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Or Equivalent Experience: An Original Short Story

IN THE October 20 ISSUE

FROM THE 2012 Articles,
andFantasy & Fangs
SECTIONS

by Mary Reed

As we continue with our supernatural & creepy theme for Halloween, enjoy this never before published short story by mystery author Mary Reed. Check out a review of Mary’s latest book written with Eric Mayer Nine For The Devil right here in KRL.

Because she was an employee of We Keep Up Your Spirits Inc., at first no-one took Madam Granowski seriously, even after she dramatically interrupted an afternoon panel on Dyslexic Ouija Boards and What To Do About Them. This she contrived by rushing in screaming about a manifestation in the bathroom before fainting at the foot of the podium. I was there at the time, and it certainly impressed me. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

It all started innocently enough. A tourist from Missouri was staying at the Scotswood Hotel and Conference Center in upstate New York. As is often the way, the establishment was miles from any woods. Nor was it owned by Scots, but rather Geordies, as the people of Newcastle in northern England are known. A fine distinction, I grant you, but the sort of thing the British fight over, especially in the north. As to Scotswood. It’s a famous road in Newcastle and is mentioned in an equally famous local song.

How do I, Maine born and bred, know these things? Well, it’s amazing what knowledge you can pick up just by hanging around a place long enough, and I’ve been Here–Earthbound, as you would say–a few centuries now.

Most of that time I’ve kept fairly quiet–I hate being bothered with this bell, book and candle nonsense–but every now and then I pop out of the Aether to throw a few plates around in the kitchen. I’m not a poltergeist, but I do like to vary my routine.

For a change of pace I occasionally scare small domestic animals into fits–they can see us, you know–or leave a few bloody palm-prints on the cellar door or move the curtains on a still day, nice little touches like that. However, I don’t usually manifest. It drains a lot of energy, and really people don’t seem to appreciate the effort. Usually all they do is faint, scream, or run off, or perhaps a combination of the three. Often the more intelligent try calling in a man of the cloth to conduct an exorcism, but it’s always too late since by the time the minister arrives I’ve been Elsewhere for a while.

This of course means everyone thinks I’ve been banished and that all is well. But, as I say, I’m usually quiet. I like it Here, and would just as soon not Move On.

It has been interesting to see the different attitudes displayed by successive occupants of the site.
The first one after me built his house (little did he know it) over the very place where my cabin burnt down after a particularly, shall we say, riotous celebration. Being a stolid German he ignored all my tricks, not seeing anything of what his more highly-strung wife cowered away from on dark and windy nights. She eventually went mad, although I think that was due more to the mistreatment meted out to her by her spouse than anything I did.

Then in quick succession there followed two or three house-owners, all of whom lacked moral fiber since they left almost as soon as I tried idly moving the furniture about or rattling portraits in the parlor. In the case of Jenkins it was too much for his heart when I flipped his bed over in what was then the Bridal Suite, the house at his time having been converted into a inn. Even after the scandal died down, the place was closed for over a century, before the current occupants re-opened it for business. Jenkins himself by then had long gone, of course. A year or two after buying the property, the owners opened a tearoom (English High Tea Served Daily) and converted the barn into a conference center. It does serve quite well for the purpose, I suppose.

Being rather fond of the English, I laid low for several years. But then the pair of tourists from Missouri arrived.

What happened next was really her fault rather than his.
She would insist on reading the paper aloud. I’ve met more than one who arrived Elsewhere early because of that bad habit.

One morning, then, I was sitting on the breakfast room’s windowsill, a favorite roost of mine as it was over the very spot where one of my co-revelers the night of the fire died rather horribly, although she too has long since Moved On. Anyway, the female tourist was reading snippets from the local paper to her companion, a black-haired man whom I knew was going to come to a bad end. We can tell that sort of thing when we’re dead, much good it does us then.

Having sniggered over the Personal Ads, as if Missouri cities did not also have hordes of handsome professionals seeking couples to fulfill fantasies and so on, she then turned to the employment advertisements.

Some people will read anything.

Evidently one struck her fancy, as, without bothering to swallow her toast, she said: “Listen to this, Jim. They want psychics for an upcoming fair, and request genuine psychic ability or, get this, ‘equivalent experience’!”

Now one problem is having no physical eyes we don’t see too well and thus cannot read–not that I could when I was alive. Since my curiosity was caught, I went over and suggested in her companion’s ear that he ask where the conference was to be held. He obligingly did so.

“Right here in this very hotel! What a coincidence.
We must come back for it, what do you think?” She was quite enthused.

Jim spread marmalade on his toast. “Tell you what,” he said, “I’d like to know what they mean by ‘equivalent experience’.”

Evidently Jim’s bad habit was to ignore direct questions.

The woman was a fast thinker with a strange sense of humor. “I think I shall go to see the organizers,” she replied. “I’ll claim to have known them all in various previous lives. They could hardly refuse to engage me after that. Then I’ll take a crash course in Tarot and dress for the part in black clothing and walk about leaning on a staff. Say, it could be fun.”

While their argument raged over whether the young lady would claim to be Cleopatra or one of her handmaidens, I retired Elsewhere to ponder, thinking how extraordinary it is so many people seem to think they were Cleopatra in a previous life. Of course, people do sometimes Return, but so far as Cleopatra went, I don’t know why anyone would wish to be taken for her. I have heard she was very plain, with little flesh on those bones, even before she died. And a bad temper to boot.

I really don’t like psychics much. A lot of them don’t have the abilities they claim, though some have a little talent. Mostly they are, you might say, loose cannon in the Aether and thus extremely dangerous.

The most dangerous of these dabblers to those like me are the few who have the genuine ability to Call and Dismiss, although thankfully none have ever showed up hereabouts. Those of us happy to stay around avoid any such whose path intersects ours since they can, even unknowingly, do serious damage because they mean well.

Needless to say, I could hardly resist the chance to make mischief,
and thus was on hand when the Psychic Conference began, fittingly from some points of view, on Walpurgis Night.

The hotel itself was only half-full, but there was a fair selection of psychics, mediums, table-rappers, and the like at the fair. I did notice the Missouri woman had returned, although she was alone and wearing black. No staff, though, and she seemed rather forlorn. I couldn’t decide whether she was there as One with Equivalent Experience or whether Jim had passed over, in that quaint phrase bandied about all weekend.

The conference center was packed to what had originally been barn doors. Although it was crammed with tables selling assorted types of Tarot cards not one poker game was going. I do miss playing poker.

A crystal ball or two glittered here and there on velvet cloths. Hucksters sold books, mystic jewelry, Stones of Power, herbal remedies for what ails you, and the like. All the usual stuff. I found myself wondering if all these gentle souls swathed in fringed shawls would rise up and flee in terror, scattering Tarot cards and crystal balls alike, if they were to receive a sudden revelation as to certain events that had taken place in my time on the very land under them.

Still, it was entertaining nonsense and I wandered around, in and out of some of the panel discussions. No-one seemed to notice my presence, except for an occasional good-natured call to “Please close the door, there’s an awful draft in here.” I didn’t hear anything new and my eyesight is too bad for me to make out details of a slideshow concerning Photographing the Unseen, so I drifted back over to the hotel proper to see what trouble I could ferment.

What I needed, I thought, was someone alone. Alone in order to undercut their credibility, and preferably one of the attending mediums or clairvoyants or whatever so as to further blacken their professional reputation with scoffers.

What I found was Madam Granowski, late (although not in the physical sense) of the Bronx, but more importantly than that, one of the conference organizers. So I thought what fun it would be to give her a scare or two. Boredom is a terrible thing. And besides, she was one of those colorful charlatans, all done up in multicolored scarves, bangles, and a necklace full of charms, the whole polychromatic display topped off by a purple turban and a white aura. Not to mention an assumed European accent.

She was one of those amiable rogues whom one cannot help but like.
We would have got on well if we had ever met when I was alive, although I sensed her kind heart and good nature would not have suited her to the life I led. It was almost a shame to torment such an easy target.

However, I was rather bored, and to cut a long story somewhat shorter I Manifested, right there in the bathroom.

As soon as she saw me, she shrieked, dropped her lipstick, paled, hyperventilated–perhaps not quite in that order–and then ran down the hall, out the fire exit, and across the croquet lawn to the conference, shrieking as if all the fiends of Hades were after her.

I must say I was quite flattered at the effect. She covered the distance in a very short time, scattering scarves and bangles after her, burst into the psychic fair with her news, and fainted dead away.

I didn’t want to miss any of the fun, so I had followed her over. Needless to say, her revelation caused a sensation.

The event chairwoman who brought Madam around with a bottle of old fashioned smelling salts was one of those thin people with a hawk-like face and narrow lips. Apparently she went by the name of Agate, an apt name for such a stony person. From the accent she was southern, but thank goodness (if you must) had no genuine ability.

Anyway, Madam Granowski eventually became coherent and those present,
including my dark-clothed friend from Missouri, gathered around to hear her tale.

“It was horrible!” she cried, proving herself to be a woman of little imagination.

“Now, Victoria, this isn’t a joke, is it?” Agate spoke imperiously.

“Of course not! The very idea!”

A tall man dressed completely in white was next to address Victoria. “Now, what was it that you saw?” He had produced a notebook and had his pen poised hopefully.

“It was…well…ghastly! Horrible! A man. Beefy, dark hair, beetle-browed. A large man, yes.”
I had to give her top marks for observation.

“What was he wearing?” a voiced chimed in from behind me. Without turning, I recognized the lady from Missouri.

“Umm…looked like furs.”

“What, a caveman?” This from a youngster of about l4. He was withered with collective looks of scorn.

“More like a trapper, I think.” Victoria was recovering fast and beginning to enjoy the limelight. I felt vague disappointment. Maybe I should have tried some of my other Shapes. Still, there was plenty of time yet. It was delightful watching them grapple with Victoria’s news. There was skepticism, interest, speculation, but not fear.

Unfortunately.

The man with the notepad continued to quiz Victoria. “So you think this man might have been a trapper, or perhaps a settler?”

“Could be. He wore clothing of that kind. There was a lot of blood on it, too. Perhaps he died in an accident.” Light dawned. “That’s it! He’s Earthbound! How wonderful!”

Easy for her to say, I thought. The poor fools, they had no idea of the truth. I yawned. Manifesting now hardly seemed to have been worth the effort.

“It would fit in with the history of the place,” the boy put in.

“Yes, it would. And what about this?” chimed in the Missouri woman. “I was talking to the hotel manager last night, and he was telling me all about it. Apparently there were some very strange things going on about a century ago, but they got rid of them by the usual methods.”

Sensation again among the gathered throng. Victoria was doubtful and said so, pointing out that, human nature being what it was, it sounded like just the kind of thing managers would say if they had a Psychic Conference going on in their hotel grounds. Nods all round.

The hatchet-faced Agate spoke up with smug certainty. “Well, actually, he was right. I was here last year and heard the same stories, so I did a little research into the history of the place. There was certainly reason for something to be here.”

Then she gave a description of the historical events I mentioned earlier. By and large she was almost accurate. Someone asked her why such a spirit remained Earthbound, and in response she reported a catalogue of stories about me, some of which, unbelievable though it sounds, were actually worse than anything I did. I listened with some interest, I might say. Everyone looked rather pale by the time she had finished.

The Missouri woman broke a sick silence by announcing that in her opinion there might be something in it. I was beginning to really dislike her, especially as it was all her fault I had decided to attend the fair to begin with, not to mention I was starting to feel faint after my effort to Manifest.

You see what trouble being able to read can cause.

By now Agate was suggesting a session with a Ouija board, but, of course, even if I had wanted to communicate with the fools, I couldn’t. I never learned to write, although I could count well enough to kill any man, or woman for that matter, who tried to cheat me in a card game, as indeed had happened from time to time.

“What about asking the local minister to perform an exorcism?” was Victoria’s suggestion.

“You can’t expect him to come over just like that! Don’t they have to get permission from their bishop first?” the note-taker asked.

A third party opted to try some herbal ritual or other.

Things were turning very ugly. I began to think I’d best go Elsewhere for a while.

Unfortunately the Missouri woman turned as I passed by her. And saw me.

Oh, she had all the usual reactions, including turning bone white and sitting down suddenly, but I heard her thought of recognition as I faded away.

How could she do that when she had not seen me before?

I’ve asked myself this very question many times but never found an answer.

Perhaps those on the Higher Level know, but in any event, the woman was dangerous to me.

I want to stay Here and she since she can see me, she can Call and Dismiss and might well start doing so any moment.

I’m no coward but I dare not be Dismissed to what preachers in my day would call my just reward. I’d done much too much, oh, indeed yes, the grounds of that hotel are blood soaked. And I’d loved doing it all. So I always left when well-meaning fools tried to help me Go On. Help me! On to what? Eternal punishment?

And as for that (hopefully) damned woman in black.
Of course it was the German’s wife reincarnated, the one who saw me and went mad, returned in a new body to the scene of her torments.

I will have to follow her home and deal with her there, but for the time being I must hide. She is younger, stronger, and has righteousness on her side.

And she can see me.

So for now I shall go Elsewhere.

But I’ll be back.

Meantime, my advice to future guests at the Scotswood Hotel is not to read the paper aloud.

You never know who might be listening.

Keep a watch out for even more fun Halloween stories & check out those already up in out Terrific Tales section!

The husband and wife team of Mary Reed & Eric Mayer published several short John the Lord Chamberlain detections in mystery anthologies & in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine prior to 1999′s first full length novel, One For Sorrow. Their protagonist’s adventures have continued in several award winning novels with the latest book, Nine For The Devil, released this year. Learn more on their website.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Jenny MilchmanNo Gravatar
Twitter: @jennymilchman
November 1, 2012 at 12:48pm

Love the debunking ghost! Great story, Mary & thanks, Lorie, too…

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