Hoping for a Ghost Story: One Night in an Empty Motel
Sometimes inspiration for a story is thrust upon me, but sometimes I have to do the work myself.
Nathan and I are getting married at Howe Caverns in Howes Cave, New York, this coming September. The attraction is a much-beloved place from my childhood, and the reason we chose Howe was because I’d taken him there for the first time a couple of summers ago and it was pure magic: any visit to scenic Howe Caverns is a departure from the real world, important for us since we’re always connected and always working or busy. A whole weekend with nothing to connect with except each other is a rarity to cherish.
What makes Howe so special is its dedicated, friendly staff, its uniqueness, its sense of adventure—and its charm.
But what also makes it special is its isolation.
We’d planned a three-day trip for mid-March to finalize wedding plans with Howe, cake-taste, meet our pastor, and check out some of what the area has to offer. The Howe Caverns Motel, a 21-room one-story garden-style building (which our entire wedding party has reserved for that weekend…wow, I can only imagine…) with incredible views and rooms that feel cleaner than the ones in Walt Disney World (I am not kidding), is open during the off-season, but we knew it was going to be practically deserted during our stay.
Which thrilled me to no end.
Since I’m writing an original ghost story set at Howe Caverns as part of the wedding favor, I was looking forward to some glorious isolation: especially in the middle of winter, when everything is gray and there are few, if any, tourists. I went there hoping for inspiration, and imagine my thrill when we checked in and it felt like there wasn’t a soul around for at least a mile (we know there’s a groundskeeper somewhere on the property who’s always on duty and can be reached by an emergency phone hanging outside the lobby). There were no other guests. Ours was the only car in the lot.
We joked around about being in an abandoned building. Then we joked around about moving shadows outside our window. Then we joked around about the ghost of an ax-murderer or child who’d died from falling down a hole wandering the grounds at night All invented by us, of course. But we managed to spook ourselves, which was exactly what we wanted to do.
Below, a slideshow of our first night, and a video—join us as we wend our way up the pitch-black driveway to the empty Howe Caverns Motel, our imaginations running wild with darkly romantic fantasies.
And remember that if you’re a writer, sometimes you’ve got to kick things a bit of a kick-start.
THE GOODBYE PROJECT: Letting Go is Good, Yo! Episode 25—The Stephen King Books
About The Goodbye Project:
There are so many of us who can’t part with objects because of the sentimental attachment we have to them. You know—the graduation tassels, the barfed-on stuffed animal with the missing eye, the coat your late father bought for you because you begged. So what do you do when it’s time to let go of these beloved items because it’s absolutely necessary?
I’d read someplace that one of the best ways to let go of an object is to know that you have a photo. Sure, you can photograph it before you get rid of it. The Goodbye Project takes the idea a step further: go back and find photos of yourself actually with, using, or wearing that object, and blurb a bit about the memories it invokes.
Why? Everything has a story.
And because of that, the object deserves more than just a hasty trip to the Goodwill or the trash without a second thought.
EPISODE 25: THE STEPHEN KING BOOKS
It’s hard to believe that my father let me read books like The Andromeda Strain, The Word, Jaws, and Catch 22—but I was forbidden to read any books by Stephen King.
I never really thought to ask him why. I suspect now that—because none of King’s books were ever in our house—it was because my father didn’t like King’s writing; I don’t think it was because of the craft, necessarily, but because Dad didn’t really seem to gravitate toward anything scary (in fact, all I heard from him when he was alive about my work was, ‘why the hell are you wasting yourself on all this dark stuff?’). Big on spy and contemporary thriller and science fiction, I think King never struck Dad’s fancy. My mother loved scary stories—but wasn’t a reader. In fact, I don’t think I ever saw her read anything but The Bible and those great old 1970s feel-good things like Anger is a Choice and The Less is More Cookbook.
I lucked out, though, and got to read King’s work at one of the most impressionable times in my life—between the ages of ten and thirteen.
Because I had an older cousin who had a shelf full of his books.
Every Sunday for the first 14 years of my life, we went down to have dinner at my Aunt’s house in West Haven. My cousin Maryanne and I didn’t really get along when we were kids. But that would change one day when I was in her room, looking at the books on her shelf. I don’t remember the conversation, but I remember asking her about them. She pulled out Cujo.
I was instantly fascinated by the cover art: I had been attacked by Doberman Pincers in our neighborhood when I was so young I was terrified of any dog, even hers, who was really no more than a friendly excitable puppy at the time.
“Wanna read it?” she asked.
At first I wasn’t sure if it was a trick to scare me (remember, I said we didn’t get along well for a number of years).
“It’s really good,” she said. “You totally won’t be able to put it down.”
I remember feeling a pit in my stomach—I was afraid of getting caught; you’d think she was offering me crack or something, like if I dared open that book I’d ruin the rest of my life. But anything that promised to be too good to put down was too tempting to resist. And oh, that cover art (someone somewhere said that fear and fascination are tied together, and I’d have to agree). I dove into Cujo.
So, every Sunday thereafter, while the women would talk as they cleaned up dinner and my Dad would either be talking or watching sports, I hid out in Maryanne’s room reading every King book she had. She even went to the trouble to put paper bag covers on them, so that if one of my parents walked in they wouldn’t know what I was reading.
It was shortly after that I started writing scary stories, and once I started writing scary stories, the only things I wanted to read were scary stories. Once I got into my late teens, I was allowed to read whatever I wanted, so that became easier. In fact, once I went to college, Dad would always buy me books—and ironically, many of them were Stephen King. I read Nightmares and Dreamscapes (which contains one of my favorite short stories, “Rainy Season”) on a long car drive to Lake Placid, New York. I read Night Shift when I was working at the URI Security Office in the summer of 1992 (that was totally creepy; the office was in the basement and I was usually only with one other person and he hated me). I read Delores Claiborne when I was married to my first husband and we had no money for cable.
The rest is history. As for Maryanne, we’re really close now. We love all things dark and scary, not just books. We love to get together and watch horror flicks like Gargoyles, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, and Poltergeist. And we usually do all of that when she’s staying at my house helping me get ready for a party.
The hardest things to get rid of were my books—and I still kept many, don’t worry. But these King books weren’t the ones I read in that darkened purple shag-rugged room full of glass unicorns—they’re copies I got at tag sales years later, so I’d have them in case I ever wanted to re-read them. It’s the memory of those secret afternoons that I want to keep alive, not the books themselves—and since many of them are King’s classics, I can always get them another time.
Of course, Maryanne is such a collector of King’s books that she has all the copies that I read from. So they’re still out there. But for right now, it’s time to say goodbye. They went to a library book sale this past summer.