by Joanna Volavka (@joannavolavka)
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When she inherits the old family farmhouse in the South Georgia swamps, Roberta Jo Nash is caught between grief and resentment at being forced to move back to the edge of the swamplands she fought so hard to leave. She wants to fulfill her family duty, yet something about the house her grandmother left her feels wrong. Shadows move around her, disturbing visions keep her awake, and a sense that something else is lurking in the house eats at the corners of her mind. When the creeping shadows take solid form, Roberta Jo calls a local demonologist. Together they discover that the family demons are all too real.
Roberta Jo is desperate to escape, as a haunting ancestral history rises from the mire that claimed all who came before her, but the house won’t let her go—and it won’t let her forget the truth of her role in her own brother’s death. Desperate to save herself from a fate that would destroy her, Roberta Jo must choose: embrace a legacy built on blood and bone or burn it all to the ground. An atmospheric supernatural thriller exploring generational trauma in the decay of a small town, NASH HOUSE is Moon Lake meets Little Sister Death, an adult Southern horror suspense, complete at 72k words.
I am the author of THREADWALKERS, a science fiction YA novel, published by 50/50 Press in 2017, and seeking new representation. My hobbies include geeky pop culture, true crime, and weird roadside attractions. I am Director of the International Geek Girl Pen Pals Club (www.geekgirlpenpals.com). I hold a degree in English and Creative Writing from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as well as a Masters in Biology from Miami University of Ohio where I studied storytelling for science communication.
First Five Pages
Roberta Jo Nash had never thought much about her inheritance until the day her grandmother’s lawyer called. The voicemail popped up on her phone in the middle of her shift at the Peach and Pecan Café in Atlanta, and she only heard it later that night. I’ve got some, ah, important papahwork related to your late grandmothahs estate. She didn’t like the sound of the word “estate”; her thoughts springing immediately to taxes. She swallowed hard as the message continued. Probably best if you don’t tell the rest of the family, keep this private and all.
So, on Wednesday morning of the next week, Roberta Jo found herself in her only dress, a green floral thing she kept for Easter Sunday and weddings, sitting alone on a leather chair in the narrow, dimly lit lawyer’s office in Buckhead. Wooden filing cabinets lined the walls and a single limp plant hung by the window. The office also didn’t seem to have any air conditioning. Her straight brown hair stuck to the back of her neck and she couldn’t find a single hair tie in the bottom of her purse no matter how many times she searched. A fly buzzed around the office, trying to alight on her shoulder glistening with sweat. Every time it came near, she waved it off again, sending it to spiral around the dusty, motionless overhead fan. She wished the fan was running; even just moving the air around in a place like this would help. The whole building was much too warm, even for October in Georgia. As she started to get up to look for the fan switch, the office door opened.
The lawyer, one Mr. Tucker, Esquire, shuffled into the room in a brown jacket that looked older than Roberta Jo herself. His glasses had a heavy top frame and thick lenses tinted yellow with age. Tufts of white hair sprouted above both ears, but he was otherwise bald, and a cranberry red bowtie perched under his chin. His long legs swam in brown plaid slacks and his shoes squeaked on the wooden floorboards as he made his way to his desk. Roberta Jo fought the urge to get up and take his elbow, so he didn’t topple over, but after a measured trek, Mr. Tucker sank into his own cracked leather chair across from her with a sigh. He slid various bits of paper back and forth across his desk, looking for something in the middle of the pile. The fly beat itself against the window, trying desperately to get back out to the fresh air.
Roberta Jo wished she had on pants instead of the dress; she tried to shift on the chair, but the backs of her legs had stuck to it, effectively gluing her in place. She related to the fly: this office was the last place on the green earth she wanted to be. But here she was, nonetheless, waiting for a pronouncement from her grandmother’s solicitor. She fidgeted with her purse, balanced on her lap. She never knew what to do with her hands in these situations. Just hold still! Just as she was starting to wonder if he even knew she was there, the man folded his hands and leaned forward on the desk.
“Now then, Miss Nash.” His voice, like the rest of him, moved slowly, like molasses in January. “I have a letter here from your grandmothah, Mrs. Virginia Rose Nash, with very specific instructions about the execution of her estate.” He almost hovered on the word “execution” and Roberta Jo stopped clasping and unclasping the latch on her bag.
“What do you mean, estate? Isn’t there just the house?”
“Well, yes, and the land down in Beacon.” Mr. Tucker tapped the paperwork in front of him. “Estate, in this case, means the things belonging to your grandmothah at the time of her passing. The land, the house, the contents of the house, and so forth. The main thing is that she was quite specific, quite specific indeed, that it all goes straight into your care. She left the keys to the house and a list of items that should be distributed to a few chosen friends and family membahs, along with a lettah for you.”
He slid a thick envelope across his desk. Roberta Jo leaned forward, and her throat caught as she saw her own name scrawled in her grandmother’s spidery writing across the front. She pulled it into her lap and swallowed her tears; she wasn’t going to cry in front of this stranger.
“Why me?” she asked instead.
“When was the last time you saw your grandmothah, Miss Nash?”
Roberta Jo raised an eyebrow. “I was last down for the July 4th picnic at Calvary Baptist.”
“And how often have you been at the house of late? Prior to your grandmothah’s passing this summah, that is.”
“Most every holiday. At least once a month.” The fly buzzed in the silence between them, and Mr. Tucker was watching her with his hands folded again on the desk. The leather beneath her squeaked as she sat up a little straighter. “She’s my family, after all. We’re all either of us has, you know. My Aunt Cindy moved to Nashville years ago. Once Pop died this spring, I tried to come more. Help with the cleaning and keep her company and all. I didn’t like to think of Gran being all alone in that house.”
Mr. Tucker nodded slowly. “The house is interesting, Miss Nash. It gets passed down woman to woman, and has for, ah, a couple of hundred years. Someone who can build a relationship with the house and maintain it.”
“It’s just an old farmhouse,” Roberta Jo muttered. Mr. Tucker, Esquire, clicked his tongue at her.
“It is far more than just an old farmhouse. It was your grandmothah’s home, and has been your family’s for decades before. Your grandmothah was adamant about it going to you. She trusted you. She left it to you. Please honah her wishes.”
Roberta Jo closed her mouth and nodded. She stuffed the envelope into her purse and started to peel herself off the chair. “Is that all?”
Mr. Tucker took a deep breath and closed his eyes, so she slumped back heavily. She couldn’t tell if he was going to say anything else for a long while, and then she started to wonder if he’d died there in his chair. As she leaned forward to poke his arm, he blinked and she snatched her hand back.
“Miss Nash, I have known your grandmothah for her whole life. I remember when your mothah, Trisha, and your aunt, Cindy, were girls, and your grandmothah brought them up into the city to buy new shoes and things for school. They would always stop by for a glass of sweet tea or lemonade, and we would chat about things, including the house.” He paused and looked straight into her eyes. She felt herself looking up at him, as if the seat under her had collapsed.
“The house was important to Virginia. She spoke of it like it was a member of the family. I reckon she loved it like it was, seeing how it was in the family so long. It’s like a connection to your roots, you know.”
“I know. I mean, I grew up in that house.” Roberta Jo couldn’t think what the man was getting at, talking about the house this way.
“I know you did,” Mr. Tucker nodded, his eyes magnified by the thick glasses. “But being a child and being the caretakah aren’t quite the same things, now are they? You may find the house, ah, more interesting, once you’re living there.”
Roberta Jo burst into laughter. “Oh, I’m not going to live down there!” Mr. Tucker’s mouth hung slightly agape, so she cleared her throat and resisted the urge to roll her eyes. “I worked hard to get out of Beacon, Mr. Tucker. To get out of that house. But since Gran has asked, I can at least clean the place out and see what Aunt Cindy wants to do with it. She’s the one who’s going to care what happens to it.”
“Your Aunt Cindy isn’t the one who is tasked with caring for the house!” Mr. Tucker snapped. Now Roberta Jo’s mouth was the one hanging open. She felt her face flush like it had every time she was reprimanded as a child, and she bit the inside of her bottom lip. “It’s all in the letter. The instructions are quite clear. The role of house caretakah goes to the youngest Nash woman. With your mother already passed on, and since Cindy has boys, that’s you.”
“But I don’t want to live down in Beacon!” Roberta Jo’s voice cracked. “Do you know what I’ve been through to make it up here? I’ve worked three jobs to pay my rent, I haven’t seen anybody in months. I sacrificed all my time off to visit while Gran was alive. Why would I let that place suck me back in now that she’s gone? There’s nothing left for me in Beacon!”
“I understand, Miss Nash,” the lawyer said evenly. “But she was specific. Very specific. The house needs you.”