The Ghost Who Ate Grits
Southern Ghost Wranglers, Book 3
Blissful Breneaux’s life in Haunted Hollow is finally settling down. Her ghost hunting business is exploding in all the right directions and her love life with the handsome Roan Storm is heating up.
But all that goes awry when she is called in to investigate a haunted house on the outskirts of town. An evil spirit is terrorizing a family and it’s up to Blissful and her geriatric friends Ruth and Alice to stop it from wreaking any more havoc.
Problem is, this big bad ghost has more power than Blissful has ever seen. On top of that, when Blissful unearths the dead body of a Jane Doe in the home, the spirit threatens that Blissful will meet the same fate.
This puts her in a bad position. Should Blissful deal with the big bad alone or call in reinforcements?
She chooses to call Axel Reign and Pepper Dunn from the magical town of Magnolia Cove, Alabama. With the help of this wizard and witch, Blissful can now face off against the big bad spirit.
Can she win or will Blissful wind up this spirit’s latest victim?
“Hold him! Can you hold him?”
I shook a mass of violet hair from my eyes and watched as Alice, a plump woman in her late sixties/early seventies, held out a rectangular box.
No, I hadn’t asked Alice her age because every woman knew it wasn’t polite to ask another that question unless you had a death wish coming to you.
Anyway, Alice grasped a box as if it held the bubonic plague. Her eyes were wide, her arms were stretched out, and her mouth twisted in fear.
“Alice, you’ve got to throw the box at it!”
Alice’s glasses slid down her nose as she took in the spectral sight only a few feet from where she stood, hands now trembling as she held the EMF generator.
Oh, you probably need to know what an EMF generator is. It’s an electromagnetic field maker. The thing creates static energy walls so that I can capture ghosts.
I forgot to mention that part, didn’t I? The name’s Blissful Breneaux, and I am currently one of three ghost wranglers in the small town of Haunted Hollow, Alabama.
Haunted Hollow is unique as it’s the second most haunted city in the United States.
Yes, all this zipped through my mind as the spirit looming over Alice unhinged its jaw, revealing a pit of blackness. Like seriously, the Holland Tunnel had nothing on this thing. The mouth was deep, dark and looked like it could swallow half a town and burp up the leftovers.
Gross, right? I know. Don’t worry, if you didn’t like that, it only gets worse from here.
I do not pull punches.
Anyway, I’m staring at this mass of angry ghost. Oh boy, is this guy mad. We bothered him while he was eating his dinner. By dinner I mean the guy was dining on the energy around him.
The three of us—Ruth and Alice, my two geriatric ghost wranglers, and I—had been called to rid a nice domestic family consisting of two parents, two kids and two cats, of the spirit.
But this guy had attitude, and I wasn’t in the mood for it.
The specter turned his black, soulless eyes on me. “You can’t defeat me! I’ve been pulling energy from this family for years.”
I aimed my hand at this guy. He was big, nearly nine feet. His clothes were old-fashioned. I don’t know what century. I wasn’t a history major in college.
No, I didn’t actually go to college because I had a job right out of high school. That job was clairvoyant to a covert government agency.
Unfortunately I was no longer part of that gig. Now I played ghostbuster in a small Southern town. Not exactly what I would’ve considered my dream job, but I liked it.
I liked the people. This job gave me time to have friends. So what if they were old enough to be my grandmothers and talked more about their aching bunions than about the latest makeup styles?
I still loved them.
All that mushy stuff was quickly thrown aside when the spirit took a step toward me.
“You think you can capture me, Blissful Breneaux?”
I hitched a shoulder. “I had considered it.”
He pointed toward the living room, which I assume meant he would start talking about the family he’d been feasting on. “They never would’ve known I was here. Never. If they hadn’t called you.”
My jaw dropped. “Are you kidding? You mean you forgot that you move their pots and pans? You scared their cat, for goodness’ sake and attacked one of them in the shower. Did you really think they wouldn’t have figured out you were here?”
He shrugged. “I forgot about those things.”
“Short-term memory problems. It’s a thing with you ghosts.” I nodded toward Alice. “Are you ready?”
Alice’s voice hit a frantic pitch. “What am I supposed to do?”
Ruth Biggs took an intimidating step forward. Ruth was a slender woman who tied her hair into a silvery bun but left a curtain of blonde bangs dangling over her forehead. She had more sense than most people and was a straight shooter.
“Alice,” she called, “you’ve got to turn the thing on and throw it.”
Alice’s body stiffened. “What? That’s too many things.”
“For goodness’ sake.” Ruth marched toward her. She flipped a switch. “First turn the stupid thing on and then toss it toward the ghost.”
Ruth threw the box like a professional pitcher. It was a work of art. The EMF generator skidded to a stop about five feet from the specter.
I raised my hand, palm facing the spirit. No, I didn’t have some sort of ghost-busting gun that spit rays at the ghost. All I had was my hand and clairvoyant powers that would hopefully help transition the testy ghost into the afterlife.
“Blissful Breneaux.” The spirit whispered the words, making them sound like a wind whistling through the house.
“Yes.” I didn’t bother to hide the annoyance in my voice. “Yes, you know my name. We’ve established that. I don’t know yours, which puts me at a disadvantage, but I don’t care. What I need is for you to leave the nice people of this house alone and go into the afterlife like a good little ghost.”
Smoke blazed from the ghost’s black eyes as if they were on fire. “I know about you, Blissful.”
I tapped my foot. Why me? Why did I always have to get the talky ones? Why couldn’t I, just once, get a ghost that said, Sure, I’ll go into the light. Just point me in the right direction?
But no. I always ended up with chatty spirits. The ones who wanted to dish about what evil had happened to them in their lives.
As if I was some sort of otherworldly therapist.
In case you had any questions—no, I was not a therapist and I didn’t give a rat’s tush about this guy’s problems. The only thing I cared about was the family he’d been terrorizing for the past two years.
Yeah, two years. These folks needed relief, and I was here to give it to them.
A jeering smile twisted onto the ghost’s face. “I know about you, Blissful Breneaux,” he repeated.
“Yeah, I heard you say that already. I’m not deaf. So what have you heard?” I shot him a sarcastic smile. “I’m hoping it’s all good. I really hate it when people talk trash about me. Or ghosts, not even people. I don’t like it when spirits gossip about me, either. It’s really not polite.”
Alice stood frozen. Her fingers wrapped around the push-button remote for the generator, just waiting for my signal.
But I needed this guy to calm down. The EMF generator contained ghosts better if they were calm. The wall of static the box created immobilized spirits so they were easier to deal with.
This nine-foot-tall hunk of anger was nowhere near ready to deal with. Energy oozed off him like melting butter. I needed him smaller, and the only way to do that was to get him on my side.
“Look, so you know some things about me. I know some things about you, too.”
The spirit quirked a brow. “Like what?”
“Like you’d be happier if you rested. If you went into the light.”
He swatted the air. “Bah. I don’t believe all that crap—that the light is good. I like it right where I am. This family likes me, too.”
“The heck they do. You scared the dad in the shower. The shower. What’s wrong with you? Why would you even think it’s okay to peep on a person in the shower?”
The spirit hung his head. “Maybe I went a little too far with that one.”
“Maybe? You think?”
Alice and Ruth stared at me, their eyes wide. They were waiting for the signal. I gave a slight shake of the head to indicate it wasn’t time yet.
The ghost slumped into a seated position even though there wasn’t a chair behind him. He covered his face with one hand and sobbed into it.
“I just want to be loved. That’s all I’ve ever wanted.”
Oh boy. Ghost Counselor was not on my list of special skills. I sank onto one hip and watched, trying to decide if the tears were genuine.
When the ghost shrank about a foot, I figured they were.
“Come on,” I whispered. “Get small.”
The ghost sobbed. “It’s so lonely haunting this house. All I wanted was to play with the people. Have new friends.”
“You don’t get friends by scaring the life out of people. The living are supposed to remain with the living. You’re dead. You need to go where there are others like you. Where you’ll be surrounded by spirits. It’s the most peaceful place. You’ll love it.”
Heck, I didn’t actually know if that was true, but I figured the other side had to be pretty peaceful because once I sent a spirit over, they hardly ever returned.
If they did return, it was to give me a nugget of knowledge. It wasn’t because they were going to sue me for misrepresentation of the afterlife.
“Blissful,” Ruth whispered. “Is it time?”
I shook my head again. These grannies were chomping at the bit to catch this guy.
I’d explained to them before that I don’t actually catch the ghosts, I help them transition. Catching a spirit was Plan B. Always.
I took a tentative step forward. When the spirit didn’t launch itself at me, I figured it was safe to take another step.
“Listen, I know you’ve lived in this house a long time. I know you like it here, but it’s time to move on.”
The ghost stopped sobbing and glanced up at me. His dark eyes looked like they had been dunked in pearls. They were luminescent as a few remaining tears dripped from the corners and splashed to the ground, disappearing as soon as they landed.
“But I like it here so much.”
I smiled sadly. “It can be hard to let go and face what we don’t know. But trust me—you’ll be much happier in the light.”
“You think so?”
I pointed my hand toward the ceiling. A thousand stars exploded above us. They cascaded down, reminding me of dust motes caught in sunlight.
“The light,” I said.
The spirit’s eyes widened as the light worked its magic on him. Few ghosts could resist the lure of the afterlife.
“All you have to do is go. That’s it. Just walk right in.”
The ghost shrank a little more. He stepped forward, and for a second I thought we had him. I thought for sure he’d just waltz right on up into the light and leave the family he’d been haunting alone for good.
Why couldn’t anything just be easy? For once?
At that point I wasn’t sure if the anticipation of the moment got to Alice or if it was simply that she was dying to see the EMF generator in action.
Whatever the reason, the end result was that Alice hit the button. An electric blue spark flared in the box, and the next thing I knew, a bright blue light enveloped the ghost.
Boy, did that tick him off.
He ballooned back to nine feet. His mouth twisted into a snarling grimace. He bellowed. Wind whipped my hair around my face. My clothes fluttered. I had to brace my legs to stop from skidding across the floor.
“Did I do something wrong?” Alice yelled to Ruth.
Ruth grabbed a table and held on for dear life. “I think so!”
“You tricked me,” the spirit roared. “You lied! Now you will pay!”
As they say in the South, he bowed up. I was in for it now. Crap. If only Alice hadn’t started the EMF generator. Oh well. No use crying over spilled vodka.
Ruth clawed her way over to me by grabbing pieces of furniture to stabilize herself. “Blissful, what do we do?”
“The generator should hold him,” I yelled over the ghost’s howls.
Ruth nodded toward the spirit. “I don’t know.”
The ghost twisted and struggled, fighting against the containment unit.
Crap. It looked like I would have to play dirty this time. I hated doing that. It wasn’t like me, but sometimes you had to do a little shoving to get the results you wanted.
I ran to the EMF generator and grabbed it. The equipment was solidly built. Wherever I moved, the ghost came with me. Now all I had to do was force him into the light.
Like I said, I didn’t like making spirits do things against their wishes, but really, this guy couldn’t stay. The land of the living wasn’t for him. It was for me.
“What are you doing?” he yelled.
“What needs to be done,” I snapped.
I’d just reached the light when I felt a tug in the opposite direction. The spirit paddled his arms like he was trying to swim away.
“For Pete’s sake. Can’t you just go like a man? Go to the afterlife.” I yanked the box forward and felt a pull as the ghost desperately tried to break free. “Why does this always have to be so hard?”
“I won’t go!”
“Oh yes you will.”
I reached the spot where the light floated on the ceiling. I shoved the EMF generator up, and the spirit’s shoulder touched the light.
“Oh, wow. Is that what all the fuss was about?”
I rolled my eyes. I swear. Once they felt the light, the reaction was always the same—they were happy to go.
“It’s nice, isn’t it?”
The spirit calmed. His body relaxed, and he turned toward the little stars cascading from the ceiling. “It’s beautiful.”
I couldn’t stop the grin that splashed across my face. “Are you ready to go?”
I flipped off the generator and watched as the ghost sailed toward the light. His face and shoulders disappeared. His legs were next. I fisted my hand and waited for the rest of his body to vanish.
His head popped down.
“What?” I didn’t even bother trying to keep the annoyance from my voice. “What is it? Not cool enough up there?”
He shook his head. “I’ll go, but I have to tell you something.”
“Better hurry. My meter’s running.”
“Her meter?” Alice said to Ruth. “We parked on a public street. There’s no meter.”
“It’s a figure of speech, Alice,” Ruth said.
The spirit ignored them. “Your mother.”
“What about her?”
I never knew my mother. She’d given me up for adoption when I was born. Oh, I knew of her—she was supposedly a nun, but that was all I knew.
The spirit’s mouth opened. “Your mother’s alive.”
“I figured that.”
“She’s looking for you.”
The words barbed my heart to my spine. My mother was alive—that I knew. But she was looking for me?
I reached for the spirit. “Wait. Tell me more. She wants me?”
The spirit’s mouth coiled into a line that could only be described as sheer bliss. “She wants you.”
Those were his last words as the spirit slipped into the afterlife. My body numbed from my toes to my crown.
“My mother wants me,” I whispered. “Now where the heck could she be?”