Chasing Shadows – A Brita Madison Paranormal Mystery by Dannye Williamsen and Sandy Wolters
“Only the living are so persistent. The dead seem to understand that time is no longer an issue for them.”
Brita is at best a reluctant psychic, and Chief of Police James Weston is the “poster boy for conservative.” Can he accept the unimaginable?
Brita Madison has found a sanctuary in Williams, Arizona, a refuge from the multitude of visions and voices that have chased her all her life. Then one vision touches her soul, and she finds herself embroiled in the middle of a missing person’s case with a woman’s life at stake. Little does she know that this is only the beginning.
Brita’s visions uncover a trail of murders centered around the historic Route 66. As Brita steps deeper into the world she has been trying to escape, she and Weston are in a race against time to identify the serial killer. This journey threatens to tear apart their lives as well as those closest to them.
“Chasing after the shadows left behind by sick minds is damaging to one’s soul when you are just following the clues. Vicariously experiencing the trauma through visions like Brita’s would have to tear at the very fabric of your being.” – Chief of Police James Weston
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Welcome to Williams, Arizona, Brita Madison thought as she drove into the outskirts of the small town that had become her home over the last six months. As she neared the main part of town, she slowed down to the posted speed limit signs along this stretch of the historic Route 66. She could almost feel the excitement of those who traveled this road in years past, searching for their dreams, whether they awaited them in the east or in the west.
Brita’s dream had brought her to this spot along the highway of dreams. She had been looking for a town where she could recapture the peace and quiet of her west Texas home. After her parents died, she had moved to Flagstaff, Arizona, thinking it would be an adventure, a fresh start in a town where people weren’t as judgmental. Instead, the voices of the living and the dead haunted her day and night. With so many people coming and going, living and dying, all of which intruded on her psyche, Flagstaff proved to be too much for her. There was no respite. Unwilling to return to Texas, desperation had brought her to the small town of Williams, where the voices had reduced to a low thrumming noise, which she had largely been able to ignore. She had finally found a measure of tranquility, she thought as she turned onto the narrow dirt road leading to her log cabin, her retreat.
Tossing her keys on the table after bringing in her packages, Brita headed toward the kitchen, intent on a cup of hot cider. Pulling a cup down from the shelf, her hand began to tremble as a familiar, but dreaded, sensation passed through her, and she heard the muffled noise of the cup crashing against the counter.
“No!” she cried out, but it was no use. The shadowy images filled her senses like she was in a tunnel, unable to see anything but obscure images flashing quickly by. There was no context. She could not tie them to anything that made sense to her. She could make out a woman’s face, but it was upside down, making it difficult for her to register a clear image.
As quickly as it began, it was over, that is, everything except the powerful emotions that had flowed through her from this woman. Fear, sorrow, hope. She slid down the side of the kitchen cabinet until she reached the floor. She wrapped her arms around herself, frightened by what she knew was coming. It seemed that her reprieve was short-lived.
If she weren’t so scared, Crista Long might have found her situation laughable. She could not believe she was actually hanging upside down in her car, perched precariously among the branches of a tree. She had been driving along, enjoying the scenery when some kind of varmint ran into the road. She swerved to the left to miss it, forgetting that the land fell off into a deep ravine filled with trees and thick brush along that stretch of road.
She had driven this road hundreds of times, enjoying the beauty of the countryside, allowing her anxieties to drain away. Her husband wasn’t even aware of this guilty pleasure of hers. It definitely transported her to her happy place, but she felt guilty that she didn’t want to share it with anyone, including her husband. Sometimes she just couldn’t cope with the things life threw at her. Yesterday had been one of those days. Her boss was being his usual bastard self, but he had ramped it up several notches when he learned he had lost his latest contract bid. By the time four o’clock arrived, she knew she couldn’t go straight home in such a state. It wasn’t fair to her husband Brad.
Of course, being gone overnight with no word wasn’t fair to him either. Crista had tried repeatedly to reach her phone. It had been lying on the passenger seat when she flew off the road. Now it was wedged between the dashboard and the passenger door. It might as well have not been there at all.
She struggled against her seatbelt, trying to get it to release, but it was stuck, just like in the movies. For some strange but fortunate reason, her air bag had not deployed. Otherwise, she would probably have smothered. Even so, she was pretty sure something was wrong. The weight of her body against the lap belt was causing a lot of pain—sharp, but sporadic, breath-halting pain. The pressure of the blood that had rushed to her head was disorienting her.
Her legs felt like an army of needles were marching up from her ankles toward her hips. “Maybe I should say marching down from my ankles since my legs are where my head should be,” she whispered to herself, trying desperately to stay awake even if that meant talking when it hurt like hell to do so. She’d always heard that the best thing to do in any situation like this was to stay awake, so she clung to that one small piece of information like it was a nugget from heaven, hoping like hell it would be enough to keep her alive until she could be found.
As she tried to push herself slightly sideways to relieve some of the pressure, she remembered waking after the crash. It must have been the pain causing her to hallucinate, but she could have sworn she saw a woman with short, dark hair. She had wanted to cry out for help, but despite her best efforts, she couldn’t. Then she had passed out again.
Brita opened her eyes with difficulty. Her tears in the night had glued them together. She gently pushed herself up until she was leaning against the headboard.
God, she thought, it doesn’t really matter where I live. A vision like last night’s was worse than all the voices she had heard in Flagstaff or the usual fleeting visions. The intensity of the emotions attached to this vision had engulfed her, paralyzing her. She was so tired of not being able to figure these messages out. Looking back over her life, it had never changed. Why do I only get part of the message? If I’m supposed to help, why don’t you give me more information? She had no idea to whom or what she was pleading in her thoughts, but the anxiety from trying to figure out this particular message was almost too upsetting to bear. Was this an event that had happened recently, or did it happen a year ago? Was this woman dead or alive? How in the hell did she tap into me?
Brita quickly threw back the covers and jumped out of bed. She had plenty of work to do today. A little breakfast, coffee, and a two-hundred-page manuscript to edit should keep her mind occupied. Walking into the kitchen, she flipped on the small television before opening the coffee tin.
“… Williams, Arizona, a woman is missing, and foul play is expected. Crista Long left work yesterday and never made it home. Law enforcement was notified early this morning by Long’s husband, who has been out all night searching for her.
“There have been no sightings of her or her car, leading authorities to believe she may no longer be in the area. Because of the close proximity of Williams to Interstate 40, the highway patrol has been notified …”
Brita turned toward the screen just as a picture of the missing woman appeared. She crossed quickly to one of the kitchen barstools and sat, still staring at the television. Twisting her head to view the image upside down, she gasped. It was the woman from her vision, and her name was Crista Long.
Brita’s knuckles gripped the edges of the seat as the unwanted sensation flowed over her once again. There Crista was, still upside down, but her eyes were closed this time.
“Crista?” Brita whispered, frightened that she might be dead. Brita had never learned to tell the difference between living people and dead people in her visions. She held her breath, wondering if Crista could even hear her.
“Crista!” she cried out with more feeling, hoping the woman could hear her. The woman’s eyes blinked slightly, but without opening fully. Brita waited. Crista finally managed to pull her lids open, looking out at the world with a glazed-over sheen to her eyes.
“Help me,” she uttered before passing out. The vision faded just as quickly, leaving Brita in tears. She had no idea what to do. She didn’t know where Crista was or why she was upside down. Whom could she tell? Better yet, what would she tell them?
When Brita was a young child, no one paid much attention to her ramblings about visions and voices. Her parents always assumed it would pass, like most children’s invisible playmates eventually faded as their focus on the world widened. In Brita’s case, this didn’t happen. Her “playmates” may have been invisible, but they were all too real.
Once she started school, Brita quickly realized that she was different. No one else saw strange movies in their head or sometimes heard voices. The turning point for her occurred during recess only a few weeks after school began. She was standing near the steps into the school, watching the other kids in her class, who were gathered in a tight circle, whispering and pointing at her. She had felt the tears coming but was determined to hold them back, even though she couldn’t stop the trembling.
Look at her. She’s weird. She keeps getting this spaced-out look on her face like she’s dead or something. She didn’t even hear the teacher ask her a question this morning. What a freak!
Looking toward the source of the familiar voice—her classmate Allison, she could tell she wasn’t actually speaking aloud. For the first time Brita realized that the voices in her head were real. She had always thought they were her imagination. Unlike her visions, which came frequently at that time, she rarely heard voices and had given little thought to them. Now that she knew they were real, that she was actually hearing Allison’s thoughts about her, she was terrified. Some kids might have thought this was wonderful, like a super power, but Brita knew that her Southern Baptist parents would think she was possessed by the devil. Even at her tender age, she understood the importance of self-preservation.
Since that day, her life had been consumed by keeping her secret. It was the hardest for her in elementary and high school, but maintaining her status as a loner made it considerably less complicated. College was almost too easy since the campus environment allowed her to slip unnoticed into the background.
Writing had always interested her, perhaps because of its solitary nature, but she did not have the courage to step into the world of book signings and publicity. She just wanted to have a normal life. She didn’t want the visions and the voices to be part of her life, and her only option seemed to lie in trying to ignore or at least curtail them. Thus, even her choice of career was shaped by her need to keep her secret and reduce her contact with others. She had chosen studies in college that would allow her to become an editor and work in solitude, always behind the scenes. Being an editor had made it possible for her to move from her hometown to Flagstaff and now to Williams because her office was wherever she was.
Brita realized she needed to shake this off and get to work. Her desk was set up in the living room in front of the windows so she could look out at the majestic Ponderosa Pines, making it a perfect place to ground herself. She had a deadline to meet, and her client might not understand her excuses for running late. Besides, she had no real information to give the authorities. All she knew was that Crista was hurt and hanging upside down. That information was not going to help anyone find her, foul play or not. With a shake of her head to clear out the jumbled thoughts and dissonance that trailed behind her visions, she sat down to deal with the world where she still had some control.
After a few hours, she pushed her chair away from her desk with a satisfied sigh and leaned her head back. She had edited five chapters, and it felt like everything was in its proper place. Closing her eyes to relieve some of the strain from staring at her computer screen, she drifted off to sleep.
She slipped into a dream state quickly, finding herself gliding peacefully down a country road at twilight. Suddenly the serenity was broken, and dread overwhelmed her. Her body jerked, and she woke up, still at her desk. Rubbing her fists against her eyelids, tears began to flow. She was sure this had something to do with Crista, but she still hadn’t seen anything that would help find her.
Brita kept reviewing her visions, wondering why Crista was always upside down and what the country road meant. When for the umpteenth time, she let her mind travel down that road again, she suddenly comprehended what she was seeing. Excitement built in her when she realized that the trees on the left side of the road were really low so that meant there must be a ravine on that side of the road. It could mean that Crista’s car had gone off the road and gotten hung up in the tree branches. It was a clue in this mystifying puzzle, but, as usual, it didn’t tell her much of anything helpful, like where was the road?
Feeling empowered by these new insights, even though they were a bit flimsy, she made the decision to go to the police department the next day and talk with the Chief of Police if there was nothing about her rescue on the morning news. It was a long shot, but maybe he would know where to look. If she was lucky, Crista would visit her in the night, and she would learn something more specific.
By morning, after a sleepless night, she was certain that Crista could not hold out much longer. Crista had appeared to her a couple of times, convincing Brita that she had not been found. Crista’s thoughts had been garbled, and Brita was not able to gain any useful information even though she had asked very specific questions. Just before the final vision had drifted away, Brita thought she heard the alphabet song. This morning she was still wondering why Crista would be singing the alphabet song in her head.
Sighing deeply, Brita knew what she had to do. Still, a sense of dread held her so tightly she could hardly breathe. She did not want to open herself up to ridicule once again. She was just starting to build a life for herself in Williams, but she couldn’t just sit idly by and let the woman die. Then it wouldn’t matter where she lived because she wouldn’t be able to live with herself.
©2015 Dannye Williamsen & Sandy Wolters
Paranormal abilities related to the mind intrigue me because they draw attention to the possibilities that lie outside the acceptable range of thinking for most people. Stories that embrace the paranormal make the reader want to dig deeper and reach higher to partake of such miraculous experiences, to step outside the humdrum of one’s normal life. Whether the stories are mysteries, suspense, or romance, the paranormal element allows a writer to present a unique perspective.
As an empathic writer, I experience an altered state when I sit down to the keyboard. I am not able to daydream about my story or work it all out in my head when I am away from the keyboard. Once my fingers are on the keys, I step into the characters emotionally. In writing the story, I experience intensely personal relationships with them, despite their being fictional. I feel their pain, their joy, and allow them to lead the way in unfolding the story. In writing all my books, including the nonfiction, it has been a dedicated investment of energy, and I am truly grateful for the experiences.
I started writing paranormal romance relatively late in life. I was fifty-years old when I published my first book. Many would ask why it took so long to start a writing career that I was so compelled to do, and I really only have one answer. Life experiences finally brought me to the place where I felt I had something to offer.
The romantic influence of my writing career came easy because I married my high school sweetheart, and we’ve been together ever since. I thank the stars above for him every day of my life. I’m living the romantic dream, people, with the man I was destined to be with, and it feels wonderful! Every romance I write, he is right there in the forefront of my mind.
The paranormal influence of my writing also came at a young age but was much more subtle. My books have always contained hints of the supernatural, anything from ghosts of loved ones to psychic abilities. My personal experience with the paranormal started at a young age and blossomed over the years.
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