Sample Chapter: Seńora
of the Superstitions
Chapter 1 ~
The house crouched,
brooding and silent, like a giant beast of stone and mortar.
Waiting for her—expecting her to come.
“Aren’t you at least
going to the door with me?” Jowanna McFarland turned to the
strange old man who brought her out to the desert and now
hurried back toward his truck.
“No ma’am. Got to
get back.” His large Adam’s apple bobbed in his skinny neck,
a sheen of sweat beaded his weathered face.
Where is my father?
Why didn’t he meet me?
Panic rising at her
uneasy thoughts, she picked up one of her suitcases and
reached for the other. It was so hard to believe she stood
at the foot of Superstition Mountains in Arizona. She sensed
that nothing much had changed in this desert land from the
beginning to this year of 1948. The letter clenched in her
hand was hard to read through the tears she fought back, but
she’d memorized it. The long white envelope was addressed to
Jason McFarland, her brother, dead for the past ten years.
Jowanna knew the
contents of the letter by heart. The signature was her
father’s, who had abandoned his family eighteen years ago.
It wasn’t only the bare words that had dragged her out of
her comfortable niche and brought her to this strange
destination. And it wasn’t only to confront him with their
pain his leaving had caused the family, nor was it the
mention in his letter of a gold mine he’d been searching for
and finally found. What drew her out was the raw urgency
behind the words he had written. He was in trouble and
needed Jason or someone to help him.
“Can’t you at least
wait until I find out if anyone’s here? I might want to go
back with you.” She hated the sound of pleading in her
voice. She’d never had to beg for anything in her life.
muttered, the quavering voice came from somewhere inside his
beard. “They don’t cotton to company here. Besides, there’s
the Seńora. I ain’t a‑gonna get tangled up with a ghost.”
“A what?” She fought
to keep the edge of hysteria from her voice. That crazy old
coot—Charlie he said his name was. He’d so many bad things
to say about the Superstitions, why would anyone stay here?
Rattlesnakes, scorpions, spiders as big as a man’s hand,
flash floods and caves filled with poison gas, puma lairs,
drop‑offs into bottomless mine shafts and as if that wasn’t
enough—here he was babbling about a ghost. She looked off
into the distance at the towering mountain that looked
sinister and menacing even from far away. She would have
felt that way even if Charlie hadn’t gone on about its
Hoping she wasn’t as
neurotic as her mother, Jowanna admitted to having fears of
everything outside of her realm of existence and old Charlie
had named most of them in one sentence.
But he hadn’t
mentioned a resident ghost before. What else wasn’t he
Maybe she should
have told him whom she had come out to see, but her father’s
letter had warned Jason not to trust anyone.
When the plane had
landed at Phoenix, she remembered feeling a sudden thrill as
she stepped off, not to a bank of dirty New York City snow,
but into the brilliant warm desert sunlight. On her way to
Albandigos, Arizona, she had stared at her reflection in the
window while the scenery flashed by. No one appeared in the
dusty little town to meet her. Had her father received her
telegram? Her lips tightened with repressed anger she’d held
back for eighteen years.
Turning to call
again to Charlie, the backfire and the plume of dust rising
in the distance told her the churlish old man was driving
away in his contraption of nuts, bolts and steering
apparatus that he called a truck. Deserting her. The sight
and sound snapped her back to her present predicament
About to meet a
father she could barely remember, her usual logical
rationality began to overpower her excitement. Part of her
exhilaration had been anger. A deeply buried anger that was
just now surfacing. She hated him for leaving them. She
needed to face him down, to demand to know why he had left
his family without a word.
He probably wouldn’t
be pleased to see her. He obviously needed Jason. Why hadn’t
he contacted them over the years? In the letter he told of a
step‑son and brother‑in‑law, no doubt two stodgy old
tobacco‑chewing cowboys. She pictured them with her all-too
vivid imagination, scruffy, stained beards like Charlie’s.
Her father had also mentioned a woman called Delia who was
missing, which had alarmed him.
Who was Delia? Why
was Charlie so afraid of this place? She had expected a bit
of gossip from him, but he was tight‑lipped the entire ride,
except for spouting frightful warnings about the desert and
Seńora of the Superstitions
The most ominous
part of her father’s letter was the reference to it all
blowing up in his face soon. What did he mean?
“Arizona.” She spoke
the name out loud, as the word moved through her
consciousness like a thread through a hemline. It was like
coming to a foreign country. She’d never been out of New
York and had no reason to think she would ever leave. Over
the years she began to feel rubbed raw from her mother’s
continual nit-picking, but inertia had claimed her after a
time and she forgot about wanting independence.
The house stood in
front of her, as if blocking her way to the desert and
mountains behind it. The structure was graceful; swooping,
extending upward and outward. Slabs of petrified wood
combined with seasoned hard wood made up the exterior,
creating an unique and beautiful house in a wild,
uninhibited way. She’d read about the Petrified Forest in
Arizona from a magazine she’d picked up at a lay over on her
A loud flap of an
outbuilding door shattered her musing, sending her pulses
racing. She took a deep breath. “Hello! Anyone here?” Her
voice squeaked and she cleared her throat.
Suddenly her gaze
froze upward. Was that a shadow—a movement in the upper
window? She stared harder, but it vanished in an instant. It
could be the wind in a curtain, but the window wasn’t open.
Realizing her thoughts skirted dangerously close to old
Charlie’s mention of the ghost, she called out again,
Never, in her
wildest imagination, could she have pictured a more lonely,
desolate, forgotten place. Like an awkward, ungainly mirage,
the two‑story, native stone house looked out of place on the
desert and yet strangely enough, it blended in. As if the
house had staked its claim and dared anyone to move it.
she skittered away from them.
The loose door on
the outbuilding continued to flap monotonously to and fro,
breaking the eerie stillness. The hot wind touched her face
in a gentle caress, like something live. The silk blouse
stuck to her back and perspiration trickled from behind her
knees. She felt the pressure of the garters above her knees
and wondered why she thought she would need to wear
stockings with a calf-length skirt.
The nickering of a
horse broke the silence, coming from the direction of the
barn. Undecided for a moment, she moved away from her
luggage toward the stables, needing to see a living,
breathing creature, even if it was a horse.
Seńora of the Superstitions
No, that wouldn’t
do. It would soon be dark. She had no choice but to go
inside and wait for her father to return. Where was he? Why
didn’t he meet her at Albandigos as he had promised in the
letter? Surely he received her telegram saying she was
Standing on the wide
veranda at the front door, did nothing to assuage her fears.
The blowing wind
made nearby trees bow and dance, reflecting on the window
panes, causing shadowy figures to move inside.
She beat on the
massive door, which moved to open slightly beneath her
pounding fists. At this point she only wanted to run away,
as far and as fast as her legs would take her. Somehow the
thought of confronting her father for his years of neglect
didn’t seem all that important.
Jowanna picked up
her suitcases and tiptoed slowly forward. She’d never
thought of entering someone’s home uninvited, but this was
her father’s ranch, wasn’t it? Not to mention she had
nowhere else to go.
The house inside
felt cool, damp and dark. Quiet as a tomb. She looked
around, her gaze nervously flickered away from the shadowy
walls. As if against her will, she crept close to each of
the corners, checking to see if they were empty. Expecting
to see something crouching, waiting for her with yellow eyes
and a red tongue. She cursed her imagination and dropping
her suitcases, turned toward what appeared to be the
Just over the
threshold, she found three glass kerosene lamps and long
kitchen matches. When her hands stopped shaking, she tried
to light one but it wasn’t as easy as it looked. She finally figured out how to turn the wick up and down and
after lighting several, she set them around the kitchen. She
needed the light to send a protective glow around the room,
dispelling the gloom.
The kitchen was
spacious with a huge window overlooking the desert. An old
fashioned wood burning stove and a table covered with a
shiny oil cloth completed the picture. Cast iron kettles and
frying pans lined the back of the stove.
Carrying a lamp in
each hand, she returned to the living room. In spite of the
thick patina of dust covering everything, she saw remnants
of past comforts, reminders of a woman’s touch tucked in
between the masculine furnishings.
Seńora of the Superstitions
topped the mantle of the huge stone fireplace, giant pottery
ollas stood on the hearth filled with dry plumes of pampas
grass. The jars were large enough to hold a person.
She pushed the
disconcerting memory away of a long ago fairy tale—of
someone hiding in a giant jar and the villain pouring hot
oil into each one. The story had always scared her when she
was a child. What if someone jumped out at her?
The living area was
sunken, with two steps down. Thick, colorful Navajo rugs
covered the ceramic tile floor, their intricate weaves and
patterns came through even though muted by layers of dust.
The ceiling was high and vaulted, with massive beams of dark
wood. There were many shelves of books and some lying about
on a coffee table made of petrified wood.
It was a comfortable
home, except for the air of neglect and the spooky
atmosphere of shadows and silence.
The pervading desert
dust clogged her nostrils, causing her to sneeze. She was
about to turn away, but holding the lantern high for one
last glance, the blood froze in her veins at what she saw.
Footprints on the
dusty floor leading upstairs.
Her fingers trembled
on the lamp and she clutched it tighter, knuckles white.
Every inch of her body sensed danger as the skin at the nape
of her neck crinkled and goosebumps raised the hair on her
She fought the urge
to run away. Where would she go? It was dark outside by now.
Somewhere in the distance a coyote howled a mournful cry in
answer to the sudden darkness. Another echoed the sound. She
put a foot on the bottom stair and thought of walking up
that long, dark passageway, each corner holding an unknown
“Hello?” She made
her voice carry up the stairs even though she shouted
through dry, cracked lips. If she didn’t continue her
search, she would never be able to stay in this house until
her father came.
She began to realize
what a pampered, sheltered life she had led. For the first
time in her twenty-eight years she was completely alone, on
her own. No demanding, meticulous mother to supervise her
actions. No excuses to fall back on if she failed. Well,
since her mother often accused her of willful stubbornness,
she’d use that to combat her paralyzing fears.
Seńora of the Superstitions
Staring at the
offending footprints only caused her fertile imagination to
magnify the threat, but she couldn’t skitter away like a
frightened mouse. Hadn’t she called out twice with no
answer? There wasn’t anyone here—unless you wanted to count
the ghostly Seńora of the Superstitions.
Jowanna fought the
panic, her heart fluttered in her throat.
She started up the
stairs with grim determination. Shadows danced on the
ceilings and the walls from the lamp held in her trembling
hands. On the second landing a loose board under her feet
screeched. The sudden noise in the silent house caused her
to tilt backward in fright. She grabbed hold of the railing,
steadying her wobbly legs, her fingers clutched around the
lamp until they ached.
admonished herself out loud, needing to hear a voice.
“There’s no such things as ghosts.” The footprints weren’t
made by a ghost, a thought that offered little comfort. They
were oddly shaped, made by someone wearing boots? That would
seem natural out here, she conceded.
At the top of one
landing was a small dormer window at right angles to the
continuing stairs. She shoved and pulled, but thick paint at
the base had probably locked it in place.
Brushing aside some
of the dust on the panes, she saw where the roof extended
out and then sloped downward until the ground appeared as
close as fifteen or twenty feet away. A large cage nestled
in a corner near a gable. For pigeons, she guessed.
She continued up the
stairs, thankful the narrow passageway offered no
opportunity for dark corners.
The first door down
the long hall pushed open easily.
locked around here? It didn’t seem normal. Back home you
locked your apartment door if you went down to check with
the doorman for mail.
The room contained
an old-fashioned brass bed with a blanket thrown over the
mattress. On the floor against the wall, a fancy silver
inlaid saddle lay on its side, looking out of place. A few
items of masculine clothing lay across a chair. Nothing in
here was dusty. Someone had been here and not too long ago.
Back in the hallway,
she closed that door behind her and moved on to the next
room. Clothes hung neatly in the closet, and the bed had
been made with precise, tight corners. Only the large easel
and spatters of dried oil paint on a sheet beneath marred
the neatness. This room too, was nearly dust‑free.
Seńora of the Superstitions
A hard object under
the bed almost tripped her when her foot kicked into it.
Kneeling down, she pulled out a large portrait in oils. The
woman pictured was breathtakingly lovely, with wide blue
eyes, long blonde hair and delicate features. Something in
the way it was painted bespoke a loving care, even if it was
unsigned. Who had painted it and why was it hidden beneath
She shoved it back
under and turned away, suddenly feeling like an intruder.
With that door shut
behind her, the lamplight flickered against the walls on the
stair landing and she licked her dry lips. She checked the
level of the oil. How long would it last? She didn’t want to
be caught up here in the dark. Pushing open the third door,
she walked to the dresser and almost dropped the lamp.
Her own face stared
back at her with gray eyes big and solemn, hair in long
black braids. Jason stood next to her, tall and straight,
with her father in the middle.
She felt the
familiar pain of loss that had become mixed in with anger,
but had never quite left her. First their father leaving
without a word and then such a waste, the tragedy of Jason
drowning in a boating accident.
A stranger passing
by had taken the photo of the three of them at a birthday
party in the park. The last party when her father was there
Trembling, she held
the lamp with both hands. The room was dusty, as if no one
had been here in a while. It had to be her father’s room.
She touched the clothes draped across the bed and picked up
a shirt, holding it to her cheek, trying to inhale some
essence of him, but the dust choked her.
Suddenly she felt so
alone. Yet the impression of someone being close by was so
strong she looked around, showing the lamp above her head to
search out the corners. The anger against her father
threatened to melt away and she brought it back quickly to
protect against the pain.
Couldn’t he have
come back to see them during the long years? Why didn’t he
tell them goodbye? She needed to confront him with her
sorrow for Jason’s death, of her pain of being left alone
over the long years without either of them as a buffer
against her rigid, tyrannical mother and grandfather.
Why had he sent for
Jason now, after all these years? Why had his letter sounded
so urgent, so desperate, as if he had no other choice? He
was in trouble, some kind of danger threatened him or he
never would have contacted them.
Seńora of the Superstitions
Unable to bear her
thoughts any longer, she stepped out of the room and, as the
door closed behind her, Jowanna felt the tiny hairs on the
back of her neck rising. The end of the hall was shrouded in
shadows, but something called her to go to it.
She stared up at the
narrowed, twisting stairway, the ceiling low. In two storied
houses, especially the older ones, there was usually an
additional attic space. This must be the gables she saw from
outside. In an effort to stop the shaking, she clamped her
left hand over the right as the light shone down on more
footprints on the dusty hardwood landing, pointed upward.
What should she do?
Go downstairs and cower in fear all night, waiting for her
father? She couldn’t go without sleep forever. She had come
here for answers, how else to get them?
Coming out here
alone, looking for a father who she believed didn’t love
her, it was all so out of character and well she knew it,
but her behavior had started events which had become like a
ball of snow rolling down the hill. She couldn’t stop
herself any more than she could stop whatever happened to
She started up the
small set of stairs, as they became steeper and narrower.
Leaning to hold the lamp down low, she perceived that the
footprints in front of her had to step sideways now, the
steps were so narrow. The prints ceased abruptly at the end
of the stairway in front of a closed door to the attic.
Jowanna reached out to turn the knob.
It didn’t budge. How
odd, the only locked door in the entire house.
Pushing her cheek
against the paneled wood, she heard nothing. When she
started to turn away, a faint trace of perfume sifted from
underneath the doorway.
Her hand wobbled,
and she clutched the lamp tighter, fearing to drop it. Did
the perfume and the eerie feeling of not being alone come
from the Seńora?
Did ghosts wear
With the light scent
teasing her nostrils, she turned and ran down the stairs as
fast as she could, feeling eyes boring into her back with
Back in the living
room, Jowanna brushed off a leather recliner and sat
gingerly on the edge, trying to decide what to do. She
didn’t see many choices. There was no way to leave this
place. Her father asked for her, or Jason anyway, so he
would surely be close by and would turn up sooner or later.
She looked up at the shadowy staircase and shivered,
deciding at that moment to sleep in the barn with the horse
that had whinnied when she first arrived.
Seńora of the Superstitions
At least an animal
was alive and non‑threatening. She hated herself for fearing
a ghost that crazy old man told her about, but the perfume
smell still lingered and she knew that wasn’t her
kerosene lamp and a blanket off one of the couches, she
pushed open the front door and hurried out to the barn. The
sky was full of stars, the moon shone down, casting an
eerie, silvery light over all the cactus and trees nearby,
turning them into stealthy, twisted characters that seemed
to move along with every step she took.
Setting down the
blanket and lamp, she faced the big double doors. When she
tugged on them, they didn’t budge. Were the doors locked
from inside? She looked back toward the house. Oh, no, she
wasn’t going to retreat, now that she’d gone this far to get
out of that scary place. She jerked hard on the side with a
handle. It flew open, knocking her down on the packed earth,
jarring the wind out of her.
Once inside with the
big double doors pushed shut behind, a wash of relief
flooded over her, leaving her weak with a cold sweat. She
straightened her shoulders and some of the tiredness left as
the realization came of what she had done.
had marched up the terrifying dark stairs alone, faced down
a handful of her most debilitating fears. Then she had gone
outside in the midst of coyotes howling and tortured
silhouettes dotting the landscape. And nothing had happened
to her. Yet.
She looked at the
two horses, munching hay from an automatic hay feeder above
their heads. Slowly she walked toward them but the bigger
horse shied away, snorting, eyes rolling. A white ring
encircled each of his eyes, the top of his nostrils were
colored the same off‑white as his back. Multi‑sized spots,
some dark, some light, spread like a graceful blanket of
white over his back and rump. The rest of his coat was pale
When he limped away,
she saw a cloth wrapped loosely around his leg.
The little black
horse put her head over the low stall, seeming to summon her
touch. One phobia Jowanna didn’t own was toward horses. She
remembered some good times with Jason and her father riding
in Central Park. She leaned against the horse’s neck,
grateful for contact with another living being.
Finding a pile of
straw and a horse blanket to lie on, she hesitated only
briefly before blowing out the lamp. Her first instinct was
to leave it burning, but she thought of it accidentally
tipping over and starting a fire in the dry hay on the
Seńora of the Superstitions
Darkness pulled in
around her, but listening to the horses chewing and snorting
made her feel comforted, no longer alone.
Coyotes yipped and
howled in the distance. An odd whooshing noise, possibly a
large owl, swooped close to the barn followed by the shrill
scream of its prey. Certain she would not be able to close
her eyes one minute, she nestled down into her straw bed and
slept without waking through the night.
Once, during the
early morning hours she dreamed of a figure standing in the
open door of the barn, the moonlight silhouetting a large
outline of someone watching her sleep. It hadn’t scared her
enough to wake up.
In the morning, the
contented chewing of the horses finally woke her. The stable
door yawned wide, the bright sunlight poured in. How did the
horses get oats? The bins had been empty the night before.
She distinctly remembered closing that door before she blew
out the lamp.
Standing to brush
down her silk pants and shirt, Jowanna tried to pull out
some of the straw that entangled in her hair.
Perhaps her father
When she started for
the house, the daylight assured her there was a sensible
explanation for footprints in an empty house and a locked
storeroom door. The pervasive odor of perfume at the top of
the stairs could also be explained easily enough. Everything
seemed logical in the bright sunlight.
Cool, damp air
engulfed her when she opened the front door. Outside, the
heat built in visible waves in the air.
She stepped past the
entryway into the front room, but the house seemed to offer
no sense of threat in the daylight. Moving closer to the
stairs, she bent close to examine the footprints of the
night before. The dust on the stairs was scuffed and
scattered as if someone had walked over the top of the first
set of prints. How odd. She’d tried to avoid stepping
directly on the footprints for some reason when she walked
up the stairs.
The smell of bacon
assailed her. Her father had come in! Would she recognize
him after all these years? Would he be disappointed she
hard before entering the kitchen, preparing for the first
angry words she wanted to get out of the way.
good‑looking man standing there, long legs encased in tight
jeans and stirring a cast iron skillet on the old wood
stove, was definitely not her father. His stare was bold and
he assessed her frankly. She couldn’t have missed his
observation and the approval in his eyes.