Mind Sweeper

Mind Sweeper by Deborah O'Toole is a haunting mystery/suspense novel now available in Kindle, Kobo and Nook editions.


Newly-widowed Beth Mills accepts an outpouring of sympathy from her community after a freak mining accident takes the life of her husband, Aaron. Unbeknownst to anyone, she is secretly delighted that her cruel husband is lost to her, but never expects his vicious ghost to return and haunt her in more ways than one...

From Chapter Thirteen

August 2007

Hidden Traces


THE IVYTOWN LODGE had originally been built as an apartment building for miners and their families in 1934. It was converted into a guest lodge in 1971, and was now a popular pit-stop for travelers passing through on their way to Portland or onto tourist attractions such as the Aquatic Park in Milwaukie, Boones Ferry Marina, Fort Vancouver and Mount Hood National Forest among others.

Located on the outskirts of Ivytown, the Lodge contained twenty-five guest rooms with an in-house café, gift shop and boutique, and a covered swimming pool. The two-story structure was surrounded by pine trees, designed in log cabin fashion with cedar bark siding and large interior beam supports. The building rested down a slight incline from the main highway, its gabled roof and dormers clearly visible from the road. The grounds also held a trout pool, one small waterfall, a campfire circle, and stone retaining walls with curbing that bordered pathways on the property.

Morgan had already checked-in the day he arrived in Ivytown – was it just yesterday? – but he insisted Beth take the room next to his on the second floor.

“There is a connecting door,” he told her. “Please don’t think I’m some sort of lascivious opportunist. I’m not trying to take advantage of you, I just want you close by in case you have another nightmare and get scared.”

Beth appreciated his explanation, moved by his obvious concern for her welfare and the sincere respect he afforded her. She was unused to such kindness after seven years with Aaron, so she secretly relished in it.

The rooms in Ivytown Lodge were modest, darkly paneled affairs but they were clean and comfortable. Beth’s room had a double bed with a blue floral bedspread, a nightstand, a television resting on an oakwood dresser, and a small rounded table with two chairs by a window overlooking the front of the Lodge. The bathroom was compact, but sparkling and fully functional.

“Drat!” she muttered. “I don’t have a change of clothes for tomorrow.”

“I’m sure you’d rather not go back to your house now,” Morgan said. “You’ll be fine. You can change when we get there in the morning.”

“I think I’ll take a shower just the same.”

“I’ll go and order us dinner from the café downstairs. Do you have any preferences?”

“Something light,” she replied. “A salad would be nice, or a chicken sandwich.”

“I’ll be back before you know it.”

After he left, Beth took a long shower, washing away the tumultuous events of the day. She dreaded putting her old clothes back on, so she wrapped herself in the large terrycloth robe provided to guests by the Lodge. She ran her hands through her short hair to remove the tangles, and then stepped out of the bathroom.

Morgan was sitting at the table by the window, unpacking food from a large brown paper bag. He set two white take-out containers on either side of the table, and then placed napkins and plastic utensils in the middle. There was also two styrofoam cups in the middle of the table, which she assumed held water or soda.

Her attention was drawn to the bed. Draped to one side was a pair of light blue jeans and a rust-colored shirt with the words IVYTOWN emblazed across the front. Her eyes widened in surprise.

“Where did the clothes come from?” she asked, pointing to the bed.

He grinned. “After I ordered the food, I went into the boutique next to the gift shop. Did you know they sell clothes from The Gap? Anyway, I knew you didn’t want to wear your old clothes after a shower, so I guessed your size and picked up the jeans and shirt. They’re kind of touristy. I hope you don’t mind, but I do hope they fit.”

“You shouldn’t have…”

“Go try them on,” he urged her.

She returned to the bathroom with the clothes, glad Morgan had taken the time to buy them for her. It was just anther example of his consideration and kindness. Of course the new clothes fit her perfectly, and they felt clean and snug against her freshly-washed skin.

“Thank you,” she said when she joined Morgan at the table. “They do fit – how did you know?”

Morgan was biting into the cheeseburger he’d brought back from the café, but paused when he saw Beth. The blue jeans fit her long and shapely legs, and the shirt complimented her auburn hair and creamy skin-coloring. He always felt Beth was a beautiful woman, but in that moment – freshly showered and without the aid of cosmetics – she was perhaps at the most stunning he had ever seen her.

“How did you know the clothes would fit?” she repeated.

“Lucky guess,” he replied warmly, his eyes traveling over her again. He tried to regain his composure, gesturing across the table. “I brought you a grilled chicken sandwich on a hoagie roll with iced tea. Are you hungry?”

“I’m starved, believe it or not,” she sat down, smiling at him. “Thank you for everything you’ve done today, Morgan. I feel free somehow, as if most of my mental demons have been laid to rest. I’m anxious to move on with my life, and it’s all due to you.”

He reached across the table and took her hand. Their eyes met and held. Warmth filled her body as they stared at one another, and she felt a tingling thrill build in the pit of her stomach.

“You’re very welcome,” he said softly, letting go of her hand. Then he smiled. “Let’s eat.”

After a few minutes, Morgan asked her: “Do you remember how to access the secret passageway in your house?”

Beth took a bite of her sandwich. “Like I said before, Aaron showed me the passageway once. We started in the bedroom, where he touched the frame of the full-length mirror. When he did that, the glass opened to reveal a round hole in the wall, big enough for an adult to pass through. He took me in and we stopped at another opening behind the wall in the living room, and then out under the deck. The passageway was dark and damply cold, and we had to use a flashlight to see our way. The walls were thick and made of stone, I think, although I can’t be certain. Aaron told me that the passageway is also soundproof. How his grandfather managed that, I’ll never know.”

“There are different ways to soundproof rooms,” Morgan informed her. “It’s not an easy task if windows are involved, but he could have used insulation or lead sheetrock to mute sound. If Aaron’s grandfather built it himself without help, it must have taken him years to finish. It sounds like a well-planned project, especially if it goes from the second floor of the house to underneath the deck.”

“After that one time with Aaron, I never went into the passageway again. I never had cause, and it certainly didn’t interest me enough to go exploring on my own.”

“Are you nervous about going inside?”

“Just a bit,” she admitted. “What if Aaron is hiding in there? What if he pops out and kills us all?”

“I don’t think that will happen,” Morgan told her. “If he’s there when we open the passageway from your bedroom, he will surely hear us from inside and try to get away through the deck entry. I don’t think he wants to be caught alive, Beth, because he must be up to something nefarious if he’s playing the role of a dead man. Everyone assumes he’s buried in the mine, which is perfect cover for his activity. Second, we need to explore the passageway. If Aaron is truly alive and he is using it to come and go from your house, we need to find out why and put a stop to it. He needs to be exposed.”

“I just cannot imagine what he’d leave behind in the passageway,” she said.

“Maybe tools he uses when he visits you in your dreams,” Morgan replied. “I’m not really sure what we’re looking for, either, but we have to give it a try. It’s either that or do nothing, and let Aaron - or the ghost of Aaron - carry on with his devilment.”

“No thanks,” she shuddered. “I’d rather not see him again, thank you, in my dreams or otherwise.”

They continued eating. After several minutes, Morgan spoke again. “I know you haven’t decided what to do or where to go yet, but if you want your old job back you can have it. There is no rush, no pressure for a decision, just take your time and think about it. If you want to come back to the ad agency, that’s great. If not, that’s okay, too. No hard feelings.”

Beth set her half-eaten sandwich aside. “Do you really mean that?”

“I do.”

“But I haven’t worked in years…”

“You were good seven years ago, Beth. I can’t imagine much has changed. It won’t take you long to get back in the saddle.”

“I don’t know what to say,” she stated. “Can I have some time to think about it? There’s nothing to really hold me in Ivytown, and I do miss San Francisco, but taking on the ad agency again is a big step. I feel out of the loop.”

“Take your time,” he said generously. “Just know that the offer is open, with no expiration date.”

After they finished eating, Beth cleared the small table and gathered the empty containers in the paper sack. “That hit the spot,” she said. “I don’t think I’ve ever eaten food from the Lodge before, but I must say my chicken sandwich was excellent.”

Morgan yawned. “I’m beat. I think I’ll go take a shower and then hit the sack.” He stood from the table. “You can leave the door between our rooms unlocked, if you want, and if it makes you feel safer.”

“I trust you,” she said emphatically.

 On impulse, he leaned forward and kissed her quickly on the lips. “Good night, Beth.”

“Good night, Morgan.”

He left the room, closing the door behind him.

Beth slid into the double bed, fully clothed. She was suddenly very tired, but also warmly satisfied.

                “I’ve had a long day,” she thought. “Just last night I was scared out of my mind, dreaming that Aaron was chasing me down. Now here I am tonight, free from my mental demons for the most part.” She snuggled deeper under the bedcovers. “And I’ve got my old friends back, amazingly, gratefully. One of them might even be my knight in shining armor. Maybe – just maybe – I’m falling just a tiny bit in love with Morgan Bailey…”



MIND SWEEPER ©2011-16 Deborah O'Toole. All rights reserved.

"Mind Sweeper" may not be reproduced in whole or in part without written permission from the author. "Mind Sweeper" is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is purely coincidental.