Monday, November 13, 2017

An Incident at the Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado

The room was pitch black, save for a moonlight beam streaming through the window. Suddenly, there was movement to the right and Wicker sat up, a chill running down his spine. Something was in the corner.
         That nightmare had been repeating lately and as Wicker was visiting in Boulder Colorado he decided to travel to Estes Park and stay a few nights in the Stanley Hotel, one of America's most haunted lodges. Perhaps a few nights  where it all began would serve as a cure.
         A year ago Wicker had met a client at the Stanley, a veiled woman in black, who had an assignment for him. He was to meet her in Boulder and escort a 12-year old girl named Lilly to Moab, leaving her at sunrise under Wilson's arch, south of town.
         The pay was high and up front. The woman said she would trust Wicker to deliver the girl, no questions asked. An unusual request for Wicker, whose assignments normally were targets meant to vanish which he arranged with consummate skill. Escorting the girl to Moab and leaving her at Wilson's arch for top dollar was a "gimme".
         Taking charge of Lilly had been effortless and they started the drive to Moab mid-morning. Wicker had a reservation at the Best Western where they would stay the night, two queens as he did not want Lilly out of his sight. His reputation and the money were at stake. Along the way they stopped in the town of Rifle at a Shell for gas and went in the food mart for a break. Lilly was quiet but seemed at ease and Wicker noticed he was getting attached to the green-eyed girl. Later in Moab they had a light meal and then to bed as they needed to rise early in the dark morning.
         Wicker fell asleep, a nagging concern about leaving the girl under the arch. In his sleep Lilly spoke to him..."Not to worry." She whispered. "I am going home. But I will return...I promise I will come back for you." He awoke with a start and looked at the other bed. But Lilly was there with her back to him. Had it been a dream? That next morning they departed in the chilly predawn. He parked at the cutout macadam and led the way in the dark with a flashlight. They paused under the arch and Lilly squeezed his hand nodding for him to leave her. Wicker returned to his vehicle and looked back as the sun rose over the Eastern horizon. He searched the arch for his charge, but Lilly had vanished.  
It was a crisp fall day when Wicker arrived in Estes Park, having replayed in his mind the event of a year ago. He found the Stanley majestically perched on a ridge, parked his car and went to the reservation desk where he was given room 313 on the upper floor. He then took the afternoon hotel tour which included visits to the closed billiards room and the dining room, including a stop upstairs outside room 217 where Stephen King spent a fall night, conjuring the outline for The Shining. It was the same room where Jim Carey supposedly bolted, refusing to say what had spooked him. Wicker had an early dinner, enjoying a rib eye and a bottle of Colorado Bookcliff Ensemble, a tasty blend of Merlot, Cabernet and Malbec. Slightly woozy, he then retired to his room. 
         Wicker fell into a deep sleep, but awoke suddenly in the dead of night. A moonbeam touched his bed and to his right there was movement and he sat up. Someone was in the corner of his room. It was Lilly.

The desk clerk looked up from his computer and was startled to see a thin woman in black with a veil and a young, tow-headed girl standing before him.
        "We want to check out." The green-eyed girl said, placing the key to 213 on the counter. The clerk checked his computer and confirmed their identities. "I hope everything was in order." The young man said unctuously as he eyed the couple in front of him; the older woman was motionless and quiet. 
         "Yes, it was fine." The young girl responded. "But there was an incident."
         The clerk raised his eyebrows and leaned across the counter. "A problem?" He asked. "Yes, last night there was noise above us in room 313. It sounded like someone was scratching on the wall with their fingernails. And then dragging a trunk across the floor. I was about to call the desk, but it stopped."
         Smiling at the girl, the clerk slowly nodded and then checked his register. "Let's see who was in 313." The man offered, pecking at his computer. He stared and then frowned, looking back at the pair.

          "That room was unoccupied last night." The clerk said.    

Friday, August 11, 2017

The Loons on the Hidden Lake, Somewhere in Vermont

She awoke to the cry of the loon, a mournful cry of distress. Katie got up and went to the front of her Aunt's lakeside cabin. There by the wooden dock were two loons, one appeared to be tangled in a casting net her nephew had left dangling off the dock.
        Cautiously she went out and approached the two duck-like birds, the one tangled and a second circling nearby, which appeared slightly bigger, probably the male. The two birds had black dagger-like bills, gray heads, white breasts, and black backs with white speckles. 
         As Katie approached, she made reassuring sounds and gently moved her hands up and down, hoping the loons would not fear her and startle. Slowly Katie eased down the stone-lined embankment and entered the chilly water. The sounding loon backed away as Katie approached his mate. The female eyed the young girl and called, but remained still, not flapping her short wings. Gently, Katie untangled the distressed bird from the net and gave her a gentle push out, the male gave a hoot, sounding across the lake.
        The two loons circled in the water a couple of time as if to thank Katie and then swam south together toward their nesting spot.
         A few days later Katie was sunning on the dock in her bathing suit. She was drowsing when a shadow fell across her face. Startled, she sat up to see Ray, the lumbering maintenance man who took care of the seven properties on the peninsula and cleared the wooded common land on the other side of the road. Katie felt a chill as he stared at her with his beady eyes. Drool seemed to drip from his small mouth. "Hello, Honeybun." He intoned in a hoarse voice. "I think we should go for a swim."
         And then Ray slipped the strap of his overalls off his shoulder. He started to advance toward the the girl when suddenly a bird swooped down and hit him on the side of the head and Ray staggered. A second bird followed and hit Ray just above his left eye, sending the maintenance man toppling off the dock. Katie watched in horror as Ray fell head first onto the rock embankment. Blood gushed as his head hit a sharp rock that protruded from the wall.
        Katie shakily stood and watched as the two loons landed near Ray's still body. They pecked at his shirt, then looked up at the girl and called their mournful cry. She understood they wanted help in pulling pull Ray off the rocks. It appeared they intended to drag his body into the lake. The deepest part of the lake was just 90 feet off her dock. If Ray sank, the current would take him south to the dam. Perhaps the carp would eat him, Katie thought, as she tugged Ray off the rocks into the water.
        The two loons paddled with their webbed feet and Katie walked Ray's body past the dock. She then swam sidestroke pushing his inert body and the team gradually moved Ray out past the raft where he floated easier. Katie tread water as she watched the birds pull the inert body out into the deep. They circled and pecked at Ray repeatedly until he finally sank beneath the chilly lake water. Katie and the two birds looked at each other. Once again they called, a haunting sound that echoed down the lake in the late afternoon, often described as a demented person's howl. The loons then turned and swam side-by-side toward the south.

A week later Katie was reading in the cottage on a cloudy day. She started as a car stopped in front of her cottage. The young woman went to the door and stepped back as she saw a forest green and gold Vermont State Police SUV. She felt a chill as a tall, slender trooper got out and approached her. He stood on the small porch, hat in hand and appraised her, then asked if she could answer a few questions. Katie nodded and invited him in, but he declined standing on the other side of the screen door. He asked if she knew Ray Lash, the peninsula's maintenance man. Katie nodded, but said she had not seen him this week. He usually came on Wednesdays to cut the grass and clear fallen tree limbs.
         The trooper asked again if Ray had been around. Could she have missed seeing him? Katie replied to her knowledge no, then she asked if something had happened to Ray. The trooper leaned forward and said: "It looks like he died about a week ago and his body appears to have been pecked by birds.
          "The birds killed him?" Katie asked. The trooper shook his head. "Not really, the birds pecked him, but Ray drowned. There was water in his lungs."
        Katie stiffened. So Ray had been alive when she and the loons ferried him out to the deep water. If she had known Ray was alive maybe she would have called emergency. 
         But maybe not. 
       "Have you seen anyone around here that does not belong, maybe a stranger?" The trooper asked. Katie shook her head. "Have you seen anything this past week, maybe something out of the ordinary?" The lawman queried." Katie paused, then shook her head. "Only the loons" She responded.
         "I did see the Loons."



Thursday, July 27, 2017

An Unfortunate Incident in a Small Town, Jamestown, New York

Nelson was driving from Arizona to Vermont to spend a week with a friend. He decided to stop in Jamestown, New York as memories tugged at him. Years ago he had known someone in that small town and he was curious. Unable to get a room at the Jamestown Comfort Inn, he noticed a white Victorian that had a bed and breakfast sign. As he had eaten a late lunch and was tired of driving he decided on a whim to try it. He went up the steps and rang the bell, which was answered by a young, attractive woman in a white blouse and a long, black skirt. She smiled at him and opened the screen door, extending her hand. Nelson prolonged the hand shake, feeling a strange connection. She looked at him with puzzled hazel eyes and introduced herself as Marion, the owner of the B and B. She welcomed her visitor as it was the middle of the week and he was her only guest. 
         That night she invited him to the porch and they sipped ice tea, easily chatting. Nelson told her he was retired and living in Flagstaff, divorced with grown boys living in Arizona and Colorado. Nelson hesitated to tell her about his encounter some 30 years ago when he had lived his junior year in nearby Olean and played for the high school baseball team. There had been a series in Jamestown and afterwards festivities where he met Annette. Her last name escaped him as they rocked on the porch. That night they had walked and chatted, sitting sat shoulder to shoulder against the right-field fence. A warm spring evening led to a coming together, which was never forgotten. He had written Annette letters from Olean but no reply. She had told him about  a boy friend in the army and he could tell she was embarrassed at their encounter.
          As they talked on the porch, Nelson formed a plan to spend a few days in Jamestown, tour Chautauqua Lake and linger with Marion to know more about her. She had already told him her mother had recently died of cancer, her father had died years ago in an army accident. There was something about Marion that tugged at him, but what was the connection? He needed to give it time. No need to rush to Vermont.
          The next morning Nelson rose early and went to a nearby convenience store, buying coffee and doughnuts for them. As he walked back, he paused to allow an elderly lady slowly back a large, dated Cadillac out of her drive. The woman buzzed down her window and with annoyance motioned Nelson to pass. As he started behind the big car, the woman accidentally hit the accelerator and plowed into Nelson sending him and his coffee flying. He fell awkwardly and hit his head on the curb.

Awakening later, Nelson found himself in a white room that was replete with medicinal smells. He vaguely recalled the old lady backing into him and he gingerly tested his limbs, then felt the back of his head. He settled, waiting for the busy nurse to check on him, or for a visit from the attending physician. But no one came. 
          Having assessed that he was reasonably okay Nelson carefully got out of bed and dressed himself, shedding the white, hospital gown. He made his way out of the hospital, noting that no one was about. Perhaps there was an emergency in some other part of the building. He could settle his account later as he planned more time in Jamestown.
          Nelson found has way back to the white Victorian and climbed the steps. He went to open the screen door when he heard Marion on the phone. "Yes, he is staying here." She said. And then her shoulders slumped, her eyes wide. "But that can't be. What happened?" Marion cried, putting her hand over her mouth.
         Opening the door and stepping into the hall, Nelson waved his hand. "Marion it's me. I'm here." He was in her line of sight, but she seemed not to see him and slowly hung up the phone, then started as the screen door banged.
         At that moment, Nelson understood his hospital solitude had been for his transcendence. He gazed at Marion who was rigid, her face taut and pale, as if she had glimpsed a ghost. He reconciled that this chance encounter with Marion was cruel folly, an irony. His connection with her 30 years ago would remain an unsolved mystery.
         Nelson was dead.  


Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The Red House on Beacon Road, Flagstaff, AZ

Ryan sat at his aunt's window in his wheel chair, his broken ankle disabling him for another few days. He looked at Beacon Road and watched as a middle-aged man in a suit appeared and went into the small red house across the street.
Shifting in his wheelchair, Ryan leaned forward and stared at the odd, small red house on the corner across from his aunt's. With a start, he realized that for the last few days he had watched people go into the house. But no one ever came out.
         Did people visit the house during the day, and then leave via the back door? Or did they depart at night when he was away from the window? Ryan raised his eyebrows as a young woman came down the street. She went up the walk and without hesitation opened the door and vanished into the red structure. What was going on? Puzzling over the scene, Ryan though to enlist his aunt's delivery boy. Pay him to linger behind the house on the adjacent street to monitor the back door. Ryan's theory was the visitors went in the front and then emerged from the back door. Perhaps a drug thing.
         Later that evening, when the boy brought groceries Ryan thought to offer him $20, but he hesitated. The delivery boy would have to loiter on the corner in order to watch the red house back door. Someone might call the police so Ryan concluded not a good idea. A few days later, the cast was off and Ryan was fitted with an ankle brace. He had devised a plan to tackle the riddle across the street.
         He was now ambulatory and went out for a stroll, albeit with a limp. Ryan headed south, then crossed at the corner and started back north on Beacon. He spotted a well dressed man coming toward him. Ryan slowed his pace to intercept the man at the front of the red house. Ryan met the man as he turned on the walk to the front door. 
          "Excuse me," Ryan said politely. "Is this the Morgan residence?" The visitor slowed and swiveled his head, looking at his questioner. To Ryan's shock, the man's face and eyes were utterly blank, no expression at all. The man turned away from Ryan without a reply and marched up the walk and through the front door. 
          That night Ryan monitored the comings and going to the house across the street. A few comings, but no goings. Eventually, the amateur investigator went to bed, falling into a deep sleep. Ryan had a vivid dream about the red house. He found himself inside the living room, which was a control room with flashing lights and glowing screens. A Roswell-like alien with a large head greeted him, explaining he was the chief engineer and that their scout ship had been marooned on the lot. When Ryan asked for how long, the alien replied they had been there for 70 years. To escape the ship needed human-life energy to propel them back to the mother ship which hovered behind the moon. The engineer reported he now had sufficient fuel and would soon launch. Suddenly, a strange hum began, growing into to a whine and the ship began to vibrate.
          Ryan awoke suddenly and sat up. He rubbed his eyes and smiled, then lay back trying to capture the strange dream. The next morning Ryan watched from his window as people continued to drift into the red house. Oddly, there were no more visitors that afternoon. That evening after his aunt had gone to bed, Ryan went out and crossed the street. He went up the walk and approached the door, squaring his shoulders and gathering his courage. He stiffened as he heard a hum that slowly grew in intensity.

         And then Ryan entered the red house.    

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Sorcerer and the Spider, Southeast Utah

Ritchie held the gun to Hazel's head as they stared at the comatose figure in the bed. The man was covered with a white sheet, his head poking out revealing a long narrow face, eyes closed, a sharp nose, and a widow's peak with jet black hair.
        "He looks like a bloodsucker." Ritchie whispered, gazing at the pallid, elusive uncle. Hazel had been skimming drug money to send medicine to her sick relative.  At first Ritchie was going to kill his thieving girlfriend, but then he decided on seeing the beloved uncle in person.
         "I am a sorcerer." The old man croaked, suddenly opening his eyes and speaking to the young gunman. Ritchie started and looked at Hazel. "He's a male witch." The girl explained. "Uncle's not a vampire."
        The old man's black eyes were fixed on Ritchie who felt a chill run down his spine. It was time to go, but uncle sat up on his elbows and pointed his right arm at Ritchie, extending his forefinger. There was a "whoosh", a flash of light, and then a mist.
         Hazel put her hands to her cheeks in surprise as her boyfriend suddenly vanished. When the mist slowly cleared she saw a hairy spider on the window sill and she felt its multiple eyes were staring at her. Before she could speak, a raven appeared at the window, settled and plucked the spider off the sill. The black bird cocked its head at Hazel and then flew away, the squirming spider in its beak.
         The girl turned to her uncle in the bed, but she was shocked to see nothing but a pile of gray ashes where he had rested. His last breath and spell had been used to save her, eliminate the torment of Ritchie from her young life.          She went to the side of the bed and knelt as if to pray for her uncle. At that moment the curtains rustled and a breeze stirred the ashes which rose and blew into Hazel's face. Inexplicably, she swallowed the gritty ashes, and then fainted on the bed.

Later, Hazel awoke to find she was kneeling with her hands and head on the mattress. She gingerly gathered herself, noticing that the bed was empty. There was no uncle and the ashes were gone. As she cleared her head, Hazel heard Aunt Maude calling from downstairs. It was time to clean the kitchen.
        Hazel rose and was surprised at her well being, the new bounce in her step. She headed down the stairs and found Maude waiting for her. The aunt was tall, bony, with a horse face, small green eyes, and scraggly red hair in an uneven bun. "Well Ms Got Rocks, you need to do the kitchen floor. And this time on your hands and knees with a scrub brush." Maude directed harshly.
        Without thinking, Hazel raised her right arm and pointed her forefinger at her nagging aunt. There was a "whoosh", a flash of light, and then mist. When the haze cleared there was a piglet where Maude had stood. It squealed and wagged its curly tail, watching the girl with confused eyes. 
         Hazel nudged the piglet to the back door with her foot. She then gently booted the animal into the back yard and watched it race off into the woods, the neighbor's dog in eager pursuit. She closed the door and leaned against it, a smile spreading on her pretty face.
          Things were looking up for Hazel. 


Monday, April 3, 2017

The California Secession Incident, Coconino Forest, Northern Arizona

Grayson put a log on the fire in the ranger cabin, then opened a bottle of Arizona Zinfandel wine. He would treat the California agent to one of Arizona's better varietals. His only worry was the unexpected March cold as a polar vortex had dipped down from Canada and subjected Northern Arizona to below zero temperatures.  More snow was forecast.
        The visitor was traveling from Nevada and had agreed to meet Grayson, who represented Arizona. It was late afternoon and Grayson was worried as his visitor was late and the temperature was plummeting. Becoming impatient, he shrugged into his parka and decided to head north to see if he could find the man from California. 
        As Grayson trudged along the winding trail, he thought about the California secession from the Union 10 years ago. The Golden State had created a nirvana of sorts and now Arizona wanted to join California and secede, hopefully accessing the miraculous Silicon Valley formula that appeared to halt aging and ensure unbounded health. 
        A strong wind whipped down the trail rattling the pine forest and Grayson pulled his hood tight. He recalled telling Tess about his mission and the benefits of joining California. She had heard the rumors, but was skeptical about the California dream. Yes it would be great to have unlimited health and not to age, but there was something cloaked about the program. Supposedly there was no one over 65 in the golden state. What happened to the old timers? What happened to the sick?
         His wife had put her hand on his arm. "Be careful." She had advised.
         Grayson looked up and saw a figure approaching along the snowy trail. He gave a wave which the figure returned. They stopped about five feet apart and the California man gave the code, announcing he was Harold from Cal Tech. Grayson responded with his name and said he was from ASU. Having established their bona fides the two men shook hands. The Arizona proposal was inside Grayson's parka and he decided to hold it until they were settled in the cabin.
         "Coldddd"....Harold stuttered. "..nnnnot built for the cold."
         Explaining he had a fire at the ranger station and it was only a hundred yards back on the trail, Grayson turned and started toward the cabin. He heard a clicking and then muttering. Grayson looked back, surprised to see his guest stagger off the trail and into the snow drifts. The struggling man shouted incoherently, then veered to the right bumping the trunk of a tall Ponderosa Pine. The California Rep fell and sank into the deeper snow.
        Stunned, Grayson turned to help the man who floundered in the snow with a wisp of smoke emerging from his mouth and making a strange whirring sound. As he bent over to help, the California man's eyes suddenly went blank and he went still, silent. Shocked and sensing something terribly wrong, Grayson returned to the trail confused by Harold's strange collapse. As he stared at the prostrate figure in the snow, a chill ran down his spine.
         Slowly the reality of the miracle seeped into his mind and Grayson headed to the cabin where he would have to spend the night as a storm was brewing and darkness was hovering. He recalled Tess's comments that she doubted the California dream, that something wasn't right. " It doesn't pass the smell test." She had said with a laugh.
         Back at the cabin, Grayson settled with a glass of wine in front of the fireplace and watched the flames lick at a new log. He threw the Arizona Secession Proposal into the fire, watching as it flamed. Settling with his wine, he recalled Harold sinking into the snow bank with a sizzle, then the clicking and clacking. The Arizona Rep sighed. Tess, as always, was correct.

         It was too good to be true.


Saturday, January 14, 2017

Sleeping Beauty Incident, Lake Hortionia, Sudbury, Vermont

The Victorian house whispered to Miller as he stood on the porch, knowing it was a dream. He was on the verge of awakening but resisted the urge, wanting to see what was inside, what was drawing him to the gabled house.
         Standing in the small alcove, Miller knocked on the door. To his surprise, the door was opened by an anachronism, a butler dressed in bow tie and tails. The tall, bald man looked at Miller and nodded, "The Princess awaits." He said, and he followed the butler into the center hall, who motioned for Miller to enter the living room, which was off to right.
         Miller was startled to see a young woman in a mauve gown lying on a couch with her hands crossed over her chest. He approached carefully and knelt beside the sofa. She had long black hair, an angled face and alabaster skin, appearing to be in a deep sleep. Without hesitation, he leaned forward and kissed her on the lips.
          The princess sat up abruptly with a sigh. She turned her head and eyed Miller who pulled back. "Such a long time." She said. "I've waited eons for you. Here..." And the mysterious, young woman patted the cushion beside her. Miller obeyed and sat on the couch as she sighed and rubbed her forehead. He was quiet, knowing this was just his oddest of odd dreams. Lately, he had dreamed he was on a rural two-lane road, walking toward an unknown destination. Now he had arrived and he was convinced he would wake in a few minutes. The princess put her hand on his knee. "You are the chosen." She said. "And now your wishes have come true. We will be together through eternity and live a life of luxury in our mansion. I am yours forever!"
          Miller's eyes widened and he looked around. "This is nice." He said, referring to the quaint Victorian, but I wouldn't call it a mansion." The princess laughed. "This is the gatehouse where I have been waiting for you. Our mansion is in the woods, set on an idyllic lake. We have a staff to take care of us and your wish is their command."
         The Princess droned on about their dream life together. Miller scratched the back of his hand thinking he would wake up. But no, the Princess was telling him about the rooms in the mansion, about their chef. He nodded absently, recalling an obscure theory in quantum mechanics about parallel universes. Instead of some hidden portal, perhaps his extended sleep had transited him into this universe, one where the Princess had slept awaiting his arrival.
         "Imagine" she said. And then she prodded him with her elbow. "Are you listening? You seem far away." She said in annoyance, her voice hard.
         He looked at her and smiled."It's overwhelming", he said. She was correct... it did seem a dream come true.

         Or was it a never ending nightmare?