ONCE UPON A HALLOWEEN
A Wicked and Wild Cozy Anthology
I am so honored to have been selected to participate in the Once Upon A Halloween Anthology. There are so many talented authors in this collection. I’m even fangirling a little bit at some of the names! My short story, A Witchy Spookfest (part of my Witches of Whispering Pines world), is included. Scroll down for an excerpt from my story!
About Once Upon A Halloween
Once Upon a hallowed eve…
Halloween, the day where the veil between the normal and the paranormal is as thin as a whisker on a witch’s chin…
Twenty-three original cozy mysteries cook up tales of fun, mayhem, and murder!
With a sprinkle of seniors with sharp minds and smart mouths, a dash of witches with familiars and more sass than sense, and a pinch of whodunits in quaint little towns.
Once Upon a Halloween has your next favorite author. Who will it be?
Nearly Departed by Patti Larsen
A String of Perils by Penelope Cress
The Clown, The Witch & The Cat by Steven Higgs
Witch’s First Zombie by Valia Lind
Costumes & Cadavers by Katherine H. Brown
Aos si by Tommy Ueland
Pumpkins and Premonitions by Martina Dalton
Bait and Click by Kari Ganske
Candy Korn Killer by Brittany E. Brinegar
A Witchy Spookfest by Rhonda Hopkins
Sweet Scary Deal by Judith A. Barrett
The Black Rose by Louise R. Innes
Murder and the Showgirl by Lynda Brunelle
Murder at the Pawstume Party: A Pupcakes and Pawtries Cozy Mystery by Daphne McLean
Halloween Cat Crimes by Julia Koty
Tea is for Tricks by Karen Sue Walker
Take Your Pixie by Willow Mason
A Shaman’s Samhain by Belinda White
Scandal at Samhain by Carly Reid
The Mystery of Alice by K.E. O’Connor
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow-Point by Linda M. Au
Hunting Witches by Annie Whittaker
Halloween Hoedowns Can Be Deadly by Ryan Rivers
Excerpt from A Witchy Spookfest
A Witchy Spookfest:
A Witches of Whispering Pines Short Story
By Rhonda Hopkins ©2021
Pumpkins. Ghosts. And, a body.
I slapped my hands over my ears, as if it would cut out the repeated “whee” sounds coming from the small brown owl doing loop-de-loops above our heads. It only made Trixie’s voice echo louder, but being my witch’s familiar, no one could hear her but me.
“Beatrix!” I shouted, and she came to a stop over me. She hovered for a couple of seconds before plummeting toward the ground.
“Use your wings! Use your wings,” I cried. I sighed in relief when she began flapping them again. Her flight smoothed out and she came to rest on my shoulder.
“Oh my gosh! I thought for sure she was going to go splat!” My best friend, Grace Sullivan, walked back toward me. She reached out a hand and rubbed the bird’s feathers.
“Man, that would have sucked,” Trixie said.
I rubbed my hand over my heart. “It definitely would have sucked.”
“You scared me. How come you yelled at me?” Trixie rubbed her head against my cheek.
Grace and I resumed our walk through the forest toward town. The smell of evergreen trees and floral scents accompanied us on our trek.
“I’m sorry I yelled, Trixie. You were just ‘wheeing’ in my head and it was making me a little crazy.” I stroked her head with a finger.
“Oh.” Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed her head lowering. “I’m sorry, Charlie. I forget. I just want to share everything with you.”
Well, crud. That made me feel lower than a slug’s belly. Beatrix only became my familiar a couple of nights ago, so we were still getting used to each other. She showed up out of nowhere and introduced herself to me, insisting I call her Trixie because Beatrix was too old-fashioned. My heart warmed at the instant love I’d felt for her. It seemed as if she’d attached to my soul as soon as she appeared.
I spoke out loud so Grace wouldn’t feel left out. “I know. I’m still learning, too.” And I was. I struggled to keep my thoughts blocked off from the young horned owl. “I love you and I want to share things with you, too. It’s just that sometimes I need a little space in my head so I can think. I’m not used to having someone in my mind all the time. Maybe we can try to block our thoughts a little bit?”
“I’ll try. It’s going t—. Kkkeech.”
I stopped mid-step and snatched my feathery familiar from my shoulder. Then I held her out in front of me with both hands while she continued to gag. “Oh no! Don’t puke on me!”
Trixie finally relaxed in my hands.
“Are you okay?” I pulled her against my chest, caressing her feathers.
Her breathing slowly went back to normal and she nodded. “I got dizzy.”
“Okay. No more loop-de-loops today.”
Now that the worry had evaporated, Grace snickered. “You should have seen your face when you thought she was going to hurl on you.”
I opened my mouth to tell her it wasn’t funny, but a laugh escaped instead. I’m pretty sure my panicked expression had been comical.
“Trixie, do you want to stay in the forest?” I asked.
She looked up at me with a sadness in her eyes. “I can’t go with you, can I?”
My finger stroked under her chin. “No. I’m sorry. It’s illegal to own owls, and even though we both know I don’t own you; the humans wouldn’t understand.”
The owl huffed. “Okay. I’ll just fly around for a while.”
“No more loop-de-loops,” I cautioned.
“Bye, Charlie and Grace!” Trixie flapped her right wing at us before ascending into the sky. It felt like part of me was missing already.
As Grace and I stepped out of the forest and into town, the sun’s brightness had me reaching on top of my head to pull down my shades. Unfortunately, they weren’t there. I blinked a few times to let my eyes adjust.
Even though we were celebrating Halloween this weekend, temperatures in the eighties still reigned during the day in East Texas.
All Hallows Eve was a big deal in Whispering Pines. The school district even planned a teacher workday on the Friday when the event fell on a weekend. Grace and I were taking full advantage of our free day.
Considering it was my favorite holiday, my excitement level soared as we continued walking amidst all the spooky delights.
Our small town held festivals eleven months out of the year, welcoming citizens from neighboring towns and cities. For the month of October though, it went all out.
Across the road, the festival grounds bustled with activity. Vendors took care setting up booths, tents, and stands. My sister and I had helped our mom get all of her herbal creams, healing lotions, gemstones, crystals, and jewelry in her tented area last night. Being a witch, she always cast a spell over her tent and the grounds to keep everything safe from those that would do harm.
As we walked toward the town square, I became giddy at all the shops and businesses that showcased decorations and sales for the upcoming weekend event. Ghosts, goblins, trolls, werewolves, and other creatures greeted us along our trek. I laughed at the images of old crone witches with green skin, wart-covered noses, and black hats.
If the human residents of our town only knew they had real witches and other supernaturals living amongst them, they’d freak. Thank the stars they didn’t know about my family though. We’d be in real trouble with The Witch’s Council. After a recent run-in with them, we needed to keep a low profile.
“What are you and Jackson doing tonight?” Grace knelt to tie a misbehaving shoelace.
I grinned. Just the thought of my long-time friend turned boyfriend made my insides flutter. “We’re going to the festival for a while and then doing the last hayride at McCready’s farm.”
Grace stood and took my arm in hers. “Sounds fun.” Her blonde hair had been pulled into a high ponytail, and it bounced along behind her as we strolled along the sidewalk.
I pushed my own auburn hair out of my face, wishing I’d pulled it back as well. “What are you and Kat doing?”
A smile lit up her face.
Grace and I had known each other our whole lives, so I’d been surprised when she recently told me she was bi. She’d held off saying anything because she’d been afraid of how others would react. Fortunately, her family and friends had been supportive, and the few whispers at school died down quickly. Living in a small town, gossip had never been in short supply, and it didn’t take long for new rumors to take over. Grace’s new girlfriend, Katrina “Kat” James, had been the reason she’d finally spoken up.
“Definitely the festival. Not sure about afterward.”
My head whipped around, and I groaned at the sight of the septuagenarian waving me down.
“What?” Grace asked.
I turned back to face her. “Mr. Peterson. Maybe if I ignore him, he’ll go away.”
I dropped her arm, and we picked up our pace. I kept my head down, arms pumping.
“Charlie Cooper! I know you saw me. Stop this instant.”
I sighed and turned around. The man passed right through people in his way. Those more sensitive gasped and shuddered. A young woman in her twenties ran her hands up and down her arms, looking around. After a few seconds, she shook her head and continued on her way.
I grabbed Grace’s arm and pulled her over to stand in front of me. “Stand there so it doesn’t look like I’m talking to myself.”
She giggled. Of course she found it funny. She wasn’t the one who had to put up with being accosted by the grouchy spirit on a regular basis.
When the man stopped beside Grace, I looked him over. A worn cowboy hat covered a balding scalp I only knew about because I’d found his picture in the news archives after his first appearance. He’d died in the nineties but still sported his farmer’s tan. He appeared solid, not ethereal as I imagined a ghost would be. It was only after he passed through people and objects that I’d initially realized he was dead.
“Hi, Mr. Peterson. I –”
“Don’t you ‘hi’ me, young lady. When are you going to do what I asked?” His electric blue eyes glowered at me.
I fought to control the grimace at his words but lost. “I’m trying to figure out how to do that, Mr. Peterson. I can’t just walk up to your grandson and tell him I have a message from his long-deceased great-grandfather.”
He gave her a scowl before turning it on me. “Well, why the heck not?”
“Um, because it would make me look insane, and it’s a life goal of mine not to get locked into a mental facility.”
The man’s chest rose and fell, even though he didn’t need to breathe. Did other spirits behave this way? With him being my first ghost, it was hard to know.
His anger morphed into sadness, and the expression on his face got to me. I couldn’t imagine how frustrating it would be to wander around not being able to communicate with anyone. Especially if you had important information you needed to give a loved one.
My posture relaxed, and I sighed. “Grace and I are going to get toys for the Christmas drive. As soon as we drop those off in the festival bins, I’ll go see David.”
Every year between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the townspeople bought gifts for children to be given away at our annual Christmas Festival. Even most of the out-of-town visitors got into the spirit, dropping presents into the bins as they entered the festival grounds.
Grace’s eyes widened at my capitulation, but she didn’t say anything. Though she’d tried to help me come up with a way to approach the man’s great-grandson without sounding like I was five crayons short of a box, we hadn’t come up with anything yet.
“That’s all I ask,” he grumbled.
I dug my phone from the back pocket of my jeans and checked the time. “I’ll need to go home and get my car, so meet me at David’s in a couple of hours.”
I swear the ghost rolled his eyes at me. “Now just how am I supposed to tell the time?”
“Oh.” I looked to Grace, but of course, she hadn’t heard him. “Um, well, can you just go there and wait for me?”
Mr. Peterson snorted. “Not likely. If I leave, you’ll forget all about me. I think I’ll just tag along.”
My mouth dropped open.
“What?” Grace asked.
I cleared my throat and tried to smooth the expression on my face. “Mr. Peterson has decided to follow us.”
“What?” she asked again.
“Apparently, he doesn’t trust me not to flake out on him.” I squinted my eyes at the man.
“You’re darn skippy.” He nodded his head like a bobblehead.
I cringed when a couple of middle-aged women gave me a cautious stare as they approached.
“Good morning, Charlie. Grace.” Mrs. Alexander stopped in front of us. “Everything okay?”
My cheeks heated, and I knew a blush covered my face—a hazard of having a pale complexion. “Good morning!” I called brightly. And apparently, louder than I’d intended, as they both flinched and looked at one another.
Fortunately, Grace stepped up. “Good morning. We’re okay. Charlie is just a little flustered this morning. She’s trying to remember where she left something.”
“Oh, that is so annoying when you can’t remember things like that. It happens more often than I’d like these days.” Mrs. Taylor patted my shoulder. “I’m sure you’ll find it, dear.”
The women said their goodbyes and carried on.
I turned to stare at my best friend. “You know, you’re getting pretty good at making up stories like that.”
Grace laughed. “I’ve been practicing.”
“Oh, yeah. Someone has to cover for you when you get accosted by a ghost.” Grace tugged my arm and we continued down Main Street.
“You’re the best.” I grinned at her.
She flipped her ponytail behind her. “Of course I am.”
We made our way down to the toy store and entered to find what was left of the Halloween costumes front and center. A harried mother attempted to corral her three boys as they clamored for different superhero ensembles.
The smell of pumpkin spice wafted through the aisles, and my stomach growled. Slapping my hand against my belly, I mumbled, “Happens every time.”
Grace laughed. “We’ll grab a snack once we get everything taken care of.” She looked around. “Is Mr. Peterson still with us?”
“No. The old grouch stayed outside.” I immediately felt bad. “It’s got to suck having to depend on someone else to pass along a message.”
“Yeah. I kind of feel sorry for him.”
The store carried the usual favorites like Barbies and remote cars but also had a huge selection of one-of-a-kind handmade toys crafted by local citizens. Grace gravitated toward the latter while I hurried toward the back of the store to look at the board games. After picking out a strategy game, I headed to the front. I wanted to get the coming ordeal over with so Mr. Peterson could find some closure.
So focused on trying to come up with a way to tell David Peterson that his deceased great-grandfather had a message for him, I walked into a solid wall of muscle.
“I’m sor—” I broke off when I looked up at the smiling face of my boyfriend. “Jackson!”
After steadying me, he bent to kiss the top of my head.
It still felt weird calling him my boyfriend. He’d been one of my best friends since I’d bumped into him the first day of kindergarten and he’d kept me from falling. I guess some things never change. Our new relationship still took my breath away though.
“Hi. Are you getting a gift for the toy drive?” He leaned back to study the game in my hands. “Oh, that’s a good one.”
“Yep.” He reached around me, snagging a pack of Hot Wheels off the shelf.
I laughed. “You used to love those when we were kids.”
Jackson put an arm around my shoulders as we headed to the cashier. “You used to hide them from me.”
Placing a hand over my chest in mock offense, I said, “I would never!”
“Careful, Charlie.” He tweaked my nose and leaned down to whisper in my ear, his breath causing a warm tingle to spread across my skin. “That pretty little witchy nose of yours is going to grow.”
My heart leaped at the easy way he referred to me being a witch. It wasn’t long ago that I nearly lost him because I’d kept so many secrets from him about my family. When he stumbled upon me using magic, he’d been so hurt that I hadn’t trusted him enough to tell him that it caused a huge rift between us. I thanked the universe every day he’d forgiven me and we’d been able to put it behind us.
“Hey, Jackson.” Grace met us at the register. She looked over our selections. “Good choices.” Holding up a beautifully handcrafted doll with Hispanic features, she asked, “What do you think?”
“She looks so life-like.” I reached out to touch the brown silky hair.
Grace paid for the doll and I took her spot, placing the game on the counter.
Samantha Winters smiled. She reached under the counter. “Hey, Charlie. Do you need a bag?”
“Hi, Sam. No need. I’m just going to drop it off.” I returned the smile. “Are you—”
“Charlie!” Mr. Peterson appeared out of nowhere, screaming in my ear.
I jumped and swatted at him.
Samantha’s eyes widened in concern. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah. Sorry, I—”
“There’s no time,” Mr. Peterson said. “You have to come with me now.”
I tried to ignore the ghost, but he kept grabbing at me, his hand going through my arm. A cold shiver invaded my body.
I swatted at him again.
“Charlie?” Jackson put a hand on my shoulder.
“Sorry. Sorry. It’s just a gnat.” I glared at Mr. Peterson as I emphasized the last word.
“There’s a body. You have to come now!” His voice bellowed so loudly I recoiled.
“A bod—” I stopped and looked around. Everyone stared at me. “I, uh…”
Grace grabbed my arm and tugged me toward the door. Pulling away, I jogged back to Jackson, reached into my pocket, and pulled out cash that I shoved toward his chest. His hand folded over it and he nodded. “Go. I’ll be right behind you.”
Rushing out the door, I stopped beside Grace and looked for the old man’s spirit. He appeared in front of me, so close I jerked back.
“Mr. Peterson?” Grace asked.
Not even taking the time to make sure I didn’t look like I was talking to thin air, I blurted out. “A body? You said there’s a body? Where?”
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