The Strange Haunting
Johnny Feelwater’s eyes popped open in the middle of the
night. He lay motionless beside his sleeping wife for a long
while, glancing this way and that, squinting into the shadows
of every corner of the bedroom. A fine sweat had formed on
his skin, though the tranquil night air seeping into the room
through the open window felt rather crisp. Almost positive he
had seen a movement of some kind just beyond the foot of
his bed, he would have described it as a swirl of smoke
zipping across the room like a fast bird. But the room was
dark. Perhaps it had been a dream. He didn’t know. Either
way, it had robbed him of some valuable sleep and had left
the oddest feeling in his hands.
Lying there, now wide-awake, he looked at his wife, Marilee, and his thoughts shifted to his Globalcorp
project, the same project that occupied his mind most of his waking hours, the pot of gold at the end of the
It had been a long, arduous and debt ridden path that he and Marilee had trod together, but had they
managed to get his small graphics design firm off the ground. The risks finally paid off when Globalcorp
offered him the contract for the coming year’s national advertising campaign. The sampling of ideas he had
presented won them over. They promptly offered him the job for all the commercial artwork in the campaign;
the first such contract ever awarded a small, black-owned firm by that company. The project had lionized his
time for weeks. Its eventual completion not only meant a significant financial reward, it promised to elevate
him to a prominent place on the list of who’s who in the advertising world. At long last he and Marilee had
gotten their bills caught up. Only recently they had been talking about how they planned to finish renovating
their small house there in historic Savannah.
He clasped his hands behind his head and stared at the ceiling. It wasn’t the first time he had lain awake
during the wee hours of the morning—his best ideas often came in the middle of the night. An hour or two
passed before his eyes fluttered and sleep once again took hold.
When first light spilled into the room, his eyes popped open again; this time prompted by a color scheme that
came to him during the night. He wanted to try it on his latest design for a series of cosmetic ads. Then his
mind drifted to the dream that awakened him a few hours earlier. He remembered it clearly. How eerie it
had been. Odd he remembered it at all, in that he rarely remembered any of his dreams or nightmares.
Coming up on his elbow, he scanned the room, thinking it ridiculous that he had thought for a moment there
had been something peculiar inside his house.
He turned his head and rested his eyes on the feminine contours beside him, still fast asleep under the quilt
that he had flipped off his side of the bed before falling asleep. Though the early mornings were still cool, the
quilt was a little too warm to sleep under, even though he had come to bed in nothing more than his usual silk
pajama bottoms. Just how Marilee tolerated those heavy pajamas and confining underclothes in this warmer
weather, he would never understand.
Anxious to get the day started and get back to his project, he swung his legs off bed and hurried into the
bathroom without so much as a thought for the toothbrush and razor on his way to the toilet. Then back in the
bedroom, preoccupied already, he pushed his arms through some shirtsleeves and pulled on his blue jeans,
tucking in the shirt on the way to his drafting table in the garden room. An hour later, having finished a first
cup of coffee and starting the second, Johnny sat hunched over his work, wondering absentmindedly who
had shown up at the front door.
“Probably that damn preacher,” he muttered, reaching up to scratch his chin, realizing the stubble his fingers
scrapped across had gotten its start the day before, realizing only then he had forgotten to shave, again.
Must be the preacher. Who else but the Reverend Aragones would come calling this time of day?
Johnny took a sip of coffee as his concentration returned to the graphics spread across the table.
Reabsorbed in his work, he assumed Marilee had heard the bell, that she would answer the door, or else
whoever was standing on the front porch would eventually give up and go away. It didn't matter. It had
receded into the back of his mind like a vague abstraction. There was work to do. A deadline to meet. The
color scheme that came to him during the night had yet to find its way on paper. It might look like clutter to
anyone else, but the graphics spread out before him represented Johnny’s fondest dream, a long awaited
achievement that cleared the way for a prosperous career, right here from his corner of the garden room.
The garden room, now also his office, had been their first major improvement to the house. After wading
through a myriad of zoning restrictions and codes exclusive to Savannah’s historic district, they had
performed much of the work themselves: the walls nearly all glass, the floor carefully laid brick atop two
inches of cushion sand. A cheerful, sunny space, it was Johnny’s favorite room, tastefully furnished with lush
potted plants, wicker patio furniture and a variety of mementos. Johnny had placed his coveted antique
drafting table on the right side of the room, along with his business files, books, computer, and of course, in
light of his growing business, a two line telephone. The room not only created a perfect, year around
environment for their tropical plants, it also served as corporate headquarters for Feelwater Graphics and
Evidently Marilee had answered the door.
Johnny heard voices coming from the foyer and his shoulders tightened. The morning already off to a less
than productive start, there wasn't time to suffer the angst of small talk with Reverend Aragones.
The Reverend Aragones. What was it about this particular preacher Johnny didn’t like? A handsome
Spaniard, he had managed to recruit Marilee for a number of projects, almost from the moment she had
changed to his church a few months back. Even her religious zeal had ratcheted up a notch or two; which
didn’t surprise Johnny all that much, though it irked him and had been the main reason for adding the second
phone line. She filled an inordinate amount of time chatting with various church members who never tired of
pressuring her to bring her husband along, thereby prompting her persistence in coaxing him to attend
Sunday services. One of these days, Marilee would get it through her head there wasn’t a chance in hell she
could drag him out of bed on a Sunday morning to go to church. In any event, it sure seemed the Reverend
Aragones had taken an uncommon interest in her; and it seemed that, much to Johnny’s chagrin, his wife’s
puritanical morality had been further enriched by ever-expanding religious conviction.
Tilting his ear toward the door, Johnny didn’t recognize the sound of the man’s voice. It was the voice of an
older man, in command of an old traditional southern drawl.
Must be a salesman. Insurance probably.
He looked back at the graphics scattered across his beloved drafting table, feeling a little antsy, not at all
pleased with the way the day’s work had progressed so far. But this was exactly how he perceived every
phase of a project during the inception stages; so he would move lines here or there and change one color
after another, and eventually the creation would take form. Eye-catching form actually, exactly the reason his
work had accumulated significant recognition since he graduated from the Savannah Art Institute.
He had been twenty-three then, smitten not only by the charm of Savannah’s gardens and park-like squares,
but also by Marilee, whom he met at the library one day after class. Applying for a job that day, she had
dropped her courses at the Art Institute a couple of weeks earlier. After thirty minutes of exchanging
surreptitious glances, Johnny worked up the courage to start up a conversation and ultimately invite her to
dinner; which worked out well, though it took six months after that to coax her into bed. Shortly after she
acquiesced, they were married and she soon fell into the role of dutiful wife. Undeniably pretty, she stood five-
eight and walked around with a perpetual smile and brimming with innocent charm. There was a look of
genuine propriety in the soft lines of her oval shaped face. Her African heritage provided voluptuous lips and
smooth, creamy light brown skin, and she wore her hair boyishly short and straight. Feminine in stature with
her small shoulders and smaller than average, but nicely shaped breasts, it was the alluring flare of her hips
that had captivated Johnny from the moment he set eyes on her in the library, the very feature that had
compelled him to get her into bed way back then; and nine years later, they were still every bit as
provocative. What she might do with them if she had a mind to, Johnny could only imagine, for his fantasies
were as foreign to her as her bible studies were to him. No one had ever criticized Marilee for being overly
Nevertheless, Johnny had become a contented husband. Though every now and then his mind might
wonder, his feet stayed well fixed to the ground. Considered attractive at age thirty-one, he had twice
ignored some not so subtle hints cast his way by women he had encountered in the advertising trade. And
that other little part of him, defined by that misguided incident with the boy across the hall back when he was
in school, had receded into the darkest corners of his mind, emerging only fleetingly now and then when
subjected to masculine happenstance in passing.
So over the years he had convinced himself a man didn’t marry a woman for her sexual prowess. Those he
knew who did were more often than not in the throes of divorce. But still, he believed a wife could have at
least a little imagination, and often wondered why his did not, attributing her modesty to the church. Marilee
simply could not allow herself to do anything that others might construe as risqué, even in the privacy of her
Yet things could be much worse. Marilee wasn’t a nag and she never complained, and she had created a
warm and comfortable home. So Johnny, unlike those men who lead lives of quiet desperation, kept himself
occupied with his work, believing the two of them were destined to grow old together.
He listened to the voices in the foyer for a moment; Marilee’s more discernable than the gentleman’s. It
sounded like she was trying to explain that her husband was too busy to be interrupted, when in reality she
was probably thinking her husband was not presentable in his worn out shirt and jeans. Johnny heard her
inquire as to the nature of the visit.
True, he looked a mess, and could not have cared less. He had always been that way, despite what others
might think. He grew up thinking he was different from other boys. From early on his mother had told him so,
and he remembered agreeing with her because he had never fit in with the other kids at school, the black nor
the white kids either; and to this day he walked with the private aloofness of a man who saw himself as one-
of-a-kind, perhaps the very reason behind his motivation to start his own firm. He never thought of himself as
stunningly handsome, but he didn’t cringe when he looked into a mirror either. At six foot and slender, he
walked with a casual gait on long graceful legs. Though not overly muscular, his upper body filled a shirt
reasonably well for a man who never lifted weights. Most agreed his best feature was his beautiful skin.
Several shades darker than Marilee’s, it lay sensuously over the contours of his body like silky smooth
caramel, accentuated with masculine patterns of black hair on his legs, forearms and chest. His facial
features were more influenced by European blood—Spanish or Portuguese he figured.
Now the morning was slipping away, and it sounded like a bit more of it was to be snatched away by an
intrusion by whoever had appeared at the door.
He heard footfall in the hallway, creaking over the ancient hardwood floor toward the garden room. Turning
on his stool just as Marilee entered the sunny, garden-like space, he saw standing behind her a portly, rather
sophisticated looking southern gentleman. The man stepped forward and bowed graciously and then
extended his hand.
“Samuel McPhereson,” he said as Johnny took his hand. “Glad to meet you Mr. Feelwater. I’m a lawyer, sir.
I’ve come today with some news. I think it could be considered good news on your part.”
At a loss, Johnny glanced between Mr. McPhereson and Marilee, wondering what on earth this was all
about. Marilee shrugged and looked back at the lawyer, who continued with his introduction.
“I represent a lady by the name of Cassandra Mott. At age ninety-two, she passed away not a week ago.
She willed her only valuable property, a house facing Confederate Square, to you.”
Johnny’s loss turned into total bewilderment.
Samuel McPhereson saw the confusion in Johnny’s eyes. “Let me try to explain.” Adjusting his tie, he looked
around for a place to sit.
“Here, Mr. McPhereson,” said Marilee, pushing over one of the wicker chairs. “Sit here.” She brought over
another chair for herself.
“Let’s see . . . ah, yes. Your grandmother, Emily Hinton, descended from a slave owned by one Colonel
Adam Mott, Cassandra Mott’s grandfather. The Mott and Hinton families were very close since the days
before the Civil War, and remained so long after. Your grandmother and Cassandra were born from their
descendants and grew up together after the turn of the century and became very good friends. Now, from
what I understand, you’ve never met any members of the Mott family, have you, Mr. Feelwater?”
Johnny turned, his head in dazed confusion. I’ve inherited a house? Just like that? From someone I didn’t
Too dumbfounded to ask questions just yet, he instead though about his family history, which lingered like
unexplained shadows in his mind; but it seemed he did remember his mother had mentioned that name.
Yes, talking to someone over the phone one day. He remembered her mood grew foul as the conversation
progressed, that he had tried to listen, hear what it was about, but had caught no more than bits and pieces.
When he inquired after his mother hung up the phone, her mood still bitter, she refused to discuss it with him.
“No,” said Johnny, stammering slightly, looking back at Samuel McPhereson, now thoroughly intrigued by the
man’s presence. “I’ve never met any of them, but I’ve heard that name.”
“Well, as I said, your grandmother and Cassandra Mott were very close.” McPhereson cleared his throat and
went on with his next statement slightly discomfited. “They were lovers, actually. Cassandra was very clear
about that when she told me this story a couple of years ago. It’s believed your grandfather was a
Shakespearean actor from New York whose company performed in Savannah from time to time.”
McPhereson, clearly embarrassed by his own statements, cleared his throat again. “It seems he shared their
bed when he was in town. Mind you, this would have been in the 1920’s.”
Spellbound, sitting several inches higher than his guest, his hands resting in his lap, Johnny’s eyes drifted to
the floor. Here was a man who apparently knew something of his grandfather, the grandfather his own
mother disdained and never acknowledged. All of this fascinated him. Johnny knew his mother and
grandmother were at odds with each other, but he never knew why. Obviously his mother didn’t approve of
his grandmother’s lifestyle. His focus returned to McPhereson.
“Was my grandfather from New York originally?” he asked.
“No. He was an immigrant from Madrid.” McPhereson studied Johnny’s face for a moment. “That’s
probably where you got your prominent nose.”
Johnny looked at Marilee and smiled. “I told you I have some Spanish blood running through my veins.”
Johnny was captivated, his mind running with questions. Hungry to know more, he looked back at
McPhereson. “Do you know anything about him? His name?”
“Quite the adventurer I understand, but I know practically nothing about him. His name was Barnabas
It all sounded wonderfully romantic to Johnny. He felt the strongest urge to learn more of his heritage. He
resented his mother for keeping him and his grandmother apart; and he realized he wished he had had the
opportunity to meet Cassandra Mott.
McPhereson paused, as if to determine where to pick up his story. “Anyway, I got the impression, that over
the course of her long life, Miss Mott had never known anyone as important to her as your grandmother.
Evidently they were quite ... shall I say involved with each other, and it seems your grandmother was every bit
as eccentric as Cassandra, until you were born. Things changed for Emily then. She wanted to be part of
your life, to be your grandmother; but as you must know, she and your mother were estranged. Emily
became quite melancholy over that and died when you were a small boy. Cassandra remembered you the
rest of her life as someone special—her lover’s grandson. I personally believe she felt responsible for the rift
between your mother and grandmother; and having no heirs of her own, she bequeathed her house to you.”
“Did she know anything about me?”
“A little. She asked me to make some inquiries about you and report back with my findings, which I did. Just
a few generalities, mind you. She wanted to know where you live and more your career in commercial art
and whom you married. She was especially interested in learning more about your wife, Marilee.”
McPhereson twisted to have a look at Marilee, who sat just behind him beaming with her usual gracious
smile, though Johnny felt certain this story had had a morally negative effect on her sensibilities.
Promiscuous sex was anathema to her, let alone that of an interracial nature between two people of the
same sex. McPhereson returned his attention to Johnny.
“So I told her all I could about your lovely wife. I learned of her strong religious beliefs and her many civic
Marilee looked at him in thought. “I remember one of the lady’s at my church told me about a man making
inquiries about me sometime last month. Was that you?”
“Yes, my dear. I found that your friends hold you in the highest esteem.”
“What does all of this mean?” asked Johnny.
McPhereson produced a folded document from his suit pocket along with a key. “Cassandra was bed
ridden the last two years of her life; otherwise I believe she would have wanted to meet you. Nevertheless,
she delighted in giving you her house.” He unfolded the document and leaned forward to place it on the
corner of the drafting table. “If you would just sign on that bottom line, the house will be yours.” He handed
Johnny the key and added: “I'll take care of all the other paperwork and technicalities.”
Johnny glanced over the document still in a daze. He picked up a pen and signed, and then handed it back
to McPhereson. “You mean just like that—I own a house?”
“Just like that,” McPhereson assured him. “It’s yours as of this moment. You may have a look at it at your
leisure. It’s a large house, so I would assume you’d want to sell it. If so, Cassandra foresaw that possibility
and made provisions for it with one or two restrictions.”
“Yes. Remember, I mentioned the lady was eccentric. She couldn’t abide the house passing into the hands
of a tax collector, a Yankee or a preacher.”
Johnny glanced at Marilee, who looked miffed. As for himself, he had never been so intrigued by anything.
He held up the key in the sunlight, which looked something of an antique itself, in use some fifty years at least.
Samuel McPhereson got to his feet and presented his business card. “You can reach me at that number
anytime you have a question.”
They shook hands again and Marilee escorted the lawyer back to the front door. She promptly returned to
the garden room.
“It’s a little overwhelming, isn’t it?” she said.
Johnny was looking at the key.
“I wonder why she didn’t want you to sell the house to a preacher?” she said with indignation.
His gaze shifted from the key to her.
“Why wouldn’t she want you to sell the house to a preacher?” she repeated, feeling uneasy about the whole
matter. Not sure why, other than the fact her husband’s heritage was linked to a woman of such low moral
character, Marilee thought perhaps her queasiness had come about because it had all happened so
unexpectedly. Besides, if they had inherited a house, it meant little to her other than having some real estate
to sell, which would provide money to further renovate their own house.
“What does it matter?” Johnny replied. “Evidently Cassandra Mott didn’t like tax collectors, Yankees or
preachers. I think it’s funny.”
“It just doesn’t seem ... appropriate.”
“Let’s go over there, honey.”
Marilee’s lips tightened. “I can’t now, Johnny,” she said, knowing he wouldn’t like her reason why. “We’re
making Easter decorations this afternoon.” She smiled haplessly, wishing she had not already made plans.
Her husband asked so little, she hated to disappoint him.
“Huh! Can’t they do that without you just this once?”
“I told them I’d be there. I’m responsible for the refreshments today.”
“Shit! We just inherited a house, Marilee. Don’t you want to see what it looks like?”
“Of course I do, but I can go with you some other time.”
He let out a sigh. “Well, I’m going to run over there for a few minutes. Maybe you and I can go tomorrow.”
She thought for a moment, making sure she had no plans for the next day. “Tomorrow will be perfect,” she
He hurried back to the bedroom bath and looked into the mirror, jutting out his jaw. Why would I have to
shave to look at a vacant house? He buttoned his shirt and yelled good-bye as he went out the front door.
His bicycle was where he left it, propped against the ancient brick wall, which was his usual mode of
transportation in and around the historic district, especially this time of year when the weather was warming
and the streets were clogged with tourists.
Fifteen minutes later he stood before a two-story house, erected, so declared a small plaque mounted on
one of the brick columns that supported the wrought iron gate, in 1855. He fell in love with it at once, though
the upkeep on such a grand house was far beyond his current resources. The tiny front yard was walled in.
Not more than fifteen feet beyond the gate, five brick steps lead up to the front door. The house didn’t have a
restored look, like so many in Savannah; rather it appeared that it had been perpetually maintained
throughout the century. Everything about it, down to the door knocker looked original and laid over with a fine
patina of age.
The wrought iron gate creaked open with an effortless push and he bounded up the steps with the key in
hand. The door towered before him as he pushed the key into the brass plate. He heard a muffled click and
the knob turned easily, yet the door would not budge. Pushing harder did no good. It seemed bolted from
the inside. He took a few steps to a window and peered in, but lace curtains obscured the furnishings
inside. The window was locked tight, as were the other three that were shaded by the covered front porch.
After trying the door once more, he hurried down the steps and around the side of the house, his neck craned
as he surveyed the fine architecture of the old house. He found all of the doors and windows locked.
It had to be the right key, he reasoned, it had turned the decades old tumblers. Disappointed, he stepped
backwards toward the front gate, looking up at the fine cornices and masonry of the front facade, thinking it
might take a locksmith to get inside. Johnny crossed the street with a happy jaunt, turning frequently to look
back at the house as he got further into the square. He wanted to see the effect of the house from a
distance. Stepping backwards again, his eyes set in an enchanted gaze, he came upon an old lady sitting
on a park bench aside the walkway. He glanced at her with a smile.
“Miss Mott isn't there anymore, young man,” said the old woman.
Johnny turned to look at her again. “You knew her?”
“Oh my, yes. She was a dear friend since we were very young girls. I was at her bedside last week, holding
her hand when she passed away. No one lives there now.”
A glorious scenario unfolded in Johnny’s mind as he looked at the diminutive old lady, that of living in
Savannah through a century of enormous change. It occurred to him that she might have known his
“Miss Mott had a special friend many years ago. A black lady. Did you know her?”
“You’re talking about Emily.” The old lady smiled with the memory.
“Yes. Emily. They say Cassandra and Emily were, uh ... they were ...”
“They were lovers,” said the old woman. “Is that what you mean to say?”
“Yes,” said Johnny, slightly wide-eyed. He had not expected the old woman’s bluntness.
“Of course I knew Emily. She was a dear friend, too. Died so many years ago.”
“She was my grandmother,” said Johnny proudly.
“Your grandmother? Then you must be Johnny Feelwater.” The old lady’s face brightened and became more
animated. “My, my, how Emily talked about you. It was sad for her that she couldn’t see you. I guess your
mother couldn’t forgive her ways.”
Johnny looked at the old woman, delighted to have come upon her. She had that slightly mischievous gleam
in her eyes that he had seen before in seniors who interesting memories. And this lady seemed happy to
talk about the past. He sat down in the grass across the walkway from her, smiling. “What’s your name, ma’
“I’m Arlene Landrum. Your grandmother and Cassandra and I all went to elementary school together. Of
course it was a small private school, otherwise your grandmother wouldn’t have been allowed to go in those
days. It was maddening, I know, but it seemed to be the way of the world. We all grew up together. How
wonderful and carefree those days were. You’d be surprised at the adventures we got involved in. Now I’m
the only one left.”
Johnny’s smile took on a touch of sympathy.
“Did you know my grandfather?”
Her face brightened again. “Oh yes. A dashing man. Errol Flynn, I called him. Lava flowed through that man’
“He was a Spaniard?”
“Yes. From New York City. He called himself Barnabus Muliama. Why, I wouldn’t know. I never believed for
a minute that was his real name, but he was an actor and I figured he took the name for that purpose. He
was mesmerizing on stage, and boundless in bed, not that I ever had a personal experience with him.” She
blushed as the old memories unfolded in her mind. “Not that he preferred it that way. I can remember how he
chased me around that big house, more than once mind you, naked as the statue of David.” Her hand
suddenly flew to her mouth as if she had spoken out of turn.
“No . . . please, go on. I want to hear everything. Please, I’m not judgmental.”
She studied him for a moment, detecting easily his hunger to learn of his past. “Oh my, I guess it’s been
years since I’ve spoken to anyone about those wonderful days, but at my age you don’t think of such things
very often. Cassandra and Emily were both one of a kind. They were forever looking for absurd ways to
amuse themselves. The things that went on in that house often provided the best gossip in Savannah.”
Johnny was smiling at her, absorbing every word.
“I can’t say that I was as daring as your grandmother or Cassandra. They were the instigators of a great
many escapades and I tried to keep up, but I promise you, that took a lot of energy and audacity. I’m afraid I
may have a lot of explaining to do when my judgment day comes.”
“Please, tell me more.”
Arlene Landrum gathered her purse into her lap and smiled at him. “I believe I will, but not today. I’ve
tuckered myself out with this little outing and I think I’m ready to spend the rest of the day in my rocker.”
She came warily to her feet and Johnny jumped up to assist her.
“Let me walk you home,” he said.
“Oh, no dear. I live just around the corner and I’ll be fine. It’s the gray house, second from the corner,” she
said, nodding in that direction. “Call on me when you wish and we’ll have a chat and some hot tea.” She
turned for another look at Cassandra’s house. “Oh look! You left the door open.”
Johnny’s head snapped around. He stared at the house, gaping. To his astonishment, the door stood half