Crime du Jour: 31 Days of Malfeasance, Misconduct, and Immorality
One crime story per day, all the way through October. Ebook to be published Nov 1. This will be under my mystery/crime pen name, Diane R. Thompson!
Crime du Jour #2: Aiding and Abetting / Accessory
THE GHOSTS OF MIRAMONT CASTLE
This was before ghost tours or ghost hunters were a thing, back in the bad old days when kids used to throw rocks at widows’ windows, because all women with dead husbands were “witches.” It was 1981 and I was fifteen, can you believe it? Part of me remembers that day like it was yesterday. The rest of me is like, don’t bring this stuff up, Shannon, you sound like your grandma yelling at kids to get off your lawn. But that summer I worked as a tour guide for Miramont Castle, in Manitou Springs, Colorado. Miramont means “place with a view of the mountains.” I lived nearby, I think that was a deciding factor in getting that job. Did you know that manitou is an Algonquin word that means spirit or life force? The town got its name in 1935, having previously been called Fountain Village. It used to be a place where tuberculosis patients were dumped to try to “get better.” Tuberculosis was a bitch, man, like the AIDS of its day. It took George Orwell who wrote 1984, Franz Kafka who wrote The Metamorphosis, Jane Austin who wrote all those cute romance books, even Vivian Leigh from Gone with the Wind, as late as 1964. If you look above the castle, you can see a couple of their tiny, one-person houses. Tuberculosis huts, they were called. The guy who built the castle was a Catholic priest, Father Jean Baptiste Francolon. He built it for his mom. Her room is still there. They’ve recovered a lot of her furniture and stuff to recreate the ambiance. The whole castle was a sanitorium run by the Sisters of Mercy for a while, then it was boarding house for rich people, then a vacation house for Catholic clergy, and then I think it stood empty for a while, before getting sold and turned into a museum.
Miramont Castle is haunted. Like, it was haunted even before anyone died there. Father Francolon and his mom left in 1900, only a few years after the place was completed. Nobody knows why they left, although I’ve heard some nasty rumors. When the Sisters of Mercy moved in full-time, in 1907 because before then they only used it in the summers, the hauntings really ramped up. There was a place under some stairs in the basement that was supposed to be where the nuns buried aborted babies and secret miscarriages. We didn’t tell the tourists that, though. That stairwell was like ice. If you wanted to see under the stairs, you had to duck under the railing and slither down against the wall, but we rarely bothered. On top of stairs was cold enough. No matter how hot it was outside, you could always take a Coke from the cooler and sit on the stairs to cool off. The only thing was, you had to sing a lullaby to the babies before you left. My friends and I would sit there and talk about whatever, I mean, just the worst stuff, in the dead of summer in August, no air moving anywhere, and we were just filthy. Most of it was rumors, but still. Then we would stop and sing “Rock-a-bye Baby” or “Hush Little Baby” or “Frère Jacques” or “Row Row Row Your Boat” or even “Danny Boy” before we left. That’s how the grownups knew breaktime was over, we were singing a lullaby.
So, one day we had just started singing “Frère Jacques” when a private tour came through, led by the lead tour guide, a guy in his thirties named Bryan Wilcox. It was three people and Bryan. The three people were priests, which was unusual. There was one with a square head, like, if you’ve ever seen a photo of Senator John McCain’s head from the side, but even more so. He was fifty or so. The second priest was younger and looked like a cousin of mine, strawberry-blond hair and a goatee, only my cousin was like ten at the time, and boy howdy when my cousin grew up and I saw him at a wedding I had to take a step back, because he looked just like this priest.
The third priest was a bad dude.
As soon as the third priest started walking down the stairs it was like the air got sucked out of our lungs. We all stopped singing at the same moment. Just to look at the guy you started reminding yourself of all the rules in a horror movie. Don’t go down into the basement alone. Don’t split up. Don’t hang out with the creepy priest.
We all scooted to the side to let them go past, but Bryan Wilcox gave us this dirty look, so we got up and ran up the stairs. Then we stopped around the corner.
After a while, the other two girls tiptoed away, but I stayed to hear the whole thing, until Bryan Wilcox said, “There should be a shovel around here somewhere,” and I remembered that there were a bunch of shovels outside near the tea shop entrance, and I ran and got them and coughed and Bryan Wilcox came up the stairs and looked at me and looked at the shovels and said “Thanks,” and then came the sounds of digging and I ran back up to the tea shop and Nancy, who is my uncle’s wife’s sister, took one look at my face and said, “We’re closed for the rest of the day, darling, have some tea before you go home,” and she gave me Earl Gray tea and set out fancy leftover tea things, cucumber sandwiches and scones and clotted cream and raspberry jam, and I’ve always wondered.
How much she knew.
We didn’t stop taking our breaks there on the stairs, though. Noplace else in the castle was ever cold as those stairs.
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