Here's Chapter 1 of
"THE GHOST IN THE CONVENT"
Copyright © 2015 by Marianne Mitchell.
I ran a brush through my messy hair then hurried downstairs inhaling the sweet aroma of cinnamon waffles, my favorite.
Dad set a plate on the kitchen table. "Dig in while I tell you my good news."
"It must be good news. You usually wait until Sunday to make waffles."
"It is," he said, rubbing his hands together. "I've got a new project to work on." He picked up his briefcase and set it on a chair. "It'll be a real challenge but I think we can handle it."
"We?" I swiped the syrup from the corner of my mouth. He'd never included me in his work before. Dad's company, Bill Lind Architectural, specialized in remodels and demolition of buildings. He also drew up blueprints and made sketches of the proposed projects. I had my own skills at drawing, but that was just for fun.
"Yes, ma'am. While Mom is away taking care of Grammy, you get to come with me to a convent."
My fork clattered to the plate. "A convent? Dad, we're not even Catholic!"
Dad kept on stuffing papers into his briefcase. His salt and pepper hair stuck up in places, still wet from his morning shower.
"Don't get your britches in a bunch, Jenna. It's only for a week so I can evaluate the convent property for the developers. You'll love it. It has ten acres of orange groves to explore, dirt roads for biking, and..." he paused for effect... "rumors the property is haunted."
That got my attention. He knew I was a sucker for ghost stories. I'd read every book I could find about haunted houses, from Nancy Drew to Mary Downing Hahn. My skin got all prickly thinking I'd actually have a chance to visit some place haunted. But the wry grin on Dad's face told her he didn't really believe the rumors. Telling me the convent was haunted was just his sneaky way to get me to go along. He knew me all too well.
"What does Mom say?"
"I called her last night. She thinks the timing is perfect since she'll be in Wisconsin for least two more weeks getting Grammy moved and settled in the Care Center."
I groaned. Grammy was the only grandparent I'd known. The others had all passed on before I was born. She used to make the yummiest buttermilk pancakes I'd ever tasted. But lately, she's had lots of trouble walking and remembering things. She didn't cook much and couldn't keep up with housework. "Grammy will hate moving. She's lived in the same house like forever."
"True, but it's the only solution for now. She can't live alone anymore."
"I should have gone with Mom. I may never see Grammy again."
"You will. In the meantime, I have a special job for you."
"Artist in residence." He nodded at one of my framed sketches that hung by the fridge, a colored pencil drawing of an old colonial house. It won first place in the art show last year in sixth grade. Sometimes my drawings showed how I thought the houses used to look like, and sometimes I just captured their current run-down look.
"Your sketches of the convent and grounds will be a great help to keep the memory of the place, in case it all gets torn down." Dad snapped his case shut and tossed a manila folder on the kitchen table. "Here are some photos of the property and the house we'll live in. Start thinking about what you want to take. We for leave for Arizona day after tomorrow."
"But...." My protest went nowhere. Dad was already out the door. Didn't he know I'd made plans for the summer? My best friend Caitlyn was backpacking in Europe with her parents so I'd signed up for watercolor and pottery classes at the community center. A gloom settled over me at the idea of cancelling those classes.
I picked up the old black and white photos spread out on the table. The first showed a two-story Spanish colonial style building, framed by palm trees. It looked welcoming and peaceful enough with pure white stucco walls, a red tiled roof, and a long balcony running along the top floor. A second photo was of a white stucco house surrounded by tidy rose gardens and trees. A nun wearing a black robe and veil stood on the front step, arms crossed and hands hidden in her long sleeves.
The last glossy photo was an aerial view of the property. The long convent buildings and smaller out buildings nestled in the groves. Across from the convent a dirt road angled over to a small house. Beyond the groves stretched acres of farmland bordered by a long canal. My heart sank. There were no paved streets, no neighborhoods or businesses nearby. I had a feeling this convent must be way out in the country. Flipping the photos over I noticed the date stamped on the back said "June, 1955." My spirits rose a bit. Maybe by now the city had built up around it bringing modern shopping centers and movie theatres. Maybe it wouldn't be so dull after all. Maybe.