By John Raab & Donald Allen Kirch
EPISODE TWO: DARKNESS RISING
Scene 1: “Encounter at the Hangman’s Inn…”
The Green Lake Hotel was a jewel in the town’s skyline. Her style competed with the most successful comfort lines, and still came out on top of her game. She was a grand lady and held happy memories with both customers and employees. She had become a respected tradition. Like all traditions, however, she had her dark origins.
The Green Lake Hotel started out like most respectful establishments in “the West.” – She had once been a brothel. The original owners, realizing that their share of the gold rush would not be in mining, thought it better to take the money from those obtaining their fortunes – that was where the true power in money lay. So, as those who sought gold came to California, they stopped at her open doors, drinking her whiskey, gambling within her halls, and sleeping with her hired women. Yes, the Green Lake Hotel had been a great place to spend, drink, and sleep for a buck!
As times mellowed, and laws became apparent, things had to tone themselves down.
Over the years, the hotel had some changes, but still carried twenty rooms and bar on the bottom floor. The bar, “The Hangman’s Inn,” had always been a popular place to take one’s date on a Friday night, being transformed a little more with HDTV’s and sports, capturing a younger crowd.
“The Hangman’s Inn” served the normal bar food, burgers and fries, with the cook Henry Gomez, putting some Mexican flair on the menu also. There was still some “original” culture left in Green Lake, but most went away with time, once California was no longer a Mexican territory. Still, food was not the same if Henry was not there to serve it. Natives, who learned that Henry was “out”, would simply not eat – he was that good.
The hotel and inn was owned by Hank and Betsy Young.
The Youngs were among the original covenant that had started Green Lake, and their name was just as cherished as their hotel. Once, they were all honored to have the establishment featured in a documentary on The Travel Channel. The buzz from that film caused a boom in Green Lake tourism – if one could call 200-more families a year a boom.
Michael Barrett took his first date from high school here.
He liked it.
Rubbing his head, feeling a headache coming on, he walked into the main lobby just before closing time, and smiled softly.
Some things never changed.
“Thank Christ,” he softly mused.
Betsy was standing at the front desk, with a smile on her face, and perked up when she saw Michael. She hadn’t seen him in years, but still remembered him like it was yesterday.
All of the town natives seemed to have that certain ability to remember who was an outsider and who was not. That aura stuck with a Green Laker no matter how much time had passed since they had last been back.
Michael heard the squawking of a nearby bird.
Was it a raven?
“Michael Barrett, so good to see you again,” Betsy beamed, her hands shaking with surprise. “I’m just so sorry to hear about your parents, what a tragedy. You and your family are in our prayers.” Betsy paused, looking around, curious. She appeared to be expecting more people to show up. “Are you alone? Where is your family?”
Michael wanted to say something, but only managed a low sigh.
She walked around the counter to give Michael a hug.
“Thank you so much Mrs. Young,” Michael finally was able to say, hugging her. “To say it’s a shock is an understatement. I still don’t know if I fully understand what happened. My family will be coming in the next couple of days. I flew out here alone hoping you’d have a room open.”
Betsy kindly slapped Michael on his wrist.
“Of course we do!”
Betsy walked back behind the counter and grabbed a room key from the wall. The Green Lake Hotel never upgraded to the electronic keycards you find in high-dollar resorts, but that was the friendly thing about her. The phone calls were still checked and local calls would cost .50 cents. Guest still had to sign the log stationed upon the main counter, near the old-fashioned cash register.
“Here you go, sir,” Betsy smiled, handing him a key.
“Room Seven,” she confirmed.
“My first trip back and you give me the keys to the haunted room?”
“Well, how else are we going to get another spot on a big city documentary? I hear ghost shows are all the rave, now.”
Michael shook his head, fondly. Betsy always did have good business sense.
“Just sign the guestbook and you can pay either cash or credit. Still just thirty dollars a night. If you need anything from Hank or I, just ask. Your parents were good people. I would talk with your mother often at church. Such a lovely lady.”
Michael took the key, put it in his pocket, and signed the guestbook.
“Hank still working in the bar? I could really use a drink and some food.”
“Yep. He hangs in there most of the time. If the place caught fire, I think he would stay wondering if the firefighters would want something to drink, while putting out the blazes.”
Both found themselves laughing, forcibly.
“It’s good to see some things never change.” Michael said.
Betsy’s expression changed to more concern than anything else. Had Michael inadvertently hurt her feelings? She began to muddle around trying to look busier than she was. Michael had hit some kind of nerve, but he had no idea what that was. However with the sudden change of her expression, Michael decided to end the conversation and head up to his room.
“Okay, I’m going to go up to my room now. You take care, and I will make sure to let you know when my parents’ service will be.”
“Thank you, Michael. Towels are changed every day, so just leave them on the floor. Breakfast is in the inn and starts serving at 7:00 am.”
“Sold…American,” Michael winked, walking away from the counter.
Michael took his one bag and headed outside to walk down the row of rooms. There were ten rooms on the bottom and ten on the top. From outside it looked like the hotel was pretty much vacant, which was not surprising.
There was a weird feeling Michael noticed as he continued his walk.
He was being watched.
Michael paused, looking around.
He saw no one.
“I know you’re there,” he whispered, glaring out into the night.
A distant sound of a car starting and taking off could be heard.
Michael opened his hotel room, which looked like something straight out of the 1950′s with the furniture and bed. It had one dresser, with an outdated 19-inch TV set, and a queen sized bed with two pillows and a gold comforter.
“The haunted room,” he mused, dropping his bag inside next to the door. “The only thing frightening is the fact that people keep renting this.”
The haunted room was just a local curiosity. Back in ’74, a family of six stayed here one night, and was killed by a runaway prisoner, who had happened to have spotted them traveling down the road, trying to get away from the State Police. The killer was a serial murderer, who claimed to have been a Satan Worshiper and disciple of Charles Manson. While hiding in the room, he killed the children in front of the parents, then raped and killed the wife, while making the husband watch the whole thing. The sight caused the unfortunate man to go crazy. In his ultimate evil, the runaway spared the husband’s life. When caught, he was asked, “Why?” The criminal stated that, “he needed a legacy. Someone to tell his story.” The husband who survived, lives at the local crazy house, silent, glaring off into a darkened room, drooling on himself – hasn’t said a word since.
After that, business at the hotel slumped for a while. People avoided Green Lake with a passion. People, however, soon forget. They came back, and the room was rented.
That’s where the “haunting” came into the legend.
People would leave the room in the middle of the night, claiming that “someone” was in there with them. They would wake, seeing a strange tall man, dressed in black, and wearing sunglasses at night, softly smiling down upon them as they slept. Terrified, they would reach for the lights, turning them on, discovering that they were all completely alone.
Most would check out that night.
Room Seven…was a legend in Green Lake.
“Lucky me,” Michael huffed.
Next to the bed was a nightstand with an old style clock radio, the one where the numbers flipped inside. Michael picked up his bag and placed it on his bed and entered the bathroom. He turned on the water and put his hands under the faucet. He threw some water on his face, splashing himself. Blinking the water out of his eyes he stared at his reflection in the mirror.
“Oogah, boogah,” he mockingly whispered to himself.
The lights in the room flicked on and off for a second, causing Michael to turn around and stare at the front door. He had a sense that “someone” was either in the room or going to come in at anytime.
“Get a hold of yourself, old man,” he nervously laughed.
A few seconds passed and Michael turned himself back to the mirror and grabbed a towel hanging from the rack and wiped his face off. The lights flickered again, only this time much faster and lasted longer. The TV then turned on by itself and Michael walked the few feet to look at the curious device.
“What’s going on here?”
On the screen was white snow and Michael grabbed the remote from the nightstand and changed the station. It stopped on Channel 7, with the nightly news on. Something had happened on the highway, as there was a five car accident only 10 miles outside of town, not too far from the turn off to “The Silver Witch Mine,” heading down to Sacramento.
“…a five car pileup on the 99 freeway and the reports are that there might be multiple fatalities. Police have closed the stretch of highway between Anderson Crossing and Yuba Town Road. If you have to travel on that section of road, we suggest you take the 5 freeway or Old Gold Rush Bridge. We will continue to keep you updated as we hear things.”
The news center’s cameras panned several crashed cars and EMT’s caring for wounded people. One car seemed to be on fire, causing a few local firemen some problems. In one obscure camera angle, a tall man, dressed in black, and wearing sunglasses seemed to look right at Michael, smile at him, and then…gone.
“And…we would like to give a very special hello to Michael Barrett…Welcome home, Michael.”
Michael’s heart stopped.
He stared at the screen, but the news story had changed over to the weather.
There is no way I just heard what I had heard, Michael thought.
His body was filled with goose bumps as his heart finally started back up again. Sweat began to flow down the side of his face. He quickly turned off the TV, grabbed his keys and left the room. He took his cell phone from his pocket and called his wife.
There was a distant ringing in his ear.
“Hello, honey, how are you?”
He found himself smiling, recognizing Kathy’s wonderful voice.
“Hey, baby, I’m good. I just needed to hear your voice, that’s all.”
“Oh, I miss you,” Kathy seemed to beam through the phone at Michael. “How is it going?”
Michael locked his door.
“Do you think you and the kids could possibly leave tomorrow and come down?”
“Sure honey, everything okay?”
“Oh, yeah. I just really need the help. Do you think you can change your plans?”
“Yep,” Kathy stated. “I’ll call the airline right now and get out as soon as we can. Love you.”
Michael found himself standing in front of “The Hangman’s Inn.”
“I love you. Give the kids a kiss and hug from me. Call me in the morning when you find out your plans, all right?”
“Sure thing, honey. Are you sure everything is okay? I’ve known you long enough to know your lying to me, you know.”
“No, everything is fine. I just didn’t realize how tough this would all be. I thought I would be able to handle it.”
There was a long pause on the line.
Did Michael hear someone else talking in the background? Must have been one of the kids.
“Okay, then we will see you tomorrow.”
“Great!” Michael said. “Well, I’m going to get something to eat and then go to bed. It’s been a long one, as you can imagine. Love you, babe.”
“Love you. Go get some rest.”
Michael waited, wishing to hear Kathy hang up first.
The little talk helped Michael focus more. He felt better. He needed to have his family near him. He thought that he was going crazy and not knowing really anyone in town made him feel like an outsider. Sure, there were the familiar faces, but Green Lake had changed.
The smell of food coming from the kitchen started to make his stomach do cartwheels.
Michael walked into the inn, which had a separate entrance from the hotel, now closed. Betsy put the sign on the door and would not be back until 6:00 am.
“Finally, civilization,” Michael huffed, smelling the smoke, beer, and food.
The inn was different than Michael remembered it. Walking in and having his first sip of beer with his dad when he was ten. An overwhelming feeling of sadness came over him, thinking back to those memories.
“What happened, dad?”
Michael scanned the room, which housed ten tables and another fifteen stools at the bar counter.
“Well, there he is.” Michael smiled.
Hank was behind the bar washing some glasses and did not notice Michael walking in. The tables were empty, and there were four people sitting at the bar. Three were together watching the Oakland A’s game on TV playing the White Sox’s, and at the far end sat a middle aged man with a beer in front of him and an empty shot glass.
Michael took a seat one stool over from the man sitting alone.
Wearing what looked like an auto mechanic’s uniform, Michael could see when the man picked up his beer, his hands were dirty and his hat was decorated with a “Peterbuilt” label. The hat was purposely pulled down to cover his eyes.
The man did not look over when Michael sat down.
Michael turned his attention to the man working behind the bar.
“Hello, Hank. Long time no see.”
Hank stopped what he was doing and looked Michael’s way. When he saw Michael he immediately put a smile on his face. He grabbed his towel and was wiping his hands as he spoke.
“Michael Barrett! Betsy told me you checked into the hotel. Sorry about your parents. Fucking damn shame. The cops got anything yet?”
Michael had determined that the actual details of his parents’ death were not known to the town, just that they had been killed; at least the Sheriff spared him that, by not leaking out that information just yet.
“Thanks, Hank. You think I can have a light beer on tap and is the kitchen open for some food? Haven’t had a bite to eat all day.”
“Sure thing. What do you want?”
“Let’s make it easy…burgers and fries.”
“Henry went home, but I’ll go back there and whip it up.”
Hank put Michael’s beer in front of him and walked back through two doors on the right side of the bar. The stranger that was sitting close to Michael looked over and spoke to him.
“Michael Barrett, back in town. Sorry for your loss, man.”
Michael looked over not remembering who the guy was, but he didn’t have a good look at him, since his hat was still pulled down over his eyes.
“Thanks. Do I know you?”
Roger Gentry looked over and pulled his hat up showing his face. Roger was a teammate of Michael’s on the football team. The two of them were pretty close in high school and when Roger got a scholarship to play for Georgia Tech, the two lost touch. Roger never made it in school, getting into trouble and injuries, caused him to leave after two years and come back to Green Lake. Now he worked for Ralph at the auto shop. Roger always was good with cars, basically rebuilding the 1965 Chevelle he drove in high school.
Michael almost chocked on his beer.
“Holy shit, Roger! Roger Gentry, great to see you. What are you doing back in Green Lake?”
“Shit happens, Michael, and shit stays the same, you’ll find that out. Anyway, maybe I’ll see you around.”
Roger took the last drink of his beer and laid a twenty on the counter and headed for the door.
“Wait a second,” Michael said, grabbing for his old friend’s arm. “What are you talking about? Come on back, I’ll buy you another beer.”
“No thanks gotta run.”
Right then the other three guys at the bar started to yell, as the A’s got a walk off home run, and beat the White Sox 6-5. Michael was distracted when the roar of the guys went up, that when he turned back he saw the door closing and Roger leaving.
Michael jumped from his chair and headed to the door. As he opened it he almost knocked over Sophia Wren, who was headed in at the same time. Michael saw Roger’s tail lights head up the road over Sophia’s shoulder.
“Hello, Michael, in a hurry?”
Things turned serious.
Michael looked down at Sophia. She was as beautiful as ever.
“Hello, Sophia,” Michael finally said, uneasy. He avoided eye contact.
Michael and Sophia dated in high school and planned to possibly get married, but when Michael left for school, Sophia said she couldn’t leave her family, knowing that she would take over the general store. Michael and Sophia said good bye and hadn’t spoke until now.
“Back in Green Lake, I see,” Sophia’s eyes glared hard back into his.
Michael knew that he would probably run into Sophia at one point in his visit, but didn’t think he would feel this way when he saw her.
The man felt a subtle fear…and he could not explain why.