By Joan Conning Afman
Paranormal Mystery, 347 pages
Cover art by Trisha FitzGerald
Thomas and Chloe meet at college, and feel an instant attraction to each other, unaware that many centuries ago they lived and loved each other then. When Thomas and Chloe are drawn into a faux-Druid cult, which meets at a mini-Stonehenge site off campus, he begins to feel a deep compulsion to protect Chloe from the danger he senses lurking there. Its leader, Dyfan, has re-named Chloe “Vala”, which means ‘acceptable sacrifice”, and his intentions slowly become clear.
As the college year progresses, Thomas and Chloe find themselves bound to the Clan by Dyfan’s strange psychic abilities. Their unlikely help comes from Chloe’s perceptive art professor, Jim Walsh, and Thomas’ quirky, margarita-making grandmother, Ivy, who seems to know things no one else does. The hair-raising climax takes place at Mystery Hill…where human sacrifices have happened
Because he was a ghost, Thomas Thornton, which had been his name in his eighteenth century reincarnation, was able to move right through the rocks, to slide through the small spaces between them with ease, even through the stone ‘speaking tube’ which led to the hollow space under the sacrificial altar. This was his favorite place to rest, snuggled up to the moss and decayed leaves that formed a soft bed. It smelled a little like death, too, musty and old and coppery, like blood, but it was a scent he had grown to love. It was also the place where she had died, so he felt closest to her there.
He had waited for her for centuries. Her death had been hard—and many souls who endured such a primitive and painful death were reluctant to return, but eventually they all did. After all, they had destinies to work out before they could go on to the next stage of existence, and so not coming back was not an option. The Coordinator, one of the Great Beings who tracked the journeys of all the souls, had told Thomas he would let him know when it was time. He, too, had his karma to work out before he could go on to the next level. His destiny was to overcome cowardice of that long ago primitive life when he could have saved her, but hadn’t.
~ * ~
It was the day of the summer solstice. The men of the tribe gathered at the four-foot -tall stone, carved in the shape of a leaning pyramid, to watch the sun rise precisely behind its pointed crest. In silence, they bowed to the god of summer, of crops to come, of the harvest, and walked in single file to where the sacrifice would be offered.
The chief, resplendent in his beaded ritual clothing, rich wolf cloak and feathered headdress, looked around the gathering. “If one man is willing to take her to wife and leave the tribe, she will be spared. Will anyone take her?” His curved sword glittered in the sun as he lifted it above the woman bound to the altar stone.
The chief was his father, whom he dared not offend, and a man and a woman driven from the tribe to survive on their own faced certain death. There was no way out for him, for her and for the child she carried within.
Frozen to the earth, his tongue numb and his heart dead, he had watched as the blade descended. Her scream of agony, blessedly brief, pierced the morning air. The chief carved her heart from her body and held it aloft on the tip of his sword. The tribe prostrated itself as the chief intoned the blessing upon them. Thomas, who was Achak in that incarnation, felt his soul bleed into the dirt.
~ * ~
He stretched, and his long arms and legs passed through the edges of the shield-shaped altar. He didn’t understand why the so-called ’experts’ who had swarmed over this particular collection of rocks for several centuries, trying to figure out who had built it—and for what purpose—had so much trouble believing that this stone had been used for human sacrifice. Wasn’t it obvious, with its curved grooves around the edge, where the blood collected and ran down into the collection pit at the base of the stone? For wine, one of the archaeological experts had concluded, but his theory was quickly discarded when a similar rock was found in nearby Massachusetts that had a carving of a human form stretched out on the altar stone. This conclusion shouldn’t have been so difficult to come by.
Thomas heard the sound of small boys in the distance. He sighed. They would use the sacred altar stone as a picnic table, of course, and their noisy chatter and activity would prevent any sleep he hoped to get, just to pass the time until she returned. Well, they were still a long way away. He would doze until then, and if they were particularly obnoxious, maybe have some fun with them.