Author: Ron Ripley
Editor: Emma Salam

Crowe's Bed and Breakfast Route 89 was amazing.

The highway cut up through New Hampshire and into Vermont, and it was alive with the bright colors of New England’s Fall.

Derek loved the annual trip up through Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and finally into Vermont.  His girlfriend, Wendy, sat in the front passenger seat of his Lexus.  She sipped her iced coffee and smiled at him.

“You like it?” he asked.

“Love it,” she answered, sighing.  “It really is beautiful.”

“I love it too,” Derek said with a grin.

“So,” she said, “I had an idea.”

“What?” he asked, glancing over at her.

“Instead of finding some Holiday Inn or Marriott, why don’t we pick out a bed and breakfast?” she said.

Derek thought about it for a minute, and then he nodded.  Smiling he said, “Sounds like a great idea.  I don’t think I’ve ever stayed in a bed and breakfast in Vermont.”

“Mary Ann did last year,” she said, “and she and John loved it.”

“Do you remember the name of it?” Derek asked.

Wendy shook her head.  “I think it was up near Burlington, Vermont.  Are we going to go up there?”

“No,” he answered.  “I’d like to find a place soon.  Maybe one with some walking trails.  If we can find a good place with a nice view of the Green Mountains.”

“Okay,” she said happily.  “I’ll keep my eyes open.”

They drove for another twenty minutes in silence, crossed the border into Vermont and continued on their way.

“Look,” she said suddenly, pointing at a road sign.

The faded blue placard looked as though it had stood against the New England weather for decades, but the pale white words were still legible.

Crowe’s Bed and Breakfast, Exit 3.

“What do you think?” Wendy asked.

“I think we’re going to take a look at Crowe’s,” he replied.

She leaned over, gave him a quick kiss and then she settled back in her seat.

Fifteen minutes later, the exit came up, and Derek turned off of the highway.  At the end of the ramp was another blue sign, equally battered.

Mason, Vermont, 4 miles.  Crowe’s Bed and Breakfast, 4.1 miles.

“Looks like we’re going to Mason, Vermont,” Derek said, chuckling.  He felt giddy, excited.  In his stomach, butterflies flew, the same feeling he always had with a new girlfriend.

He turned left towards the bed and breakfast and in a short time they passed a small marker which read, Mason, Vermont, Established 1797.

Barely a hundred yards up was a tall, nearly overgrown sign decorated with a painted black crow.

Crowe’s Bed and Breakfast, accompanied by a drawn hand which pointed the way down a narrow road.  A pair of tall, black lamps marked the entrance and Derek signaled before he turned in.

Ancient trees ran along the length of the cracked asphalt and their huge boughs locked over the passage to create a thick canopy of brightly colored leaves.  The road curved ever so slightly to the left, and then it widened suddenly to reveal a beautiful, grand Victorian with a large farmer’s porch.  Chrysanthemums of various colors hung in wicker baskets from the trim work and all of the windows seemed to glow from lights within the house.

“It’s beautiful,” Wendy said softly.

Derek could only nod his head in agreement.

Several cars were parked off to the left of the building, and Derek was impressed.  One of them looked like it was an early Mustang, painted metallic green and in almost mint condition.  One was a wood-paneled station wagon, and a third was a silver, nineteen eighties Jaguar.

“Wow,” he said, pulling in beside the wagon.  “These cars are awesome.”

Wendy laughed and shook her head.  “Let’s worry about getting a room before you go around and start harassing the other guests about their cars.”

“Sounds good to me,” Derek said, grinning.

He turned off the engine and got out of the car.  Wendy came around to him as he stretched and tried to work the kinks out of his body.

“Feeling old?” she asked teasingly.

“Almost,” Derek said, smiling.  “Almost.”

“Well,” Wendy said, stepping in close and kissing his neck.  “I’ll help you forget those aches and pains later.”

“Promises, promises,” Derek said.  He titled his head slightly to kiss her, but Wendy slipped away with a laugh.

“Do you want to bring the bags in?” she asked.

“No,” he said, stifling a yawn.  “Let’s make sure they’ve got a room first.”

Wendy nodded and held out her hand.  Derek took hold of it loosely and together they followed a brick walkway to the porch.  They climbed the stairs and saw an “Open” sign in the glass of the front door.

As they entered the bed and breakfast, a bright, cheerful bell rang above them and an older woman, tall and elegant, appeared from a side door.  A small brass plate set above the lintel read, Office.

“Good afternoon,” the woman said, brushing a strand of silver hair behind her ear.  Her full-length, gray skirt brushed across the polished wood of the floor, and she wore a white blouse beneath a red wrap.  Her lips were a darker shade of red, and she looked to be in her sixties, and stunningly attractive.   She smiled at them, her teeth a brilliant white and slightly crooked.

“Hello,” Derek and Wendy said in unison.

“We’re wondering,” Derek continued, “if you have any rooms available?”

“Of course,” the woman said, her smile widening.  “We always have rooms ready for guests.”

“Oh good,” Wendy said.  “We were worried we’d be out of luck, what with the cars in the parking lot.”

The woman’s smile faltered and then became strong again.  “Oh, those.  No.  Those cars don’t belong to anyone in particular.  They’ve all been left here.”

“Really?” Derek asked, surprised.  “They’re beautiful.”

The woman shrugged, pulled her knitted wrap around her tighter and said, “To some.  My husband used to think so as well.”

“Used to?” Derek asked, grunting as Wendy shot him a look and nudged him in the side with an elbow.

“I’m a widow,” the woman said.  “My Henry passed away a long time ago.  But let’s not worry about such things.  If you’ll follow me into the office, we can get the paperwork settled and get you into your room.  I’m afraid I’ve already served lunch, but there are plenty of cold cuts and fresh bread.  I also made a large pitcher of iced tea if either of you are interested.

“Of course,” she continued as she walked around a large, dark wood desk and sat down, “I am always happy to put coffee on as well.  Dinner, if you stay, will be served at six.  Now, please, sit down.”

She gestured to a pair of small side chairs, and Derek and Wendy did so.

For a moment, the woman got some papers out of a drawer and a pair of reading glasses from another.  She set the pearl colored frames on her delicate nose and murmured to herself as she found a fountain pen.

“Ah,” she said, smiling, “here we are.”

She slid the papers across to Derek and said, “This is the standard agreement, thirty-five dollars per person, per night, with all meals included.  If there’s anything you or your wife would like to eat in particular, please, just let me know and I’ll see if I have the ingredients.”

Derek was stunned at the low price and nearly said so.

Wendy, however, didn’t hesitate.  “My husband’s tired.  We drove up from New York.  Your price sounds excellent.  Are you sure you don’t want more?”

“No,” the woman smiled.  “My Henry left me quite comfortable.  I run the house mostly for the company.  But, I thank you.”

Wendy nodded, picked up the fountain pen and filled out the paperwork as if they were married, and handed it all back to the woman.

“Excellent,” she said.  “Now, my name is Mrs. Fallow.  Your room is number five, which is up the stairs and to the right.  I can be reached anytime of the day or night, so please, don’t hesitate to ask.  Payment will be due when you check out.”

“Wonderful,” Wendy said, standing up.

“Yes, wonderful,” Derek repeated as he got to his feet.

Mrs. Fallow took a key off of a hook on the left wall and handed it to Wendy.

“Thank you,” Wendy said, smiling.

“No, no, thank you,” Mrs. Fallow said, returning the smile.  “I will see you at breakfast, which is served between seven and ten in the morning.”

Derek and Wendy nodded, and he followed her out of the office.  He started to turn towards the front door, but Wendy tugged on his arm.

“Come on,” she said, shaking the key.  “Let’s check out the room!”

“Okay,” he said, grinning.

They went up the broad stairs and to the room.

Number five was locked, but Wendy quickly had it open.  A large bed dominated the center of the room, and a pair of matching chairs stood off to the left.  On the right, a small door opened to an equally tiny bathroom, and a pair of tall windows looked out over a long, narrow pasture.

“This is beautiful,” Wendy said, stepping forward to look out at the landscape.

“It is,” Derek agreed.  He closed the door and saw a long bureau against the wall.  As he went to toss his keys onto the bureau’s white marble top, he paused.

Three sets of keys were already there.

One was to a Jaguar.

“Hey hon,” Wendy said.

He looked over at her and saw she had opened a closet door.

“Check this out,” she said, nodding to the interior.

Derek dropped his keys besides the others and joined her.  Inside of the closet were five jackets.  They were of various ages and styles, and each was hung neatly on a wooden hanger.

“Weird,” he said.  “There are keys over on the bureau, too.”

Wendy looked over, frowned and shook her head.  “It is weird.”

She took out a pair of hangers and handed one to Derek.  He accepted it and shrugged off his coat.  A moment later, he hung it up in the closet and Wendy did the same with hers.  She closed the door and shook her head again.

“So,” Derek said, smiling and putting his hands on her waist.  “Do you want to do anything before we get the bags out of the car?”

“Maybe,” she said with a wink.

Derek leaned in for a kiss and stopped as a loud crash sounded outside of the door.

He jerked up and looked over his shoulder.

“What do you think it was?” Wendy asked.

He started to answer, but a scream cut him off.

“Henry!” a woman shrieked.

Mrs. Fallow? Derek thought.  He glanced at Wendy, and she mouthed the woman’s name.

Derek nodded.

“Henry,” Mrs. Fallow said, this time right outside the door.  “I know you’re in there, Henry.  I know she’s with you.  Don’t think I don’t.  I can smell the little trollop.”

“What?” Wendy whispered.

Derek shook his head, utterly confused.

“Stay in there, Henry,” Mrs. Fallow whispered.  “Stay in there with her.”

A dark liquid suddenly seeped under the door and the room filled with the foul stench of gasoline.

“Oh Jesus,” Derek managed to say, and then fire exploded into the room.  The walls burst into flames, and he shouted, “The windows!”

Wendy spun around out of his arms, ran to the nearest window and went to throw the sash up.

“No!” she screamed.

Derek reached her side and saw the reason for her despair.

The sash was nailed shut.

As was the other window’s.

Smoke billowed out from the walls as Derek and Wendy coughed, their breath stolen from them.

He staggered to a chair, grabbed hold of it and went to lift it only to lose his grip and fall backward.

On the floor, he rolled onto his stomach and saw the feet of the chairs were nailed as firmly to the wood planks as the window’s sash was to the sill.

Wendy smashed out several of the panes, but the fresh air only fed the fire.

An explosion from behind them slammed her into the window.  She reeled and collapsed.  Blood spilled from a huge gash on her forehead and her eyelids fluttered.

“Wendy,” Derek said, coughing.  He crawled towards her, pulled her into his arms and tried to get to his feet.

But the smoke swept over him, blinded him, and dragged him back to the floor.

***

State Trooper Dan Waters turned at the old Mason road and slowed his cruiser down at the entrance to Crowe’s Bed and Breakfast.

The leaves and branches which had covered the entrance early in the morning were disturbed.  Fresh tire tracks cut through them.

Dan frowned, put on his searchlight and his high-beams, and called in his position.

When dispatch confirmed their receipt of the call, he eased the car onto the old driveway.

Soon his lights illuminated the cars.

And a new one too.

A black, 2014 Lexus sedan with New York tags.

He pulled up behind it, jotted down the information, and then he swept his searchlight across the bed and breakfast.

The old, burned remains of the old Victorian stood out starkly against the elms and oaks which surrounded it.

Since nineteen sixty-seven, the place had been a magnet for ghost hunters.

Nothing pulls ‘em in like a double murder-suicide, Dan thought.

He considered getting out and trying to find whoever had come in the Lexus.

Nope, he decided, turning the cruiser around and heading back to Mason Road.  Place scares the hell out of me.

For a moment, Dan thought he could smell burnt wood.

He shook his head.

Now you’re imaging things, he told himself and he focused on the cup of coffee he was going to get up at the gas station off exit 19.

*  *  *

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