Oct 18: VAMPIRE
The night before I took my first writers’ retreat, I had a dream about a vampire. God! You know what I’d been scared of encountering on that trip? Not vampires. Ghosts. I knew other writers who had gone on the retreat, and about half of them had either seen a ghost or knew someone who had. Other people laughed it off, but not me. I’d never seen a ghost, not personally, but I could never get rid of the feeling that they could exist. It made me nervous.
I would have blown off the whole situation as a joke, except it was a pretty convincing dream. Or…well, it convinced me. Now that I think about it, it wasn’t a convincing dream at all. I was at a hotel. The rooms were really old and the furniture was all too small. The beds were too short, the chairs were too low to the ground, you had to walk sideways down the staircases because the treads of the stairs were too narrow. The ceilings in my room were too low, too—my room was under one of the eaves and the ceiling sloped. But it was covered with the cutest flowered wallpaper.
In the dream, I set up my laptop and started working on a novel. Unlike in real life, the words were pouring out of my fingers.
Then I felt someone’s fingers on my shoulder. I didn’t jump; it was like I’d been half expecting it.
I turned around, and saw a man in a felt top hat, a derby, I think. It had a brown ribbon around the brim with an orange feather. The man had a pencil-thin mustache and an old-fashioned brown suit.
He cleared his throat. “Only if you don’t put me in, my dear,” he said.
For some reason, in the dream, this was the most horrifying thing that could have happened to me. To dream-me. I jumped up, pushed past the man, ran out the door of my room, and tried to escape the hotel.
It was a dream. I couldn’t run; everything moved in slow motion. While I ran, or tried to run, the man in the derby walked circles around me, leaning on a cane and smiling at me. He had crooked teeth—even the pointy stabby vampire teeth were crooked, and I remember thinking, “That vampire needs a dentist.”
I made it halfway down the grand staircase when I tripped. And fell.
And jerked awake. I woke up my husband and the dogs both started barking loudly. I decided not to go back to sleep; I had a plane to catch. I got up and read my emails, then went back over the plot outline I was going to work on during the retreat, a cozy mystery about a bookstore.
I flew in to Denver, then rented a car and drove the rest of the way to the little mountain town where the retreat was being held. I found the hotel easily. The rooms were all cute little mini mountain chalet cabins with peaked roofs and chainsawed bears in front of the doors. That hotel? Had a lot of bears. Even a bearskin rug and stuffed bear head on the wall in the main building. In other words, it looked nothing like the hotel in my dreams.
Something else that didn’t resemble my dreams: I couldn’t write.
My mind spun in circles. Every second I sat in front of the keyboard, I dwelled on the fact that I was wasting time. Of course that didn’t help. I cruised the Internet and liked all the pictures of our dogs that my husband put up. I prayed for a ghost. Any ghost. But none of the other writers seemed to see one, either.
I didn’t write.
One of the days there was an optional side trip to tour part of the town, and I went on it. I hadn’t signed up in advance the way you were supposed to, but that was okay. They had open spots because some of the other writers were too busy writing to go. As you can imagine, that made me feel all better.
But I went. I needed the distraction.
And it was a good tour, with lots of history. I kept having flashes of ideas here and there, nothing having to do with the current story I was working on, but I was willing to set that aside for a while, as long as it meant I was writing. A haunted mine…
Then we came to the Oxblood Hotel. As soon as I stepped inside, the hair on my arms rose.
It was the hotel from my dreams. I followed the tour around, nearly shivering. It didn’t help that the building was cool inside, either.
Inexorably, we worked our way through the main floor with its high ceilings, and started going up the grand staircase to see the rooms upstairs.
The stair treads were too short. My mouth turned sour and I crunched on a Tums. My heart was going about a million miles an hour. I said, “Is this hotel supposed to be haunted?”
The tour guide said, “Funny you should ask—”
Then from above came a horrible knocking, banging sound, as if someone were falling down the stairs. Everyone pressed themselves against the side rails or the wall. The banging and crashing continued all the way down, ending in a sickening thump at the bottom.
The tour guide rushed down, waving his hands through the air at the bottom of the stairs, finding nothing.
“It’s okay, it’s okay,” he said. “It’s just the ghost.”
He started to explain that the ghost had been irregularly falling down the stairs for about a hundred and twenty years now, but that it was usually at night. I turned around and walked out of the building before he could finish the story. “I just need air,” I told everyone. But when I stepped outside I continued onward, back to the hotel, where I sat down and started writing a story about a gentleman who owned a prosperous mine in a small mountain town where people kept disappearing.
By the time the writing retreat was over, I had written over two-thirds of a historical horror novel. I called my husband to say that I’d be coming back a few days late. By the time I left I had finished my first real novel, The Butcher of Oxblood.
I knew what would happen to me if I didn’t.
I had to put in an E.F. Benson pastiche somewhere. This one points back to “The Room in the Tower.” Also, there have been several writing-slash-retreats at haunted locations that I haven’t been able to go to this year (because money), and I’m jealous.