Crystal Moon

The Horton Auction Series #3

by Rhonda Strehlow

Auctioneer Honor Horton has a regular life with a loving partner, a mortgage, and job she loves. And, she possesses a supernatural gift. She can see into the past lives of her clients just by entering the building or spaces they inhabited. Honor is privy to happy occasions-weddings and parties but, the darker emotions-anger, fear, hatred, and sadness push their way into even happy homes.

When Honor signs on new client, Elise Schoen, she is immediately assailed by warring forces. A death has destroyed a family. No one wants to talk about Zander, the dead son and brother, but he demands to be heard. Time and again his ghostly presence appears. What message is he trying to convey? And how does he think Honor can help him?


Chapter One


Since Highway 29 was reconfigured a few years ago, the drive to Wausau is faster, if not as pretty. Today, I’m in a hurry because I have a meeting with a new client. I’m Honor Horton, an auctioneer. As usual, I’m running behind schedule. I pull into the driveway and race up the stairs, only vaguely aware of a wide front porch with stately pillars and a welcoming slate blue door. I raise my hand to knock.


I drop my hand and stumble backwards. I spin around to search the street behind me.

An overweight, bottle-blonde opens the door. “I thought I heard a car pull up. You must be that auctioneer with the old-fashioned name. Prudence? Hester? I’ve been waiting for you. What are you doing standing on the lawn?”

“I’m Honor Horton,” I say, more than a bit shaky. “Did you hear anything just now?”

“Like what?” She squints at me and frowns.

I swallow hard. “A gunshot?”

“In this neighborhood? Not likely.”

I grew up in the country. My family and friends all hunt. I recognize a gunshot when I hear one. So, for now, my body is in a hyper-alert state.

She rolls her eyes and continues. “Nothing ever happens around here. Whatever it was, I’m a busy woman. I must return to work as soon as possible. Can we just get this over with?” She tries to zip a plaid vest that hasn’t fit her since ten pounds ago.

I follow her through a large foyer into a pale blue dining room. I try to look around inconspicuously, while I simultaneously pull out the necessary auction papers. The hair on my arms is still standing up. I strain to see into the other rooms.

“Well?” She all but taps her foot with impatience.

“Ms …?”

She huffs as if I should have known her name. “Mrs. Guy Parks.”

“Mrs. Parks—”

“Just call me Marilyn.”

I take a deep breath and plaster on my best customer-is-always-right smile. I already feel the beginning of a headache, and the house is talking to me. Not the house, really. It’s the people who’ve lived in or visited this house. You see, I often have the privilege−for lack of a better term-of witnessing events that have happened in the past. I’ve had this gift all my life. I’m not sure why. Maybe, some people can’t rest until their stories are heard. Maybe, my own family history has opened me up to the feelings and emotions of other people. Most of what I see is everyday life. Happy times like birthday parties or weddings, but I have to say, I’ve seen more deaths than I care to think about. Some incidents still haunt me. I guess it’s inevitable that most buildings would have witnessed life-altering events. That’s why I breathed a sigh of relieve when I saw this fairly new house today. The gunshot, however, rattled me.

Yeah, I know. I could Google most any person and check out their history. I guess I’m superstitious. I don’t want to jinx my auctions. I want to walk into a building without any preconceived ideas or worries. Every auction deserves to start off with a clean slate.

Marilyn brings me back to the present. “Ms. Hirtsfield?”

“Horton,” I correct her. “Honor Horton.”

“Whatever.” She waves her hand, dismissively. “Let’s get this paperwork done. I’m a busy woman, and—”

I don’t want to hear again about how important she is. I interrupt her with a flourish of papers. She harrumphs. I’ve never heard anyone do that in real life before.

“I’m sorry,” I say as soothingly as I can with a fake smile pasted on my face.

“I am the vice president at Westminster Lumber. It’s the largest lumber company in the western part of the state. I must get back to work. I had to re-schedule two appointments to be here this morning. I know Mother hired you, but it’s just so irresponsible of her to disappear like she did. She didn’t even say when she’s coming back. I’ve got too much on my plate to deal with all of her busy work. I don’t know why we can’t sell this place furnished and be done with it. How long would that take?” She doesn’t wait for my answer and continues. “Mother could have stayed around to take care of the details. She left so many loose ends.”

She tries to shake her lacquered curls. I think uncharitably she’s at least twenty years too old for that hairdo.

“Marilyn, your mother scheduled this auction.” I smile at her. “Now we need to finish up the details, so my auction team can get started.”

Marilyn sighs. I pretend not to hear her. I push the final auction documents across the table.

“How long did your mother care for her parents?”

“I don’t know. Five or ten years. Why does it matter?”

“She seemed tired when I talked to her.”

“She was only working part-time at that hospice place, and Grandfather McWilliams died six months ago. I mean, how tired could she get? It’s the norm for me to work more than sixty hours a week. Mom’s only…” Marilyn thinks a minute. “…sixty something. My father still works every day, and he’s going to be sixty-three on the eighth of October.”

I bite my tongue. I find Marilyn arrogant and obnoxious. Still, she’s a paying customer so I give her a tight smile. “The auction is scheduled for Saturday, August fifth. My team and I will start working in the house this week.”

“Can’t it be any earlier? I mean, Mr. Parks and I are going on a cruise July twenty-first. I’d like to be done with this whole mess before that,” Marilyn whines. I’m not exaggerating. It was definitely a whine.

“I’m sorry, Marilyn, but we have two other auctions scheduled before your mother’s.”

“Can’t you change those dates?”

“No, I can’t.” My tone is clipped. My hands itch to reach out to pull hard on one of those dyed curls.

She pouts. I give her another fake smile and hope that my interactions with her will be limited. “Here are the keys. Father lives just off Oak Tree Court if you have any questions. You could call my cell, but I’m a busy woman and I may not have time to answer.”

She hands me her father’s telephone number. Hopefully narcissism isn’t a family trait. “Well, I’m off then. When I’m away from my job for this long, it means I won’t get home before seven. Again.”

She waits for me to make the appropriate words of admiration for her dedication to her job, but I just tuck the necessary papers into my briefcase. Marilyn eyes my carrying case, then slings her leather satchel over her shoulder. She pats her immaculate bag and says, “Donnelly Leather on Fifth Street. Do you know it?”

I nod. I know the location, but I’ve never been in the store. “Eldwin Casewell auction, April 2015.” I imitate her gesture.

She frowns.

“It’s an auction joke. Thank you for your help today and for taking time out of your busy schedule. I’ll contact your father if I have any questions. By the way, what do you do at Westminister Lumber?” Why did I even ask? I just want her out of here.

“Everything, Honor, everything. Clyde, Mr. Westminister, would be lost without me. He tells me that at least once a week. Do you know anything about lumber?”

Before I can shake my head, she’s spouts, “Hardly anybody does. It’s more complicated than it looks. It’s not just about cutting down trees and sawing boards.”

She rattles on for several minutes. Even though I only listen with one ear, I hear enough to know she continues her tale of self-importance. With a nod, she is out the door.

Now I know what people mean when they say silence is golden.

* * *

I breathe a sigh of relief, pull out my phone, and hit dial. “Hi, Misty, we’ve secured the Schoen sale for August fifth. Marilyn Parks, the daughter, is a self-important hoot. You should see her hair. She looks like a kewpie doll with those sausage curls, but enough about Ms. Egocentric. I know timing is going to be tight with the McNally and Jefferson auctions, but this will be a high-end auction. It’ll help with our numbers. I’ll do the walk-through, take pictures, and send them to you before the end of the day.”

Misty Fenmore is one of the partners of Horton Auction Services. During the week she’s a human resources director. She and her husband, Edgar, are parents of six children and grandparents of—shoot, I can’t keep track anymore. I counted at least ten kids when I attended their daughter’s baby shower a few weeks ago. Actually, Misty is more than an employee. She’s my best friend.

Tyler Johnson is the other member of our team. He’s an IT specialist for the county. As an auctioneer, Tyler’s our resident expert on toys, electronics, ephemera, furniture, and paintings. Just don’t ask this townie about farm equipment.

“Okay, I’ll set up the catalog. What stands out as a cover picture?” Misty asks.

“A funky blue and green sofa. Gorgeous beaded drapes. A watercolor.” I walk around the first floor. “Oh, and seven large Venetian flowers. They look hand blown.”

I snap a picture and send it to her.

Upstairs is as interesting as downstairs. I check out a beautiful cherry headboard in the master bedroom. As I open the closet doors, I hear voices. I turn to watch my first visitors from the past.


“What? Oh.” A trim, blond man picks up a petite blonde woman and swings her around. “Clayton!”

“Is this everything you’ve always wanted, darling?”

“You’re everything I’ve always wanted, silly man.” Elise snuggles against his chest. Clayton hits a switch and music, something from the oldies station, fills the air. They move around the room, Elise is a bit awkward. She looks to be at least eight months pregnant.

Clayton leans down and talks to her stomach. “Hey, baby, you’ve got a brand-new home. Come on out, and let’s get this family started.”

“Clayton, I still have three weeks to go. Besides, we’re not ready. The baby’s room isn’t painted, and I have to pass my RN exams at the end of the semester. Please, I still need two weeks. Don’t rush me…us.” She amends with a smile.

“I can’t wait, Elise. Why are we so happy?” He holds his wife tenderly.

“We’re lucky, Clayton, and really blessed. I feel as if I’m living in the Crystal Moon world. We are going to have our first child. The people we care about are healthy. We both have jobs we love. Everything is going our way. You are my Mathias.”


The scene fades.

I look around the room and compare the cheap pine furniture from years ago with the fine cherry and oak pieces that fill the room today. What caused this apparently happy couple to divorce? Work, family, money, cheating? I run the usual culprits through my head.

There’s no time to speculate. I bring myself back to the job. I’m supposed to assess the merchandise and estimate how long it will take to get it packed and moved.


Crystal Moon by Rhonda Strehlow


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