Truly Seeing the River: An Interview with Writer Boyce Upholt // Longreads

The Mississippi Delta is the name of the vast swampy bottomland that runs for 200 miles between Memphis, Tennessee and Vicksburg, Mississippi. The Mississippi, North America’s second-longest river, mostly created this alluvial landscape. Dense forests covered it. White money, forced Black labor, and government engineering seized, farmed, and tried to control it. For many people, the name evokes images of Tom Sawyer or the Blues or roadside barbecue joints. Author James C. Cobb’s book described the Delta as “The Most Southern Place on Earth.” Even though populous Memphis sits on its northeastern edge, and many Blues festivals take place there, for its size, the Delta is not a region many outsiders visit. It contains some of the US’s most searing poverty, some of its greatest natural beauty, the origins of Blues and rock ‘n’ roll, and some America’s most violent, racist history. Writer Boyce Upholt has made it his beat.

A Connecticut native who found himself in Mississippi, Upholt has written about the Delta’s groundwater for The Atlantic, about the Delta’s Indigenous cultures for Roads & Kingdoms, profiled Po’ Monkey’s Lounge, the Delta’s last rural juke joint, for The Believer, and has explored one Delta island for the Oxford American. Once home to a murderous, moonshining frontiersman name Perry Martin, the legends associated with Martin cloak Big Island as much as its thick woods. This mix of wildness, lore, and neglect drew Upholt back for many trips, where he camped and brewed his morning coffee with Mississippi River water. His resulting travel dispatch “Beyond the Levee” brings this far corner of the nearby world to life, partly through Martin, a character who embodies the land itself. In a few brief pages, the piece explores two huge topics ─ America’s most iconic river, and the idea of wildness ─ and satisfies itself with providing not a volume but a window, a tantalizing glimpse, just big and deep enough. Upholt took the time to speak with me about this story, his work, and the Delta he loves.

***

I grew up in Arizona, and first learned about the Delta on a visit to an ex-girlfriend’s family farm in the floodplain in eastern Arkansas. It was pure chance I traveled there, but that vast land’s lush, tarnished beauty immediately gripped me. You grew up in Connecticut. How’d you get interested in the Delta?

It was chance, for me, too. After college, I wasn’t sure how to become a writer, so I joined Teach for America and took a job as a math teacher on a Native American reservation in South Dakota. Then, after an unsatisfying yearlong stint in journalism, I decided to go work for TFA coaching teachers. I wanted to get somewhere “new” ─ to me at least ─ so when they offered me a job in the Delta I jumped. I wound up staying for nine years, and I credit the place with getting me writing for real. There is such a rich history of storytelling and literature. I began writing a blog, then local magazines. Eventually I got an MFA and managed to find a way to write full-time.

In this Oxford American story, one person, Perry Martin, embodies this regrown patch of Delta, and then you become a new character in that story of development and environmental degradation, because you rewrite how we view the Delta’s character: wild or tame? Ugly or magical? How’d you first hear about Perry Martin and Big Island?

As someone who grew up hiking and camping, I found the Delta’s farmland beautiful but orderly: it’s a giant garden, nature contained and restrained. Then, in 2015, I wrote a profile of John Ruskey, a Mississippi River guide who is based in the Delta. We went out on the river, and I became obsessed.

The Mississippi sits amid a vast, wild landscape that almost no one knows is there; the river is at once a national icon and something we have completely forgotten. I kept writing about the river, kept exploring. In 2016, I did a weekend canoe trip with three friends down the backchannel along the west side of Big Island, which is one of the wildest, quietest stretches on the river. As a guide, I used Rivergator, an online text that John compiled. He offhandedly mentions a history of moonshiners on the island, and eventually, though conversations with locals, I began to fill in the details.

Back to that 2015 profile you wrote: What about the River fueled your initial obsession?

I will always remember that first campsite: we were on this wide sandbar that was covered with coyote and bird tracks. All night, I could hear the sound of trucks driving on the levee, which was just a stone’s throw away; I could see a glow on the horizon that was Angola Prison. And yet I felt completely remote and isolated, surrounded by the water, in this un-human space. I wanted more of that. But I also just kept finding interesting little tidbits: abandoned steamboats sitting along the riverside; attempts to catch and process invasive carp; a rapidly changing ecosystem. It still blows my mind that no one has written the book I’m working on: a look at what we’ve done to this river and the effects we’re seeing now.

There’s no real process besides paying attention: paying attention to what sparks my own curiosity; paying attention to what small dramas connect with bigger issues and questions.

Let me ask you about that book you’re working on: Why haven’t other people written it yet? Would it fit into the distinctive literary nonfiction cannon that includes Eddy L. Harris’ memoir Mississippi Solo, Mary Morris’s memoir The River Queen, or more like John M. Barry’s Rising Tide, and John McPhee’s River chapter in Control of Nature?

The latter books, definitely. I’m not a huge fan of the adventure memoir. The landscape has so much to tell us, so why focus so narrowly on ourselves? There’s a difference, in my mind, between a trip ─ a paddle downriver, a hike along a trail ─ and a ramble. In the latter, your path is unclear; you make unexpected detours; you return to the same places, sometimes, looking at them in new ways. This, in my mind, makes for a much more interesting book. Great Plains has been a huge inspiration: Ian Frazier spent a few seasons driving around the middle of the country, often seemingly at random, and from that mess he pulls out this compelling history of a forgotten place. Barry Lopez’s Arctic Dreams is another great example; he sees this wide swath of the Arctic on various scientific expeditions.

As for why that book hasn’t been written, I’m not entirely sure. Maybe because people don’t think of the river as a place, just a line of water. But there is a whole valley around it, that was a part of it, and was regarded as the country’s first Wild West. That valley was cut off by the levees; now even people who live just a few miles away rarely see it. It’s easy to overlook the environmental problems there, until they well up into floods, like this year.

Your Twitter bio says “i wander around and write stuff.” People often wonder how writers find their stories. So you found the Big Island story by writing another story. But as a wanderer, do you find many stories by chance, or do you have some process that lets wandering lead to discovery?

There’s no real process besides paying attention: paying attention to what sparks my own curiosity; paying attention to what small dramas connect with bigger issues and questions. I have a lot of Google Alerts. I read blogs and newsletters. I flip through newspapers and listen for what people are saying when I’m on the road. (Latif Nassar’s ideas on where to find stories are spot-on, by the way.) Honestly, the hardest part can be deciding which of many ideas deserve my commitment. Lately, I’ve been spending more time reporting before I even decide to pitch, to make sure stories have depth.

You describe your interest as a writer as “how we shape place, how place shapes us.” Lots of writers have beats or themes they fixate on: music; sexual politics; war. What does your interest in place say about your nature or worldview? Or your approach to writing and reporting?

Really, I wish I had a clearer beat. I’ve always been fascinated by landscapes, both human-made and “wild” (though that’s a problematic word). Scratch the surface of a landscape and you find all kinds of history. Paying attention to the history of places often reveals connections: we are connected to the land itself, to a larger ecosystem, and to a long chain of people who, through the generations, have crisscrossed the world. In terms of how I write and report, these sorts of stories often demand that I get out and be on the ground, so I can be a tour-guide through strange, misunderstood corners of the world. It also means I have to find a way to include myself in the story without becoming too solipsistic. I’m not sure I always succeed.

Travel writing used to be a very popular genre, filling many magazines’ pages. That’s changed a lot. But some of my favorite kinds of travel stories are the kind you just described: where a bit of the author’s personal narrative leads readers to unfamiliar parts of our world and reveal larger connections. What are your thoughts on travel writing and the travel dispatch as a form, one not pegged to any news or event, but that has something to say?

It’s among my favorites, too, though when done poorly it’s awful. There are many pitfalls. I try to stay particularly aware of my privilege: as a middle-class, cis-gendered, heterosexual white guy, I have so many legs up in terms of getting a publication to pay me to write about a place. Often, we’d all be better served to hear from someone from that place. The river, as a place, poses less of this conundrum, though I try to honor indigenous traditions that existed along the Mississippi ─ and in many cases persist ─ as well as the way Black laborers, often enslaved, did so much of the physical remaking of this place.

Yes, the Black labor that cleared the dense Delta hardwoods also drove America’s lucrative cotton economy: the legacy of their forced labor and dehumanization remains. Poverty still plagues so many people of color here. Is it difficult to explore nature apart from humanity in this region?

In any region. I don’t really believe there is such a thing as “nature” apart from humanity. Humans are animals, after all. And human beings have been living on this continent for tens of thousands of years. They cleared forests, built monumental structures, actively manipulated the environment. The idea of an empty wildness came later. (John Muir argued that the Native and Hispano migrants should be kept out of his beloved Yosemite by soldiers; they spoiled the view, he thought.) I always come back to a quote from the critic Raymond Williams, from the “Ideas of Nature”: “[T]he conquest of nature . . . will always include the conquest, the domination or the exploitation of some men by others. If we alienate the living processes of which we are a part, we end, though unequally, by alienating ourselves.”

Also, have you seen the photo of the lush old-growth bottomland forests in Lucy Braun’s canonical 1950 book The Deciduous Forests of Eastern North America? A towering canopy with vines trailing down the stout sweet gum trees. Makes me wish I could tramp through just a few acres of woods like that, though just a few. It’d be exhausting.

I haven’t, but it’s gorgeous. You can do it, though! It’s not old-growth, but there are plenty of acres that look much like this inside the levees, along the river. I wish there were more of them, and what we’ve got left is at risk. The only way we’ll get there is if more folks go out and explore and appreciate them!

Source: // Longreads

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BOOK REVIEW ~ The Forest City Killer // BookZone

London, Ontario, aka Forest City and the setting of this particular book, back in the late 1960s and early 1970s as it follows a string of tantalising unsolved murders there which left some believing that there was a serial killer plying his trade. It gives a good account of the murders it goes into, giving background detail and a good amount of local color. Some happen in small towns very nearby, but seem to be obviously linked. There are good debates about different suspects that Detective Alsop is mulling over as they bring themselves to his attention, all for different reasons.

I think most true crime readers would enjoy this one, as well as those who like reading about crime in other countries like Canada. Advance electronic review copy was provided by NetGalley, author Vanessa Brown, and the publisher.

Exilium Vita Est: The Island Home of Victor Hugo // Longreads

Like a cabin in the woods, an island sounds like a writer’s dream: inspiring scenery and a remove from distractions. Here, the mythology creeps in, the writer can achieve an internal calm to match external tranquility, and of course will not suffer in the least from the isolation.

Give the writer a desk at a window with a view. Victor Hugo’s would do nicely. In the late 19th century, the French author lived for 14 years as a political exile on the island of Guernsey in the English Channel. He wrote overlooking the sea and, on a clear day, he could see all the way to the hazy coastline of his beloved France.

Engaged with the outside world but removed from it, he produced an outpouring of words — including poems, essays, and books — and most famously completed his five-volume novel, Les Misérables.

I wanted to visit Hugo’s home on Guernsey, called Hauteville House, for a mix of intangible reasons we visit writers’ houses, but mainly out of curiosity about how someone so iconic lived and worked, and for some better understanding of the mind at work here. The house also has a reputation as worth seeing in and of itself, a masterpiece of Hugo the decorator. Hugo scholars, known as Hugoliens, consider it another one of his great works, alongside his books. His son Charles described it as an “autograph of three stories,” and “a poem in many rooms.” I had avoided looking too closely at photos of the house that became synonymous with his time abroad, which might muddy first impressions.

Before my visit, I had imagined Hauteville House standing apart, alone on a hilltop, like the writer-in-exile in a moody series of portraits taken on the neighboring island of Jersey. Seen from various distances and angles, Hugo, sepia-toned, poses on a coastal outcrop known as “The Rock of the Exiles.” In the most arresting portrait, he appears in profile, gazing over the water.

As it turns out, Hugo’s Hauteville House is near the top of a steep, curved street. From the rear, with its spacious garden and an airy facade full of windows, it could pass for a country mansion. But it is hemmed into a row of Georgian-style townhouses.

Hauteville House, now grey, stands out on a quiet block of the town of Saint Peter Port.

Hauteville House, now gray, stands out on a quiet block of the town of Saint Peter Port.

During recent renovations, the street-facing side, previously painted in a light shade like its neighbors, was restored to the severe dark gray of Hugo’s era. It has a forest-green fence and three flagpoles, flying the standards of France, Guernsey, and the city of Paris.

It took four years for Hugo to pinball from Paris, which he left in 1851, to Guernsey. After opposing the coup by which Napoleon III replaced France’s nascent democracy with its Second Empire, he had first fled to Belgium, wearing a fake beard to avoid being recognized on the journey.

Hugo was already famous from his works for theater and his wildly successful novel Notre-Dame de Paris, known to English speakers as The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. The book’s success had literally transformed its namesake, prompting the first extensive renovation of the neglected cathedral in the 1840s. (In a modern twist, the recent 4.5 million euro restoration of Hauteville House was largely funded by French billionaire François Pinault, who has also pledged 100 million euros toward the restoration of fire-damaged Notre-Dame.)

In Belgium, Hugo continued to write scathing tracts about Napoleon III, eventually making himself an unwelcome guest. Next, he and his wife and children joined other European exiles on the Channel Island of Jersey. Expelled again for his political involvement, he finally boarded a steamer named Dispatch for the town of Saint Peter Port on a rainy day in October, 1855.

The picturesque town of Saint Peter Port rises steeply from its modern harbor.

The picturesque town of Saint Peter Port rises steeply from its modern harbor.

The island of Guernsey, a semi-independent British Crown dependency, is 24 square miles of craggy coastline. Once Hugo bought the (reputedly haunted) Hauteville House in 1856, under the island’s laws, he could not be expelled.

“No longer having a fatherland, I would have a roof,” he wrote in a letter to fellow French writer Jules Janin. Driven from place to place, “I rebuilt [my household] with the patience of an ant. This time, they won’t chase me off again. … From now on, I will be chez moi, the walls, the floorboards and the ceilings will be mine.”

His continued residence assured, Hugo went about redecorating to his own particular tastes.

He collected sea chests from Guernsey’s antique and junk shops, which he had reconfigured into furniture. He covered walls and ceilings with tapestries and oriental rugs and even china plates.

The island of Guernsey is a British Crown dependency, with signs of its historical ties to both Britain and France.

The island of Guernsey is a British Crown dependency, with signs of its historical ties to both Britain and France.

Today, Hauteville House is a tiny French outpost on the island, owned and run by the city of Paris. A painted plaster frieze of scenes from Notre-Dame de Paris greets visitors in the entryway. Guided tours take place in small groups, beginning in the billiard room where the family socialized, and circling upward through the large, three-story townhouse.

Hugo mixed and matched to create eccentric, eclectic rooms. In one ground-floor salon, he united a wall of carved wooden chests, Flemish tapestry, a 19th-century Japanese lantern, Dutch stained glass, a Persian rug, and Chinese paintings on paper.

He incorporated his signature, literally, throughout the house, including the Notre-Dame frieze above the entryway. His initials appear in some cases carved into wood paneling, and as a tile relief over the dining room fireplace. The writer characteristically included words and phrases into the decor. In the dining room, a Latin maxim reads: Exilium vita est (“life is exile”).

“It is necessary to work or die of boredom,” Hugo wrote during his period overseas.

His productivity at Hauteville House was grounded in a strict routine, according to assistant curator, Stéphanie Duluc.

“He rose very early in the morning,” she said, and wrote until lunch, which he took with his family. “Then he would go walking in the afternoon,” most often along the coast to Fermain Bay, where today you’ll find a beach café with picnic tables. Evenings were for revisions.

A visitor in Victor Hugo's library of Hauteville House.

A visitor in Victor Hugo’s library of Hauteville House.

In 1860, he returned to a manuscript he had begun 15 years before. It revolved around events on a Paris barricade in 1832, and the lives of the characters who converged there.

The tour of Hauteville House continues up to Hugo’s dark wood-and-glass library, dim and densely packed with novels and reference works, and then up one more flight of stairs to the glass-walled “lookout” Hugo had extended from a rooftop window. Roped off to preserve the Delft tiles and a glass window in the floor that serves as a skylight to the stairs below, the remove adds to the aura of Hugo’s sacred, impenetrable workspace. Hugo wrote here, moving between two simple desks that fold out from the wall.

But even standing before Hugo’s inspiring view, it was still strange to imagine Hugo writing Les Misérables from Guernsey, literally facing — masochistically, almost — a country he would not set foot in until political tides turned, if he lived that long.

Hugo wrote another novel he set on Guernsey, called Toilers of the Sea. Its somber dedication reads: “To the rock of hospitality and freedom … where live this noble, little people of the sea, the Island of Guernsey, severe and kind/soft, my present exile and probable tomb.”

Details from the present-day harbor of Saint Peter Port.

Details from the present-day harbor of Saint Peter Port.

In Toilers of the Sea, Hugo paints a peculiar island subject to enveloping fogs and superstitions. Guernsey, in the book, is not isolated per se — the plot is regularly propelled by international travelers arriving on various ships. But the novel’s central drama takes place on a group of barren rocks offshore, where the protagonist, Gilliatt, spends many grueling weeks alone, salvaging the engine of a wrecked steamer — and fights off a monstrous sea creature.

The Guernsey of Toilers of the Sea feels worlds away from the crowded streets of Paris. It also doesn’t sound much like the island of today, which receives over 100,000 cruise passengers a year.

In fact, during my brief visit, I had a nagging sense that Hugo would not have liked what the island has become. Retellings of the writer’s life on Guernsey give prominent place to weekly dinners he hosted for impoverished children on the island near the end of his work on Les Misérables, which comments on income inequality, among other subjects.

The stone gateway before one of the town's stately homes, which have names like Magnolia House and Fairsea.

The stone gateway before one of the town’s stately homes, which have names like Magnolia House and Fairsea.

Saint Peter Port is still picturesque. My time on the island seemed to disappear as I walked up and down its streets and staircases, encountering wildflowers growing out of crumbling stone walls and pretty Georgian-style houses with names like Magnolia House and Fairsea. But a number of these townhouses now bear the names of asset management firms, a sign of the financial clout of the island, which is known today as a tax haven. Residents drive small but clearly very expensive cars “because they can,” explains a tourist brochure taken from the ferry terminal.

Then again, Hugo himself lived a life full of contradictions and contrasts. He lived in a grand house in which he created a monumental wood-paneled bedroom for himself, incorporating pews from the Chartres Cathedral, a prime example of French Gothic architecture, and an imposingly huge desk. But Hugo actually slept in a small, simple bedroom above it. It is brightly lit, with cheerful yellow walls and a modest bed almost level with the floor.

Under scrutiny, even Hugo’s exile breaks down a little. He received hundreds of visitors in Hauteville House’s richly decorated salons, including pilgrims from all over the world and his French peers, including Alexandre Dumas. Though, Duluc notes, some days Hugo refused to see anyone.

Victor Hugo pictured in the red salon, where he entertained visitors.

Victor Hugo pictured in the red salon, where he entertained visitors.

But the most preoccupying contradiction is Hugo’s assembling of a masterpiece of the French literary canon and social commentary from a British island.

While dreaming up the colorful cast of Les Mis would be impressive anywhere, Hugo at least had resources to draw on beyond his own memories. He sent journalist Théophile Guérin on fact-checking missions to verify geographic details of Paris and consulted Juliette Drouet, a French actress who became his mistress and joined him on Guernsey, about the memories of her childhood in convent school for another section of the book. After nine years, he made his first return trip to the Continent to visit the site of the Battle of Waterloo in Belgium, with his manuscript packed in a waterproof bag. The publishing process sounds maddening: In his biography about Hugo’s masterpiece, The Novel of a Century, scholar and translator David Bellos describes how batches of typeset pages were sent by mail from Brussels to Guernsey for corrections via boat and train, a circuit which could take up to 10 days.

But, despite these obstacles, the book was published, and Les Misérables became an international bestseller.

Was this the silver lining of Hugo’s exile?

While not working on the great American novel, I have found living outside the U.S. in recent years to be helpful for a sense of distance, granting me permission to disengage just enough from the relentless daily news cycle.

Hugo was a mail boat away from the French coast, a safe distance from the thrumming of Paris. While he loved his country with a patriotic fervor that would raise eyebrows today, leaving it ultimately gave him the room to complete his complex ode to France.

A statue of Hugo from 1914 in Candie Gardens looks toward the harbor of Saint Peter Port.

A statue of Hugo from 1914 in Candie Gardens looks toward the harbor of Saint Peter Port.

Hugo returned to Paris as soon as Napoleon III fell in 1870. As the long-exiled patriarch of French democracy, he now reached a status at home that Michael Garval, an American professor who studies 19th-century celebrity, told me is hard to translate: “part-Mark Twain, part-Ernest Hemingway, part-I don’t know, Abraham Lincoln.”

Hugo was swept into the social and political worlds of Paris once again. He would have to return for an extended stay in Guernsey later that decade to finish his last novel, Ninety-Three.

“He plays this role of wise grandfather of the Third Republic,” said Garval, manifestly enjoying the adulation that came his way.

“At the end of his life you have this sort of extensive anticipation of his passing and of his eventual glorious afterlife,” he noted. “Typically, for example, streets would not be named after someone until after they’re dead,” but the last street that Hugo lived on was given his name in anticipation of his 80th birthday, celebrated with a parade below his final apartment’s balcony. Somewhere between 2 and 3 million people reportedly turned out for his six-hour funeral procession from the Arc de Triomphe to the Pantheon, a crowd roughly equivalent to the entire population of Paris at the time.

This is the continuing paradox of Hugo today.

To massively compress the story of Les Misérables’ legacy, there have since been hundreds of translations and so many adaptations as to have “a depressing effect on attitudes towards his book,” writes Bellos, so that “serious readers have often turned up their noses at a work they assume to fall below the level of great art.”

Hauteville House still draws 20,000 visitors a year, roughly half English and half French speakers. A retired French couple I met after the tour admit — while they knew some of Hugo’s life’s story — they had never read one of his massive novels in full. But after tracing the narrative told by his fantastical house, they left wanting to try.

“I think one can have never read Hugo and understand this house ultimately as one of his great, great works,” said Duluc. “And I find the visit has been a success when people leave with the desire to read.”

  • * *

Emma Jacobs is a multimedia journalist based in Montreal and author of the illustrated book The Little(r) Museums of Paris.

Editor: Cheri Lucas Rowlands

Source: Emma Jacobs | Longreads | September 2019 | 8 minutes (2,229 words)
Editor says #AceNewsDesk reports & #Brittius says are provided by Sterling Publishing & Media News Chat https://t.me/joinchat/Di_0I1O9-Gz1ogusgUArog and all our posts, links can be found at here Live Feeds https://acenewsroom.wordpress.com/ Ace News Services Posts https://t.me/AceSocialNews_Bot and thanks for following as always appreciate every like, reblog or retweet and free help and guidance tips on your PC software or need help & guidance from our experts AcePCHelp.WordPress.Com or you can follow our breaking news posts on AceBreakingNews.WordPress.Com or become a member on Telegram https://t.me/acebreakingnews all private chat messaging on here https://t.me/sharingandcaring

Book Review ~ GABACHO // BookZone

Gabacho: Drugs Landed Me In Mexican Prison, Theatre Saved Me

Ghosts: Underwood (Original Short Ghost Fiction!) // Book ‘Em, Jan O

Readers, here’s a short fiction selection from my book, Rest In Fleece: Ghosts, Tall Tales & Horror Stories. Enjoy this creepy tale, and if you like it you might check out my amazon page at the link below, where most of my books are but 99 cents!

Underwood

“Damn, this listing’s getting stale,” thought Lee, a somewhat harried realtor. She knew that every month on the market eroded a home’s saleability. (Lee had a weakness for realtor-speak). She’d inherited the listing from another agent, who had worked the property carefully and comprehensively.

The curb appeal was undeniable: a pretty Spanish territorial. The barrel tiles added charm and the elegant, custom wrought iron front door welcomed the visitor. The stucco had just been redone. The landscaping was nice enough, and the yard quite well-kept, enclosed by a high wall. The interior of the home was immaculate and had not even required staging: the current furnishings were of high quality and the rooms were well-designed. So why hadn’t it sold?

A drive-by was in order, thought Lee. She got into her Audi and headed for Druid Lane in Underwood, a suburb, but a community that was set off, at a distance. It was part of the best school district in the city and was considered very nice area, if a bit inconvenient, due to its separation by a river, a bridge and a series of hills. It couldn’t actually be seen from town.

As she drove over the stream, Lee had an odd feeling. She was intuitive. Something was out of balance. Lee was a Libra. The signature scales of her sign were to her more than a mere symbol. Balance was all. If she sensed something amiss, it always presented as a vision of the scales, with one side weighted down. And this is what she saw in her mind’s eye as she crossed over the water. She looked at her GPS. No matter how often she came to this area, her keen sense of direction would abandon her and she’d find herself wandering, befuddled. However, she let her logic override her sense of confusion and drove on. Yes, here we are, she thought. The Lethe River, and now Wood Road.

There were rumors about the hills. There was a kind of urban legend about them. One day after work, Lee had stopped for drinks with some other realtors. George had had a few and was rambling on, as one will. He said once he had been so lost in those hills he nearly hadn’t made his way out.

“I should have listened to the old guy,” he added. You know, Mr. Charrone, that older man who lives by the water, before you get to the bridge? Well, he told me the hills had a miasma about them.”

Mr. Charrone had said that the native American people had avoided the place. Centuries ago, when European settlers arrived, they gladly stayed where there would be no conflict with the local tribes, remote as it was in those days. Underwood area developed rather on its own, apart from the rest of the growing city to the east. It remained prosperous but small, and had no direct access from the freeway or the main highways. The only way in and out remained Wood Road.

***

In her car, Lee pulled up the second of the hills. The surrounding forest was green, rich with moss and overgrowth. She wondered whether one might even walk through it. There seemed no space for even a small pathway. The sky overhead, while still sunny, darkened, and Lee was immediately plunged in shadow. Her car began to drift. Not meander off the road, but drift: it moved, but silently, with the engine no longer engaged, it felt as if it actually floated. She tried her brakes, which also had no effect. She was only a passenger now. Someone or something else was driving.

Her car rolled its way down the road (faster than Lee would have driven) and through the woods. Lee became more terrified by the moment: she feared she might die. After a time, though, the woods thinned out, it became lighter, and the car once again was just a car. Looking up, Lee saw Underwood, like a large feline, basking in the midday warmth. Sunlight shrouded the cluster of homes and buildings. City of God, she thought briefly.

Somehow she’d been brought here. How? Why? Lee pulled over at a Starbucks for a coffee and a scone. She sat at an outside table to think. For one thing, this place. In all her years in the business, she’d never sold property here, even though it was considered her agency’s territory. Why, she wondered, had so few done business here? It certainly looked prosperous.

Then Lee wondered how it was she’d got the listing in the first place. Agents don’t just hand over saleable properties to other realtors. That would be giving away money. And, why Lee? She was not the most senior broker in the office. Opening her laptop, she looked into the property files.

Ah, here it was. The last agent to list had been Gilbert Gamesh. Yes, Gil had . . . what had happened to Gil? She assumed he’d transferred out. Lee would look into it. She returned to her car and followed her directions to the house on Druid Lane.

***

Lee walked around the yard, and all looked undisturbed. Opening the lockbox, she got the key and let herself in. On the table in the foyer were several cards from other realtors who had been by. She looked through them.

My, some looked quite old. Here was Gil’s card. Gilbert ‘Gil’ Gamesh, Broker. (The name sounded Persian, thought Lee). Sibyl Wise, Associate. Kat Abaysis, Broker. Percy F. Fahni, Realtor. Interesting: each appeared to have come from her own branch office. But ‘way before her time there.

Scooping up the cards, she walked through the house, making sure all was in order. While things looked fine . . . but that was the thing, Lee thought. There was a surface calm about the whole day and this particular place that felt as it if blanketed something quite dark and fearsome.

She looked quite carefully through each room of the house and then, in the office, she saw what looked like parchment, a quill, and an ink bottle. It was all set out as though someone had been, just now, writing. These decorators (Lee shook her head). Personally, she found this display a tad precious.

She had decided to put the parchment away in a drawer when she noticed what it was. Some kind of list. Each name she’d read on the cards also appeared on it. Some of the ink had faded, so it was hard to read. Wait. Surely not. She took out her glasses to be sure. There it was, her own name, at the end! What? Was this someone’s idea of a joke?

Had she not had such a ghastly trip in, Lee might have laughed. What to do now? She decided to press on with the job at hand. The listing ad had looked a bit tired, so she took new photos with her camera. Amazing how well kept the place was. Perhaps the cleaners had just been in.

As she peered through the lens for another shot, something caught her eye. The fireplace. There were ashes there. Quite recent ones, from the look of it. There was the faintest smell of smoke in the air. Something told her to turn around at once and go home whilst she still could. She wanted to. But she had professional concerns. Had some unauthorized person been here? She was responsible as the agent: the owners were absentee, she’d understood. Lee picked up an andiron and prodded at the ash pile. As she did so, she saw something glisten.

She scraped away the debris and saw a gold ring, the kind with the monogram initial. She picked it out, and with a tissue from her bag, wiped her hands and the ring. It was a heavy, fine men’s ring. The initials were GG. Gil? Lee went to the kitchen for drink of water. She was feeling lightheaded. She saw a mug on the counter with the words Perce Fahni, Realtor of the Year. Clearly she needed to get back to her office and do some research. And out of here. She saw a wisp of smoke from the fireplace, turned on her heel and ran out of the house, pausing only to lock it. She quickly settled herself in her car, locked her doors, and drove home. Fortunately, this ride was without incident.

***

The following day, Lee attended a broker’s open house in another part of town. She saw some colleagues she knew slightly, and went up to say hello.

“Say,” she asked, “remember that broker from our office, Gil? Where did he get off to, I’ve wanted to ask him something about his old listing.”

“I thought he went to Sicily to retire,” said one. “No, no, it was Crete,” asserted another. Yet a third agent thought Gil had got a condo on the Aegean, a lower level one. No one knew for sure. Gil had become the stuff of myth.

Afterward, Lee returned to the office and sleuthed a bit. Sibyl Wise had been a top-achieving agent, she’d made oodles of money and then . . . what had become of her? Lee got into the old file cabinets and found papers with Sibyl’s name. But how odd. They were dated 1922.

***

Lee wanted to pass the Druid Lane listing to someone else, but found no one available to take it on. She was thus obligated to show the house when, out of nowhere, she received a call from another agent.

“Hello, Lee? Hi, I’m Sy. Oh, Sy Riss. I’m calling about your Underwood listing. My clients are just dying to see it. Can you meet us there today?”

This was the last thing Lee wanted to do, but perhaps there would be a commission out of it. She did need the money.

“Okay, Sy. I can be there at one. Um, you sound familiar. Can we have met?” she asked.

“Perhaps. In any case, we shall meet soon. See you at one,” Sy said, and rang off.

A bit later she drove to Underwood. Her car behaved normally and she felt no apprehension this time. She pulled up to the house (it really was such a pretty place, she couldn’t account for it sitting unsold for so long). There was a black Cadillac Fleetwood in the drive and the wrought iron front door was ajar.

Lee went in to join the others. Sy was showing a tall, well-dressed couple into the living room.

“Afternoon,” called Lee.

“Oh, Lee. How good to meet you, heard so many great things. Meet Demi and Dis Dionne.”

Greetings were exchanged forthwith. Demi and Dis were a tall, elegant-looking couple. Lee’s intuition told her there was something foul lurking beneath their pleasant and attractive façade. But she would never know. She smelled just a hint of ashes as they approached. Then she became dizzy, and all she saw was black.

***

A couple weeks had gone by, but no one at the Peers Simmons Real Estate Agency had seen Lee. So unusual, people said. Lee was such a worker and almost always came in at least once during a day, no matter how many showings she had scheduled. No one had been in her home for some time, it appeared (this was later, after the missing persons report had been filed), and no one had seen her since she left for her last appointment. That house on Druid Lane. People were slightly concerned, but no one had known her all that well, and as time passed, people assumed she had just transferred across town, or maybe to Dana Point. She’d mentioned moving to the beach someday.

***

Gil, Sibyl and Perce were at the fourth hole at the Oaktown Arbor Country Club. Gil had just hit a beauty with his 3 iron, ‘way into the green, close to the hole.

“Nice one, Gil,” said Perce. They got into their cart.

“I love it here,” said Sibyl. “Oh, look!” she added. “Here’s Lee!”

Ghosts: What Made This Policeman Believe // Book ‘Em, Jan O

Readers, I found a question on Quora to the effect of “what made you believe in the paranormal?” This particular post was a good testimonial from a police officer, which as we’ve discussed before is a profession which is trained to carefully observe events. I found this account pretty convincing! Read on here: A Police Officer’s Account
Copyright © 2019 Bookemjano – All rights reserved

To learn more about real ghosts, please see About Ghosts: A Useful Handbook. For some great ghost stories, please see Death Be Not Loud, Rest In Fleece, and Sepia Seepage. To learn about ghosts in modern fiction, please see Infectious Ghosts. And so much more, at: Jan’s Amazon Page

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Source: // Book ‘Em, Jan O

Editor says #AceNewsDesk reports & #Brittius says are provided by Sterling Publishing & Media News and all our posts, links can be found at here Live Feeds https://acenewsroom.wordpress.com/ Ace News Services Posts https://t.me/AceSocialNews_Bot and thanks for following as always appreciate every like, reblog or retweet and free help and guidance tips on your PC software or need help & guidance from our experts AcePCHelp.WordPress.Com or you can follow our breaking news posts on AceBreakingNews.WordPress.Com or become a member on Telegram https://t.me/acebreakingnews all private chat messaging on here https://t.me/sharingandcaring

Book Review: “Rise and Kill First.” – The Secret Israeli Worldwide Assassination P rogram // Astute News

“It made no difference which Palestinians we killed… They either were terrorists or would become terrorists or they gave birth to terrorists.” – former IDF commander,Continue reading

Source: // Astute News

Editor says #AceNewsDesk reports & #Brittius says are provided by Sterling Publishing & Media News and all our posts, links can be found at here Live Feeds https://acenewsroom.wordpress.com/ Ace News Services Posts https://t.me/AceSocialNews_Bot and thanks for following as always appreciate every like, reblog or retweet and free help and guidance tips on your PC software or need help & guidance from our experts AcePCHelp.WordPress.Com or you can follow our breaking news posts on AceBreakingNews.WordPress.Com or become a member on Telegram https://t.me/acebreakingnews all private chat messaging on here https://t.me/sharingandcaring