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I took a “ghost tour” of Savannah once, and the guide had a strange way of speaking. She related each of the gruesome, shivery stories in a way that expressed habitual action: “It would be in that room that Beaufort Hollingsworth would come home and would hang himself.” Then again, the South is such a haunted place that maybe the unhappy Beaufort was coming home every day to hang himself in the red parlor. North Carolina author Sherry Austin knows how thin the curtain is between this life and the shadow realm. Her collection of short stories, Mariah of the Spirits and Other Southern Ghost Stories, offers pleasant, if chilling, rambles through this territory, her tone respectful and serene as she falls in step behind an escaped slave searching for her doomed son, a feisty hospital patient who escapes to an unknown fate, a lovesick antique mannequin, and a homely belle whose final vengeance resonates more than a century later. Austin reads at 7:30 p.m. at Barnes & Noble, 3651 Jefferson Davis Highway, Alexandria. Free. (703) 299-9124. (Arion Berger)