Meghan Bode’s Wintry Tale — Part 1 of 2

The blog turns two on Thursday. And to celebrate, both the anniversary and Halloween, Meghan Bode has offered the following little treat from her past. The conclusion will post on Thursday.

silv’ry dusk descends

drawing form from snowy earth

surely eyes deceive

Meghan Anderson grabs the dashboard as her fiancé pulls to the shoulder, avoiding the sliding, oncoming car.

“Damn it,” Rick Bode swears between clenched teeth. “Doesn’t it ever snow in Maryland? Don’t these idiots know to slow down?”

“Better get used to it if we’re moving out here. That’s our exit ahead.”

This summer, Meghan and Rick will wrap up their graduate studies and begin their careers near DC. But this is January, and Meghan’s working with her doctoral advisor on a plantation site in Maryland’s Prince George’s County. Rick is visiting over the winter break.

Rick slows the car before approaching the sharply curved ramp and eases onto the secondary road. Aging strip malls line the route.

“Nothing like Wisconsin, is it?” he says. “This’ll take some getting used to. How can there be any archaeology left?”

“There’s still open land when you get off the big highways. Try to imagine this place in 1790, with no cars and just a few old houses, churches, and businesses hugging the road. The blacksmith and miller would’ve lived here, near their shop and mill. Most people were farmers, though, and would’ve been scattered in the countryside.”

“Give me that empty road now,” Rick says as the car ahead of them slips over the center line. “So, what, this looked like Colonial Williamsburg?”

“Not so big. That was a capital. Think northern Wisconsin without the straight roads.”

“I’d rather not. Even with idiot drivers, give me a city.”

But now the strip malls have given way to trees and farms. Neither Meghan nor Rick expected such country to still exist within thirty miles of DC. In the fading afternoon light, they glimpse the charred skeleton of an old plantation house, set back from the old highway on an overgrown, tree-lined drive, the last remnant of a lost way of life.

“Why don’t they tear that down?” Rick asks.

“They will. A developer just bought the property. Another subdivision’s going up.”

“Now’s the time to buy, Megs. With the down payment from our folks, we can get a cheap fixer-upper or new townhouse. Imagine all that space.”

“Between finishing school and getting married this spring, you want to add long-distance house hunting to the mix?”

“I’ve already talked with an agent. He’ll show us some properties over spring break, and we can buy then. We’ll have a house ready by June.”

Meghan smiles, even though Rick is focused on the road ahead. She loves his drive and take-charge attitude, a good contrast to her more thoughtful and hesitant approach to decision-making.

Ground fog develops in the low-lying dips as they continue south. Ricks slows the car as visibility worsens.

“The next crossroad, right?” he asks.

Meghan scans the blanketed countryside for familiar landmarks. “About half-a-mile ahead. You’ll take a right when we get there.”

Yesterday, a nor’easter dumped 6 inches of snow and interrupted her fieldwork. Her advisor and two other students have spent the day processing artifacts back at the field house, waiting for a carpenter to fix the front door that refuses to stay shut after the storm. Winter veterans Meghan and Rick are returning from a research trip at the archives in Annapolis.

As they inch toward their destination, a wisp of fog emerges from the trees on the left, growing denser and brighter and reaching near-human height before stopping on the road before them.

“What the hell—” she says.

Rick stops the car. The mist hovers for a few moments and then drifts into the trees on the right, disappearing from view. “That was weird.”

“Have you ever seen fog do that in Wisconsin?”

“Nope. Guess it does in Maryland.”

“But it came from the air, not the ground.” Meghan shivers, despite the car’s warmth. “Let’s get going. It’ll be dark soon.”

Dusk has already fallen as Rick resumes their trek and turns onto the farm road that leads to the field house.

“Look—there it is again,” Meghan says, pointing up the road.

“Don’t be silly. That’s just more fog.”

Meghan leans forward in her seat. “Why doesn’t it move like the rest of it? Why is it silver and not gray?”

“Like you said, it’s coming from above, not rising from the ground. Being higher makes it look brighter.”

“Why isn’t there more?”

“Everything starts somewhere. Maybe it’s just the first of more to come. And I hope not before we’re back. How much farther to the house?”

“About a quarter-mile.”

“Just a few more minutes, then. After this drive, I’m ready for a beer.”

The mist picks up speed and again disappears into the trees. To Meghan, its movements run counter to conditions. With no breeze, the ground fog rises straight up. So how does the mist move horizontally and at a different rate?

They round the final curve to the house, their path now shrouded entirely in fog. Meghan gasps. Before them, the silvery patch hovers in the road again, as if waiting for them, brighter than the surrounding fog. In the headlights of the car, it seems more solid than before. Meghan almost believes she sees the shape of a woman.

“Rick—”

“Hell if I know,” he says, slowing the car. Ahead, the house looms in the darkness. “But we’re here.”

The mist moves toward the house. Purposely, Meghan thinks. Not drifting.

Rick parks the car in the drive. As one, he and Meghan watch the mist climb the stairs to the front door. A tendril extends, like a hand reaching for the knob.

Meghan’s heart races as the door opens and the mist disappears in the bright light of the hall. “That’s not fog.”

I hope you’ll stay tuned for the conclusion on Thursday.

51 thoughts on “Meghan Bode’s Wintry Tale — Part 1 of 2

    • I was hoping I could pull this off in time for the blogiversary. 😉 And I didn’t want to say anything in case I would jinx myself.

      It’s even spookier—Kate and I also share the same birthday, although I’m a few years older. Cosmic twins!

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  1. I will definitely look for the conclusion on Thursday! What a great morning read. My thoughts are brimming with questions – is this part of your novel, or a freewrite to establish backstory? Do you have a connection to Wisconsin? Just curious, as I lived there for 5 years in my teens. Love the old photos – did you create them? Add the ghost? The photo up top reminds me of the kinds of winter days I love, as long as I don’t have to leave the house! Great, fun post.

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    • Thanks, Gwen! This is some backstory for my Meghan Bode character, who’s had two other short stories on the blog. Although I’ve been sidetracked from her first novel, that’s still in the works. This was a fun way to visit with her while I work on a different novel.

      There is indeed a Wisconsin connection. My husband grew up near Green Bay (Go Pack!), and we spent two years in Madison after grad school. The photos are mine—all from a snowy Christmas at Colonial Williamsburg a few years ago. I used PaintShop Pro to convert the last two to either daguerreotype or albumen prints. I can’t remember which offhand. Then I airbrushed the fog and “ghost” into the final photo. I think I did okay for a first attempt at something like that. 😉

      I’m glad Meghan decided to share this little tale from her past. I’ve missed her on the blog. (Shh, please don’t tell her I said that—she might want to “pants” another story live on the blog again!)

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      • Well, I really enjoyed reading it. Looking forward to the continuation today – and I appreciate the backstory on the photos & location!

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  2. JM, just great! This was effortless to read — the pacing perfect and I really look forward to reading about what happens next. For some reason I picture Meghan as a brunette and smallish in stature. I don’t know if I’ve read that in your past writings but I’d like more insight into what they (Meghan and Rick) look like — have you written this already? Or do you want the reader to imagine that for themselves? I’m a visual person so it’s probably just me. Though I already have them “pictured” in the car driving through inclement weather and coming upon this weird fog. I loved it!

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    • Thanks, Brigitte! I’m a bit rusty when it comes to these Meghan stories, so I hoped people would enjoy this one. Meghan’s about 5’5″ with brown eyes and blonde hair. “Average looking” according to Tom Sandberg in her first story. She also wears stylish glasses. Rick’s probably just under 6 foot with dark hair and eyes. Beyond that, I leave physical descriptions up to the reader. I want you to fill in your own details as you see the characters. That’s also why I won’t say something like “I’d like to see Famous Actor A play Meghan Bode.” Not that it would ever happen, but I’d also prefer “unknown” actors to portray them in any future movies. 😉

      And if Carrie Rubin happens to read this reply, I say definitely NO to Miley Cyrus as Meghan! There’s a funny story there that she should recount. 🙂

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  3. Very spooky! I love how you described the scary driving and then to make the whole ordeal even scarier – the ghost. They do seem to like to hang around in the fog – maybe because they try to use it as camouflage. Great photo with the ghost in there too!

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    • Thanks, Sheila! I had some fun playing with PaintShop Pro on those last two photos. Describing the driving was easy—that’s how bad drivers are out here when it comes to bad weather! I’m glad Meghan was willing to share this bit of her history with us. 😉

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    • Hmm, that King vibe is purely unintentional…. I only read a couple of his first books back in the day before deciding they were too much for me. This is just a fun little two-parter, but I was hoping readers would enjoy a glimpse of her younger days and a Halloween-friendly experience. 🙂

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    • Thanks, Char! I’m so glad Meghan shared this experience from her younger days for Halloween. I didn’t want to say anything in advance in case I couldn’t get it done in time for this year. 🙂

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  4. Very interesting! I love the final sentence – it really ties the whole thing together, while still leaving us hanging for the conclusion. And I hear it’s halloween soon, so this story seems very timely!

    It’s great that you post so many snippets of your writing online – it gives us a chance to get to know some of your characters.

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    • Thanks, Rhiannon! I’ve been out of practice with Meghan’s stories, so I really wasn’t sure how this little two-part bit of backstory would go over. Meghan really enjoys cliffhangers for some reason, but I think that’s good practice for ending scenes and chapters with “hooks” to keep a reader going for “just one more.”

      Now, if I can just get enough written on the WIPs to share some more snippets!

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  5. I really enjoyed this JM! Your pace is fast and cut to the point, yet you manage to create an eerie, mystical tone that kept me intrigued. Also your dialogue is real and moves the story forward. Love the ghostly fog – I’ll keep an eye out on Halloween. Ooooooh

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    • Thanks, Gemma! I really wanted to get into the “spirit” of Halloween with a blog post. Some writers are sooo good at that. So I was happy when Meghan offered this experience from her grad school days. I hope it will be a fun bit of backstory for readers. 🙂 I have to admit, I’m pleased with the way my dialogue writing has improved since 2009. Now, if only some other aspects could catch up!

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  6. Suitably spooky! 🙂 I doubt Rick and Meghan will get much quiet visiting-pre-nuptials time with this burgeoning mystery.

    But, yeah, man. I totally empathize with Rick. These mid-Atlantic drivers, they suck in the wintertime. 😉

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    • Well, this is a simple two-parter, so things can’t get too hairy. 😉 And you know Rick will be complaining about Mid-Atlantic drivers for a long, long time. Down here, they’re bad all year long!

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    • Thank you, Scott! I’m hoping that November will see better progress on the writing front. I’m hoping to draw some energy from the folks participating in NaNoWriMo.

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  7. Oooh, I wish I didn’t wait until evening to read this! Very spooky and that picture with the ghost was too perfect. If I have a nightmare I know who to blame 😉 This was great JM and I loved getting some backstory on Meghan. I can’t wait for part 2 but I definitely plan to read it’d during the day!!

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    • I hope you didn’t have any bad dreams last night! And I’m sure Rick’s right and there’s a logical explanation for what they saw and experienced. 😉 Meghan had a lot of fun with this little two-parter, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she sneaks in something else like this for some future posts!

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      • I didn’t have bad dreams but when I woke up it was SO foggy this morning I immediately thought of your fog/ghost 🙂 I’m looking forward to the next part of the story. Tell Meghan she should definitely do a few more of these! They’re fun!!

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  8. What a neat way to show us more of Meghan and her past. I love that you used the Halloween vibe to dip into your story. Spooky stories are much better at this time of year.

    Where in the world did you find that photo? That is too awesome.

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    • Thanks, Kate. 🙂 It was really nice of Meghan to share this little incident for Halloween. I was hoping for something a bit special for it and the blogiversary, and she came through with flying colors.

      I took all three photos at Colonial Williamsburg a few years ago over a very snowy Christmas. Then I used my PaintShop Pro software to turn the last two shots into “old-time” prints. Then I used the airbrush feature to add the fog and “ghost.” It was fun to play with it—and far less stressful than planning and pulling off a big Halloween party. 😉

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    • Spooky, but never any horror or violence! I can’t read anything like that, let alone write it. 😉 I’m glad readers are enjoying the tale. Meghan really misses her Tuesday posts.

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  9. p.s. Just came back to read the comments, as I was wondering if you created the “ghosts” in these photos. I see from your reply (to Gwen on 10/29) that you did! wow! I’ve never had the guts to fiddle with photo editting programs/apps and I’m impressed with your great results first time out(!!??)

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    • The ghostly touches and such are a first, but I use the photo/drawing software for work, so the basic learning curve was behind me. PaintShop Pro is similar to Adobe Photoshop, but much more affordable. It might not do everything Adobe does, but most of us don’t need that level of professional software!

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    • Thanks, Kourtney! I was really glad when she offered this adventure from her past for the anniversary posts. 🙂 I wasn’t sure I could pull it off, so I kept quiet about it before hand. 😉

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  10. Sometimes it’s good to be late to a reading…now I get to go right to part 2. Oooh…and I’m reading this on Halloween. So fun.

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    • I debated about whether to split it into two parts or leave it as a single post. But given Meghan’s love of cliffhangers, I had to do two. 😉 Glad you enjoyed it!

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