The Haunting

It could have been the story about handcuffs ….

In 1994, I was a writer with a science fiction novel and assorted short stories and poems to my credit. The West Virginia Humanities Foundation, in honor of its 20th anniversary, created the Circuit Writer program and dispatched a number of authors around the state. I was thrilled to be asked, and even happier to be assigned Weirton – home of my friend and mentor Timothy Russell. Over coffee, he talked about his experiences as a “visiting writer,” including the night he stayed at one host’s home and found a set of handcuffs fastened to the sturdy headboard of his guest room bed.

I had a full day, speaking to classes at the high school and reading at the public library. After the reading we drove out of town, climbing from river level to a bluff overlooking the Ohio. It was dark early, so my visit must have been in winter, though I can’t place the date. I was to stay at the country club, which certainly sounded grand. The entrance road wound through thick woods until we broke out onto the golf course and the colorless apparition of a stone building. I believe it must have been the Williams Golf Club, though the website’s publicity photos, drenched in summer sunlight, make it look, if not welcoming, at least unthreatening.

My guide let us in and took me to the “apartments” upstairs, unlocking an ironwork gate to gain access to the stairs.

“It should be nice and quiet,” she said, and indeed it was. No other visitors, no gala events that night. My room was decorated in the masculine standard of an earlier era, including (as I remember it) prints of heavy-haunched horses and fox hunts.

I put down my things. “There’s a telephone in the hall,” she pointed out, a spindly black device on a stand. “And the groundskeeper is somewhere on the property. Be back to get you for breakfast!”

She closed the wrought iron gate gently behind her.

The building was quiet, but not still. I could hear the groans of the furnace, the refrigerators in the kitchen, the creak of wood against nails.

The groundskeeper was somewhere on the property.

I’m not usually timid, so maybe it was the handcuffs story, or those intermittent thumps that I couldn’t explain away. I didn’t undress. I left the light on. I lay flat on my back in the center of the bed. I drifted in and out of sleep, haunted by the image of Jack Nicholson, hatchet in hand, leering through the iron gates.

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