A short story (fiction!) from Death Be Not Loud: Ghosts, Haunts and Tall Tales for Restless Nights © by Jan Olandese https://www.amazon.com/Jan-Olandese/e/B071FK9L75
Death Be Not Loud
Kathleen was jarred awake by a hellish, reverberating headache. It had kicked in yesterday after an endless afternoon spent yessing her supervisor, and then her ex. It had ratcheted up the agony scale after she’d received some mistaken late notices: her power bill, her credit card. (Kathleen was punctilious about always paying a few days early). The protracted phone calls to stubborn, unhelpful representatives in New Delhi with thick accents kicked her migraine up to a five-alarm special. Even the slightest sounds seemed magnified, as if her inner volume knob had been twisted to its highest, cruelest setting: a pin dropping, the spoon stirring coffee in the next booth at Denny’s, the clicking of her keys as she fumbled for the front door. The pain was excruciating.
She knew change would be beneficial. In fact, it was necessary to prevent her head from imploding the way those old Vegas hotels did. Ka-boom.
Kathleen called her boss and immediately arranged for sick leave. She threw her purse and a few changes of clothes in the car: after carefully locking up the apartment, she took off. She had under-planned this journey: she had no idea where she was going, except away. This was so unlike her. But in response, it seemed, her headache had begun to recede.
Coworkers had been talking about the Inn during lunch one day. Mary said it was lovely but she wouldn’t go back for the world: you see, she’d shared, it was haunted. When people chuckled in response, she’d added:
“Really, it is. I couldn’t sleep a wink. What? No, I didn’t see anything. All I can say is, I felt scared the whole night and the next day I left. I wouldn’t go back for anything.”
Kathleen, who quite loathed Mary, had at the time thought to herself smugly “This sounds like my kind of place.” Perhaps, then, it was no coincidence that she found herself headed in that very direction.
The Inn was a rambling old pseudo-Norman house with several ells, dormers, and alcoves. Parts of it were ivy-covered. It sat on an extensive lawn surrounded by a small grove of apple trees one side and on the other, open fields. The nearest town was only about eight miles off, yet it felt very distant now; another world. The scene before her could not have been more appealing and, thank God, quiet. Her head still hurt and she couldn’t tolerate noise right now.
She parked her Fiat up front. She had no reservation and they might not have room, she worried. But gamely she grabbed her belongings and proceeded through the open door to the front desk. A tall, attractive woman rose to greet her. She wore a faded but pretty blouse in a tiny floral print with a matching wrap-around skirt and plain light taupe ballet slipper flats. Immediately Kathleen thought, ” A Villager dress, with Capezio shoes!” She had loved this look in her teens, when it had been all the rage).
“Hello, welcome to the Inn. I’m Mara Morrigan,” said the woman.
“I don’t have a reservation,” said Kathleen, “but I heard about the Inn at work and came out, really, on a whim. I wonder if you have any vacancies.”
“Actually, we do. By odd coincidence, there was an unexpected cancellation just an hour ago. The room’s on the second floor and has its own full ensuite.”
I’ll take it! Kathleen replied. Then timidly, asked, “but, what are your rates?”
“In this case, I think you’ll be pleased. The room was paid in advance, one of our return customers. He loses his deposit so we can make it free of charge for you for the next few days, and if you want to extend we’ll let you have a midweek rate.”
“Done!” said Kathleen, happily eager to seal the deal. Perhaps too eager? Gift horses, her intuition cautioned. To hell with it, she sassed back.
Mara showed her to her room, which was sunny and light-filled, so the rich but dark wainscoting didn’t make it feel closed-in. The ceilings were high. There was a small table with an electric kettle, a pretty ceramic mug, and a selection of instant coffees, cocoa, and teas. The bed was canopied and multi-pillowed. A television hid discreetly inside a closed cabinet and the bathroom was roomy and well-equipped with thick pastel towels. The window presented a bucolic view of the yard and the orchard.
“It’s lovely,” sighed Kathleen.
Mara pointed to the phone and said to call the desk if she needed anything, and that luncheon would be served at noon. She smiled again, then left to return to her duties.
Kathleen couldn’t believe her good fortune. What a perfect retreat. Her headache had quite ebbed. It was so peaceful here. Why then did she have a sense of foreboding? Probably just guilt for using sick leave, she chided herself.
After lunch, Kathleen went upstairs to rest. The bed was perfect and she relaxed at once, her headache only an occasional light throb. As she was nodding off (she must have dreamed it) there were muffled, vague noises: someone yelling as if from a long way off. Voices mumbling. Some flashes of light. Her headache pounded a few times, and she came to.
A walk will do me good, she thought. She stepped out into a perfect spring afternoon. The flowers near the house were in full bloom, and look, the little orchard was bursting with ripe fruit. She thought she’d sneak some. They looked, really, quite perfect.
She selected a large apple from a low-hanging branch. Wiping it on her jeans, she bit in. The juice ran down her face. It was indescribably delicious. As she swallowed, though, she suddenly saw flashes of light and worried faces. She heard dampered sounds, they were talking; but about what, she couldn’t tell. Her headache stabbed. Then, the pain, as well as the vision, retreated.
Kathleen took a deep breath and was herself again. She strolled some more and wondered about her reaction to the apple. Had it been an allergy? (She had so many). Probably that was it, she told herself. But her gut told her it wasn’t.
At dinner, she met some of the others. Amelia, a slender, white- haired woman, was due to leave tomorrow and was eager to reach her destination, which she was sure would be “simply heaven!” She looked forward to her flight. Mr. Kubler-Moss had just arrived that day and was looking a bit dazed. “It was a very long trip,” he said. “I’ve driven by once or twice in the past, but decided to stay this time.” Kathleen nodded her understanding. Now, Isadora she barely recognized without her trademark scarf. But here she was. A real celebrity! My, she didn’t look as good in person as she did on Hollywood Squares, thought Kathleen. Sort of pale. And her outfit! What was she wearing? Was that a new trend? (Kathleen liked to think she was up on fashion). An odd one-piece number, it tied in back. Not her best look, for sure.
They all had ice cream for dessert and went into the great room for coffee after. It was loaded with books and there was a cavernous fireplace. The room was amply furnished with inviting, soft upholstered chairs and sofas, as well as small tables for those who played cards. Nothing, it seemed, was overlooked which might add to the comfort of the guests.
Kathleen sat with Amelia and Isadora for a round of gin rummy. She pored over the cards in her hand. When she looked up, Isadora was gone. (Was it my breath? she asked herself). Seriously though, it was as if Isadora had never been there. She looked at Amelia, who seemingly had noticed nothing.
“Where’s Isadora?” Kathleen asked.
“Who?” replied Amelia. “What an unusual name. It sounds somehow familiar but no, I don’t think I know her.”
“But,” Kathleen protested. At that moment her headache returned, drilling into her skull. She forgot about Isadora. She saw some flashing lights and again heard the rumble of voices. Then it was gone: the pain, the voices, all of it. The next thing she knew, Mara was holding a damp, cool cloth to her head.
“Feeling better?” Mara asked. She sounded quite caring, Kathleen was unused to that.
“Oh, yes, quite. Just tired. I think I’ll go upstairs early.”
Everyone said goodnight, and before she knew it Kathleen was under the covers of her very soft bed. She soon plunged into a deep slumber. She had dream fragments of a crowd of people screeching in very high decibel jolts which pierced her ears and her head: the sound twisting itself into a fury of what doctors liked to call “discomfort.” Lights blinked, she heard a low, regular beep, and then she awakened. Her impressions rapidly faded but she was left in a state of vague unease, as pleasant as her surroundings were. So pleasant were they that she couldn’t remember any place she’d ever been that she liked so well.
In the morning, Kathleen came downstairs and joined the others for coffee and rolls. She felt as if she had always been here. As if she belonged. She was a person who was usually nervous and always worried about various small matters. But not here. She felt safe and in a way, protected. Mara’s presence contributed to that sense: it was as if, in some odd way, Mara was a kind of guardian who kept all her charges from harm. Kathleen shook her head, how fanciful she was getting to be!
She decided after breakfast to take a book to read down in the lobby. She plumped up some pillows and leaned back into the capacious window seat. The scenery was so beautiful and peace-filled! She had never felt so … embraced by a place. Yes, she felt embraced.
From the desk, she could hear Mara at the switchboard. “No, no, I’m sorry, dear, we have no room.” “Yes, please send Mr. Kennedy right up.” And so on. Kathleen felt honored that a place had been made for her here. And without reservations!
People seemed to come and go quite frequently. Today there was a new person, a teenager, checking in at the desk. Mara, checking her in, asked for her name and Kathleen heard her say “Anastasia.”
Mara glanced at Kathleen. Ah, a difficult case, hers. But nothing really could be done. It was quite out of her hands.
“All right,” she murmured into her headset. “Now.”
Kathleen suddenly woke to a jagged, wild scene. People shouting “Stat!” and holding a mask to her face. “Kathleen!” shouted a man in green scrubs and a white coat. Dr. Peters, his badge read. “Epinephrine!” he shouted. She felt a needle. The noise felt like jackhammers going full force. She hadn’t known noise could hurt. She saw nurses and EMTs all around her, working to bring her around.
It came back to her now. She’d become quite profoundly depressed due to having been laid off at work. Her bills had gone unpaid. Eviction had been just around the corner. Her boyfriend dumped her for the blonde who lived down the hall. It had become overwhelming. She had taken enough sleeping pills, she thought, to put an end to it all. But they had just given her an awful headache.
One of hospital staff told her she had been clinically dead for a short time. They thought they’d lost her.
She wished they had. She had fuzzy memories of a country inn. How she wished she could return. But probably it was just a dream.
Nothing was that good in real life.
For more ghost stories, see Death Be Not Loud and Rest In Fleece. For nonfiction ghost info, see About Ghosts: A Useful Handbook