by Meg Benjamin
My new ghost story trilogy (the second, Medium Rare is now available from Berkley InterMix at Amazon and Barnes and Noble) takes place in a very spooky place: the King William District of San Antonio. San Antonio itself is full of places that are supposed to be haunted—I mean, the Alamo is in the center of downtown SA. The Menger Hotel is right across the street from the Alamo and has a lot of ghosts, including Teddy Roosevelt (who recruited the Rough Riders there during the Spanish American War). The Spanish Governors Palace has a haunted fountain. The Majestic Theatre has some performance-loving spooks. And that’s just downtown.
But there are other haunted places that aren’t what you’d expect. For a couple of years, the hubs and I stayed at a motel in Nebraska on the way home from Iowa after Christmas. It was really large, with an indoor pool and a convention center, yet it usually seemed more than half empty, although that could have been the time of year. I’d head down to the lobby for a cup of coffee in the morning since I always wake up before the hubs does, and I’d frequently get the creeps. Something about it—above and beyond the fact that most of the lights had been turned out—made me feel uneasy. Then one day I was stumbling around the Internet, looking for something else, and I found that motel listed under Haunted Hotels. I was sort of shocked, but not exactly.
Some of this is expectation, of course. I’ve wandered around the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado, which was the inspiration for Stephen King’s The Shining, and it’s predictably spooky. But the management at the Stanley really wants you to feel that way—they even do ghost tours. So it’s not surprising that you feel uneasy when you go inside.
To me, what’s scarier is the place you didn’t expect to feel creepy at all. The historic building that suddenly has you looking over your shoulder. The boutique hotel where you discover you don’t really want to check out the lower story after all. The small town main street that makes you want to keep driving. Are these places haunted? Who knows? They’re certainly getting to you!
The heroine of Medium Rare, Rose Ramos, actually inherits a haunted house from her grandmother, although she doesn’t know it when she moves in. But Rose’s ghost is different—he’s actually a spirit familiar and Rose is actually a medium. Or so she discovers during her first night at the house.
Here’s a short excerpt:
“Who’s there?” she called and then felt like kicking herself. Nothing like letting the potential burglar-rapist–serial killer know you were awake and aware that he was there.
“Good evening.” The voice was faintly accented, slightly British, definitely masculine and . . . vaguely familiar.
Rose peered into the darkness at the corners of the room. A lot of darkness, actually. More darkness than she’d been aware of before. In fact, it was the darkest freakin’ bedroom she’d ever been in.
Not what she’d call a plus at the moment.
Her hand scrabbled around the night table, trying to find her cell phone. She flipped it open, squinting at the keys in the darkness.
“Please don’t bother,” the invisible man said. “You don’t need the police. Besides, you’ll find you can’t get service in here right now.”
Rose stared down at the glowing screen. No bars. How the hell could she have no bars? She’d just made a call this afternoon from the living room.
“Sorry,” the man said mildly. “It’s me. You won’t be able to get service while I’m in the room with you.”
She took a deep breath, lowering the phone to the spread. Calm, stay calm. “Where are you? Step out where I can see you. And do it slowly—I’m armed.” She picked up her book, a hardback fortunately. Assuming she could hit him, he’d probably have a lump.
“Throwing things at me won’t have any effect. Except to increase your own sense of satisfaction, of course.”
She gritted her teeth. She really hated being the straight man in this exchange. “Show yourself anyway.”
“I already have. You’re just not looking in the right place.”
Rose licked her lips. Okay. You’re okay. “Give me a hint.”
She raised her gaze slowly to the ceiling of the room. At the far end, something glowed a dim yellow-green, like some kind of night-light. She squinted. The yellow light became a blob, then seemed to elongate, becoming vertical, stretching from the ceiling halfway to the floor, perhaps five feet or so. Slowly, the light began to change, becoming bluish white, then gray, then resolving, very slowly into the outline of a figure.
Rose’s hands closed tightly on the coverlet. Her breath seemed to catch in her throat as her pulse hammered.
The figure became more clear. A man. Shortish. Stocky. Wearing a blue jumpsuit with a white undershirt showing at the V-neck. Hair slicked back, high forehead, deep-set eyes . . . Holy shit! A deeply satisfying wave of exasperation washed over her.
“Hannibal Lecter?” she snapped. “Really? Are you kidding me? Hannibal Lecter? What kind of sick joke is this? Get the fuck out of my bedroom!” Amazing how the combination of terror and annoyance made her sound like she was in control.
Hannibal Lecter floated a couple of feet away from the foot of her bed. His expression seemed vaguely disgruntled. “I was trying to find an appearance you were familiar with. I thought you’d like it.”
“Who are you?” She took another deep breath, trying to slow down her pulse. “And why exactly shouldn’t I just get the hell out of here right now?”
“If you walk out now, you’ll never know why I’m here, will you? And don’t tell me you don’t want to know.” Hannibal moved back a few paces. “Give me a moment and I’ll come up with something else.”
Lecter’s face became indistinct, the edges softening, blurring, then disappearing altogether. Slowly, he became a blob of light again. Rose stared, feeling slightly giddy, as if she’d been holding her breath too long. After a moment, the light elongated again, new features appearing in the face. Instead of the blue jumpsuit, the man now wore a tuxedo. The face was long and narrow, the hair parted at the side, nose slightly bulbous, narrow mouth spread in a faint smile. He raised an eyebrow. “Better?”
“I suppose. Who are you now?”
“George Sanders as Addison DeWitt. Won an Academy Award for All About Eve, one of the greatest motion pictures of all time. Your generation has forgotten him. Typical.” He had a pronounced British accent.
“All right.” Rose flexed her fingers, letting the spread drop. “So who are you really? And why are you here? And when will you go away?”
“To begin with your last question, I’ll go away after we’ve had our little talk.” George whatever-he-was reached into his pocket and extracted a cigarette in a cigarette holder. It was already lighted. He inhaled deeply and blew a cloud of smoke at the ceiling.
“Don’t smoke in here,” Rose said automatically.
George gave her a patronizing smile. “I hardly think this smoke will bother you.”
“So what are you—a ghost?”
George frowned slightly. “In a manner of speaking. I suppose it’s easiest if you think of me that way.”
“Are you haunting this house? Did you die here?”
He blew another cloud of smoke. “I died elsewhere. A very long time ago. And as for haunting this house, no. If you leave this house, so will I. I suppose you could say I’m haunting you.”
Genre – Paranormal
Rating – R