Click to Enlarge

Freeze Tag!
Click one of the above links to purchase an eBook.

ISBN-10: 1-77115-223-0
ISBN-13: 
Genre: Suspense/Thriller/Supernatural/Horror
eBook Length: 225 Pages
Published: February 2015

From inside the flap

FREEZE TAG was written by Dr. Sue Clifton with the help of senior English students, Class of 2014, South Panola High School. All profits from the sale of this book, first edition, will go to the English Department of SPHS.

Anna is a seventeen-year-old girl, weighted down with the responsibility of caring for her eight-year-old sister Lilly and their dying mother. When their mother disappears, Anna must go to the dangerous part of Memphis, Tennessee to locate her homeless Grandmother Tass and bring her back to the broken down shack in Arkansas, home to the sisters all their poverty-filled lives, in order to act as Lilly’s guardian. After locating Tass, Anna makes a quick getaway in the middle of the night moving what’s left of her family to the foothills of the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee where an 1890’s Victorian mansion awaits them, property willed to Anna’s mother by a reclusive aunt at her death.

But all is not as it appears as the beautiful Clayton House proves to be filled with paranormal activity. Ghost girl Dilly warns Lilly of sinister entities in the Victorian playhouse behind the mansion. Ashler Walker, hired hand and strong, handsome college man and neighbor, tries to protect Anna and Lilly from the darkness that surrounds the mansion.

Can the dark forces be eliminated in order for Clayton House to become a real home for Anna and Lilly? What mysteries must be solved from the mansion’s past? Only the “spirits” can answer.

Freeze Tag! (Excerpt)


Chapter One

Arkansas

I sit crouched in the dimness of late afternoon, my back pressed against the ancient dented and rusted dryer that hasn't worked since Dad left us eight years ago. My face is buried in my knees; I lock my arms pulling my knees tighter as my sharp tailbone digs into the cold dirt floor of the derelict garage. My stomach growls. The monster is back. This is my day not to eat.

My eyes leave the sanctuary of my knees, and I force myself to stare at the red eye that chills me from my loose, unkempt mass of blonde curls somewhat contained in a ponytail to my unpainted toenails showing too much in my cheap rubber flip flops. The bright red eye at the bottom, the eye that tells me the freezer is still working, glares back at me and I force myself to listen.

It's not your fault, Annabelle. You only did, are doing, what you have to do for your little sister. But you need to eat. Tomorrow is the last day of the month. You need your strength for what you have to do.

"We can't both eat, Mom. There's barely enough food in the house for Lilly. Dry generic Cheerios again, and she eats it without one complaint like the little soldier you raised her to be. You'd be proud of her, but you know that, don't you?" My whispers are directed to the red eye too close to my feet. I scrunch my bare toes and pull my legs in tighter. I am going slowly, dreadfully insane.

I'm proud of you both but mostly of you, Annabelle. Mom pauses. It's time, Anna. Time to go look for Grammar Tass. You know where to go. Take the letter and do what you have to do. The social worker will come soon. She will be suspicious if I'm absent again the next time she visits. And don't forget about the cell phones. Take yours with you into the city. I know you don't like to use it, but it is necessary for the plan and you might need it for an emergency.

"But I'm scared to go into the city, Mom, especially that part of Memphis. I've never driven in Memphis or any city for that matter. I just got my license right before you died. Remember? And what about Lillith? What if I get mugged, or killed? Who'll take care of Lilly then? Maybe I should just tell the social worker you died and let them take Lilly. At least she won't starve to death."

You don't mean that. You promised me you would do everything to keep the two of you together. (Pause) You're strong and smart. Figure it out, Annabelle. You know the old saying, "What would Jesus do?"

"Get real, Mom!" My whispers scream at the eye. "Jesus was the Son of God! I'm a seventeen-year-old girl from the wrong side of the cotton fields in Po-Sticks Benton Creek, Arkansas, assuming there is a right side of the cotton fields in Benton Creek, Arkansas. When I find myself in the throes (I use my best Biblical voice) of thugs and homeless winos, I can't call in a band of angels! And the cell phone won't do me any good. I hate that phone for what it stands for. (I say this under my breath like I don't want Mom to hear me).The cops would be too afraid to come where I have to go anyway."

"Hmmm!"

Humming! Why does the freezer always hum? It's like a reality check or Mom's way of saying she doesn't want to face the truth; she's tired of mind babbling.

I leave my grimy, musty smelling sanctuary, the back of the garage that is slowly rotting away, and squeeze by the "Gentleman", the name given by its original owner and painted in formal letters on its front fender. The Gentleman is a red and black ancient truck with never-used by us because we don't know how, four-wheel drive. The truck is long and sticks out several feet in front of the garage. Mom took the beat-up '89 Chevy pickup offered by Goodwill in lieu of pay ten months ago when she first started working part-time there. She was only allowed to work a few hours a week because of receiving welfare checks and an EBT (Electronic Benefit Transfer) card used to buy our food, both worth more to us than a minimum wage paycheck. Mom volunteered a lot for the freebies that make up our entire wardrobe.

The garage creaks as I exit and I hurry out wondering if it will fall and bury the truck and the haunting red eye. The outside of the garage is covered in torn and peeling brick siding, brown rectangles of 1950's faux brick, a bad imitation. I wonder if I should move the truck. Wheels, even old wheels, are extremely important at the moment as a getaway vehicle. I glance back; the structure leans precariously to one side doing a back bend to the grassless shaded yard but the structure still stands. I decide I'll wait until tomorrow when I have to use the Gentleman for my mission. I look past my backyard and see the aged, decaying corn stalks left unfettered in fields by an heirless farmer who died two years ago. No neighbors are close by, and this is the way we have always liked it. No apologies needed for the unpretentious, simple way our little family has lived, an understatement. No friends from school drop in to talk fashion, boys, music, or to take turns painting toenails gosh awful colors matching Christmas and Halloween barely acknowledged much less celebrated in our home. Nothing ordinary. Only survival.

The back screen-less doorframe hangs on one rusted hinge. I fling it open in frustration; it bounces off the cracked and broken asbestos shingles, and it and more shingles crash to the ground. I ignore it, all of it, and stomp into the house. The house and the door are each like an abscess--a boil on the butt of dysfunction. Everything in my life is rundown, broke-down, used-up, messed-up, degenerated, deteriorated, disintegrated--just waiting for a miracle, or a bulldozer.

Lilly sits in the living room reading, curled up like a sweet, cuddly kitten with her feet under her and her toes dug into the old sofa Mom salvaged from Goodwill. Our home, our clothes, our furniture, even the old TV that no longer works because we can't afford cable, are all the result of Goodwill hunting. When an item comes in too shabby even for the most needy (that would be us), Mom brings it home, or I should say brought it home. It is very hard to think of my mother, my best friend and confidante, in past tense.

Mom worked her miracle on the old sofa. She filled in the sunken spots with old pillow stuffing from another salvaged couch and upholstered the whole thing in a bright flowered material she purchased from Goodwill for pennies per yard.

Lilly loves the old sofa. Her skinny little butt is perfectly molded into the indentation she's carved out from hours of sitting while reading under the floor lamp, another Goodwill thrift gift and the only light I allow to burn in the house in order to keep the electric bill a little more than nothing--all we can afford to pay.

My little sister Lillith, "Lilly" to Mom and me, is brilliant, top of her class each year in school and an avid reader who read all of the Harry Potter books when she was six. Mom began teaching the girl wonder to read when she saw Lilly's potential when she was just a toddler. Lilly's school wanted to test her for the accelerated program but Mom wouldn't allow it. She knew it would mean placement with fancy-dressed "frillies", as she called them, and Lilly would not fit in socially or economically.

Lilly is reading Mockingjay, the last book in the Hunger Games Trilogy. She is eight years old, a beautiful, sweet, petite little doll and constant reminder of the phantom father we share who left Mom pregnant and destitute Lilly's lifetime ago.

Lilly looks up from her book; her black eyes, sunken and surrounded by circles as dark as her brown irises, foreshadow malnutrition. Her eyes are deep, murky cisterns of misery with sadness penetrating the surface where tears are not allowed to escape. Lilly hates a crybaby.

"Anna Bee, when is Mom coming home?" She glances toward the dining room holding the hospital bed that has stood empty for two weeks. Since the old bedroom doors were all too narrow, we could only get the bed into the dining room. When Mom got sick, I got her the hospital bed. I talked to the guidance counselor at school who came through for me like always. Her husband manages a medical supply store.

"I need to see Mom and discuss with her what is happening to Katniss. I will finish the last book tomorrow." Lilly places her book face down beside her, careful not to lose her place. "We can play Freeze Tag but only if Mom is here." Lilly puts her right hand up to stop my thoughts from exiting my lips. "And no, we can't play with just you and me. Mom is always first tagger. Besides, it's no fun unless there are three of us."

We read a book, usually chosen by Lilly, together with each of us taking a turn reading a section out loud. When we finish the book, we play our own version of Freeze Tag. Lilly always starts by acting out a scene in the book. Mom stops Lilly in mid-dialogue by yelling, "Freeze! Tag!" She then points to me, our version of tagging since Mom is too weak to physically tag one of us. I take up the story often changing characters and scenes until Lilly yells, "Freeze! Tag!" and verbally tags Mom again.

Mom is so dramatic. She should have been on Broadway. Her characters come alive and she bounces around the room in exaggerated animation or did before she got too weak. Mom has even been known to climb on furniture like Robin Williams did in Dead Poets' Society, one of our all time favorite movies and one old enough to find at Goodwill for practically nothing, or it could be found there until Robin Williams chose to die leaving the three of us in mourning for days.

"Hello--falling-down old house to Anna Bee?" Lilly stands on the couch with her hands on her hips doing her bobble head impersonation. "We're talking about Mom? You're off in Lolligag Land again, Bee."

Lilly gets me back on focus. I look at her and smile the deceitful smile of a liar, a drama queen myself, hell bent on saving my sister from a less than bright future, or more realistically, the dreadful present.

"Soon, Lil Bit. I promise Mom will come home soon. (I don't promise she'll be alive). You do remember what Mom told you?" I gauge my little sister's reaction for the millionth time I've asked this question.

"I know." Lilly drones her answer like she is tired of repeating herself and puts her hand up to stop me from saying it again. She does not like facing a reality without our mother. Lilly begins her sad but dramatic monologue without making eye contact with me as if I am no longer in the room. She leaves the couch where she has been standing and moves slowly, holding her faded denim skirt out like she's a ballerina and dances to muted, illusionary music. Lilly stops to face the dining room door as if it is her audience and puts her hand over her heart, her salute to the invisible mother. Next she drags the ragged old ottoman, the companion to Mom's worn armchair, over by the door and stands on it like it's a wobbly stage. I stretch out my hand to help balance her but little Miss Independent shoos me away.

"I will never be the same again, Lil Bit. My heart has played out, and I won't get better until I ride the diamond laden paths of sunlight to heaven." Lilly puts her hand over her eyes and scans the room like a beacon on a lighthouse searching for lost ships in a fog.

"When I pass through those pearly gates, I'll run down the streets of gold toward the throne where Jesus awaits me." Lilly jumps off her stage and runs in place for a few seconds, stops, and then drawls the last part in a weak little voice, imitating her last conversation with Mom. "I'll always be looking down on you, Baby Girl. You will never be without me. I'm right here." She points to her head and then her heart. Then she twirls around to confront me with a new set of questions.

"Why won't you let me talk to Mom on the phone when she calls? She's dead, isn't she?"

I lean back as Lilly hurls the question at me taking me by surprise. She is too astute for an eight-year-old.

"Otherwise, Mom would insist on talking to me." Lilly continues. "I'm her baby, you know. I know Mom has been sick for a long time. I'm eight years old. I can take it." Lilly puts her hands on her hips again and displays a mix of attitude and courage.

"She needs to stay where she is right now and rest. That's all. She'll be home soon." I dismiss the whole idea with a wave of my hand and move to my little sister and plant a juicy kiss on her tiny forehead. Lilly smiles a meager, pretend smile, plops down on the sofa again while wiping my spit off with her shirtsleeve, curls back into her nest, and returns to vicarious living through Katniss. I head for the kitchen, a real life Katniss Everdeen, protector of my own little Primrose.

The cupboards are empty. The refrigerator is empty. My stomach is empty. The monster growls again, and I pull a chair from the old 1960's chrome table set and drag it across the torn but scrubbed-clean linoleum. Once in place, I climb up standing on my tiptoes and stretch to the topmost cabinet. Mom's secret file is at the back of the top shelf where she made me hide it, a spot impossible for Lilly to reach.

I head for the bathroom and sit on the floor against the door that will not stay closed much less locked. I hold the first envelope, number one, up to the dim light coming through the bathroom window and hope it is enough to read Mom's instructions for the umpteen-millionth time, but this time, I know I have to really pay attention.

I pull out Mom's scribbling and reread what I have almost memorized. Just seeing Mom's weak hand scrawl comforts me. I close my eyes, rub my fingers over the ink, and try to feel her ghostly hand guiding mine. With my eyes still closed, I raise the letter to my nose and inhale, hoping Mom's Palmolive soap smell lingers but I am unrewarded.

Dear Anna Bee,

If you are reading this, the inevitable has happened. Please be strong and pay close attention to the contents of this packet; much depends on you. Letter number two is from the lawyer you need to contact about taking possession of Aunt Christina's property. Aunt Christina knew I would find Mother if she left her estate to her and me jointly, but she did not know of my heart problems or my impending death. I never imagined she would die first after I got sick even though she was at least ninety years old. I wish now I had told her about my health problems and our financial predicament, but I was too proud. She would have helped since she always paid my college tuition, something she had promised in order to convince my mother to let me come to visit every summer when I was a child, and she has been very generous at birthdays and Christmas, but it is too late now although she was very generous in her will as you will see.

Anna, you must find Grammar and talk her into helping you. The state will take you and Lilly and might split you up in foster care if you don't have a guardian after I'm gone. The money in this envelope is all I have left so use it sparingly. Save the bulk of it, at least three hundred for gas for the old pickup and for a few necessities to take you and Lilly, and, hopefully, Grammar to east Tennessee. You will have to relocate and then call the social worker to let her know you have moved and for the rest of our plan, but DO NOT CALL HER UNTIL YOU ARE ALL RELOCATED! Leave everything in the house; take only your clothes and personal affects and go in the middle of the night so no one can ask questions.

When you are ready to find Grammar, open envelope number three. It is several years old but is the last picture I have of your grandmother before she began living on the streets, and it contains the envelope and letter with the last check she sent. The postmark was from Memphis with a box number as a return address. Go to our post office and see if you can find out which Memphis post office has that zip code. Mother always sent me a check on the last day of each month, so I think she'll show up at the post office on that day. You will just have to stake it out. Leave Lilly with Mrs. Jenkins. She is always willing to help out. Look for clues in Grammar's letter and you'll think of other places to look for her if she's not at the post office. The rest of the letters you will need to keep for future use. The letter with the star--well, you know what to do with that one.

Be brave, sweet girl, and know I will always be looking down on you and Lilly. You two are the part of my heart that will always remain strong and never-ending.

I love you.

Mom

I put the letter back in the envelope and pull out Grammar's last letter containing the hundred dollars in twenties she sent exactly a month ago. When Mom found out she was dying, she began saving every penny Grammar sent knowing she would have to leave it for me for the rainy day sure to come. I only use our welfare checks, never any of the extra money I know I have to save for this stormy occasion. Grammar's envelope is soiled and stained, the stamp stuck on in a lopsided, haphazard manner. It is intentional. It is my divergent Grammar Tass.

My darling Jeannie and girls,

I hope this finds you well and as happy as can be expected during such economically turbulent times. Yes, I still read the newspaper (they are plentiful at the Amtrak depot) from cover to cover but only to justify my continued dislike of your world.

(Grammar's letters always have a negative element to them, a good solid society butt kicking).

Enclosed is the money Sister sent me; you need it more than I.

I am well and am still with my good friend, Farah, who is my exact same age. As I'm sure I've told you many times before, (please forgive me for repeating myself but I am getting old) Farah and I have so much in common we practically read each other's minds. She, too, loves to read and we spend our days in the public library downtown devouring the classics as well as a good Nora Roberts thrown in ever so often just to remind us of what's missing in our feeble old lives. We have a nice place to live free of charge and are not out in the elements; nor do we frequent those horrid rescue missions where rich high school seniors go to serve the needy, or in reality, to stack up brownie points on their resumes to attract the attention of future fraternities and sororities. The only do-gooders worse are the privileged adults who choose community service rather than time behind bars for drunken driving and other illicit drug activities. The sight of them throwing a piece of week old bread beside some homeless person's lukewarm bowl of watery soup sickens me. But enough of my soapbox!

Do not worry or fret for me, my darling. I have a few little weak spells but otherwise remain healthy and stress free and do not consider myself homeless although my quarters are meager by today's standards. But even after all these years, I miss the dialogue with students at the university. However, I DO NOT miss the evil lies and contortions of truth manufactured by the jealous faculty members who distressed your poor father unto death. May they all burn in hell!

Be well, my dearest, and know I love you. Do not try to find me. I shun the society that created me and do not wish to be a burden on you or an embarrassment to your children. Besides, you have enough with Annabelle and Lillith. I am happy enough and worship my independence.

Hugs to my granddaughters. Tell them Grammar said to read, read, read. Truth lies only in fiction.

Mother

I absorb the picture of my Grammar Tass, short for Anastasia. She stands outside the English Department at the University of Memphis with a bright flowered, old time silk headscarf tied tightly around her chin like a Hollywood star from the old days and a big smile on her face, her right arm overlapping my grandfather's arm. Grandfather is the quintessential twentieth century college professor--herringbone jacket with suede elbow patches, brown turtleneck, plaid beret covering an ever widening bald spot with a gray fifties ponytail pulled tight to the back. A long stemmed, curved Sherlock Holmes pipe dangles from his tight lips. My grandparents are poster oldies; an intellectual, glamorous older but never old couple who are locked in an austere university social order--until my grandfather is "accused" of having numerous sexual affairs with both male and female students at the university.

Grammar, who received her grandmother name from having taught English at the university for twenty years, refused to believe the accusations and resigned taking early retirement when my grandfather was fired. Soon after, they declared bankruptcy, unable to find employment due to lack of references and unable to live off Grammar's meager retirement from the university.

As I stare at them, I can't imagine them living in low-income housing, victims and partakers of the dole, the welfare system. In two years, Grandfather is dead, and Grammar declares herself a modern day female Thoreau, her idol, living "outside the realms of society" in civil disobedience: never filing a tax return; never applying for social security or Medicare; living off the discarded treasures of the contemptible elite by reselling their trash. Grammar is an intellectual, subsistence dumpster diver, or environmentalist scavenger as she likes to refer to herself. Her one room cabin on Walden Pond is the abandoned factories and buildings of skid row Memphis.

Mom said Grammar is intellectually insane, somewhat of an oxymoron. I have not seen my Grammar since Lilly was born, but my mother says I am much like her in the way I look at the world, whatever that means--not sure it's a compliment. Now, I must seek Grammar Tass and convince her to return to the society she loathes.

I head back to the living room but stop at the kitchen door and stare; my tear ducts are primed and I bite my lip to keep from overflowing. Lilly has retrieved the empty generic peanut butter jar from the garbage from two days ago, and her tiny hand is stuck completely down in the jar. She pulls it out and licks completely around her hand for any little tidbits of peanut butter she can salvage. Her tiny mouth is covered in traces of the brown miracle food. I retrace my steps to the bathroom and retrieve the manila envelope from the shelf where I hid it. Reaching in, I take out one of the twenties Grammar sent. Carefully, I hide the envelope between the stacks of worn slick towels on the shelf.

In the kitchen, Lilly is scrubbing her sticky little hand under the cold water. The hot water heater has been out for weeks. I turn the water off, grab her still wet little hand and pull her toward the door.

"Where are we going, Anna Bee?" Lilly questions but is easily led toward the door, ready for a new adventure, any adventure.

"You'll see, Lil Bit. It's a surprise." I whisper the last part in her ear as I rake my fingers through her tangled mass of blonde curls and pull it back in a scrunchy. She smiles a real smile as she watches me grab the keys to the truck. I am careful to securely lock the door behind us knowing the envelope is in the bathroom shelves. I chuckle at the thought. No thief in his right mind would consider burglarizing a disaster of a house such as ours.

In a couple of miles, we pull over at Cissy's Diner, Lilly's favorite place to eat, and order cheeseburgers, fries, and vanilla milkshakes. We ordered the same thing on my sister's eighth birthday, three weeks ago, the week before Mom left us. As I watch my little sister devour the burger, I hear Mom...

Freeze! Tag! You're it!