Sunday, February 16, 2014

I See Dead People in Jefferson, Texas (Or At Least Their Furniture)

Let's begin with two clarifications to help understand this post:
  1. February 14 is Valentine's Day. However, having no significant other, I had not reserved a room at the Jefferson Hotel with romantic intentions in mind. I reserved it because:
    • It was the weekend of a full moon.
    • Paranormal activity is supposed to increase when there's a full moon. 
    • Room 19 at the hotel is supposedly haunted. 
    • Feb 14 was the only Friday of a full moon the room was available*. 
  2. I am one of those people who wants to believe in ghosts but I can't accept them on blind faith. I need proof. This was my fifth trip to Jefferson (purported to be one of the most-haunted cities in Texas - if not the whole USA) in search of that proof. Needless to say, nothing out of the ordinary had happened on any of my previous trips. 
A view of the lobby inside of the Jefferson Hotel.
I did not take this picture. I borrowed it from the
hotel's website. I've included the link in this post.  
Typically, my youngest son, Jacob, travels with me. He bowed out due to a conflict and my sister, Gwen, agreed to go. Having her accompany me was a little awkward at first, because too many people thought we were married. But we soon got past that and had a really good time. Gwen and I never lack material for a conversation and enjoy each other's company. She makes an excellent traveling companion.

When we checked into the hotel and the staff realized we were in room 19, I noticed a hint of hesitation in their eyes. I assured them I wanted the room. I happily accepted the key and hauled our luggage up the stairs. As we made our way down the hall, Gwen examined and commented on each piece of antique furniture. 

We entered the room. Based on the stories I'd heard about 19, I guess I expected to feel an overwhelming sense of dread, or to see the bed floating, or at least to have a flower vase hurled at me. Instead, I observed a small nondescript room decorated with stylish wallpaper and antique furniture. No cold spots. No voices telling me to get out. No mists wafting toward me. 

Just a hotel room. In fact, one so boring I failed to take a picture of it.   

The ghost walk went inside a
closed antique store reported
to have lots of activity. This
was the scariest 'monster' I
saw. I think it's a doll, but
can't be 100% sure since the
store was dark.  
Later that evening, we participated in the ghost walk. If you ever visit Jefferson, I highly recommend this activity. Jodi Breckenridge hosts an excellent tour. She weaves the history of this unique little town among stories of the paranormal activity that's been experienced for over one-hundred years. I've taken the ghost walk six or seven times (yes, multiple tours during a single visit) and have always enjoyed it. However, I've never experienced a supernatural event. This time was no different. 

After the tour, Gwen and I returned to our room. We talked for a while, then she decided to take a bath. I left in search of a bottled water. I met the front desk clerk as she was leaving about 10:30 PM. The Jefferson Hotel is unique because it closes every night. There is no staff onsite until they return in the morning. Just a phone number to call if there's an emergency. The machine had no bottled water, so I settled for a soda and walked upstairs (Queue ominous music here, if you would like.)  

The phantom chair as I found it in
front of the door to room 19. 
As I approached room 19, I saw a chair in front of the door. I recalled Gwen's earlier examination of the furniture in the hallway. She had paused before every piece, but this chair had not been discussed ... because, this chair had not been present. 

I moved the chair and unlocked the door, but the knob would not turn. Instantly, my mind flashed on the hundreds of horror movies I've seen. I twisted the doorknob harder and it finally gave. I rushed into the room. 

"Gwen, are you alright?"

"Yes," she called from the bathroom. "Why?"

I told her what had happened. She finished her bath and joined me. We both examined the chair and agreed it had not been in there earlier. I moved the chair away from our door and into a far corner. Gwen assured me she was not playing a prank on me. I even opened the door several times just to see if the chair would return. It didn't.

I went into the bathroom to prepare for bed. When I returned to the main room, Gwen was staring at the closed door with the strangest look on her face. 

"What's wrong?"

"Someone's outside."

Without hesitation, I opened the door. No one was there. I walked into the hallway and the floorboards creaked. 

"That's what I heard," Gwen said. "Only it sounded as if someone was jumping up and down."

"There's no one here now," I said and locked the door. It didn't happen again and we went to bed. 

This is exactly how we found the chair the
next morning. Neither Gwen nor I put it there.
The next morning, I awoke and got ready for the day. I opened the door and the chair was back. Only this time, it was resting face down. Neither of us had opened the door or left the room during the night. Since we shared a single, full-size bed, if one of us had gotten up, the other would have known it. 

Gwen with the phantom chair. Notice
she's wearing her jacket. We intended
to check-out when the chair appeared
for the third time before the closed door. 
By this point, I suspected the hotel staff had pulled a prank. I once again moved the chair to the corner away from our door and I went downstairs to inquire. The front desk was still closed. The hotel had not opened yet. 

I returned to our room and half expected to see the chair in front of the door. It wasn't. We gathered our belongs and prepared to check out of the room. When we opened the door - you guessed it - the chair was back. There was no way Gwen had done it. She'd never left my sight since I'd returned to the room. 

"I wasn't going to tell you this," she said. "But last night, I felt a tug on my pajama top and a child giggled. I told it to go night-night and it stopped." 

The upstairs hallway of the hotel. I did
not take this picture but found it on the
Internet. No credit was given to the
photographer who took it. 
I understood why she hadn't wanted to tell me. She'd been concerned I might be jealous that she had had a paranormal experience and I hadn't. 

We left the room with our luggage and happened upon two housekeepers beginning their day. I showed them a picture of the chair and asked if they recognized it.

"Yes, but what's it doing in front of that door?"

I told her our experience. 

"Oh, that's Sarah. She haunts room 4 and 19." 

By this point, my brain with its there-must-be-a-logical-explanation kicked in and I began to sort the 'facts'.  
  • The first time the chair appeared, Gwen could have staged it while I was gone. However, having been around my sister for 47 years, I know that she is no prankster. It's not in her nature. 
  • The second time the chair appeared, it's doubtful Gwen could have staged it. The bed was just too small. We felt each other's every movement with her under the covers and me in a sleeping bag atop them. 
  • The third time, it's impossible Gwen did it. She never left my sight.  
  • Gwen had told me about the child tugging her PJ's before we met the housekeepers. In fact, she hadn't mentioned a little girl, just a child. If she had fabricated the story, she would have been more specific. Especially because Gwen had refused to hear any of the stories associated with the room**.
  • She did not have the time to conceive a plan this elaborate, or to enlist the help of others, because she had agreed to travel with me only a few days before we departed. 
  • Most importantly, I trust my sister. She does not lie. She also does not share my writer's imagination. Whereas I might want to trick a friend, she couldn't conceive of doing such a
    The stairs at the Jefferson Hotel with ...
    you decide. Again, I did not take the picture.
    I found it on the Internet. The photographer
    was not given credit. 
Okay, the hotel staff did it, but why? 
  • Tourism drives their business and they need people to spread word about haunted Jefferson. However, I don't believe this one either, because there are more residents in the town who refuse to discuss the possibility of ghosts than there are folks who embrace them. In fact, some of the older residents are downright hostile toward "all that spook stuff".
  • The hotel runs on a small staff. They wouldn't have time prank the guests. 
  • This was not my first time to stay at this hotel. I've stayed in three other rooms and never had a supernatural experience. In fact, I talked with one guest who said he's stay there over 10 times in as many different rooms and has never seen a ghost. If the staff were staging sightings, surely they would have included him at some point. 
That means one of the guests did it. 
  • Same question: why? 
  • What was their motivation? No one knew Gwen or me. 
  • To pull a prank you need to anticipate the prankee's reaction. The whole basis of the TV show Scare Tactics is friends scaring their friends. In other words, a prankster needs to get something out of it. A laugh. Seeing their friend piss their pants. Something. No other guest at the Jefferson Hotel had a vested interest in spooking us. Even if they did, they didn't get their monies worth. Neither Gwen nor I screamed, or ran down the hall. We were both just curious.
I made the whole thing up - either consciously or unconsciously - because I want to see a ghost.
  • That would be the logical answer.
  • But it's the wrong one. I did not do this, especially not the third time it happened. The door was closed and locked, and just like my sister, I can't walk through solid wood. 
Do I believe in ghosts now? I'm still unsure, but I know I cannot fully explain what happened to my sister and me. We may have experienced the spirit of a bored child who wanted to play, and that makes me sad. To envision anyone stuck in limbo for an eternity searching for a playmate. 

What about you? Do you believe in ghosts? Let me know your thoughts and experiences.  

* And to get Feb 14 I had to make my reservation way back in May 2013. Yes, the room is that popular. 

** I knew the history of the room. However, none of the stories I had previously read mentioned a child haunting 19. In fact, I had expected to see either a woman in a white dress, or a cowboy in a duster. 

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Science Fiction: The Cat's Meow

I am not a cat person, yet two cats reside in my house. One of them because when my youngest son came to live with me, he wanted a cat and it seemed like a good idea at the time. The other, because I made a promise to my sister and I keep my promises.

Despite my lack of cat aptitude, I do my best to care for them. Name-brand dry and wet food. Fresh water daily. Clean litter box. Warm beds (one upstairs and one downstairs). And toys. 

During their annual tuneup, the vet told me they both needed their teeth cleaned. Because the service required anesthesia, it would cost me about $400 per cat. 

Well, that wasn't in my budget, so I searched for a more economical way to maintain their pearly whites. The pet store offered toothbrushes and toothpaste made just for cats. Seemed reasonable to me, but not to the cats. It took both me and my son to hold them down. They struggled and fought. We never managed to fully scrub their teeth. I needed another option. 

There are several brands of cat treats to purport to clean teeth. I bought one brand for a while until the cats grew tired of its limited flavors. Then, I switched to a pricer brand that offered more variety. The TURKEY or OCEAN BLEND or MILK FLAVORED kept them happy and the vet stopped pressuring me about cleaning their teeth, so I was happy.  

The thing is, I question if the treats really are varied. Despite the different flavors printed on the outside of the packages, the food inside is all the same size (quarter inch squares), the same color (tan) and smells the same (slightly musty).*

Then, a new flavor appeared on store shelves that simply declared itself to be DENTALICIOUS. The food inside was still square and smelled musty, but was a bright emerald color. Upon seeing it for the first time, I thought: "Soylent green is made of cats!" 

Not that my two would care. They gobbled it down.

And I finally arrive at the real point of this blog after such a long setup: I realized that many of the references in my life are framed by the science fiction I've always loved. Growing up, the majority of my Halloween costumes were SF themed. When I turned 35, I naturally thought of carrousel in Logan's Run. At WorldCon last year, the remote-controlled darlek excited me just as much as it did the little kids who chased after it.

What books/movies/tv shows/games/etc. frame your life? Therein (I bet) is the real variety. 

* I have not taste-tested them. I'll leave that to the cats.        

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Sit & Give Me 2500 Words, You S.O.B.

Yesterday, as the weather in Texas reached the lower 70's after too many days in the high 20's, I went outside to exercise. As I slogged up hills, down winding paths, and across miles of sidewalks I had an epiphany.  

Writing and exercise have a lot in common. Both require time, commitment and dedication. When I walk/jog or lift weights I have to force myself to push just a little harder. To achieve words on the page, I have to make myself sit, write and pretend the Internet (with all its many distractions) was never invented. This resulted in a second, more sobering realization. 

I am better at encouraging myself to exercise than to write.

Oh, I sit down to write every day. However, my production of new pages is inconsistent. Some days I manage 500 words. Others 300. The worse are my goose egg days where I tell myself editing is just as important as achieving new words on paper.*

Yet, when I exercise I manage to walk/jog the same distance as I achieved before; I complete the same number of reps I did last time. Why can't I do that with my writing? 

I decided I need a better muse. Not some woosie Tinkerbell who says "Bless his heart, he's trying" but a drill sergeant bastard who screams "Sit and give me 2500 words!" 

What about you? What inspires you to apply-butt-to-chair and produce new words?      

*Yes, I know editing is a crucial part of the overall process, but it's not the same as seeing new words that become new stories. Besides, I'm a re-writer at heart. I enjoy editing whereas the act of creating brand, new fresh sentences from nothingness has always been a struggle for me.