Castles in the Snow, a Thrillers/Suspense novel, follows the real-life of my friend, Paul Lister, who was kind enough to allow the setting to occur inside his beloved 23,000-acre estate at Alladale, a European Nature Reserve and Trust at Inverness Scotland. Although the story is riveting, while transitioning from Scotland to Charleston, SC, the added dimension of facts and actual events add to the allure. Within this 61,213-word manuscript exist the realities of a planet out-of-control as we over-forest, fish, and abuse her. Paul’s desire to return the wolf to a controlled environment inside his estate becomes a part of this book.
Targeted Age Group:: over eighteen
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
Castles in the Snow, a Thrillers/Suspense novel, follows the real-life of my friend, Paul Lister, who was kind enough to allow the setting to occur inside his beloved 23,000-acre estate at Alladale, a European Nature Reserve and Trust at Inverness Scotland. Although the story is riveting, while transitioning from Scotland to Charleston, SC, the added dimension of facts and actual events add to the allure. Within this 61,213-word manuscript exist the realities of a planet out-of-control as we over-forest, fish, and abuse her. Paul's desire to return the wolf to a controlled environment inside his estate becomes a part of this book.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
While thinking of the beautiful, Alladale, these characters easily came to my mind. They belong there.
The scent of fresh heather soothed my agitated spirit when I opened my eyes. That familiar herb-like smell calmed me. A pretty blue pot sat on a table beside my bed. It contained the heather’s tiny cup-shaped, pink-purple flowers. Their beauty made me smile—a memory of long ago rushed into my head.
Many blurred images in my head matched the haziness of my vision. The room appeared familiar, but the circumstances were foreign. Why are tiny pellets of ice hitting my eyes? Is that the reason I can’t see things well? Something felt terribly wrong. Again, I closed my eyes. Forcing them together accomplished nothing but more fog.
I stood with him, my beloved Thomas, atop a snow-covered hill. A stately Victorian lodge smiled at us from the white top across the way.
“Alladale?” I whispered the name as the image of the sprawling manor home filled my senses. It was as though I was seeing her for the first time. “My Love! That is Alladale? I had begun to doubt her existence.”
Those words I now repeated as I had five years earlier. How often have I thought about this moment in time? I wondered.
When I had looked so long ago at the tall, blond man with chiseled good looks standing beside me, I recognized how blessed I was. Yes, we had suffered the painful blows of life but still stood together. Alladale, Thomas, and I, those three, remained a given.
My gaze now darted around the room.
“What is this place?” My words were a mere whisper.
Then I knew. This place is my favorite room in the mansion, the Willow Suite. Does this mean that my brain is functioning? At least a part of me is well?
The color of the heather matched that of the spread covering the generous bed. I reached out to touch the satiny smoothness, which looked familiar, but I couldn’t. Someone had shackled my hands. No panic assailed me from this realization. I breathed deeply.
Yes, that is the pleasing scent of heather. With longing, I reached toward the blooms, but the shackles on my wrists prevented me.
“Thomas, I don’t understand! Where are you? Who has done this to me?”
Once again, I looked around, trying to figure out what was going on. Why would my husband leave me shackled to the bed? I wondered. Intense pain engulfed my arms and legs as well as my head. Perhaps a head injury had resulted in my damaged vision and the tenderness I was experiencing? I closed my eyes.
When I woke, it dawned on me that my surroundings felt comfortable. A blazing fire roared in the massive old fireplace in the room. But, unfortunately, the heat felt too intense. I wished that I could lower the pink-purple spread but remembered that the window above my bed gaped open. That's the reason for the stinging pellets of ice. Although the opening looked small, eventually, as the fire diminished, the temperature would plummet. I struggled to free myself, even though I was certain it was impossible.
A large white pitcher, which contained a small chip, sat beside the pretty blue pot of flowers. For the first time, I felt thirsty. This sensation frightened me.
How much worse will it become? Will I realize each moment as I die from dehydration, starvation, or cold? What about relieving myself? My struggling accomplished nothing. My only choice was to wait. Thomas will return soon, I’m sure of it. Always, he has been my savior.
Like horses charging from captivity, memories abruptly trampled my mind, those of Thom, me, Max, and others. My parents? I smiled, but those fast-moving recollections arrived too quickly; they confused me. It was impossible to figure out what was happening now in the present. I must examine each thought! The realization that taking pleasure in them would occupy my time, thus keeping me from experiencing the terror I knew waited. If instead, I fought to recall the pleasant thoughts, starting with my first memory of my husband, maybe my sanity would be prolonged? Now, what is my first memory?
For a second time, I smiled. Another house, located in a different place, floated into my mind. It wasn’t Alladale. This other place was also precious to me. Grappling with a long-ago event in my life, I reminisced, “Charleston, my childhood home in the United States.”
My words trickled into the heavy air, reinforcing my desire to examine every memory from my past—especially those involving my husband. Each vital moment of my life concerned him. I snuggled under the spread while I tussled with many recollections.
This story is my life: mine and that of Thomas Baxter Reid. Our tapestry of frayed ends would now knit themselves into lovely protection from the lonely agony I faced.
“Am I dying?” But the only thing that mattered to me was his safety.
“Caroline Emma Corbett, whatever happens here, will not be pleasant. Someone intends you terrible harm, even death. You must not panic. If you have any chance of survival, then you must stay calm.” I hurled those words into the overheated room.
The atmosphere was unpleasant; my body glistened with perspiration. I realized that if my captor didn’t return soon, the opposite sensation, freezing temperatures, would be my end. How long can a person live without food and water? I asked myself.
A research paper that I had written in college for a writing class now proved helpful as I recalled that a person could survive only three to four days without water but up to three weeks without food. I stared at the pretty white pitcher with a chip in the top and wondered if it really contained water or if it was meant to drive me insane as I begged for relief? Strangely, I recognized the pitcher and wondered how it was chipped.
“Okay, stop it right now! If you’re going to survive this, and your odds aren’t great, you have to remain focused.” Once more, like a madwoman, I ranted to myself.
“How can I be calm with my hands shackled to this bed? And I’m alone, without food or water. Hello! Is anyone here? Can you hear me? Please, I need help! PLEASE!”
Only the roar of the fire and the wind from the open window replied. And why was the window left open? None of this made sense. Who would start a roaring fire but leave the window above the bed ajar? My gaze scoured the room for clues. There weren’t any. Ice pellets continued to hit my eyes as the wind blew them angrily onto my face. They began to annoy me.
As if in answer to my exhausting questions, I fell deeply asleep. My mind told me to concentrate on my past. Maybe I should trace my life, taking stock of mostly happy things, but those will surely stir up the not-so-pleasant recollections. With this plan, my awareness became dreams; most of my beloved husband, Thomas.
“Thom, are you still alive?” I heard myself mumble those words but was unable to answer.
My other persistent thought was of the beautiful wedding-cake house where I grew up in Charleston, South Carolina. I had never considered the similarities between Scotland, my adopted home, and South Carolina until Thomas declared that we must move from South Carolina to Scotland upon his college graduation. He assured me that other than the stifling summers of Charleston, they were very similar. I had never heard such a comparison, but the idea of avoiding the heat appealed to me. I had never taken well to the long, hot days of the South.
Early in our lives, this man I loved had gone mad with the history of the Reid Clan. I had helped him the summer before he left for college, and we pored over ancestral websites. Until he began his education in architecture, he was obsessed with ancestry and Scotland. I thought about my husband’s graduation from Rice University in Houston, Texas. He had refused to leave the South, but he wanted an excellent education in architecture, so he chose Rice. The university had an impeccable reputation for turning out the best.
William Marsh Rice University, named for an American businessman who left his fortune to this great institute of higher learning, remained a comprehensive research facility. It opened in 1923 after the murder of its namesake. The college’s goal is to “advance tomorrow’s leaders and encourage future thinkers.” The Wall Street Journal rated it as “number seven in the top schools for resources.” This campus of three hundred acres consistently was ranked as “one of the top twenty universities by the United States news.” Another honor recently bestowed on the education pioneer in Houston, Texas, was being labeled “the second most international university.” Perhaps Thom had met many Scots behind those rose-colored walls because he was changed by studying there. I believed his experience with students from the international scene gave him the confidence to move to Europe.
Such an innovative school offered fifty undergraduate majors across six divisions of study. Thomas often stressed that although he received acceptance to several Ivy League institutions, he had chosen Rice because of the School of Architecture. Rice was famous for the many notable creators of the building process who had graduated from those shiny halls. One of their exceptional requirements was for students to complete twelve hours each in the fields of humanities, social sciences, and applied sciences. As a result, those who graduated appeared to be exceptionally well-rounded individuals. Thom sure was. He boasted about the two dozen Marshall Scholars and a dozen Rhodes Scholars who were alumni. Two proud alumni won the Nobel Prize. I dreamed that my husband might, but it was not to be.
With such a sterling education, he should have prospered and enjoyed a life of fame in his chosen field, but the lies of my Uncle Robert had dealt him a hard blow. So when his sterling reputation hung around him, “Aye, sort of like these shackles that hold me,” I said aloud. So we walked away from our storied lives to a new country. Both of us loved Scotland, but, right now, I was a bit confused.
I took writing classes at The College of Charleston while we remained apart, which proved to be the hardest time of my life. My mind pulled that thought from my consciousness without help. There were many reasons for my choice of higher education. I, too, could have gone Ivy League, but I didn’t want to leave the local fame and fortune I enjoyed in Charleston. Everyone knew my family. I received a little special recognition because of them. Call me spoiled, but I’m not crazy. Never would I want to leave my perks for a place where no one knew me until Thomas prevailed.
The College of Charleston, I still see her grand façade, which stood with such “Southern-ness.” If there was ever a grand Southern dame, it was she. Founded in 1770 and chartered in 1785, this was the first college in South Carolina and the thirteenth oldest in the United States. That’s an awesome fact to those who love history, like Thomas and me. Our love for the ancient may be another attraction to Scotland.
The six large white columns that flanked her entrance always made me consider all the great thinkers who attended the College of Charleston before me. Upon graduation, I nobly carried a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing across town to my stately home in The Battery. My love for all things Charleston was so great that I couldn’t leave her for a mere diploma.
Honestly, I considered not going to college. My love of writing had been a part of me for so long. I had my particular style, and I sure didn’t need the money, but I needed to use the time Thomas was away to benefit myself and not waste precious moments. I will forever be grateful for the education and experience of this exemplary school of higher learning. Plus, I was allowed to remain in my “city of dreams.”
Thomas’s brother, Max, and Max’s girlfriend, Elizabeth Eisenhour, also attended with me. Max earned a law degree. Today, he is one of the brightest and highest-paid attorneys in South Carolina. Elizabeth and I both are proud of our writing. Frequently, before I moved to Scotland, we hosted book signings together at the local stores. The bond that formed among the three of us saved my life when I became older. Their love prevented me from ever feeling lonely or living alone.
Speaking of older, I now considered my past. My heritage was well-documented in the annals of Charlestonian history, as were those of Thomas. Therefore, I didn’t need to spend hours investigating my roots. Instead, a family member researched all that information years earlier so that the Corbett family women might obtain membership in one of the most illustrious organizations in the United States. My membership in the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) filled my need for any ancient links. For as long as I could remember, the women in my family attended meetings and developed a proud bond with this prominent group.
When Thomas began to question me about my ancestors, I found his interest fascinating and offered to help him discover his past. For many years, we worked on tracing his bloodline, which we found began in Aberdeenshire (Gaelic: Siorrachd Ober Dheathain); this was in the Aberdeen area of northwestern Scotland. The Clan Reid name surfaced in historical documents before the fourteenth century. It was officially a sept of the Clan Robertson. Upon discovering all of this, he was hooked, even developing a fondness for the Gaelic language. He became proficient at speaking and reading while I always struggled with it. Frequently, in the evenings, we listened to Scottish music with the bagpipe and fiddle. I had grown fond of it. My love often danced what he described as a jig, but I had my doubts. He was great at many things, but dancing wasn’t one of them.
For a while, I was happy knowing my patriot ancestor, who fought in the Revolutionary War. My noble family member had allowed me entrance into a sisterhood that I loved. So often, I visited the grave of this family member, where a tall stone obelisk stood proudly in Charleston’s private cemetery. Thomas sometimes accompanied me, and we laid flowers on the grave of a hero. Such pride consumed me.
At that point, I didn’t understand Thom’s obsession with locating ancient documents from his past. So when I assisted him while he dug in dusty old journals, I thought, Why not join him? How much farther might I trace my family links? What I discovered was much more than ties to Britain; I located my clan, the Corbetts’ history.
My family hailed from the Normandy area of France. Their illustrious story kept me digging deep into the night for additional information. The knowledge we gleaned changed both of us. I realized our calling was more than someday raising exemplary children, which was a commendable calling, but we felt compelled to assist in a global way. We longed to accomplish greatness by educating others about the impact of ecology and conservation on our struggling planet.
While Thomas proudly studied his past, I discovered that the Corbett ancestry was more complex than his, thanks to Thomas’s quest. He worked hard during the day in his sleek new architectural office while we pored over countless websites involving ancestry in the evenings. Most days, I worked on developing my latest novel. As a couple, we prepared ourselves for a future time when we might relocate to another land—a place that held our beginnings. As we discovered bits and pieces from our research, we became emboldened to move to a new location away from our beloved South.
My husband became obsessed with everything Scottish as he longed to understand the illustrious history of his Reid Clan, so did I. Before long, he began to talk about the memorable past of this great land from which he hailed. Constantly, he researched a nation that had stolen his heart. He spoke of an earlier time when wolves ran free while he pined for the extinct lines, and there were many. Our hearts shattered when we became aware of our land’s broken environment and the damage executed to it in the name of “progress.”
Thomas spoke of Britain, which was once largely and magnificently forested. “So, this is progress?” he asked.
“Can you imagine a Scotland where large carnivores, such as wolves, bears, and lynx, roam in a protected area? One where those species can’t be a danger to residents? What if we, Thomas Baxter Reid, and the belle of Charleston, Caroline Emma Corbett Reid, moved there and started a nature reserve, one that provided excellent facilities?
“We could even build a lodge or two and offer patrons a chance to experience a rich environment. Maybe people could walk on nature trails and enjoy pristine waters around beautiful lakes? Those lakes could be well-stocked with brown trout and other desirable species. Can you imagine restocking Scotland with the animals that died because of the deforestation of the countryside?
“What good is all of the crops and livestock if we killed innocent, beloved animals and ruined our planet? I’m particularly interested in the reintroduction of the wolf. Is that even possible? They disappeared from the record in the early 1700s in Scotland. Can we offer a wild and raw place and support endangered species so that we can slowly create a fenced/controlled wolf reserve? It would probably resemble Romania today. If only we might initiate a plan to transport the Scottish wildcat and wolf, I would be happy.” His dark eyes sparkled as he spoke. It was apparent to me that if he was to find happiness, we must move to Scotland. Our ties with our country would remain, but for a while, we must follow our hearts.
“Couldn’t we just move to our beloved Cape San Blas in Florida? It sure would be easier. We both loved it there.”
“What? Caroline, what are you rambling about?” He appeared confused.
“Don’t you remember when I saw the large American black bear? He was huge. They have coyotes, bears, wild boars, and alligators, just to mention a few. Think of that! The Cape has black bears, but Scotland doesn’t.”
I realized my argument for remaining in the US was meager, but I had to try. How could I leave everyone and everything, even my country, without offering resistance?
The last time we went to Cape San Blas in Florida, with Max and Elizabeth Eisenhour, who was now his wife, before departing for college, came to mind. Thom and I had spent hours in our kayak. Often, we found ourselves surrounded by a pod of dolphins. It was magical watching them swim so close to us. It felt like I could lean over and touch them. But, of course, I wouldn’t do that. Never would I take a chance of harming one of those magnificent creatures. The sounds they made as they breathed filled my dreams.
I tried to picture this new land that my love championed. Frequently, he described a place with snowy mountains and the clear water of an ocean where dolphins and whales played in protected waters, surrounded by people who loved and supported them. I remembered his earlier dreams of a magical land where animals surrounded us. Was our mission in life to protect those majestic creatures who longed for human companionship?
One night, while the four of us summered on the Cape, the incident mentioned above occurred. We had enjoyed an especially exquisite meal from chef. We all felt festive. Before retiring to bed, I noticed a trash bag that she forgot to deposit in the outside garbage container. Since the others had already gone to their rooms, I grabbed it. As I hurried outside, I heard strange sounds, grunting, and growling. Are Thomas and my brother-in-law Max playing a trick on me?
“Okay, guys, this is funny. I know it’s you, so don’t act silly.” I continued toward the garbage can and saw a large, hairy form. They’ll go to any length to torment me! Again, I laughed loudly. Then, to my amazement, a large, well-fed black bear turned to face me. He didn’t appear to be afraid of me. Instead, he just lumbered away. He never even turned around to give me a second look. I threw down the bag and scurried back inside. I phoned our chef in a panic.
“Oh, him, that’s the local American black bear. He won’t hurt you. In fact, he’s kind of domesticated, although I wouldn’t try to be too chummy. I hope you didn’t throw the bag on the ground. You’ll have a mess waiting for you tomorrow! Most of us have bear locks on our trash bins to avoid his rummaging. That may be something you want to consider; good night, great evening!” The phone clicked.
Yes, I had thought. Cape characters are eccentric, as are those in Charleston. But what about the good people of Scotland? They also sound extraordinary. I laughed as I considered kilts, bagpipes, haggis, neeps, and tatties. What awaited me if we ever made this move? The more time that passed, the more questions and excitement filled me.
Dearest Scotland, my beloved, you may take the prize for eccentricity after all. I had envisioned Thomas standing before me dressed in his cherished kilt. Instead, I heard the distant whine of bagpipes. Surely something was at play. We appeared destined to head to an unknown land because of his dreams.
As my husband worked to establish a solid architectural education elsewhere, inside my fair coastal town of salty breezes and perfect mansions, I realized that life as I knew it would change soon enough.
Upon his graduation from university, we were married in my Methodist church. Our wedding was a lavish, formal affair. That early spring evening of June 6 produced perfect weather for the wedding called “The Wedding of the Century” by The Post and Courier. Excitement had surrounded our two families as the dreams of Caroline Emma Corbett, and Thomas Baxter Reid blossomed.
I had been embarrassed by the lengthy article on our extravagant celebration, but both of our families were well-connected and highly successful. Max, Thomas’s older brother, had married his love, Elizabeth Eisenhour, a year earlier. Thom and I wanted Jack, their firstborn, to walk down the aisle with us, but he was too young. Our church filled with friends and family members.
That special day was beyond my wildest dreams. Max stood beside his brother. The two weren’t just handsome; they were breathtaking. With significant struggles, together, we wrote our vows and proclaimed our love to each other in Gaelic, mentioning the land we dreamed of discovering. Our tie to the ageless history of glens and Caledonian pine forests stirred our very souls.
Our clan Coat of Arms, the Reid and Corbett families' emblems, proudly hung inside our new historic home near The Battery of Charleston. We had grown up side-by-side; I in a wedding-cake house and Thom in a house of gold. Both places were beloved in that city on The Battery.
As I pondered the Corbett emblem, which featured a black crow, I told Thom that it was more interesting than the Reid Clan’s red-colored one, which denoted red hair and a ruddy complexion. Max fit that mold to perfection with his shining copper hair. However, my love’s appearance, as in all things, was different. His blond hair and chocolate eyes allowed him the possibility of hailing from several places. We found mention of Vikings and pirates in secret documents of his antiquity. My husband even purchased a kilt, which was not so strange in Charleston due to a heavy Scottish influence in the first days of the Charleston settlements; a strong bond still existed between Charleston, South Carolina, and the land we had yet to visit. Frequently, Thom began to sport the kilt to the local restaurants.
Many of the early settlers of Charleston were of Scots-Irish descent. They traveled from northern New England and Mid-Atlantic states, such as Pennsylvania. They possessed a particular ruggedness due to years of religious persecution they had suffered in Scotland and Ireland. My husband carried himself well with his muscular body. He also appeared rugged.
When my family’s patriot was killed during the Revolutionary War, American soldiers bravely fought for freedom. They took part in every battle that was fought within South Carolina. Due to their bravery, the tide of the Revolution soon turned in the South. My husband and I recognized that Southerners possessed that same roughness as the Scottish citizen.
Scottish emigration to the colonies soared to 145,000 between 1707 and 1775. The Scots had better incentives to emigrate due to poorer conditions. When England and Scotland joined in 1707, forming the United Kingdom, they received access to all of the colonies. This perk was another reason for the increase in migration.
The Scottish Diaspora was in three separate streams: Lowland Scots, Highland Scots, and Ulster-Scots. The Ulster-Scots were commonly referred to as Scots-Irish. Many people refer to them as Irish-Scot, but that is not correct. The correct reference is Scots-Irish. In the 1740s, the upcoming French and Indian War (1754-1763) caused more frequent Indian raids along the Pennsylvania frontier. Many Scots-Irish took to the Great Wagon Road from there to North and South Carolina states.
The Scots-Irish were mainly Protestant, while most of the Irish in the Carolinas were Catholic. The significant influx of Scots-Irish into South Carolina began in the late 1730s. By 1790, the US Census indicated almost 32.9% Scots and 11.7% Irish living in that state. Today, the sense of connection between the two areas remains inside Charleston.
Thomas found the correlation significant, and he persuaded me with such facts to make a move. I agreed that there was more than a kindred spirit between the two areas; there was even more than a bond of ancestry. What seemed to exist was a deep and abiding love and respect for each other. All of these facts allowed me peace to leave my family, friends, and even my country for a place that I had never seen. However, our ending wasn’t what I hoped. My love for Scotland will always remain.
I remained uncomfortable while the fire continued to blaze in the room. Whoever built that inferno meant to protect me, but from what? Where is Thomas? Am I dying? I remembered reading that just before someone passed, their life flashed before their eyes. Then, without warning, vivid memories, hiding in the recesses of my mind, rolled out in perfect detail. Is it reasonable to remember events from five years of age?
My first memory of Thomas Baxter Reid flooded my mind in vivid parts. It was a blustery cold day inside The Battery of Charleston, South Carolina. At the age of five, I had pirouetted in my perfect form, at least perfect to me, in front of my window. The moving trucks had finally departed after depositing our treasures inside the new home, which seemed like a castle. I noticed a handsome young boy around my age looking at my house. He stood in the back driveway, staring up as if he could see me.
I now giggled like a five-year-old as I vividly recalled that day. But, unfortunately, my vain attempt to wave at him now, tonight, was thwarted by my inability to move my hands.
Maybe, briefly, I had become that little child from long ago. Anything remained possible in this night of suspended time. It felt incredulous to laugh while in my situation. Most people might have experienced terror or panic, but I didn't. Instead, I laughed at old memories. Maybe, I've injured my brain?
Although the young boy from long ago stared, it was impossible that he could see me unless he had an extraordinary vision that could penetrate the antique windows and shutters. Shamelessly, I watched this handsome creature with shining blond hair and large chocolate-colored eyes. A powerful sense told me that the boy who stood before me would be a major player in my life.
Momma's image now followed that of my husband as I recalled being homeschooled by her. Without a doubt, my momma was the most beautiful woman in the world. Long blond hair cascaded around the face of an angel. Like me, she was small, with a smile that would soften the hearts of all she met. Her eyes were deep brown and shone outward from the fairest skin, also like mine. When she walked, her steps were like the glide of an angel. Lightly, she trod this earth. Her voice was soft, almost musical, when she cuddled me at night. I was an only child. Oh, how I miss her.
My being an only child pleased me because of all the drama next door at the Reid house. The two boys there, Maxwell and Thomas, constantly competed in everything. Once Thom and I proclaimed our desire to wed, Max hounded me with taunts and silly insults at the age of five. I preferred my peaceful home to their constant drama. People could say what they liked about large families, but mine felt perfect to me.
That memory faded as another one played faster than I ever dreamed. Upon graduation from college, my new husband and I had settled into our small historic cottage located only blocks from the wedding-cake house where I was born and the golden home of the Reid family inside The Battery of Charleston. The new home that Thom and I purchased was brick that we painted a shining white; it was reminiscent of the earlier home, the wedding-cake house that I had loved.
Mrs. Reid had shocked the neighborhood when she painted their tired old red brick a flaming gold many years earlier. In the evenings, it beckoned because the gold appeared to be solid 24 karats. Behind it lay a brand-new infinity swimming pool where we spent most of our young lives. Did secrets we whispered into those stifling, honeysuckle nights remain suspended in the air?
Years earlier, my husband and I had agreed not to have children. That was fine with me. My deep love for him and writing surely would be enough. So my books became my children while I loved each one. At least around Charleston, they had become popular, while my husband's reputation as an architect blossomed. Life was good until Momma died suddenly. To this day, I will forever hear Josey, our beloved family maid, calmly tell me that Momma "was gone." I wondered why Josey would call to alert me that Momma had gone somewhere.
"Well, where did she go?" I asked. At that moment, Thomas burst into our house. Charleston wasn't that small, with a population of 802,122 residents. Nevertheless, as in most southern towns, the locals were very tight, so word reached him at about the same time that I heard the news.
My attachment to Josey was that of a child to a mother. Yet, I loved her just as much. She was the one who dried my tears and put the Band-Aids on my knees. If I wanted answers, she seemed more attuned to what I needed—more than Momma.
Lovingly, I recalled how I found out about my unknown uncle, that scoundrel Robert Corbett. Whenever I thought of him, the ugly face of Edward Teach (Blackbeard), who was a greedy, bloodthirsty man, came to the forefront of my mind. I supposed Momma and Daddy thought I didn't need to know about my unknown relative, but Josey believed I did. So that evening, when I trod down the stairs to her small apartment at the foot of them, I hesitated before I knocked on the door. Even though Josey often brought me here, Momma insisted that I must never knock at her door. It was okay if Josey took me there, but I must never bother her. I had only done this once before. Momma always stressed this was Josey's "little house," which was her "off" time, so we shouldn't be a nuisance. I knew my friend wouldn't mind, no matter what Momma said.
Gently, I knocked, but there was no response. It was late. Softly, I opened the door. The gentle snores which greeted me made me smile. Our beloved maid refused to cut back on her work, and I realized she must be tired.
"Josey, Josey!" I whispered into the perfumed air of her simple rooms. The flowers that she took from Mrs. Reid's trash next door looked fresh to me. I waited.
"Miss Caroline? That you, honey?" Poor Josey, her silver hair stood up on end as she slowly moved toward me. She looked like a ghost. Still, I waited. If Daddy or Momma found us, there would be more drama. I couldn't take much more of the whispers around our wedding-cake house. But, something was up, and I would find the truth here, tonight, from Josey.
"Josey, yes, it's me. You know why I'm here. Tell me who Robert is." I stood on the threshold, waiting for her to invite me inside.
Josey motioned with her right hand that I could enter. "Where'd you hear that name? I don't know of a Robert." I knew she avoided the subject because she wouldn't look at me, and her gaze continuously darted around my presence.
"Now, you see here, Josephine. If my mother knows him, so do you. So, fess up! I'm not leaving until you talk."
Josey looked relieved. I knew she wanted to tell me but not without being forced. I had just compelled her. She moved deliberately like maybe her hip hurt. She rubbed the right one as she walked. I never saw her do that, but this was her private space. There was no pretense here.
She motioned for me to sit at her four-chair little chrome table. Mom had insisted over and over that we replace it, but the old thing was from her past. She loved it and refused Momma's offer for a new and better set. The chairs had red plastic backs and seats. One contained a significant split; I sat there. Then, automatically, she began to make hot chocolate with a "ton of cream." I smiled. My friend was such a nurturer.
"If I's tell you this, I's putting myself in a bad place. Your parents won't take kindly to me meddling in family affairs." She kept looking at the door like she was expecting them to break into the room. Again, I waited. I knew that if I pushed too hard, she would clam up and never explain things.
Wearily, she lowered herself into the chair beside me with her own cup of cocoa, sans the cream. She looked far away when she began the story that changed my life, like in a trance. No one could tell a story like Josey. On many evenings when Momma and Daddy left me with her, Josey would tell scary tales that would keep me awake for several nights. But, of course, I never told my parents. I feared that they might stop her. Josey was quite the drama queen.
"Let me begin by telling you again that if your momma or daddy ever hears that I's told you their business, well, I's be in trouble for sure. But, Miss Caroline, I's just not comfortable doing this." She moved to stand but instead lowered her eyes.
I did understand that I placed her in an uncomfortable position, but what would my parents do to her? Fire her? Never, because since I could remember, there was Josey.
Josephine Nellie Hendricks was a part of our family. Her ancestors were forced to flee Charleston in 1670. They were slaves brought from the English colony of Barbados. The family worked for a group of wealthy planters who owned acreage in Charleston’s surrounding area. The home they occupied was destroyed in a fire centuries earlier, but the family remained tied to Charleston's history. Antiquity filled my beloved Charleston with good and evil, as everywhere else must attest. Beloved Josey had seldom referenced those days that faded into her past. I guessed it was so painful. It was now too late for me to ask her to share her memories. It would have probably pleased her if I had shown interest in her life events, but I never had time for such things back then. Yes, Charleston held demons hidden in her past.
“Aye, and Scotland, you are not free from your times of forced captivity!” Then, shouting the words in my overheated room, inside Alladale, I shook my head. I’m becoming terribly confused. I considered that the heat might have cooked my brain.
So many thoughts overtook me. They jumped from one to another in my muddled mind as it searched…for what? Panic filled me. An urgent feeling that I must remember each word Thom had ever uttered. Moving at lightning speed, bits and pieces of his life were delivered. I saw his face hovering before me. He appeared angry as if I wasn’t paying proper attention to his instructions, which began as whispers but quickly escalated to shouts.
“Throughout history, there were reports of both the Scottish and Welsh who took captives as slaves during their raids. Such action appeared to cease in the thirteenth century. See Scotland; you also have a history of slaves. Just look at what you have done to my wife!” Hearing those words in my mind made me realize that I, too, was a slave. Not like Josey but in a different way; I was also bound and stripped of my freedom.
“Thomas, you are angry at me. What have I done?” He continued to hover over me as a vision.
Suddenly, I recalled sitting with Thomas on many evenings in Charleston while watching the adults outside the large windows of his golden house, surrounded by the darkness. We whispered stories of slaves, ghosts, and pirates. I now realized that there existed a history of them both inside Charleston and Scotland; legends fanned our fears. Josey had fueled our love for these obsessions.
With the thought of ghosts, I now witnessed Paula Prissy Peterson's face. That beautiful face woke me from a deep sleep. I hated to be forced from the gentle arms of respite to deal with this overheated room of doom. My entire body was drenched with sweat, even though the room was now quite chilly. Will her spirit never leave me? Why do I see HER face? Is she coming for me? Finally, I passed out, either from fear or weariness. I was transported to the sixth-grade dance, the time when I learned the meaning of death. I cried out, "Please, don't make me remember this. Haven't I suffered enough? What have I done? Please, help me! Go away, Paula. I've paid for my meanness to you."
When the new kid had first moved to our slice of heaven inside Charleston, I didn’t like her. She competed with me for the love of my Thomas. Already, at the age of five, I loved him. I also treasured his brother Max. The Reid boys passed me from one to the other through the years. Never did it enter my mind to find a new boyfriend. There was no one else. I had named Paula “Prissy Peterson” in my attempt to turn Thom from her.
"Caroline, turn one more time toward Max! That's it, honey; you guys look so great. Paula, take Thom's hand, yes, that's the way, sweetie, beautiful! Okay, let's get one more."
Daddy and Momma had gone crazy. Dad had produced a large camera that he never used until this special night. Later in the evening, we would be grateful for the photos of a beloved person happily laughing before a tragic death.
"Daddy, you have like a gazillion photos. That's enough!" Daddy laughed with glee.
I had to admit that the four of us had shone on that special evening. By this time, I had made peace with Paula. I realized that I couldn’t change Thom’s infatuation with the lovely blond girl. Max was my boyfriend at the time; the Reid boys had once again switched me as they did until they found someone better. One of them always came back to me.
Max looked like a polished copper penny on that fateful evening while his blond-haired brother glowed. Paula's cobalt-blue dress gleamed like sapphires. My burgundy dress reminded me of a glass of Momma's claret, which she now enjoyed.
Finally, Daddy stepped back with his camera. Alex, the Peterson's driver, had stood quietly by the front door during this period of family memories while my parents and those of Max and Thom gabbed away. The Petersons couldn't see us off because Mrs. Peterson, Emily, was hosting a significant gala at her art gallery. Paula's family was seldom in town. Most of the time, Paula stayed with her nanny, Gloria.
Alex appeared eager to get us moving. "Sir, we should get the young people loaded into the car. We have to drive across town for the other two." He nodded and smiled at our little group.
I could tell that Daddy didn't want us to leave. Did he have a feeling, as I did, that something ominous was about to occur? Slowly, he walked with us to the door as the others continued to laugh. Mom and Mrs. Reid were enjoying another glass of claret as our dad's sipped beers. Life was good. They seemed proud of us. How could we know what waited?
Daddy opened the door. He frowned. "Oh, no, it's raining. The meteorologists have it wrong yet again. Let me get some umbrellas. Now, Alex, you be sure and bring this beauty back to me." He waved a giant black parasol with white engravings that glowed on the handle toward the young driver, who nodded with a grin. Poor Alex, his life was about to be destroyed. After this night, I would never see him again.
I felt Max's hand on my right arm as we stepped down the wet steps. I turned, and I'll never forget seeing Thom and Paula teetering on the top level. They appeared happy as Thomas clasped her hand, just as their fingers clenched so tightly in an earlier childhood dream. We were all laughing and gay; this night was the first big event in our young lives. There was no stopping us!
Gaily, we huddled in the back seat of the Bentley. Recently, the Petersons traded in their Bentley sedan for a Bentayga, which had seven seats. It was dark blue and gray like the other one had been, which matched the color of their pristine house. Everything about this new family seemed perfect.
Slowly, Alex backed out of our drive and headed across town to pick up Lyle and Shelly. They were friends of the others at their private school. I had never gone to school because I was homeschooled and was nervous about going to a real one. But, of course, that was the disadvantage of homeschooling—I had become a bit of a loner. So whenever I thought about attending a public gathering, I became anxious.
Unending laughter filled the car, almost drowning out the sound of the torrential downpour. The wind blew the rain in sheets as pieces of shrubs and small trees hit the vehicle. Daddy was correct: they sure called it wrong tonight. I knew that if my daddy had known about this monsoon, he would have insisted that our chauffeur, Bryan, drive us. Not because of anything against Alex, but that was my daddy.
I seldom ventured into this part of town. My world existed in The Battery and a few surrounding streets. There was nothing for me in this area. It wasn't that I was a snob, but I had no friends here or any other reason to come into this place. Becoming aware of the driving rain, we soon quieted. The arrangement was that we would drive to Shelly's house. This kid, Lydell, her date, would be waiting for us there with Shelly. When we pulled up to the small house, I realized that I knew nothing of this girl's world. Everyone I knew had chauffeurs and lived in mansions. It wasn't necessary, but I realized another world out there that I had never experienced. Shelly's little cottage appeared sad and unkempt.
We remained quiet as Alex carried Daddy's umbrella to the small house. I could see his big smile as he waited while getting pelted by the storm. He was a great guy. I supposed it was Mrs. Thorpe who opened the door. Her rose dress looked pretty. The white apron suggested that she must be cooking. I would come to know that Shelly's mom looked like an older version of her daughter with long blond hair that swept off her face. She was lovely. Mrs. Thorpe waved to us with a worried look as she gazed up into the heavens. For a brief moment, she hesitated. Then Shelly’s mom glanced at us again. We all waved back but realized that she probably couldn't see us.
Alex remained standing in the rain as he courteously awaited the others. Then, in a matter of minutes, the two kids barreled toward us. There were no photo sessions from this little family, or maybe they were finished. I could hear Lydell teasing Alex about something. The chauffeur sheltered them from the rain; Daddy's umbrella was getting quite a workout. When the two young people climbed into the car, I'll never forget their faces. Shelly's hair looked stunning in an up-do, much like Paula's and mine. Her soft yellow dress suited her, and Lydell took my breath away in his white blazer and dark blue slacks. It was funny that all three girls wore almost the same style of dress but in different colors. Both guys wore white jackets and dark slacks, except Max, who insisted on wearing some retro-hipster suit of orange and green. Only he could have pulled it off without looking tacky.
The new Bentley was rated as the top luxury car in the world. We breathed deeply of that luxurious new car smell. All of us knew how blessed we were. As we approached the academy, Alex completely halted at a stop sign. When he began to move ahead, out of nowhere, quickly, a speeding vehicle plowed into the right side of the car. I remembered hearing him shout. The hit jarred us, and the noise of the impact was impossibly loud. There were no sounds from us. Immediately, Alex slammed on the brakes. We all jerked forward then were slapped backward into our seats.
Paula moved differently. Maybe she was trying to turn to look at the four of us behind her. I'm not sure, but I was watching as her head smacked into the side window. It made a sickening sound. We all assured Alex that we were okay so that he could move the vehicle across the street into the academy's drive. Although we were dazed and shaking, it appeared we had all survived without harm.
Our driver sustained a bloody nose and clutched a handkerchief to it. Such a hard rain caused the blood to dilute when it ran in a little stream from his nose. I noticed that he was shaking all over. A crowd assembled in the rain. The headmaster ran toward us. I saw that he didn't carry an umbrella. I wanted to remind Alex to share Daddy's with him. When Dr. Bauer, the headmaster, opened Paula's door, she fell out onto the wet pavement. I heard his cry. The rest is a blur.
Everyone was yelling, and Alex fell to the ground beside Paula with loud sobs. Thomas ran to the limp girl in hysterics, picked her up from the wet tarmac, and gently hugged her. His screams pierced the air. For several minutes, that's all I heard. Rain poured from his blond hair, and his face glistened with it. The headmaster cradled the two soaked young people in his arms. There wasn't any blood from Paula, so I briefly wondered if she was joking. Seeing her lying on the pathway in that deluge, dressed in her gorgeous cobalt-blue dress, will always be a part of my psyche. Long strands of her beautiful blond hair hung in drenched sheets around her small angelic face.
Life stood still. Maybe Thomas never recovered from the loss of his first love. Yet, we referenced her for the remainder of our lives.
Even today, I experience trouble trying to recall the sequence of events. I remembered entering the school. The festive decorations and lights appeared silly. Beautiful dresses were bedraggled and stunning hairstyles now fell around wet, pale faces. They put Thom in an ambulance because he wouldn't stop screaming. My body was shaking so severely that I couldn't breathe; my teeth clattered as someone put Max and me inside a stranger's car. There was no new car smell. When we reached the hospital, our parents waited for us. Dr. Lafferty, our pediatrician, rushed to me with a big hug. I buried my face against his starched shirt and wished Josey was also there.
Thom spent the night in the hospital, highly sedated. Max and I were driven home by my daddy, who refused to allow our chauffeur to drive. The Reid family rode home with us; there was no sound but rain and wind incessant noise. Paula Quinn Peterson's death was my first experience with the Grim Reaper.
"I know you're coming for me! Why are you waiting? Please, come and get me. How much longer do I have to suffer?" My words were a murmur before I returned to that time long ago and the red dinette set. Paula's death was an essential link in our story.
Links to Purchase Print Books
Buy Castles in the Snow Print Edition at Amazon
Buy Castles in the Snow Print book for sale at Walmart
Links to Purchase eBooks – Click links for book samples and reviews
Buy Castles in the Snow On Amazon
All information was provided by the author and not edited by us. This is so you get to know the author better.