Web of Echoes
Web of Echoes Short Story Prequel (Book 1)
Release Date: August 27, 2019
Deep Echoes Excerpt - Chapter One
The French Chateau rose into view, first with its vibrant blue slate rooftop, then the limestone exterior, a graceful contrast of color breaking through the vibrant green of the North Carolina forests. A hidden treasure now exposed for world review. Caitlin Benoit's pace slowed, her long legs basking in the rays of the warm southern sun. Other visitors hurried past her, more concerned with getting inside the house than enjoying the view or understanding the history of a Gilded Age estate. She tussled the thick curls she'd inherited from her father—dark brown like his, highlighted by her mother's gold, Caucasian coloring. Anyone's quick glance would see a woman with a healthy, year-round tan. She'd inherited that from both parents—a good mix of her mother's European ancestors and her father's African roots. And she was equally proud of both sides of her heritage as it helped shape and define her passion for research and exploration into the past.
But, she reminded herself, this visit to the Biltmore Estate wasn't work. This was a vacation. A break from exploring a history in slave trade around the world in all its ugly incarnations. This was a break, and, she thought with a sigh, one much needed.
Caitlin stepped into the heavy foot traffic and followed other tourists to the front of the chateau. As she edged closer to the house, her phone rang, and Caitlin rolled
her eyes. Just an afternoon to herself—it couldn't be that much to ask. Should have left the device in the car.
She pulled the phone from a pocket and glanced at the name; a soft smiled played across her lips.
"Hey, Sean. You're lucky I like you."
He chuckled. "I knew that, but why?'
She pressed a finger against one ear to drown out the surrounding voices and laughter. "I'm getting ready to go inside the Biltmore Estate. When the phone rang, I was ready to wring the neck of whoever was interrupting my vacation." Caitlin smiled sweetly at a man who'd turned around with a raised brow. As he turned and returned his attention to his family, she shook her head. People could be so nosey.
"Biltmore, huh?" Sean asked. "How do you feel about a side trip?"
Caitlin stepped out of line, nodded to the people behind her. "Side trip? Why would I do that?"
"I found something you might be interested in."
Her stomach did the familiar flip any new discovery brought with it. Even after ten years of working in the field, new sites still made her blood race. "Oh?"
To make matters worse, she could hear the smile through the phone. Sean knew he had her undivided attention. "A local builder was clearing ground for a new factory, found the remains of what appears to be slave shacks."
The flips erupted into a full-on explosion. "Has an archaeological team been called in yet?"
She laughed. They'd graduated college at the same time and, along with another friend, Jenny, formed a team quickly respected by the archaeological community. Friends, colleagues, and, she liked to think, one of the best teams in the business. They grew together, made mistakes together, polished their skills together, understood how each other worked. Her team. The best there was.
"I like that. Where are you?" Caitlin asked.
"Just north of Charleston. Should be about a four-hour drive from where you are."
She nodded, glanced at the Biltmore Estate with a passing shade of disappointment, then turned and headed back down the driveway. The vacation didn't have to be canceled, just postponed. "I'm far too predictable. You knew I'd come running."
"Predictable is not a word I'd use to describe Caitlin Benoit, but in this case, I had a pretty good hunch. But just in case you need further incentive, the shacks aren't all that was found."
"I'm already on my way. You don't have to play dirty."
He laughed. "I found a stone. Looks like Hoodoo symbols are carved into it."
She trotted the rest of the way to the car. A stone with writing meant a gold mine to treasure seekers. If word got out, she'd never make it on time. "Was it pulled from the site already?"
"No, it's waiting for you."
"Has it been made public yet?"
"You know me better than that, Caitlin. Don't worry. The whole site has been taped off. You have first dibs, so don't kill yourself getting here."
As he finished the sentence, Caitlin's foot was already stomping against the pedal, tires screeching from the parking space as other visitors to Biltmore stared at her in wonder. "You take all the fun out of everything."
"Someone has to. I'll see you in a couple hours."
"You said it would take about four to get to you."
"Right. And the way you drive, it'll be two."
Caitlin said goodbye and ended the call, cranked up the volume on a favorite mix of songs spanning three decades, and turned onto I-26 East. She settled in the seat, ready for the ride through the Carolina mountains. Her mind raced over the possibilities. A carved stone found at the site of slave shack remains. Hoodoo and Voodoo were both widely practiced religions among early slaves, both faiths a thick blend of Christian beliefs blended with African rituals. The stone wasn't a big surprise. Simple tools of their faith, like a rock, were easy to hide from the plantation masters who didn't want their workforce dabbling in what would have been seen as witchcraft. A rock in the corner of a house? Who would look twice at that?
"But every find tells a bigger story." Caitlin pressed harder on the pedal, the Jeep barely twitching in response. What remained of the Antebellum South had been romanticized, the best of the slave quarters far less characteristic of what many were forced to live in. Brick houses with well-constructed walls and fireplaces were not commonplace, and the more characteristic wooden structures long since destroyed.
Studying this period of American history always placed Caitlin in an odd juxtaposition between the two separate histories that coursed through her veins and shared her heart. Maybe that was why it captivated her so much.
To travel back in time, to see the histories merge into one clumsy choreographed dance.
"I'd have to be invisible, but it'd be interesting." She looked across the rich jade forests lining either side of the highway. "But since that's not a possibility, I'll keep digging."
After all, digging was what she was meant to do.