by Marsha A. Moore
Genre: Magical realism fantasy
Joyce Runsey spends her life savings to open a yoga studio in an historic Victorian St Augustine house, only to discover the property is haunted. A female ghost’s abusive and very much alive husband still tortures her by using dark witchcraft. The disruptive energy thwarts Joyce’s ambition to create a special environment to train students to become yoga teachers.
Joyce engages in a deadly battle with not only the tormented spirit, but also the dangerous husband. To protect her students from harm, she must overcome mounting obstacles. An unknown swami pays an unexpected visit to give advice on how to free the anguished ghost. Can Joyce comprehend and follow the wise man’s guidance in time to save everyone who depends on her?
from Chapter One:
“Stop looking outside.” Eric slipped behind the main desk, a curved leg Queen Anne piece that had been a business-warming gift from her previous clients and teachers, and powered up the computer. “Do what you always tell your beginning teachers to do when they fidget while waiting for students to show up—go lay out mats for the number of students you want to show up tonight.”
Joyce straightened her posture and marched to the mat storage bin. She grabbed two armfuls without counting. In the classroom, she quickly unrolled a front row of five. Progressing to the second row, she hesitated and slowly laid three more in the middle. Looking at the pile of remaining mats, she took a breath to steady herself. It caught in her throat as a muffled cough. Thirty-five had enrolled in her last training session at the other studio. She wondered what had made her take a chance on this rundown, more-than-century-old property and mounting debts. She fingered the corner of a pink mat, its pebbled surface clinging to her skin. Surely more than eight would sign up. She unfurled the pink one and then four more. As she fought with a green mat that curled at the corners, the motion of Eric entering the room caused her to jerk her head in his direction.
“Only thirteen?” he called to her with a smile. “Where’s the confident Joyce I know? How about twice that number?”
She glanced at the clock—seven minutes until starting time—and gave a shrug. She turned toward one of the paired bay windows trimmed with wide, dark Jacobean-stained woodwork.
A pair of rain-bedraggled white egrets huddled unsheltered on the bank of the pond. They stretched their necks toward her, tilting their heads to gain a better view inside the studio. Joyce sensed their concern, but couldn’t meet their gaze.
She surveyed the canopy of pines and shivered. Mid-winter evenings set in early, even sooner with today’s gray skies. The rain that calmed her moments ago now seemed to be a destructive force. The cement mixer’s tracks were now mud holes. The deluge cut short the daylight and seemed to be doing the same to her dreams. Had she taken on too much? She’d trusted her business sense from her college training and previous corporate career, but the world of yoga touched lives in unpredictable ways.
The creak of the door in the foyer startled her from her thoughts. She and Eric battled each other to be the first to pass through the doorway.
A tall blond-haired woman greeted them with a wide smile. Rather than yoga clothes, she dressed in jeans that were stylishly frayed and holey. Joyce wondered if the girl walked in by mistake.
“I’m Joyce Runsey, the owner of Serenity Woods Yoga.” She extended a hand. “Are you here for the information meeting about yoga teacher training?”
“I’m Tara.” The girl accepted Joyce’s handshake. “I didn’t bring my yoga mat. I wasn’t aiming to come here tonight until I noticed a brochure for your new studio that I must’ve left on my front seat. I’m glad I saw that in my car since today’s the deadline.” She glanced down at herself, then leaned her head to one side and fluffed her long, golden hair. “Sorry I’m not in yoga clothes. I was on the way to the grocery store.”
“That’s not a problem. We’ll just be talking tonight. I’m so glad you’re here.” Joyce’s face lit with a grin, then fell as she noticed a single mourning dove fluttering on the porch outside the door. Doves seldom left their mates. The solo bird alarmed her, and she peered around Tara for a closer look. Even stranger, the bird clutched a flower stem in its beak.
Tara glanced over her shoulder, and the dove whipped its wings closer to the screen. “That bird’s trying to get in, and look, it’s carrying my favorite flower, a daisy,” she said with a laugh. “Where would it get a daisy in January?”
Joyce shivered and studied Tara, wondering why the lonesome dove needed to deliver that special flower to comfort her.
Footsteps reverberating on the porch chased the bird away, and two smiling women, who appeared to be in their early thirties, peered through the window of the front door. A brunette with a bouncy ponytail stepped through the threshold first. “Sorry we’re late.” She juggled a purse and a large bag. A yoga mat stuck out from one end of her tote. “I’m Megan. I made a wrong turn…my daughter called, and I got distracted. She’s not used to being apart from me; I’m a stay-at-home mom.”
“You’re not late. Welcome. I’m Joyce, the program director.”
Arms full, Megan smiled and nodded.
“I’m Katie,” the other woman said, extending a hand to Joyce.
“Hi, Katie. Welcome back.” Joyce took her hand into both of hers. “I’m so glad you decided to sign up.” She motioned toward her partner at the desk. “This is Eric. You’ll see him helping out in just about every way here at Serenity Woods Yoga, teaching our new men’s classes, helping at the desk, and—”
“Doing the endless yard work,” he added with a warm smile.
“Please make yourselves comfortable in the classroom.” Joyce waved a hand to the open door. “Find a mat. There are blankets on the side you can fold to sit on.”
“I remember where everything is and will help them.” Katie brushed her light brown hair behind her shoulders and steered her friend down the hall.
As soon as the three entered the classroom, Eric nodded toward the door and gave Joyce a wink. “Look! Laying out mats did the trick.”
A slim gray-haired woman opened the door, and, beyond her, Joyce glimpsed several people walking in from the parking lot.
The laughing gulls continued to swoop at the porch, narrowly missing the gingerbread fretwork.
The approaching students shooed them away, but not one person turned back.
Joyce shook her head and blinked back tears as she welcomed each new arrival.
When she walked to the front of the classroom, eleven students sat up straighter on their mats. She stood near the bay windows and made her usual opening remarks. “In the teacher training program here at Serenity Woods Yoga, you will be embarking on a journey where new doors to self-exploration and discovery will open.” Familiar words she’d said many times during the past three years at her other studio spilled from her lips, while a new energy burst from her heart. Her cheeks rose with a smile. “The ancient art and science of yoga will help you access your inner wisdom to prepare you to share this experience with others through your own teaching.”
The two empty mats caught her attention. The green one now lay perfectly flat despite its earlier fight and the pink one, which wouldn’t let go of her fingers, gleamed orange at its edges. She wondered why those two particular mats remained.
Eric appeared at the door and escorted two students into the room. One was a trim, middle-aged woman. Despite being carefully dressed, she seemed ill-at-ease. The lady fidgeted to take a seat on the folded blanket while keeping her attention fixed on Joyce. When asked, she replied in a soft tone that her name was Susan.
“Sorry I’m late.” A black woman quickly took a seat on the green mat, her long braids falling across her face. “It’s been a hard day.”
“I’m glad you’re here. I’m Joyce.”
“I’m Ricca.” She curled her legs to one side and sprawled onto an elbow.
“Make yourselves comfortable,” Joyce replied, pleased to see the latecomer so at ease. Most beginning teaching students sat rigid and stiff to display their best postures. “It’s been a hard day for many of us. Let’s take a deep breath to center and relax before we begin our talk.”
As Joyce exhaled, she exchanged smiles with Eric who stood in the back of the room.
He grinned ear to ear. He’d been right, just like when she advised her beginning teachers who laid out empty mats that were filled with exactly that number of students. Thirteen students, eleven women and two men, in her first yoga teacher training class in the new studio of her dreams, lucky thirteen.
A single gull cried at the window, and Joyce whipped around. Its beak hung open, gaping in her face. Past the wiggling pink tongue, a message emerged from the dark depth of its gullet: Thirteen steps to a gallows. As quickly as it came, the bird flew away.
Joyce sucked in a sharp breath. She turned toward the egrets, but they had gone. Without looking at the class, she stepped to the stereo, taking an awkwardly long time to select a new song. She inhaled slowly, filling her lungs completely, then released with an extended exhale. The soothing music helped prana flow into her. But as she scanned the room, her hands still trembled. No one’s face showed any sign of surprise. Instead, they waited patiently for her to continue. With a shaky smile, she got everyone on their feet and led a quick asana routine to throw off any lingering negative energy.
Marsha A. Moore loves to write fantasy and fantasy romance. Much of her life feeds the creative flow she uses to weave highly imaginative tales.
The magic of art and nature often spark life into her writing, as well as watercolor painting and drawing. She’s been a yoga enthusiast for over a decade and is a registered yoga teacher. After a move from Toledo to Tampa in 2008, she’s happily transformed into a Floridian, in love with the outdoors. Marsha is crazy about cycling. She lives with her husband on a large saltwater lagoon, where taking her kayak out for an hour or more is a real treat. She never has enough days spent at the beach, usually scribbling away at stories with toes wiggling in the sand. Every day at the beach is magical!
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