Rainbow Dust [MultiFormat]
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eBook by Eleanor Roth
eBook Category: Suspense/Thriller/Romance
eBook Description: An introverted, socially awkward college instructor, Margaret fears the disembodied voice she alone can hear. But soon, the ghostly spirit of Zeke projects enthusiasm and courage in an effort to aid in her transformation. Zeke's living son Howard is stunned by Margaret's uncanny knowledge of his deceased father's life. She confesses that his father's ghost has befriended her. Howard urges her to explore this communication further, but she is afraid that questioning the tenuous bond with Zeke may sever the connection forever, even though she does not understand why the ghost reached out to her in the first place. Driven to seek the answer, she delves into danger, revelation, and crisis.
eBook Publisher: Treble Heart Books, Published: 2005
Fictionwise Release Date: December 2005
3 Reader Ratings:
"It's a charming, fascinating book."--Father Andrew Greeley
Suddenly everything loomed before her with sharp jagged edges and Roger's cologne smelled like vinegar. Moments before, the moon was a pale globe in the night sky, but now it glared like a headlight. The scent of scrub pine and sagebrush mingled with salt ocean air before the sense of a hovering presence raised prickles at the back of her neck.
Drawing her close, Roger spoke in smooth, urgent tones, but as she furtively glanced behind her shoulder, she didn't hear him. She didn't hear him until he firmly turned her to face him, his hands tightening on her shoulders. "Margaret," he repeated, stunned by her lack of attention, "I asked you to marry me."
Taken aback, she caught her breath and Roger waited, as though expecting a surprised, even thrilled reaction. But before she could utter a word a deep-timbered voice from beyond the sand dunes sharply commanded, "Don't do it, girl! Don't you dare say yes."
She pulled away, startled.
"Are you all right?" Roger asked, while the Western drawl, a voice unlike any she'd ever heard, reverberated through her head. And although she tried to resist the impulse, she looked behind her shoulder, first to the right, then the left.
"Margaret, what's wrong with you?"
"I heard someone."
"Dear, I assure you. We're quite alone."
"Don't!" The sharp twang was a whip lash. "Don't say yes."
Oh, my God, she swallowed hard. Now I'm hearing voices.
"You're hearing me." the voice was gentle now.
"Margaret, you're shaking!" Roger gasped.
"I--I don't feel well."
Silent for a moment, as though gauging the extent of her distress, he finally asked, "Do you want to go home?"
I'm acting like a fool, she thought, biting her lip. But still, she was shaken by this new sign of mental illness. Nodding, she answered softly, "Yes, Roger. Please."
"You're cold," he murmured, slipping his arm around her.
Cold? She imagined herself looking out of a barred asylum window. She was frozen with fear.
"Don't worry, girl," the voice assured her. "If hearing me makes you jittery, why, I could write to you instead."
Brushing her cheek with his lips, Roger soothed, "I'm being sudden, dear. I know that. But you'll think about it, won't you?"
"Like hell you will." the voice boomed through her head.
Her heart was racing. She could barely breathe. She remembered the grief-stricken, bereft feelings that had plagued her since childhood, but she'd never heard a voice. She scarcely heard Roger's attempt to comfort her. "Take your time, dear. I'll be patient."
Terrified by the voice and confused by Roger, she felt as though the ground was sliding beneath her feet. Yes, she and Roger had enjoyed some pleasant times together. He'd even invited her to his bank's annual dinner dance where people would surely take notice. But still, she hadn't taken him that seriously.
"Margaret..." Gently, he drew her closer.
"You're too good for that phony." It was a judgment, unwavering. It set her teeth on edge.
Try, try to stop worrying. Your mind is playing tricks, she told herself. But Roger's whispered, "Dearest, I love you," somehow sounded false.
"Just listen to that sweet-talk." The tone was sarcastic, disgusted.
Stop it, she screamed inwardly. I'll shut you out--I will!
Roger was looking at her oddly, his breathing short, labored, impatient. Somehow, she managed a calm reply. "I just don't feel that I know you well enough yet."
He stared at her in disbelief while a joyful whoop rang in her ears. * * * *
Home again and back in her room, she tried to settle her nerves by writing down exactly what had happened. It was past midnight and her head ached as she sat down at her desk. But suddenly she remembered the overpowering fragrance of gardenias that had enveloped her as she lay half-asleep a few nights before. An incandescent mist had glowed under her eyelids before she entered a lovely dream. Yet, no matter how hard she'd tried, she couldn't recall a thing when she awoke.
Now, once again, she was alerted by a woodsy scent. Her backbone tensed while an effervescent tingle spread through her and a wisp of air caressed her hands. As she stared at them a teasing promise, a gentle sort of current, flowed through her, creating a sharpened sense of awareness.
Stunned by the blissful boost, she savored the feeling of sublime well-being until bubbling energy emanating from her hand made her pen feel positively bouncy. "My God," she gasped. "The pen has a will of its own!" She wanted to rise, to flee from her desk, yet felt compelled to maintain her grip and let the pen move as it would.
It started to write and she looked across the room, afraid to look down at the paper. But finally she peeked at what should have been an empty page and read, "Be brave, Maggie."
"Be brave for what?" she gasped aloud before an odd compulsion flooded through her, encouraging and soothing. "It's all right," the pen insisted. "Take a deep breath, honey. A good deep breath, and keep going."
New assurance begged her to be trusting while her sense of self-preservation warned against this strange, unworldly force. Still, she felt a coaxing, even an apology as the pen continued. "You sure were skittish when I called out to you before."
"Who are you? What are you?" she whispered into the silent room. "Why did you scare me to death?"
"I had to stop you. Don't you know that danger alerts those who are connected? Once that polecat mentioned marriage--"
"Some things are plain as day to me, Maggie. Only some things, I grant you. But that's what he is, for sure," the pen wrote. "I tried so hard to warn you that I finally got through."
"Warn me?" she frowned at the words.
"I knew you'd been having a down spell."
"Yes," she admitted. "That's true. But I haven't had one for quite a while."
"Still, I was afraid you'd say yes, the pen continued. "You were close to feeling that nothing mattered anyway, so why not go ahead? Why not marry him?"
"How do you know--" And then she sat up, stunned, suddenly realizing that the cold, dank grayness she had lived with for months had eased.
"And your mother's been after you, reminding you that you aren't getting any younger."
Yes, she remembered her mother's dire warnings. She had tried her best to disregard them.
"I know what she's been saying since he first asked you out." And Margaret caught her breath at his near-perfect imitation of her mother's voice. "'Roger Spaulding, the bank president? Why Margaret, he's rich, he's handsome, he's prestigious. What woman in the city wouldn't envy you?"'
"My mother's frightfully old fashioned," she admitted.
"Old fashioned?" The pen repeated, adding an oversized question mark. "Old and fashion has nothing to do with it. A backward attitude is a state of mind, not of time."
A surge of discomfort made her shiver. "No," she sat up stiffly. "I can't let myself argue with an invisible--"
"She feels insecure about you, doesn't she?" the pen went on, and Margaret noticed that the handwriting had changed. It was smaller, smoother, as though trying to comfort her.
"I suppose so," Margaret whispered. "She feels that I'm lacking."
"And she's so wrong. But if she'd heard him propose, she'd surely have urged, 'Say yes quickly, before he changes his mind.'"
Margaret merely sighed, and then became thoughtful. Finally she asked, "What did you mean by danger alerts those who are connected?"
"I know it's true and that I've already helped you," the pen replied. "And I want to keep helping you."
Reaching out to the empty air she asked, "What are you? Who are you?"
"Just let me keep writing." And as the pen kept moving, making funny little squiggles, she began to feel less threatened, even relaxed. Then it wrote so swiftly she could barely separate the words.
"I'm a high-heeled cowboy from Old Alberta,
I'm a high-heeled buckaroo,
I was born in a blizzard
With ice in my gizzard
And I'll give my all for you!"
She looked at the writing. It seemed too childish to make sense. Yet the pen continued, "I'll admit it. I was never much of a poet, even though my mother read me Robert Burns instead of Mother Goose."
Her grip on the pen relaxed. She was barely supporting it as it flew across the page in neat, blunt script. "I'll introduce myself. I'm Zeke, named after Ezekial, the prophet of repentance and resurrection."
The prophet of repentance, she thought. That sounds ominous. And then she asked, "Why have you come to me?"
"Because you're special."
"Special?" A hard laugh, bordering on irony, rose from her throat. "I can't describe how ordinary, how totally, disgustingly ordinary, I feel."
"Oh, no, Maggie. You're so wrong."
"Why, how am I special?"
A teasing squiggle flew across the paper. "You'll have to wait to find out."
"You're playing a game," she realized. She laughed, and suddenly her tension, even her fear, was eased. "Why?" she demanded, "Why must I wait?" And her unflinching insistence led to a new sensation, a sensation of defiance. She felt hot and agitated and strangely energized. And this new feeling--this ability to challenge--was so startling that she wanted to enjoy it, even to savor it after this eerie moment was gone. Then, astonished at herself, she blinked. What am I doing? Arguing with some kind of ghost?
"You're not arguing, Maggie. You're just stirring your blood up a bit," the pen replied. "It's been sluggish too long. It's been dawdling in your veins like stagnant water."
For the second time she laughed. Her doctor had recently given her extra vitamin B to rev up her blood, as he put it.
Following the pen with her eyes, she felt a flickering sense of recognition as it went on, "My wife, Ellen, taught me that love marks the difference between what a man is, and what he can become."
She sensed rich male laughter then, the deep, hearty kind that rises from the belly as the pen moved forward, only to circle back to position itself just above the paper. "You want to know how we met. I know you do." And swiftly, it sped on.
"You see, I was the kind of cowboy who always had to look over the next hill to see if there was a horse somewhere that I couldn't ride." Careening around the page, it scrawled, "This is damn tiresome. If you would just relax, I could tell you the story."
"Tell me? Oh, no!" she banged her desk. "Hearing your voice is too weird." And glancing at her pad, she read, "Do you feel less threatened when I write to you?"
"Of course. It's not as overwhelming."
"So you're worried about letting me inside your head."
"I'm more than worried," she replied. "I'm terrified."
"But can't you see what we're doing?" the writing grew large and dark. "We're already communicating, though it sure as hell is slow. Your arm's going to ache before long, and there's so much I want to tell you."
Something pleading about his words made her hesitate. Finally, she asked, "Could we try it for just a minute?"
"You won't believe how much I can say in just a minute," it wrote, then zigzagged and doodled, drawing funny little horses on the edge of the page.
Still holding the pen, she absorbed a surge of energy. Her lungs seemed to expand, as though she were drawing in deep gulps of fresh mountain air. Yet she felt an intense rush of sadness mingled with joy.
And then she felt a yearning. A sense, almost, of returning. Closing her eyes as she surrendered to the unknown, she began to feel a steady, insistent force pulling her awareness up to a higher, more expansive realm. It was as though a crack in a wall had opened to reveal a view that oddly, seemed natural.
Zeke's voice, too, was changing. It flowed freely as he said, "We'll have to start gradually. That's obvious."
Something drastic had changed. Moments before, when he was writing, she'd sensed a distance, a sort of filter, between them. But now he was an immediate presence, an actual voice in her head.
"Zeke, is that you?" she asked aloud.
"You don't have to talk. I'm telepathic. And you will be, too, when you're talking to me. But I'll use two frequencies to make things easier. When the two of us are alone, you'll hear me as though I were right there with you. But when other people are there, I'll sound a bit different, as though I'm speaking through a phone. If I don't do that, you're apt to get a headache."
She didn't fully register everything he said. She simply felt vulnerable, even naked. Oh, God, this is scary, she thought, feeling as though she were standing on the edge of a chasm, staring into space.
"Even if I know what you're thinking, I won't interfere in your life," he reassured her. And without pausing he went on, "I know you'll want to hear about my wife. So I'll take it from the beginning."
His story was almost hypnotic. "My new life started after I'd won a few bucks from roping in a rodeo back in 1946. As usual, money in my pocket gave me itchy feet, so I hopped into my pickup and headed to Florida to see an army buddy. I took my time, though, taking a few days to stop at a couple of ranches that were breeding special registered stock. I didn't know that a hurricane had hit the Daytona area, but before I was halfway there I had to abandon my truck because the road was flooded."
She remained silent while he continued. "The rain kept coming, on and off, while I walked. Once it stopped I shook the water out of my boots and checked my gun, and after a while I reached a clearing. A chopper was flying around the field and when it landed, a pert little woman got out."
Margaret's heart began to pound with a sense of dèjá vu. Goose bumps rose on her arms as she realized, almost seemed to remember, that the woman had stopped dead in her tracks when she saw him.
"Yup, it was Ellen, all right. I glanced at her muddy suitcase and remarked, 'It sure is poor weather for traveling.'"
And then Margaret astonished herself by laughing.
"Ellen laughed, too, and explained that she'd bought the ranch we were walking through. When a bellow of animal wails reached us I knew that the cattle were hungry. 'The ranch hands must have taken off when they heard the hurricane warnings,' I told her. And when I opened the barn doors I shook my head at the accumulation of manure. The rain had blown in and made it worse.
"Well, I turned to look at her. I expected her to gag from the powerful stench. I expected her to turn around and get out of there as fast as she could. But she didn't. I sure admired her pluckiness when she asked how she could help.
"'You can start by hosing the manure out from under the cows' feet,' I told her."
Appalled by the image, Margaret shuddered.
"So," Zeke went on, "I found a bale of alfalfa and dished it out, and you should have seen those cattle go to it! I started digging a trench for the baby calves, and Ellen straightened her shoulders like a resolute kid.
"'Find a small shovel,' I told her. 'When this stuff is wet, it's damn heavy.'
"I glanced back at her from time to time. I could see how exhausted she was when we finally shoveled our way to the group of baby calves. I tell you, it was something to watch them reach their mommas and frantically start to nurse.
"I hosed her hands off before rinsing my own. Her face was smudged, so I lifted her chin to wipe it. And then ... well, I took her face in my hands for a moment, and the strangest lump formed in my throat when she closed her eyes.
"The pilot had promised to come back that night, but I knew those guys were handling a lot of emergencies. 'I won't leave you alone if you're stuck here,' I told her. 'But right now I'm starving, so let's try to find something to eat.'
"We headed toward the main house and saw that part of the roof had caved in. Inside, we saw broken windows and furniture strewn about. But the foreman's cottage hadn't been hit as hard. In fact, we found the kitchen almost intact. It had a kerosene stove and refrigerator, and the refrigerator was still humming.
"I opened the refrigerator to see some steaks, a tub of butter, and a few onions. A big cast-iron skillet was hanging on the wall so I salted the steaks and seared them, and a minute and a half later they were tender enough to cut with a spoon."
Margaret had never reacted eagerly to food, but her mouth watered as Zeke described the meal. Her stomach rumbled, and she almost smelled the succulent odors rising from the skillet.
"I took my jacket off and her eyes widened when she saw the gun in my shoulder holster," he went on. 'I always carry a firearm,' I told her. 'I'd feel uncomfortable without one. I prefer a hip-holster, but they're too intimidating.'
"'Is it loaded?' she asked.
"'It's more useful loaded than not,' I laughed as I set the steaks out on plates. We both ate as though we were starving, and after we'd finished, I sat back and asked, 'What makes a city lady buy a ranch?'
"'My father published a weekly newspaper,' she answered. 'But he always dreamed of owning a ranch. He died two years ago, and I inherited his dream along with his newspaper.'
"'Do you honestly think you could take to ranching?' I asked. 'If the mirror wasn't broken, I'd tell you to take a good look at yourself. Your hair is tangled. Your boots are encrusted with dung and your skirt is smeared. What would your boyfriend think if he saw you wallowing in cow manure up to your knees?'
"'I don't have a boyfriend,' she told me, and then asked if I was married.
"I shook my head, even as I told myself not to get any ideas about her because I sure was out of her league. And then, noticing how fast night was coming on, I muttered, 'I better look for a kerosene lamp so the pilot can find you if he does get back tonight.'"
Closing her eyes, Margaret could hear Zeke's footsteps. She saw him open the door and leave it open while he went into the shed. She surrendered herself to the whirl of sounds and smells and images until he returned to light the lamp he'd found and place it in the window.
"But it got later and later..." Zeke's voice softened.
"And Ellen realized that the pilot wouldn't return until morning," Margaret broke in.
"That's right, and it didn't seem to bother her. We sat on two straight wooden chairs in that tiny parlor and I helped her take her boots off."
Margaret smiled as her inner mind watched Ellen stretch her tired feet straight out. Zeke held the underside of her leg with one hand while he tugged at her boot with the other. Participating in Zeke's story, even anticipating it, no longer seemed strange. She didn't even marvel at the sudden inner vision that enabled her to see him in a kind of waking dream. His boyish face, crinkled with weather lines, exuded self-confidence, while one arched eyebrow held a touch of arrogance.
"Ellen followed me into the bedroom while I looked around, wondering where we were going to sleep," he went on. "She looked at me questioningly when I took some blankets down from a wall cupboard and shook them vigorously. 'Just checking,' I told her. 'Got to be sure there's no wildlife in them.'"
Margaret could see him spread the blanket over the double bed with the rusty metal headboard. The newly-opened part of her brain heard him say, "Just curl up here and I'll cover you." His tone was gentle and assuring as he thumbed toward a broken-down divan in the corner and said, "I'll sleep on that."
Margaret heard the old couch creak while Zeke tried to stretch his tired bones between the lumps and broken springs. And then Ellen's hesitant voice reached her as she called softly across the room, "Zeke ... there's room in this bed."
She could feel the hesitant silence before he answered, "Ellen, are you sure that's what you want?" And she heard the tremor in Ellen's voice as she whispered, "Yes."
The image faded, and when Zeke continued his tone was thoughtful. "I was uneasy when I got in beside her. But from the way she kept her face averted, I knew she had never made love with a man, even though she wasn't a youngster."
"Go on," Margaret's heartbeat quickened.
"Putting my arm around her, I felt her begin to tremble, so I knew that something had definitely gone wrong sometime in her past. Why, she was shivering like a foal that's been separated from its mother."
Tense with anticipation, Margaret waited.
"So," Zeke continued, "I just held her close, and as the night wore on I knew that I loved her."
His voice faded and Margaret called out, "Where are you, Zeke? I want to know what happened."
"I'm here, Maggie, enjoying the memory ... Would you believe that we lay close together during that entire night without making love? I kissed her and stroked her hair while she clung to me with tears running down her face. And now, I've told you enough for one night."
"What do you mean, one night? You're not coming back, are you?"
"I sure reckon I am."
She could sense him smiling complacently and that intrigued her, but she felt frightened, too. "No, Zeke." she was emphatic. "You've told me an interesting story, but it's finished. It's over!"
"Why, Maggie, I haven't even begun."
"This is crazy. It has to stop. If you want to tell your story, find someone else."
"That won't work. It has to be you."
"I need you to listen."
"No. It has nothing to do with me." But even as she protested, she realized how acutely she had experienced his tale.
"Just be patient, Maggie."
"Stop calling me Maggie. No one calls me that."
"But I will. It's my own special name for you." His voice was assuring, comforting. "Go to sleep now."
"Wait--I have one question."
"You'll have lots of questions." And then, gently, he added, "Don't you worry. I'll be back."
She went to bed but lay awake, feeling as though she were groping her way through a darkened tunnel. Yet she sensed faint sunlight beckoning far away.