My tour was all set. The only outstanding arrangement was where I would stay overnight.
"Do you want to stay in our old historic house?" they asked.
"Sure," I said. "I love historic houses. They're so filled with character."
Why did it not occur to me that there can be an 's' at the end of that word: so filled with ... characters?
Blithely I drove to the mountains near Martinsville, Virginia. It was a beautiful drive, and the weather was crisp and energizing. I arrived at dusk, just in time to be shown around the house before the only other human around waved goodbye and drove off into the dark of night.
Have you ever noticed that when you're in the country and there's no one, I mean NO ONE around, that everything creaks and clicks? Constantly?
It didn't take long to become acutely aware I was alone in a big old house, the only house I'd seen up on top of this mountain.
Nothing to worry about. I had plenty to occupy myself for the evening, and I had a whole lovely apartment on the second floor all to myself. The first floor was furnished for tours with antiques, some of which belonged to the family who had lived there in previous centuries. As I crossed the downstairs hallway and climbed up and down the stairs carrying my bags up to my apartment, it did not escape my notice that past the open doors mannequins lurked in each of the downstairs rooms. Each one was perfectly dressed in voluminous 19th century gowns. Each one was headless. All right, all right, I understood this was an intentional fashion statement, but still, they were headless. And they leaped out at me every time I turned a corner.
That evening I kept myself resolutely busy. I made as much noise as I could.
Nothing to worry about.
I was relieved when it was finally late enough I could climb up into the very high bed, and grateful that I was so tired I fell right to sleep.
The next day, everyone I met found a moment during the day to say, "Oh, you stayed in the house last night? Ah, yes. I stayed there. Once."
"Some people say the house is haunted, you know. But I'm sure the presences are benign."
Of course they are. Nothing to worry about.
When everyone but me left the premises for the second night, I thought, I will feel much more comfortable tonight; it's no longer unfamiliar.
Wrong. Though I had braced myself for the lurking, headless mannequins, no sooner had I passed them, than I became aware of another presence at the top of the stairs. She was short; she was in no way vintage or even period appropriate. She was only in the house as a holiday decoration. She had curly blond hair and beady eyes, half obscured by the rails of the staircase. She leered at me every step of the way.
I decided all showering could wait for mornings.
I had taken the music CDs out of my car, and I kept them playing constantly in my laptop.
The third night, as soon as dark fell, I was again queezy and uneasy. I had a little outloud chat with whomever or whatever was pressing the air out of the second floor. "I don't mind if you're there; could you just lighten up a bit? Because you're kind of creeping me out."
I climbed up into the tall bed very early and busied myself reading and writing until I could fall asleep.
Next morning, I found three ladybugs, one in each room.
When I showed up for that day's performances, the woman who was most interested in "presences" asked, "How was your night?" I told her about the ladybugs, thinking she'd approve.
Wrong. "Oh, there are lots of those around all the time," she said.
"Oh sure," I said. "Of course I knew that."
What I actually knew was that I hadn't seen a single ladybug in my rooms the night before or at any other time afterwards. Only that one morning.
"I had a little talk with them last night," I continued.
"That's good," she said. "That's that way to deal with them. Did I tell you yet about the group that was supposed to stay in the house one week and in the middle of the first night, they called me saying they couldn't and wouldn't stay another minute unless I stayed there, too? As soon as I arrived, I told the spirits to stop bothering those folks, and they didn't come back the whole week."
I only had one more night. I wasn't caving. I would not call for reinforcements. Instead, I took a photo of the malevolent doll standing guard at the top of the stairs. By this time, I could not see her without thinking of Twilight Zone's Talky Tina. As I passed, I was sure I heard her saying, "My name is Talky Tina, and you better be nice to me."
"Don't you even think of trying anything on my last night," I said. "I haven't messed with you. And I have your photo."
I'm home now. I survived each and every night, and I'm proud of it. I'd even go back if I'm asked.
But just for the record, 'someone' broke my alarm clock while I was there. Not the part that keeps time, just the alarm. So this is fair notice to whomever it might concern, I was on time for all my shows, anyway.