For our final ghostly tale this year, we return once again to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Dare County is named after Virginia Dare, the first English child born in the New World–and who met a mysterious fate when she and every other soul in the colony of Roanoke vanished without a trace.
In Dare County is a little town called Nags Head, which is where this story takes place. Nags Head also has an interesting history behind its name. As mentioned last week, the sea in the area is treacherous indeed, and at night sailors had to be on constant lookout for any light on shore to indicate a known landmark. Local “wreckers” would tie a lantern to a nag’s head and lead it along the beach, tricking the sailors into steering their ships onto the shoals. The wreckers then looted the ships–and made certain no survivors lived to report them to the authorities.
Perhaps young David was a wrecker: how else to explain the gorgeous diamond ring he presented to his fiancee, a ring far grander than anything a simple fisherman could afford. Kate didn’t question the ring’s origins too closely; instead, she flaunted it every chance she got. Many of the young women in the area were jealous, but none more so than her own sister, Mary.
Was the ring cursed, having been obtained through treachery and murder? No one knows, but David died shortly thereafter in a fishing accident. Kate grew pale and sick, and soon followed her lover to the grave.
As was the custom of the time, a family member was expected to sit up with the body all night before the funeral. No one thought it strange when Kate’s sister Mary volunteered for the duty.
Mary sat beside the pale body for many long hours. She and Kate had been close when young, but lately had started to drift apart. It was Kate’s fault, really; she’d always been one to put on airs, as if they hadn’t been raised in the same two-room shack. Things had gotten even worse after David gave her the diamond ring.
That beautiful ring.
Mary leaned over and peered into the coffin. Her sister’s hands were folded over her unmoving chest, and the light of the single candle caught in the facets of the diamond, so it blazed with cold fire. It would be such a shame to put something so beautiful in the ground, where no one could see it. What good would it do Kate now? It wasn’t as if she could bribe St. Pete with it, after all.
For long hours, Mary struggled with her thoughts. Then, just before dawn roused the rest of the community, she grasped Kate’s icy fingers and removed the ring.
Later that day, Mary wept and wailed at the funeral, apparently beside herself with grief for her sister. But sharp-eyed folk noticed the brilliant jewel on her finger, and wondered that Kate had left her engagement ring to her sister.
Several nights later, Mary sat alone in the cottage she and Kate had shared. The winds beat against the shutters, and the crash of the waves could be heard from the other side of the dunes. Along with something else…was that a voice calling out?
The storm could easily have wrecked a ship on the shoals. Mary rose to her feet and went to the door, pressing her ear against it to listen more carefully. Yes–there was a voice, a woman’s voice!
A familiar voice.
“Mary,” called Kate. “Mary, I’m so cold.”
Mary jerked back with a gasp, for Kate’s voice sounded much closer now. But surely it couldn’t be the call of her dead sister–she must be hearing things.
The steps leading up to the front porch creaked: first one, then the other. Then the porch groaned beneath a footfall. Then another.
A heavy knock fell on the door. “Mary. Mary, I’m so cold. Let me in.”
Mary stood transfixed. Someone was playing a trick on her–it couldn’t really be Kate back from the grave.
“Mary! I’m so cold! Mary, open the door and let me in!”
With a trembling hand, Mary grasped the knob and swung the door wide.
The next morning, the neighbors were shocked to see the cottage door standing open. The storm had swept rain and wind inside. Within, they found Mary sitting in front of the unlit hearth, pale as death with one hand wrapped in her skirts. When they gently pulled back the layers of blood-soaked cloth, they found the diamond ring gone–and her finger along with it.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my ghostly stories this month. If you like novels featuring ghosts and the undead, Hainted is on sale for the remainder of today (Halloween) for only $0.99 on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and Smashwords, and $1 on All Romance eBooks.