Charlie, forester for Macallister Outdoors' corporate wilderness retreat takes Ian Macallister, the owner and her boss, to inspect a newly purchased tract of forest with a tiny lake in the center that fascinates Ian because of the legend of a spirit that resides in the lake. While there, they see strange lights and hear unearthly music but, before they can investigate further, a storm strands them and destroys the beaver dam that created the lake. Ian insists they stay and repair the dam, even though the corporate center also suffered damage, to save the spirit long enough for him to discover what it is. In their enforced closeness, Charlie fights her attraction to Ian because she refuses to become half of a workplace affair. After repairing the dam and leaving, they talk often about their experience and eventually return. During the return trip, Charlie's attraction to Ian grows still stronger. At the lake, they discover the spirit is real and is the only thing that can save Ian when he is scuba diving and becomes trapped beneath a submerged log.
PRAISE FOR "Spirit Legend"
THIS WILL STAY WITH YOU
I really like this book. I am at a loss as to what genre it fits in because it crosses over so many and so beautifully. Maybe that's why it's impossible to pinpoint. If you love nature, if you love romance, if you love sci-fi, I could go on. It's simply a wonderful story of two people who enounter something unexplicable - the something of which legends have been made. The something has an intelligence and an endearing quality that you won't soon forget and I would be remiss if I didn't say I love a happy outcome. Enjoy it. It's well worth read and your time!"
- Dianne Harman. March 1, 2013
SHORT STORY:This is a story that Florence told us regarding one storm that happens in her book, I couldn't leave this out!
A reader wished she knew more of the huge storm that isolated Ian and Charlie in the wilderness in my latest book Spirit Legend. So here it is and, yes, there was such a storm.
It happened on July 4, 1999 and was the largest blow-down ever recorded in North America. It devastated a large part of northern Minnesota, only lasting about 20 minutes but with winds in excess of 90 miles an hour.
We were in the house that day. We happened to look out and saw the darkest, lowest-hanging clouds we'd ever seen. Then, in the blink of an eye, it looked like the earth was being lifted into the sky. We ran for the basement.
We were fine, the storm passed a mile or so north of us, but the damage it did to the forest will be felt for generations.
Our daughter was on a train soon after the blow-down and later described miles and miles of trees laid flat and all in one direction, as if a giant comb had been run through the woods. She spoke of seeing that scene for hours and hours as she looked out the window of the train.
We thought the forest would never be the same. We were wrong. The forest is fine now but we still see occasional small remnants of that storm.
So now you know what inspired the storm in Spirit Legend and what it did to the North Woods.
The aerial photos covered most of the two pushed-together tables. The corners and edges were carefully matched to create one large picture, green being the predominant color. Green as in an evergreen forest. The only things breaking the green were a few darker lines representing creeks that crisscrossed the area, a fire trail or logging road or two circling the outer edges, and, in the center of it all, a small area of blue that could be a tiny lake, a pond, or, more likely, a swamp.
After scooping up our empty glasses and replacing them with additional drinks on a third table pulled close, Mickey of Mickey's Eatery, leaned over the photos and perused them casually. Then again, only this time not so casually. In detail. Then he thoughtfully traced one of the creeks with a finger. "I took a canoe along this creek once when I was a kid." The finger jabbed at the blue in the center of the montage. "And I ran across this lake when I was hunting rabbits. It was shallow, lots of rice beds along the shore. I figured I'd come back and harvest the rice when it was ripe. I wanted a Harley in the worst way and Harley's are expensive but rice brought a good price that year so I thought I might be able to buy a used one."
There was a huge motorcycle in Mickey's garage. "So that's when you got your Harley."
"Nope. I didn't go back and harvest that rice." Something about his voice gave me pause as I followed his finger.
I didn't look at the man across the table from me. In fact, I avoided him. My boss, Ian Macallister, owner and CEO of Macallister Outdoors since his parents retired. I squirmed inwardly, forced myself to be blank outwardly, and concentrated even harder on the photos so he wouldn't know I was intentionally ignoring him, though my stomach churned as I tried to decipher just how angry he was. That anger was my fault.
The Johns Falls airport was too small to have a waiting room or any of the luxuries of larger airports so Ian Macallister was waiting on a folding chair hastily provided by the single airport employee. He was polite enough when I peeled into the parking lot, ran full bore into the waiting room and skidded to a stop in front of him, but his back didn't touch the chair, and that could indicate anger… or frustration… or merely that he was a fitness freak and always bore himself with a ramrod straight back. I hoped it was the last but, figuring it was more likely the first, I waited to be fired, smiling weakly and standing tall so as to present as imposing a figure as I knew how..
His expression didn’t change. I felt myself shrinking as he unfolded from the airport chair and loomed over me, forcing me to look up into his six foot something self. Into his eyes. They were dark. From anger or were they always midnight blue or did that just happen now because I'd soon be unemployed? Or was he born with bottomless eyes? I wanted to fold my arms across my body in a feeble attempt to ward off his anger. But he said nothing, merely picked up the single suitcase that was his luggage and asked if there was somewhere in town where he could eat since it was getting late.
So I forced myself to breathe in and out, in and out, until I could sound normal, and suggested Mickey's Pub and Eatery. Then I followed him out of the terminal and into the storm that had moved his flight up a couple hours and had hit in all its fury during the few minutes we were in the terminal. There was no waiting for it to pass, it was supposed to last all night. Storms threatened to hammer the area off and on for the next couple weeks with one storm following another as if they were trains on the same track, with possibly a day in between.
I stepped into the rain and wind and was almost knocked sidewise. Ian Macallister, however, was a rock. I moved closer to use his body as a windbreak. As I basked in the relative calm his bulk provided, I decided not to mention the real reason for my tardiness until he was in a mellow frame of mind such as Mickey was providing compliments of another round of drinks. Strong, I'd guess, knowing Mickey. I didn't drink because it was my job to drive my boss to the Center and Mickey knew that, so mine were Virgin Mary's.
Eventually, when Mickey's drinks had my boss in a mellow frame of mind, I would explain my late arrival. Until then I threw Mickey a grateful look and he nodded imperceptibly in answer. He knows me, Mickey does, and the endless rounds of drinks were a gesture of true friendship.
I looked again at the photos, wondering what about them was so seductive. They were just photos of the property the Center had recently acquired and they showed miles of unspoiled wilderness. I'd felt total awe after I printed them out and put them together to form a comprehensive picture. I'd found myself staring at a jewel, a rare and ecologically unique acquisition to be cared for with love. And, as the Center's newest Forester, I'd be doing the caring.
I was so enthralled that I'd forgot the time and that was why I was late, though I doubted my boss would see that as a good reason to leave him cooling his heels on a folding chair. Now, if silence was any indication, I'd not work for Macallister Outdoors much longer. Not long enough to visit the rare slice of wilderness that had caused my lateness.
Now, in Mickey's Pub and Eatery, Ian Macallister moved for the first time since finishing dinner. My breath stopped but all he did was lean closer to follow Mickey's pointing finger. "You say you've been there?" Mickey nodded. "And you intended to return ?" Mickey nodded again. "But you didn't?" Mickey shook his head and my boss asked quietly, with no inflection, "Why not?"
Mickey was glad to talk. He's a loquacious guy. "When my parents found out where I'd been, they were angry." Mickey moved the empty glasses from one hand to the other, restlessly. "No, they weren't angry, that's the wrong word. They were concerned. No, that's not right either. They were… scared."
I peered at the photos. There was nothing dangerous about the property Macallister Outdoors had purchased. No cliffs, no dangerous rapids in any of the several creeks, nothing that I could see. Then I thought of a possible reason. "Was the bottom of the lake mud? If you were alone and overturned your canoe, you'd not have made it to shore."
He shook his head. "It did look muddy when I was there, but that wasn't the reason."
Ian's lips pursed and he zeroed in on Mickey. "They why didn't they let you go back?"
"Because of the… thing… in the lake."
I examined the tiny blue area that could be a lake. Or a pond. Or a swamp. "It's a wide area of a creek is all. Nothing unusual about it."
"The creek backs up behind a beaver dam. It forms a small lake but if that dam breaks, the lake will cease to exist."
"It doesn't look dangerous."
"It's not the lake itself that scared them."
Ian peered closer. "Then what?"
Mickey curled his shoulders forward the way people do when they are embarrassed. "It was because of the spirit that lives in the lake. Or spirits. No one knows if it's one spirit or a lot of them."
"Spirit?" I laughed, an explosion of sound that released some of my pent-up tension. "Really?" His parents were Chippewa and their ancestors had lived in the area forever, but his dad was a banker and his mom operated a jewelry store. They were educated, savvy people. "Your mom and dad don't believe that stuff."
"You know them. Of course they don't. But that one time, they did. Or at least they believed what their parents had told them enough to not want to take any chances."
"Your grandparents believed in spirits?" I'd met his grandparents. They both had college degrees. "How far back does this go? Who started this fantasy?"
"I don't know. A long time. Hundreds of years, maybe. Probably."
"And you believe it?"
"I didn't say I believe it. I said my folks wouldn't let me go back to harvest wild rice so I had to get a job in town to earn money for my first bike. And it wasn't a Harley, either, and it would have been if I'd got that wild rice and sold it. I couldn't afford a Harley until years later."
Ian Macallister leaned back, a half smile giving his face expression for the first time since I saw him in the airport terminal. He still said nothing, choosing to listen, but I was sure he heard every word, saw every expression, and correctly interpreted every nuance. For some reason, the topic of spirits interested him. Mellowed him. Might make him forget to fire me.
So I talked about spirits. "What is this spirit supposed to be like?
"Or spirits. Plural, maybe. Or singular. Nice sometimes. Other times, not so nice. Depends."
"The old people… my grandparents and the people before them… didn't say. Just that whatever is in that lake… "
"It's not a true lake, just a wide spot in a river," Ian interjected in a low voice.
"Whatever is in the lake doesn't suffer fools gladly. Or is reclusive. Or afraid. That's the best way I can put it." Mickey was uncomfortable beneath my boss' scrutiny. Ian Macallister's eyes were darker than before and intense. Because, unlike Mickey, he believed in ghosts? "According to the old people, it depends on who is at the lake and what they do." He stopped tossing the glasses from hand to hand and that broke the spell his words had cast over me. "All I can say is it didn't talk to me and, while I was there I didn't see anything resembling a spirit. Maybe because there's no such thing."
"Most likely that's it." Ian wanted to ask more but Mickey moved away, glasses in hand.
"Have you ever heard the wind in the trees?" I yelled after him, making sure the topic of ghosts stayed in the forefront of the conversation because my continued employment might depend on it. "Some people think it sounds like voices. Like someone singing."
Mickey paused in his headlong rush. "My people have lived in the forest for hundreds of years. I think they know the sound the wind makes well enough not to mistake it for anything other than what it is. The wind." He continued on and disappeared in the kitchen.
"Or the sound of water on rocks." I concentrated on Ian Macallister and added to the list of possibilities. "Or an echo if the creek has steep enough banks."
"Or everything you mentioned." Ian pulled his chair closer to the photos and leaned over them, effectively shutting me up. "This talk of spirits and beaver dams and lakes and rivers makes me curious." He gathered the photos into a pile that he then stuffed into the large envelope I'd carried from the Explorer when we arrived. "I'd not given any real thought to this new acquisition when I flew in today. My plans were more along the lines of bookkeeping. But I'm thinking about changing them."
"Checking out the new property. The wilderness. Everything. All of it."
He didn't fool me. It was the lake that held his interest. And the spirit that legend said inhabited it. "Will you go alone?"
"I'll want a guide. I'm sure there's someone at the Center whose job includes knowing their way around the property."
His eyebrows rose. "We employ foresters?"
It was hard to breathe. "Yes you do. Me. I'm the forester." Something told me that it was time to come clean. To tell the truth. "And that's why I was late. Because I was looking over the photos of the new property." I counted to ten until I could speak without the squeak that made his eyebrows rise a bit. "I'm sorry for that."
He blinked. Tilted his head slightly. Let his eyebrows fall back to their normal position above his eyes. Frowned a second then let a smile slide briefly across what seconds earlier had been a chiseled countenance, and some of the fear that had almost immobilized me melted. "You were late? I hadn't noticed."
He was a nice liar. He had too noticed, the chill in the airport had been enough to freeze the entire county, but he wanted to see the tiny lake in the forest and that meant he needed me. And that meant I'd keep my job and he'd be nice to me, at least until he'd seen everything he wanted to see.
When my alarm went off, many hours later, it was morning the sun was shining. We'd best get going if we wanted to reach that lake and return before the next storm. And no, we weren't going to inspect some new property. Not even to see the lake, pretty as it might be. We were going on a ghost hunt.
Veteran romance writer Florence Witkop was born in the city and has lived in the suburbs, the country and the wilderness where she still lives and writer contemporary, sci/fi and fantasy romances that have a gothic feel and are romantic without being erotic. At various times she's been a confession writer, a copywriter, a ghost writer and an editor. She writes short stories novellas and novels.