FICTION: A Haunted Holiday

After abducting Cadet Streeter and leaving him for dead in the cold woods at West Point, Buck and Fred Crenshaw go home to celebrate Christmas.

Buck sat by the frosty upstairs  window at Grandmother Martha’s house in dread. The gash over his eye pulsed red and swollen. He fingered the soft scarf wrapped around the stitched-up mess of an incision on his neck, shivering as the snow changed to a mix of rain and sleet.

Tired horses slid the bright sleds carrying his frozen parents and siblings up the drive of the estate in Peetzburg, a small farming town a few miles away from his family home in Englewood. Buck listened, wrapped in a rough wool blanket, as his parents trudged up the path bickering. Graham’s voice rose and fell one last time before knocking at the door of his boyhood home.

“Doctor Crenshaw! So good to see you!” Betty, Martha Crenshaw’s housemaid, gushed.

“Betty, how very nice to see you.” Graham held out his hand.

Betty, pushing his hand away, gave the doctor a hug. “Oh, it’s been a lifetime—since the deaths of your brothers– that we’ve celebrated Christmas together!” she said, laughing and crying.

Seward Crenshaw, Graham’s stepfather, had freed his family’s slaves long ago, but they’d stayed on as hired help.

Betty pulled the doctor. “Come in out of the weather. What a nice surprise for us with poor Buck and Fred already here.”

Margaret ignored Betty and pushed past. Thankful lowered her head and followed her mother.

“Where are my two big boys? I want to see them!” Margaret called in her booming voice.

The door to the wood-paneled sitting room with its large, stone fireplace opened and the hall reflected the blaze from the flames in the hearth. Martha Crenshaw dressed, as usual, in a slate gray gown with her hair braided in a severe bun. She stepped out of Margaret’s way with an imperious glance toward her son Graham as he hung his wet things in the entrance way.

“Merry Christmas,” Graham mumbled to himself. “Same shit as ever.”

Margaret, with her massive skirts, sent loose things tumbling as she brushed against delicate tables in her race to find her two wronged sons. “Oh, dear boys, come to Mama and let me touch you to know you’re real and not a dream!”

Buck, who’d come down the back staircase stood thin and pale. The Crenshaw children carried themselves with dignity, and beauty ran in the blood. Buck’s present condition was an affront to how the family saw itself.

Margaret and Thankful embraced Buck with quick stiffness.

“Oh, my darling, Fred!” Margaret sobbed turning to the more robust of the twins.

Fred threw his cigar into the fire with a rakish grin and strode up to his mother, shoving Buck aside. He kissed Margaret. “Mama, you look like an angel.”

Martha’s eyes betrayed her lack of patience for Fred’s fawning. Graham shook his head in annoyed silence.

“I want to announce here and now to my loving family that neither Buck nor I had any role to play in the horrible trouble that has come upon the Negro cadet,” Fred said. “We are made scapegoats for the newspapers. It’s a disgrace how we’ve been treated, and I intend to fight all charges!”

“Of course you’ll fight any injustice heaped upon you, Freddie. And that’s what makes Mama proud.” Margaret pulled both of her boys close. “Aren’t we proud of our sons, Graham?”

“I’ll reserve judgment until I hear the full account. You say it will all come out in the papers?” Graham asked.

“Is that all you care about?” Margaret cried. “The papers? Look at poor Buck! His wound is an awful mess all because of some darkie. As a doctor you should be appalled at the sight of him—I am!”

“Maybe Buck looks so unwell because his conscience pricks him,” Graham replied.

“Just like you to believe the worst about us and on Christmas, too,” Fred said, tossing his head.

“Fred is right, Graham. Be fair,” Margaret urged.

Buck said nothing, but edged nearer to Thankful.

She pouted, but after one look into Buck’s violet eyes Thankful relented. “Were you cruel to that cadet?” she whispered.

“No more than to any other,” Buck croaked, his voice still recovering. “It’s just he’s a stupid nig–”

“What did you say?” Graham asked, turning around with his head cocked in anger.

Buck went paler still.

“Are you some ignorant piece of trash to bring that language home to your sister?” Graham ranted.

“I’m sorry, Father, but that’s what they call him,” Buck replied.

“Fred, is this true?”

“A spade’s a spade,” Fred said with a smirk.

“You think you’re very clever, Fred, but someday you’ll get yours,” Graham warned.

“How dare you wish ill fortune on our son!” Margaret cried, pulling Fred closer to smooth a stray curl at his temple.

“I don’t wish it. I dread it, but it will surely come,” Graham replied.

“At West Point, Father, there’s no room for sentimentality towards the colored race,” Fred said, with his usual smugness. “If they’re to make it, they must prove themselves equal and so far, in my opinion, they haven’t.”

“And why, Fred, is it your mission to interfere and set obstacles? Don’t you have studies?” Graham asked.

“Father, you must remember—even with all of your outside interests—that I rank second in my year.”

“Well, why not first?” Graham asked.

“Don’t be a humbug. First, second, it’s all the same really,” Fred said as he helped his mother to a seat near the fire.

“Yes, and we are off the subject. I’m disgusted by the brief report I’ve read about the two of you. I was under the impression that West Point was training you to be gentlemen,” Graham said. He grabbed a crystal decanter filled with scotch and poured a large tumbler.

“Yes. We’re taught to be white,” Fred said.

“Excuse me?” Graham held his drink mid-air.

“It’s cant, Father, slang,” Buck said. “To be a gentleman . . .”

“Graham, the military is turning our good boys into I don’t know what!” Margaret complained, smoothing her skirt.

“All of my sons served in the military,” Grandmother Martha said, “and if nothing else, they were gentlemen and humanitarians. They fought for equality even though the rest of Jersey were against it during the war!”

“Oh, come now, Grammy. Even the Massachusetts boys want nothing to do with the colored cadets—and their families were abolitionists of the worst sort!” Fred said.

“I was an abolitionist!” Martha reminded her grandson.

“And why do you still keep Betty? And why do we have Lucretia?” Fred asked.

“Lucretia and Betty are paid handsomely for their services and are free to leave and seek work elsewhere,” Graham replied.

“Handsomely? I know what they make—at least Lucretia—less than a private in the army and with no chance of promotion,” Fred said with a sneer.

“We pay above the going rate!” Graham said. “And I won’t allow you to compare Betty or Lucretia to slaves—are privates in the army slaves?”

“In the end, Father, I’d rather not turn the holidays into a trial. We’ll win our case in the new year if it comes to that. Not a single witness would dare come forward against me.”

“What are you saying?” Graham asked.

“I just mean to say that . . . that no one would dare present false testimony. Cadets pride themselves on honesty. As an upperclassman, I have done what’s best for the institution and Cadet Streeter,” Fred said. “He should have gone home long before getting drunk and almost killing himself walking the Palisades alone at night.”

“Must we only talk about ugly things when it’s Christmas? Let’s not ruin things for Martha. She must have plans of her own and looks worn out. Are you tired, dear?” Margaret asked.

“No, I’m not tired, Margaret. It’s more that I am disgusted by my grandchildren and their clear lack of remorse.”

“Everyone at the Point is against us because we’re not rich,” Fred contended.

“See, Graham, I told you they need more money!” Margaret scolded.

“Stop this nonsense—we give them all the money they’re permitted to have in their accounts!” Graham replied. “I don’t know why you boys came here and got your grandmother involved.”

“Fred figured you’d never come here for us since you’re huffed at Grammy,” Buck said.

Fred shot him a menacing look.

“I’d be happy enough if you all stayed away,” Martha said. “I hate to be reminded of my failures, but I suppose I have to put you all up for the night.”

“Oh, no-no-no, WE are leaving at once,” Margaret said.

“Don’t be a fool, Margaret. I’m not driving in this weather at night,” Graham said.

Fred rolled his eyes. “You’d never do as a soldier, Father.”

“Fred, you ignorant, obnoxious fool,” his grandmother said. “As smart as you think you are you should know that your mother will come down with an obscure ailment if she sits in the weather too long. Your father is using good judgment for a change.” Martha sent the grown children to bed upstairs in the rooms that once belonged to her sons.

“Land sakes, this room is a tundra!” Thankful whispered.

“Befitting the old ice witch, herself,” Buck grumbled with a weak laugh and cough.

Fred snored, peaceful as a kitten on the little cot next to the bed Buck lay upon. Thankful jumped from her cot and got in beside Buck for warmth. “Shove over, Buck and shh! Grammy will hear us laughing and give us the lash!”

Thankful teased him the way she used to, but Buck was grim. “Thankful, this time I really think I’m done in with Fred. I feel sort of bad about it.”

“Well, that’s new—you feeling bad,” Thankful laughed. “But not to worry—Fred never catches it.”

“That’s what I’m thinking about. Fred’s on a mission and now I’m tangled in it and I don’t think it’s good.”

Thankful giggled. “You look eight years old in that cap. Does it hurt? Your head I mean?”

“No. Well, yes it does. But don’t tell. It’s embarrassing. I wish I were eight again. I could just do things different.”

Thankful pat his shoulder dreamily. “The past is done. Good night.”

Buck sighed. “Thanks for those words of wisdom.” He closed his eyes, knowing he would not sleep. He hadn’t for months. Buck slid from bed and pulled out the chair tucked beneath his father’s childhood desk covered with rocks and bones. He shivered before the window and stared out at the frozen countryside.

Excerpted from WEARY OF RUNNING. Read more about Buck Crenshaw and his misadventures when you buy the book today!

“The second installment in The Tenafly Road Series definitely did not disappoint. With the introduction of new characters and the return of familiar ones, Weary of Running made for an exciting read. The protagonist, Thankful, is the real highlight of the novel. She consistently makes very poor decisions but in the end, you can understand why she has made every last one of them. The story ranges from love and romance to questions of faith and morality. It does all this without being preachy and explores many angles of different aspects of life. This is one of the best books I have read in a long time.” Amazon Review

“Buck Crenshaw is my favorite dysfunctional lovable character.”

PART ONE HERE

PART TWO HERE

PART THREE HERE

PART FOUR HERE

PART FIVE HERE

PART SIX HERE

PART SEVEN HERE

PART EIGHT HERE

PART NINE HERE

PART TEN HERE

PART ELEVEN HERE

PART TWELVE HERE

PART THIRTEEN HERE

PART FOURTEEN HERE

PART FIFTEEN HERE

PART SIXTEEN HERE

**Featured Image: Giuseppe De Nittis – Winter Landscape [c.1880] Flickr.com

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