Autumn’s Ghost – Excerpt


“Tell her. She has a right to know.” Allison spoke firmly. “If you won’t tell her, I will.”

“Fine. I’ll make it quick.” Lu raised her arms, let out a heavy sigh, and looked directly at me. “Here goes. We all know that autumn is your favorite time of the year. We also know that you have high hopes to make photography and photojournalism a career and become your life’s work.”

There was nothing quick about Lu’s delivery of information. My foot tapped the floor while my fingers drummed on the table. I remained clueless and more worried than before.

“Allison found—” Lu started.

“Yes, I found an interesting article in one of my magazines offering an opportunity for a deserving person. We barely made the deadline. Long story short, we nominated you to receive the prize.”

Was this a joke? A prank? “What kind of opportunity? What kind of prize?’ I asked, hoping it might be a camera—my phone took great pictures, but I’ve wanted a real camera for quite a while. Still, I doubted the authenticity of this too-good-to-be-true opportunity. Allison was not above kidding around.

JoAnne jumped into the explanation. “It is a fantasy vacation. We requested the location be in New Hampshire during the best fall color days. A perfect time to capture some good photos.”

“Don’t get too excited yet. I’m sure there were lots of other deserving folks nominated too,” added Lu.

“True,” said Allison. “But when we learned they would only contact the winner, I felt you should know ahead of time just in case you are the winner.”

“I don’t know what to say,” I tingled with anticipation and gratitude. “Win or lose, thank you so much for thinking of me.”

“You can thank us if and when you win this fantasy vacation,” said JoAnne. “Being a rich gal, the odds are not in your favor.”

“Shut up, JoAnne!” Allison said, scowling.

Lu cleared her throat, stood up, and announced, “Our time for today is up. See you in two weeks. Happy reading, everyone.”

Heading to our cars, I turned toward Allison and gave her the call-me hand sign. She signaled back with a thumbs up.

On the drive home, a perplexing thought mingled with the joy I felt from today’s successful meeting. What had JoAnne called the prize? A fantasy vacation? Did that mean it was merely virtual make-believe? A fanciful notion? Some pie-in-the-sky daydream? I had read several books in the fantasy genre, and though I enjoyed those books, I wanted no part of those fantasy plots in my real life.


Sipping on cup number two, I heard an odd noise that sounded like a tiny scratching. I kept listening and walked softly from window to window to see if anything was out of the ordinary around the cabin. When I opened the front door, I discovered the source of the sound.

“Red!” Blood oozed from the small fox’s body. “You’re hurt, little buddy.” Carefully, I picked her up and brought her inside before another predator detected the scent of blood. She’d be easy prey now with these injuries.

I wrapped her in one of my sheets and then placed her gently on the couch. I threw on my boots, scooped her up, and drove quickly to the infirmary next to the Forest Service office. While I was good at taking care of wildlife, others there were more qualified than me when it came to patching them up, and Red deserved the best.

I rushed into the infirmary getting more and more worried about Red. Fanny was already there feeding the recuperating animals needing a little more time before returning to the wild.

“Morning. We’ve got a new patient,” I announced, setting Red down on the stainless steel table, gently rubbing the fox’s head, and talking softly to her.

Fanny looked happy to see me despite our last encounter. I explained that I thought the fox had flesh wounds and a leg wound but no internal injuries. Until we took a closer look and performed a few tests, we couldn’t be sure.

We got to work cleaning the cuts or talon marks. “Hold still, Red. You’re going to be all right,” I tried to assure her.

Fanny laughed. “You’ve taken to naming the wildlife? Tsk, tsk. Not a good idea, you know.”

“Yes, I know. This one is special, though. She likes me. Even came to my door for help.”

We patched up my fox and gave it some antibiotics. After a couple of quick x-rays and blood work, we made her comfortable in one of our medium-sized crates. I hung around watching her, feeling relieved that we were able to help her. It wasn’t long before those thoughts strayed to my Halloween predicament.

Watching Fanny continue to feed her other charges and clean up their cages, a wild and crazy idea popped up. “Hey, Fanny, do you like Halloween? Do you ever read scary books or watch scary movies?”

“I love scary books and movies and anything with a post-apocalyptic theme. Never could get into The Texas Chainsaw Massacre stuff though,” she said.

I nodded at her as a smile began to form on my face.

“Slow down, Ranger. Are you asking me for a movie date?”

“No, of course not,” I said with a wince. “But I might be asking for your help.”

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