First Chapter: The Blackham Mansion Haunting

TBMH cover-200x300The Blackham Mansion Haunting releases one week from today, on July 24, 2015!

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Chapter One


Winn was grateful the sun had finally set after a long, hot day. He was pushing the speed limit as he drove through the gorge, taking turns too quickly and weaving between slow moving trucks and RVs. He was Arizona patrolman bait, a nice fat speeding ticket just waiting to be plucked.

Something’s wrong, he thought. Something’s happened.

He spent most of the evening making phone calls, trying to find someone who might know Deem’s whereabouts. They were supposed to get together earlier in the day to scout the Harrison silver mine outside of Pioche, but she never showed. Not like her, he kept telling himself. She’d never miss an appointment like this. Hell, she’s never a minute late to anything. If something came up, she’d call me. She wouldn’t blow me off. Something’s wrong.

He slammed on his horn, irritated at the car in the left lane going as slow as the truck in the right, barely crawling up the hill. “The left lane is for passing!” he yelled inside his Jeep. He could see eyeballs in the rear view mirror of the car in front of him, watching his animated screaming. The car sped up and got in front of the truck, allowing him to pass.

He took a deep breath. Calm down. You make mistakes when you get angry. Just stay mellow. I’m sure Deem will be at Carma’s, the battery on her phone run down by accident.

The odds of that seemed slim, since David wasn’t answering his phone either. They couldn’t both have lost their juice at the same time. Too coincidental.

Twenty minutes later he pulled into the long driveway that led to Carma’s stately old pioneer home, tucked at the bottom of a red rock hill in Leeds. He parked right in front of the house and ran out, sprinting to the door and pounding on it. He hit the doorbell repeatedly.

“Hold your horses!” he could hear from inside. It opened, revealing Carma, covered in dirt, her hands and arms caked with dark soil.

“Winn!” she cried, lighting up. “What a surprise! Come in! You look dehydrated and anxious. You shall have some of my special tea — it’ll solve both problems at once!” She wheeled in place and began to march deeper into the house. Winn rushed to follow her.

“I wish you’d answer your phone!” Winn said. “I’ve been trying to reach you!”

Carma walked past the telephone table in the hallway, stopping for a second to look down at it. “Deem set up one of these new gadgets to answer the phone for me. I don’t know how to work it.”

Winn checked the table; a small answering machine sat next to Carma’s old-fashioned phone, its red lights flashing.

“See that number seventeen?” Winn said, pointing. “That’s seventeen messages I’ve left, trying to reach you! All you have to do is press this button to hear them!” Winn pushed play on the device. Nothing came out.

“See? It doesn’t work, just as I suspected,” Carma replied, waving a dismissive hand and leaving him in the hallway as she walked to the kitchen.

Winn checked the side of the machine and saw that the volume was down. He turned it back up and heard his worried voice, asking if Deem was around. He let the messages play as he followed Carma into the kitchen.

“The volume was down!” Winn said. “Hear all those messages?”

“How could I have heard them if the volume was down?” Carma asked, rinsing off her arms in the sink. “Really, those contraptions are quite complicated.”

“You must have heard the phone ring!” Winn said.

“I’ve been in the back re-potting things,” Carma said, drying off her arms and filling a kettle with water. “Plants don’t pot themselves, you know.”

“Have you seen Deem?” Winn asked. “She was supposed to meet me earlier, and she didn’t show up. I can’t reach her. David either.”

“Did you try Warren?”

“I did,” Winn replied. “Hasn’t seen her since the day before yesterday.”

“Oh!” Carma said, retrieving a tin from the shelf and removing two teabags. “That’s right, I forgot! She and David were going up north for something. What was it, what was it?” She filled two large glasses with ice and set them on the table. “It was something to do with that journal. Left in a hurry.”

“The Lorenzo journal?” Winn asked. “The one she found in Left Hand mine?”

“That’s the one!” Carma said, looking delighted with having remembered. “She’s been reading it extensively. Something in it inspired her to make a road trip. She took David with her.”

“Did she say where she was going?” Winn could instantly see that Carma was drawing a blank.

“Um…” Carma replied, looking down to the table and sitting while the water boiled. “Let’s see. She did say. It was just up north somewhere.”

“When did she leave?” Winn asked, joining her at the table.

“Earlier. I’ve been in and out all day, but it was sometime around noon, I think.”

“All the way up north? Salt Lake?”

“No, it wasn’t as far as that. Let me see, let me see…” Carma pressed her hand to the side of her head. “Was it Nephi? No, that was something else…” She drifted off into silence, then turned to grab Winn’s arm. “Beaver!” she said, smiling.

“Do you know where in Beaver?”

Carma’s face fell. “Oh, no, it wasn’t Beaver. That was the funeral.”

Winn sighed.

“Oh, now you’re stressing me out!” Carma said defensively. “I’m going to need this tea more than you!”

“Take your time. Think about it. She told you where she was going, with David. Where was it?”

“Payson?” she replied, unsure. “Parowan? It started with a P, I think.”

“It would have to be close,” Winn said, “if she was going to make it there and back in time to meet me at 6.”

“Panguitch? Price?”

“Price is too far north for her to make it in time.”

The kettle whistled and Carma rose from her chair. She returned with the water, pouring it over the teabag in each glass, the ice inside cracking underneath. She replaced the kettle and retrieved two long spoons from a drawer. “Let that steep for just a moment before you drink it,” she said, handing one of the spoons to Winn. “Sugar?”

“No thanks,” Winn said, using his spoon to drive the teabag to the bottom of the glass. “I’m worried they might be in danger. It’s not like her to miss an appointment with me.”

“Very true,” Carma said. “That girl is prompt to a fault. She’s single-handedly altering the meaning of Mormon Standard Time.”

“What was it about the journal that made her want to go up north? Did she say?”

“I don’t recall that either, to be honest. I remember her saying something about a mirror… oh, that’s right! She thought she could reach someone! She went somewhere to try and make contact.”

“With Lorenzo?”

Another blank reaction.

“Carma!” Winn whined.

“My mind was completely wrapped up in the new pots,” Carma replied. “I should have made her write it down!” She stirred her tea and took a sip. Once she was satisfied with it, she took a couple of gulps. “Oh, that’s nice. I feel better already.”

Winn sniffed at his tea and wondered what was in it. If Carma made it, he thought, it could be anything. He took a sip and decided he liked it.

“Paragonah!” Carma nearly shouted. “I just needed the tea! That’s it, that’s where she went!”

“Paragonah?” Winn asked. “Did she say where?”

“The town’s only two blocks long, Winn. She shouldn’t be hard to find.”

“Two blocks a hundred years ago,” Winn replied. “It’s ten or twenty now.”

“Still,” Carma said, waving her arm dismissively. “Just look for her truck. You can’t hide anything in Paragonah.”

Winn chugged the rest of the tea and set the glass down on the table. “I’m gonna drive up there and see if I can find her.”

“You do that,” Carma said, following Winn as he left the kitchen. “And call me back and let me know what you find out! I’m worried now too.”

“What’s the point in calling you? You don’t answer the phone!”

“I’ll turn the ringer on,” Carma said as Winn walked out the front door. “That’ll help.”


▪ ▪ ▪


Darkness had descended on southern Utah as Winn pulled off the freeway to take the Old Paragonah Highway. Dark dots zipped rapidly back and forth overhead, bats scooping up bugs attracted to the recently illuminated streetlights.

Trees and ranchland lined the roads, with an occasional driveway to a home set far back. The elevation was higher here than in Leeds, and the red rock was all but gone — just high desert sagebrush and scraggly juniper trees that dotted the unfarmed properties all the way to the base of the mountains. Paragonah wasn’t as remote as some places in southern Utah, but it was remote enough. Pretty and desolate, just the way I like it, Winn thought. Not gonna move my trailer here, though. Gets too cold in the winter.

He rolled down his windows and turned off the A/C, letting the night air fill the cab of the Jeep, enjoying The Dandy Warhols droning loudly from his speakers. The sound mixed with the rush of air, lending a feeling of timelessness to the moment. As he passed the sign marking the boundary of Paragonah, he turned the volume down and lowered his speed.

It didn’t take long to reach the other end of town. There were no real businesses to speak of, just a collection of homes with comfortably wide lots. Deem’s truck wasn’t on the main drag, so he turned down Center Street, the only other main drag, which ran perpendicular to the highway. At its end the homes petered out, and he came upon a small cemetery. In the distance beyond sat a very large abandoned house that seemed to hang in the air, drifting over the quiet of the graves. He noticed the back end of Deem’s truck sticking out from behind it.

Winn pulled off the road and maneuvered over the remnants of a long driveway, overgrown with weeds. He parked next to Deem’s truck and got out. The air was refreshingly cool and blowing lightly; Winn guessed there must be a canyon nearby.

He looked up at the house. It’s large for a pioneer home, he thought. More like a mansion. Every town in Utah had several old pioneer houses that had survived from the 1800s. Some were remodeled over the years. Some had been torn down, their history lost. Some were just abandoned, left to fall apart. This was the latter.

It was two stories, but the gabled roof made it look taller. There were serious holes in the roof and signs that the foundation was beginning to go. It looked as if it hadn’t been cared for in many decades, just left to slowly bake in the desert sun until it completely dissolved. In other towns it might have been covered in graffiti, but in Paragonah there weren’t many illegal artists. The town didn’t even have a school — all the kids were bussed to nearby Parowan, five miles away.

The last streetlight provided by the town was well before the cemetery, so he walked to the passenger side and pulled out a flashlight from the glove compartment. As he walked up to the house, he used the light to scan the brush on the ground for rattlesnakes. There was nothing else around; the nearest house he could see was outside of shouting distance. No one wants to live right next to the cemetery, he thought. Not out here in the middle of nowhere.

A large old wooden door still hung at the main entrance in the front. Long ago someone had attached an old-style “Keep Out” sign to the door with tiny, rusted nails. It had withered and faded from years of sunlight. He considered knocking, then decided to just walk in by pushing on the door’s handle.

It swung open slowly, protesting with a loud creak.

Early in his life, Winn had learned to recognize when a place or situation felt wrong. He still remembered the chill he’d felt as he and his friend Brent entered a cave in Oro Valley when they were young. The feeling of foreboding he’d felt then was just a new sensation to him at that age, easily mistaken as excitement, and he’d been unsure how to process it, how to categorize it. Now he knew the feeling well. Experience had taught him to not ignore it.

The feeling washed over him again as he looked into the house, the beam of his flashlight bouncing into the darkness beyond.

Inside was a formal entryway. Plaster had fallen from the walls, exposing old and broken lathing. He picked his feet up to step over the debris and turned to his right to enter a large room with boarded-over windows that would have looked out over the front yard of the house many years ago.

Deem was lying on the floor near one of the windows. He ran to her side, kneeling, checking her.

She’s breathing, he thought, feeling for a pulse. Heartbeat’s good.

“Deem?” he said gently, lifting her head from the floor. Her body was completely relaxed; her neck rubber, not holding up her head.

“Deem?” he said again, more loudly, trying to rouse her. “Deem!”

There was no reaction. He gave her shoulders a shake, and her head bounced around on her neck in response.

“Deem! Wake up!” he yelled. Still no response.

Should I slap her? he wondered. She’ll be pissed. I don’t know what else to do to revive her.

He raised his hand and brought his palm down on her cheek, the crack of the slap echoing in the other rooms of the house.

She opened her eyes slowly, taking a moment to focus.


“Deem! Are you alright?”

As consciousness slowly returned to her, her facial expression shifted from confusion to anger.

“Goddamn it, Winn!” she cried, pushing herself up with her elbow. “Why’d you do that?”

“I couldn’t get you to wake up!” he answered.

“Why are you even here?” she said, sounding irritated. “I’m meeting you later. Goddamn it, Winn, I was right there, and you screwed it up!”

“You missed our appointment,” Winn replied. “I was worried something had happened to you, because you didn’t answer your phone. I talked to Carma, and she told me where you were. It’s after 8 PM.”

“What?” she asked. “8? It can’t be. I’ve only been here…” she stopped, and reached into her pocket for her phone. Sure enough, the time was 8:14. “You’re right,” she mumbled. “I don’t have any messages. No missed calls.”

“Where’s David?” Winn asked. “Carma said he came with you.”

“David is…” Deem said, sitting up and looking around the room. “He was right here.” She stood. “Maybe he moved into one of the other rooms?”

Winn walked from the living room to a second room that he guessed might have been used for meals. An old tin ceiling was still attached overhead, pieces of it curling down. More windows lined the walls here, though they were letting in no light at this time of the day.

“David!” Deem called behind him. Her voice seemed to echo forever, something Winn found odd.

The room after the dining area was the kitchen. Another old wooden door was at the back of the room. “I’m guessing that leads outside,” Winn said.

“He wouldn’t have gone outside,” Deem said. “He must be on the other side of the house, or upstairs.”

They backtracked through the dark rooms to the entryway. Another large room was positioned to its left. Winn stuck his head into the room and found it empty. The entryway continued into a short hallway that ended at a stairwell. From here, another hallway branched off to the left, leading to more empty rooms in similar states of disrepair. They quickly checked them all, calling for David as they went. Receiving no response, they left the hallway, arriving back at the stairwell. A set of stairs was tucked at the very back of the hallway, its base curved at the bottom, arching to the right as it rose.

Winn tried the first stair; it was rickety and looked dangerous.

“I can’t believe he would have gone up there,” Deem said. “David!” she called. They waited for a response, but none came.

“Well, shit, Deem,” Winn said. “He couldn’t have just disappeared.”

“David!” she called again.

“I’ll try these stairs,” Winn said, “but only one of us. I don’t know if they’ll take much weight. Would you call Carma and tell her I found you? She was as worried as I was.”

Deem pulled out her phone again. “No reception,” she said. “Let me try outside.” She left Winn’s side and walked back to the entryway. He heard the front door creaking in the distance as she opened it.

Winn looked up the stairs. They hugged the left wall, and were wide at the bottom, but became narrower as it rose, twisting to the right as they reached the upper level. Some steps had rotted out entirely. A banister made of solid wood still edged the right side. He grabbed it and pushed, testing its strength. It seemed solid. Then he chose a first step to climb, and slowly lowered his weight on it. It didn’t crack under him. So far so good, he thought, searching for the next step that wasn’t broken. Then the next.

There’s that feeling again, he thought as the warning passed over him. He felt it from all directions — ahead, above, where the staircase turned to become a hallway he couldn’t yet see down, and from below, as though something might follow him up the stairs. This place isn’t just haunted, he thought. It’s dangerous. Something that hasn’t shown itself yet.

He’d made it half way up when Deem returned.

“You can come back down,” she said.

“Why?” he asked.

“I just talked to Carma. David is there, at the house. In Leeds.”

“I thought you said he came with you?”

“He did. We were both here, trancing.”

“Well, your truck’s still outside,” Winn said, climbing down the steps using the same stairs he’d selected to go up. “How’s that possible? It’s more than an hour back to Leeds!”

“I have no idea,” she replied.