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Your Sneak Peek at A Corpse in the Chapel for Release August 19

On a sunny April morning, the fog bank already a mere smudge on the western horizon, cars rushed along the coast highway, their drivers taking no notice of a faded blue ten-year old Subaru parked on the shoulder near a narrow path leading up the hillside. Anyone hiking this rough trail would soon come to high meadows bordered by  woodlands thick with undergrowth. Climbing higher through this wilderness one soon enters an equally overgrown forest of fir and pine. On this bright day, birds chirped and twittered in the treetops, and squirrels chattered, ignored by the nocturnal creatures now snugly tucked into their cozy dens and burrows.

Deep within these shadowy woods overlooking rocky Ramparts Beach on the Oregon Coast, a thicket of brambles began to shake and a series of snorts and growls came from within.

“Get off me!” a voice squawked and a woman emerged, twisting and turning as she struggled to disentangle herself from the clinging vines and brambles. Brushing back her shaggy mane of dark blond hair, she glared angrily at the thorny thicket and took a deep breath, causing her impressive bosom to heave as she surveyed her situation.
With a mighty tug of her many-layered gypsy skirt, Judy Falls, forty-something wife of the local Presbyterian minister, pulled free from the thorns and collapsed backward onto the cushion of twigs and leaves strewing the forest floor. Herbs and fungi spilled from the overturned hand-woven basket she’d carried.

“Drat!” she exclaimed, sitting up and brushing herself off. “Ken told me to dress for a hike and not as if I were going shopping. Maybe I should have listened to him…this time,” she murmured to herself with a rueful grimace. She hated to admit it, but not listening to her husband was just one of the many little rebellions she allowed herself in order to cope with his controlling ways. Ken meant well. He was a dear, really, but being so much older, he naturally felt he always knew best. Well, he really had known best today, she thought with a chuckle, thrusting her fingers through the fabric of her torn skirt and wiggling them.

Judy righted her basket and scrambled around on hands and knees reclaiming her pickings before standing up and brushing away the dirt and leaves still clinging to her clothes. One puffy sleeve of her embroidered peasant blouse was stained near the smocking detail and her skirt was torn, but she thought a little strategic decorative stitching would soon cover the damage.

Taking in her surroundings, Judy saw she had climbed deeper into these woods than she’d ever ventured, well beyond any familiar landmarks.

An interesting recipe in Vegan Life magazine calling for mushrooms and a variety of fresh herbs had caught her interest and she thought she might find what she needed growing in these woods. So far, she’d collected everything on her list except wild sorrel. Her eyes lit up as she spied a large clump of this herb growing beside a nearby tangle of brambles covering a pile of rotting logs. Carefully pulling away the prickly vines to get better access to the sorrel leaves, she  exposed the remnants of a hand-hewn door frame.

Judy pushed through the opening behind these ancient beams and found herself in the ruins of a small building. Portions of three walls remained more or less upright, framing the dimensions of a room about the size of her bedroom back at the Presbyterian manse. A warped and weathered table leaned against the far wall under a diamond-shaped window opening.

Judy tiptoed across the rubble strewn floor, avoiding broken boards and branches, to see if the table might possibly be salvageable. Observing on closer inspection how rotten the table was, she turned and began to rummage through the wreckage in search of anything worthy of restoration or re-purposing.

Pinned under what might have been the top of a steeple, with its rustic cross still clinging tenuously to the point, a long trunk-like box caught her eye. An abandoned trunk was a treasure chest of possibilities for a recycler of Judy’s caliber.

Sunlight streamed through the gaps in the sagging remnants of the roof as Judy lifted splintered boards off the chest, exposing the lid. She paused before trying to open it to increase the delicious anticipation. Like a child on Christmas morning, she wanted to savor all the delightful possibilities.

Finally, nearly trembling with excitement, she lifted the lid from the chest and beheld what lay inside.