Another spooky story to get you in the mood for Halloween. Here’s the summary:
Two men from different times talk about their pasts and their current condition in Cedar Springs, Michigan. Only one of them knows the inner workings of the hotel. The other is about to figure things out.
JUST PASSING THROUGH
by Jaimie M. Engle
“Sometimes, when it’s quiet, I remember what my life was like before moving to Cedar Springs.” I spoke to the balding bartender wearing a name tag that read Bill who acted like he couldn’t hear me as he dried glasses then slid them in the rack above his head without a word. A half-filled glass of brandy sat before me. “At first, it was strange being here. Took some getting used to. All the rules were different and nothing made much sense.”
Bill turned to grab more glasses from the rack.
“True story,” I said. “I walked up to this woman once in the parlor sipping tea and I said, “Looks like rain.” Well, you’da think she’d seen a ghost, the way she up and ran outta the room, knocking her tea cup to the ground where it shattered. I tried picking up the pieces, but I couldn’t. Just had to watch it all slip through my fingers.”
Bill looked up with an uninterested smile, as if looking right through me.
“I used to be a pilot back in North Carolina after The Great War,” I bragged. “I flew people around; rich folk, who could afford the solo flight just for the fun of it.”
Bill walked to the end of the bar to wait on a new patron. I didn’t mind. I just kept on going with my story. Not like Bill was really listening anyway. “Then, I moved here. Was just passing through at first, but after a while the old house grew on me. Some say it’s like early retirement. I don’t know. I feel too young to be retired.”
“But she did see a ghost, din’t she?”
“Excuse me?” I turned and saw a colored man standing behind me.
“Da woman. Dat’s what spooked her, ain’t it?”
I shrugged at the newbie. I didn’t have a particular fondness for newbies.
“It seems lotsa folks dat comes here is looking to see a ghost.” The fellow took a seat beside me, eyes darting around like he’s been followed. “I can’t tell ‘em apart, most times. The folks here to visit and the ones dats been moved here.”
“It takes some time.” I reached for the glass of brandy and pretended to take a sip. “The folks that are here to stay don’t usually carry any luggage.”
The fellow slapped his thigh. “Dat’s it. You hit da nail on da head.”
His hearty laugh took me back to my life before Cedar Springs. I remember laughing a lot more then. With a loud creak, the swing door leading to the kitchen flew open and a large man wearing a trench coat stood in the doorway. In his hand, some sort of a machine the size of a brick beeped and ticked causing an awful lot of ruckus that seemed to get louder the closer he came.
“We’d better move,” I told the fellow next to me.
“Cause of that man over there.”
“What’s wrong with him?”
“Follow me. He won’t bother you if you don’t bother him.”
We left the bar quickly passing the man who seemed not to notice us, busying himself with running his beeping contraption along the walls and trim.
“What’s your name?” I asked the fellow as we settled in the parlor.
“Crevis. Crevis Jones.” He extended a hand which I ignored. Crevis lowered it along with his eyes.
“I’m Bryce Morgan Longfellow, the third,” I told him, pretending to smoke a cigar someone left smoldering in the ashtray.
“Why do you do that?”
“Do what?” I asked.
“Act like you’re smokin’ and drinkin’, but not act’lly doin’ it.”
I sighed. “Old habits die hard, Crevis. Found a lot of things I did in my old life I just can’t do here in Cedar Springs, new rules and all.”
A tabby strolled into the parlor. Crevis reached out to pet it. “Here kitty, kitty.”
The cat hissed; its hair sticking out in so many directions it looked like it had been shocked full of electricity. I belly laughed as Crevis recoiled his hand and scooted his legs up underneath him.
“What’s wrong with dat cat?” Crevis asked.
“He doesn’t like newbies.”
Crevis worked to catch his breath. “Coulda warned me, ya know?”
“Where’s the fun in that?” I said with a smile.
The man with the equipment entered the parlor. I stood, motioning for Crevis to follow me up the squeaking staircase to my bedroom. It had a small sitting area near the fireplace where Crevis and I took a seat.
“Nice room,” Crevis said. “How long you been here?”
“Fifty-three years,” I said, staring toward the window.
“Woohee. Dat’s a long time, ain’t it?”
“Sure is,” I said, picking at my nails.
Crevis shook his head. “Not me. No siree. I’m jus’ passin’ through. I never stay put in the same place for too long.”
“Whatever you say,” I said, stepping over to the window. Beneath the oaks and maples blocking my view, a wide lake spanned the length of the vast property. Surrounding it, manicured flower beds, budded in every shade of the rainbow, gently waved in the light breeze.
Crevis stood and joined me. About twenty or thirty people dressed in garments from many different eras walked the grounds: A woman in a plush Victorian. A boy wearing knickers and tights. A gentleman dressed in a topcoat and hat. A young girl draped in a flapper dress too big for her tiny frame.
“Why dey dressed dat way?” Crevis asked, pointing.
“There’s all kinds here, Crevis. Most find that they have no reason to leave after a while.”
Crevis faced me. “And what about you? Are you one of dem?”
I smiled. “Yes. We all are sooner or later.” I moved away from the window back to my seat. Crossing my leg and adjusting the cuff of my trousers, I said, “Even you, Crevis.”
His face would’ve reddened, if circumstances had been different. “Me? Nah, I’m afraid you’ve got me all wrong, boss.”
I stared at Crevis. This was my favorite part. “What’s the last thing you remember, Crevis? Before you came to Cedar Springs?”
Crevis’s forehead crinkled and he thought a long while before he answered. “I was walkin’ down the street back home, jus’ mindin’ my own business. Outta nowhere, dis man shows up wearing a dark cloak like he was from someplace else and ain’t never been dere before. He don’t say nothin’ ‘tal, jus’ stared at me real serious-like. Then, a second man comes running ‘round da corner, waving a gun in the air, cussin’ and screamin’. I jus’ turn real fast and starts runnin’, when I hear a loud pop, like his gun goin’ off. Next thing I know, I’m on the doorstep here in Cedar Springs.”
My smile widened. “And did you come with or without luggage?”
Crevis wiped his forehead out of instinct, the stress rising up in him like a summertime thermometer. “Without. But, I don’t remember ever comin’ here before. Or never wantin’ to come here neither.”
“No one ever does.”
Crevis’s voice rose in panic. “What is dis place, Mr. Longfella?”
“I thought you’d never ask.” I stood, spreading my arms out to indicate our surroundings. “This is the Bailey House of Cedar Springs, Michigan.”
Crevis looked puzzled. “The Bailey House? But dat dere’s a haunted house.”
I nodded. “And you are its newest resident.”
Crevis stared at me, just blinking real fast.
“Crevis? You all right?” I asked.
He just kept blinking. Finally, he said, “So, I’m a…ghost?”
“That’s right,” I told him. “Just like the rest of us.”
Crevis began to laugh. He laughed so hard that I bet he would’ve been crying if he still had tears in his tear ducts. “You crazy!” he shouted through his rifts. “You about the craziest man I ever met.”
The door slid open. It was the man with the machine.
“Oh, really?” I said, pointing. “Then why don’t you go and talk to him.”
“Okay. I will.”
Crevis stomped up to the man and stood right in his face. The man didn’t seem to notice. I covered my laugh with my hand.
“Excuse me, sir?” Crevis said. There was no response. Crevis cleared his throat. “Sir? Excuse me?”
Laughing aloud, I suggested, “Maybe you ought to say it louder. Perhaps he’s hard of hearing.”
Shouting, Crevis said, “EXCUSE ME, SIR!”
The man’s eyes bulged as he caught a glimpse of Crevis. I’ve found that once the wall is broken down, the visitors can see us all. Turning to face me, I smiled at the man and said very gentlemanlike, “Boo.”
The man screamed as he tripped over himself to clear out of the room then took a tumble down the stairs before landing hard in the foyer. He didn’t even shut the front door when he ran out.
I was doubled-over laughing so hard it should have hurt. The look on Crevis’s face was pure confusion.
“What was that all about?” Crevis asked.
I stood upright, placing an arm around Crevis’s shoulder. “They come here to find a ghost, but I don’t think they ever really want to see one.”
Crevis started to wobble a bit. “Woah, Crevis.” I reached out to brace him with my other arm. “Why you’re as white as a ghost.”
“You’re not funny, boss,” he said, as I helped him over to a chair.
“It’s all I got left, Crevis, my sense of humor. The rest of me was trampled by a horse and buried six-feet under.”
Crevis looked up at me. “You serious, aintchya?”
I nodded slowly.
“So, now what?”
I shrugged. “Well, seeing as how you didn’t bring any luggage to unpack how about I show you around and introduce you to everyone. Cause you may be here a while.”
“That’s a mighty fine, idea, Mr. Longfella. Thank ya.”
“Please, Crevis. Call me Bryce.”
As we climbed downstairs, the front door opened. A woman in a tattered dress stood on the porch holding hands with a little girl not more than five-years-old. And the first thing I noticed was that neither one of them carried any luggage.