Jack Erikson doesn't have great expectations when his mother moves them to an old decrepit inn in a town just as musty, but he's unprepared for the oddities that start springing out of the rotten woodwork. New friends introduce him to legends and rumors that have swirled around the inn since time-immemorial, and he finds plenty of proof to believe them as strange noises and twisted shadows stalk the halls.
Worst of all, his estranged grandfather has invited himself to join them at the inn. Creepy doesn't begin to describe that black-cloaked gentleman with the pale skin and weird, ever-constant glasses. Old secrets, mysterious sealed-up rooms and creeping shadows abound as Jack tries to manage his new life at Hawthorn Inn.
“You damn crazy driver!” the woman screamed as she toppled to the hard ground in a heap of dress and purse.
The small, sleepy town of Sanctuary was awoken with a start at her yelling as the people on the street turned to look at the scene. One of their oldest and most prominent members was struggling to her feet after the near miss with a black car that was even now speeding away. Her name was Gertrude Grover, lately of the ground and now in a foul mood.
“Damn tourists!” she hollered. She shook her fist at her would-be assassin.
The long, black nineteen thirties-era Mercedes Benz seemed unaware of her presence as it sped off down the long road leading through the center of town. Gertrude, past her prime by a few years but still full of spirit, was livid with anger as a few of the onlookers laughed aloud. Most, though, seeing that she was okay, went back to their errands and chores.
The residents of the quiet town nestled against the foothills of the Appalachian Mountain range were too practical to stop their work and soothe the woman’s injured pride.
“Of all the insolence,” Gertrude muttered as she brushed herself off. She’d fallen against the side of the paved street, and now her clothes were covered in a thin layer of light brown earth. “Damn tourists think they can run over anyone if they feel like it,” she grumbled to herself as she moved with a quick step onto the sidewalk. Gertrude’s small brown eyes showed a shrewdness denoting a stern gruffness beneath her withered exterior.
“That’s an interesting color of dress, Gerty,” an old acquaintance laughed. The other old woman sat on the porch’s bench in front of the general store. “Trying it out for this fall?” She cackled at her own joke.
“You know perfectly well what happened, Amelia,” Gertrude scolded as she took her usual spot beside her old friend. Every afternoon on many fall days they’d sat and talked about the good old days and how much their small town had changed. She’d been heading toward the said bench before the near miss with the car. “I damn well nearly got killed and here you all are laughing at me,” she pouted as she crossed her arms over her chest.
Amelia was about Gertrude’s age and height, but their personalities were like day and night. Her soft blue eyes showed a natural humor complimented by a love of the long life she’d led. Her patience was unbelievable and her laughter infectious. Even her old friend’s gruff attitude was no match for her teasing attentions as Gertrude’s frown softened, though not by much.
“Oh, it wasn’t that bad,” Amelia replied as she put a comforting hand over her friend’s shoulders. “After all, you’re not dead,” she pointed out.
“Well, some days I’m not so sure that’s such a good thing,” her companion moodily argued as she pushed her friend’s hand away. She opened her mouth to spout more depressing words, but her eyes suddenly widened. She leaned forward in her chair and blinked against the glare of the twilight sun. Her gaze followed the homicidal car. “They didn’t stop,” Gerty spoke in whispered awe.
“Well, they missed you, didn’t they?” Amelia joked with a hearty guffaw.
“Not that, you idiot!” her friend snapped as she pointed at the cloud of dust that followed the fast vehicle. Amelia followed the direction where Gertrude’s finger pointed. “They’ve gone towards the inn!”
Hawthorn Inn stood atop a hill of hewn rocks that overlooked the small community. It had been built during the town’s founding, and once boasted famous visitors and a lucrative business. Over the last half century, however, the inn had fallen on hard times and now stood devoid of life. The town had been trying to acquire ownership in the hopes of making it into a museum, but the previous owners had demanded more money than the community could pull together.
“My God, they have,” Amelia marveled. She eagerly glanced over to her friend. “Then do you know who they are, Gerty? You were on the committee to try to buy it.”
Gertrude opened her mouth to comment and then promptly shut it hard enough to hear her false teeth clatter together. She scowled and leaned back in her chair.
“No, I don’t,” she sulked. “We didn’t know anyone else was looking at it.”
“What do you mean you don’t know?” Amelia loudly exclaimed with a comically shocked look on her face. A few of the regulars outside the store perked up their ears. “You talked with the Olsens all the time,” she playfully argued as she dramatically threw her hands up in the air. The name of the previous owners only seemed to rile her friend further, and Amelia poked her grumpy partner with a bony finger. “You were such good friends with them, you should know who they sold it to.” Out of the corners of her eyes she looked teasingly disappointed in her gossipy companion.
“Well, I don’t!” Gertrude shot back. She crossed her arms over her chest in a perfect picture of insult. The wrinkles around her eyes creased as a pout appeared on the edge of her lips. “They didn’t tell me or anyone else anything about their plans for that place, and you know perfectly well why not!” she stammered out.
“Well, maybe if you wouldn’t have been so mean to them,” her partner scolded. Amelia wagged a finger in Gertrude’s direction.
“They deserved it after insulting my pie,” Gerty shot back with narrowed eyes. “I should have poisoned it, then they really would have had something to complain about,” she added with an emphatic nod.
“Well, foo,” Amelia sulked as she slumped back into her seat. The sky mimicked her mood as gray clouds loomed overhead. “Well, someone has to know who they are,” she mused in a whispered tone.
“That Mr. Merchan might know,” Gertrude vaguely suggested in a bitter tone. She waved her hand in the general direction of his whereabouts. “He’s the one who was selling it, remember?”
“That’s the ticket, Gerty!” Amelia shouted as she bounced back to her feet. She had enough energy for a person half her age. “Come on, maybe that old land farmer can tell us something!” Amelia grabbed her friend’s worn hand and pulled her to her feet.
“Not so hard!” her companion complained.
She was unceremoniously dragged across the street to the local real estate agent’s office just a block off the main road. The town was small enough that no destination was ever far off.
The duo’s entrance was announced by a simple bell above the door as they practically fell into the tiny office. The area was generally clean except for the papers and maps that littered the desk, behind which sat the proprietor of the establishment. His trade, though lucrative, didn’t require the need of a secretary.
“Well, this is a pleasant surprise, ladies,” Mr. Merchan greeted, and he stood to his feet. “What brings you to my business?”
“We want answers, Mr. Merchan,” Gertrude briskly demanded. She wriggled her way out of Amelia’s grasp and walked over to his desk.
“Well, can I know the question first?” he joked as he held out his hands in defense.
“Who bought the old inn?” Amelia interrogated. She loomed over the desk with her wrinkled hands eagerly stroking one another in a greedy fashion.
“Well, I don’t know much about them myself, ladies,” he confessed as he sat back in his chair. The wide, old desk did little to distance himself from those inquisitive crones. “They bought the place from the Olsens and moved here from out west somewhere. Utah, I think.”
“Oh, maybe they’re Mormons, Gerty!” Amelia exclaimed as she clapped her hands together. In her long life she’d hardly left the region around the town, and any new diversion for her was always welcomed. “And we can hear some stories about the West.”
“I don’t care if they have an Indian in their trunk, they are not getting any of my new neighbor pie,” Gertrude huffed.
“Well, they seemed awful nice to me, Mrs. Grover,” the real estate agent confessed. “The lady even asked about hiring on some of our kids for work, and she seemed excited when I told her about my Stephanie.”
“Well, I’ll have you know your new customers nearly ran me down!” Gerty exclaimed as she waved her arms in the air. “What kind of a business are you running when you take on those types of people?”
“Lucrative, I’d say, considering they paid in full with cash,” Mr. Merchan replied. He leaned back in his chair and rested his hands in his lap, content with his dealings.
“Cash? All of it?” Amelia gasped, and she looked to Gertrude. “But weren’t the Olsens asking a lot of money?”
“I don’t care how much money they have,” Gerty huffed as her brows furrowed together. She slammed her hand down on the desk, frightening both her companion and Mr. Merchan. “Them and their money be damned if they can come in here and go running everyone over with their fancy car!”
With her breath spent and her anger fuming, Gertrude stormed out of the agency with a shocked Amelia in tow. Mr. Merchan watched them go with a sigh as he put his feet up on his desk.
“Those two old bats need to learn to mind their own business,” he mused as he began rocking in his chair.
“Which ones, dad?” a voice asked, and a girl came out of the back of the small office. She held a magazine in her hands and was rifling through the pages. “There’s a lot around here, you know.”
“The usual two, Steph,” Mr. Merchan replied as he smiled at his only child. The teenager was loudly chewing her gum, her hair was dyed a wild shade of purple, and her arms were well covered in tattoos, but he thought she was the most perfect specimen in the world. “Oh, and I may have found you a part-time job, honey,” he announced with evident satisfaction. He was the type of man to pat himself on the back at any supposed pleasure to his child.
“Where?” Stephanie questioned as she paused in her chewing to peruse her dad’s face. Her brows came down and she coiled the magazine into a roll. “It better not be flipping burgers again,” she threatened.
“No, not this time, darling,” he comforted as he stood to his feet with his arms wide open. “I’ve talked to the new owners of the old inn, and they thought it would be a wonderful idea to have you as their front desk receptionist.”
Stephanie winced and her jaw moved to the side like a cow pausing in chewing its cud. Her eyes looked through her long bangs with an expression of disbelief.
“You want me to be a secretary?” she asked as she slowly resumed her gum chewing.
“Well, not exactly, honey,” Mr. Merchan replied in a sweet tone with a wide, coaxing grin. “More like a greeter,” he explained as he rubbed his chin. In his biased eyes she would have been qualified for any job, but this was a good start.
“So now I’m a Walmart employee?” Stephanie snapped back. The magazine twisted in her hands. “You really need to stop helping me, dad,” she growled.
“Now listen here, young lady,” her father sternly scolded as he frowned at his angel. Sometimes he wondered if she needed more focus in life. “This will mean meeting new people who may help you later on,” he suggested in an airy tone. “The new owner has big plans for the place and I’m sure she’s going to invite wealthy patrons to come visit.”
The opportunity to rub elbows with wealthy boys soothed her anger, and Stephanie’s hands loosened their grip on the pages. She blew a bubble and it exploded with a loud pop before she sucked it back into her mouth with a disgusting slurp. Maybe she’d find one who’d want to make her into a trophy wife.
“I guess that sounds worth it,” she admitted as she gave a wide grin through her pink lipstick.
Mr. Merchan returned her smile with one of his own, but his eyes were fixed on the newly signed papers atop his desk. The name Erikson stood out along the dotted lines, and that got him wondering at the inn’s new proprietors. He reached down and tapped the name on the second line, the one used as collateral should the deal fall through.
“Strange spelling,” he mused as he looked at the elegant signature. “And what a strange family,” he added as he looked out the window to the darkening day.
Night was now falling fast as mothers gathered their children from the yards of neighbors and streetlights flickered on to scatter the shadows.