Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Ellensburg Haunting, Curry County, South Oregon Coast

     Travis could not take the abuse. He grabbed the short-handle axe from the fire place and buried it in Aunt Ell’s gray head. Jessica put her hands to her cheeks. “I thought we were going to make it look natural.” She moaned. The two of them stood stunned, silently staring at the body of the old woman in the black,high-collar period dress, slumped to the side, the axe protruding from the top of her skull.
     “Get the tarps!” Travis ordered and Jessica scurried to the garage.
     Travis went to the front of the worn brown leather chair, Ell’s favorite, and checked the old woman to be sure she was dead. The axe had gone deep and Jessica’s Aunt had died without a whimper.
     “Why couldn’t you just give us the money?” Travis whined to the dead woman. “We only wanted fifty thousand to get a new start. And you, you with your millions, you get riled because I have been finding your cash stashes around the mansion and borrowing them. Didn’t even let me explain, wanted to call the police…” And Travis’s voice trailed off in exasperation.
     Jessica appeared dragging the tarps and Travis helped her lay them out flat on the floor, then Travis and Jessica maneuvered the heavy chair onto the tarps. They stood breathing hard and Travis explained the plan. They would load Aunt Ell and her chair into his pickup, drive to a remote spot on the Rogue River and dump them into the water, which would carry her out to sea. Aunt Ell gone forever, finally.
     “But I won’t get her money if they don’t have a body.” Jessica protested.
     “No matter,” Travis replied. “We can live off the cash she hid around the house, I figure thousands of dollars. Even if it takes five years, once Aunt Ellensburg is declared dead we are set for life.
     They tied the bloody tarp around the chair and body, and then Travis drove to a remote cliff above the Rogue River. He raced the pickup in reverse toward the edge, and then slammed on the brakes. With the tailgate down and the pickup bed greased, the heavy chair with Aunt Ell skidded out of the bed and sailed from the cliff in an arc over the middle of the dark river, then plunged down into the fast moving waters. There was a large splash, and they watched as the package bobbed along, heading out to the Pacific Ocean.
     “Tide’s going out; your Aunt is on her way. And we are finally free.” Travis said, leaning over and hugging Jessica who was shivering in the cold night air. “Have, we really seen the last of my hateful old Aunt?”

     Two weeks later Travis and Jessica went hand-in-hand on the beach where Aunt Ell had loved to watch the sunset. As they strolled along at the water’s edge inspecting the odd shaped driftwood, Jessica suddenly stopped and pointed down the beach. Travis stared, seeing an object on the beach.
“What is that?” Jessica asked with a sense of dread in her voice.
     They walked quickly down the beach, then stopped short, staring. It was Aunt Ellensburg’s favorite brown, leather chair, high and dry on the sand. The sun was setting on the horizon and it bathed the chair in a strange glow. Then the sun was gone and they were alone in the twilight, the wind waving the sea grass, a whistling in the beach pines.
     Suddenly, they stopped as a figure emerged from the sea-grass berm, a woman in a long, black dress. Jessica screamed and retreated to the water’s edge. Travis hesitated, but retreated with Jessica, unsure who the woman was or what she wanted.
     “It’s my Aunt Ellensburg.” Jessica shivered.
     At that moment there was an earth tremor and the sea began to recede. Travis and Jessica stepped back with the receding water as the woman in black came out from the berm and walked toward the chair. The tremor stirred the ocean and suddenly a huge wave rose up and smashed down on them, tumbling the couple onto the beach, and then dragging them back into the raging sea. Travis and Jessica were never seen again


     Today visitors enjoy the Ellensburg Walk below the old family mansion. But at sunset, when the twilight envelops the beach, the locals stay away. The brown leather chair sits askew in the sand, as if surveying the sea beyond. There is, from time to time, talk of a woman in a long, black dress as darkness falls. Not even teenagers go there at night.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Black Swan at Nevada Beach, South Lake Tahoe, Nevada

      Cannon knelt on the frigid beach behind the tall pine and spied on his ex wife.There she sat in his converted boathouse, comfy beside the gas fireplace, luxuriating in his domain. How he hated her.
      He retreated back into the pine forest that bordered the beach and shivered as the wind whistled across Lake Tahoe, the white-capped waves like ghosts on the dark water.
     Suddenly, Cannon was struck on the back of the head, a sharp stinging blow that pitched him forward onto his face. Lights out.
     When Cannon awoke he was face down in the crisp snow, a pounding in his ears, head aching; he sat up slowly and felt the back of his head, his hand coming away bloody. Cannon grabbed his flashlight and quickly looked around him, but he was alone. Where was his assailant?
     Moving gingerly, Cannon sat with his back to the tree and gazed over at his wife's boat house. The cabin was dark; either she had left or gone to bed. He struggled to stand, but paused when he saw a large pine cone  by his feet, as big as a melon with the tip glistening. He crawled over and picked it up, seeing the blood on the pointed end of the cone.
      And that is when Cannon forged his diabolical plan.


       The Sheriff watched as the Medical Examiner pulled the sheet over the the dead woman. The ME looked at the Sheriff and shrugged. "I have some ideas, the coloring, the eyes. But let me get her back to the Center, then I will know better. There are no external signs of trauma."
     They were interrupted as the Deputy entered the boat-house cabin, carrying a large pine cone in his hand.
      "You collecting?" The Sheriff asked sarcastically.
      The Deputy held it up."Guess where I found this? It was lodged in the gas fireplace exhaust pipe. They are all over the roof. Must have been the wind."
     "In the stack? What about the stack hat?"
      "It's there by the stack, screws loose, undone in that wind and it fell off." The Deputy replied.
     The ME stepped forward and took the pine cone. "This would do it. Clog the stack and the exhaust would be blown through the grill into the cabin." The ME explained, pointing to the large fireplace grill.
     "Carbon monoxide?" The Sheriff queried. The pine cone killed her?"
     "The coloring, her eyes, now this pine cone blocking the exhaust. That is my suspicion."
     "How about that." The Deputy exclaimed. "One in a million the cone would fall into the exhaust stack.
     "Statistically a tail event," the ME said."A Black Swan."

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Furnace Creek Inn Encounter, Death Valley, California

     Cannon Raspberry’s heart skipped a beat when she came out of the cabin. Their eyes locked and she halted, watching him as he passed. She was medium height, slender, with short grey hair, bangs over her intense brown eyes, wearing jeans and a denim shirt, a black vest for the morning chill. She stared at him. Cannon knew her. But who was she? How did they know each other? Cannon started to turn, but a man came out of the cabin, tall, bulky. The man spoke to her and she turned away.
     He hurried on and headed for the dining room, famous for the Inn’s ambiance and food. The pert waitress seated him at a table for two and he ordered coffee, plus the “Miner’s Special”, eggs and sausage with hash browns. As he sipped his coffee, the couple came in. The waitress seated them in front of him at a table for four. Her partner’s back was to Cannon, but she was facing him, partially blocked by her male companion.
    He was careful not to stare at her, but Cannon stole glances, racking his brain: where and when? An odd sense of dread seeped through him. At one point the man excused himself and left the table. Cannon and the woman were left facing each other. She studiously avoided looking at him, staring down at a Death Valley Pamphlet. But then she looked up and their eyes locked. It was there, a communication, unspoken, yet passing between them. In that brief interlude, the possibilities flashed: oh, but for our missed chance. Please, once more.
     Then her companion lumbered back and broke the trance. Cannon returned to his eggs and sausage. She did not look his way again. They finished first and left the dining room. Cannon felt uneasy, certain he knew her. She was someone from a long time ago. How odd they would meet at the exclusive Furnace Creek Inn in Death Valley.
     Cannon went back to this room and out on the balcony, staring at the magnificent view, stunning with the black rock, the yellow sand, the green sprinkles of desert holly and the salt flats resembling fresh fallen snow. The Valley was discovered by the unfortunate “49’s” from Salt Lake City, seeking a winter short cut to California. Their trek was a disaster and they named the area Death Valley.
    Now Cannon was on the way to San Francisco to sign the sale of his shares and pick up his buyout check, having sold his interest in the financial software company for fifty million dollars. But the strange encounter with the mysterious woman disrupted his mood; she was like a black bird perched nearby.
     He shrugged his unease away and gathered his belongings for his day outing: the loop hike at Gower Gulch, a visit to the Harmony 20-Mule Team Borax Factory and then to the Nevada silver-mining ghost town of Rhyolite.
      Later that afternoon, Cannon arrived in Rhyolite and climbed through the broken side fence to explore the shadows of the abandoned Hotel and Casino. He settled in the large dining room, standing at the end of the bar, savoring the ghosts of the intrepid silver miners and their camp followers. Cannon started as he heard a car approach on the gravel road and he looked out to see a Land Rover SUV stop in the desert twilight.
     The woman from the Inn got out wearing the same adventure clothes. She took off her cap, shook out her gray hair and it was a flash from a dream. He recognized her, the high school valedictorian, Suzie Sands. Cannon shrank back and his heart skipped a beat. On a dare from the Boys, his gang, he had courted her, dated her, and then swooned her, culminating in the back seat of his Chevy at a drive-in, replete with a six pack of beer and popcorn. Though crude, it had been otherworldly, ending in the metaphysical touching of their finger tips.
     But that was it. Cannon had the Boys to worry about. She was a scholar. Occasionally their eyes would meet in the cafeteria, questioning. But nothing said. Now, almost 40 years later, she was here in Death Valley. And she was stalking him.
     The man stayed in the car as she walked toward the hotel. Cannon shrank back from the window, suddenly fearful, a chill as her footsteps faded. Cannon stood by the window and looked for her, but she was out of sight. He stood rigid in the fading light. Then she was there in the doorway, looking at him. She raised her eyebrows in recognition, but did not speak. Cannon gave a wave of hi, as she pulled out a long-nosed revolver; pffft, and she shot him in the shoulder knocking him back against the window. He slid down onto the floor, his back against the wall. She walked over.
     “What are you doing? All these years, your husband…” Cannon asked.
     “He’s not my husband.” She said, speaking for the first time. The last time he heard her voice she had whispered…”please, be gentle.”
     She went on. “I took the road less traveled. I am an assassin. The guy is my partner. And this has nothing to do with you and me, what happened a long time ago. It’s the Boys; they don’t want you to sell your shares. Better that you have a misfortune.”
     “Johnny Lang,” Cannon guessed. “My shares go to him if something happens to me.”
     She nodded as she stood over him, the silenced revolver at her side. “They think the company is worth a billion, so why settle for a hundred million? Your pals, Johnny, Wayne, Gene and Jimmy are greedy. You get mugged and shot in Death Valley. Problem solved.”
     It all fell into place, made sense, the Boys… He looked up at her. “What could I do back then? It was a game. But I never got over it, never married, never settled down. You were always here.” And Cannon put his hand to his heart.
     Suzie leaned over and raised the gun, setting the silencer barrel against his temple.
     She smiled.