Storm clouds rolled over Devil's Backbone. Time to batten down the hatches, as Grandma Janie used to say. Memories of Grandma frying chicken, scaring me to death with the sparks of grease flying from the pan, collide with sweet fragrances of her apple pies and lemon cakes fresh from the oven. When she passed away, a little bit of my heart went with her. She and Mama taught me everything important in life and their lessons just keep making me toe that proverbial line.
I marched to a different drummer than most kids when I was a young Janie, Grandma's namesake, and a Shirley Temple look alike. While other girls played with dolls, I was putting Mama's dishes on her coffee table, pouring grape juice into small make-believe wine glasses, and serving imaginary delicacies to my guests in one of mother's aprons that embraced the floor more than it did me. Now, twenty years later my fantasy is coming true, but sadly, I can't share it with Grandma and Mama--at least on this earth. They'd be so proud to see my beautiful Enchanted Rose Bed & Breakfast nestled in trees on the outskirts of Wimberley in Texas' Hill Country, God's kingdom to some, including me.
I gave birth to my B&B five years or so ago when I caught sight of a dilapidated house on an old country road. It had been abandoned God only knows how many years before that day in 2001. Whoever owned it did their best to suck the life out of the grand old place. Nevertheless, even though everything about it looked worn out, I knew it could stand proud and tall again with a generous helping of old-fashioned love. The house's support system, bolstered by concrete blocks, appeared stable, but the wrap-around porches were falling down, the roof needed replacing, and if there was ever paint on the outside, it was long gone. I found out the old gal had been on the market fifteen years. Apparently no one wanted to go to the expense of either fixing her up or tearing her down. Now, of course, land in these parts has become more valuable with every passing year; so, I considered myself lucky to get the house plus twenty acres without going to the poor farm. This old place has changed my life in more ways than I can count.
I've had a steady flow of guests since I opened, but there is one little problem. I've inherited a ghost along with my dream castle. It serves me right, I guess, because I used to fantasize about how much fun it would be to have a ghost like Casper around. Well, I don't have Casper, but I do have Henry. Why the name Henry? I don't have a clue.
Henry started doing little things at first like turning on lights after I had turned them off, rearranging food in the refrigerator, then he graduated to taking food out of the refrigerator for a midnight snack. I confided the goings on to a friend of mine and he thought it was the most ridiculous thing he'd ever heard--a ghost, no way! Well, I'm here to tell you, 'way' indeed. After I realized that Henry meant no harm except for letting food stay out all night, I made peace with him and told him he could stay.
Just because I told him he could hang around didn't mean anyone else could and now I have a real problem. Last week one of my guests came into the kitchen all upset. He complained he and his wife heard a lot of commotion in the night and suggested that I tell my other guests to keep it down while other folks were trying to sleep. I couldn't wait to get my hands, figuratively of course, around Henry's neck. What was he pulling now--a party with some of his ghostly friends?
After assuring Mr. Robbins this wouldn't happen again, he announced it certainly wouldn't since they were leaving that morning. I had never tried to get in touch with Henry--he was just always there, but now I had to try.
"Henry? If you're here, give me a sign."
"Okay, I need to get something straight with you. I've let you stay here, as irritating as you can be at times, but if you're going to bother my guests, you will have to leave and I mean it."
"A standoff, eh? If that's how you want to play it, just remember--no more aggravating my guests or out you go."
I didn't have a clue how to get rid of Henry. I'd heard of exorcism, but that seemed extreme and besides that, I didn't want anyone to know about this.
The next few weeks passed with no incidents. Then, one night when all my rooms were occupied, I heard an ear-piercing scream loud enough to stir the dead. It came from a room on the second floor, the Honeymoon Suite, occupied by a young woman who was in Wimberley for a horse exhibition. She was attractive, physically fit, and a prime morsel, I guess, for my phantom visitor.
When I got to her door, all was quiet. I didn't know whether to knock or just retreat to my bedroom. Coward that I am, I chose the latter convincing myself the scream was a bad dream. The following morning, I scrutinized the guests as they came into the dining room. No one said anything to indicate they heard a scream. Then, Miss Harris came in looking, I thought, a little whey-faced kind of like Grandma's meringue on her chocolate pies.
"Morning, Miss Harris. How are you this beautiful day?"
She smiled and mumbled something I couldn't hear. If she thought she was going to get by with that, she was crazy.
"Did you sleep well?"
"Yes, and you?"
All right, the old cat and mouse game wasn't going to play here. I know I heard a scream, dammit.
"Actually, not too well. I had a bad dream that I couldn't shake."
Miss Harris smiled, fixed her plate, and moved to the outside porch.
Well, maybe it was only a dream. If she did scream, she obviously didn't want to talk about it. Just as well. If my other guests got wind of ethereal spirits, or whatever, in the house, it could definitely hurt my business. So, I'm selfish, but I've waited a long time for this chance and a few ghosts weren't going to ruin it for me.
Miss Harris checked out later that day.
"Okay, Henry, loosen up. Do you have a pal roaming my house? If you do, tell him you are the only spirit allowed in these digs. Got it?"
"Look, I know you can't talk, but give me a sign--move something, knock something over, anything to let me know you're here."
A saltshaker tumbled off the table.
"That's better, but you don't have to knock things off the table--maybe you could just move them a little. Know what I mean?"
"Here's the thing, my ghostly friend. You and I have an agreement but that doesn't include other spirits. So, even if you can't talk to me, you can get rid of this other guy, right?"
"Henry, come on. Move that fork if you can get rid of him."
"All right. Let's approach this from a different angle. If there's another ghost on these premises, move the doggone fork."
This time Henry obliged and the fork slid across the table.
"That's better. I'm assuming you can't get rid of him, but kindly inform him in your ghostly language that if he keeps hanging around, I'll have someone come in with special magic to get his ass out of here. If that happens, you go too, Henry."
"Glad we have an understanding. I'm depending on you to get this straight."
Market Day in Wimberley, a bargain hunter's utopia, fell on the next week-end and this meant a full house for my Enchanted Rose. I tried to persuade Henry to keep his buddy quiet, but since he didn't respond to my desperate supplications, I assumed he was pouting. Anyway, all went well Friday night and Saturday. Then, early Sunday morning, someone knocked on my door.
"Henry, if that's you, cut it out."
The knock crackled again through the door.
I vaulted out of bed like a loose box spring had twisted into my rump. When I flung the door open, one of my guests was standing there looking quite comfy in her fuzzy slippers and Victoria Secret robe, except for a wild look in her eyes.
"Miss Schubert. What can I do for you?" I made every attempt to sound like it was ten o'clock in the morning instead of 'one' blinking red at me from my bedside clock.
She pushed me aside. "I need to come in."
I struggled for calm. "Is something the matter?"
"Yes, you might say that. Someone is in my room."
"By someone, who do you mean?"
She rolled her eyes reminding me of Garfield, the cat.
"If I knew, I wouldn't be here."
"Why don't we go down to the kitchen and have a cup of tea."
Miss Schubert, by all appearances a timid soul, screeched like a hoot owl.
"I don't need a damn cup of tea. I want to know who was in my room and what kind of place you're running here."
"I assure you there was no one in your room and I need you to calm down before you wake my other guests."
"I don't give a tinker's damn about your other guests. In fact, maybe one of them is a pervert. What do you say to that?"
"Frankly, I don't know what to say. It would help if you would just tell me what happened."
Miss Schubert collapsed on the bed looking repentant.
"I'm sorry. Maybe I had a bad dream, but it was very real."
I massaged my bottom lip with my teeth wishing for lipstick to soften the nibble. "What I need you to do is tell me what occurred in your room."
"Well, I was asleep when I felt this hand ..." She stopped and looked at me like a small child. "I know this sounds ridiculous, but..."