The Halloween Project 2018 Story 3: Brick and Water
Places are haunted. Buildings and structures, forts and castles are especially haunted. We make them haunted. We live inside their bones, crying and arguing, loving and hating and we leave stuff behind. All kinds of pieces of ourselves. The hotel in this story is a real place that my wife and I spent a single night in. There actually was a two foot by two foot piece of mysterious wallboard re-attached to the wall. For normal people this hardly even registers. For me, it's fertile ground for...something. I've been in a few "haunted" places in my time. The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado (basis for The Shining"), the Equinox Hotel in Manchester, Vermont, Ruthin Castle in North Wales. Now I've turned the Island House, a fine venerable old lodging, into a story.
Introduction The Island House Hotel, an imposing brick structure, solid and austere, has dominated the corner of North Madison Street and West Perry in Port Clinton, Ohio since 1870. A stone's thrown from the Put-in-Bay, it stands a block from Fisherman's Wharf which empties, quick and clear, into Lake Erie. Host to Babe Ruth and Yogi Berra, Bogey and Bacall, three U.S. presidents, Bob Dylan and William Randolph Hearst, the Island House Hotel carries, if not ghosts, then memories, rich and lively. A luxury yacht and fishing boat manufacturer, The Matthews Boat Company, dominated the scene for decades. Beulah, a power boat built in 1898, was followed by Caliph, Nymph, Sachem, Barnacle, Lazy Lady, Mystery, Hells Bells, and 1000 other boats until 1974. Celebrities, stars, athletes and power brokers all stayed at the hotel while their yachts were being outfitted with the final style designs; furniture and bars, beds and poker tables. Today the vibrant scene of Port Clinton is dotted by lesser luminaries. Within a few blocks of the hotel a visitor can find Great Lakes Popcorn, Bootleggers Waterfront Grille & Bar, Sassy Sal Charters and Uncle Fatty's Tattoo Studio. Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe are long past memories. But the Island House has memories. And perhaps a few other things as well. Brick and Water Aidan pulled his Subaru Outback up to the hotel's entrance. Nicole jumped out, stretched her arms and complained, "Damn, that was a drive. How many? 200? 300 miles? Why they hell are they holding their wedding here?" she turned and inspected the hotel. "It's kind of creepy." "275 and Jeez, keep your voice down. What if someone hears you? It's historical and kind of cool, not kind of creepy," Aidan countered. "Really?! Look at those windows? It reminds me of the Bates Motel," Nicole protests. She looked up, eyes shielded from the sun by a hand. Windows grayed by the passing clouds. "Bates Motel is fiction. This place is real history." "Even creepier," she says, putting a stamp on the conversation. Checking in was simple and a throwback, with an actual ledger on a circular Lazy Susan, the clerk writing a few notes, twisting the book around then Aidan signing in. As members of the wedding party, they arrived a bit early. This afternoon's rehearsal, tonight a dinner, then a measure of partying, all part of the ceremony weekend. Fun was in the offing. Using a decades old skeleton key, they cracked open the door to 302, at the very end of the hall on the third floor. They unpacked quickly, hanging Nicole's bridesmaid dress and a tuxedo in the closet. The room felt as if they had stepped back into a 1920's movie set. Fashionable for that day, but now feeling a bit dated, high ceilings and drapes emitting a peculiar cloying odor, a shut-ins room, a brine, a dampness. Nicole commented on it. "It's the nearness to the lake," Aidan excused. "Look at this weird thing?" He pointed in the direction of the wall on the side of the bed that he had claimed as his own. There was a small, two foot by two foot panel cut from the wall. The beveled wainscoting had been cut out, then replaced and secured with four screws, one at each corner. The fit was not perfect as if hastily re-attached. A small gap, a quarter to a half inch thick, warbled between the wood and the wall. "Strange, like they had to get to some pipes and slapped it back together." "Just more old stuff," Nicole said. "Anyway, how about we walk over to the lake? It's just a block or so," Aidan asked. "Let's get a drink first?" Nicole requested. And they did. The bar was far more engaging. An antique watering hole in the bowels of the hotel welcomed them; massive and charming with its heavy lacquered wood and large mirrored surfaces. Down here it felt like they were actually in a Prohibition era private club. Rumors and hotel lore flaunted that Capone and other mobsters smuggled whiskey from Canada through this basement in secret underground water canals to the lake. Several other wedding party early arrivers were already there and well into their drinks. At the third round of Tito's and lime juice another bridesmaid returning to the table with three drinks in hand turned into the table, caught her foot on the leg and spilled her entire cargo; ice and vodka and glasses cascading down Aidan's head, shirt and lap. "Double shit!" he yelled and jumped up, but he was laughing all the same. Later that evening, sleeping deeply, brains awash with the lingering effects of multiple vodkas, Nicole awakened, pulling herself up from a dream. "Aidan, I hear water,...like waves not like water from pipes." Aidan dragged himself up to the level of consciousness just to equal Nicole. "Listen," she whispered. As the room quieted into the deepest part of 3 A.M. the sound was indistinguishable. Lifting onto his elbows Aidan turned to the right. "It's coming from that panel," he said. "What?" she tried to understand. "That panel, that replaced wallboard, that I showed you yesterday when we checked in? It is, or it does, sound just like waves." He dropped from the bed and put his ear to the wall, clearly it was the sound of waves, not far off. He touched the panel, ran his hand along the edge. It was damp. More than damp. Wet. "It's wet," he announced, but Nicole had dropped back, almost, to sleep. "Come back to bed," she said, "it must be an echo, or something." Wedding, festivities, flowers and vows, toasts and dedications, music and fanfare. The entire ceremony and its reception delivered all that it had promised. Bride and groom ecstatic. Gathered friends, relatives and the barely invited partied well into the evening. Around 10:30 Nicole announced, "Aidan, I'm just running back up to the room for a minute. I'm going to change my shoes and take a couple of Advil." "Just dance in your bare feet!" he lightheartedly exclaimed. "The Advil," she protested. "Oh, yeah," he agreed, turned and stepped, wobbly, back to the dance floor where a circle had formed around a band of jacket less and tieless young men. Later, Aidan turned from a loud rendition of "September" by Earth, Wind and Fire and remembered Nicole. "It's October!" he laughed, yelling to the DJ, and looked at his watch. An hour has passed since she left. "Must have fallen asleep," he muttered to himself and headed to the ballroom door. He mounted the three flights of stairs then moved slowly down the hall, fingering the second key in one pocket and bracing occasionally against the wall until 302. Aidan stepped into the dark and took a single footfall into a sodden, soaked rug, the smell of water, fetid and dank, assaulting his nose. "Nicole?" he called softly to the silence that offered no reply. "Nicole?" The light switch failed. He hefted his phone moving further into the dark, thumbing the flashlight. Aidan moved around the soaking floor, noticing that the entire room was wet, bed dripping, walls splashed, curtains and lamps all deluged in a wet, slopping darkness. On his side of the bed he saw that the panel was off the wall and gone. A dark, gaping maw, two feet by two feet, stretched into a darkness beyond. There was only blackness and deeper dark. His flashlight offered little, penetrating inches into the hole. He lowered his head and the flashlight. "Nicole?" In Sandusky, Ohio, 11 nautical miles away, Aidan's body washed ashore two days later.