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Authors: Erika Robuck

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The wind had cried around his ears, and pale, dead
faces seemed to rise and fall in the waves beneath him.
   
He sickened at the thought of the child who
had been buried at sea just days before.
 
Little George Painley—the one-year-old son of a shoe maker—died of
dehydration after several weeks of violent seasickness.
 
James shook his head to rid his mind of Mrs.
Painley’s agonized cries as the body of her small son slipped beneath the waves
of the Atlantic.
 

James’ time onboard the ship had been awful.
 
Slight food and water rations, cramped
quarters, poor hygiene, and the mind-numbing monotony of the voyage took their
toll.
 
He was thankful that he at least
had his father with him to pass the days.
 
James had always admired Albert Silwell, and was able to enjoy their
philosophical and political discussions to pass the time.
 

But time still crept on slowly.

“Do you know that these cliffs are said to be
haunted by the ghosts of dead slaves?” asked Catherine.

James blinked and shook off his memory.
 

“If you are trying to scare me away, it won’t
work,” he said.

“I was trying to bring you back.”

“I’m sorry.
 
Readjusting to society after the long sea voyage has been
difficult.
 
Who told you of these slave
ghosts? Or have you experienced the specters yourself?”

“It has been told that slaves used to throw
themselves from this cliff when their lives became unbearable.
 
Many slaves believed that they would journey
home to the mountains of Africa to live out
eternity after death.
 
On stormy nights
some say the cries of the dead pierce the wind.”

Catherine and James continued on in silence until
they reached the edge of the cliff.
 
Sweet perfume drifted up from the large tropical flowers growing on it,
and the waves crashed over boulders one hundred feet below. Catherine and James
stared into the dark abyss.
 
The wind was
a low, mournful wail around them.

 
 
 
 
 

3

           

 
 

Every slave story is a ghost
story.
  

That’s what the man at the Nevis Historical
Society had said over the phone.
 
His
words played over in Meg’s thoughts as she sat stuffed in the stifling backseat
of the van—wedged between a rusty door and a pile of her own luggage.
 
She noticed that a large, wet stain growing on
one of her bags had attracted several flies, and wondered which cosmetic had
exploded.

Maybe
this was not a good idea
.
 

Meg tried to imagine the surprise of the three
hundred guests upon opening the announcement calling off the wedding. Brian was
initially sensitive to Meghan’s distress, but when he came to understand that
Meg wished to cancel rather than postpone the wedding, his injury was
acute.
 

My God,
Meghan, of course we should call off the wedding—I never wanted all that to
begin with; but you can’t mean to call off our marriage.

Meg no longer knew what she wanted.
 
Her parents’ deaths had sent her into shock,
her job and her wedding had become too much to bear, and after the episode with
the governor, Meg thought a trip would help clear her head.
 
The house in North Carolina was too close and too full of
memories. Meg needed to go somewhere new and far away—a place that her life and
her obligations couldn’t reach.
 
She
thought that removing herself from the physical setting of her life would allow
her to become an objective observer.
 
She
could make decisions without feeling the need to please anyone.
 
Brian had accused her of running away.

“Where you going, again?” called the driver.

Meg looked at her map. “Just past Gingerland.
 
The plantation’s called Eden.”

The driver turned around and looked Meg as if she
were mad.

“You going alone?
 
Ghosts in that place.”

Drew Edmead, the historian to whom she had spoken
on the phone, reacted similarly when she told him of her destination.
 
She had called him before making the trip to
see if the Historical Society had any information on or claim to the
property.
 
He had assured her that it was
hers to do with as she pleased, but expressed his keen desire to accompany her
to visit the property if she would allow him access.
 
Meg said that she would think about it.
 

“How long you here?” asked the driver.

“Two weeks.”

“I don’t think that place is fit for visitors.”

“I’m actually staying at a small villa just off
the property called Havilla,” said Meg.
 
“Drop me off there, and I’ll find the plantation house on foot after I
get settled.”

“You not scared?”

“I don’t believe in ghosts.”

The driver made a clucking sound and shook his
head.

           
In a short time the tires crunched
over a driveway of crushed shells leading to a modest, single-storied villa of
pure white; white shutters, white columns, white porch, white flowers.
 
It had a small plunge pool and sweeping views
of the island.
  
Meg thought it was
perfect.
 
She helped the driver remove
her luggage from the van, gave him a tip, and stepped into the villa.
 

           
The inside of Havilla was quaint and
smelled of coconuts and sea water.
 
The
purity of color and design extended throughout the dwelling.
 
It was simple, but comfortable.
 
The wood was dark, the curtains were filmy
and white, and the views
 
extended from
the side of Mount Nevis down to the Caribbean Sea.

           
And the bar was fully stocked.
 

           
Directly across from the full wall
glass sliders leading to the covered back porch she discovered a wet bar
complete with refrigerator, wine cooler, and blender.
 
Meg ran her hands over a white binder resting
in front of an assortment of bottles of rum.

           
Rum
Recipes.

           
19 pages of rum recipes spread out
before her.
 
Beachcomber, Fog Cutter,
Pink Paradise, Rum Toddy, Van Vleet—delightful names to say.
 
Meg felt her mood lighten just thinking of
the playful drink titles.
 
She settled on
Casa Blanca
in honor of the villa,
and raised her glass to the white walls.
 

“Cheers.”

 

 

Meg
reclined in a padded lounger by the pool and watched the sun set.
 
She had flown from Washington D.C.
to St. Kitts next to a woman heading to the islands with her husband for their
thirtieth wedding anniversary.
 
The woman
was not sophisticated enough to read Meg’s reluctance to engage; she
misinterpreted Meg’s silence as an invitation to divulge her life story.
 

           
After the flight, Meg had some time
on St. Kitts while waiting for the ferry to Nevis.
 
Under any other circumstances this would not
have been a bad thing, but her nerves were frayed, and her need for solitude
was making her frantic.
  
Meg’s relief
was considerable when she realized that she was the only passenger on the
ferry, and the captain was a reserved, polite old man who sensed and respected
Meg’s need for silence.

           
The short boat ride aboard the
Halcyon was like a massage for her soul.
 
Blue-green water lapped against the vessel, balmy breezes carried marine
smells and birds over the water, and Mount
Nevis’ jungle-covered slopes filled
her view as she approached Charlestown.
 
The jerky van ride, however, planted her back
into reality.

           
Maybe
I should have taken a cruise.

           
Meg drained her glass and fell
asleep.

 

 

Something
awakened Meg.
 

           
Piano
music?

           
She glanced at her watch.

           
At
3:00 in the morning?

           
She sat up as quickly as her stiff
muscles would allow, ground at her eyes with her fists, and strained her ears
to hear over the breeze and the night song of the bellfrogs.
 
Palms whipped in the wind, and the ocean
whispered in the distance.
 
Her eyes
scanned the property, surveying the foliage along the fence for signs of
life.
 
A vague feeling of uneasiness
crept over Meg.
 
She shivered and crossed
her arms.

           
Meg heard a thump in the grass
nearby, and stood up from the lounger.
 
Her heart began to race.

The piano music stopped, as if a distant music box
had quickly been shut.
 

           
Meg began to back up toward the
house, when a large piece of fruit thumped out of a nearby tree and landed on
the grass in front of her.
 
Meg laughed
at herself and released her breath.
 
As
she turned and opened the slider, the sound of piano music once again froze
her.
 
It sounded canned, slow,
melancholy.
 
Meg looked over the yard
once more, went into the villa, and locked the door behind her.

Unable to sleep, Meg decided to explore Havilla’s
eclectic library.
 
The Bible, Byatt,
Austen, Poe, Woolf,
Swords, Ships and
Sugar
,
Nevis: Queen of the Caribees
,
Sugar & Slaves
—the owners not
only had good taste in literature, but were thoughtful in the reading
selections provided.
 
Meg poured over the
historical books and guides into the early hours of the morning, finding
herself fascinated with the slave past of the island.

Black
Devil, Fogcutter, Nightcap
—after
Meg’s third rum drink she finally passed out on the ottoman covered in
books.
 
Not long after, the morning light
made its way into the villa through the sheers.
 
Diaphanous silk—though beautifully decorative—was a useless barrier to
tropical sun.
 
Under a heavy hangover,
Meg found her admiration of the window treatments wane.

After a shower, glass of water, and a double dose
of pain medication, Meg felt ready to start her vacation.
 
Her headache prevented her from wanting to
sit in the sun, but she was eager to explore the plantation home.
 
Meg filled a bag with a camera, notebook,
pen, bottled water, pain relievers, and the old photograph of Eden, and began walking out to the road from
the villa.
 
Though it was early, the sun
was already bearing down on the island.
 
Meg wiped the sweat from her neck and twisted her hair into a knot which
she secured with her pen.
 
She admired
the vegetation and began a mental catalogue of the plants she had read about
last night in the guide to Nevis.
 
Allamanda, African tulips, bougainvillea,
calabash, coconut trees, lilies, and white cedars—always a list running through
her mind.
 

Meg’s talents at research, organization, and
persuasion, along with her heavy familial connections, had helped her secure a
sought after position at the governor’s office in Annapolis.
 
She was in charge of fundraising, event planning, and general public
relations on behalf of Governor Harold Nelson.
 

Unfortunately, after young staffer Mindy Newcomb
went public with pictures and video clips from a year-long affair with Nelson
(father of 4, husband of 18 years), Meg’s job had become nearly
impossible.
 
But Meg—fiercely loyal and
always determined—assisted the governor and his staff in uncovering enough
skeletons in Mindy’s closet to destroy her character, humiliate her, and
undermine her allegations.
 
A child born
out of wedlock, an arrest in high school for marijuana possession, and a father
in jail for tax fraud contributed to the case Nelson’s office presented:
 
Mindy Newcomb was a street-smart, loose, drug
addict who used her pitiful situation to gain the sympathy of and seduce the
governor—a compassionate but weak man.

His ratings had dipped in the thick of the
controversy, but had recently surpassed earlier highs after Mrs. Nelson and the
governor were interviewed on a local television station discussing the renewal
of their marriage vows, and commitment to the future of their family and the
state of Maryland.

BOOK: Receive Me Falling
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