Four years later
Bethany smiled as the local newspaper journalist disappeared behind his new camera. There was a clicking noise and a bright flash from the odd stick he held in the air and her family were immortalized in a picture. They were going to be in the newspaper accompanying a story on the Majestic and the new wing that they were opening today.
The wing was a new addition to the spa. It offered all kinds of new, exciting treatments that people could journey from far and wide to reap the benefits of. It was her mother’s brainchild, and she was enormously proud of it.
Bethany was proud of her too. She had certainly grown into her role of manager of the spa.
With the picture taken, the journalist moved to interview her mother. Bethany had to let her little two-year-old son Josh down on to his stubby little legs. He was most keen to go running off. This time however, he only ran to his grandmother, who never missed a beat in answering a question and picked him up.
Bethany and Paul smiled at each other. A moment alone, without their son. It was a stolen luxury. They clasped hands and stole a quick, loving kiss that made Bethany tingle from head to toe.
“Careful, Mr. Knowles,” she said in her best teasing voice. “You keep kissing me like that and we’ll end up with more tiny people running around.”
“Well, we wouldn’t want that, now, would we?” he replied in a mocking tone.
They shared a laugh, before linking arms and beginning to stroll down the hotel’s ramp. The air was crisp and cool, the day was gray, and the lake was the color of slate. It was perfect.
“It’s perfect, isn’t it?” Paul asked gazing down at her as they walked between the crowds of people.
She smiled back, feeling the habitual swell her chest took on as it filled with love for her husband. He was so handsome, even three years into their marriage he was the only man in the world for her.
“It certainly is,” she said, snuggling in close to him as the cold breeze blew in off the water and chilled her.
“I meant the weather, for the fair,” he said.
“Me too,” she said.
Today was a special day indeed. Not only were they opening the new wing of the Majestic Hotel, but they were also hosting their second Spook Fest.
It had started as a silly idea her father and her father-in-law had come up with over brandies one night in the parlor. The two men had been discussing the events, two years earlier as that time, which had led to the discovery of the secret passages and hidden contraptions built into the Majestic by Elias Maher. It had seemed a travesty to them that such a lot of wonderful, interesting, and quite possibly unique instruments should be left to gather dust and rust.
And so, they suggested that once a year the hotel deck itself out in ghostly splendor and that the whole theme of the place become supernatural. Then they could set up ghostly visions and suchlike for the guests, who might love it.
Since the hotel was now a family run business, everyone had to have their say. Her mother had not been keen. She liked to concentrate on the healing side of the hotel, feeling the spa was by far the most important part of the whole structure. There was merit in her reasoning, but Bethany couldn’t help but think that a little spooky fun once a year could only do people good.
And so, Spook Fest grew from there.
Last year they had approached a lot of local businesses and asked if they would like to join in, and that’s when the idea to hold a market on the ramp up to the hotel was born. And now, on this the second day of Spook Fest, there were over thirty stalls set up all along the ramp and they were doing a bustling trade. The hotel had filled up within weeks of the flyers being sent to Salt Lake City and other surrounding towns and things were looking particularly good.
The locals had certainly gone to a lot of effort this year. Many of them were dressed up in fancy dress and Bethany had seen a whole gaggle of little girls run by dressed as princesses with conical hats and veils, while the little boys chased them dressed as knights.
Many folks had donned sheets with holes cut in them so that they would look like ghosts, and some had decided to blacken their eyes and make their sin pale so they too would lookscary too. Even Mrs. Webster was outside keeping an eye on the Majestic’s baked goods stall. She was all in black with a broom and hat, acting every bit the wicked witch. Bethany laughed as she sent several children off with little sugary broomstick cookies in their hands.
Just then Bethany’s mother made her way to her with Josh wriggling and moaning in her arms. From his behavior it was clear that he wanted to chase after the other children, but his little legs weren’t that fast yet. Luckily, he was about the same age as Annette and Roger’s little boy, Terence and so he had a friend. Not that that was enough today. Bethany could see it written all over his face. There was far too much going on for one friend to be enough. Even if she could see Annette and Roger in this throng, which she currently couldn’t.
“Beth, take your son,” her mother said, sounding exasperated. “He has wriggled and groaned and groused to the point where his granny is beyond herself.” This last she said to the little boy who laughed at her.
Bethany smiled and held her arms out to her son. He turned and held his arms up to his father. Paul gave a wry smile.
“Do you think I’ll be more fun, Josh?” he asked.
The little one nodded and his father scooped him into his arms.
“Come on, let’s go and see if there are cinnamon buns on sale. Daddy would like one. Would you like one?” Paul asked with mock seriousness. He already knew the answer as did all of them. Father and son had a weakness for cinnamon buns.
Josh nearly wriggled out of Paul’s arms with his excitement.
“Bun!” he yelled and pointed down the ramp.
Paul kissed Bethany’s cheek and off he and Josh went in search of cinnamon goodness.
“He’s really wonderful with Josh, isn’t he?” her mother asked, her head cocked on one side, a smile on her lips.
“He is,” Bethany said. Paul had a wonderful bond with little Josh. It made her heart warm and gooey seeing the two of them together.
Just then one of the maids came hurrying out of the hotel.
“Oh, thank goodness I’ve found you,” she said panting. “Madam Neverwinter sent me to find you Mrs. Knowles.”
“Did she?” Bethany asked. “What’s the matter?”
“You’d better come,” the maid said. Her name was Jenny, and she was new. She looked terrified for some reason.
Bethany smiled wearily at her mother and went into the hotel. She had taken over a lot of the day to day running of the place for her father, and there always seemed to be more issues to deal with. Her father had been all too happy to hand it over and after a year of her new job, Bethany understood why he’d been so enthusiastic to pass on that particular hat to her. He still did the finances thank goodness and seemed perfectly content with just that.
Of course, that now meant that went things went wrong, Bethany was the one everyone rushed to to sort it out.
Following Jenny into the hotel, Bethany made her way to Madam Neverwinter’s parlor. The medium was immensely popular. After the newspaper article on the goings on in the hotel, Madam Neverwinter had grown in fame. Especially when she was cited in the Evening Dress Gang’s publication and the paper Mr. Peters wrote about the hotel which had changed from being on the supernatural to being more mechanical in nature. He was still there studying the way things worked, especially with the lodestones and their magnetic pull and how it affected people.
Pushing all that from her mind, Bethany found Madam Neverwinter standing outside her parlor door. She wore an exasperated expression.
“Bethany, we need to talk,” the medium said.
“Certainly,” Bethany said heading into Madam Neverwinter’s parlor, but the woman stopped her.
“You don’t want to go in there,” she said. “It’s a terrible mess. I’m waiting for the girls to clean it up.”
“What happened?” Bethany asked, worried.
Madam Neverwinter sighed as they went into the general parlor. There was no one in there. With Spook Fest happening outside, there was no reason to be indoors. The two women found seats and made themselves comfortable.
“Its this fest of yours that I need to speak to you about,” Madam Neverwinter said. “We seem to be attracting the exact kind of spirits that I have worked hard to avoid for all these years.”
“What kind of spirits?” Bethany asked. She still wasn’t certain that Madam Neverwinter wasn’t a fraud, but the woman certainly held onto her convictions.
The medium fixed her with a look and sighed. “The violent kind. In my session this morning, this horrible little man came barging through while this polite young lady’s mother was talking to her through me. He cast the mother aside and spent ten minutes thrashing my body around. He knocked everything over and then when I managed to kick him out all he did was laugh about it. I fear that with all these people bringing their own ghosts here we are going to run into trouble.”
This was so far out of Bethany’s scope of reference that she could only blink at the medium. What did Madam Neverwinter think she could do about this? Spook Fest brought in a lot of money. It saw them through the tight winter months when there were practically no guests. It was the last hurrah before spring. They couldn’t cancel it, not when it was such a windfall.
“Is there anything else you can do to protect yourself?” Bethany asked, hoping the answer would be yes.
Madam Neverwinter fixed her with a look. “I thought you would say something like that.”
“I’m sorry,” Bethany said taking the woman’s hand. “But all this fuss does see us through the winter.”
Madam Neverwinter sighed. “It’s fine. I’ll work something out. I just thought you should know that if things start being strange around here…” she shrugged.
“Then I shouldn’t panic its only the ghosts?” Bethany asked with a smile.
“Precisely,” the medium said. Then she sighed and stood. “I should go and help the maids clean up. I have another session in ten minutes. It’s only a tarot reading though and so that should fine.” She looked around with a little apprehension. “I hope.”
Bethany was thoughtful as she went back out to the brightly colored stalls. Real ghosts in the hotel? Was that really something they needed? And if one got an infestation of ghosts, how did one get rid of them? All the reading she’d done over the years on the subject made it sound as though getting ghosts to leave was a terribly complex and difficult enterprise. Oh well, she’d burn that bridge if she came to it.
Sheriff Donovan walked over to her as she stepped outside.
“Ah, Bethany,” he said by way of greeting. “I was looking for you.”
“Oh, hello Sheriff. Are you well?” she asked.
Sheriff Donovan wore his ‘bearer of unhappy news’ expression. “I’m fine. I just wanted to let you know that Dr. Crombrink was released from prison yesterday.”
“Oh?” Bethany asked, surprised. “Was his sentence up already?”
“Only four years for his sins,” Sheriff Donovan said. “He might come back to town. I didn’t want it to be a surprise for you.”
She nodded. “Thank you. But there are no hard feelings,” Bethany said, and there weren’t any. Once she learnt about his motivation for his actions, Bethany found that she pitied the doctor a lot more than she was angry with him.
“Well, that is charitable of you,” the sheriff said with a dubious look. “Few folks feel the same way. He was a trusted figure here and he broke that trust.”
“I suppose,” she said.
The sheriff shrugged and they parted. There was nothing else to say. As she walked through the fair looking for Paul and Josh, Bethany’s mind focused on the luckless doctor.
Wallace Crombrink was the only son of Enid Crombrink. His father had owned a furniture store where he and the other carpenters he employed made the most amazing chairs and tables and cabinets for sale. People would come to Knowhere just to buy his goods.
Sadly, one winter he caught pneumonia. Wallace was only six years old when his father got so sick. Wallace and his mother nursed his father all through the winter, but it was no good, he died in the spring. Bethany could only imagine how horrible it was for the poor little boy to lose his father like that.
The loss of her husband turned Enid Crombrink cold and harsh like the winter that had taken the love of her life from her. She was bitter and full of grief she didn’t know how to express. And so, she took all her anger and frustration out on Wallace.
Bethany hoped his mother hadn’t meant to be like that with him. Being a mother to a little boy herself, she didn’t think she could ever be like that with Josh. He was the apple of her eye, the knees of all her bees. There was nothing that little boy could do that would make her ever love him less.
But something in Enid had snapped and poor Wallace was the one who saw it the most. She was hard on him, so much harder than anyone should be. She pushed him to excel at school, pushed him to become a doctor, pushed him all the time. Nothing was ever good enough for her. She was a voraciously ambitious woman born in a small town with limited prospects.
Perhaps, had they been in a large city things would have turned out differently. But as it was, they were in Knowhere, and ambition was a risky thing to have festering in one’s heart.
Enid got it into her head that the lake would make a wonderful attraction for the travelers who moved through the town every year. She wanted to entice people to come to the lake and stay in a little homely guesthouse she wanted Wallace to build for her.
Naturally, Wallace was all too thrilled. He would do anything for his mother. Anything. And so, he had picked out the land and was in the process of getting the money together to buy it, when two things happened. The first was that his mother died of a stroke. It was so sudden he didn’t get to say goodbye. The second thing was that the land he had been working so hard to buy was then bought by none other than Elias Maher.
Wallace Crombrink had watched the hotel going up with nothing but hatred in his heart for the man who had bought it out from under him and for not being able to help his mother realize her dream while she was alive.
He began to hatch a plan to try to sabotage the building. But as luck would have it, Wallace had friends on the construction crew and they told him about the work they were doing, how no one got to see the full picture, as it were. And that got the clever Wallace thinking. Why would someone not show the construction crew the plan properly unless there was something to hide.
Wallace never did divulge exactly how he got to see the plans. Bethany suspected he had broken into Elias’ office one night and taken a look at them. He certainly had known about the secret rooms, and he had most likely seen the mechanisms that were being built into them. Or perhaps he got Elias talking and since he was a doctor, convinced him that he, Wallace, could keep a secret. However, he did it, Wallace Crombrink learnt of the hotel’s secrets and began to hatch a plan.
Why it took him five years to act on his plan, Bethany had never found out. But she did know that it was the memory of his controlling and difficult mother that drove him to the lengths he had gone to to succeed. After all, she had never accepted failure in life, he doubted she would accept it in death.
When all this came out in Wallace Crombrink’s trial, Bethany’s heart had filled with pity for him. It had to be terrible having the ghost of a demanding mother looking over his shoulder all the time. He had been sentenced to four years in jail for the injuries he had caused, and to her mind that was fair. She doubted he would ever do anything like that again.
As she wound her way through the crowds, she spotted Mr. Smart. He was with his wife, and they were sampling the “alchemical brews,” the new doctor had made. His name was Dr. Haupt, and he was a lovely man who brewed alcohol as a hobby. His alchemical brews smelled very strong, and Bethany had made a point of avoiding them.
It always amazed Bethany the lengths that Mr. Smart had gone to to try and buy the hotel from them. He still came up with an offer from time to time, but no one took him seriously. He had been planning to develop the land with Dr. Crombrink, but he had played no part in the haunting at all.
She didn’t feel like speaking to him and so made a point going by that stall quickly. She fetched up at another stall. It was filled with bobble hats. They had been knitted with spooky motifs and selling quite well in the fall chill.
“Can I interest you in a hat?” Mrs. Hart asked. It was her stall and Bethany realized too late that she didn’t want to be there either.
Bethany made a show of looking at them all and then smiling moved on. She and Mrs. Hart would never get along. Not in seven million years. But the open hostilities had stopped. It had coincided with Randall leaving for the east coast to work for an uncle.
“Oh, look Josh…its mommy,” Paul said.
Bethany breathed a sigh of relief and moved to her boys who were at the end of the ramp. Here the crowd was thinner, dispersing and milling about on the shore of the lake. Paul and Josh were watching the waterfowls further along the shore going about their business.
Stepping close to them, Paul put his free arm around her shoulders and they began to stroll along where the water lapped at the shore. Josh wriggled until his father put him down and he toddled along in front of them, having a wonderful time. He was sticky from the cinnamon bun he’d eaten.
They reached a spot where a fallen log made a perfect seat to sit on and look out at the Majestic. While Josh played in the dirt, getting muddy now on top of sticky, Bethany and Paul sat and watched the bustling mass of humanity on the ramp.
“We seem to be doing well,” Paul said.
Bethany nodded. “Yes, we do.”
And they were. They knew that life would do what life did and that things wouldn’t always be idyllic but for now, things were great. Bethany had never been more in love with her husband, or more content with her life than she was now. This was what she had always dreamed of but had never dared to hope for. And to think it had all come about because of a drastic change, something she had fought against tooth and nail. She felt quite silly for that now.
Paul drew her closer to him and she felt his warmth suffuse her. Resting her head on his shoulder she let the peace that always came from being near him fill her. And for that moment, there only bliss.
And then Josh was calling, and the world stepped in. Paul smiled at her, and she got up to go and tend to their son. Perhaps they should have another child so that Josh could have someone to play with.
He was drenched.
“We’d better head back,” she said.
Paul took his jacket off and wrapped their son in it and picked him up. He put the other arm around her again and they began to walk back. Bethany was certain her life would never be dull or predictable again and she realized she loved it. And she loved the man who had brought her out of her shell and into the world. Paul was her partner and the love of her life. It was fitting that they step into the future together, their arms around each other. As they approached the Majestic that is just how Bethany felt, that she was stepping into something magical, and she was thankful for all her blessings and that Paul was right there to share them with her.