Is it serendipity…or magic?
You've heard that saying "when the lesson is needed the teacher will appear" or something like that. Well, one of the things I find fascinating about writing is the way things just fall into place with characters, plots, even settings. It really seems like magic, like the universe is one big creative mind that delivers when you ask, and even when you don't.
When I was nearly finished with my current release, Blood Moon, one of the main characters in my series, Jack Lang, former fighter pilot and newly turned Phoenix dragon was about to be captured.
I needed someplace close to my fictional town of Destiny near my fictional Louisiana lake that would be strong, inescapable. I thought something like an old rusted, heavily barred French prison. My critique partner said, "Google it. Louisiana has a lot of old jails and prisons from their Spanish and French history." So I did.
And Oh My! What I found. If you see where Storm Lake is in the southern central part of the state, see the red star northwest of Destiny? That's Beauregard Parish.
Now I have to digress for a second. I had Jack in this obscure prison/barred cell – I hadn't really gotten the plot together for this scene yet, and I'd been thinking what if I could have some kind of cool paranormal element to it?
After all, the book takes place near the Blood Moon on Halloween, a "Spirit night" when the veil is thin between the worlds and it's easier to…cross.
Well! Imagine my joy when just northwest of Destiny I found an old jail called the Gothic or Hanging Jail, abandoned for the last thirty years with a rich haunted history. It's called the Gothic Jail because the architect wanted it to be one of a kind with it gothic architecture, inside and out. Is it creepy looking or what!
The bars have a unique ridged edge, the cells are heavily built with not only a heavy barred door but a massive vault like second door. There were no recess areas or yards in which to exercise. The women were housed in cells down the hall from the men but they were only able to hear each other, not touch. The cells were unique in the industry with their own window, lavatory, toilet and shower. Each prisoner was given a blanket and a thin mattress to cover the metal bed slats. And get this, if you're in Beauregard Parish around Halloween you can pay $10 (per victim) and be a part of their Halloween Night. But expect to stand in line. Last year they pulled in 10,000 people!
Adjacent to the courthouse, the prisoners were sometimes led straight from their sentencing through an underground tunnel and straight up the spiral stair case of the jail, another of its signature features.
Each floor of cells splits off from the center spiral stairs and you can see from the main stairwell, the thickness of the concrete walls, the heaviness of the cell bars and at the top a beam from which the "hanging sheriff" served up the sentence on two of his prisoners back in 1928. You can see the bar at the top of the spiral stairs in this photo. Imagine having the only way into the cells (or out) being those uneven spiral stairs…
The gothic style window (below) is in the upper floor where the trustees were kept.
Now here's the best part! It's called the Hanging Jail and is so interesting to ghosters because the ghost of the sheriff or his prisoners have been seen and heard on many occasions at the jail.
The pictures below were akin to death row, as if any of the cells were easy to escape, this one was meant to be absolutely escape proof with the heavy vault doors. The death cell. The perfect place for my villain to keep Jack.
I wanted to see this place for myself but it wasn't open for viewing. Then a month before I finished the book I heard they'd opened it for touring and four of us went down to see it. One of my friends recorded a sound in one of the rooms when she was alone. She has a history with ghosts so I don't doubt her but I didn't want to go back and listen for myself. She and her sister want to go back for the sleep-in night. Right!
As you can see, It was like magic, the way it all fell together. The proximity to Destiny, the cool features of the jail, its history and the paranormal aspect as well as our timely visit.
And that's where Jack met the Hanging Sheriff…
The figure that materialized in front of Jack was dressed in unrelieved black, from his hat to his boots, a Pinkerton style suit coat over a black button up shirt. He leaned against the heavy metal bars near the chain that supported the metal bed slats and pulled on his scruffy beard. "You ain't never heard of the Hangin' Sheriff?"
Jack frowned, No, but perhaps he shouldn't admit it to this…what was he? "Are you… real?"
The man, who appeared to be in his 50s, though Jack couldn't be sure, bent over at the waist and slapped his knees with a guffaw. "Real, he asks." He laughed until tears should have been streaming down his wrinkled cheeks, but weren't, then he wiped his eyes of the nonexistent tears and shook his head. "What kind of sheriff are you, Lang? Why, I'm dead, son, a ghost. A specter. I like that term better ma'self."
If Jack had encountered this man-- ghost -- earlier in the year he would've called it a hallucination, a mirage, or possibly he might have suspected a reaction to some over-the-counter meds, but these days... hell, a ghost, as surprises went, registered only a one on his Destiny shock-o- meter.
"No, sir. I have to say this is a first. I'm glad to meet you unless you're here to carry out your specialty." Jack looked over at the dumbwaiter, the rope that might have been used for hanging his inmates still tied to the bars and draping down into the shaft.
"Whatcha lookin' at? Cripes, boy. I ain't gonna hang ya. I'm here to help you escape."
Jack's heart thumped hard. "You have a key? I can't touch --"
"Yeah, yeah. I been watching." The sheriff scratched his cheek.
Jack's eyebrows rose. He hadn't sensed him even a little.
His companion laughed again, this time, it was kind of a crazy laugh. "You can't see me unless I wantcha to. Understand?" He squinted up at Jack, his chin jutting forward. "You're one of them dragons, aren't you?"
"Yes, sir." The sir probably wasn't necessary but Jack figured he'd get further with respect, even well…under these circumstances.
"Then you probably know about Halloween, about the open door and all? Normally, I wait until the 31st to make an appearance, but see, I figured, if I was to wait, you'd be a hung sheriff." He slapped his thighs again. "He-he-he. Get it?" He pointed to himself, "Hanging sheriff?" then at Jack and winked, "Hung sheriff."
"So, you can just pop in whenever you want?" Jack asked, ignoring the ghost's gallows humor.
"Nah, it's because of that danged moon, all about the Blood Moon over here, ya know? Makes it easier, lengthens..." His eyebrows crashed down and he rubbed his chin, squinted one eye closed then looked up at the ceiling. Jack followed his gaze but saw only… more concrete. "Lengthens the t...tie -- what do they call it on Facebook?"
"Timeline." Jack frowned. "You're on Facebook?"
"No, are you crazy? I'm a ghost, see?" He pushed his hand into Jack's torso startling him, but he didn't feel anything. "Weren't have no way to peck on a phone. It's handy though. I can read over somebody's shoulder and stay...uhh..."
"Current?" Jack offered.
"Right, but that moon makes everything amp... stronger and stretches out that timeline, so we can cross early." He held out his hands by his sides as if to say, 'And Voila. Here I be.'
Jack shook his head. Why was he conversing with someone who was admittedly… dead? Still, he asked, "How long have you been here?" Maybe if he showed a little interest in the sheriff's history, which he seemed proud of, it would lock in his inclination to help.
He studied the ghost in black. On the left lapel of his coat hung a six-pointed star. It read Sheriff - Beauregard Parish. Now he remembered. He'd read about the jailor when researching his move from Memphis to Louisiana.
This hellhole was what people called the Gothic jail because of its unique architecture. The designer wanted it to be one of a kind with full lavatory facilities, a window in each cell. Prisoners had been marched straight from the courthouse through the tunnel, given a blanket and a mattress and locked up, there to stay until their time was served. No courtyards or recess here.
He'd seen pictures but none of them captured the depression being locked within the thick walls of the place would engender. Advanced bathroom facilities notwithstanding, the 'bed' was mere metal slats and the heavy bars spoke loudly, "Escape is impossible."
The article mentioned its signature feature, the spiral stairs that started at the tunnel entrance. Jack hadn't noticed the uniqueness of the cell at first, with its toilet, sink and shower, mostly because they were old and filthy and not plumbed. And at the time, he'd been struggling to breathe.
"Them transients were takin' up parish resources. Weren't no reason not to go ahead and hang 'em from that there rafter." The 'sheriff' leaned against the sink, picking at his teeth with a piece of metal and pointed to the iron beam outside Jack's cell.
Jack knew it probably wasn't wise, but he was curious. "Why help me escape?" The ghost shook his head as if Jack was stupid. "Why, son, you the same as me, a parish sheriff."
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Livia Quinn is a DC native who has been transplanted to Louisiana. She lives, writes and is inspired in her Storm Lake series by the culture and weather in the state. She's published eleven romance books, six paranormal and five contemporary. A former mail lady, professional singer, plant manager and current business owner, she has stored up many quirky stories to share with her readers. Sign up for her newsletter to receive the latest news.
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