Chapter Three - A Dark Past

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“With a plague church as a bulwark between them and whatever they were running away from,” I said.

Teag nodded. “Exactly. That’s an expensive proposition. Lots of people in Charleston live in haunted houses. Plenty of them are mighty proud that great-great grandpa or grandma sees fit to wander the family home. But the Wellrights got the hell out of Dodge, so to speak. Why?”

“Ghosts aren’t the only supernatural creatures out there,” I said. “Most ghosts are pretty tame. A lot of them are just stone tapes, images caught in a perpetual loop, not even really conscious.”

“And from what I’ve read about the founding fathers of the Wellright clan, they weren’t afraid of much,” Teag added. “That’s how they amassed their fortune. They weren’t above benefitting from piracy, and they were wheelers and dealers of the first order, so they had a pretty high tolerance for risk. But something scared them so much they tucked tail and ran for town.”

“You know what they say about fools who rush in where angels fear to tread,” I replied.

“I don’t think angels have anything to do with this.”

The old Wellright place was down along the Ashley River, home to many of Charleston’s historic plantations. We weren’t far from downtown, but we might as well have been in another world. Huge old live oaks spread their sprawling, graceful branches while tufts of Spanish moss draped from their boughs. It was summer, so the smell of honeysuckle was almost cloyingly sweet, like a woman wearing too much expensive perfume. Oleander bushes, left over from plantings around the old mansion, were in sumptuous blossom.

Nature had reclaimed the land with such thoroughness that it was difficult to find the ruined foundations. Teag and I battled our way through brush and nettles, slapping off mosquitoes and chiggers. Charleston’s heat and humidity send plants into a hothouse frenzy, and some things—like kudzu—grow too well. I was wishing we had machetes to cut through the vegetation, but eventually we found the weathered cut stones that marked all that remained of the original Wellright mansion.

“Not much to look at, is it?” Teag said, mopping his brow with the back of his sleeve. He guzzled a drink from his water bottle, and I did the same. “Do you think you could read anything from the foundation?” he asked.

I was wondering the same thing myself. Large stone blocks outlined the footprint of the house. They were overgrown in places, covered with debris in others, and along one side, several of the blocks were missing. Holding my breath, I walked over and then placed my hand on a weather beaten foundation stone and closed my eyes.

I felt as if I was trying to listen to a radio station that was out of range, or watching a TV show that wasn’t coming in clearly. My gift picked up faint images and voices, but too distant and diffused to be readable. I sighed and shook my head. “Nothing I can read,” I said. “Unless we’re in a place where something really emotional happened, I don’t usually get a lot of information from buildings.”

Thank heavens, or I might be overcome by everyone’s life traumas just going to the grocery store or the doctor’s office. Not every object or antique resonates either, which is a mercy. The relatively few items that do more than make up for the large number that don’t.

“The land goes back that way,” Teag said, pointing. Not far behind the foundation, trees had encroached on whatever lawn the mansion might once have had. It looked like much of the rest of the land was forest. Whatever else we found; at least there would be shade.

Theodora Wellright was long dead, but the land that had been her home buzzed and chirped with life. Squirrels chattered in the trees overhead. If it weren’t for the mosquitoes, I would have enjoyed the walk. They reminded me that there could be something else lurking in these woods that also fed on blood. I shivered, despite how hard I was sweating.

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