Excerpt for A Merry Depot Christmas, Book 3 in Haunted Depot: The Ghost Curse by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

A Merry Depot Christmas
Book 3 in Haunted Depot: The Ghost Curse

Kristy K. James
(originally as J.J. Belding)

Copyright © 2017 Kristy K. James (aka J.J. Belding)

All rights reserved.

Dear Friend,

Consider this your welcome to Hemisphere. You might think your presence here is an accident. Maybe you believe you just stumbled onto our website, liked what you saw, and decided to check us out. Or that you simply found yourself here while on a leisurely drive.

Well, you'd be wrong.

It was fate.

Yes, you're here because fate led you here. Because you are meant to be here. Why? That remains to be seen. Maybe you'll wind up calling Hemisphere your home. Maybe we're just a stop in the road on your way to somewhere else. Maybe you'll remember your time with us. Most do not.

One thing is for sure though, you’ll never find another place like Hemisphere. It's one-of-a-kind.

Hemisphere is a unique location, steeped in mysticism. All are welcome within our boundaries. We'd like to tell you there's a simple explanation for the things you may see or experience during your stay. A little theatrical drama, if you will. But it wouldn't be true. Here in Hemisphere, the things that go bump in the night are very real.

If you decide to stay past sundown, we encourage you to read the Visitors Orientation Packet. The warning about "calamity or death by misadventure?" It's not a joke.

It would behoove you to follow the advice inside. We also suggest traveling in groups, or hiring a local “guide” to show you around our beautiful town.

Common sense should tell you to use caution when hiking in any unfamiliar area. The forests and cliffs surrounding Hemisphere are beautiful. They are also home to a variety of wild creatures found nowhere else on earth. Don’t be caught unaware. It should go without saying – stay out of the woods and off the cliffs after dark.

Again, welcome to Hemisphere. Fate has led you to our area. What happens next is up to you. Choose wisely.

Part 1…

Trying to do anything with an element of surprise for thirteen ghosts who were guarding her like a hawk was nearly impossible. In fact, it was driving Kate Proctor nuts. But she had almost five weeks until Christmas and she was determined to pull it off. She just had to figure out how she was going to do it.

At the moment, she needed to focus on William Archer though. Their resident ghost chef was having a bit of a meltdown. With Thanksgiving coming up in exactly a week, he hadn't decided on the menu he wanted to serve to his guinea pigs – her and the rest of the ghosts - yet. Now that the kitchen equipment had been installed, he'd been experimenting like mad trying to come up with the food they'd be feeding their customers next year.

"It's one thing to watch all of this over a chef's shoulder, or on someone's television," he was muttering, flipping through the pages of another one of her grandmother's cookbooks. "It's altogether different when you're actually cooking it."

"You've been doing great," she soothed, trying to calm him down. "We've loved everything you've served us for the past couple of weeks." It was a good thing too because she was spending a small fortune on the ingredients he was using for those experiments.

"But holidays are special," he said, waving his arms out dramatically before dropping them against his side. The expression he turned her way, a combination of frustration and sadness, almost broke her heart as she thought of all he'd missed. "They matter more than any old day of the year."

And here was as perfect of an opening as she'd ever get, Kate knew, jumping in with both feet.

"Were holidays special in your family?" she asked, trying not to appear too interested.

"Oh sure. Not like it is for kids today," he said, looking up and gazing off into space. She liked the softness in his eyes as he remembered happier times. "They want everything they see, and the more expensive it is, the better."

"I know. It's sad, isn't it?"

"I'll say. When I was a boy, my family was poor but we never knew it. Not really. My mother had a way about her, you know?" He looked at Kate for a moment, a lopsided grin on his face. "She made everything fun. We'd string cranberries and popcorn for some scraggly tree us kids would cut down and drag back to the house. By the time we finished with it, it was the most beautiful tree you'd ever see."

"I can imagine it was."

"She'd bake too. The best molasses cookies I've ever eaten. She didn't use a recipe but that's one of the things I aim to perfect and serve to our customers. Probably in the Crème-a-torium, but we will have my mama's cookies." He closed his eyes and she knew he was remembering how good they were. She wondered if his memory was as good as the cookies had been.

"Did you do presents?"

"Oh sure. Homemade things though. My brother and I built a little cradle for a doll Mama made for Gertie. Andrew carved me a bow and arrows one year. I wish I still had those suckers too. I made him saddlebags with the hide from a deer our father got. It wasn't leather but they were really nice, if I do say so myself."

"If you had to choose one thing about those Christmases, what brings you the best memories?" Kate asked, hoping she wasn't pressing her luck.

"Are you writing an article or something?" William asked, laughing a little as he looked at her. She smiled a little.

"No. Just hoping by hearing Christmas stories, I might find a little of my own holiday spirit this year."

It wasn't exactly a lie. Until a couple of days ago, she'd been prepared to spend her first holiday season with no family that was actually related. Finding out her grandfather would be here helped but she'd had nearly a year to get to this point. It was harder to pull out of than she had anticipated.

"Well then, this might not help you at all. The best part for me was decorating all of those ugly trees with my brother and sister, then sitting in front of it, admiring it while we drank hot apple cider. Or hot cocoa, if my parents had been able to set aside a little extra money."

Part 2…

Over the next few days, Kate kept finding out the information she needed to know, entering everything in a password protected file on her computer, which she then hid in a file within a file in case anyone got nosy – and at least a couple of the ghosts could be pretty nosy.

Some of the memories they shared with her nearly broke her heart. Others made her smile. Pete Madison's was one that almost brought her to tears. A sweet young man, his family had lost a beloved uncle in the attack on Pearl Harbor and from that Christmas until the one before the war ended, he and his mother sent holiday cards and small gifts to the soldiers involved in the conflict. He continued with that tradition until he died, just before his high school graduation in 1952.

Oscar remembered the best thing about Christmas being the football game he and his friends played between the gift opening and their big, traditional dinner. Ben had loved the shotgun he'd gotten for his fourteenth Christmas. It had been the last gift he'd received from his father, who had died the following winter from influenza.

"There was this dance," Annabelle was telling her as she painted the trim along the floor in the corner of the depot that would house the Crème-a-torium.

"Christmas Day?" Kate asked from where she stood at the door to the ladies room. She was using the same paint for that.

"Oh no. Everyone was too busy with their family during the day. The dance was after all the kids were in bed. Teens would watch them and then anyone eighteen and older would head for the Masonic Lodge." Kate watched as the memories brought a smile of pure joy to the older woman's face.

"It sounds like they were a lot of fun."

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