Shadowridge Press titles in detail...
Tracy L. Carbone
MY NAME IS MARNIE
Trade paperback / 5 x 8 / 254 pages / Publication date / April 2014
After the brutal, senseless murder of her husband, Marnie Clifford tries to pull the threads of her out-of-control life back together. She flees from her painful past and looks to start a new life in a small, ramshackle but affordable cottage in a remote idyllic New England town, in hopes of finishing out her pregnancy in peace. But something isn't quite right with her new home- not with the cottage itself and its vague familiarity; not with her new neighbor, a disheveled wild-eyed man with a limp and questionable motives; and certainly not with her unsettling visitor…a silent, restless, and very dead little girl. As the spectre's visits become more and more frequent, Marnie begins to unearth the horrible secret of the cottage. A secret better left buried deep…
Included are two creepy standalone short stories that have connections to the novel; A Dolly For Grandma and MonaLand.
HERE'S A PREVIEW OF MY NAME IS MARNIE
“Under the circumstances, Marnie, I have no choice but to let you go.”
She gripped the wooden arms of the chair and looked at her boss, with his greasy comb-over and squinty eyes. Her straight brown hair fell across her face and she lifted it away.
“Please, I need this job. Whatever I did—”
“Precisely. Whatever you did is why you cannot continue to teach at Ashfield Private Day School.”
“You know I’ve been staying in a hotel, that I haven’t been back to the house since—but without a job I can’t—For God’s sake, I’m pregnant. Please give me another chance. In light of what happened, can’t you find it in your heart to—”
Ben shook his head. “You need to collect your things and go.”
Tears flooded Marnie’s green eyes, despite her best efforts to remain strong. Her world had fallen apart, and now this cold-hearted creep was firing her. She knew she’d never be able to resume her post as a teacher here or anywhere else. She loosened her white knuckled fingers and left the office with as much grace as she could muster.
Marnie signed the paperwork her boss required, cleaned out her desk, and walked out to the school parking lot. She glanced down at the box of memories. Ten years in her classroom and now this. Didn’t anyone care what she had gone through?
Off past the parking lot beyond the chain link fence, the regular half-people were huddled next to their barrel fire. It was only November but damn cold. She wondered what they must think, watching all the rich private school children appear every day in their soccer moms’ SUVs, while the homeless stood in line at the shelter, hungry for their breakfast. The money those parents spent on their children’s designer boots would feed one of these folks for months.
Such a contrast between the buildings. The mayor urged the owners to relocate the shelter to provide more room for the new private school, but to no avail. The owners refused. They were there first, they argued, and had no intention of leaving. For the last twelve years, the homeless looked over the fence with shame and envy, and the children peered across with disdain, repulsion, and occasional pity.
Marnie chugged over to them, still carrying the box. She maneuvered along to the edge of the fence and joined them. They eyed her cautiously but then realized she meant no harm. They could see she was one of them. No future. No hope. A home she didn’t dare return to. She dumped the contents of her teaching career into their barrel, causing the flames to shoot up into the sky.
Together they all watched as papers and photos curled in upon themselves and transformed into worthless ash, like her life. She reached into her wallet and pulled out a twenty. She handed it to the toothless man who smelled like gasoline and looked like Charles Manson.
It snowed the day Marnie moved into the stone cottage. It would have been an ideal place to live, filled with all the warmth and coziness she’d ever wanted, but she’d been forced out of her previous home by tragedy. That set of circumstances cast a pall over everything.
She stepped from her SUV onto the gravel driveway. Snow dusted the small sharp rocks beneath her feet. It was midday and already darkness had closed in.
This place was smack at the end of a dead end street. A similar stone cottage stood across the way to her left. Warm yellow light seeped from behind the glazed window of the little gingerbread home. Tender smoke meandered out through the crumbling chimney. It was inviting, but Marnie felt a Hansel and Gretel vibe. Something was amiss despite the exterior charm.
No, it’s the paranoia. The watcher didn’t follow me here. She shook her head and opened the back of her vehicle to grab her first box of belongings, and walked through the front door to darkness. She flicked the light switch and was greeted with icy air, furniture covered in sheets, and a dirty fireplace. The cottage came furnished. It smelled damp. She flinched as she touched a sheet that rested on the couch. It was wet, and it smelled like mildew. She pulled off the cover and tossed it to the floor.
Marnie cranked the wall thermostat from its setting of fifty-five degrees, warm enough to keep the pipes from freezing, to seventy-four. The rent included heat, so she may as well enjoy some creature comfort.
She entered the kitchen. It was basic cottage style with white barn board and flowered wallpaper. Hardwood floors sported hundreds of termite holes. A badly scuffed, well-loved kitchen set with two chairs took up most of the room. The refrigerator and stove were old. She sighed. No one had lived here in a very long time and it showed. It was as worn and tired as she was.
She passed by the bathroom. Cracked baby blue tiled walls and yellowed linoleum peeled in the corners. The toilet hadn’t been used or scrubbed in years. The hard water stains would never come out.
Marnie missed her old home, with its nine-foot ceilings and granite counters, the Jenn-Air stove and the cherry cabinets. But that dream was gone. This was her life now, like it or not. She couldn’t stay here permanently, but it was a start, a stepping stone to her new life, wherever that would lead her.
She passed two doors facing each other in the hallway. Must be the bedrooms. Marnie reached for the knob on the closest one. Before she touched it, the knob turned back and forth quickly.
She jumped back and the motion stopped. “Is someone in there?”
This was classic horror movie stupidity and she wasn’t taking the bait. Without grabbing a jacket, Marnie ran outside to the safety of her car to call the police.
“Hey, where are you going?” A man called out as she raced toward the car.
Must be the neighbor. “I heard someone. In the house.” She shivered as she spoke, clad only in jeans, a blouse, and a cardigan.
The man approached her. He had a limp, and as he drew closer she noticed his brown and crooked teeth. His gray hair was stringy.
“You the new neighbor?” He ran his eyes up and down her body.
She crossed her arms. “Yes. I’m renting. For a while.”
“Name’s Joe Rowley.” He put his hand out.
Marnie reached out and shook quickly, then yanked it back. “Marnie Clifford.”
He stood and studied her before speaking again. “What’s your name again? Couldn’t quite hear.” He leaned closer.
“My name is Marnie. I’m freezing. Need to get in my car.” She hopped inside, but kept the door open.
“This place has been empty a good long time,” he said.
“That’s what the management company told me, but someone’s inside. I came out to call the police.”
“I wouldn’t bother calling anyone. It’s old house noises.” He spat on the ground next to him, gushing brown tobacco sludge into the snow.
“I know what old houses sound like and it’s not that. I’m calling nine-one-one. There’s a person in there. Maybe a squatter.”
“Not likely.” He walked away from her and toward the house, one foot making a deeper imprint in the snow than the other.
“You shouldn’t go in there,” she warned.
But he did. “Does it all the time. Nothing to be afraid of, Marnie.” Despite his grungy appearance, he seemed kind, like the homeless people by her school. “Come on in and see for yourself.”
She hesitated, still half in her car. “Come on. It’s all right,” he goaded. “Been living next door a long time. Nothing to worry about. Too cold to be outside.”
She left the car and followed him in.
“I heard someone in the—” she started.
“I know where you heard it.” He walked to the door and turned the knob. From the kitchen, she saw light emanate from the bedroom. “It’s empty. Come on in.”
Marnie walked toward him. It was a little girl’s room. The wallpaper was faded but sported pink stripes and small yellow daisies. A twin bed sat in the center of the small room, a half inch of dust coating the bedspread. Dust covered the floor as well but only this man’s footprints and hers were evident. There hadn’t been anyone in here after all. Just my imagination. Thank God I didn’t call 9-1-1.
Maybe her boss Ben had been smart to force the issue, get her away from the children until she got her mind together.
“You’ll want to wash these sheets. Nothing worse than the smell of an unused house.”
As this man walked by her in a stench cloud of tobacco and sweat, she had to disagree. There were worse smells than that of an old house.
“You want me to check the other bedroom for you?”
“No. I’m okay. Thanks for coming by.”
“You sure? Don’t want you all spooked by doorknobs.”
Her hackles rose. I never mentioned the doorknob. How did he know?
“I’m good. Thank you though.”
She ushered him outside, then bolted her door and pulled the shades. Tomorrow, in the bright light of morning, she’d unpack the rest of her things. She’d left most of her belongings in the old house, didn’t care about them. Expensive lamps and vases didn’t have souls. Tangible items meant nothing to her. John was gone, so what was the point?
Back in Ashfield, on one of the bleakest days of her life, Marnie met a scruffy man named Gary who led her to this cottage. She’d gone to the police station to hear the details of her husband’s death. Gary, a private investigator, was in the lobby on an unrelated case and had overheard her arguing with the police, demanding they listen to her, that John’s death wasn’t a random accident.
Gary had taken her out for coffee. He took her fears seriously. He’d listened when she explained about the watcher, about the anonymous letters. The cops wouldn’t accept there was a correlation between John’s hit and run and Marnie’s intangible sense of being watched. The police said the letters were cryptic and non-threatening. One officer had the audacity to suggest she’d written them herself.
Marnie was at her wit’s end when Gary offered to help. He held her hand when she broke down, with the kindness of a father.
While she stayed in a hotel, too depressed to go home to the vast emptiness of the house, too frightened someone would hurt her, Gary had looked into her watcher. He had found nothing. He’d taken pity on Marnie and mentioned a property for rent on the other side of the state. “Maybe you need to get away for a while.” He’d provided her with the name of the management company, and now here she was.
Marnie found a beat up washer and dryer in the breezeway. A rock hard box of Tide powder rested on a shelf above the appliances. She banged it on the floor and managed to dislodge a chunk of it. She dumped it into the machine, set it to hot, and crossed her fingers.
A loud clunk and then the welcome sound of rushing water. Yes!
Marnie ran back down the hall to retrieve the throw from the couch, and the sheets from the child’s room.
As she approached the room, the light went out. The door slammed shut.
There’s no one there. There’s no one there.
She headed to what was supposed to be the master bedroom, reached for the knob, and turned. The door swung open. A room in semi darkness, a pineapple bed with a weathered quilt. A side lamp rested on an antique table. She turned on the overhead light. An oval floor mirror balanced on a swivel base across from her. She walked to it and turned it around, so the wooden backing faced her. Mirror reflections in long-abandoned houses were never a good thing.
She stripped the sheets and pillows, gathered them in her arms, and headed for the washer. This house was going to be fine. It was smart to run from her other life to a place with no memories.
If doors opened and closed of their own volition, so be it. She recalled one of her favorite movies, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. Perhaps Captain Gregg was here, or some other kind spirit who would combat her loneliness and help her to find her way.
She laughed. No, not ghosts.
“Does it all the time,” Joe had said. “Old house noises.” Yes, that’s all it was. Not the restless dead, only gusty November wind and old wood settling into place.