Monday Sampler: The Ghost of Grandpa Wills by Bill Tyson
December 28, 2015
In our mission to connect readers, writers, and books, Caleb and Linda Pirtle has launched a new series featuring writing samples from some of the best authors in the marketplace today. Monday’s Sampler is an excerpt from The Ghost of Grandpa Wills, a suspense thriller by Bill Tyson.
“Never met a ghost I didn’t like.” Will Watson in The Ghost of Grandpa Wills. But that was before he met his long-dead grandfather, Grandpa Wills. In Part I-The Road West Will Watson and his friend, Jake, take the road to the far reaches of West Texas in search of answers.
But, it is a long, lonely highway and there is danger ahead-someone does not want them to reach their destination. Part II-The Devil’s Mouth follows up with the aftermath of Will’s first meeting with his Grandpa. Then to his horror, his family is threatened.
Life quickly becomes very serious for the once happy-go-lucky Will Watson.
Amelia Wills, the Mistress of Wills Ranch, sat in her power chair, pale hands trembling as she stared at the piece of brittle, aged newspaper she held. The article carried a date of more than three decades earlier. “Three Die in Flaming Car Wreck—Infant is Sole Survivor,” the headline announced.
A photo, dark and grainy, displayed a woman’s blood-streaked face, her expression distorted by pain and fear as she thrust an infant through a car’s broken window. The story continued, describing her screams, as she begged someone to save the child. It told how a police officer grabbed the child and ran to safety. Immediately after, explosion and fire engulfed the vehicle—the roar of flames failing to muffle the screams of the trapped victims. The unidentified child was the only survivor.
Amelia stared at the piece of yellowed paper for several more minutes before looking up at the two men sitting across from her. They sat watching her, without speaking.
“Where did you find this?” she whispered, her voice quivering. The only other sound was the wood fire, crackling in the fireplace.
James, the shorter one, replied in a high-pitched voice. “Locked inside a safe, down in the basement of Dad’s old office building. We were clearing things out for the renovation.”
“We didn’t know the safe was there until last week,” Jimmy, the tall one, interjected, his deep voice filling the cavernous room. “Never did find the combination—had to get a locksmith. It was in with some of our grandfather’s old stuff.”
“And…?” she leaned forward, her eyes moving from one lawyer to the other.
Jimmy, shifted in his chair—an antique that groaned under his weight. With a voice that could overflow a courtroom, he, now, spoke with hesitation and embarrassment. He, who could easily stare down a hostile jury, averted his eyes—unable to face the frail woman before him. “There was a stack of private papers, as well as some old journals. In one of them, he wrote about, ah…a child, a…a baby boy.”
Amelia’s body, ravaged with disease, was frail, but something within her imparted strength—perhaps, it was that the truth was coming out; a secret, long hidden, could, now, be revealed. She gathered herself, struggling to control her emotions. She spoke in a soft voice. “It is true, you know. I did give birth.” She watched the two lawyers, wondering what their reactions would be.
“I was a teenager, not long out of high school. Oh, we wanted to run off, elope, and get married. So, we decided we would sneak off to San Antonio.” Her eyes moved to the flames that danced inside the stone fireplace while she took a deep breath before continuing. “Told my parents I was going to a friend’s house for the weekend. She, my friend, was the only other person who knew the truth.”
Pausing to consider her words, Amelia spoke with hesitation, her eyes downcast. “He was a Marine, and he was going away, you see.”
In a sudden move, she raised her head, glanced from one attorney to the other, unsure of what to say—or how to say it. Her voice firmed. “I never wanted to hide our love. I wanted to tell the whole world, but my father… Well, Papa would never have approved. He never approved of anything his precious daughter did—especially associating with Indians, much less marrying one.”
Her words turned hard, tainted with bitter anger. “Of course, Papa didn’t approve of Mexicans, Blacks, Catholics, Jews—or anyone else that he didn’t consider good enough.”
Her eyes locked onto the tall lawyer. She bit off the next few words, “But then, no one was good enough for him—or his precious daughter.”
She slumped back into the wheelchair and lowered her gaze. Her fingers found the wool lap blanket, and, for a few seconds, she twisted the cloth in a knot before smoothing it out again.
Jimmy fidgeted, unsure about how to react. James reached for the antique porcelain coffee pot to refill his cup.
She straightened herself and lifted her eyes once more. “Anyway, we had car trouble, never got to San Antonio. When we did get the car started, it was quite late, so we found a motel close by.”
Looking beyond them at the low burning fire, she took a breath before continuing. “I know it was wrong. We both knew it was wrong, but we had one wonderful night.” Now, she looked around, her eyes moving from one man to the other, a smile creasing her face as she remembered. “It was a really…a really…beautiful night…we had together.”
Again, her voice dropped to a whisper, and she took her eyes away from them, a slight flush on her pale features. Jimmy was forced to lean closer, straining to hear.
“A short time later, he was gone—my Richard was gone—shipped out to Vietnam or some such place over there. Couldn’t tell me where. It was some kind of top secret mission.”
She exhaled, lifted her head, and studied the wooden ceiling beams. “Whatever it was, wherever he went—he never came home.”
James lowered his cup and bent forward.
“Never saw him again…promised I’d wait…still…waiting…” She paused and took a deep breath.
Both men waited in silence.
She straightened herself, lifted her head, and continued. “I never told anyone about that night before now. No one. Not a living soul. I was young and angry, as well as stubborn—and not a little afraid. Of course, getting pregnant, I couldn’t hide something like that for very long. Especially, since I was still living here at home.”
Amelia looked at each of the two men, both of whom she had known since they were born.
“As you know, your grandfather, your father, and my father—they were all friends and business partners.” A frown creased her forehead. “Your grandfather was Papa’s attorney for many decades. He knew all about how I had disgraced the family.”
She gestured, palms upward, in resignation.
“So, in due time, the child was born. Here, at the house.” She pointed. “Upstairs, in one of the bedrooms. No hospital for me because, well, then the whole world would’ve known about our terrible shame—the family’s greatest embarrassment.” Her eyes flashed with fire. She put bitter emphasis on those last few words.
The angry frown disappeared, replaced by a tender smile.
“Richard, my baby’s father, was a local boy, a member of one of the nearby Indian families—the Colorado family.” At this statement, Jimmy stared at her, eyes and mouth open in an unasked question. She saw his expression and replied with a soft smile, “That’s right, Jimmy; he would’ve been your Sara’s uncle…”
Gathering his composure, Jimmy asked, “Does Sara know?”
Shaking her head, Amelia replied, “No. As I said, I’ve never spoken about this to anyone.” With the smile disappearing, she returned to her story. “Richard joined the Marines, and soon became a Navy Seal. He knew my father well enough that he wanted to prove himself—show Papa he was a real man, man enough to take care of his…his precious little daughter.”
She stopped, collecting herself, before whispering. “Never came home. At least, not alive.” She slumped into the wheelchair, her head dropping forward, voice quivering. “They did bring his body back, though. He was buried up in Arlington, at the National Cemetery—with all the honors. They played taps, had a full honor guard—all that stuff. A real hero, he was—Medal of Honor and everything.”
“I couldn’t go.” Her words were cold and hard. “Stayed home—had to act as though nothing ever happened between us—as…as if I didn’t even know who he was.” She raised her head and looked back at the men. The expression on her face matched the emotion in her words. “I’ve been up there since—to the National Cemetery—after my parents died. Visited his grave twice, wanted to go again—don’t guess I ever will, now that this cancer…”
Her words trailed off into silence until she paused, catching her breath. She continued speaking, repeating herself in her sorrow. “Never came home. But, it didn’t matter; none of it would’ve made any difference, whatever my Richard did. His skin was the wrong color—too dark for Papa’s likings.” She bit off these last words, one at a time, emphasizing her pain, mixed with the bitter anger that boiled within her.