Seven months later, the weekend had arrived. I was now filled with trepidation: my job contract had just ended that day, one of the attendees had bagged, I was sick, and now drove to Vermont sad, uncomfortable, and not sure of what to expect.
I’m happy to report that none of these things mattered.
Kristi and Meghan Guidry arrived five minutes after I put my car in park and accidentally set off my own car alarm. (Hi there, neighbors!) Meghan and I had never met. No worries: within five minutes, she’d made a politically incorrect joke that had me snort-laughing like that guy from Revenge of the Nerds, and I knew we’d be fine.
Friday night was about settling in and figuring out the dynamic of the group. We ate guacamole and chips, debated who had the worst ex, played Cards Against Humanity, and figured out who would sleep where. The next day, we got to work.
We were up early, watched the sun rise over the Black Mountains, and enjoyed a cup of coffee. Then it was time to do what we’d come here to do: write.
I should mention that the house itself was lovely. Hardwood floors, a winding staircase, a creepy door leading to a basement complete with a stone sink and scratch marks on the walls. (Okay, maybe it was termite damage, but my interpretation was more fun.) I fired up my laptop in the Downton Abbey-esque living room.
And then it happened.
A knock. On the other side of the door that led to the basement.
I’d like to say I handled it maturely: laughed it off. Surely it was just a reverberation from the clink of my coffee mug on the coaster, or an echo from Meghan’s steps on the floorboards upstairs.
I did not. “Kristi!” I shouted. “There’s a ghost in the basement!”
Now, if anyone would believe me, it would be Kristi. She reads tarot cards, is married to a ghost hunter, subscribes to all notions otherworldly . . .
“Calm down. There’s nothing here. What, did you set down your coffee mug or something?”
Okay, if she wasn’t nervous, then surely I shouldn’t be. After all, she reads more into this stuff than I do.
The weekend was, in a word, fabulous. We wrote, we laughed, we had readings and discussions that made me think about the craft of writing; in short, it was exactly what I’d needed.
Then, Sunday afternoon, Meghan had to leave early. All three of us, it turned out, were dealing with illness, and hers was no longer put-offable. Kristi and I spent Sunday night talking, writing, and feeling inspired. Until we went to bed.
At 2:30 in the morning, the fire alarm went off.
I woke up, realized what it was, and waited to see if my heart was going to drop back down to under 200 beats per minute. It did. The alarm stopped. Kristi woke up. “Stacey? What was that?”
“The fire alarm.” I was already nodding off again.
“Don’t you think we should get up and make sure there’s no smoke downstairs?”
She had a point. We traipsed down the winding stairs, sniffing as we went. We found no signs of burning hardwood floors or gas stoves left unattended. We were good.
Kristi: “Shouldn’t we check the basement?”
Are you kidding? The basement monster’s down there! I thought, but didn’t say, because really, I’m in my mid-forties, and usually logical to a Spock-like degree. But I did not want to open that basement door.
There we were: two sensible adults in our Mickey Mouse jammies (why yes, we both had Disney patterns on, thank you for asking), with bed hair yet still remarkably attractive.
Kristi huddled behind me. “Open it.” Darn it! How did I get to be the door opener?
I took a deep breath and pushed the lock left until it clicked. Pulled the oaken gateway to Hell back. Glanced downstairs.
No billowing black smoke. “Everything’s fine,” I barked, slamming the door shut. We went back to bed.
The next morning, we watched our last sunrise of the retreat. Laughed at how scared we’d been. Sipped our coffee and came up with explanations. “Probably a dip in the power,” I said. “The clock on the coffee pot’s been off since we got here.”
“Or a bug that flew into the smoke alarm,” Kristi rationalized.
At that very moment, a noise made us jump out of our skins. The front door opened on its own, and the container that held the key to the house unearthed itself. We nearly soiled ourselves in the most unladylike of ways.
“Or it’s a ghost,” Kristi finally admitted.
I knew it!