So picture this. You’re alone in an old, rambling, decrepit mansion, unpacking ancient Pre-Columbian artifacts for your professor. The sun’s going down; the place is getting dark. You’re packing up for the day when, suddenly, something flies at your head. Is it a bat? Before you can decide, you hear a low, feline growl and fur brushes your arm. Its shadow looks like a big cat, maybe a jaguar? Suddenly another creature swoops at you from the rafters, flying again, but bigger than before. An owl?
What’s going on? Well, for Harper Jennings and other characters of BEHIND THE WALLS, what’s going on appears to be a Nahual, or a shape-shifter. You might have heard of these, but I hadn’t, not until I did research for this second Harper Jennings book, in which she encounters this eerie and possibly supernaturally powered character while working on a university archeology project.
Nahuals, it seems, had the power to change forms. They embodied shamanic powers of enlightenment and transformation, appearing as deer (symbolizing the hunt), jaguars (symbolizing power), owls (omens and messengers from the dead), dogs (guides to the underworld), and so on.
The job of a Nahual was, among other things, to protect his village, his people and their possessions against anyone who threatened them. Which might mean anyone who took their property even a few thousand years later, in the form of artifacts.
In doing research for BEHIND THE WALLS, I learned a lot about early beliefs in spiritual protectors. They weren’t limited to the Americas. All the way in Australia, Uluru (Ayers Rock) is believed to have invisible guardians; taking away pieces of rock will lead to disaster.
In Utah, arrowheads and other relics of the Ojibwe tribe are said to be cursed, leading those who plunder them to sickness, alcoholism, even suicide. (See The Guardian.co.uk)
There are dozens, maybe hundreds of such stories. Among my favorites is one about Montezuma’s gold and Peek-a-boo Canyon, Utah.Â In 1914, a guy named Freddy Crystal got a map from a medicine man in Mexico, leading him to the treasure, supposedly buried in caves in Johnson canyon.
Crystal dug for years, eventually realizing that the gold was in nearby underwater caves. But it wasn’t until 1989 that sonar detected an underwater tunnel and a chamber with high concentrations of metal. Divers successfully entered the tunnel, but each one claimed to have been chased by ghostly figures, and some experienced choking sensations. (One reportedly had had hand marks on his neck.) Every diver who entered the tunnel swore never to dive in the lake again, and residents of the area still report seeing ghosts patrolling the lake, canoeing in moonlight, etc.
So. Nahuals? Protective curses? Ghostly guardians? Do they exist? Are they merely mythical or are actual spirits timelessly protecting the treasures of their people?
Tell you what: This writer isn’t going to find out. I’m not digging or diving, not taking any old arrowheads for souvenirs. And my research is staying strictly–and safely on the Internet.
Merry Jones is the author of the Harper Jennings thrillers BEHIND THE WALLS, SUMMER SESSION. She has also written the Zoe Hayes mysteries (THE NANNY MURDERS, THE RIVER KILLINGS, THE DEADLY NEIGHBORS, THE BORROWED AND BLUE MURDERS), humor (including I LOVE HIM, BUT…) and non-fiction (including BIRTHMOTHERS). She’s a member of the Philadelphia Liars Club, Mystery Writers of America, and The Authors Guild. Visit her at MerryJones.com
…my eyes again stray to the drawing of that guy. In the sketch I can now see the very edge of his cheek. It’s as if he’s just turned ever so slightly toward me.
But that’s crazy.
(excerpt from Drawn by Marie Lamba)
In my new paranormal YA novel Drawn, teen artist Michelle De Freccio moves with her dad to England hoping for a more normal life. In England, no one will know that back in New Jersey everyone calls her family the De Freakos. They won’t know about her supposedly psychic mother (A.K.A. Madame Florabunda) or her mentally ill brother. But when Michelle starts drawing a medieval ghost, and then she meets him and falls for him, well clearly nothing is going to be normal again.
The thing is, while Michelle is looking so hard for normal, I find I’m actually doing the opposite. I can’t say I’m a believer in ghosts or the paranormal, but I’d really REALLY like to be. Show me, I think. Prove it.
Like Michelle in my novel, I’m an artist too. Maybe that’s why a particular guest speaker I heard way back in high school made such an impression on me. It was a woman who created colorful oil paintings of the Hermitage, a Colonial-era mansion in Hohokus, NJ. She pointed to the shadows in one painting, the stairway in another, the roof tiles in still another. “See?” she’d said. “See the figures?”
I drew in my breath. I did see. In one painting dappled shadows revealed a Colonial soldier in military regalia. In another, a bride seemed to materialize on the stairway, her image woven into the wall texture. In an exterior painting, a few roof tiles were shaped into a face, the expression leering, malevolent. The artist claimed she never intended to paint any of this, that she didn’t see these figures until the painting was completed. That she was clearly channeling spirits through her art.
My first thought was: Cool! I want to do that. I want to go there and pull out my charcoal and find these spirits materializing in the shadows of my own sketches. But of course my next instinct was to narrow my eyes and scrutinize the painter. She seemed sweet, grandmotherly, but was she nutty? Well of course she was, I thought.
Hey, even Elijah Rosencrantz, a resident of the Hermitage in the early 1800s, thought ghosts were a lot of phooey. According to the website thehermitage.org, he wrote a statement titled “If the Hangings Flutter,” saying supernatural beliefs were “absurdities,” something to only be believed by “persons of the lower classes and from poor early education. “ Hm, then again, what if Elijah became a ghost himself? I bet he’d be beyond pissed. Maybe that explains that angry spirit leering from the roof tile…
I guess the question I want to ask everyone is: Is it normal to hope, yet disbelieve?
Is it normal to travel the world exploring graveyards? Because I’ve done that. I’ve sketched tombs throughout England and visited crypts in Italy and wandered through ancient cenotaphs in India, fascinated by the culture of death, the promise of the supernatural. The cold breeze on my neck could have been a ghostly breath, right? The orbs in photos might have been dust, but what if they weren’t? Just last year my daughter visited Greece and sent me this picture. Click on the photo and take a good close look. You see the orbs, right? And the FACES IN THE ORBS? I pointed this out to my daughter who wrote back freaked out saying, “THIS IS A TOMB!”
But is this proof? I’m still not completely convinced myself.
Wouldn’t you give anything to have some undeniable proof? Do you dream of going on a ghost tour in a castle? Do you watch ghost-hunting on cable hoping that it won’t be silly? Do you get lost in novels laced with the supernatural? The Woman in White, Dracula, The Picture of Dorian Gray, even The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman?
Well, I do. But of course artists are a little out there, anyway. Writers too. Especially writers. We spend all day hearing voices that aren’t there. Writing things that haven’t happened as if they did.
So, yeah, maybe that’s partly why I wrote Drawn. Why I have my main character meet a ghost and step into his world. Why the final scenes are in a castle dungeon during a ghost tour. Because I’m a little out there. And because, unlike my main character Michelle, I’m not looking for normal. I’m hoping for the weird, the strange, the haunting.
Marie Lamba (marielamba.com) is author of acclaimed young adult novels including What I Meant (Random House), Over My Head, and Drawn. When she isn’t writing or wandering around graveyards, she working as an Associate Literary Agent at The Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency in NYC.
Teen artist Michelle De Freccio moves to England in search of a normal life…instead she finds a hot medieval ghost with a sketchy past.
It all begins when a strange guy appears in Michelle’s drawings. When she actually meets him at the town’s castle, she’s unmistakably drawn to him. But something is definitely not right. For starters, he wears medieval garb, talks of ancient murders and tends to disappear each time they kiss.
Could he possibly be a ghost? Could Michelle be losing her mind? Or has she simply uncovered a love so timeless it’s spanned the centuries…
Praise for Drawn:
“A lushly romantic ghost story…captivating and haunting. I didn’t want it to end.” –Cyn Balog, author of paranormal YA novels Fairy Tale, Sleepless, and Starstruck
“…a wonderfully spooky tale of romance and discovery. It’s a magical exploration of the unconquerable power of love. Highly recommended!” —Jonathan Maberry, New York Times bestselling author of Rot & Ruin and Dust & Decay
“In DRAWN, Marie Lamba deftly entwines romance and mystery, past and present, into a page-turning adventure. Buy it today and I promise you’ll be finished reading far too quickly!” —Joy Nash USA Today bestselling paranormal romance author of The Immortals series, The Grail King and The Unforgiven