IN THE AIR TONIGHT

Sisters of the Craft Book #1

 

   I understand that my dream of being normal is merely that.

   For one thing, I'm adopted and everyone knows it. In a town like New Bergin, Wisconsin adoptions are rare. Strapping Scandinavian farm folk produce blond-haired, blue-eyed children quick as bunnies. Which means my blue-black hair and so-brown-they'll-never-be-blue eyes make me stand out like the single ugly duckling in a lake full of swans. Even before factoring in that I'm an only child.

   The only only child in New Bergin. Which doesn't necessarily make me abnormal, but it doesn't mean I fit in either.

   No, what makes me abnormal are the ghosts. As the freaky little kid in the movie said: They're everywhere.

   At first my parents thought my speaking to empty corners and laughing for no reason was cute. As time went on, and people started talking . . . not so cute anymore.

   "Should we take her to a psychiatrist?" my mother asked softly.Ella Larsen always spoke softly. That night she whispered, yet still I heard. Or maybe one of the ghosts told me. I'd been four at the time. My recollection is muzzy.

   "Take her to a psychiatrist?" my father repeated. "I was thinking of taking her back."

   Perhaps that was the beginning of my feelings of inadequacy in New Bergin, or at the least, the birth of my incessant need to please. If I wasn't "right" I could be returned like a broken chair or a moldy loaf of bread.

   I stopped mentioning the ghosts the next day. I never did see that psychiatrist, although sometimes I think that I should. I'm still living in New Bergin. My name's still Raye Larsen. Once I stopped chattering to nothing my father and I came to an unspoken understanding. He coached my softball team and took me fishing. I pretended to be Daddy's girl. I had to. I didn't want to go "back."    According to my records, I'd been abandoned on Interstate 94, halfway between Madison and Eau Claire. Whoever had left me behind had not liked me very much. They'd dumped me in a ditch on the side of the road--naked without even a blanket.

   Assholes.

   Lucky for me it was a balmy July day, and I was found before I had succumbed to even a tinge of sunburn. I'm just glad it wasn't November.

   My mother died when I was twenty. Cancer. Haven't seen her since. The one ghost I wouldn't have minded turning up a few times and not a word. I don't understand it.

   As I hurried down the sidewalk my best friend, Jenn Anderson, appeared at my side. "You wanna slow down?"

   "Not really," I said, though I did just a little.

   We weren't late for a change, probably because I hadn't waited for Jenn. We worked for the New Bergin School District, Jenn as the attendance secretary, me as a kindergarten teacher and walked to school together each morning.

   In choosing my occupation, I'd tried to get as far away from the dead as possible, figuring I'd be safe from ghosts in a kindergarten classroom.

   Boy, had I been wrong. As previously mentioned: Ghosts are everywhere.

   While I might have come to teaching for a reason that wasn't, I’d discovered quickly why I should stay. Good teachers could be made, but the best ones were born, and I was one of them.

   Who knew I'd be great with kids? Not me. That they were honest and happy and full of energy, and being around them made me feel better than anything else was an unexpected bonus. I'd even started to consider that I might want a few of my own. Perhaps if I created a family from scratch, rather than joining one already in progress, I'd feel like I belonged somewhere, to someone, and that constant emptiness inside might go away.

   Of course finding a man in New Bergin wasn’t easy. They were the same ones that had been here all along, and I wasn’t impressed.

   They hadn't been either. Though I tried to be like everyone else, the fact remained that I wasn't. In truth, the only people who had ever accepted me as I was, and loved me for me no matter what, were my mother and Jenn. Which was no doubt why I loved them the same way.

   Jenn and I had met on the first day of preschool and become BFFs. No idea why. We were so different it was scary and yet . . . we worked.

   Even without the long, perfect mane of golden hair and equally gorgeous face, complete with a pert little nose--although this Jenn's nose was actually her nose, plastic surgery being a no-no in New Bergin--Jennifer Anderson was too close to Jennifer Aniston for high school kids to resist. When she'd begun dating the only Brad in town, she'd just been asking for it.

   As a result, one did not mention Friends, or Brad for that matter, ever. Do not get her started on Ross.

   Jenn, who was several inches shorter than me, had to take three steps to my one. The flurry of her tiny feet, combined with the spiky ponytail atop her head, made her resemble a coked up Pomeranian.

   "Where's the fire?" she asked.

   A breeze kicked up, making her silly hairstyle waggle. For an instant, I could have sworn I smelled smoke; I even heard the crackle of flames

   But if there were a fire, the local volunteer fire department would have been wailing down First Street by now. Which meant . . .

   I turned my head, and I saw him. Nothing new. I'd been seeing this one for as long as I could remember.

   Clad in black, he reminded me of the pictures in the Thanksgiving stories I read to my kids. Puritan. Pilgrim. One or the other. Although why the Ghost of Thanksgiving Past had turned up in Wisconsin I had no idea. According to the stories all those persecuted Puritans had lived, and died, on the East Coast.

   Maybe he was Amish.

   Neither case explained the sleek black wolf that was often at his side. The creature's bright green eyes were as unnatural as the creature itself.Every time I approached, they melted into the woods, an alley, the ether. Unlike all of the other specters that just had to talk to me, neither my Puritan, nor his wolf, ever did.

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