped my water.

      “Oh, are you newly divorced?” Shirley continued to smile pleasantly.

      “No, I’m a widow. Almost a year now.”

      JoAnn steered the conversation in another direction. “Shirley has three children. One of them is a carrier for the Star. What’s his name again?”

      “Greg,” said Shirley, “and he’s only had the route since school started a couple of months ago, but he’s really stuck to it.” Her cheeks sagged a little. “At least that’s the way it used to be. Lately he’s been... I don’t know. I swear, he’s ten years old and should know better than to believe everything he hears.”

      JoAnn shot me a puzzled look, then asked, “What’s wrong? Is he bored with the job?”

      Shirley sighed. “No, I don’t think it’s that. Greg is serious when it comes to earning money. But he seems to have developed a kind of paranoia the last couple of weeks when he has to deliver the paper. He’s fine until Thursday comes around.”

      “So am I,” I quipped.

      Shirley looked around. “I wonder where our food is. Anyway, I found out just this morning what Greg’s problem is.”

      The waitress appeared with napkins, silverware and drinks.

      When she left, Shirley continued, “He will not go near the old manor on Pelton Drive, unless someone goes with him. He’s afraid of ghosts. Can you imagine?”

      I was startled by the mention of Pelton Manor. I was suddenly reminded of my dream. JoAnn seemed reminded of something, too. I could feel the sudden stir in her.

      Shirley went on. “Well, after all, a ten-year-old boy is very impressionable. Halloween was just a couple of weeks ago, and some of his friends must have planted the idea in his head. You know how kids are. And with such an old house in the area, especially one as spooky-looking as the Pelton estate...”

      “It’s a beautiful home,” I interrupted. I opened my napkin over my lap. “Much too nice for ghosts.”

      “Oh, then you’re familiar with the place?”

      “It’s been many years,” I replied. I couldn’t help feeling that same warmth and excitement that had swept over me upon waking that morning. I recalled the sound of the train in the distance that had brought me out of my dream state. The railroad tracks ran not too far from Pelton Manor, and as a high school girl I had lain awake nights, listening to the distant train whistles and rumbling of freight cars, thinking about Rob.

      “Then you already know about the family tragedy last spring.”

      I stared at Shirley. “What tragedy?” I felt my heart begin to race.

      “Oh, you must have. It was in the papers.” Shirley’s eyes grew wide. “One of the Pelton sons died in that house.”

      For an instant I seemed to lose all sense of time. Then I felt JoAnn touch my arm. “Winnie, you’re pale. Are you feeling all right?”

      “Which one of the Pelton sons?” I heard myself whisper. But I already knew it couldn’t be Rob, for I would have heard about it if anything had happened to Rob.

      “The oldest. I can’t remember his name.”

      “Benjamin.”

      “Yes,” said Shirley.

      My throat felt dry. “Benjamin’s dead?”

      “You didn’t hear about it because you were in Hawaii last spring with your parents,” JoAnn explained. “I remember reading about it.”

      “What happened?” I demanded.

      “He was found dead at the bottom of the staircase,” Shirley recalled. “It was said to be an accident, but a good friend of my mother works for the Peltons. Apparently she doesn’t believe it was an accident.”

      I hung my head. “Oh my God...”

      JoAnn said nothing. I wondered why on earth JoAnn had kept this information from me.

      “Then, shortly after, his father died in a rest home,” continued Shirley. “Mr. Pelton suffered a stroke right after it happened, so it was really a double tragedy for the family.”

      The food arrived, but my appetite had been destroyed. I tried to eat what I could of my salad, but memories kept flashing through my head. How could Rob’s older brother and their father, Otto Pelton, be dead?

      What bothered me most was how it had been kept from me for so long. Why hadn’t anyone told me?


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