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BURN THE GIRLS - Prologue
October 3rd, 1966
Dingy incandescent beams radiated from the kitchen table light into Wade Jones’s sleep-deprived eyes. Just two months ago, he’d been a proud husband and father. Then, within only weeks of each other, he’d lost both his daughter, Adeline, and his wife, Lydia. Now, Wade was a widow and a bereaved parent.
The sturdy oak kitchen table that used to be the gathering place for his small family now supported piles of paper and several partially drained coffee mugs. He sat at the head of the table, reading and signing the closing documents presented to him by the broker sitting to his right.
Delilah, cousin of his late wife Lydia, sat opposite him. Wade watched her fidget with a pen in anticipation, her constant movement in concert with the unsettled nerves in his gut. She buzzed with repressed relief while he fought to contain his anxious motor.
Wade’s late wife, Lydia, had spent her life loving Delilah more like a sister than a cousin. They’d been inseparable in their youth. That love had endured their adult years as they started new families and raised children. Now Lydia was gone. This Godforsaken house in rural southeastern Virginia was her last refuge, the cemetery beyond the trees in the backyard her eternal resting place.
Delilah broke the silence. “We really appreciate this, Wade. I know selling the house must be extremely difficult for you considering… well, everything.” She cleared her throat. “I guess what I’m trying to say is that this place is special to our family, and we’re grateful. It’s been in our family for generations. The circumstances are anything but desirable, but it’s my honor to carry on our legacy.”
Wade scrawled his last signature, slid the pages to the broker, and set the pen down beside his mug without lifting his eyes to meet Delilah’s. He lacked the energy to properly respond. He felt terrible for being so detached in the moment, he’d always liked Delilah. Anyone who’d meant so much to Lydia naturally held his respect. Over the years, he’d come to know and respect her a great deal. Her ex-husband, on the other hand, was a grade A loser in Wade’s opinion. Any man who chose drinking and flirting with bar trash over a life with his wife and daughters didn’t deserve such precious gifts. He’d left Delilah and her girls with a mortgage they couldn’t afford. The opportunity to help them by turning their family home over to them brought some light to the horrible circumstances of Wade’s family. He urgently wanted out of this place and Delilah’s family needed a new home.
Wade felt Delilah gently blanket his left hand with hers. She leaned forward, pulling his eyes up to hers.
“Thank you, Wade.”
He mustered a slight smile. His lips quivered as he repressed his nervous energy. “I’m grateful for your willingness to take the house. Lydia would have loved to help you and girls in this way.” Wade looked down at the table. “I just can’t be here any longer.”
Wade turned his gaze beyond the screen door to the backyard. Just beyond those trees, Adeline and Lydia’s graves called to him.
Wade washed the last of the coffee mugs in the kitchen sink, the almost-scolding hot water turning his hands into vibrant red bundles of needles. He barely noticed, consumed with staring out the window above the sink while he worked, his eyes scanning the yard nervously.
Delilah and the closing agent had left soon after signing the papers and finalizing the sale, leaving Wade alone in the house once again. Weeks prior, Delilah and Wade had negotiated a quick turnover to benefit both parties. He’d spent the past few days packing and moving his things to his new place, 15 miles away in West Point. Tomorrow morning, he would load his few remaining items into his truck and leave this house for good.
Wade would settle in a small rancher on the edge of West Point. The house was a bit run down, but it was only five minutes from his work at the paper mill and what remained of his childhood home and family in Urbanna.
He didn’t feel great about any of this. He and Lydia had fully intended to make this their lifelong home. They had plans to raise Adeline here, then pass the house down to her when eventually they aged out of the place or passed. It’s what Lydia’s family had done for generations. Those plans died first with Adeline, and then Lydia’s passing only weeks later. Adeline passed unexpectedly. Now, Wade was alone in a house he had no right to occupy without them. And things were not as they should be.
He turned the water off and dried the last mug with an already-damp dishtowel. His eyes fixed on the empty yard as he worked, his breath shallow and his ears scanning for any sounds in the house beyond the kitchen.
Wade set the mug top-down on a dry towel on the counter and moved from the kitchen to the stairs, hesitating to turn out the kitchen light until the last second.
He paused before climbing.
Head down, listening, he closed his eyes and cleared his mind. Everything that had happened in the house—everything terrible—had happened upstairs. A short internal pep talk got him moving again.
One step, then the next, Wade ascended the stairs. With each step, his pulse increased, flushing his body with nervous heat. He kept his pace, moving steadily up the stairs, each groaning lightly as it took the weight of his body.
Wade felt someone behind him, right against him. He snapped his head around and, as expected, he saw muddy footprints where each of his footfalls had been. Those footprints were obviously not his, his clean socks leaving no trace of his path in their wake.
Just get to the bedroom, he thought.
As Wade crested the stairs, he picked up his pace, moving briskly down the hall to the primary bedroom. He kept his eyes locked on the room ahead, refusing to look back.
Wade breached the bedroom, swung the door shut behind him, and climbed into the bed. He exhaled into the dark void of the room as he reached for the small lamp on the bedside table and rolled the switch in his fingers. Its light was sudden and harsh but gave Wade the relief from the dark that he needed. He rolled onto his right side, facing away from the window and the lamp.
Wade closed his eyes and willed his heart rate to slow. Just one last night. Please let me rest, girls.
Behind the closed door separating the bedroom from the hall, sounds of footsteps and running water in the hall kept Wade’s heart rate captive and elevated.
A narrow band of pinkish yellow light interrupted the darkness at the bottom edge of the door, the hall beyond the door awash in color.
Door hinges sighed in the hall. Water met water in the tub as the pipes in the walls occasionally groaned.
In the yard beyond the window, Wade heard the treetops bristling and wild in a sudden gust of wind. The eaves whistled and the roof creaked in the changing pressure.
Lydia’s voice slipped through the colliding thoughts in Wade’s mind. “Thank you, Wade.”
Somehow, he knew Lydia was happy with his pending departure and the arrival of Delilah and the girls. He’d honored her family’s tradition and Lydia knew, even in death.
“Be good to them,” Wade said. “I don’t know what else to do, but I know I can’t do this anymore.” A wellspring of despair rose in him, and his mind drifted to his lost daughter.
He willed Adeline to speak to him, but she never did. He felt her about the house, saw the things she did, but never heard her.
“Adeline, baby, would you talk to me tonight? Daddy misses you so much.” Tears poured from his eyes to the pillow on one side of his face, puddling in the nook of his nose on the other.
“I miss you so much, baby,” he sobbed. He felt the pull of her grave in the cemetery behind the home. It was an undeniable force, so great it consumed his thoughts day and night. He clung to this land of the living, but he wasn’t sure how much longer he could hold on.
If he loosened his grip, he’d be pulled to the same fate as Lydia.
His dead wife’s voice came to him again. “Thank you, Wade.”
The world suddenly went quiet. The yard and the house stood in an unblemished, deafening silence.
Wade wept silently until sleep immersed him in a dreamscape of Adeline’s brightness and love.
A Note from Lucas
I hope you enjoyed this first episode of the new serial novel, Burn the Girls. Welcome to book 1 in The Haunting of the Whispering House series. I will publish a new episode every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday until the story is completed (nearly 30 episodes!)
If you haven’t read the prequel novella, Bury the Child, you can pick up a copy at the link below. It’s the best $3 you’ll spend this week. And if you have a Kindle Unlimited subscription, you can read it for free!
Note, this novel will only be available to paid subscribers and will remain available here until the book is officially published in January of 2024.