The Unexpected

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: Booksie Classic

Submitted: November 22, 2019

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Submitted: November 22, 2019

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The classic haunted house. That’s the rambling Victorian on Broomstick Hill. No one lives there. Not since the old widow ran out screaming one stormy night, slipped and drowned in the storm-swollen creek fifteen years ago. Now it’s a bed and breakfast, rented out for overnight guests, Halloween parties, and ghost-hunter clubs.

As a reporter for the Owl’s Hoot, I planned to write a feature about the place. Are there really such things as hauntings and ghostly apparitions? That sort of thing. These days, more people believe than not; however, I’m far more skeptical. I expected to see nothing more than a lonely spider or two. The piece would be easy-peasy. That done, I planned to work on an Edgar-Allen-Poe contest entry I’d been hoping to turn into a prize-winning literary creation. It was not coming together. If there was such a thing as a writer’s muse, I did not have one. A spooky, solitary atmosphere might be just the thing to get my Mr. Pulitzer-Prize-Winning groove going.

I hoped for a predicted stormy night this Halloween, and it looked like I would not be disappointed. After a late supper, I drove up the winding tree-lined road to the top of Broomstick Hill where the century-old house stood. Stone walls, three stories of gables, wings, bays, and balconies silhouetted against the pale October moon. A distant grumble announced an approaching storm. Perfect. The stage was set.

I checked in at a quarter-to-eleven on what was soon to be a midnight dreary. I expected to nod off, weak and weary, after writing many a curious story in the style of Edgar Allen Poe. That should get me in the mood for spooks, knockings, and all the paranormal stuff that people like to scare themselves silly with.  Yeah, I know sentences should not end with prepositions like with, but really? What good writer wants all the stilted language trying to avoid it? It’s common vernacular for Pete’s sake. And who is Pete anyway?

“I’m Mrs. Black. I’ll show you to your room, Mr. Tressor.” The concierge had a turned-down mouth, giving her the appearance of a perpetual scowl. In a long gray skirt, wispy bun, and faded shawl, she had every appearance of a sour old witch. She was probably hired because she looked the part. Mrs. Black escorted me to an upper room, carrying only a lamp to chase away the gloom on the steep stairway. The four-poster bed, stately in blood-red damask drapes, stood beside leaded pane windows that reached from floor to ceiling. By day, they might have offered a charming view overlooking the town of Owl’s Perch. Tonight, I could see only the reflections cast by firelight. 

“I leave here at eleven. I serve breakfast at eight in the morning. There are no other guests here tonight. No one will answer if you should cry out during the night.” She wagged an arthritic finger at me. “I lit the fire and left a small brandy and a talisman for protection beside your bed. Perhaps you will need both. I suggest you lock the door.”

“So, Mrs. Black, do you believe the rumors about this place? That it’s actually haunted?”

She nodded, arching her thin brows with a don’t-you-doubt-it look in her eyes.

“Tell me, please. Have you seen an apparition or experienced anything paranormal?”

“No, I have not. But I must warn you. Expect the unexpected.”

Then without another word, she left the room.

The talisman was a curious bag of scented spices left on the bedside table, reminding me of Ju-Ju bags popular in New Orleans Voodoo shops. I found a Gideon Bible in a drawer and had a great deal more confidence in its promises.

The fireplace, already bright with leaping flames, cast moving shadows on the walls. I lit the lamps, donned my pajamas, and settled down to read a few stories by Poe, feeling like I had stepped into a movie set and Vincent Price would soon appear to offer me a glass of amontillado. The brandy would do nicely as a substitute.

Thunder rumbled, clattered and boomed. A brilliant flash lit the room intermittently. Ah, the mood could not be more perfect for a haunting. I opened my laptop, sat it on the antique rolltop desk, and rattled off a few lines about the history of Broomstick Hill’s infamous haunted house. My conclusion to the story would be written back at the news office where Jack, my editor, would pencil it up with his eagle eye for typos and slips. Like always, he would be watching for any comparison of political figures with witches and goblins. I’m not allowed to write much satire—and insist on doing so most regularly. Like the time the man dropped dead while pulling on his trousers. It was a great opportunity to write a satirical piece titled “Pants Kill People and should be banned.”

I planned to write that I’d spent a full night at the place without any paranormal happenings. So far so good. No chains rattling. No moans and groans.

Local readers would be sorely disappointed. Abbie Tidmore swore she had seen a ghost walking on the upper balcony. Said it was eating a baloney sandwich. How could she know what it was eating from so far away? Danny Egbert claimed a ghostly shadow chased him down the hill all the way into town while he was on his newspaper route. Turned out a sheet had blown off a clothesline and gotten tangled in the spokes of his bicycle. It was obvious Mrs. Black believed without any evidence. People believe what they want to believe, regardless of the facts. I knew my story would not change any conclusions held by the good people of Owl’s Nest. 

I also knew there would be no ghosts or hauntings. Not tonight. I’d have to see more baloney than a sandwich in the hands of a hungry specter.

So, what would I write about? That was the question.

Lulled by the warm fire and the brandy, I must have drifted into a relaxed sleep, when suddenly there came a knocking, knocking at my chamber door. Barely awake, I leaped up.

“Tis some visitor, I muttered. Merely this and nothing more.” Here I opened wide the door.

What was I thinking to open my door at that hour? No one visits after midnight. And who uses a word like Tis anyway? Only people reading Edgar Allen Poe.

Blinking into the hallway, which was darker than the devil’s colon, I heard a rustle near my feet. There stood not a stately raven, not a rare and stately raven. Nothing but an old black crow. Ugliest thing I ever saw. It had lost many feathers leaving naked flesh exposed. Maybe it had lost them while squeezing down a narrow chimney to enter the house? It appeared to have only one eye. An intelligent eye. Kinda reminded me of my sharp-eyed editor who knows a good story and how to make it an even better one.

Somewhat amused by this timely coincidence, I decided to invite the scraggly bird inside. It might make a good story to live out Poe’s famous poem, The Raven, on this night so dark and dreary. What a cliché. Is there any night that isn’t dark? I suppose the moon can brighten the scene. But darkness is not defeated by moonlight.

“Can you tell me, Sir,” I asked it the same question asked by Poe,

“Tell me what your lordly name is on this night's Plutonian shore?” Plutonian has nothing to do with Pluto, in case you’re wondering. It implies the raven had come from the land of the dead.  

I couldn't help speaking in Poe. His rhythm. His words. Even a little of his rhyme.

To my great surprise, the old bird answered!

Quoth that ugly, balding black bird, with such voice I've never heard. Quoth means said in case, like me, you rarely ever use the word.

"Muse no more," said he (I'm quothing) and again he said, "No more."

"Muse no more? That’ s your name is it? Mine’s Monty Tressor.”

Here he hopped across the floor, hopped up on my desk and cocked his head toward my written words.

His posture and single eye gave every appearance of reading. Yes, the eye definitely held an intelligent gleam. Uncanny. Unsettling actually. I somehow felt this bird had knowledge beyond avian capability. Like it could read my mind. Like. I hate that word. So incorrectly overused. But sometimes it’s the best choice.

Tell me, Muse,” I had to ask him, “whether tempest tossed thee here ashore, on this home by horror haunted, tell me truly, I implore, do you like what I have written?”

With a rasp, he answered, “No.”

No? Whoa! How dare this single-eyed editor despise my literary work for Pete’s sake. Even as I thought it, I somehow doubted Pete would like it any better than the crow.

Next, he spread his wings and fluttered off to perch upon a bust that sat beside my chamber door. Not a pallid bust of Pallas Athena, Greek goddess of wisdom. It was merely a Styrofoam head used for my hairpiece. Because, like this balding old crow, I’m losing hair on the top of my own head, even though I’ve had very few hair-raising adventures in the quiet town of Owl’s Perch. However, the critical crow might provoke me to lose a few more. My hairpiece was on my head at the time, for which I was most thankful. I would not like to wear it if the bird had “used” it, imparting inspiration or not.

I returned the black bird’s insult. “Tell me now, you ghastly creature, tell me something I implore. What skullduggery you're up to, on this night's Plutonian shore.” But that ugly balding creature, answered as he had before, turned his beady eye upon on me with a look that said I know. Croaked again his cryptic message in the simple phrase, “No more.” 

Like Poe’s rare and stately raven, he kept sitting, never flitting, never flitting

on the bust of Styrofoam beside my chamber door. You should see the mess he started making on the floor!

So, I grabbed a broom and chased him, squawking, out my chamber door.

Certainly, there was nothing stately about the thing. Rare possibly. How many half-plucked crows have you met that can talk? And I was half convinced the thing could also read.

“Git you creature, ghastly, gaunt ungainly creature, and come back nevermore!”

Quoth he as he hopped and stopped beside the door. "I've no quarrel with classic poets such as Edgar Allen Poe. It's the hacks with silly ditties writing drivel, sludge and gore. Writers penning sludge and drivel, I'll inspire never more. Pulled my feathers for his quill, but I’ll do it nevermore.”

“That's why you lost your feathers? Frustration with poor writing?”  But after all, a bald, one-eyed crow for a muse? Who could be inspired otherwise than to write silly ditties? Pete maybe? I’d like to meet that fellow one day for crying out loud. And don't tell that's a cliche unless you can think of a better one.

Here I slammed my chamber door. Back into my chamber turning, all my soul within me burning. Was he calling me a hack? A writer penning sludge and drivel? Ha! I laughed, and then I pondered, and my words began to flow, followed fast and followed faster on my laptop, more and more.

By the morning I had written such an eerie tale of woe.

Breakfast with Mrs. Black was actually quite pleasant. I left her a nice tip. Then back at the Owl’s Hoot, my editor read my night of haunting that never happened, ghosts that did not appear. He chuckled first then laughed aloud at the story of the one-eyed crow. I earned a front-page by-line on that edition. After my Poe-contest entry was scanned and proofed for the fourth time, I clicked the send button on my computer.

Even if “returned no compensation”

I knew my very fine creation

Would enhance the circulation of a finer publication.

And the old crow might be cawing when he learns I’m no beginner,

When my tale became a winner, yes, a winner!

Motivated by the visit of a muse who was a crow.

The unexpected visit of the muse who was a crow.

And that's all, there ain't no moe. (I used poetic license to leave out the "r" so it rhymes).

Well. actually, I did hear a faint peep in the night. Probably the mysterious Pete for crying out loud. But that’s another story.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


© Copyright 2020 H L Ford. All rights reserved.

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