Rain. Red mud gushed up, glutting the windshield. To see at all, I must lean forward, grip the wheel. Perched atop a steep hill, the Inn is only accessible via a single-lane dirt road. I drive no faster than thirty, round each curve with the care of a delivery room doctor—still I spin out. Ease the car from the ditch, fix the tire, then record the entire incident in my journal. Up up up the hills, down a gravel driveway. The Inn: shrouded by seven pines, four waxy shrubs; yard otherwise cleared off save an unpainted wooden fence, smattering of pigs, three cows, a lone chicken wailing. No sooner have I parked the car than William, one of the Inn's owners, taps on the driver's window wonderful weather, eh?
A suitcase in each hand, we walk across the sagging porch steps. With a bow, William opens the door, scurries inside. Crusted oriental rugs line the lobby, which is really an over-sized living room. Vaguely floral wallpaper, a plush red davenport; silk hyacinths shoved into mason jars, jars scattered across the mantle, couch-side tables. William introduces me to his twin brother Horatio who extends his hand we own the Inn with our sister Mary. Horatio gestures towards a woman seated behind an engraved desk. The sibling's resemblance is startling. Sliding my room key across the desk, Mary smiles most of our other guests are still asleep. Dinner will be served at eleven pm. I ask eleven? Mary nods eleven. Smoothing down my skirt, I ignore the oddness of the dinner hour, Mary’s expressionless face. I sign the guest book using the alias assigned to me by the paper: Billie Lassiter, age 27, Houston, TX, 10/15/1939. From his perch at the top of the stairs, Horatio stares down at me. Stares with persistence: I'll show you to your room. Located at the far end of the second story, my room has but one window, overlooking the pig pen. Horatio apologizes about the weather, his attire we don't normally dress like this. It’s just the pigs been getting...we'll see you at dinner, eh? I say yes then shut the door.
Although I am alone in the room, I cannot shake the feeling of Horatio's gaze. It creeps across my face, slopes down my back and legs. I snap the blinds shut, close the curtains. The only light in the room comes from the crack beneath the door. Two hours pass. I sit on the bed in silence. Worn from the drive, will take all my might to attend dinner. Intestines ache at the mere thought of digestion. Head swarms at the first sounds of the other guests waking, staggering down the hall towards the communal bathroom. 9:43 pm. Countless flushes, insistent knocks, water from the tap, a woman sighing it’s so early, far too early. In my notebook, I record all that I hear and smell—what little I can see through the crack at the bottom of the door. Write even about Horatio's “gaze” knowing Mr. Hammonds, my boss at the paper, will twist his face aww shit how many times have I told you. Someone knocks on the door. Without my consent my whole body stiffens, refuses to soften even as I answer the voice what is it? A man says dinner in five minutes.
Before I even reach the dining room, voices. Whirring chatter. Although my body has loosened, it now shakes visibly. Of what I am afraid: I cannot say. In the foyer I stop to rest, lean my head against a massive flower pot. Several minutes pass. My breathing slows. I walk down a small set of carpeted steps into the dining room. As the door swings open, the guests fall silent. William grabs my hand come, honey, take a seat already. I sit next to a woman named Caroline and her husband Harold. They’re drinking gin fizzes, grinning through the liquor we’re from Cali-forn-ia. William pours me a glass of wine is this alright? We toast. Twenty guests total. Most from far-away, out West or the Plains. I gulp down my wine, ask Caroline what brings you to the area? Aside from the Inn, there are no attractions of any sort for at least fifty miles. No views, hiking trails, gasps of nature. The only reason for booking a room: seclusion. Horatio emerges from the kitchen with a 16lb smoked ham; the table sags beneath its weight. Some guests eat famishly while others dawdle, lingering over the broccoli. At the precise moment I realize I can eat no more, Mary sweeps my plate, and only my plate, from the table in a single, effortless gesture—almost unperceivable. I stare slack-jawed. William eyes Mary briefly, then noticing me eyeing him, turns the opposite direction.
Dismissed from dinner, I return to my room. Although it’s apparent by the noise downstairs that there is a gathering, I am not invited. I note this fact in my journal. I note all “facts.” Study the room, as if my life depended on it, and in a way, yes.
Mr. Hammonds is famous in Houston, only Houston. Famous by trade: tabloids. He owns several more reputable print outlets but none have garnered the public affection and rage as The Houston Bullet. I once worked for his most prestigious paper The Houston Post; however, a single incorrect fact landed me in the over-stuffed leather chair opposite Mr. Hammonds’s desk. Ten, twenty minutes he stared me down, informed me that never, not even once, had The Post printed a retraction. He paced the room: but with you, that’s what we had to do. He sat down behind his desk I’ve got your new assignment. For The Bullet. You know, The Bullet? Of course, I knew: I was being punished, exiled. Mr. Hammonds continued: it’s not that you made a mistake but that you made a willful mistake. Sympathizing with your subjects won't get you anywhere. I uncrossed my legs, sat back straight in the chair: the Bullet, really?
Prior to his role as print tycoon, Mr. Hammonds worked as a hustler in San Antonio, and although he tried, he never lost the look. Clad in his swagger-suit, he rubbed his paunch with the palm of his hand then lit his pipe aw you’re a tough girl, Lara. You’ve done worse assignments before. Inhaling hard, he coughed—look, I’ve heard a lot of shit about this Inn up in Vermont. Write your piece on whatever you see. Or think you see. Standing from my chair, hands on my hips: Vermont, really? Hesitating none, he motioned for me to sit, did not even pause before adding under normal circumstances we would never send a woman on this sort of story. 1,689 miles. the drive will be good for your head. clear out all the riff-raff. Without waiting to hear my answer, he handed me a big blue envelope of research, a set of keys, and said call when you get there.
THE DIARY OF MISS LARA STEIN
do the twins know i am a reporter? from the moment i parked my car, yes. they seem to care none that i am here to expose them. in fact, it’s as if william and horatio take specific pleasure in upholding the charade; a wide grin, wink, and wave as they say my name with ridiculous emphasis o yes ms. BILLIE o yes we have lived here our entire life anything else ms. BILLIE. i no longer bother asking the other guests questions of any sort, much less what happens downstairs, after hours. standing in-line for the bathroom, the woman from detroit blinks nothing. her husband: nothing. the guests in room 108, 116, 210: nothing. at dinner the singer from NYC studies her reflection in the silver slit of a butter knife; i ask with all the lovely places to stay, why green mountain? she cradles the knife of the edge of her plate: the sleep, the silence. (which, sure, plausible enough: why should such a simple act as watching horatio feed the pigs soothe me so? why do i wake later and later every morning?) if the inn's activities are not mystical in nature then certainly something illicit: gun running? gambling? liquor sales?
what i cannot quite admit: since arriving at the inn, i find it increasingly difficult to differentiate between what i hear and see and what i merely think. no matter how many nights i spend sprawled on the carpet, ear pressed to the floor, listening listening for some sort of clue, i never get any closer.
dear mr. hammonds, 10/19/1939
i have written this letter without premeditation or revision. for if i were to meditate, i would say nothing at all.
unstable? insane? is that what you will think? when i say that yes, some “strange stuff” has happened at the inn, which is not an “inn” at all. from the second i set foot on the front porch i knew. although it was nearly seven pm when i checked-in, the other guests were “still asleep.” dinner was not served till almost midnight, and no earlier, every night.
while odd, these facts alone implicated nothing save the quaint quirkiness of the inn’s owners, which, at first glance: bumpkins. the siblings wore matching overalls, encrusted muck-boots. my room was commonplace: double-bed, cracked nightstand, lamp with green shade, a single window, lace curtains, thick grey carpeting. sure, the innkeepers seemed always to be watching, studying my every gesture—so what? by the fourth day, had convinced myself that i was “crazy” or, to use your exact phrase, “unstable.” you ignored—no, mocked—my report of the bizarre activities i witnessed downstairs my first night after the other guests thought i was asleep. “out of my mind,” you said, “this is your last chance.”
THE DIARY OF MISS LARA STEIN
all thoughts circled back: since arriving at the inn, i slept. no matter that i am a ruthless, life-long insomniac. and not just any sleep: out. eight, nine hours a night. dead to the world. even more unsettling: the cloying tenderness i felt towards the inn or had begun to feel or. i tried to focus on the facts, write in my journal, yet not matter how detailed my descriptions, the number of times i recounted, nothing made sense. this both soothed & bewildered, at various intervals. although i had already decided to leave the next morning, i wanted the reassurance of mr. hammond’s yes, come.
the hallway was narrow, too narrow to accommodate more than one body at a time unless single file. towards the end of the hall, there was a small closet. inside the closet, the phone. no sooner had i dialed mr. hammond’s number, horatio appeared. his body filled the doorframe: busy tonight, eh? i hung up the phone, started to speak. he interrupted join us downstairs tonight if you wish but, right now, go to your room and sleep. i’ll wake you when its time. for the past five nights, i had tried to go downstairs after hours without success. what had changed? i sat in the very center of the bed and scoured the details. at some point, fell asleep. how long passed? horatio knocked on the door, said billie billie bille. he knocked again & again billie.i opened my eyes, slipped on my shoes, and followed him downstairs, towards a door at the end of the hallway that i had never noticed before. touching the door with his fingertips, and just the tips, it opened.
the room was dim-lit, somehow red, like the inside of an eyelid. horatio instructed me to sit on one of three cracked wooden benches. in the left corner, a thumping. i was unable to place the source of the thumping, & within seconds, the thumping was accompanied by the sound of a man panting. there was no man, or rather, no visible man. although it was still spring outside, the room sweltered. there were fifteen other guests. the inpentratable stench of sweat. every face slicked. the room was small. i felt close to each and every person in the room, impossible not to. we were joined by our stench, insufferable suspense. a purple light flashed. a bodiless voice began to speak in portuguese, & although i know no language but my own, i knew. all the guests understood what the voice had said as the voice did not speak so much as convey. we listened, obedient. the purple light flashed again, shone bright, then burned out. more and more bodiless voices rose up. voices like bees wearing coats. the room fell dark. the impossible heat of fifteen, sixteen bodies. a total annihilation of the senses. i could not distinguish between surfaces: the bench, wall, air. the first spirit i witnessed sidled close to me. i could not see it, but somehow i could feel it all around my body. i said you do not exist. i breathed deep, sniffed the air around me to make sure i was still in the room, not alone: i do not believe that you exist. the spirit replied that is of no concern to me.
did i believe? no question: the spirit was real. that is of no concern to me. its very self-assurance had convinced me. it seemed to know me as i knew it: completely. it was as if my body, my very skull, had been emptied out. the spirit stayed at my side. six hours passed. i thought nothing. six hours? it felt like NO TIME. who what when where: i could not, can still not, answer any of these questions. i sat on the bench, staring straight ahead.
still in my soaked shirt and skirt, i unlocked the door to my room, collapsed onto my bed, every limb tingling. i slept. as if never before. i returned the next day. & the next.
send the article ASAP or R.I.P
grovel AND beg
THE UNREPORTED HISTORY OF THE GABBLE BROTHERS: A PERSONAL ACCOUNT
By Lara Stein
Two boys: Horatio and William. As grown men 6’6 and thick—not fat—big. Big to the extent their bodies generated their own heat. They “occupied” a room. To stand next to them is to sweat. To meet them is to feel them always. As toddlers, though, they dominated no space. Small, silent things—eyes glazed, faces slicked with dew; as if in a “trance”...but a literal trance. For hours at a time, with no premeditation or control, Horatio and William dropped out. An almost holy silence.
Shortly after the twins birth, strange poundings began shaking the walls of the single-story shanty in which the Gabble’s lived. Disembodied voices could be heard in empty rooms, and occasionally, the children even vanished from their cribs only to be found anywhere and everywhere, even outside, perched high in a tree. As the boys grew older, their unexplained powers strengthened. “Unexplained”: Julia knew. A descendant of a long line of psychics, Julia’s great great great grandmother was killed in the1692 Salem witch trials. More recently, grandfather Petty, gifted with “second sight,” was mortally beaten on his farm late-one-night for “the devil’s doings.” Known for her “astonishingly accurate” predictions and visions, Julia had long hidden her talents ever since Zep cornered her on the sidewalk in broad daylight: devil! devil! In her diary from the time, Julia wrote: he never apologized. Discovering herself to be “with child,” the couple cooed I Do. Packed what little they owned into Zep’s burned-out wagon and headed north to New Hampshire.
Located on the fringes of a barren apple farm, the Gabble’s clapboard overlooked nothing. In the winter, monstrous snow. Zep’s temper peaked. After bruising his hand during William’s last beating, he ordered both boys, who were in a trance, to stand outside without shoes. Julia wrote: to freeze the silence out. In school, the situation was as hopeless. Invisible hands threw books, levitated desks, sent rulers, pencils, and slates flying through the room. At this stage the boys—still so very small, their black hair more like fuzz—had little to no control of their powers or the loose spirits that accompanied their presence. Zep did everything he could dream to stop the boy’s disturbances. After seeking the guidance of a Good-Christian-Friend, Zep sold the twins to a traveling showman. 50.00 Each. For the next 14 years, Horatio and William were beaten, stoned, shot at, spit upon and worse all over America, Canada, and Europe. The spectacle of difference.
When their father finally died, the contract with the showman was nulled. The boys returned to New England to live with their spinster-sister Mary on her farm in Green Mountain, Vermont.
Nestled atop a steep hill, The Green Tavern is accessible only via a single-lane dirt road. Owned and operated by Horatio, William, and Mary, The Green Tavern is known nation-wide for one thing alone: “spooky stuff.”
Located in the back corner of the house, is a circular room outfitted with nothing save ten cracked wooden benches and a small cabinet. The room, affectionately called “séance space,” is small and unventilated. The only way in or out is the front door. After conducting a thorough search, no secret closets, panels, latches, trap-doors, or any other sort of “trickery” was found. Likewise, I arrived at The Green Tavern without any reason to “believe.” I left in a state of “unbelief” but one in which believing or unbelieving is wholly irrelevant. To try to know a thing, understand its every element, is to kill it.
Every night of the week except Sunday, the guests gathered downstairs in the foyer to prepare themselves for the séance. Preparations were limited. Before entering the room, guests were asked to remove our shoes and “suspend judgment.” In the center of the room, a platform was lit by a single kerosene lamp, recessed in a barrel. William, who acted as the primary medium, mounted the platform and entered the cabinet. Voices began to whisper, first at a distance, then coming closer and closer. Often, singing, accompanied by spectral music. Disembodied hands appeared, caressed the guest’s heads and neck. Odd lights, unexplained noises. The first spirit emerged from the cabinet. One cannot always see the Spirit but one feels it. The Spirit may or may not speak, but the Spirit always touches. A tingling at the top of the spine, spidering out to every extremity. Over the course of an evening, twenty or thirty spirits, solitary or in groups, might appear. Some completely visible, others almost transparent. Ranging in size from over six feet to only three, the Spirits ranged in nationality and spoke many different languages. The spirits often performed, sang, and became ‘intimate’ with the guests. I only stared. A spirit approached me, shyly at first, floating around the periphery of my body, then closer and closer. The spirit informed me that in my last life I had been a magnifying glass with a slick, black handle. Being a spirit, he spoke six different languages all at once, and his words would make little sense to anyone not transfixed, at that moment, by his radiance. Nothing but bliss the second I stepped into the room. As if reality itself had dissolved. No push, no pull, no worry at all. All consequences gutted. The startling conclusion: this body, my body, was mine only insofar as I chose to inhabit it.
During my stay I witnessed nearly every type of supernatural phenomena: rappings, moving physical objects, spirit paintings, automatic writing, prophecy, speaking in tongues, healings, unseen voices, levitation, remote visions, teleportation and more. The range of activities and diversity of spirits would have required an entire company of actors and several closets of costumes and props. I found no indication whatsoever of foul play.
This has gone entirely too far.
The paper sent you to Vermont as a joke. Of course the twins are a hoax. You expect us to publish that horseshit you sent? “Disembodied hands appeared, caressed the guest’s heads and neck.” Aw, Billie, you’re going soft.“No push, no pull, no worry at all.” It’s really too much.
Look, you don’t have to write the article. Never did. Remember it was yourmistake that landed you at The Bullet. We had to print a retraction. I hired you straight out the gate. No experience. You did not know how to ask a single decent question, much less elicit a confession, or even, a hard fact. I taught you everything I know. We put you on the front page. We had an understanding. Or so I thought.
R. J. Hammonds
THE DIARY OF MS. LARA STEIN:
back in the city, i do not sleep, walk fifty-six blocks trying to feel tired again. i do not feel tired. instead, sit on the stoop all afternoon. sweat-stink, sweat stuck on the second step. smog along the horizon thick as a nail clipping. my assignments from the paper pile up untouched on my desk. dishes heaped in the sink; the sink itself clogged with tea leaves. traffic in blitzes. traffic, always. can it be said i miss the inn? "the silence, the sleep"? how there is no concept of time at green mountain. no need to DO or "make use,” certainly not "think through."
when horatio told me the story of his and william’s childhood, something in me shifted. seated beneath the only shade tree, we split a fig, slicing it down the center, a single swift cut. he said it happened like this--. showed no emotion, affected little to no tone, as if he knew that his was a hurt so resolute, the story needed nothing but the blunt facts to render whatever listener sympathetic. i listened without speaking, head bent forward in attention. although i assumed mr. hammonds would believe not a single word, i felt it my duty to report. naively thought: if i could just write-it-out then i could make my readers believe, and if not believe, at least entertain the possibility that such powers, such miraculous beings, could exist.
no matter my pleadings, mr. hammonds refuses to believe, to even consider. barks at me through the telephone girl, grow up. you've been tricked. don't push me on this. but mr. hammonds misses the point: if the twins' powers, the restorative effects of the inn itself, proved false, a life-long elaborate hoax, so what? is anything pursued with such sincerity a swindle? could any lie lived for forty or more years still be considered a lie? say i dreamed up the entire thing. say i believed, and believed desperately: then it is so. and it is. but such thoughts would not matter at all if i were at the inn: i would simply be.
THE DIARY OF MISS LARA STEIN